Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Education, Education, Education...

I have blogged about my feelings on the subject of primary school kids doing homework before now(, namely I think it is a total waste of time, and worse still something else to bash us poor beleagured mothers over the heads with. (Sound familiar Mad Muthas???).

The way my childrens' schools operate, they start getting homework in Year One. When they're FIVE, for god's sake. This usually consists of one sheet for practising handwriting (which we never get through without a huge row ensuing, along the lines of my hand hurts - I'm not bleeding surprised, are you?), a piece of maths (or numeracy as we now have to call it) and a piece of English (or in brave new world eduspeak, literacy). This is actually more then the older kids get when they go into the juniors. So for the past two years, as no 3 struggles through her homework on a Friday, no 2 who is two years older sits and contemplates her navel (or more likely plays with her new dollshouse) as the only homework she gets is spellings, which are so laughably easy, she never even has to learn them.

Years 5 & 6 I have discovered to my chagrin are, to paraphrase Cap'n Jack in Torchwood, where it all changes. From no homework we suddenly leap to homework three times a week and punitive measures if it is not completed. The kids get three lifelines a year, and lose one each time they forget to do their homework. When they've lost them all they get a detention. Last year, no 1 lost one for not bringing in some silver foil for a science project. And get this. It WASN'T her fault. I was busy sorting out packed lunches, she asked me to get her some foil (which sits on top of a cupboard she can't reach), I said, yes, yes, in a minute, and promptly forgot, Spouse was taking them to school and rushed them out of the door, so she forgot her blasted tin foil, and lost a life in the process. As the Yanks say, go figure.

Year 5's literacy homework also nearly did my head in being as it mainly involved writing a novel. Ok, ok, I should be pleased about this, but... every week no 1 wrote a chapter in class, it was marked, and then, GET THIS, the literacy book came home for the whole thing to be typed up on the computer. Because of course, we have to make things look good even if they're crap (actually it was rather good, but it wasn't tidy), so everything gets printed off from the computer and put in a glossy file under the mistaken impression that this somehow makes the work better. It doesn't. No wonder so many young authors think that if they present their work in a spangly fashion, with a myriad of different typefaces that clash wildly, it will make them noticed. (It won't - plain and simple is still always the best approach, and if you can't write making it jazzy won't fool an editor, but that's another story.)

Our children are being encouraged from the moment they can tap a keyboard that all they need to do is key any old rubbish in, and so long as it looks good enough they will be rewarded for their efforts. And most importantly of course, if they are doing a project, they must go to that fount of all knowledge, the internet. Never mind that they might end up plagiarising stuff, or that alot of the information they find comes from very dubious sources (like one of no 1's friends telling me solemnly aged 7 that she'd learnt on the internet that Mary Queen of Scots was Henry VII's daughter), the point is the internet is being held up like the Holy Grail, and no other source of information is good enough. I feel immensely sorry for the poor sods whose parents can't afford a computer, and believe me, even in leafy Surrey they do exist. I'm not saying computers should be excluded by the way, just they don't have to be the first point of call, and kids should be encouraged to interpret the information they get from them, not regurgitate it pe se.

Given those are my views, you can see how delighted I was to read in yesterday's papers that some think tank has come up with the notion that primary school children don't benefit from homework. Yay, yay, and double yay! I knew I wasn't alone in this thought. In the tv bulletin I saw the other night, I even heard a teacher say it causes too much stress at home. Too bloody right it does. You should have seen the steam coming out of my ears the other night, when far from having no homework (as is normal) no 2 suddenly announced one Wednesday night after she'd been to brownies, when it was too late to do it, that she had an art project to be completed the next day (or risk losing a lifeline - apparently this pernicious system has worked it's way down to year 4). However, she did get up at 6 the next day to do it, so I suppose she learnt something about the importance of deadlines.

