How (not) to have a crappy day.

I’ve just changed (look up) the tagline of my blog. So I’m officially allowed to write this sort of shit, instead of feeling subtly guilty and or dirty for cheating on my novel blog as well as my actual novel.

Anyone seen the film Sliding Doors in which Gwyneth Paltrow inhabits two parallel story lines: one with luscious flowing locks, and t’other with sassy Brad-Pitt era slick-fringed crop? (There’s probably a proper hair-dressy word for this style. Do say if you know.)

It all hinges (nice bit of door-related humour for you there) on whether or not she makes her train. I’ll say no more, because spoilers, but suffice to say that, as butterflies’ wing beats can make skyscrapers crash (or something; as you may have gathered, I don’t really understand chaos theory), the missing or catching of a London train has profound effects on more than Paltrow’s flaxen hair.

I think lately I seem like I’m happy and smiley and possibly hothousing metaphorical testicles under my dress (we all know that real ones don’t make you ballsy). And often I am. But you know how people say you’re only ever three pay cheques away from homelessness? For me it’s three shit things away from feeling entirely rubbish about myself. Not even three, actually. Today is one of those days. And I’ve only accrued two reasons. One’s just the usual baloney I tend to get myself involved in, and the other’s the fact that it’s Father’s Day. If you’ve read this post you’ll know that my dad has dementia. Buying him presents is the devil’s own work. In the end I bought baby shampoo, because he hates having his hair washed, and anyway, blah, that’s the end of the sentence because I physically can’t write down the other stuff I’m thinking.

It makes me sad, is all.

So this could be a crappy day.

And then again, it couldn’t.

Like Gwyneth catching/not catching her train, I suppose I have two choices: sit here accumulating gloom, or get up and live.

The ‘getting up and living’ option was just on the brink of including a walk in the woods, but God or Zeus or whoever has put the kibosh on that with a sheet of thrashing rain (which I wouldn’t actually mind walking in, but my neighbours would probably think I’d gone mental again if I set off in that). So I’m back at the drawing board.

I reckon, with a nod to radical acceptance, the crucial don’ts are these:

don’t wish things were different;

don’t feel angry with the world for the fact that things aren’t different;

don’t feel angry with yourself for the fact you’re not different;

don’t feel angry with other people for the fact they‘re not different;

don’t feel differently about yourself because of other people;

don’t let jealousy make you feel differently about other people;

don’t let any old riffraff into your head.

And the crucial dos, I reckon, are these:

have bubbles in your bath;

have chats with the (many, lovely) people who actually give quite a lot of fucks about you;

step away from the school campaign for long enough to remember you were once a (sort of) writer;

play some fortissimo piano, wrong notes and all;

post a link to your speech at the school meet last week where (drum roll) you got a standing ovation;

post a link to the school survey you set up (to counter the ‘official’ piece of taxpayer-funded shit) and remind the nice readers of this here blog than anyone can fill it out (hint hint);

get up, get dressed, get some music on;

have tea, have cake, be kind to yourself;

remember it’s you who decides what to think about;

be smiley and happy, this afternoon, when you visit your dad: no matter what, you can still have a cup of tea and a row about politics together;

and maybe, just maybe, retreat to your novel? It’s where you belong. Possibly. Maybe. Most of the time.

And, just as I write these words, the rain has stopped. The sun is shining. Turned out nice after all.

How Michael Gove had a wet dream once about state education, and now we’re all paying the price.

Today I’m concerned about Nicky Morgan’s eye health. All that staring! It can’t be good, can it?

Nicky Morgan

Nicky Morgan. She loves a good stare.


Who, or what, is holding her eyes open? And what is she being forced to watch?

Surely she’s a shoe-in for the Stare Out Championship Finals?

Is it too late? Have the body snatchers taken up residence already?

Or is it too late? Have the body snatchers taken up residence already?

Anyway, I’m feeling like a massive bitch now, because mocking someone’s appearance isn’t cool. I should know better. I do know better. But I’ve been awake since 4.38 feeling stressed about my powerlessness to bloody do anything in the face of Nicky Morgan’s policies (coughs noisily into handkerchief and mumbles the word Gove… which, curiously enough, is a little-known synonym for the contents of one’s handkerchief when one has been too long in the capital, hence acquiring the sad affliction colloquially known as black bogies).

