Sunday, August 31, 2003

Sleeping in a tent, especially a diddy one half-full of other people, has its disadvantages, as I commented earlier. Tom thinks so too:

The smallest people always take up the most room. Especially in tents.

I have to say that my tent companions this year have been most understanding about being squished mid-night by a rolling Mad, even though I have probably moved out of the "smallest people" category as a result of French food and wine. However, help is at hand, of which more tomorrow.

In other news, there is a big spider in the middle of my bathroom, which I am going to call Fred. Also, my bro has a new bike, and I am very excited about this fact. Maybe it'll be an excuse to whip out the leathers again.

France was great. However, I am now certain that I am the Grim Angel of The Autumn: I went to Sweden, and the weather went from glorious to pants; I went to France and the weather went from glorious to nearly pants; I went out with friends today, and the weather was decidedly not glorious, although it had been prior to my arrival. It's nice to think that I am carving out alternative career options, should I decide that teaching is all too much.

My little jaunt-ette to France resulted in many new experiences:
* I drove a left-hand drive car on the right-hand side of the road and didn't hit anything. (In fact, Charl only had to shout, "Right hand side!" once in 5 days, so that's not bad going at all)
* I voluntarily ordered a salad in a restuarant and enjoyed eating it, without looking jealously at the other diners' food. (Except maybe once or twice, in a sneaky sort of way, but that doesn't really count)
* I managed to spend 15 minutes in a CD shop and didn't buy any CDs. (Not sure whether this is a good thing or not, but it's an unusual occurence!)

We did very little of the tourist thang, apart from standing outside a couple of chateaux saying, "That's nice. Very impressive. Now, where's the bar/creperie/cave?" One evening we went to a son-et-lumiere (apologies for the lack of accents - I don't know how to find them on this keyboard!) in a touristy sort of way, and although it was a magnificent performance including thousands of people, two dogs and an array of horses, the whole storyline aspect was somewhat lost on us, unless King Francios I really *did* keep nipping off into the bushes with his bit of skirt leaving his queen sitting on the throne. Somehow I suspect not!

We spent much time, therefore, nipping up and down the Loire valley, tasting wine and searching out food. These are not particularly challenging tasks, but somehow we excelled at both. The result is a slight (ahem) tightening around the waistband and a desire to try out some of the pancake fillings here at home. Maybe it's time for another pudding party..?!

Driving through the village, on my way home from my final stab at freedom, I was stopped by three boys. One I taught last year, the other two were in my class two years ago; all sat their GCSE this summer.
"Miss, Miss, I got a B!"
"I actually passed!"
"It was your extra help that meant I passed."

It all seems worthwhile now. What a great start to term.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003

After a weekend squidged into a tiddly two-man tent that was half-full of someone else, I slept like a starfish last night, taking up the entire bed. This is quite an achievement for a single person in a double bed, but I managed it somehow. Smug grins all round.

Monday, August 25, 2003

Following my rant last week, I was pleased to read this.

Woman on other end of phone: Hello, Holiday Autos here. How can I help?
Me: I'm meant to be picking up a car at an airport in France tomorrow and I've not received a voucher via email.
WOOEOP: Ah. Let me take your booking reference. Right -I've got your details here. What seems to be the problem?
Me: I've had three Confirmation of Booking emails, but the e-voucher hasn't arrived.
WOOEOP: You don't need a voucher - just print out that email.
Me: [reading directly from email on computer screen] The email says "Your e-voucher will be delivered to your email address in the next few hours. The voucher will give you full details of where to collect your car and must be taken with you as proof of purchase. Please note that this email cannot be used in place of your voucher."
WOOEOP: Oh. Let me check with my manager.
[muzak and annoying woman. Mad looks disgruntled]
WOOEOP: Hello again. I've checked with my manager and he seemed to think that you don't need a voucher. To make sure,I'm going to fax your email confirmation letter to the supplier at Tours airport. Is that OK?
Me: I hope so.
WOOEOP: I know it can be confusing when you're doing this... thank you for calling.

Mad hangs up phone, shaking her head in bemusement and in anger at being patronised. Harrumph.

Having got unpacked, what I really fancy are some chips. This involves going to the chip shop in the village and exchanging notes and/or coins for a parcel of lard-laiden goodies. There is one, minute, itsy-bitsy problem: the only money I can find in my flat is foreign. I have Swedish Kronor, Danish Kronor, Italian Lira, French Francs and numerous Euros, but no squids. I could always raid my 5p jar, but I don't think the proprietor of Goodbuy Mr Chips (I kid you not - this is the chippy's real name) will appreciate twenty 5p pieces. Still, it could be worse - I could pay using the jar full of coppers!! :-)

This weekend was spent at a campsite in the Dark Peak, somewhere near Edale. The scenery was wonderful but somewhat obscured by the clouds and rain that lurked around the hilltops (and our campsite!) for most of Friday and Saturday. Luckily this gave us the perfect excuse to investigate kit shops, tea shops and pubs, rather than floundering in peat bogs: how distraught was I?!? Sunday's weather improved enough for the majority to head upwards for a yomp, whilst I looked at otters, owls and other assorted wildlife in the company of La Famile Payne. Today - on finally making it out of bed and off the campsite! - we went en masse to Hope Country Show to look at sheepies and piggies and cowies. Sadly there were no piggies, but hey - two out of three ain't bad, and I *did* get to laugh at the country stereotypes discussing sheep infections and how their precious little Georgina will fare in the newcomers' show-jumping class: the job's a guddun! Bacon sandwiches started each day, good company cheered things along and a delightful combination of good beer and port made the evenings seem less damp.