I do hope that this report gets taken seriously. Our kids are over tested, over stressed and pushed enough at school, and since the advent of SATs and the National Curriculum, a lot of what they learn is less about the knowledge they gain and more about their ability to press the right buttons. Like rats in a run, if they can make the light go red, then they tick the boxes prescribed by an unimaginative and anti-intellectual government. By the way Nic, if you're reading, I am definitely not blaming teachers for this - the system is at fault, not you guys, who in the main do an incredibly difficult job in ever more complex circumstances. (That doesn't apply to the teachers who are currently teaching nos 1 &3 for their SATs tests in May, who are so caught up in the whole thing they can no longer see how barking it is to say about a child, as one of them said to me in September, she's only a 2b, she'll have to work much harder to get a 3, like I really care...)

The sooner someone says no homework for the under 11s the better say I. I never had to do homework at primary school and I seem to have ended up reasonably educated. And at least it will give me one less thing to clash with the sprogs on...

On the subject of my own homework. You will notice the counter still hasn't moved. I know. I know. I have had other work to do this week, all right. I hope to have achieved something by Friday....

Friday, January 26, 2007

A Word on my Words...

I have spent the last nine years trying to write novels. In that time, I have completed three adult novels, and two children's novels, self published my account of the marathon, and had two picture books published. For most of it, I was simultaneously struggling with small children and holding onto the tattered remnants of my publishing career by existing as a freelance editor. My writing, therefore has always come at the bottom of my massive To Do List.

But, since the most majorly exciting (professsional) event of my adult life, namely that Cinderella is going to the ball and getting her book published, all that has changed.

I have spent the weeks pre and post Christmas working incredibly hard on the rewrites of Pastures New, which was a lot more difficult then I had ever envisaged. (To anyone whom I have ever edited, and sent away with pages of editorial notes, my deep and humble apologies. I had no idea what I was asking you to do).

I spent the days leading up to Christmas skulking around behind the scenes of my novel, performing invisible mending (if you like me, are a fan of Jasper Fforde's wonderful Tuesday Next series, you will get this analogy), and trying to tie up all the ends so they didn't show. I've never been much good at sewing, so I'm hoping the seams hold.

It was a very intense and quite draining experience, and all my mummy friends in the playground were witness to me being more then usually vague when it came to pick up time. But eventually, I did it, and sent it off to my editor, without a clue as to whether it was any good or not. I had lost total sight of and was heartily sick of all my characters by then, and wondered why on earth I thought this whole shebang was worth doing.

I was therefore hugely relieved, when my editor (to whom I owe huge thanks for turning something that was ok, into something, which I think is probably a lot better) rang after Christmas to say she liked it, but there was still more work to do. The first bit was a structural alteration, and the second lot of edits were the line edits - dotting the ts and crossing the is - less intense but more fiddly. I nearly went into meltdown when she sent it to me electronicallly with the comments incorporated in the text - though I do edit electronically, I've been out of the real world for so long I'm a tad behind, and anyway, I'm still old fashioned enough to like to read and correct hard copy - but once I got the hang of it, it wasn't too bad.

So last week I sent it winging back to her, and it is now being copyedited, which will no doubt throw up a few more queries, but the bulk of my work is done.

After nearly four years spending time with my characters, Amy, Ben, Saffron and Harry, it's time to say farewell (I have to confess, they've been part of my life so long, it is a wrench to let them go), and say hello to my new bunch.

Enter, stage left: Mark, Emily, Rob and Katie - all of whom have been champing at the bit for months to get me to take notice of them.

I've had a loose plot in my head for yonks, featuring these guys, and when out on the school run, or pounding the downs, I've mentally written and rewritten the first chapter dozens of times, and have been champing along with them to just Get On With It.

So why is it, dear reader, that now I am finally here, and have cleared all my other work, I find it nigh on impossible to get going?

Part of the problem is actually the publishing deal itself. Up until now, I was playing at writing, but with a contract suddenly I have people having expectations of me. Not that that's not nice, it's great . But it is a tad scary. Suddenly from being the strange little hobby my husband lets me indulge in, this has actually become a job. Probably the best job you can have in the world, if like me, you live a lot in your head, but still... it's all a tad daunting.

So to help me out, I have entered Kate Harrison's Great Novel Race. Kate like me is a member of the Romantic Novelist's Association - the most wonderful organisation I know in publishing - and is the author of Old School Ties, The Starter Marriage and Brown Owl's Guide to Life. She's organised the race to spur herself and other writers on to help us meet our deadlines.

