Monday, February 28, 2005

Along with all the other things flying around at the moment (pervasive ma-in-law, MA, teaching etc...), we've the added worry of what to do with Sim in terms of schooling for the next few years.

He's at a 'prep' school this year, and can stay there until he is 13, but we're casting around for secondary school options. We seem to have two choices if we choose to keep him here: the far too laid-back, almost apathetic state system, and the rabidly exam and results oriented private system. Frankly, from my view on the inside of the private system, I wouldn't say it's worth 6000 pounds a year.

Our current front runner therefore is boarding school. In France. Near Nice, to be precise.

Five years ago, during my teacher training, I was required as part of my course to go to Nice for six weeks (crap job, but someone has to do it). We had to attend language classes at a very interesting school: a French international state school, whose mission is as much a social as an academic one: the school was set up with the precise aim of integrating and melding together children from all over the world.

It now has pupils from over 40 countries, an aspect of their education that will always be severely neglected in Devon (for those unaware of Devon's particularities, let us just say that it is not the most culturally diverse place on earth).

There are many pros, and many cons to this plan. Every time I think about sending my small boy away for six weeks at a time, I want to cry. But then I think that he would not go until he was 13 anyway (although he is old enough to go now), and that he might need a little more by then than we can provide at home. Also it seems the best reason I can think of for spending weeks on end (visiting him) on the Côte d'Azur.

It's never an easy decision, balancing our heads and our hearts. I know that he will grow immensely as a person, and yet and yet and yet... I am a pathetic wreck of a mother really, a mère-pieuvre* of the worst sort.

*mère-pieuvre: literally, "octopus-mother", ie with many envelopping arms; "clingy" and "possessive", in other words.

Friday, February 25, 2005

Is it normal that little birdies are already hatching?* I mean, isn't it a little early? Could it be to do with the presence of a well-stocked bird table? And what will happen in this cold? Should I do anything more than stock the bird table?

*I have no idea what type of birdy- I can only hear them cheeping in the swallow's nest they're squatting.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Children are entertaining.
Yesterday, in the kitchen, Hen was demonstrating a horse's paces for the benefit of her horse-ignorant papa. Sim was sitting doing his homework in the next room. We had no idea he was listening.
On a quick turn, Hen's ankle turned over, and she collapsed to the floor, writhing and clutching her leg in a way befitting a Real Madrid player.
Seemingly out of nowhere, Sim ran in. He dashed over to where his sister lay, his fingers cocked in a pistol shape, and 'put her down' humanely before rushing back to his homework. We rather suspect that he'd had been waiting for the opportunity for nearly ten years.
The Boff and I couldn't stop laughing for five minutes.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

The most wonderful thing about parents' evening at school, is how "quiet and refined", like Tigger after breakfast, the children become, after hours and under the watchful gaze of their parents. I also love the quiet, sober, businesslike, règlements de compte you can carry out in full view of about 200 people, and get away with it.
I'm evil, I know, but I love making the little sods who do as little as they can get away with in class all term, squirm like three-year olds needing the loo.

Monday, February 21, 2005

I'm having a very trying afternoon, busy working on the Jaccottet poem. Since the power went down so many times yesterday, I lost it quite a few times (about five) whilst mid-sentence. It appears that however many times one saves a document as one works on it, if a power failure occurs, one's lovingly crafted footnotes simply disappear inot the ether. I'm so pissed off that I'm about to drop out for the afternoon and slob in front of Truffaut's 'L'enfant sauvage'. So there, stupid computer! That'll learn you!

For the last twenty hours, we have mostly been practising living in the 18th century: we've had an intermittent power supply, and Exeter is grid-locked to such an extent that dumping one's car and proceeding on foot is actually faster. Is the end of the world upon us? There are even rumours of snow...

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Here's this week's oozing- last week's class was cancelled due to illess of the other two students. The original French, by a poet called Philippe Jaccottet, is breathtakingly beautiful- I promise to type it out here as soon as I've finished my work for this week.
Update: It's here
Rest assured

Rest assured, it will come! You’re getting closer,
you’re burning! The word at the end
of this poem, more than the first, will be close
to your death, which pauses for nothing

Do not think that it naps under bushes
or catches its breath as you write.
Even as you drink at the mouth that quenches
the driest thirst, that soft mouth that cries

Softly, even as you forcefully tighten the knot
of your four arms so as to stay very still
in the burning darkness of your mingled hair,

it comes, God only knows by which means, towards you two,
from far away or already very near, but rest assured,
it comes: from one word to the next you are older.