Moving on… (Because mocking Gove’s appearance would be entirely too easy, and irrelevant of course because one’s appearance has nothing at all to do with the state of one’s soul. To say, for instance, that Gove resembled a slippery fish would be wholly unfair when in fact— Oh, hang on…)

Very, very, very soon I will be blogging about writing again. I hope, I beg, I pray. I have reached the point in our school campaign (you can see more here) when I just want it to be over. I once had a normal life, I think. (Normal by Lynsey-ish standards at least.) By the bed there are two Cindy Shermans (not even prints – before you pop round to rob me: photocopies of prints. Wonky photocopies n all) that make me remember the heroine of my novel (I’ve fallen a bit out of love with the word protagonist) but no matter how many times I look at them lately my brain’s on a patch of ice, or a laminate floor with a rug on, or maybe roller-skates, because it won’t stick to anything it’s meant to stick to. It keeps getting angry and picturing Nicky Morgan’s bug-eyes and wanting to ruminate on the fact that, if Inspiration Trust invade my daughter’s school (the Hewett in Norwich), we’ll be making profit, by proxy, for a bunch of millionaire Tory donors. That’s definitely not something I want to do.

Other things I don’t want:

  • a Principal instead of a head teacher
  • chanting
  • rigour
  • tradition
  • children referred to as ‘products’
  • an openly right-wing deputy and an openly Catholic head (sorry, Principal).

The last time I checked, homosexual activity was ‘contrary to natural law’ in the Catholic church. In our school we have several gay or bisexual children. Last night (at the second of our parent ‘consultations’ on the future of the school) I raised the issue of LGBT rights in the light of Inspiration Trust’s avowed ‘traditional values’. I wanted the Catholic head, newly appointed, to offer a firm commitment to positivity around homosexuality (along with a woman’s right to choose, and the continuing rights of teenagers to access free contraception at the Base (a community centre operating on the Hewett site) in direct contradiction to everything their religion holds dear.

Sheree Dodd, however, (who was orchestrating the consultation at taxpayer expense), shut me down. I raised my hand again later, but sadly the sands of time had run away with us (probably while the White Men in Suits who constituted the panel were rambling on: this was the kind of consultation where some were more equal than others; you know – the unfair kind).

I’ve done you a little gallery here… I’ve even done you some captions: but owing to the fact I’m having fancy circles instead of boring old squares (because I’ve had enough of boring old squares at these bloody consultations) you’ll have to click on the pictures to read the captions. (It may not be worth it. Your call. Life’s short.)

It’s worth blogging about this, I think, because the kind of consultation we’ve been ‘enjoying’ this week will very shortly go the way of this: Unknown-2 Stary Nicky announced an education bill last week. This bill will enable her to ‘sweep away’ (her words!) the ‘bureaucratic loopholes’ (aka parents’ views) in order to push through the forced academisation process with a speed as yet unseen. At the moment it takes, on average, 13 months for the journey from ‘troubled’ community school to glorious academy. With Morgan’s sensible court shoe on the gas it could take as little as two months in future. In other words, from this: fifi to this:


Always good to have a pic of Jeremy Clarkson looking twatty. (Basically every picture of him ever taken, then.)

If you think this is a good thing you’re probably an idiot and should stop reading now because the rest of this post will only irritate you further.

I think we’ve got up Morgan’s nose. I’ve tweeted her enough times that there’s a passing chance she makes the sign of the cross when she sees my name (another rightwing Christian; awesome). Last night I was so far up the nose of Sheree Dodd that I could’ve investigated for ‘Gove’. ‘We heard a lot from you last night,’ she said, slapping me down again. Well, we heard a lot from Ian Burchett, too: that’s the IT guy, and for IT read Inspiration Trust, BTW. Wouldn’t want to give the impression that anyone connected with academy BS is remotely Roy or Moss-like:

99.99% cooler than anyone connected with IT.

100% cooler than anyone connected with IT. And that’s a statement of fact.

You know what else is a ‘statement of fact’, according to Ian Burchett? Only one child (yes, one child) in the whole of Norwich defected from the Hewett to one of our brand-spanking-wholly-unnecessary-new free schools, Jane Austen College (owned by Inspiration Trust)! It really is true. Ian Burchett does have that kind of information. It isn’t opinion, or supposition, but a ‘statement of fact’.

He was in the mood for offering these cast iron sorts of statements last night.