My deadline is not till the end of the year, and I have a target word count of 100 000 - you'll notice the word counter I've added to the side of the blog still says 0 - so not far to go then...

But given, that a) I'm really really good at procrastinating and b) I am going to lose at least ten weeks of my deadline to school holidays (let alone when they're sick) and c) I can only work between the hours of 9.30 and 3 anyway, I think I need all the help I can get.

So if you'll excuse me, I am halfway through doing a more focussed plan of my new story which has been a tad vague up until now, (I have written over 1000 words of THAT) and I hope that I will soon be able to start the race proper. I am way behind my fellow runners - but like the tortoise I plan to get there in the end - so a booby prize is all I can expect, but at least I have some other comrades to cheer me on my way.

Who knows, by the end of the day, you may see the 0 creep up to a few hundred.

But don't hold your breath....

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


So this is what it looked like in my back garden today...

The kids obviously were thrilled. Last time it snowed here to any great significance nos 3& 4 were still in the double buggy. I can still remember the fun of slaloming to school (not...)

Funnily enough the fact that all this white stuff had fallen out of the sky in the night was enough to have everyone up and out of the door before you could sneeze.

I made them all wrap up warm and put on their fleece lined boots which have languished in a cupboard for a year since Spouse had the bright idea of buying them from Millets, and off we trotted through the allotments.

We were the first to make our mark on the snow, so the children had great fun spotting animal tracks - mainly cats it has to be said, but we did see a couple of foxes. Normally, I am pretty anti foxes (bring back hunting I say) as they poo all over my garden, but I have to fess up and say the sight of one striding through the snow is something to behold.

By the time we arrived at school, kids were all covered in snow from chucking snowballs at one another. (The only ones they are likely to get to throw, Elf and Safety no doubt ensuring that they won't get another chance at school).

Elf and Safety had gone walkabout when we arrived though, as only four teachers had made it into the junior school. So merry mayhem ensued as I walked the little ones across the playground to their school. No 4 couldn't have been wetter if she tried.

I had intended to go swimming, but discovering there was a possibility the kids could get sent home if enough staff didn't turn up, I decamped back to my friend's house for a civilised cup of tea instead.

By the time we knew the kids were staying it was too late for a swim, so I wandered back through a rather watery wintry wonderland instead. No doubt it will have all melted when I go to pick the kids up, but while I feel for anyone who has to commute in this weather, it is nice to have some proper snow for once. Finally, the seasons are doing what they are supposed to. Not good news for my poor daffs who had brazenly been pushing their way up assuming that winter wasn't happening this year, or for the onion sets we recently planted, which looked distinctly chilly under a blanket of snow. But... it doesn't happen often.

And for the first time since I've been visiting my Ozzie friends' blogs and fantasising about sunshine, I'm enjoying some PROPER January weather. (Sorry, Bec, but the beach and January don't go together ever, when you've been brought up here!)

The skies are still grey, so there's an outside chance of more to come.

I do hope so.

As a) I'm dying to make a snowman and b)if it lasts till the weekend, we can go sledging.

Who says snow doesn't speak to the kid in us all?

Thursday, January 18, 2007

CBB Again....

Sorry about this, really I am, but...

Last night have to fess up that we did watch, because I wanted to see for myself what this alleged racist bullying was all about. And boy were we in for a show.

Actually, I'm not convinced that the bullying is racist particularly (apparently Jermaine called Jade white trailer trash and got away with that ), but it is deeply unpleasant. My feeling is that it is mainly motivated by jealousy, and it is actually a class thing. Shilpa is beautiful, well educated, and let's face it speaks English a hundred times better then Jade and co (a point which she wasn't slow to make last night). Jade is only famous for being on a reality tv show, otherwise she would still be in the gutter. Danielle is famous for shagging a footballer and winning/losing Miss Great Britain (and I do believe the shagging was first) and Jo was famous for being in a teen band and has clearly lost her way.

