Friday, 8 September 2023

Fave Friday

It is unseasonably hot. On Wednesday I wore the dress I wear when it is the hottest day - what a mistake that was. Yesterday I was akin to a swamp (and never been happier to have a quarry swim ticket for the evening, it was bliss). Today I had a lesson in a room with aircon and it was a definite high point. 

Naturally, now term has started everything else has stopped but I have been reflecting on times in my life I've been hotter than now so...

Five blazing hot moments

1. Death Valley. Probably the hottest place I've ever been, but reassuringly dry so it didn't feel too awful.

Probably already sunburned, just in the time it took to take the picture. 

2. Camping somewhere in Nevada. It was some kind of resort ghost town. I paid money to call and reserve a spot while we were on the road - ultimately, it was only us and one RV. Those campers knew something we didn't. It remains the only time we haven't put the flysheet over the tent and, when the sun rose and hit the tent netting at 6am, we were up and out. Never again. 

3. Hanoi. Everywhere in Vietnam was hot but this was next level. The sort of raging heat from the desert but backed up with humidity: sort of like leaning over a boiling pan but everywhere, all the time. We thought it was cute that everyone in Hanoi seemed to get up at 6am to work out in the park together, until we realised that was really the only comfortable time to be outside. I quickly made my peace with constant, running sweat. 

No picture can do it justice but I never wore these clothes for anything other than the gym; it was too hot for basically everything I took to wear, except the swimwear.

Bonus weird picture I found from my GoPro while I was looking through these holiday pictures. What a weirdo.

4. Malaysia. This was my first near-equator experience and, again, the humidity was almost unbearable. On the second school trip I took there, the staff were lodged in student flats, rather than the palatial, air-conditioned bungalow of the initial visit; it was a 5-minute walk from the main school and I required a shower before and after every one of those walks. Tough when it's a work thing and you have to look work-presentable. 

5. Corfu. This is a gappy memory for me; we went in the summer of my 10th birthday. Loving the water then as much as I do now, I spent the whole first day in the sea. I even went back in the sea after dinner. I didn't get sun burn, but I did get heatstroke. The only thing I remember about it, other than being very sick, was coming out of sleep with Mother Hand staring desperately into my face, shaking me and shouting, 'What is it? What is it?' in my face. Evidently I had been asleep with my eyes open and calling for her. This sounds terrifying even as a non-parent. 

Most of the ensuing holiday pictures from the trip feature me with a Corfu cap on. Mother Hand got bitten by a snake and we both got horribly travel sick during a trip to the mainland. I tried water-skiing and failed spectacularly to stand up. But other than that it was a fun trip. 

Friday, 1 September 2023

Fave Friday

Five favourite back-to-school memories

In honour of the new term...

1. Buying the new school bag. Nanny Hand took me round many shops looking for the perfect item, some time towards the end of August, before I went into (I think) Year 9. I have a dim memory of some kind of half-covered precinct that was probably near where they lived in Redditch, and being my usual unbelievably picky teen self. In the end I picked some hideous canvas shoulder bag that was beige and had camels or some kind of Aztec print on it. Heavy 90s vibe. Mother Hand was suitably disappointed that I got something that was (a) so easily dirtied and (b) relatively impractical for carrying large amounts of school-related items with me. 

2. The smell of WHSmith. It is common for everybody to bang on about the stench of a Lush shop but I think all shops have their own scent and WHSmith is a particularly evocative one for me. What is it? Books, pens, cards, magazines. The smell of choosing a new pencil case, and wheedling for wholly impractical rubbers shaped like ice cream cones and wholly unnecessary highlighter pens. Towers of colourful lever arch files that I never needed because there were always second-hand ones available from Mother Hand's work and, anyway, who needs more than one lever arch folder when you're at school. Doing pocket money maths so you could sneak a CD single in and still afford everything you needed. 