One of the things I've always found fascinating, as a displaced person (ie- growing up in a country which was not the country of my birth, and later, living in a country which is not the country of my upbringing) is the big bloody deal about shared knowledge and culture. Growing up in France, I was always viewed with suspicion because I tended to know things that the teacher herself didn't know, merely through what I was exposed to at home- not in any way better things, but certainly different ones.

When I reached university in England, the same situation arose, but in reverse- this time, I was at times viewed with awe because of the things I knew which were different from what everyone else knew, and sometimes with pity for the things I didn't. Everyone made the mistake of confusing different with 'extra'. For example, I wouldn't have known an iambic hexameter if it had come up and slapped me in the face, but I did know an alexandrine when I saw it. What my university colleagues failed to appreciate is that they taught me most of the standard things that I know now. I suppose it's not too late to say "Thanks, you lot".

I suppose what I'm struggling towards saying is that cultural diversity increases the sum of everyone's knowledge. It is crass to assume that everyone around you knows the same things as you (and I personally feel zero affinity or kinship towards anyone who reads and inwardly digests the Daily Mail, though they may carry a GB passport- don't know why I put that it in- probably something to do with the racist and alarmist headline they were running last Tuesday), when we all really have different upbringings, even growing up in a same street.

And I will never understand the mentality behind resenting strangers because you fear losing your way of life. All it is really is fear of change, which is the problem of those of who fear, not of those who bring the change.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

A cold wind rushes dankly up the street. She pushes her hand up my sleeve, searching for my fingers. "I like the fur inside your coat", she explains.

I hold her cool hand, warming it like a small creature in the tunnel of our two sleeves.

"I'm going to hop to the end of the street," she declares.

The tendons on the back of her hand flex and tense with the effort to stay balanced, I feel them strong beneath her fragile skin.

...how much longer will she hop like this?...

I pick her up to smell the mimosa flowering in the front garden of a daycare centre. She is getting heavy now. Seven and a half. It's almost an effort, holding her at arm's length.

"Do you remember Nice? It was February too, and the mimosa was out. You were five then." ...and as cute as a button, talkative, bright and as small as a fairy. you delighted my friends...will I be able to lift you to smell mimosa like this next year?

She remembers Nice of course, and her own uncanny ability to get people to give her presents. She still has that.

We run on to the end of the street and catch up with the others. The wave of nostalgia has passed. She is still holding my hand, the mimosa is still flowering. Carpe Diem.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Here we are, off to London for a few days as tourists, which is funny considering that for the ten or so years we lived within striking distance of the place, we hardly ever went there just to visit. We're staying at the Boff's half-sister's, which eschews such modern technologies such as the Interweb, so updating might be sparse for a few days...

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Tricky meme, this one. Found at Billy's. Which authors have you read more than ten books by? And it's tricky because most authors don't write that many published books in a lifetime, and also because I don't read things just because they were written by a certain person- I'd have to like the story as well.

So here are mine, in the order I read them.
Dr Seuss
Enid Blyton
James Herriot
Emile Zola
Molière (don't know if plays count though)

That's it really. I haven't read reams of books by the same author since I was about 16, and Molière is only there because he is widely (In France at least, and certainly not by me) considered to be the French Shakespeare.

I might be able to addd more later, when I've thought about it.

A resolution
Go cold turkey on coffee
Day three: am coping

After the fatigue
After the sinus headaches
At last, peaceful sleep

Northern winter gale
Bamboo lies down to the ground
Will it stand again?

Experiment time:
How to sum up a whole day
In five seven five

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Sunshine on pine trees
Laughing children, running dog
Is spring here at last?

Seen two days before St Valentine's 

A grey-bearded man shuffles sadly homewards, twelve perfect red roses hanging despondently in the hand also holding a white plastic bag of groceries.

Friday, February 11, 2005

No more olive oil in the bottle.
Guinea pigs behind the dresser.
Dog with mangy lips.
Chickens peering into the kitchen hoping for extras.
A million questions an hour fired at me.

Is this what he meant by "chaos"?

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

There's too much negativity flying around at the moment, something's got to give. Maybe this.

It's always amazing how many words come out of the blogger form after I've published, and it ends up on the actual page. I'm going to aim to cultivate the gift of conciseness for a bit from now. If I can find it.