Last night we had the excruciating spectacle of Jade repeatedly asking Shilpa when she lost her virginity. Apart from the obvious do we care? answer to this, it was so bleedin' ignorant of her. Just because Jade is an old slapper, doesn't mean everyone is, and she appears incapable of opening her mind up enough to cope with the idea that other cultures don't embrace their sexuality in the way we do. The more I see of Shilpa the more I think modern day India is clearly superior to modern day England. Your average poor man on the street in Delhi is striving striving to do better, get his kids educated, find a way out of the poverty trap. While here? We seem to revel in ignorance and dumbing down. The only way anyone wants to improve themselves is without any effort, ie, going on a crap show like BB, getting their five minutes in the sun and making money out of nothing. And a whole generation is growing up thinking this is what they should aspire to. I'd say way to go Channel 4, but to fair to them, they're only tapping into the zeit geist.

But onto the big business of last night: namely the row between Shilpa and Jade over an oxo cube.

Granted Shilpa did make rather a big deal out of something not that important (but then if I'd spent over a week being got at by three snide little bitches, I guess I'd find it hard to descend to their petty level), but bloody hell.

Jade was absolutely foul. She let rip, screamed abuse, misunderstood Shilpa, who realised she had made a linguistic mistake and instead of saying oxo was the one thing she'd ordered, corrected herself and said it was the only thing she'd ordered. She apologised for her mistake as this misunderstanding had set the row off, and Jade continued to scream abuse and call her a liar. What was worse was that Jo and Danielle giggled throughout this shocking display as if Jade's behaviour was somehow hilarious. Danielle also added at one point I wish she'd go home.

Now what I found also shocking, was that apart from Jermaine (is he the mole? He seems to be winding Shilpa up something chronic) who intervened to separate the women, no one did anything. Cleo, who wrings her hands alot and clearly wants to mother the younger ones SHOULD in my view have had a go at them all, but instead we saw her comforting Jade later. And when she had a chat with Shilpa she told her Jade wasn't racist (yeah, right) and she didn't know what the problem was. Now granted, we may not have been shown parts where Cleo was wading into try and sort things out, but the Jade is not racist tag smacked of a set up.

This seemed clearer then ever when we witnessed Danielle in the diary room. At first she affected nonchalance and said nothing much had happened that day and it had been boring. Crikey, her life must be one long cat fight if she found that little exchange dull.

Clearly Big Brother filled her in on events, because you could see the penny drop suddenly when she was asked why she thought Shilpa should go home. Oh my god I didn't mean to be racist, was what she wanted to say - but where would she have got that idea from, hm? By the end of the interview she was solemnly saying she realised she had followed the crowd and now she felt really bad. If anyone believes that display of contriteness they're easily fooled. She's desperately trying to claw her way out of a hole. Watch her drop Jade like a ton of bricks...

There were funny moments though - Shilpa telling Jade that she was only famous for a tv show (and didn't that touch a nerve!) and Jermaine in the diary room ruminating that Jade was trying to be in control of - what exactly? - in a few week's they're all out of there - certainly lightened the tone.

But overall, I think it was one of the most unpleasant things I've ever witnessed. I thought Channel Four had scraped the bottom of the barrel with last year's freak show, but apparently not. In order to boost ratings we'll stir up a racist controversy. It is deeply deeply irresponsible and could do a great deal of harm for race relations in this country. I said yesterday I thought Jade and her cronies would be crucified when they came out, and rather uncharitably that they deserved to be. I meant by the tabloid press, who are surely going to have a field day. But really it could be much worse. Channel Four apparently have received death threats. There are some crazy people out there, and surely Jade and her chums are going to be targets of hate mail and possibly worse now. I wonder how those Channel Four execs will feel if one of them gets badly hurt?

Sadly, I think this whole sorry mess will actually boost the ratings further and make BB a cert to stay on our screens for some time to come.

But this time, I really won't be watching.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Celebrity Big Brother

Well in for a penny, in for a pound. Everyone seems to be talking about this today, so I may as well put my two penn'orth in.