3. On my first day of my first teaching job, I went to the toilets and put my heavily-loaded handbag on top of the cistern. As I turned away from it, it promptly upended directly into the toilet. The main casualties were my camera (I don't know why I felt this was an essential item for an inset day) which happily survived, and a whole tube of new gold and black striped pencils. I still have one of those pencils (naturally I washed it off) to remind me of this humbling experience. My main takeaway, on that nervous day, was that it couldn't get much worse. I was right. 

4. More bags (so many bags) - I fondly remember the time when I got the school bag right by buying a denim backpack from River Island. It was the best bag ever. It was a drawstring, flap over backpack but it had a full length zip down the side so you didn't have to faff. In my memory, it saw me all the way through sixth form, being toted around on one shoulder while I carried my lever arch file ostentatiously, on account of how I was so learned now, all my learning couldn't even fit in a bag. 

5. The weighing and measuring. A funny favourite memory this but it sticks with me and serves as a constant reminder that throwaway comments are not throwaway comments to teenagers. At the start of every new year, everyone in the class was weighed and measured in the first PE lesson. I cannot fathom what the school did with this information and, come to reflect on it, I wonder if they just did it for something to do in the first lesson of the year. Anyway, as a fat teenager this was mortifying for me and I had a horror about anybody seeing how much I weighed. The one I remember the most was going forward to the scale and (what has formed in my mind but is undoubtedly an exaggeration of the actual event) the entire popular clique craning forwards as I gingerly hovered, unwilling to step on. 

'Don't worry Sally,' chirped my ever-cheerful games teacher, 'the scales are probably wrong.'

Friday, 23 June 2023

Fave Friday

Five favourite things about June

June is a funny month in my profession. On the one hand, the pressure at school has abated; the exam classes are gone so the timetable is lighter; planning can start for next year. On the other hand, as an examiner it's always rammed with too many tasks and not enough time to really enjoy the long days and the nice weather. I think that, if I ever retire from all of my jobs, June will be the month that feels most different - rivalled maybe by September, I guess. 

Here we are, almost to June payday and I feel I haven't appreciated it at all. It hasn't helped that it has been hot for almost the entire month (UK hot is like UK cold - it's not comparable with the temperatures experienced in other parts of the world but, like the cold is that special damp kind that gets in your bones, the heat is an oppressive, sticky blanket that isn't particularly enjoyable in long bursts...for me, anyway). 

So here's some appreciation.

1. The light. I fully admit to being one of the people that likes it when the clocks change in October and it's darker in the evenings but that's mostly down to just liking a change, I think. The longer daylight hours give me so much energy; I sleep less but I don't really notice it. 

2. The green. Nature is in full swing in June: it's past that slightly fetid new bloom phase of May and not yet onto that slightly scorched later summer look. The leaves look at their best to me in June. I wish we had no-mow June. There's a man who walks his Husky up the 'wood every morning around the time I drive to work: that husky flipping loved no-mow May. It was having a whale of a time bouncing around the small patch of grass near the bus stop, as though it was making world-changing discoveries with every sniff. When I saw it yesterday it looked considerably more subdued.

3. The anticipation. The school year is coming to a close. The tests are done, the data is in. The holidays are on the horizon. 

4. The barbecues. Even if you're not having one yourself, someone else will be, so you get to enjoy the smell without having to risk food poisoning or sit near a blazing heat source in person.

5. The petrichor. I suppose this happens year round, but rain on hot ground smells better in June than any other month, imo. 

Friday, 16 June 2023

Fave Friday

Five Favourite Lines from Ithaca by Claire North

It has been a pleasure previously remarked upon to get back into fiction reading over the past few years and I am now into the habit of picking up books from the library and, in the case of this one, actually reading it before it is due back (as a kid I used to take out 6 books and read them all before they were due back...woe is me). This has broadened the variety of books I'm reading and reminded me of the pleasure of picking up a book because of what's written on the back cover, rather than just because someone recommended it on Twitter/it's historical fiction/it's 99p on Kindle. 

