Sunday, 25 January 2015

Pointless TV

Do you watch 'Pointless', the ironically named teatime quiz show?  We do.  I'm usually chopping onions or peeling spuds at the same time but I do find it mildly entertaining.  It's the opposite of Blanketty-Blank, the show where you used to gain points by guessing the answers that most of the 100 people asked to a simple question.  So divergent thinkers failed.  In Pointless, however, you get points for coming up with correct answers which no one else of the 100 asked has said.  So people like my husband who mind is full of trivial facts about sport and old films get to feel smart. The topics are varied and appeal to all ages.  This week we have had a picture round where you had to recognise leaders of foreign countries, a round on GCSE Science, Doris Day Films; and a round I liked where you had to supply the adjectives in novel titles.  (The _____ Curiosity Shop which the student studying English at university didn't know.)  All this is presided over by Alexander Armstrong, or Xander as he calls himself, and the unfeasibly tall Richard Osman,  The banter (or bants, a current favourite word among teens) between them and with the contestants is also entertaining though Xander is a bit annoying when he smugly gives the answers the contestants missed.

My point is that I watch this stuff and like it. And it is indeed.....pointless.  I used to listen to Radio 4 as I cooked tea. What is happening to me?

In our house we have two TVs, one in the lounge and the other in what is called 'the snug' by estate agents ie a space off the kitchen where the dog hangs out.  Often in the evening we hang out there with him; more often than not, the TV is on.  And, because it's January and we've not been out much recently, we seemed to have watched an awful lot of TV.

So there are three of us and two TVs and we all have different tastes, but, as I don't watch much television, it doesn't matter. Here's how it goes: 

Husband: Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Sport, Silent Witness, Holby City, black and white classic films, incomprehensible Swedish/Danish crime/political drama, Andrew Marr, Saturday Kitchen.

Daughter: Coronation Street, Emmerdale, reality TV shows, currently The Voice, Celebrity Big Brother, Made in Chelsea, TOWIE, the dating show, Take me Out,  Keith Lemon (shocking programme), reruns of Outnumbered on Netflix, (While possibly finishing homework at the same time)

Me: Loose Women, if I'm home in the day (I love Janet Street Porter and Gloria Hunniford reminds me of home); one-off dramas (I loved EsioTrot at Christmas) and series like Last Tango in Halifax. Not much else.

So, in theory, while they are wasting their time, at least, I'm off doing something purposeful, like marking or preparing lessons or mind-improving, like reading, or creative, like writing.  In theory.  In reality, I often join one or the other to snuggle up on the sofa and watch the least offensive of the choices on offer. (I draw the line at Celebrity Big Brother and cover my eyes at gruesome bits of Silent Witness)

Occasionally, I assert my right to the remote.  On Wednesday night the first episode of Wolf Hall was screened, I gave advance warning of this and my husband joined me to watch it at first, but gave up fairly soon.  I quite enjoyed it - Jonathan Pryce was good as Cardinal Wolsley but I wasn't that impressed by Mark Rylance, who is supposed to be the actor of this generation: he spent a lot of time looking miserable and saying little, though what he did say impressed everyone. That's probably the character though - I never did finish the book. I found myself nodding off at one point, and kind of wanted to be in the kitchen with the rest of the family, who were hooting with laughter at the large black lady's acceptance speech on receiving an award for Googlebox at the National TV Awards.

So what I'm saying, is that it doesn't matter if the TV we are watching is a bit pointless; at least we are watching together.  You'll notice that both Kate and her Dad watch Coronation Street and Emmerdale.  I usually join them.  We don't watch passively, and often talk back to the telly or to each other just like they do on Googlebox.  I don't see why I should apologise for enjoying a bit of purposeless popular culture with the rest of the family if I want to. 

