The Story Snail Advances

Wow – the Snails are booked up pretty much until the end of February, and with GenR8 continuing until the end of November, I’m not feeling at all slow and slimy! Being a full time storyteller turns out to produce a fairly frantic lifestyle.

Except I’m still not a full time storyteller yet, because I accidentally became a Latin teacher for two days a week and now I’m finishing THAT contract. I’m really enjoying it, actually – the world of putting silly actions to boring grammar, reading about the adventures of Scintilla and Quintus and dealing with completely unlikely translations of lengthy passages is just as much fun as it was when I was doing it all for the first time. I’m not sure that all the kids I teach agree, but I do my best. At the moment we’re translating Latin Christmas carols to sing in assembly and particularly enjoying the macaronic ones (inevitable jokes about pasta included). “Angel hosts are singing nova cantica…they’re singing in the new canteen, Miss?” It’s also revealing a fairly abysmal knowledge of the Christmas story among my year sevens. “The baby is lying in praesipio…what could praesipio mean, do you think?” Blank silence. “Well, have a guess…what was Jesus lying in?” Pause. “A cradle type thing?” “OK, good guess, but remember the story? Mary didn’t have a cradle so she laid him in the….?” Lengthy pause. Finally: “A box?” It’s not just my class. A colleague came into the staffroom last week in shock because NONE of her year fours could tell her who Jesus’s mother was. She said: “I thought EVERYBODY knew that.” Well, not any more.

So in between Latin lessons and sneaky theological instruction I’m writing scripts, learning ventriloquism and performing for the second time with GenR8…loving every minute. Especially the minutes when I’ve remembered every line of the Creation Rap in the right order and I can sit back down again and breathe.

By the way, this is my new vent partner, Gerald. He still can’t say the letter B, but he’s pretty cool.

Or, not

I take back what I said in my last entry. I am not becoming a Real Wife. My reasoning behind this is that most housewives don’t spend the morning of their guests’ arrival attempting to dry pillowcases with a hairdryer.

The Tidy Thing

I have always dreamed of having a certain house.

The house has never really taken on a visual shape in my dreams. I don’t dream of colours or numbers of rooms. But I do dream of a house where the carpets are clean and fluffy; a house with a general feeling of air, light and space; a house where the kitchen smells of toast and coffee in the mornings and where wellington boots are lined up neatly in racks by the back door.

So far, I haven’t ever managed to achieve that house for more than a day. The carpets aren’t clean and fluffy, mainly because they are cream-coloured and will only look clean for about one hour after hoovering them before I spot dirt on them again, but also, admittedly, because I generally can’t see them due to the piles of clothes and assorted papers all over them. Feelings of air, light and space are hard enough to come by in a tiny thatched cottage, without the persistent cobwebs hanging just out of my reach on the stairs; and the kitchen never smells of coffee in the mornings because either we wake up and get out of the house so early that neither of us has breakfast, or we sleep in so late that it wouldn’t be decent to have breakfast by the time we finally get out of bed.

For the last month, however, we have been attempting to stick to a Routine. We have been trying to get up early enough every day to say morning prayer. Sometimes we’ve slipped a bit and ended up saying midday prayer instead, but we have experienced several mornings when the kitchen smelt of toast and coffee at a reasonable hour. Then, yesterday, I blitzed our bedroom and uncovered a large area of carpet through the clever re-assignment of shelves to hold books.

Now, some mornings, I have a moment on the landing as I leave the tidy bedroom and smell breakfast wafting up the cobweb-free stairs, when I am standing on the edge of a dream. It all feels rather fragile. But I’ve also baked two sets of muffins in as many weeks. Could it be possible that I’m transforming into a Real Wife?


I did it! I’m now a fully qualified teacher! And the best thing about that is that I never have to *say* I am again. Now, whenever anyone asks what I do, I will be able to say truthfully “I am a freelance, professional storyteller. I love my job. I work from home and earn money by having fun. How about you?”

I can’t wait.

‘Snail Tales’ had its first outing on the 10th, and our drama and workshops went down really well. The amount of props and scenery we accumulated for that one performance was extraordinary – in Chip’s garage we have a wooden tree, a giant frog mask with extendable tongue and several moon-shaped hats, to name just a few. Hopefully we’ll be able to reuse most of that. There’s been loads of interest from schools and organisations, and it looks as if it’s going to be a busy summer getting it all set up, but like I said, I can’t wait. I can’t wait!! I can’t believe it’s finally the end of term!

