Sunday 9 June 2024

2024 Weeknote 23

Very brief today, because I have spent all weekend sunning myself on the beach in Portsmouth: Mother Hand rented a beach hut for the week so the fam have been down there enjoying it. I visited my uncle and aunt on the way home and met my cousin's son for the first time. He's 7. So it's been a very peopley weekend and, around all of this, I have been juggling the start of the exam board tasks - possibly the busiest part of the schedule for me. 

Ergo, not much else has been happening, although I did finish my Topolino. One day there might even be pictures. For now, though, the sea - nothing makes me pine for my home town more than a sunny day on the seafront.

Pebble beaches are the best and I won't hear otherwise. As Sib said this weekend (without a hint of irony), Portsmouth girls are rough, so don't challenge me on this. 

I did also want to commemorate this because it was quite a nice moment - when Mother Hand was last in hospital, I went to Portsmouth every other weekend and survived exclusively on takeaway and breakfast at a nice nearby cafe. I got to know the lady serving quite well and introduced her to Mother Hand when she was feeling better. We went in for breakfast this week and I was sad to see she wasn't there, although to owner was, and remembered me. Towards the end of the meal, the lady herself showed up and came over. There was a great moment where we both thought we might hug each other, and then realised we didn't know each other that well. So she just sat by me instead and we had a little catch up. Nice to have those connections in life. 

Sunday 2 June 2024

2024 Weeknote 22

Yeah, I skipped a week. I was away last Sunday and I meant to catch up but then, who wants to read another entry where I whine about not enjoying my job? It's a bit entitled, isn't it. And boring. Happily things picked up a bit last week and on Thursday - one day before the half term holiday - I finally found my stride and made big headway on the projects I had been procrastinating all term. This makes me feel quite hopeful for the coming term, busy though it will be. 

I did have a trust meeting on Tuesday that enraged me. Lots of disagreeing, which I had to try to manage professionally, with not much success, leading to the comment of the day to me: 'I find your point uncomfortable, but I think you're probably right'. More patronising. I had to come clean about my experience with assessment at the start of the day because, when you're disagreeing with people, it helps that they know you do actually know what you're talking about. It helped a bit, anyway. However, it just highlighted to me again what a lovely bubble I live and work in and how different the status quo is out there. It's a bit depressing, as I move away from working exclusively in my subject community, but I expect I will still find ways of interfering. I love a bit of interfering.

Onto nice half term things. On Saturday there was a quarry swim and lunch. On Sunday, I drove down to see Sib, Sib-in-law and the niblings. We went to Horrible Histories at Hampton Court and then, on Monday, a walk around Richmond Park. All very lovely as long as you take out the long and uncomfortable argument Sib and SIL had for much of the time I was there. I'm always at a bit of a loss when this happens - should I wade in? (Undoubtedly no, this is not the interfering I like). Should I just pretend it's not happening? (This is what I do but it's really awkward). 
Anyway. The small ones are very cute and fun, so that's good, and we saw lots of cool things - ducklings and beetles and lots of deer. 

Sort of understanding why people have children now, if they can make them do amusing things like this. 

On Tuesday, I'd arranged to go for a walk in the Mendips with ex-colleagues and so of course, the weather was abysmal. At one point I put my foot on what looked like a solid piece of ground and sunk into it up to my knee. Thankfully my walking boots are, it turns out, really waterproof. We squelched around for about 3 hours and then ate our sandwiches under an oak tree, sheltering from the rain. The dog companions loved it and we saw lots of wild horses.I came home and fell asleep in the bath, then napped most of Wednesday as I fought off a cold, which thankfully has failed to materialise. 

On Thursday I went into work for a bit, which meant I could visit the good bakery, and then went to a book talk at Toppings in Bath in the evening. It was Marlon James, on the anniversary of him winning the Booker for A Brief History of Seven Killings, which I have not yet read and so of course bought. Marlon James wrote The Book of Night Women which I read a few years ago, while I was studying teaching about slavery. What a book. It really has stayed with me. The interviewer naturally asked about Miss Isabelle and I really wanted to ask James, Do white interviewers always ask you about Miss Isabelle? But of course that's not really a question. The book deals incredibly well with the multiple layers of racism that slavery created in the Caribbean and Miss Isabelle, white but born in the Caribbean, is a victim of this system - not to the extent that the enslaved characters are, but occupying an uncomfortable place in society. I've a theory that people who read this book latch onto her character because it's not often that you read something that indicates that some white people were also scorned for not being the right kind of white, and that many people won't have really known this before. There is a really notorious scene in the book that she is at the centre of, I suppose, so that might also be why. 

