Wednesday, November 29, 2006

This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.

I've been lucky recently in that I have had good books to read, and time in which to read them. It can take me months to read a book; if I don't like it I'll leave it lying around, refusing to be branded a quitter but really wanting to quit. But sometimes I have a good run, like now.

Attention All Shipping is written by Charles Connelly, a Bill Bryson wannabe looking for an angle, who decided to visit each of the areas mentioned in the Shipping Forecast. Undaunted by the fact that some areas have no land (he had to content himself with flying over parts of the sea and ticking the box) he visits not just some of the most desolate and isolated parts of the UK, Iceland and Scandinavia, he finds himself on barren sandbanks and strange platforms in his quest complete his journey.
The closest he gets to my locality is a fleeting visit to Cromarty - he didn't venture over the bridge to the north of the Firth, missing out on the delights of Evanton and Invergordon, possibly as the result of some thorough research.
The book improves throughout and goes from copying Bill to not quite competing but certainly challenging him as an eye-rolling traveller shuffling rather than striding his way round the world in the search for little snippets of history and heritage.

Next on The Book Tower this week, the man himself. An inspired choice of birthday present from Muriel, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is essentially Bill's autobiography, but only covering his life in the 50s. If you have read Made in America you'll know how 50s obsessed he can be, and each chapter is loosely based on aspects of this decade and the results he saw within his family...and how his dad was a skinflint. It was good, but I can't help thinking that Bill has wrung himself dry now. Neither Here Nor There and The Lost Continent were the results of years of experience, research and observation and as a result are two of the funniest, most informative books I've read. But other Bryson books seemed rushed - especially the Australia one, and now that he's spilled his guts in Thunderbolt, what's next?

My final offering, and the book I am reading just now, is Teacher Man by Frank McCourt. Another gift, I recoiled at first from reading about teaching, cos I is one. For the same reason I don't watch "Teacher TV" on cable. I haven't read any of McCourt's other books, and haven't seen the film. Teacher Man is actully really good. Born in New York, he grew up in Ireland but then returned to New York in his youth and after a series of manual jobs embarks on a career teaching literature to American teens. It is really well written and his power to deviate from the storyline and give interesting tiny details would make Ronnie Corbett green with envy.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The advantage of a bad memory is that one enjoys several times the same good things for the first time

It's important to be able to laugh at yourself, right? How about to giggle at yourself in such a way as to unnerve school cleaners and frighten school children? While wearing lycra leggings.

On Monday I cycled to school as usual, dressed to impress in my waterproofs and leggings, which for the record the QPS staff have banned me from wearing other than immediately after, or immediately prior to riding the bike. Even the fetching red stripe and reflective panels have failed to sway them. But once I arrived in my room I realised to my dismay that I'd forgotten trousers to change in to...I'd taken them home on Friday to be washed (a rare enough treat for them) and neglected to pack them again. Were I a pupil I would have simply blamed my mum and worn a groovy pair of trousers from the lost property box, but considering I had 3 schools to teach in that day, including the High School up the road, leggings or cast-off half-masts were not going to cut it. I needed to have my shower then get up to the supermarket to buy a pair of trousers.

The shower is joined to the school office, and connected to the school corridor by means of a short passage and a door to which I have a key. Locked in, I showered and and went to my pannier to find my towel, also taken home for washing. And also left there. So now I am naked, showered and standing with no towel and no trousers in the school office. Can you see the headlines yet?

Question - how many paper towels does it take to dry someone roughly my size and shape after a shower? Answer - 9. Who'd have thought.

Dried (of sorts) and dressed (in a fashion) I had about half an hour to go and buy trousers...plenty of time. I dumped my stuff in my room and fetched my wallet from my bag, or would have, had it not also been safely tucked up at home. This is where the giggling started.

I had to borrow money from another staff member, walk to the shop in my lycra while greeting every pupil and parent on the way, and buy a fetching pair of brown cords. Mmm, £15 well spent.

Not content with this level of general humiliation I had an appointment at another primary school at 11.15 and had decided to try out a new cycle path to get there. The route I have used previously is all on road and though it only takes 20 minutes to get there I thought the path might be a bit faster and a bit quieter. The path started off promisingly - well surfaced, old railway line, nice Autumn day. But not for long - it descended into a bog, rutted and muddy with no signs and eventually no apparent way to get off it. My "street" tyres, with no grips, just spun about as I tried to cycle, spraying mud and mulch over my back and head while my shoes and the bottoms of my super new trousers, sticking out from beneath my waterproofs, went from smart-casual to tramp dirty-protest. Arriving at the school I wasn't sure why I was getting such curious, pitying and scathing looks until I went to the toilet to wash my hands and saw that my face and hair were covered in mud too.