Oh, hang on, no. Except he actually wasn’t! He couldn’t say ‘how long’ Jane Austen would remain in their present location (where, as I pointed out, they have no frigging windows! ‘I said please don’t send me here; it’s like a prison,’ as one child remarked to me last night). He couldn’t say why Dame Rachel de Souza, head of IT, should be negotiating over the future of Hewett’s land when – silly Rachel! She must’ve forgotten – she doesn’t own it yet. He couldn’t say anything concrete either about the future location of the newest player in the IT empire: Charles Darwin Primary Academy. He couldn’t say much about ‘traditional values’ either, except that, in his universe, traditional means ‘learning taking place in classrooms’. Or summat like that. No, it didn’t make sense to me, either.

I am roundly mocking him because it reflects the contempt shown to us by Inspiration Trust. We Hewett paupers are so terribly lowly that Dame Rachel couldn’t be arsed to show her face, but sent a stooge instead. I know supermodels used not to get out of bed for less than £10,000 dollars but FFS we have 54 acres of land, worth sixty million quid, at our disposal. The stooge didn’t even do us a bloody powerpoint. I’ve talked before about Aristotle’s definition of the distinction between empty (but impressive) rhetoric and genuine policy. Burchett had neither skill under his belt. I don’t pretend to be a policy maker, but I can write a speech: Mr Burchett, if you want a hand in future, I’ll help out! I rewrote the FAQ sent to us by our Interim Executive Board (IEB) whilst waiting to be (wo)manhandled by a gastroenterologist on Monday, so you see it won’t take me too long. What’s your hourly rate? I extend this invitation to the IEB as well: if you’re struggling to write a job advertisement you don’t need to ask IT to do it. I used to write job specs for a living. Once again, if you quote me your (own) hourly rate I could probably undercut it by, oh, 75% and still feel decently rewarded.

Anyway, we’re holding our own public meeting next Tuesday, 16th June at 7 p.m. There’s a link here if you’re Norfolk based and you’d like to come along. We’ll be talking about the same lack of choice I was talking about on this Future Radio story on Norfolk’s schools. We’ll be talking – honestly – about IT and why, no matter how Stary Nicky insists otherwise, they’re not the right fit for our non-traditional school. All the white men in suits, and Sheree Dodd, have been publicly invited (by yours truly) and rest assured I’ll be most upset if they don’t show their faces. I’ll (probably) blog about the meeting here.

And then… I’m done, I think. I really, really, really do have a book to finish. I’ve got to get back to it. My soul has got little bits of blackish bad stuff attaching to it, like lungs in anti-smoking ads, and I reckon it’s time for a detox.

Update: this post has been edited in light of the recent pointing-out to me, on ye olde twitter, that our incoming deputy is not, as I’d originally stated, a Catholic. He is, however, a Gove fanatic. Both these things are, of course, manna from heaven for an atheist pinko such as myself.

Getting it right, getting it wrong. Not minding.

One day soon I will actually blog about writing my novel. (Before trading standards come knocking.)

One day soon I will actually do some work on my novel.

Neither of those things, however, will be happening today.

If you’ve followed my blog for a while, you may know that 2014 was a year of such cataclysmic awfulness that it’s almost been wiped from my head. For most of that time, I didn’t know how I would carry on being alive. I thought I was pointless and awful. It took a long while to get better. Some days would be bearable; some would be worse. There’s no rhyme to these things, and no reason. You just have to keep showing up every day and believe you’ll recover eventually.

did recover. I am recovered. I’d had an unpleasantly sticky break-up, on top of other things, and it takes time to un-plunge yourself from the bog of lost affections. ‘You’re more like you,’ my daughter said to me the other day, ‘now you’re single. You used to complain all the time… and now you just get on and do things.’

It’s like being an alcoholic, though, or an addict: you don’t just get better; you have to stay better, actively, as I wrote about here. Just the way a relationship needs to be worked at, you need to keep working at loving yourself. Is it harder or easier to love yourself than someone else? It should be easier, right? But it isn’t, not always. I think people (especially women) often make allowances for undeserving others. It’s way easier to make such allowances for someone you fancy (and unless you’re really peculiar, or else Narcissus, you don’t usually fancy yourself…) ‘Well, he did try to call me, but it wasn’t his fault a passing magpie swooped through the open window and, in the process of trying to steal his phone, hit the delete key with its beak, so you see he had no way of knowing my number and, what was even worse, he was nude when it happened, and Christ knows how but the magpie’s claw must have caught the camera button, because that’s the only possible explanation for the willy pic he accidentally sent my hot best friend.’

I think you catch my drift.