That book! Not for the faint-hearted but I can recommend it highly. 

My favourite thing about Marlon James is that he is a massive book nerd. He kept going off at a tangent to talk about the dozens of books he loves and reads. It made me feel quite underaccomplished with my 20-30 books a year, I get the impression he'd manage that in a week, but then he does sort of read for a living, as a literature professor. I wrote down some favourite quotes but I think this one was the best: 'If I have to read one more story about some mediocre white man who has a wife and two mistresses and can somehow still get it up...I mean, come on dude.' 


On Friday I did many errands. I went to Landrace bakery in Bath, finally, and bought All The Things. I took some clothes in to be altered and finally went to the dentist - our old dentist ditched us in January (this being partly our fault as we didn't read his letter carefully and missed the narrow window provided to avoid such a ditching) and I've had to wait eight weeks to get an initial appointment with another dentist, and I had to prepay over the phone when I made it, and that's as a private patient. NHS places are like hen's teeth, if you'll pardon the pun. Luckily the new dentist seemed nice. I've got to go in for a filling and a filling replacement (I am not lucky with my teeth, in spite of all my careful cleaning and flossing) so I guess we will see then how good she is. 

I finished Still Life - very glad I stuck with it. I haven't managed to pick up anything else yet. I read a bit of The Dice Man, after referring to it in conversation and remembering that, although I knew the premise well, I had never actually thumbed through it, thanks to Father Hand banning me from it as a child. I have read about a fifth of it but that's enough. It seems to be a 500-page wank. I'm sure plenty of people in their 30s have found themselves a bit bored and not resorted to handing all agency over to chance, with disastrous consequences for seemingly everyone except the narrator. I tried it, I understand why I wasn't allowed to read it aged 11 (I was a precocious reader as a child and he actually had to hide it from me but, on this one, I have to say I agree with Father Hand), I'm sorry I bothered to waste an hour on it. 

I've tried the start The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and of course I've got A Brief History of Seven Killings ready to go, but I did also pick up the new Thursday Night Murder Club yesterday and I think that seems the most realistic read for the month when marking begins. 

On The TV front, I have managed a lot. I finally finished The Crown. I finished Mary and George - enjoyable, I love Julianne Moore, but the swearing was so anachronistic I found it quite jarring. I binged the whole of season 4 of True Detective which had a deeply satisfying ending. I love Jodie Foster. I have made a start on season 2 of Bridgerton. 

So all this TV has supported the almost-finishing of Toplino, which is about two inches of sleeves away from being ready to wear. I still fear it's going to be a bit short so it needs a good blocking. Hopefully I can get those sleeves finished today. 

Tuesday 21 May 2024

2024 Weeknote 20

I had a very lovely weekend doing mainly middle-aged things, so much so that I didn't make it to my blog on time. I revelled in the activities of the old:
  • Went to knitting group
  • Went to two garden centres
  • Planted seeds and bedding plants in pots (has to be pots because the rabbit does not have a healthy sense of his own mortality)
  • Got up early to go and do old-lady breast stroke around the quarry
  • Sat in the garden with a glass of wine and a book
  • Baked a cake
  • And the piece de resistance - I went into Holland and Barrett and used my loyalty points to buy a new herbal tea I'd never tried before
Can't wait for my free bus pass. 

I did manage ice cream for breakfast on Saturday though, so perhaps that is one in the other direction. My joint-favourite bakery in town has reawoken its soft-serve machine for the summer and I couldn't pass up the chance to try this month's flavour. 

I continued to read Still Life and my goodness, that is a good book. I was reading it on the train today and it made me cry. I need to stop reading books that make me cry on trains. 

I finished watching the Tattooist of Auschwitz but didn't really watch anything else. I did a bit more sleeve knitting, but half-heartedly. 

