Category Archives: TGIF

Thank God it’s Friday articles

Thank God it’s the Holidays

Published 14 August 1998

MONDAY Stand by your beds, the Yanks are coming. Hush my mouth, no Yanks ever came from the Deep South, y’all hear? Discover in the manic clear-up too few beds for family (6) plus our visitors from across the pond (4). Rush out to buy new bed. Garden chaos shames me into clearing would-be flower bed; new planting can wait till autumn. Summer budget can only take so many beds.

TUESDAY Local festival offers A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a castle. Brilliant performance by A-level students. Expect to see more of Helena. Since three acts are performed in nighties and pyjamas, have already seen quite a lot of her. Actors compete with campanologists, a jumbo jet and a raucous seagull. Joys of live theatre. Fight scene, with toothbrushes and including devilish nipple-twisting, hilarious. Americans say being on a blanket on the ground was never like this at home, but are entranced.

WEDNESDAY Daughters depart to see a “real play” – The Iceman Cometh – in London. Elder daughter, exhausted by entertaining Americans, sleeps through first act. Younger daughter is ecstatic – “Kevin Spacey looked right at me!” Glad they are back, having temporarily mislaid the M4. They bring another American, rescued from the hostile metropolis which is entirely populated, she swears, by charlatans and foreigners. Back home, the Roast Dinner Cometh in honour of Americans who live by communal grazing and consider a roast with all the trimmings a strange phenomenon (too right on a Wednesday evening).

THURSDAY Warfare over cars. One of the joys of the holidays is watching children work for a living, though it’s interesting to note that an 18-year-old school-leaver is more employable (40 hours a week, in a suit, in IT) than a 21-year-old BA English student (in a bar, in a T-shirt tighter than I think is decent, in a strop because her brother is earning more than she is and with unpredictable hours which are never going to cover her overdraft). Today, complicated battle plan needed to get them to work, and accommodate elder daughter taking assorted Americans to fascinating Welsh sites. I mean sights.

Discuss with American guests the British compulsion to parade history in front of visitors – or rather visitors in front of history. Philosophical/cultural conversation is dimly reminiscent of teacher-speak. Feel pleasantly rusty. Mrs Guest says she’d rather go shopping. Mr Guest says history is fine, and it’s cheaper.

Logistics require me, car-less, to recline in garden, drinking Pimms. Nothing to mark but time. Bliss.

FRIDAY Back to castle, following slight fracas over 10-year-old’s reluctance to swallow two Shakespeares, even if they are the two his parents, separately, did for O-level.

Interminable rain has forced production into leisure centre. Behind us a teacher/parent recreates the interminable reign of Henry V – “I know, Dad, I’ve studied it!” Helena from Tuesday’s production is in audience, stud in nose. Lovely that she’s no student of mine – not my problem.

In front, a family scoffs five-course picnic – slurping juicy plums during “Once more unto the breach” – with shameless disregard for actors, who look straight at them. Also disregard for fact that rows of wooden chairs in a sports hall are not quite Glyndebourne.

But it’s amazing what you can do with seven actors, two flags and a drum, even without back- drop of castle walls. Americans are impressed.

I make notes for possible school production. Funny how hard it is to switch off. But how easy it is to sleep these days. Must be the beds.

Holding on for a ticket

Published November 7, 1999

Monday: Punctuated with phone calls to bus and theatre. Right day? Time? Cost? Number of seats? Can I have four more? No chance. I’m lucky to have these, courtesy of a school party which cancelled at the last minute and the rest of the run is sold out. Every theatre in the land should provide Macbeth/ Ham-let/Lear/ Dream every year to cater for syllabus needs.

Spend the afternoon interviewing for Christmas vacancy. Fascinating but tiring; encouraging, too, given doomy newspaper stories about shortages in key areas.

Race down to theatre after school to collect tickets and save time when I have 30 Year 11s in tow later. Six-mile journey takes 50 minutes. Realise what ecologists mean about gridlock.

Return to theatre with party in time to see friendly fracas in foyer and bar food menu board advertising “merangs”. Blame an English teacher. For both, perhaps.

Pupils love Macbeth – Pete Postlethwaite, hot from The Usual Suspects and Romeo and Juliet – wears a red kilt down to his ankles, he looks like one of our 12-year-olds. “He even has the money belt and key ring, Miss!” Despite some odd tinkering with the text, production holds the attention of theatre full of youngsters, so must be good.