There's something elemental about growing plants- as you sink your hands into earth, potting and repotting, you imagine the coming year's growth, can almost hear the plant thanking you, feel it stretching out its little roots and reaching for the fresh nutrients. You feel connected in some strange way with the whole world.

You can justify taking time out to garden- after all, don't all those high-flying execs take "gardening leave" before going to another commercially-sensitive job? Even on a smaller scale, forgetting about the physically undemanding tasks staking up in the in-tray of your mind, by dabbling with the most primeval of processes, carting around muck and compost and plunging uncomplaining green stuff into new soil can liberate the mind wonderfully.

You never worry when you're gardening. The only questions- the red leaves or the silver against the fence? Where is the weed wand? I wonder if the third compost bin is ready? -are uncomplicated and heartening ones. Whichever answer you choose, something will happen, mostly good.

Even if that something is watching, G&T in hand, the giant thistles overtake your grass roller and the dandelions recarpeting the lawn, turning the whole of your plot into a post-modern thumbed nose at television formula gardening, it will all keep growing in a uncomplaining fashion. You can leave it all to fend for itself for a week, two if you're a masochist, and go back to it on your terms.

Come to think of it, that is one of the major attractions: it's always on one's own terms. It's one of the few things one can still do without attracting negative criticism from any quarter. Gardening, say I, is good for the soul.

far too close harmony 

Listen, you bossy old moose, will just naff off out of my face and let me get on with running my own household!!! For fuck's sake, do I need notes like this left on the computer keyboard?

e: C's* bedding all in washer to go out soon- please check her duvet (still upstairs)

Hello? The last time I checked their birth certificates, I was definitely their mother, not the hired help. I.might.just. make sure my daughter has her quilt back by this evening by myself. Yaaaaarrrgh!

Hurry up, builders...please


Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Garden stuff 

I want a lavender-lined path. Lavender seeds, appropriately chilled in the fridge for three months, were sown in a heated propagator last weekend. No sign of anything yet.

I want a bed of herbaceous perennials. The space unwillingly vacated by cypresses from hell last October, but still lined with poisonously acidic and compacted earth unfit for supporting anything but flamingoes, has been covered over with leaf mould and chicken manure on straw, well watered and covered over with black plastic to hasten the inevitable decomposition into lovely new soil. I shall have herbaceous perennials.

I want a scent garden. My mother sent (no pun intended) the seeds of many different types of nice-smelling flowers, in a birthday package which miraculously arrived on my birthday. A small jasmine, rescued the other day from a life of misery outside a supermarket, will become a part of my projected garden by next year.

I want a vegetable patch, or at least somewhere to put my now beautifully germinating long red pepper plants (seeds gleaned from some actual peppers- try it, it really works!). Ed the Farmer was uncharacteristically jolly when I hailed his tractor earlier to enquire on the possible whereabouts of our wayward yellow dogue (he was, indeed, visiting Ed's Springer Spaniels, the naughty hound). Ed is still ruminating my request for field for a veg patch. He's come over all agricultural-cagey and whinged about needing the field for calving or some such rural nonsense. He'll give in. I hope.

I want leprechauns to come in the night and level the grass in front of the house into croquet lawn, by the judicious yet silent addition of topsoil in the right places while we slumber. I'm not holding my breath over that one.

I want an orchard, producing apples, pears and plums other pit fruits to spring up in the space of a year without having to remove any inconvenient trees, our local tree surgeon having proved himself to be a tree shark, by doubling his previous estimate in the final invoice. There is such a thing as bad publicity. If anyone around Devon were thinking of having tree work done, contact me and I'll advise you whom to avoid.

I want a lot.

It's a beautiful day and I'm naughtily spending my unexpected day off outside- the school is having an outward bound day for which my gravid predecessor had not been put down to assist- gardening, instead of being inside, working on writing up last weeks poem translations and this week's drafts, as well as my lessons for the rest of the week.

The poems are sitting on the front door step, kept in place by an empty flower pot, while I move bamboo and dig new flower beds. I am thinking about them, honest...

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The well-tempered school 

Quite a lot of the happy running of a school, and its overarching administration, relies on trust. Trust ensures that the pupils listen to their teachers, confident that the teacher has their best interests at heart. Trust prompts the parents to deposit their child at the school gate, confident that the child will be looked after and kept safe until the end of day, whilst learning and socialising with its peers. Trust in the school authority to run the institution in the best interests of all its members, both pupil and staff, focuses the minds of staff towards the ethos of that particular school.