On Thursday, I went out to dinner with the faculty as one of us, Sophie, is leaving - has now left, actually. We went to a vegan mezze place we've been to before and I was delighted to bump into one of my ex-students, who shyly informed me that she has a place at Cambridge next year, to read history with French. What amazing news! I'm so pleased for her. I always get a bit sad about students who've moved on and I never get to hear what they do next. I suppose they can't all stay in touch but I love these stories. One of my year 13s gave me a card saying I was an inspirational woman, as well, which got me right in the feels.

Work was a bit better, still on my high from the conference at the weekend. I had a trust meeting with someone on Tuesday, though, who told me that if I worked hard on the course he's running, I might one day be a senior at an exam board. Oh, the dizzy heights of a job I've been doing for eight years! What an incentive! It was hard to arrange my face, but I think I managed it (I don't know if he would have clocked it anyway, my call froze three times during our meeting and he didn't even notice). But yeah, nice bit of patronising, just to keep me humble. 

It's another middle-aged thing, isn't it, being less willing to put up with other people spouting rubbish? So yeah, add that to the list above. 

Monday 13 May 2024

2024 Weeknote 19

I have no excuse for not writing this yesterday, other than, yesterday, I agreed with myself that I could do as little as I liked. Consequently, there was some tidying and putting away of things that had been languishing in the wrong place since Christmas; there was a successful attempt as dismantling the floordrobe; there was a nap; and there was plenty of book-reading in the sun. Having said I would give up on Still Life, I decided to give it one last go and it suddenly got really good so now I can't put it down. I am rushing to get this finished so I can get through a bit more before bed. I do have a sneaking suspicion I should have read A Room With A View first, though. 

There was some TV watching last week - more Tattooist of Auschwitz - but not very much as I was busy trying to get a few little projects finished before the conference I went to over the weekend. One of those projects was the presentation I made on Friday so it was good that I managed to prioritise that. I might have finished my quiz round in the bar as we waited for the quiz to begin. However, it was all as successful as I wanted it to be. It's such a lovely event to hang out at: everyone is friendly and kind, people just start chatting to me out of nowhere and there's a good deal of very wholesome learning to be done as well. 

This year's historian was William Dalrymple who almost never speaks in the UK as he spends a large proportion of his time living in India. His talk was fascinating, even though I find he is a bit repetitive now I've read the books and listened to the podcasts. I suppose we can't expect everyone to come up with fresh material all the time, particularly when his was already a pretty fresh take on the history of the British in India. 

Naturally I made him take a picture with me for my wall of historians.

Other notable sessions included a scheme of work about why women are constantly accused of being mad when actually they're just being human beings, and an overview of student perceptions of the British Empire. Empire is my bag at the moment, I can't look away from it. I was quite stern with a very well-known history author and all-round legend during that session but this is the sort of thing that presses my buttons these days.

So, it was a very worky week, really. I didn't mind it. I feel like I'm emerging from my grouchy chrysalis. 

Rachael and I booked flights to Kazakhstan this week as well, which helped my motivation somewhat. The chance to ski outside of Europe, finally! Too exciting. 

The book is calling me. 

Monday 6 May 2024

2024 Weeknote 18

My work motivation picked up a bit this week. I listened to a teaching podcast and that reminded me of some revision strategies I used to use with exam groups but had forgotten, so I spent all week doing those and they went down well. Yey me, I can teach after all. I've also been reflecting on what my role is going to be next year and how different parts of it fit together, so I can really make the most of the scant downtime I have when the exam classes leave and get lots of things planned.

Subconscious me is laughing heartily right now. The final term is always a school write-off because of the exam work, I can't think why conscious me can't quite grasp this. What does help is that, thanks to exam classes going, internal assessments and the PGCE student, I think I have around 20 lessons in total for the whole term...surely this bodes well for productivity. 


I went to a cracking history lecture this week from the venerated Ron Hutton, who was speaking about the Tudors again. This lecture is a regular at this time of year as we approach the A-level exams and the audience was predictably full of students, including some of mine, which was pleasing as the topic is nothing to do with what we teach them, but as a lecturer he is exceptional. There were also lots of my ex-students in the crowd, who traitorously went off to study history elsewhere, but it was nice to see them anyway. Plus tonnes of colleagues and friends from the surrounding area. I haven't seen much of people this year but I didn't really notice until I was there and people were asking me where I'd been. Where have I been? Hard to say. Perhaps this is part of the transition from subject leader to senior leader. 