I don't usually watch BB, because while I thought the first series was genuinely groundbreaking tv, over the last seven years it appears to me to have become either more and more debauched (I can remember turning on once to watching girls mudwrestling - even Ben Elton's very funny piss take of BB in Dead Famous never imagined anything quite so revolting), or nastier all in the name of "entertainment" and pulling in the ratings. Let's be clear here, we are not seeing what actually happens in the house, we see what the programme makers want us to see. Half the time when you watch it live you can't hear what people say, presumably for the editors to play around/make the contestants appear to be acting in a certain way. Personally, I think it's bread and circus tv, and I wouldn't normally bother with it.

However, I have been watching this series on and off because I am about to start my next novel which doesn't feature reality tv as such, but is going to (I hope) cock a snook at the mad celebrity obsessed world which we seem to inhabit. Ever felt you've walked through the Looking Glass? Me too.

Without giving too many details away I do have a zedlebrity character (that is such a great word!) whose name will begin with J (but she's not called Jade) who is going to drag my hero into an insane world he never wanted to enter.

To start with CBB seemed ok really. I was astonished to see Ken Russell there, and it was very funny seeing how none of the younger ones knew who he was. Mind you, I don't know who half the other contestants are either, but then I don't read Heat mag (except for research purposes). I thought the guy who did a bunk when he found out Jade Goody was coming was hilarious (but was that not completely set up? He just happened to find a foothold, and when he was up over the wall there seemed to be a convenient gantry to walk down. How handy).

In the main to begin with I thought people seemed actually quite nice to each other. I was surprised and found it quite refreshing when the contestants seemed genuinely upset that they were split up into the servants' quarters and the posh bit. Though it was very post modern to have Jade Goody's family with servants.

Jade at the point also surprised me. She too seemed upset about the way the house had been divided, and she also came down hard (quite rightly in my view) on her appalling mother who refused to pronounce Shilpa's name properly.

I then lost sight of the programme for a bit, relying mainly on the internet to find the amusing news that first Ken and then Leo had pulled out. It seemed to me that CBB was heading for flop status of the highest order.

But then. Tantara, suddenly we find ourselves in the middle of a racist controversy.

Don't get me wrong, I missed the relevant episodes but the reported comments made by Jade and co are deeply offensive and unnecessary. More importantly they are plain stupid, and show Jade, Jo and Danielle up for the bigoted morons they undoubtedly are. Shilpa has come out of the whole thing in an incredibly dignified fashion, and good on her I say. I did see last night when she calmly sat in the diary room and said she wasn't bothered one bit by Jade and what hurts you makes you stronger. It was a consummate performance and good luck to her. I hope she wins now.

It does strike me though, that if Channel Four were panicking about ratings, and the success of the show, then this was a brilliant way of getting everyone talking about it. Which apparently we all are. And lest you think I'm a cynic, apparently yesterday pulled the third largest number of viewers for the series. Surprise, surprise.

I feel deeply heartened that over fourteen thousand people in this country care enough about people behaving like racist bullies that they bother to write to a tv programme to say they don't think it acceptable behaviour on our tv screens. It gives me hope that we aren't as I often think, witnessing the fall of Rome.


There are questions being asked in Parliament.

There are apparently effigies of Channel Four execs being burned in India.

Is it me, or is this just a little excessive?

I think Shilpa's family have taken exactly the right tack - they've issued a brilliantly calm and dignified email in which they express thanks that so many people in the UK have supported their daughter and that she is strong enough to withstand the bullying. I think she is too.

But it really shouldn't be happening, and Channel Four should be ashamed of themselves that they have sunk so low in their search for controversy to let it happen. Deeply ironic from a company which has always had projecting a positive image of minorities as part of its remit.

I do think it is educative though, to us as a nation. For those bigoted tiny souls out there who think Jade and co are right (and sadly I think they exist) perhaps they might compare Jade, Danielle and Jo's small minded bitchiness with the calm and dignified response from Shilpa and her family. I know who I think is more civilised.

And to leave on a positive, which I shamelessly have pinched from the Jeremy Vine show it was so good. Wouldn't it be hilarious if Jade Goody was the person who caused the demise of Big Brother.