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

New Year in Books

We're half way through January and I'm only just getting to my monthly book post. This is because I haven't finished my December book, 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'.  I am quite enjoying it and love the character of Owen and the child narrator - he reminds me a little of Scout in 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. But it's a long book and somehow over Christmas the slow afternoons I'd envisaged reading by the fire just didn't happen.  So I'll be finishing that this month along with my January book, a Christmas present from a friend who usually makes good choices. It's 'The Miniaturist', by Jessie Burton.  I see it's been a Sunday Times bestseller so I've broken my resolve not to read these.  It's nice to have a real book too, especially one with such a pretty cover.  I've started it already as I tend to pick up real books more readily than the Kindle.  It's set in Amsterdam which appeals to me as I'll be visiting the Netherlands next month on a school trip so reading this will get me in the mood.

I also finished 'Happiness by Design' by Paul Dolan which is another one of those self-help my husband laughs at me for reading.  The writer is an economist and some sections were a bit statistic- heavy for my taste but there was some sensible advice, the main, rather obvious point being that we are happier when choose activities which give us a balance of both pleasure and purpose..  So if I record my day so far (I have most of Wednesday off), according to his chart it would look like this:

1. Drove daughter to school while listening to her sing along to Now Disney CD 20 mins
Pleasure 7 Purpose 10 (Essential journey more fun than usual)
2. Tidied upstairs, including decluttering wardrobe, putting on washing etc.  (Alone, listening to Women's Hour) 2 hr  Pleasure 5 Purpose 7 (Can find something to wear in morning)
3. Walked dog on usual route with neighbour catching up on news 1hr
Pleasure 9 Purpose 8 (Exercise for dog and me)
4. Made healthy Lentil and Bacon and Carrot and Coriander soup while watching 'Loose Women' (Alone 1 - 2 hrs including eating lunch)
 Pleasure 6 Purpose 7 (Healthy,if possibly not very nice, meal for family - looks unappetising, especially lentil)
5. Wrote this post on Blogger Alone 30 mins Pleasure 7 Purpose 5

And now because I have chosen to write this I haven't really got time for the other thing I intended to do before work at 4 pm which is go into town and return some clothes I bought to M&S,  But writing this gave me more pleasure than a trip to town which can wait until the weekend.  That's his other piece of advice: pay attention to the choices you make and do things which make you happy.  Which is why I am here rather than in M&S.  Now time for a quick cup of tea, before selecting something to wear from my newly organised wardrobe for work- dog walking clothes won't do.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

January Blues and a trip to London

It's been a miserable week.  Christmas holidays have come to an abrupt end and it's back to mock examination week in school; stressed out teenager; grumpy commute-weary husband and piles of exam marking.  And the weather has been horrible. I usually deal with my low mood by getting out for a good walk with the dog.  So I set off on Wednesday morning with my neighbour on our usual route and we got absolutely drenched.  Some signs of Spring on the horizon though: I spotted this brave daffodil on my dog walk.

Last Saturday was a better day.  I spent it in London with a friend and our teenage daughters, catching the train early in the morning from Chester and returning at 10 pm.  The morning was spent on Oxford Street, shopping. Not really my idea of fun, but it was one of the main objectives of the trip for the teenagers with Christmas money to spend.  So we spend a long time in places like Topshop on Oxford Circus.  Many years ago I used to shop in that branch as, before training as a teacher, I worked briefly for Alitalia, the Italian airline which has now folded,  and its offices were just opposite.  We also went to Victoria's Secret, on New Bond Street, a truly awful place, looking like a night club with chandeliers, marble staircases and doormen insisting we put our dripping umbrellas in specially designed plastic bags lest we sully the overpriced undies on sale there.  My friend queued for 45 minutes to purchase a pair of the very ordinary looking knickers for her daughter, behind Spanish tourists spending £500!  My daughter, who is thankfully less brand conscious, and I escaped and went across the road to Fenwick's, a much classier store which hasn't changed that much since I worked London.