The lecture was, naturally, extremely entertaining and educational. There's something good about seeing lectures on topics that you know loads about: I find myself not scribbling down facts as if they were gospel but instead considering what facts have been left out and how well the historian makes his case. Hutton did refer to Boulogne as a third-rate port for the second year in a row, I wonder what they did to offend him. He also made an interesting point about Henry VIII conducting 330 political executions in 8 years - 'a possible record for peacetime England'. 

It was a very historical week as I also went to see Hamilton on Saturday, with a couple of knitting group friends and a couple of school friends, tied to a lunch at Pieminister. I had a bit of trouble getting in as I hadn't managed to get all the tickets to scan (a long story) but thankfully it was OK in the end and I missed barely any of it. The show was spectacular, as you might imagine. Seeing it live was much better than watching it on Disney+. I have to dissent from popular opinion here and say I didn't think it was a great musical: the songs are very fast so I struggled to follow some of it (maybe this is how it's meant to be though, like opera) and I am never a big fan of musicals that have no dialogues (Les Mis, I mean you). It's also the nichest bit of history to focus on, but then I guess that was kind of the point. 

I made basically no progress on Still Life and have decided I need to give it up for now and move onto a book I am actually interested in, or all of May will have passed with no reading. I have also moved onto a friendlier audiobook, Restless Republic by Anna Keay - an interesting listen so far. 

We watched all of Baby Reindeer and it was as excruciating as I'd expected; I'm left wondering where Richard Gadd as to go from here, and my colleagues have joined the 'real Martha' carnival and are reading all her posts online. We tried to watch Oppenheimer yesterday but in the end had to admit that neither of us were into felt like a series of trailers, one after another. In general if a movie has music playing in the background almost all the time, I can tell it's not going to suit me. We started watching the Tattooist of Auschwitz and I was reminded to look up the second series of World on Fire because it's the same actor...I loved the first series but I assume the later ones have gone onto a streaming service. I also watched the first episode of Mary and George, on a recommendation from a student. I love Julianne Moore so this was a treat. 

I'm onto the sleeves of the Topolino I'm knitting. I'm not loving it - worries about it being too big, not long enough, the lace falling in the wrong place, the neckline being too baggy, not wanting to wear it and therefore wasting what it turning out to be some of the nicest yarn I've ever knitted with....all conspire to prevent me from finishing. But finish I will. I can always rip it out if I don't wear it, after all. 

And today I went for a swim. It was just over 13 degrees but felt colder. I managed two short laps before telling myself it was ok to stop; by that point I was acclimatised but it seemed sensible to get out as, naturally, I started to tell myself that if it no longer felt cold, I might be hypothermic. Hypochondria really is an age thing. 

It would have been nicer if it was sunny but I arrived just before the swim session started and the whole quarry was like a sheet of glass. It is definitely good for me, in many ways. 

Sunday 28 April 2024

2024 Weeknote 17

I'd like to say that work malaise has lifted this week but it hasn't, really. My motivation is so low that that it's able to limbo right underneath my work pile, which is going to become a problem if I can't find some this week. The crushing crescendo was Friday when I gave some students detention for being late to a cover lesson being taught next door to my own and they went to a colleague to complain about me all breaktime; 'I just don't want her to talk to me' was the main mood. Hey kid! I'd rather not talk to you either but this is in your power yknow - be on time! Wear the right uniform! Do what people are asking you to do!

Happily, the colleague that they chose to complain to is one of my work besties so that is always good. 

I need to stop fixating on the fact that I still have time to resign. 

It was a pretty quiet week socially, as I was away for the weekend. I went to yoga, because my leg is getting better, phew. But then I overstretched my hip and that hurt. Eyeroll. I watched the rest of True Detective 3 and I really liked it. I liked the fact it was mostly about human relationships but I didn't really notice that until the final episodes, because I was so fixated on the murder mystery. I liked the relationship between Mahershala Ali and Stephen Dorff. I thought Stephen Dorff's bald cap in the later scenes was a bit suspect (it didn't move when his forehead did) but it was a small thing. Mostly I like seeing the relationship unfold between Ali and Carmen Ejogo: it felt immensely human. 