Now that's what I would call a result....

Monday, January 15, 2007

Cooking up a Storm

Me. I like cooking. It's just making meals every single day that bores me.

So I was thoroughly delighted when no 1 received a copy of Sam Stern's Cooking up a Storm for Christmas. To those not in the know, this is a fantastic cookery book for teens written by an improbable cooking prodigy. However, I'm not complaining, I tried his scones recipe and it was fantastic. Plus, if my children learn to cook from him, in a few years time I can put my feet up, while they LOOK after me (ah bliss). I am trying to get them trained to see that cleaning bathrooms isn't something their mother should always do, but funnily enough that doesn't seem to have quite the same appeal.

However, the cooking thing seems to be really tickling their fancy. So the other week, no 1 announced she wanted to cook us a meal. She and no 2 poured over recipes in the book before plumping for pizza and chocolate roulade. Actually, this wasn't quite as straightforward as it sounds as they made the mistake of consulting their little sisters about the menu and no 3 refused point blank to eat chocolate roulade (not that she knew what it was, but still...) and then going off to have a huge strop. As this is par for course at the moment with no 3 (she seems to have taken over from no 2 as my drama queen. It is REALLY trying to have not just one, but TWO middle children), everyone of course ignored her.

We then realised that the roulade recipe called for five eggs, and of course we didn't have any (mainly because Spouse does the shopping and he doesn't like eggs, so ergo he doesn't buy any. It never occurs to him that you can use eggs elsewhere in cooking, and just because HE doesn't like fried eggs, other people might). Neither did we have any chocolate. So the chefs had to go to the local corner shop before they left - though not before they had made the dough for the pizza. I think they both need a few lessons in forward planning before they really get the hang of this cookery thing, but at least their dough was rising while they were shopping. (Miraculously, I did have yeast in the house.)

They came trotting back from the shops and then, with a bit of supervision they made a really yummy roulade mixture. Separating the yolks from the whites was a little interesting and no 2 spent rather a long time fishing egg shell out of the bowl, but we got their in the end. The only trouble was I had a very thin baking tray, so while the roulade cooked beautifully and tasted scrumptious, roulade like it was not, as the whole thing crumbled up when we got it off the tray. Never mind... it was rather an ambitious thing to cook on your first attempt.

This weekend we held a dinner party and no 1 rather startled me by offering to make the starter. Call me a control freak, but I like to plan my menus myself, even if I leave it to the last minute (a trait that never fails to infuriate Spouse, who can't understand why, on Wednesday I cannot think far enough ahead to Saturday and work out what we're having.) He and no 1 plumped on making vegetable kebabs using tomato/feta/olives, which didn't really go with my plan of chicken in wine and onion sauce, but hey ho, I cannot complain about no 1's culinary enthusiasm.

She also decided to cook burgers and potato wedges for our friends' children who were coming round too, but having still not worked out that cooking takes time, she left it till the last minute. So while I was in the bath, Spouse took over and defrosted some burgers for her, though she did do the wedges.

I am now looking forward to her suggestion for next weekend. Is she going to try rack of lamb or herby chicken? Anything but pizza again (they made so much first time, we froze two and had them for Saturday lunch)...

If she'll let me, I'll teach her how to do a roast, and then I won't have anything to do on Sundays.

In the meantime, I can thoroughly recommend Sam Stern's book to anyone with children old enough to cook. It is quite possibly the best investment you're ever likely to make...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Is It Me?

As my favourite Radio 2 DJ would say.

I have been pondering the fact that though I am probably completely out of tune with the rest of the world and am about to commit a sacreligious act, by even thinking it, let alone saying it, I just don't get the Beatles.

There. Now I feel much better.

Don't get me wrong.

I was born half way through the sixties so the Beatles formed the soundtrack to my early life. When I was a teenager everything was retro sixties, and to those of us who boogied our way through the eighties there was always some slight feeling of having been cheated that being in nappies at the time, we somehow missed out on the biggest decade of the twentieth century. (Mind you, maybe that's just youth - my niece felt the same about the eighties...)