Most recently, I finished Ithaca by Claire North. It's an imagining of what Penelope might have done with herself while she was waiting for Odysseus to return from Troy, as the suitors ate her out of house and home. I have enjoyed a few of these Greek-myths-from-women's-perspectives over the past couple of years but this one was particularly good, mainly because of the cracking bits of prose that create a very believable representation of how women operate within tightly-bounded gender roles - namely, that they largely get on and run things and nobody really notices. There's some quite interesting undertone of DV and coercive control that undercuts the humour and shifts the perspective of quite a lot of bits of Greek mythology. To top it off, the book is narrated by Hera, so you sort of know what you're getting from the start. 

Here are my favourites:

1. ...who feels the ageing process accelerating with every moment he spends in the chamber (this is sometimes a solid mood of mine in the classroom)

2. Penelope says, 'Help me, I grow faint.' Autonoe at once kneels by Penelope's side, holding her left hand in hers, and though this is a profoundly pious scene of feminine weakness, it is also now a huddle of curved back and womanly distress that hides what Eos does next from all onlookers.

3. 'Ah,' mutters Penelope. 'I see. Medon, forgive me. I find myself overcome with womanly weakness and must retire.' 

4. 'We shall now run away and hide in a ditch.'...Donning his tatty, faded grey cloak, he nods once and, with the dignity of the centaur, proudly runs away.'

5. 'How do you hide an army? What a foolish question. You hide them in precisely the same way you hide your success as a merchant, your skill with agriculture, your wisdom at politic and your innate cunning wit. You hide them as women.'

Friday, 9 June 2023

Fave Friday

Five Favourite Salads

It's definitely salad weather. I've realised that the way I consume recipes has changed over the past couple of years so a lot of them are now screenshotted from Instagram and also from Mob Kitchen, because I follow their Insta and they have successfully sucked me in. So this list looks a bit weird but here we go.

1. Mexican Chicken salad

From Mob Kitchen. I make this with less cucumber, less peppers, more coriander. Mr Z cooked up the chicken and placed it on top for dinner tonight which was also delicious. 

2. Watermelon Feta salad

Also from Mob Kitchen - I told you, suckered right in - though I did see this doing the rounds last summer in a couple of other places. I've only made this once as Mr Z does not approve much of fruity salads; I also did not have any basil or enough tomatoes but it worked OK. The crispy onions go very well with the watermelon. Can recommend. 

3. Asian cabbagey salad thing give it its proper name. I don't follow That Vegan Babe but her recipe came up in my feed anyway and the dressing is banging. I have made this with a variety of grains, as I worked through the seemingly neverending stash in the cupboard last year; I think I liked bulgur wheat the best. You'll have to guess the method, sorry, but it's not particularly complex. Or I guess you could just go and look the reel up.

4. Greek salad

Very simple - cucumbers, tomatoes, thinly sliced red onion, black olives, oregano, a bit of olive oil and some feta. I've been going to the good cheese shop on North Street when we have knitting group in that part of town and their feta is superb; one block will usually do us three salads, which we eat with lamb chops because we can't have meals without meat in. By we I don't mean me. 

5. Mediterranean Feel Good Salad

Aka salad from a jar. I follow Shred Happens on the gram and he has many good salad recipes, although being partial to a carb, I tend to ignore the cauliflower rice and other carb substitutes in favour of that neverending stash of grains....though that has actually run out now so I should maybe think about doing a restock of my faves. If memory serves, I made this with amaranth (I went through a whole Gillian McKeith phase back in the day; grains ancient in both genetics and shelflife) - it was good flavours but needed a better grain. 

The salad is grain (or processed cauliflower, you do you), diced cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, lots of fresh parsley and some chives, a jar of grilled artichoke hearts chopped up and some jarred green olives. Then the dressing is the juice of two lemons, a third of a cup of olive oil (the tomatoes are quite oily already so less is probably more), 3 cloves of garlic, some fresh basil, a third of a cup of sun dried tomatoes and the same amount of walnuts, blitzed in a food processor. 