The day improved after that.  We walked down Regent Street, across Piccadilly and Leicester Square and ended up in Trafalgar Square.  Better than taking the tube, even it was a bit damp, as we could admire the lights and window shop.  Our friends had tickets to see 'The Nutcracker' at the Coliseum so they went there while Kate and I went to the National Gallery and the Portrait Gallery.  She wasn't that keen but indulged me as I had endured Topshop.  Got my Monet fix and then went next door and saw a fabulous portrait of Judy Dench who looked just like she was about to walk out of the frame.  We rested our weary legs in the restaurant on the top floor for a fairly pricey but tasty afternoon tea.  Great views over London though, as you can just about see in my not very good photograph. A good day out to mark the end of the holiday.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

New Year, New Start

I have just attempted a mini blog makeover - nothing too technical but have at least updated the old photo and swapped to a simpler template.  It's been two years since I started the blog and since then have posted 128 times, mostly weekly, but at times at more random intervals.  I'd like to be a bit more organised in my approach to blogging and considered resolving to blog daily as ganching did last year.  But I don't think I can manage that, so this is the plan:

  • A weekly round up on a Saturday or Sunday
  • A monthly book post.  I joined in with the Year in Books last year and want to continue.
  • Sign up to the 365 photo project. I'm not an expert photographer but like to document my life.
  • Join in with other link ups such as the Scavenger Hunt. 
At the same time I'm giving up the habit of 23 years which is a daily journal/diary I usually write up at weekends. Recently it's become a chore, so I'm switching to a one line a day journal and a personal notebook in which I will write longer pieces as the mood takes me.

All this is very self indulgent and mainly for me and my obsession with recording my life.  It's good to have readers, though, even if I have little in the way of advice, recipes, or craft projects to offer. Thanks to all of you who visit and comment here. 

Here is photo number 1 for the year. New Year walk with photo shy daughter and dog.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Happy Christmas

So presents are wrapped; Last Minute Christmas Pudding steamed and ready to go and Chocolate Roulade is only a little singed around the edges.  Thought I'd take a moment to compose a brief post since I've only managed to blog once in December.  We're going to Scotland today to spend Christmas in Alloa with husband's family this year.  But I did see my family - three of my four sisters, my aunt and uncle and the English cousins the weekend before last so I don't mind.  Here we are in our sparkles celebrating my cousin's (centre) 50th birthday.  I bought a proper long dress for the occasion, the first one I've owned since the navy blue flowery one I used to wear for dances in the Woods Parish Hall with The Reflections playing.  We had a great night - my cousin's sons have a band; their dad also joined them to entertain us. They played quite a few old favourites as well as their own songs and I haven't danced so much in ages. 

I'm also including  a picture of my only attempt at Christmas craft this year  - a slightly wonky wreath made with gold sprayed dried hydrangeas - I'm quite proud of it really. 

I'm hoping to catch up with my favourite blogs over the holidays though I've noticed that quite a few I read have like me not been posting so often - busy times.  Happy Christmas to everyone who does visit here. 

Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Year in Books: December 'Us' by David Nicholls

I've been neglecting the blog recently: it's three weeks since my last post.  I've been trying to think why as I'm not really any busier than usual.  Mainly it's because I've been hibernating!  I sleep much more when it's dark or even if I don't sleep I spend more time in bed as it's too cold to get up.  This is a good thing, I suppose, as I generally feel less stressed and grumpy after a good night's sleep, but I do miss the long quiet weekend mornings I get in summer when I wake at 6am and can blog undisturbed by the rest of the family.  But I'm up earlyish this morning and joining again with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees for the Year in Books, my favourite link up.

My November read was the Booker nominated 'Us' by David Nicholls, pictured above.  I had high hopes for this novel, having enjoyed 'One Day' a lot.  Reviews were good and the subject matter appealed to me as he was writing about the marriage a couple in their 50's with one teenage child.  Now I am not so narrow in my reading habits to simply want to read about people like me but, even so, the similarity to my own family situation did appeal.  I'd expected, and hoped for, a book which explored the complexity of a long term relationship from both sides.  Unfortunately I was disappointed, as it really doesn't do this at all.