Now I've started Baby Reindeer which feels like it's going to be excruciating to watch. 

I haven't made much progress on my books. I finished the Bourdain and started The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, but it was a bit heavy-going for me this week so I switched to music for my commutes instead. 

I had a lovely, lovely weekend away with knitting group at the end of this nothingy week. We went back to the bunkhouse and spent the weekend pottering, knitting, crocheting, spinning, basking in front of the fire, eating cake and chatting. I was looking back through old Wonderwool posts and divined that this was the tenth annual weekend trip we have made, our first being in 2013 but with two years lost to covid. I should maybe look back through my stash and work out how much yarn I have left from all these trips but, nah. 

The group helped me with my blanket construction. I have finished my 130 hexagons and was at a loss about how to connect them. So we laid them all out and they helped me divide into first three, then two piles and did the maths for me about how large it might be. I bought a blocking device today so now I just have to work out how to crochet them together. 

Full WW post to follow, with the new stash. Here I am, glorying in the layout for one of the planned blankets.

With thanks to Claire for the picture :D

Sunday 21 April 2024

2024 Weeknote 16

What a grind this week has been, going back to work. My leg has been sore and getting sorer (nine weeks, now, since that ill-advised bit of off-piste, ugh), the nasty throat thing I had while I was skiing this month has become the most irritating tiny persistent cough with accompanying gravel voice, I have just wanted to eat everything in sight and I've been so weary that every waddling movement has felt like an effort. I've been down to the cafe near school to get a coffee or a snack on more than one occasion, when I usually reserve this for just Tuesday breaktime when I teach sixth form. I keep forgetting to bring marking home (genuinely forgetting, too), so I cancelled my attendance at a history lecture I really wanted to see on Wednesday only to then realise I could have gone because I hadn't brought the work home to do anyway, and on Thursday after parents' evening, I lay on the bed for nearly an hour looking at my phone before finally giving up and going to bed. 

Once again I thought I must be ill but once again I must remind myself - it's the first week of a new term. 

Thankfully, Thursday's early night did me some good and Friday was better. I watched some interviewees teach. I've dealt with increasing levels of panic from my exam classes who all would prefer me to run extra sessions with them to revise - sorry kids, revision also has to happen at home you know. I've had a good idea to tackle a problem I've been wrestling with for most of the time I've been doing my current role. The sun has been out and I've been able to sit in the garden a bit. The front-garden camelia is looking glorious. 

I am making great progress on Topolino and think I might be done with the body of it, bar the lower edge. I think the pattern is going to suggest finishing it with four rounds of st-st but I am not about the roll so will need to adjust that. I am toying with adding another lace repeat but don't want it to be too long; I suppose it's a question of whether I'd rather rip back or add on. Definitely rip back, I think, so maybe another lace repeat is good. The reflection from the picture frame caught the knitting just perfectly yesterday to illuminate the colour, I love it. 

I made slow reading progress on Still Life but fast progress through Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential on audiobook, which is very entertaining. We finished Game of Thrones and started season 3 of True Detective; Mr Z does not remember watching the first two but I remember that we liked the first one by not the second. We had knitting group yesterday so I got some cheese (there is a great nearby cheese shop) and then went to a makers' market in Staple Hill on the way home, where I bought a stupidly frivolous gold sequinned cap with orange fringing. I have no use for such a garment but it was so lovely. I suppose I have got a festival ticket booked for Victorious, I can wear it for Fatboy Slim. 

And this morning I went cold swimming for the first time this year.

I don't think I've ever seen the water level this high; they were flooded earlier this year, apparently. It was 11.9 degrees. Rachael did not bring her wetsuit and I managed not to be horrified about this because I knew that, if I was, she wouldn't get in. Hats off to her, she got in and also convinced me to do a second (small) lap. She had a place for the marathon today and deferred it, so her mantra was 'it's not a marathon'. Funnily enough I did actually get used to the cold this time, which is a good indication that it is about warm enough to swim in, so I guess this marks the beginning of swim season.