So that's five and I didn't even get to my favourite potato salad from my childhood, Salad Oliviyeh. I will have to save that for another post. 

Friday, 2 June 2023

Fave Friday

Five swims from May

1. Turkish Baths, Harrogate

I was in Harrogate for a conference this month and extended my stay by a night so I could visit the baths and do some other northern things on the Sunday. The Turkish bath was not so much a swim spot as a series of increasingly warm rooms, a steam room that was so hot I couldn't manage more than a minute or two, a welcome cold plunge pool and a warm room for resting in. I love a spa. I wish there was a place like this locally.

Pictures not allowed of course. I found this one online. Probably. Look how gorgeous! Definitely go and visit if you're in the area. 

2. Janet's Foss

This was one of the northern things on my list to do from Harrogate (the other being Hardwick Hall) and I executed my plan perfectly. There's something deeply satisfying about pulling off a full sequence of adulting: an early night, an early start, a short walk in the sun, a splash in a fairy pool and back on the road by 11am with an ice cream and a coffee. The women who sharked my parking space were astonished I was leaving so early but I'd arrived before 9am. 

Janet's Foss is a short (20ish minutes) walk from the Malham car park, across flat ground. It is much beloved of a wild swimming Facebook group I joined a couple of years ago and I couldn't pass up the opportunity upon realising it was only an hour's drive from Harrogate. 

It looks like I had it to myself; when I arrived there were only a few hikers around and I was quite nervous about getting in, but then a family arrived and were most encouraging, followed by a dozen women who began changing, so I got in quick so I could have it to myself. Cold, but magical. Sadly no sign of the fairy queen.

Swimsuit by Batoko. I couldn't decide on a design and then they released the otters and it was a done deal.

3. Bristol Harbour

There's no legal swimming in Bristol harbour and, let's face it, it's not the cleanest place you'll ever go, but when I heard there was a swim pilot I booked myself in. It was an epic place for a dip and, as soon as I got out, I booked in for the following Saturday. The water was very clear, if a little brown. 

4. Cromhall Quarry

There were four Cromhall swims in May, bringing my total to six for the year so far. I feel a bit guilty only listing this as one favourite swim for this month as it is always a nice spot, but it was a crowded swim month. The last of the month was sunny and, while the water isn't quite yet something I'd leap into without fear of a heart attack, it was quite pleasant in just a swimsuit, particularly with the good company of my friend Rachael and with a hearty breakfast afterwards.

5. River Avon

Busted - this wasn't a swim. It was more of a wade, followed by a long paddle. This was my first trip out in the kayak of 2023. 

Definitely not the last!

Tuesday, 30 May 2023

Ski Trip Number 13

In April, I got to take the school ski trip away for the first time since 2020. I'd picked my favourite resort in Italy again, for the first one back in a while. It was wildly popular, selling out in just 24 hours, so that I had to extend the places to 50, making it my biggest trip ever. I had an eye to the fact this was trip number 13 but decided we would call it trip number 14, as there was the aborted 2021 trip that I had to sell to parents because I'd already put my name to a booking form, even though it was cancelled and all the money was repaid on insurance. Trip number 13 was cancelled, I decided. There will be nothing unlucky about trip number 14. 

(I should say that I am not really superstitious about numbers but Mr Z is, which has its effects on a person).

It was not good to wake up on the day of the trip to Radio 4 announcing that there were severe delays at the Port of Dover. Late morning, the tour company rang me to let me know that we would have a delayed start, so I went to school and sat in a cafe, making a WhatsApp group for all the parents on the swanky new trip phone. 

We set off two hours late and got to the port in good time. It seemed deserted, but as the driver pulled round, the attendants asked him if they'd contacted him to come down. No, he said. They told us to leave and he asked where to go. 'Anywhere but here,' said the man, gloomily. So we headed back up the motorway. By this point it was 9pm. The students were asking if we were still getting the 9.10 ferry. They weren't far off...