'Us' is written from the perspective of Douglas Petersen whose wife announces in that she thinks their marriage has run its course and she intends to leave him when their son goes off to university.  He desperately wants to keep her and plans a long road trip to Europe for the family, a kind of Grand Tour, visiting key works of art in major cities, in the hope of saving their marriage.  Douglas is socially awkward and introverted whereas Connie is his opposite: attractive, amusing and extrovert, only marrying him in the first place because she needed more stability than her previous partner had offered.  Douglas also feels a little jealous of his wife's close relationship with their son, Albie.  He has a rather troubled relationship with his son and the book is as much about this as it is about the marriage.  Douglas tries hard as a parent, advising his son and doing the things he thinks he ought to do such as forcing him to eat his greens, doing his maths homework with him and encouraging him build Lego according to the instructions. He doesn't understand his son's distress when he 'helps' by gluing the completed Lego models together.  Albie turns out to be more a of free spirit with artistic leanings like his mother and he falls out spectacularly with his father during the trip, going off travelling with a girl he met busking.  Much of the book tells of Douglas's attempt to find his son and bring him home.

It was all very readable and you cannot help but sympathise for poor Douglas.  I was reminded a little of Harold Fry from Rachel Joyce's book.  My problem with it was that I expected something different.  As a portrait of a marriage in crisis it failed: it was too one-sided.  We don't get to know Connie at all: she seems too perfect and all the 'blame' for the relationship breakdown is heaped on Douglas.  There are much better portrayals of long term relationships in crisis in Ian McEwan's novels. Both 'Enduring Love' and 'The Child in Time'  do this well.   Also it just didn't ring true - Douglas and Connie are just too nice too each other when breaking up.  From what I have seen in observing friends and acquaintances going through divorce, it's rarely 'amicable'.

So for my last book of the year, I'm avoiding the best seller list and going for a book lots of people have recommended, 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' by John Irving.  I hope it's good as recent books I have chosen have failed to meet my expectations.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Bad Grammar

Last night I spent an hour or so reading my favourite blogs on my I-pad, adding the occasional comment, while sleepily watching tv at the same time.  This morning, I noticed that there are quite a few typo and spelling errors in these comments and, in one of them, I have muddled my homophones using 'to' instead of 'too'.  Somewhat ironic, since I spent quite a lot of time on Friday afternoon telling students about the importance of proof-reading their work to avoid errors just like this.

Looking back over my previous blog posts I can see other errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar (or SPaG as the exam boards call it) and am aware that I am setting myself up for criticism. How can I, as an English teacher, publish writing which contains errors?  Shouldn't I be ashamed of myself?  I've been asking myself these questions recently.  Perhaps I shouldn't blog at all, when I don't have time to construct careful sentences or proofread properly.  And I compare myself to other bloggers: two of my favourites write flawlessly, despite having English as an additional language.  Why can't I manage this?

Before half term our Year 10 students, including my daughter, completed something called the Spoken Language Unit for their GCSE.  Their task was to produce an essay in which they analysed examples of their own use of digital communication and considered whether they were similar to spoken language.  This meant collecting examples of their texts, Snapchats or other messages and commenting on them. A pointless, time-wasting activity in my opinion: I am not sorry this particular part of the English Language GCSE has been dumped in the latest rewrite.  However what emerged was quite interesting.  My daughter and her friends use a whole range of techniques to make their 'chats' similar to spoken language:  repeated !!! or ???, capital letters to suggest tone of voice and emojis to suggest gesture and facial expression.  She doesn't worry about sentence punctuation much but does make an effort to use the apostrophe distinguish between words like 'your' and 'you're'.  The important thing for her is communicating and the speed at which she does so astounds me: she can type accurately on the tiny I-phone keypad without looking.

And so, like her,  that's what I've decided to do: focus on communication. So forgive me, dear readers, for the occasional error.  This blog is a record my thoughts and experiences: it is not perfectly crafted prose. Blogger allows me to share these thoughts and experiences with others who can respond, if they wish, just as I can respond to their writing. I love being able to do this.  As E.M Forster said in his preface to Howard's End: 'only connect.'  That's what matters.