Nearly every party I went to in my teens featured I Want to Hold Your Hand/Hard Day's Night/All You Need is Love etc, so maybe my feeling of bafflement about the Fab Four as I approach middle age is simple ennui. I was overexposed to them at such a tender age, it is no wonder that now I can't bear to listen.

But actually, the simple truth for me was, that once I got to hear the Kinks, the Stones, the Zombies, I just felt the Beatles were overrated. Sure they wrote some catchy numbers, but maybe they only hit the big time because they were there first... I wasn't even born when they had their first no 1 so how should I know. And anything John Lennon wrote on his own was just a pile of crap as far as I'm concerned. I always fantasised about having some rock god writing me a fabulous song when I was young. But Woman would have had me pouring water on his head (Had it been Layla, then you'd be talking...) And as for Imagine. Well. What a load of idealistic nonsense that was. Possibly the most pretentious piece of musical writing in the history of pop music.


The Beatles.

They are iconic.

And we have just been given the new George Martin remix album for Christmas.

Spouse put it on in the car while we were driving back from Shropshire, and I have to say I listened with great anticipation. Maybe George would reach the aural parts that normal Beatle tracks couldn't...

I have to confess it was a little tricky listening, as the kids were watching a DVD at the time, but I got the general gist, and the answer is ...


Sorry George it didn't work.

At least not for me.

All you need is love irritates the hell out of me more then ever.

I am the Walrus is plain stupid.

And Hey Jude sounds even wetter twenty years on. (We always used to hate that one as kids).

Having said that the ones that always worked for me: Eleanor Rigby, Lady Madonna and While My Guitar Gently Weeps still blow my mind.

But - is it me? This album has been hyped to death. Does it really sound so different?

I didn't think so.

But then.

I'm not a big Beatles fan. And I don't really get it.

But then I don't get: Big Brother, Russell Brand or Pop Idol either.

There's obviously no hope for me...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

There are mushrooms growing in my bathroom...

I kid you not.

Spouse got up this morning to have a bath and came back with the astounding news that we appear to have some fungal growth underneath the sink.

This news in fact is less astounding when I tell you the story of our bathroom...

Be warned it's not pretty.

We moved into our current abode nearly eleven years ago. We were fortunate to purchase at the moment before house prices rocketed (a year later and we couldn't have afforded it), but the downside was we bought a house from an old lady which was in dire need of an overhaul. The place had to be rewired immediately, and before our first winter set in we had to get some heating in place.

Apart from that and decorating no 1's bedroom we did little else in that first year (oh, we did cover the vile bright orange kitchen walls in magnolia just to make it look vaguely respectable).

In our second year of habitation, though, we really got going with a vengeance. The lounge and dining room were redecorated, the front drive was ripped out and a concrete base put in ready for our pyrotechnical builder's mate to lay a driveway at the point in time when all concreting at the back of the house had been finished (several years later as it turned out, but we weren't to know that then).

In the meantime we turned our attention to the room that has become our bathroom. We were sold the house as a five bedroomed abode, on the basis of this room. Given that is off our bedroom, the only convenient way of using at as another bedroom would have been to put a corridor in our own room and making that much smaller. So we decided to make an ensuite bathroom instead. As this would have been rather large, we also decided to divide it in half and rather pretentiously to make the room between the bathroom and our bedroom a dresssing room. We realised quite quickly this was a silly idea, so now it's actually my office. A bit odd I know, but it does mean I can check my emails while the bath is running.

Anyway, back to our bathroom.

The course of construction didn't run smooth. Mainly because initially we used a mate from our local (generally known as Trigger, so I think you can probably guess where this is heading) to help out. Spouse felt sorry for him at the time because he was out of work. I did too, to begin with. However after watching him scratch his head and ponder problems for hours, that even I could see solutions to (but I am A GIRL, THEREFORE I KNOW NOTHING), I got rather fed up with having Trigger on the premises. The crunch came when he came downstairs and told me he'd spent over an hour trying to work out which way the architrave slotted together. Now call me stupid, but actually although it is the kind of thing you say, oh yes it could be that way, really looking at it logically there is only one way architrave goes. And if you can't work it out, GO AND LOOK AT ANOTHER DOORWAY! My response was to say just go that way, I don't really care, it's for a bathroom door, no one but me and Spouse are going to look at it, but Trigger wasn't going to let me make such an important decision. Heaven forfend. He might have had to do some work. Instead he downed tools for the day and met Spouse in the pub later to discuss this important issue over a pint.