Tuesday: The BBC comes to film our art room. Seven BBC types – at least one smelling gently of lunchtime booze, how dare he? – dazzle our 14-year-olds. Or is it the seven boys we borrowed from our brother school, since the Beeb wanted a mixed group? Look out for us on Home Front.

Wednesday: The same 14-year-olds – sporty as well as arty – help us open the sports hall. The plaque is unveiled by the former Red Maid who played hockey for England in the last two Olympic Games.

She bridges the gap nicely between those who are down in the hall playing basketball, tennis, netball or hockey, and those of us in the gallery, at least three of us, complaining of frozen shoulders and all of us enjoying tea. Ironic to scoff cakes in the shadow of the weights machine.

Thursday: I over-sleep. Blame Monday’s late night, and here comes another: a modern languages evening, half of which I spend (impossibly) “shussing” off-stage in the midst of excited youngsters flaunting can-can frocks (those 14-year-olds again) or rehearsing in whispers before their big moment.

I eventually sneak into hall to watch polished parodies of Cilla Black and Patsy and Edwina in French, Russian, Spanish, German and Italian. Cringe for my own linguistic inadequacies.

Friday: The post brings bright news: last month I entered a Selfridges slogan competition and I’ve won five days in New York. So my French may be useless, but the English can’t be bad.

Candlelight at the end of the tunnel

Published Dec 20 1996

The end is nigh. Only the Christmas play, the Christmas concert, the staff panto, the carol service and report writing to get through. And that’s in your own school. If you’re also a parent, there’ll be the Christmas play, the Christmas concert,the carol service and reading the report. You probably won’t hear a lot about the staff panto – very esoteric things, staff pantos.
The week actually begins on Sunday, with a superhuman effort to gather the family together for our elder son’s carol service. We come, the five of us, from three locations, on trains, buses and by car, covering hundreds of miles. The service is candle-lit, and reminds us of a couple of years ago when the power failed – a nightmare for the deputy head. Not only were the candles compulsory, and one of them dripped down the back of the lady in front of me, but the organ packed up and someone had hidden the hymn books so they had to break out a whole church-full of new ones. But this service is lovely, and for a family already scattered and likely to scatter even further, it is a truly Christmassy moment.

On Monday, I squeeze in a ninth birthday party for our younger son and a dozen football-mad friends. One young captain must choose from three youngsters to complete his team. They are not the most impressive physical specimens, and one is wearing glasses – but does this justify his cruising the line, declaring: “Too fat, too thin, blind.” The child must have escaped from The Lord of the Flies. Perhaps I should lend him some of my management textbooks. But his team wins, so maybe he doesn’t need them.

Reflect, over a large brandy, that the only thing more demanding than refereeing this dozen for an evening would be teaching 38 of them all day and every day, which is what their teacher does. I recently heard from a prospective Labour candidate that the party plans to limit primary class sizes to 30. Hurrah! Then I checked the small print – the promise applies to five, six and seven-year-olds. So no one seems to think nine-year-olds need smaller classes. Silly me.

But they do need Victorian clothes – “Rich or poor?” their poor, pressed teacher asks hopefully – to be in the chorus for Oliver!, which seems to have taken over where Nativity plays left off. Ah well. Check reference books, then raid the airing cupboard, which has mercifully resisted efforts to de-clutter my life. That’s Wednesday gone.

On Thursday the car won’t start, which worries me a lot less than my reaction, which reminds me of Basil Faw-lty on a bad day. If I’d had a hockey stick I would have taken out the windscreen. Am I a smidgin stressed? Maybe the car is not the only one in need of recharged batteries.

A late nighter on Thursday, after the concert, finishing the reports. I strive for accuracy, remembering a report we received that gave our daughter a grade and comment in a subject she was not studying. It was good, too.

And so to Friday. The end of the week, and nearly the end of term. Praise be. And joy to the world.

New kitchen

Published 22 March, 1996

Monday: It’s a tearful breakfast. This is the last time we’ll eat together in the old heart of our home the kitchen which has served us well for almost 18 years. I’m sentimental about the smallest of possessions so tea and toast this morning is richly flavoured with nostalgia. I scribble my last “To Do” list on the wobbly old counter and leave my husband and the army of workmen to it.

By 7pm I seem to have accomplished about as much on my list as the workmen have on theirs. Clearing my desk, for instance, begins with removing all that’s on it ditto workmen, who have taken the sledgehammer approach to our cupboards and walls and then stopped.