I’m currently in London with Cecily (just back from Greece). We were supposed to be in Worcestershire today, but the floods have put paid to that. Cecily is so determined to be there by tomorrow morning to be at the baptism of her first Godchild that she is getting on a bus which promises to go from Victoria Station to Pershore, despite this being impossible according to the flood warning maps. I hope she doesn’t sink.

Staring at the ceiling

So, I woke up on Saturday morning and found I could barely move.

It’s true that, under the circumstances, this was not a surprise. Friday night had been spent consuming far too much alcohol in the form of some very good wine to accompany an exceptionally good meal with our lovely friends. However, by midday I was fairly sure that the hangover was not the only culprit. Not only had my back and left leg seized up, but I also seemed to have tonsilitis.

In this state, I travelled to London where I sat through Ian Bostridge’s melodious performance of Death In Venice feeling like the latest case for House, MD. By Sunday I was hobbling to an emergency doctor at the Chelsea and Westminster who, in a tone not unlike House, told me that the only reason that should stop me travelling back to Cambridge was actually being wheelchair bound. He did prescribe some penicillin for the tonsils, though.

On Monday I made the certifiably insane decision to go ahead and perform with GenR8, a Christian volunteer group that tours assemblies around schools. After 5 primary schools in one day, carrying scenery and props and popping Coprufen+ whenever I could, I then attended a staff meeting at one of the schools where my new storytelling venture is going to take off next month. Finally, I went home, lay on my living room floor and wondered whether I would ever move again.

Tuesday, therefore, saw a visit to the doctor who signed me off work for ten days with ‘acute back strain’ and prescribed some drugs designed to knock me out entirely. Fun! Since then Ive been lying on the floor, watching bad daytime TV, attempting to write reports (and blog entries) with the laptop sort of balancing over me, and counting the minutes until my next dose. Which I think is now.

My internet connection down here is too dodgy to run MSN, but I’m attempting to check e-mails and, when the connection lets me, to reply. Make my ceiling more interesting by sending me one?

A Yellow Field

I’m sorry I’ve been so very long updating. A few weeks ago I tried, and for some reason my password didn’t work to sign me in. Today I tried again and for some reason it works now. I don’t question technology, I just let it run my life. Yesterday I was trying to show a video to the children, which in school means pushing an enormous trolley with a TV and video player on it from one end of school to the other, plugging it in and hoping it works. I performed this rigamarole twice, but neither telly worked and all I ended up with was 28 fed up, bored and uncontrollable children with nothing to do for the last ten minutes of the wasted lesson. Won’t somebody please bring back the blackboard?

Today we cycled into town on the tandem to have lunch at the Castle with Rob, and on the way back Tiffer decided to find out what was down a little path he’d seen. It turned out to be not really meant for bicycles, let alone tandems, but we pressed on and found that it cut straight through to a tiny narrow track running down the middle of a huge field of rape. (This appears to be growing all over Cambridgeshire at the moment; the yellow colour is stunning and the smell seems to have pervaded the whole county.)
So, we rode down the middle of the field. The track was so bumpy and unpredictable that I couldn’t keep my feet on the pedals, so I put my legs up on the crossbar and let Tiffer guide the bike. My admittedly unusual reaction to this episode was to laugh hysterically and helplessly all the way – it was probably brought on by direct contact with so much bright yellow!

Also, I was reminded of a book that my sister and I used to love, called Big Sister, Little Sister, in which one of the sisters gets lost in a field of very tall grass. I hope we still have that book somewhere.

Toads and kumquats

Yesterday in church we said the Benedicite instead of singing the Gospel hymn, apparently because it’s Lent. It’s not a change I’m familiar with, but fair enough. The benedicite is a long prayer in which every line begins “Bless the Lord”, and this instruction is given to every part of creation: “Bless the Lord, you sun and moon; stars of heaven bless the Lord” and so on. Anyway, the third line of the umpteenth verse (it goes on for a while) was “Bless the Lord, you toads and all that move in the waters…” I did a sort of blink, but said it anyway, feeling deeply suspicious. I’ve just looked it up, and sure enough, it’s supposed to be whales, not toads. It’s been changed just for Madingley. I think that’s wonderful. The toads made their way into the intercessions, too.