In many schools, after trust has begun to break down, a downward spiral of negativity takes hold. Teachers, whose duty of care is deemed to be "in loco parentis", ie the duty of care expected of a parent, usually do not neglect that duty, but it sometimes happens. Parents sometimes lose confidence that the school is acting in the best interests of their child. Sometimes parents' expectations of the school are unreasonably high. Sometimes, but really not at all often, the management of the school is not up to the task. All too often the negativity and griping is contagious, running rampant among the parents at the school gate, and spilling into the very place it does not belong, the children's consciousness.

In most schools, and most of the time, school staff do not forget that their primary duty is not just to draw their pay check, but to work for it as well. More often, they are overtaken by unreasonable expectations on their abilities. If parents send their child to school unable to take instructions, to obey rules, or to adapt to a different set of expectations- and school is never going to be like home- then they have nobody but themselves to blame if their child is constantly in trouble or fails to progress at an appropriate level. Schools are almost by definition the most expedient way of educating children, and will never replicate, or replace, home-education.

Part of the "job" of a child is to go to school, unless the parents decide to home-educate, so it is not unreasonable to expect the parent, first and primary educator of their child, to prepare that child as much as they can for that job. Teachers do as much as they can within the limits of human ability, but they cannot ever completely take over the role of the parents, who almost invariably have far fewer children to deal with every day, and know them better than a teacher ever will.

Similarly, parents cannot expect teaching staff to do a better job with their child than they themselves do. If they are truly sub-standard parents, then society, and the teachers themselves, may well have that expectation, but a parent who is failing should never point the finger at the school instead of addressing their own problems.

I do think I have ever met a teacher, in all my multiple contacts with schools, as pupil, parent and staff, who did not have the best interests of the children at heart. Again, there are always going to be a few bad apples, but they will never represent the majority, and will always, nowadays, be pointed out to the relevant authorities as soon as possible, by their own colleagues and managers.

The time for trust has returned, I believe. We can no longer assume that educational authorities are on perpetual socio-culutural crusades- the initiatives in Britain in the last twenty years, aimed at increasing literacy, numeracy and general knowledge should convince anyone of that. No longer can one assume that one's child's teacher has one eye on their retirement clock and one on their next brandy- most teachers retire well before standard retirement age, so demanding is the job now, and many burn out far younger than that.

Gone should be the days when parents outspokenly criticised their child's teacher(s) in front of the child itself. The child needs to walk into school, implicitly trusting that they will learn something that day, and that their teacher knows how best to teach them that thing. I would like to think that people support their child's teacher publically, whilst having any words needed, privately. Nobody can expect their child's teacher to be anything more than another human being, acting in "loco parentis"- you have to trust in that at least.

Pet updates 

The clever dog passed his rabies vaccination with flying colours, so he'll be able to travel with us when we go to France from June onwards, armed with his new Pet Passport, and will no longer have to go on dogiday to our lovely friends in nearby Wideriver.

The Boff has spent three weekends running (pictures later) constructing a new deluxe pad for the chickens. They have been 100% free range since we acquired them in September, and despite two losses to unseen animals in the hedge, they are extremely healthy and happy. Unfortuntely the same cannot be said of the garden. The chickens do not seem to understand the meaning of mulch- they think it is for their benefit, and we fear that the lawn might not recover before midsummer at this rate. So cooped up they shall be, albeit in an artistically designed house with easy access to the nesting boxes (for us as well as them), and an electrically protected run. Ha! Beat that, you measly birds!

My children gave me two new guinea-pigs for my birthday. We (I) called them Thelma and Louise, which the children think are really sweet names. Little do they know... I'd best keep those car keys and shotguns hidden from them. Actually, they are two of the sweetest little female guinea pigs I have ever seen, and the intention is that they each be paired up with one of the males as soon as they are big enough- probably at the end of this month.

This week's crop 

En guise de préface

L'inspiration n'est pas servile
on peut la supplier... Rien.
L'invention à froid, même fertile
il faut se rudoyer un brin
et puis
l'attention, ça se défile
si l'on ne cerne le terrain.

Construction, narration, quelle bile!
on voudrait tant épater les huiles.

Heureusement qu'ils sont malins
les écrivains.

La poupée

Je suis la poupée qu'on remonte
Qui dot bonjour, quidit bonsoir,
Je fais pipi sans aucune honte
Et je n'ai jamais peur du noir.