Good things and bad things have happened in the last few weeks. I’ve made sensible decisions, and I’ve made some really stupid ones. The kind that are so stupid you auto-cringe whenever you think about them. I’m auto-cringing a bit now.

This is the face of the auto-cringe.

This is the face of the auto-cringe.

But so what? There are worse things than cringing. Worse things than making a dick of yourself. What I’ve come to believe is this: if you don’t take chances, your life will be shit. If you want something, ask for it. Speak up, speak out, speak your mind. Have a go. You will fail sometimes. Things will happen that make you feel silly or sad. I’ve felt silly and sad quite often, the last few days, but I’ve also felt totally fucking awesome. I feel proud of myself. I will keep making twatty decisions, I’m sure, because one of the many facets of my personality is, if I’m honest, a bit of a twat. I did something a little bit twatty last night, when I’d guzzled some wine, and I might be a twat again later. There’s no way of knowing.

But yesterday I did some cool stuff too. Nicky Morgan, our fabulous Education Secretary, announced a bill of such stunning stupidity, arrogance, and injustice that our school campaign got a much-needed fix of publicity. These links won’t last for long, but you can see me here (about 8.15)


and here (at about 2.15) having a ding-dong, and here (at about 0.57) walking around in a car park.

Windswept in the city.

Windswept in the city.

If you’d rather not look at my mug anymore you can hear me here with a fellow campaigner, Jo Smith, on breakfast radio this morning around 40 minutes in. And we made a pretty good team, if I say so myself.

And even though it turns out my forehead is way more crinkly than I thought it was, I’m proud of myself for stepping up.

Because, what the hell, there’s always Botox. And, yes, I’ve messed up (yet again) this week. But I’ve also done good things too. So long as, occasionally, I can do something good then I’m happy to carry on being a twat, occasionally, too.

Dear Ofsted.

There’s a certain, very famous Longfellow poem I expect you’re familiar with (although, hang on, Gove’s not fond of American literature, is he?):

There was a little girl,

Who had a little curl,

Right in the middle of her forehead.

When she was good,

She was very good indeed,

But when she was bad she was horrid.

While I can’t lay claim to curly hair (without the assistance of heated appliances, or else a particularly sweaty night) I think there’s some relevance, for me personally, in the last three lines.

I’m a fairly mild sort of person most of the time. I wouldn’t say I was good, exactly; but most of my acquaintances would likely be willing to chuck a ‘nice’ in my direction. Sometimes I can be very nice. When the mood takes me. I’m usually kind. I find kind things to say down the back of the sofa when there isn’t any obvious kindness immediately to hand. I smile at animals in the street. I say cheerful things about the weather to passing neighbours, even if those neighbours have passed my car on more than one occasion with the express aim of checking the date on my tax disc.

But, you know what? Don’t piss me off.

Don’t piss me off because, believe me, I will argue till the cows come home, and that first generation of cows will have withered and died and in fact their grandchildren will also have long been home and quietly resting in fields of chewed grass by the time I finally shut my gob.

Such massive love for Lucy in Peanuts, I even named my daughter after her.

Such massive love for Lucy in Peanuts, I even named my daughter after her.

I just like the last word. Always have; always will.

I think it’s a consequence of growing up with Tory parents. (Although, happy day, Mum has now defected to Labour.)

Before I explain, let me first bring some shame on my head by confessing to something:

Until the age of nine I, too, was a Tory.

Just because, you know, my parents were. And then my middle school held a mini election in class. We listened to the parties’ policies and made our considered nine-year-old decisions and, after hearing the arguments, the party I voted for was… Ecology. (1980s incarnation of the Greens.) This was a surprise to me. My thoughts and feelings weren’t, after all, that similar to my mum’s and dad’s in this respect. I actually had my own opinions. And they were strident. And natural-seeming. They seemed to have formed the way cliffs do, for instance – without even meaning to; in response to the buffeting of the world around them – or much as a freshly rinsed white linen sheet (in my house) will attract, by the laws of inevitability (and Sod), a black cluster of cat hair within twenty-five seconds of leaving the washing machine, even if both cats are currently outside. It’s a conundrum.

What was I talking about?

Ah, yes. Well, I grew up arguing, you see. I was hot-headed and angry, and so was my dad, and we’d clash about twelve times a minute when I lived at home, because I cannot stand (just cannot stand) being told what to do, or to think. And it may be that I do it anyway, what you want me to do, but – trust me – the resentment is building, and one day, whether it’s a giant ding dong (not as pleasant as it sounds) or the metaphorical scissoring of your life from mine (like an angry divorcee with the family photo album), you are going to know about it.