Scroll on a few months and we were ready to get the bathroom fitted. By now Trigger was working with another decorator mate of ours, and together they were going to tile and decorate the bathroom. We got a plumber of our accquaintance in to do the plumbing, and a Sparky we had known a long time to wire up the shower.

First off, we discovered somewhat belatedly that our Sparky who's always been a heavy drinker (ok we did meet him in the pub) has gone severely off the rails since his wife left him, and now shakes rather alarmingly when he's at work. (The DTs are not something you really want your Sparky to suffer from, but we didn't know anyone else at the time). He was also somewhat less then reliable. Spouse was having enormous trouble getting him to the new surgery he had just opened up at the time, and when he did get Sparky there, the light fittings he put in were questionably dangerous. It's a miracle our shower hasn't caused a housefire yet...

Thanks to several non appearances from Sparky, we ended up in a situation where no one could proceed to the next part of the job, because he hadn't fitted the wiring for the shower. The plumber couldn't fit the shower till he'd done his bit, and without the shower being in place the tiles couldn't be done. Everyone fell out and they were all blaming each other. There is no honour among builders...

At one point I was threatening to lock them all in the room and not let them out till they'd finished, but somehow eventually the job got done.

At the same time our bedroom was being decorated, so we were in the spare room next door. By now I was heavily pregnant with no 2, and the chaos caused by her arrival meant it was some months before we got back into our own room and started to use our lovely shiny new bathroom.

The first problem we discovered was that the shower didn't work. It was still within guarantee so I called the man out to find that far from it not working, the bloody thing had been fitted so close to the tiles that the switch didn't work properly. The buggers charged me a call out fee as it wasn't covered under guarantee. Of course by now it was too late to get Trigger and friends to pay for that, besides which none of them would admit responsibility.

Problem two was that the taps on the sink are at such an angle that when you turn them off, the last drip runs back down the tap and pools on the top of the sink. If you don't turn the taps off incredibly tightly the sink ends up overflowing onto the carpet (now are you surprised we have mushrooms in our bathroom?)

We checked with the plumber who said it was the fault of the manufacturers. They claimed it was the way it had been fitted. The decorators claimed it wasn't their fault. So we were stuck with it.

To add insult to injury within weeks I dropped something heavy onto the side of the sink and smashed a bit off, ensuring when the leaks occurred they quickly became a flood. The cold tap developed a permanent leak which couldn't be resolved except by shutting it off. We live in a hard water area and Spouse is constantly changing the washers on the bath and the sink.

We also made the mistake of buying a spa bath - Spouse got excited by using one in a hotel we had been in. It was fiercely expensive and is actually a damned nuisance. The pipes get clogged up and we hardly ever use it as we're both a bit paranoid about it harbouring legionnaire's disease (I swill it out from time to time with bleach, but still...)

A further problem ensued when we realised how cold and damp the room is. None of our helpful builders had the wit to notice there are no party walls on the outside, so within weeks our lovely shiny paintwork was peeling off, we have damp in the ceiling which we have dealt with about three times now, and I have come to hate the room with a vengeance.

Rip it out and start again, I hear you cry. Well, yes, I agree, that's what it needs. But to do it properly we have to smash up the tiles and properly insulate the walls and start again. Ok, the sink is a nightmare and needs replacing, but the bath is perfectly ok (legionnaire's disease not withstanding). I appreciate I am probably out of step with today's throwaway culture, but I balk at replacing a bathroom which is less then ten years old and still works.



In my bathroom.

I think it's time to throw principles to the wind.

Bathroom shops, here I come...

In the meantime I have a mushroom outbreak to deal with.

Suggestions anyone?

Oh ... and a happy New Year to one and all. Do hope yours has started somewhat better then mine!!