They have the satisfaction of knowing it’s all going in the skip blocking our drive, while I spend half the day putting back the vital bits of paper. There’s more staying than going but insecurity is setting in will I be able to find anything in either of my lives?

Tonight I do the marking on my lap.

Tuesday: My classes are bemused by the dust and crumbs of plaster which fall from their marked essays. Girls looking for lost property get an unusually sympathetic response from me today. I’m even losing my grip on the whereabouts of staff, but for that I can blame the numerous information days with exam boards on new syllabuses for next year.

At home, we’ve lost both water and power it’s fun eating out but that means losing valuable marking and reading time.

Wednesday: I consider the value of effective oral training when we phone the manufacturers of our kitchen cupboards with a complaint; a voice says, “What do you want me to do about it, then?” My husband loses his cool, the company loses goodwill and we sincerely hope that the voice loses his job. His company would probably blame his school for not preparing him properly for work. I’d say their in-service training was seriously at fault.

I complete an application for my own further training an MSc in Leeds. It’s not exactly on Monmouth’s doorstep and I could lose my way getting there. I reflect that without the course, I could be even more lost.

Thursday: I find time to escort the public speaking team to a local competition. We return with one trophy and some big lessons learned. What you say matters less than how you say it, and bending the truth can be effective. I seriously consider that half the value of studying Julius Caesar is to watch Mark Antony’s manipulation of the crowd in his speech over Caesar’s body. I hope this point isn’t lost on my Year 9s.

Friday: I still can’t find the cornflakes, but the improved kitchen is taking shape. The new fridge is as big as a wardrobe and the oven doors are mercilessly reflective. Maybe clearing my desk in the same week was over ambitious. The trick is not to expect to finish neatly not today, not any week, not any term. Before I leave the office I transfer the end of this week’s “To Do” list to the start of next week’s. Back home, the kitchen fitters do the same.

The Play

Published 9 Feb 1996

Monday: I’m in a panic about The Play. Producing a play to celebrate the school’s 360th birthday is one thing, but the effects of neveragainitis should have lasted for at least another decade. Producing a second play, one year after the first, is like deciding to have another baby a good idea in a rosy glow of euphoria when the first off-spring was behaving beautifully. By the time the next baby/production is on its way, all you can think of is unlearnt lines and dire rehearsals.

At least this time the words are those of Dylan Thomas. On the other hand, I can’t chop his lines as I did my own, especially when we hit memory problems. This time I’ve got to consider copyright holders. And how much it costs Pounds 116 for two performances. I was cheaper and I try not to think that it showed.

Tuesday : I authorise payment for texts another Pounds 104 and wonder if this enterprise is worth it. We don’t want a profit, nor a loss either. Costumes Elizabethan the last time should not be a worry for Under Milk Wood because, as I console the cast, it’s just aprons and pyjamas really. I spend lunchtime rehearsing the drowned sailors “No, not the hornpipe, you are dead, remember?” Mystified glances. After school, the Ogmore-Pritchards “Now, you two are dead, OK?” They mutter in the ranks, and there’s some scepticism about the street cred in playing a corpse.

Wednesday : The set looks suspiciously like a mining village, not a fishing town, but I’m hugely grateful none the less. The first designer I approached returned the text with a cheery, “Actually, I see it as a radio play.” Right now, me too. Even present day costumes for a cast of more than 40 is slightly problematic and I contemplate everyone in black tights and sweaters with token aprons and cloth caps. My first Gossamer Beynon has withdrawn today because the play clashes with the area finals of a geography quiz.

Thursday: My second Gossamer Beynon is not at all happy that Dylan’s text apparently requires her to lie in long grass, drawing rings around her nipples with lipstick. I tell her we’ll work on it. No rehearsal tonight because it’s parents’ evening where some express surprise at my Welsh accent, which is becoming second nature. I am, after all, trying to wean young actresses off their own accents anywhere from India, to Italy, to Ireland. I have forbidden the watching of Coronation Street.

Friday: I feel I could give Branagh lessons. Classes oh yes! one almost forgets them have been on Restoration drama and Julius Caesar. The sixth form are dazzled by the modernity of work dated 1707 while Year 9 are having a whale of a time being a Roman mob, a seductive Cassius or a sneaky devious Antony. I allow myself to feel a teeny bit disaffected with Under Milk Wood. But the prospect of an all female Julius Caesar. . . now there’s a thought.