The rest of the week didn't bless me with luck either - Wednesday saw the wettest day here for a long time, and was the day I took the motorbike to work. A training course until 3pm, then a splash back to QPS for a meeting 4 till 6, then off to Bo'ness through torrential rain for a 7 to 10 rehearsal left me wet, cold and quite possibly rotting. Luckily I had taken it easily on the back Borrowstoun road as rounding a corner I encountered a huge puddle, well, a flood, right across the road. Even at 30mph or slower the bow-wave went over the bike and down my jacket. Really.

Lorna is out tonight - ladies' night for some of the mums from her various meetings. Kit's new pleasure is being dangled upside down and for extra laughs, swung around.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.

The nights, as they say, are fair drawing in. I now cycle to and from school wearing an impressive assortment of reflective, hi-viz and illuminated accessories looking like a renegade 80s background dancer from The Hit Man and Her. From my flashing ankle strap to my bright orange vest, every inch of me screams "I am here, please don't park on my head."

Having said that, I had to take the GSXR in to work today as another spoke has broken on the pushbike. Now, I don't weigh that much so have enjoyed a polite conversation with the Edinburgh Bicycle Co-Op suggesting that their bikes are pish and that they really should mend it for me. I have been invited for a summit meeting with a manager on Saturday morning where I will lay it on the line for them, then dance about, negotiating a suitable settlement before handing over my bank card and paying whatever they have asked me to.

The GSXR continues to me a mind blowing piece of machinery, more so now I am allowed to rev it higher. To pinch an overused phrase from various bike mags it does not so much accelerate forwards as thrust the world backwards. You know those dizzy spells you've been having these mornings? That's me and my bike, that is. It now has about 800 miles on the clock - the most recent big trip being a scoot to Glencoe for lunch with Kev and Claire. It was brilliant fun, loads of bikes out and about, though waiting for Claire to demonstrate her new bellypan scrapin' brake pedal bendin' cornering style proved fruitless.

Lorna has settled in a real routine of social gatherings sporting Kit like a passport to fun and lunch for a secular club of mothers in the know. Monday is Mum and Baby group, Tuesday Baby Yoga, Wednesday lunch with one of the assorted stream of new and unfamiliar names she keeps mentioning (oh, I'm seeing Julie and her wee girl Pannacotta today - you remember them, the one in the blue jumper from the antenatal classes we attended in March...), Thursday is now Baby Singing (£5 to sit in a circle with other hippies and sing Baa Baa Ethnic Sheep Have You Any Fairtrade Organic Wool?) and Friday remains cinema day. I was lucky enough to attend the Filmhouse's screening of The Break-Up during the October break. Looking behind me during the film was like the bit in the Muppet Show when you caught a glimpse of the audience...all the strange faces and jerky movements from other people's babies as they watched the film.

Kit's new tricks are (in no particular order) - sitting up, screaming, squealing, eating lumpy food, having a reach which is twice as long as his arm, being left-handed (doh!), enjoying singing more than ever and staring at old ladies on buses until they freak out. He has also found a new toy, one which all boys are blessed with and which will give him a lot of pleasure for many, many years.

Our October break was good fun, having Jon down for a bit then heading north to Tain. A lunch with the Inverness Eggermonts broke our journey and allowed us to marvel at how gorgeous Clara is, and at how Kane has managed to lose even more weight. The rest of the week was spent in an assortment of Franco-Scots situations as we chummed Jon, Mark and the French "Whisky Club" around their tour of Tainshire. We enjoyed tours of the Glenmorangie and Balblair distilleries, and clay pigeon shooting (I was second best out of us, though the excited border collie chasing the clays added a new sense of challenge to the proceedings). We joined them for a lunch of ham and cheese washed down with a bottle of Tobermory, some raw red wine and even rawer local moonshine and the trip culminated in a no-holds barred seafood and whisky feast at the Oystercatcher before gate-crashing a wedding at the local hotel. Admittedly this was made easier by the fact we sort of knew the bride, and that the French visitors had hired full Highland dress...sort of a wedding crashers camouflage, if you like.

I have accidentally become co-director for the next Barony Players production, a couple of suspense filled shorts from Lucille Fletcher, "The Hitchhiker" and "Sorry, Wrong Number". Being a director means the actors do what I tell them to which is cool for as long as things are going well.

Finally, the rowans are hanging heavy on the branches. And you all know what that means...

Oh, and under this post where it says "Comments". Then make fun of me in the box provided! It's really that simple!