Ofsted, you have been pushing me for a while now. I’ve said nothing. Or next to nothing. In fact, I semi-defended you on the radio a few months ago (‘I’ve got no particular beef with Ofsted’, I think were the words), but you – and the government that has hold of your reins – is really beginning to piss me off now. First you helped capsize my daughter’s school with your doom-mongering of the knee-jerk variety (all your reports are knee-jerk, dear Ofsted, because you simply don’t spend long enough to make reports of a more considered variety), and now you’re coming for adult education.

Let’s stop for a minute and talk briefly about the education of adults.

How do you define an adult?

The dictionary says ‘person who is fully grown or developed’. Immediately, see, we’re in murky waters, because ‘growing’ and ‘developing’ are so open to (mis)interpretation. I’m 41 and still not sure I’m a grown-up. It’s one of those things that’s hard to define.

Something else that’s hard to define? Enjoyment. According to Ofsted, it isn’t enough for my learners to enjoy my classes; there has to be evidence of achievement on a scale from one to five, or one to ten (it keeps changing), and something called a RARPA (I still don’t know what that stands for) that may or may not be the same as the ROA (or possibly the ILP) and learners must self-assess themselves in order to evidence achievement against a range of SMART targets (don’t ask), and if you replace the words ‘giving’ and ‘receiving’ (in the following clip) with ‘evidencing’ and ‘achieving’ you’ll have a good idea of the massive balls that teachers are forced to regurgitate, over and over again, for the benefit of Ofsted, because Ofsted have no real way of assessing the success or failure of actual teaching. The only thing Ofsted know how to assess is paperwork.

In my classes I teach consenting adults. I say consenting because everyone’s here, primarily, to enjoy themselves. Yes, they want to learn something – and they will learn something, I guarantee it; or else! – but that something can’t always be easily proven in any meaningful sense. They have fun. We get on. As a person I suck in a number of ways, but I think, as a teacher, I’m good at making people welcome. How would Ofsted know? They wouldn’t. They’ve never once visited one of my classes. They’ve never seen one of my lesson plans. If they had, they wouldn’t like it…

I’m not meant to use these lesson plans anymore. We got slated by Ofsted a few months ago (more specifically, the management team were slated; hence, by association, the teaching has also been tarred… because them’s the rules). If you’ve worked in teaching in the last ten years you can probably picture the carnage. We can’t move for steering groups and rapid intervention teams and six-page lesson plans with space for each activity to be checked off against Ofsted’s Every Learner Matters criteria:

  • Be healthy – promoting excellent physical, mental, emotional and sexual health
  • Be safe – ensuring all learners stay safe from all forms of harm
  • Enjoy & achieve – making progress in learning and personal development
  • Make a positive contribution – developing self-confidence, social conscience and enterprise
  • Achieve economic wellbeing – preparing for financial independence

In my lesson plans, I’m supposed to achieve ‘number two’ (being safe) by ensuring my learners remove their bags from any gangways.

I’m actually supposed to write this into my lesson plan. Every week.

These are adult learners: professionals, past and present, with far greater economic wellbeing (for the most part) than the poorly-rewarded tutor who’s teaching them. It is really appropriate for me to make space in my lessons to help prepare an eighty year old retired policeman for financial independence?

I have yet to promote the sexual health of any learner, young or old.

As for three and four: come on! This is what you do your teacher training for. Once you’re trained, why can’t someone assess you (once, twice, thrice if you like) on probation – and once it’s been proven that (a) you’re not a massive bitch and (b) you do actually know, mostly, what you’re talking about, then leave you to get on with it. Would that be so crazy? You could have an appraisal once a year – you know, how they do in other jobs. I’ve had lots of other jobs: in shops, in offices, in restaurants… even a summer spent French polishing furniture for a pervert (don’t ask)… I don’t recall inspectors leaping from the woodwork to assess me, unannounced, in any of those jobs. (Although actually, in the latter case, an inspector might’ve helped.)

We have a peculiar new magazine called the Rising Standard (which I’m almost a hundred percent certain is what Nigel Farage calls his wang), and a red alert system to summon the rapid intervention team if a learner goes AWOL. It’s like a police state. I hate it.

I just want to teach. Is that too much to ask, Ofsted?