About Me

Thursday, 28 May 2020

One of the things that has kept me sane during Lockdown has been our garden. Mostly tended by my husband, we added to what was here when we moved in 20 years ago. It's not a very planned or orderly garden but it attracts wildlife: birds, bees and butterflies.  for a few years we had hedgehogs but, sadly, they moved on.
We enjoy it very much.

Monday, 25 May 2020

A work of fiction

Once upon a time a young dramatist sat in her tiny cubby hole and  created  an epic state of the nation drama.

Taking  inspiration from her old fashioned literary  heroes, Shakespeare and Dickens  she created a government chief advisor, overflowing with  Machiavellian shiftiness and a total lack of conscience. The advisor worked for a  Prime Minister who had  zero sense of social responsibility and  who had perfected the art of  saying  one thing while letting everybody know he  believed another. She decided to place these two characters against the background of  an unforseen national emergency.

She went on to create a number of other characters including a Chief of Police in a Northern County and his retired predecessor, the advisor's wife and elderly parents, a new leader of the opposition and a well know political pundit who fronted his own Sunday morning  TV show. At the centre of the drama were a couple of political researchers from this show,  one who grew up on a council estate and the other whose dad was a member of the House of Lords. These two characters engaged in a passionate sexual relationship before they realised they were not right for each other but not before they discovered the Prime Minister's advisor was in the pay of a powerful foreign government. This scandal was the final nail in the coffin of the increasingly insecure government.

Following this scandal there was a general election and the shiny new leader of the opposition became the new Prime Minister to the delight of the nation and the chagrin of the far left of his party who immediately started slagging him off as a Capitalist patsy. The penultimate scene showed  one of  the leading lights on the far left of the new Prime Minister's party  - and his biggest critic  - being approached by a representative of the 'shady foreign government'.

The drama ended with the post script 'two years later', where the audience saw the Prime Minister warmly welcoming his new advisor, the former left wing critic.

To the young dramatist's delight, the drama was accepted by Channel 4 and was their most critically acclaimed drama in over 20 years. She was  hailed as a latter day Alan Bleasedale and compared to David Hare. She was  taken on as a writer in residence at the National Theatre.

I asked my mum what she thought of the drama  'It was all right I suppose,' she replied 'but it was all a bit far fetched really.'

Saturday, 11 April 2020

More musing from the point of social isolation

Entering week three of social isolation, I can’t stop thinking about the lack of PPE for front line workers.  I don’t see our government as gods who can solve every problem circumstance throws at them but this aspect – the buying in of equipment - could surely have been foreseen. I really do wish Boris a speedy recovery but I am praying he does not present himself as a victorious general who by virtue of his own vim and brio has overcame the enemy, thereby reducing those who have died to weaklings. My fear of social Darwinism runs deep. The recent talk of 'herd instinct' being a modern manifestation of this way of thinking. As I read of shopkeepers, doctors, nurses and bus drivers taken from those who loved them before their time; it makes me feel quite weepy. 

On a more personal level, a colleague’s daughter is currently trapped in an isolation center in Vietnam and the conditions she writes about are not good. Her mother must be going out of her mind with worry. Another colleague’s grandmother passed away yesterday. My colleague is not sure if it was the result of dementia or the virus.  Our local council are advertising for carers and I think of the brave souls who will take on these roles with the deepest gratitude. One of the care homes needing staff is the same care home whose staff helped to rehabilitate my mother only recently. A friend who lives in Reading and works for a catering agency is driving to London every day to work as chef’s assistant in a care facility, which also involves him dropping off the meals at the elderly residents’ rooms/living areas. He told me how much he enjoys chatting to them at a distance and how much they appreciate the contact as well as the sustenance.  He seemed remarkably sanguine when he told me about it. He needs to work and they pay the transport costs and the rate is good – he’s actually overqualified for the post but thinks it worthwhile.  My step-sister who works in a Chemist has finally been given the PPE the staff have needed for several weeks.   I could moan - and actually have moaned on my Facebook page - about the isolation of working from home but there is a lot to be said for counting one’s blessings. Also, not spending much money I need to remember to spread some of that build-up of income to those who are on the front line and those who are finding this a lot tougher than a forcedly reclusive asthmatic in a professional occupation. 

My biggest fear is that, when I go out again, I will contract the virus and die from it but this is where staying centered, proportionate and grounded really matters. I was talking to my Dad – a bit of a social Darwinist but sweet with it; he would never advocate it as a government policy – and I  had to say that as late baby boomer Western woman, even although I have experienced some difficulties in my life, I have been part of a charmed generation. I’m praying it stays that way for some considerable time longer. 

When I sit at my computer marking students' work, I find my mind wandering at points and encountering bursts of  memories I have unconsciously stored of people I know and places I have been and being flooded with a form of gladness. I see the sunshine lighting a street or a landscape and find myself tapping into the quality of the memory.  A memory of a meal or sitting outside a pub laughing and enjoying the company of loved ones. It’s like I am suddenly unlocking the unexpected quality of the – seemingly very ordinary at the time - experience. The longing to be there again is almost exquisite and as is the acceptance that that time has been and  gone. The opportunity to spend time again with those I love will be most welcome. As will drinking in the atmosphere of places but mostly of just being in the world with others. 

Most of all, I am grateful that I am not alone; my lovely husband is in the house with me and we have our front and back gardens and sufficient toilet paper. The sun shines through the window; I am going to sit in the garden in a few moments and, later, we have been invited to a Zoom party for a friend’s 50th birthday. Said husband who eschews any form of social media, frowned at the idea of this. I look forward to seeing how he handles it. Let’s hope it works.

Saturday, 4 April 2020

An Anglo-Saxon herbal and other tangents

An ancient Anglo-Saxon book of plants has a cure for the common ...
Well, I am just about coping being confined to barracks. Working from home with the uncertainty of this situation is a little stressful but I have to keep going, though having things cut off in their midst is very strange and unsettling as I am quite a hands on person and can lose perspective being stuck in near isolation. Still, I am well. 

Being home I have been reading more and have been picking up again on Spitalfields’s Life, the Gentle Author's  London Blog. The other day there was great post on an Anglo-Saxon herbal, which reminded me of how  I enjoyed teaching a small unit on the History of English quite a few years ago and how I enjoyed reading Melvyn Bragg's The Adventure or English - wide and sweeping -  and David Crystal's guides to the development of the English Language; he has written several. I would advise anyone with an interest in language, history or culture or all three to check them out.

I picked up on the ideas in these books about language, culture and power again when GCSE English was still exploratory and fun and we took our students through the spoken language study looking at speeches and rhetoric, through to multi-modal talk and the relevance of accents and pronunciation. One of my favourite web sites at that time was the British Library's  Sound Archive, where you will find a treasure trove of regional accents from the past 100 years to say nothing of other delights. I will may pay more visits during my time in social isolation.

Also, today I am pleased that Keir Starmer won the Labour Leadership with Angela Rayner as his deputy. The Corbyn experiment didn't work but I hope Starmer does abolish tuition fees and put essential services back in to government hands if he gets into power.

Spitalfields Life - Anglo-Saxon herbal
The Adveture of English
Sounds British Library archive
Keir Starmer wins Labour leadership election