Je ferme les yeux à la demande,
En souriant, je suis polie.
Quand on me fait des réprimandes,
Je pleure tout en restant jolie.

Je suis coquette, mes robes sont belles,
Mes boucles blondes et roses mes joues,
La parfaite petite fille modèle
Dont tout le monde se déclare fou.

Mais un jour, on a trop joué,
Mon corps parfait s'est brisé net.
Stupeur! Le monde, longtemps floué,
A bien savouré ma défaite.

La vérité, elle fut affreuse,
Car à la place où bat le coeur,
Je dus l'avouer, pauvre gueuse:
J'ai un micro-ordinateur.

Sans façon

-Moi? J'écris normalement.
-C'est à dire, comment?
-Devant mon établi
avec mes outils
et mes petites souris.
Si elles se taisent
je suis à l'aise.
Quand elles se mettent à couiner
je dois préparer mon papier.
Ce n'est pas facile à traduire
ce que dans leur langue elles veulent dire.
Parfois ça fait de jolies chansons.

-Alors, dites-moi donc
ce n'est pas de vous ces flon-flons?

Because I know that some of you out there like this sort of thing as much as I do, here is my handed-in version of last week's poems. On this course, for the handed in version, every detail that might make you raise your eyebrows would be annotated, along with anything that disagrees with the strategy for translating the piece that you've also drafted. It's actually quite a lot of work, mine de rien.

Parallel square

Around the roller skating track
Shuffle-limp the octagenarian goes
Hobbling bravely in three-four time
One foot, another foot, and then the stick

She has the arduous track all to herself:
The children on Fridays are at school

Against a felt-grey wet sky, duck weather
She completes her daily constitutional
Allowing the leaves to die around her
The old beeches to lose their garb -
While she, wisely, practices living

The balcony

Close-up : Pigeon: heavy, bulky
Perched on balcony’s parapet
Beating heart buried deep in plumage

They’re strange so near-
Out of proportion

Ill-adapted to human neighbourhood,
Our pedestrian ways

They brook not our acquaintance
Despite their sideways glances

One step towards the glass, and it flits
Rapidly fading into recognition
Far off

To each species
Its spaces.

Saturday, February 05, 2005


I suppose that at least when someone begins a long slow decline into senility, you have enough opportunities for annoyance, frustration and patient explanations, of the kind given to a child, to knock the edge off the shock of losing one's relative to mindlessness. Surely it does not all strike at once?

I'm worried that my mother may be going dotty.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Technical help needed 

A would-be commenter has been saldy thwarted for many months now, by the total malfunction of my comments box when she tries to open it.

Here are the properties of the comments link I get; btw, I don't even get a box, and yet have been able to access HaloScan from other sites, she wrote, and included this message which is all she gets when she clicks on me comments link:

Protocole: Protocole inconnu
Type: Non disponible
Adresse: javascript:HaloScan('110741997831496063')

Does anybody out there have any idea what the problem might be? If you do, how can I fix it? It must be in my comments template. Thanking you à l'avance.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

And you simply go over and congratulate dear friend and regular commenter Ruth, who has lost 14 pounds in one month in her fundraising initiative, and is now requesting her first donations for her first stone.*

*hint hint if you sponsor her and hint hint hint if you don't yet- but even if you don't want to sponsor her, just the congratulations will help.

I know that at least one of you has trouble with commenting on my site- ie you get the box, but can't post. If anybody else out there is having the same trouble, could you please drop me a line at my email address describing the problem, please? Also tell me which browser you use. I think I must have a bug in the comments code.

Also anyone want a gmail address? I seem to have enough to pass on to 56 lucky people.

Poems to translate: 5
Exams to mark: 22
Lessons to prepare: 1

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

A musing 

This has been bugging me for a while, but I fear writing it, so I'll limit this post at first to a prvocative question, because being chronically undermathematical, I don't feel in full possession of the facts:

At what point did people's houses stop being "houses" and start to become a "delightful 5 bed 3 bath executive link-detached homes" that require two full-time salaries to finance, and occupy their owners' thoughts all day, every day, as well as most of the night? And more to the point, why?

Some people think it's a good thing for houses to be so expensive. I don't get it. Why would anyone think it was a good idea only just to survive for 25 years financially, in order to end up with a large pile of cash held up in a rather large pile of bricks of variable value?

Have to work like Trojan for a couple of days- marking and university work to get through.

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