At Folkestone services, there were more attendants in high vis, who tried to turn us away. 'We've got 65 coaches in here already, you can't come in.' The coach driver managed to convince them that we had to come in as we were meeting our onward drivers there, so they grudgingly gave us a space on the petrol station forecourt. There were toilets and a shop nearby, and it was brightly lit, which was a relief. However, this is not the place I would have chosen to spend the next 9 hours with 50 teen girls. It was the world's worst sleepover of all time. Endless talking and up-and-downing and general kerfuffle persisted through the night until everyone was on their last nerve. In the end I went and stood in the aisle for the last half hour before dawn, eyeballing the back row who just would not stop talking. 'She's just standing there watching us,' one of them whispered. 'Yes, because you won't shut up,' I hissed back. 

Worst night of my life, I reckon. I spent some time thinking about whether there have been worse, but that wins. 

Finally, at 6.30am, our onward drivers started up the coach to bring us down to Dover. I felt positive. But then we spent the next 13 hours queueing in Port of Dover. Port of Dover's facilities before check in amount to half a dozen ladies toilet stalls and a Costa concession. There were around 60 coaches queuing at any one time and I can categorically state - this was not enough. The toilet queue never got below 45 minutes long, though the men's toilets were, to borrow a phrase, free flowing. In the end, half the staff walked back into Dover and bought Morrison's entire sandwich cabinet back so we at least had something to eat. The students were happy, tbf. They had power for their phones. They had each other. They had 59 other coaches of teenagers to flirt with. The BBC were filming from the cliff so they got on the news, much to the delight of the parents ('Is that you quietly sobbing by the coach Mrs Z?' one of them joked after sending a picture of the TV through on the WhatsApp group). No, that was me screeching 'SAFEGUARDING' at the cliff when I didn't know who was filming. 

The parents mounted a letter-writing campaign to Suella Braverman and our local MP. 

The students mounted a campaign to get every car and truck that flew past the coach queue to beep at them. 

I paced. 

Finally, at 7pm, we made it to the front of the queue. I should say that it's not really clear whose fault this is. It's natural to want to blame the French but, to be fair to them, I'm not sure what else they could have done. There is one building with three kiosks in it for checking coach passports, and it was fully staffed. Now, they could have laid on extra staff and had them come onto coaches to do the checking, but this is impractical now that all passports have to be stamped. The rumour is they asked the British government to expand the coach facilities, a request that was refused. So...nobody really to blame then, except obviously Brexit. 

By the time we made it to the other side, we were booked on the 9.30 ferry. Only 24 hours and 20 minutes late. This necessitated a stay in France, at a hotel where the poor hotelier had gone for some shut eye after being assured by our tour operator that we would not arrive before 2am, though the drivers had told them 1am. We got there at 1am. We spent 15 minutes trying to wake her up before Dave Coaches beeped the mega horn and succeeded in task. It seems she had had to do the same for a coach party the night before, who had arrived at 3am, and she'd turned the entire allocation of 60 beds around overnight. 

There was a hotel cat, which I appreciated. 

We left at 11am on Monday morning, finally limping into our Italian resort at gone midnight that night. 58 hours of travelling. A day's skiing lost. But worth it. 

Luckily, the rest of the trip went off pretty much without a hitch. No major injuries, no lost students (some naughty ones who could have get lost but thankfully didn't), no bad weather. Lovely, helpful coach drivers and a smooth return journey. It seems number 13 used up all its bad vibes on the journey over.

And what a treat to be back in Sauze for a fifth time. Having skied in France at half term for my last couple of trips, I had forgotten what it was like to go somewhere that was so thoroughly deserted. Easter in Sauze is quiet and there were days when we had it almost to ourselves. I managed to get a repeat of this picture from 2010.

Chuckling at skiing in sunglasses with my hair down. I'd find both of these things intensely irritating now. But I still prefer a mitten to a glove. 

Here endeth the saga. I don't do story posts like this anymore but I had to tell the full tale, for posterity.