At least it has more purpose than the change the hymn “I cannot tell” (the one that goes to the Londonderry air) in our friend Charlotte’s church. A line in the third verse on the overhead projector read, “And he shall reap the kumquats he has sown”. As it grew closer with terrible inevitability, I knew it wasn’t right, but couldn’t for the life of me think what the real words were. When we got to the verse, I sang ‘kumquats’. Everyone in the church did; and then the entire congregation began shaking gently, and it wasn’t due to the Holy Spirit. This turned out to be the result of a bet between a music leader and a previous vicar, that the one couldn’t make the other say ‘kumquats’ during the service, and no-one had thought to change it back on the OHT. I now can’t sing that verse of that song with a straight face, which is a problem, as it’s a popular choice for weddings, funerals etc.

Of course, now that I’ve told the story on my blog, the kumquats and toads are out there. I do apologise if anyone has to sing either of these in the coming week…

Toad Haul

The toad patrol are out!!

I ought to explain that our village is famous for toads. As you drive in or out, you’ll see a sign with an imposing-looking toad on it, warning drivers that in certain seasons, the road can become hazardous – although it’s probably even more hazardous if you happen to be a toad.

The mating ground for these creatures, apparently, is on one side of the road, and the hibernating ground on the other. Around Valentine’s day, we’re expecting to see toads in their hundreds hopping across to pair off. Of course, since the road is a well-known alternative to the busy A14, and since dusk, when the toads emerge, more or less coincides with the rush hour at this time of year, there are quite a few casualties.

Consequently, today we found ourselves taking cups of tea and biscuits out to a hard-working group of men and women wearing yellow reflective jackets with ‘TOAD PATROL’ in big letters across the back. They were digging a narrow line in which to plant a low net fence, attempting to channel the lovelorn toads into a tunnel that runs underneath the road. Later on, when the toads actually emerge, the Patrol will return at dusk and stand around with buckets, capturing any wayward animals and carrying them across to the pond. Legend has it that local school children are sometimes asked to join in, and we’ve met so many people at church that are talking about ‘doing their bit’ this year, we’re beginning to wonder whether the whole village is going to be lined up along the side of the road in shifts from now until the end of March.

If it is, I’m grabbing a bucket and my wellies and joining in.

On the Silver Screen

Well, I’ve decided that I’m officially a writer now. I am practising saying to people who ask, “I am a part-time teacher – and a part time writer”. All right, I know that I’m not actually earning any money for it yet, and therefore can’t count myself as a professional, but the point is that I’m doing enough of it, and taking it seriously enough, to count it as a job rather than a hobby. And who knows, when one of my four current projects is finished, it might actually make some money.
Yesterday I was in Birmingham at a Production Meeting (I have written it with capital letters because I am saying it in a Very Important Voice). I am a Writer for a Project called Balance (more important voice) about which I am not going to say too much more here because it isn’t being advertised yet; but I am writing an animation screenplay, which I have never done before, with a lovely animating lady who is very much more experienced in it than I am, and the whole thing is being sponsored and distributed by a large and worthy charity. I’m excited enough about it to go into all the ins and outs of the project, but I had better not because the manager might eat me if I do it before the proper website is up.
In other writing news, I have one book on the go currently being read by 45 teenage girls on the internet; I’m on a Writing For Children Course about which I have done nothing at all so far; and I still have my novel to finish as well. I know exactly what’s going to happen in it now. All I need is time.
And that’s why, dear readers, I have started to call myself a Writer.

Is It That Time Already?

I have just spent a merry morning (well, the bit of the morning that was left after saying goodbye to the family, plus several hours of the afternoon) organising my life into a big black folder. It seems that I begin every new year, or new term for that matter, organising my life into ever bigger and blacker folders, and it never seems to have much effect. However, this one is looking very impressive. Unfortunately, the thickest section in it is the one labelled ‘inbox’.

Tomorrow we have the ever-wonderful Inset Day at school, when teachers go in and sit fidgeting in the staffroom, discussing some new policy or other, and wishing they could spend the time re-organising their classrooms instead. I intend to sneak in early and count the tables in my classroom, as I have been kept awake at night by whether or not there are sixteen of them, and how to sit everybody so that they don’t either misbehave or do the wrong level of work. If there turn out to be not as many tables as I’ve drawn on my plan, I reckon my best option is to sellotape the worst behaved children to the ceiling.

Even scarier than Inset Day is the prospect of getting there and back on the motorcycle. If I disappear tomorrow, you will find me in a blind panic going round and round the Bar Hill roundabouts, probably in the wrong direction.

Happy Spring Term, everyone.