I now face another evening of unpacking/washing/re-packing before heading off to France tomorrow with Charl in an end-of-holiday type holiday. I note with concern the following part of my horoscope this week:

Mercury turns retrograde this week, and this generally coincides with a time when the wheels of commerce and administrative activity are subject to delay.

Already the fates conspire against me: a) there have been minor hitches organising a hire car, and b) public transport does not allow one to travel from Stansted to Birmingham late on a Saturday, so the madmobile will have to be abandoned in some car-park near the airport, causing financial ruin and psychological trauma for a few days. Bah!

School starts again next week (that's next week, not this week that's already started, although it feels like the week's not started yet because of bank holiday, but if you're reading this in/after work on Tuesday I guess you know what I mean. On re-reading that sentence, I'm not sure that *I* know. Hmmm.) and I've got lots to do - I'm being evicted from my classroom and will be moving to a new room next to the school's bar (they've got me sussed!) so I return to face the delights of shifting boxes, books, board pens and other teaching accoutrements (though not necessarily begining with a B, I hasten to add!). However, it means that I can actually get my act together and throw out all those things that have been gathering dust for two years. It even means that I can justify buying a whole new load of stationary - woo-hoo!! Again, from my horoscope:

The coming weeks are best for research and for throwing away the clutter accumulated from all your previous operations. Then you will have the space for all those new things to come your way.

I just hope the new things are of the food variety. B-doing!!

Friday, August 22, 2003

After loping to the common room to check on the exam results (large sighs of relief all round: the delivery of my P45 has been postponed by another year!) I've been mostly filing, in a vague attempt to re-locate the surface of my desk. The desk top is now clear, but the bin is very full; at times I wish I were more organised about paperwork.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

I forgot to mention that my jaunt to Sweden was cunningly timetabled so that I missed both the AS/A2 results *and* the GCSE results, which are always nail-biting occasions here on Planet Mad. Initial scanning of UK newspapers, though, suggest that - yet again - the percentage gaining the highest grades have risen at all levels and, although I have yet to discover if my kids buck the trend or not, the media hype surrounding this issue evokes all sorts of emotions. In any other industry, a lack of year-on-year productivity increases would lead to boardroom recriminations, new processes, restructuring, redundancies... An increasing number of exam passes, however, is automatically deemed to reflect easier exam papers, a less rigorous assessment system and pupils choosing easy subjects over hard ones in search of better results.

Not only does this attitude devalue the achievements of the pupils, but it also fails to take account of many other factors. One purpose of exams is to create a selection mechanism which enables employers/universities to choose between candidates. As more students participate in post-16 education, the number of people with A-levels increases, which in turn means that the A-level, as a qualification, is becoming less valuable for selection purposes. As a results, pupils are working harder, recognising the importance of good grades in the future.

Teachers are - in many schools - facing performance-related pay, in the guise of a higher pay-scale accessible only by meeting targets and passing through "The Threshold". It is only possible to assess the achievement of targets if pupil data is available, and there is now far more information available in schools to enable this setting of targets. This has also helped with early identification of those who are underperforming, again boosting grades.

The government judges schools as a whole by publishing league tables (which is another rant in its own right, and something I shall refrain from commenting upon here and now). The key factor assessed in league tables is the outcome of public examinations, and so - unsurprisingly - more emphasis has been placed upon exam success. On behalf of their school, teachers now spend hours each year analysing past exam papers and coaching their pupils in exam technique. Is this cheating the system? I think not. After all, in a driving test there are set manouveres to complete, and learner drivers spend hours practising three-point turns and parallel parking so that they are prepared for anything that may be asked of them. It's no different to A-level pupils practising multiple-choice technique or learning definitions.

Another cause of grade inflation is a result of a politicial decision to move from norm-referenced grading to criterion-referenced grading. Originally, your grade in exams depended on the achievement of the others in the cohort: effectively, the top 8% would get an A, the next 10% a B, and so on. Now, exams are based on criterion, with your grade reflecting the number of criteria hit, making it possible for everyone to pass if they do everything right. In a sense this is fairer - you are assessed on your own performance, rather than being penalised for being part of an able cohort - but it makes grade inflation far more likely.

It doesn't help that (almost) everyone has attended a school at some point and has taken public exams; they therefore feel entitled to comment upon the education of others, regardless of changes in the assessment system and the passing of time. That this is demoralising and infuriating - for both pupils and teachers - is unsurprising. There is no easy answer, partly because some of the causes of grade inflation lie deep within the educational policies adopted by the governments of the last 20 years. Credit where credit's due, methinks - well done to all who got results this summer.

Alopogies all round for the rather abrupt end to bloggage last week: I was caught out by the lack of internet access available across the seas. Sage advice regarding my final post arrived:

If u hate packing so much stop going away!

But going away is fun, and I don't get much opportunity during term time - I guess packing is the price that I have to pay. I've been loitering in Sweden for the last week, taking advantage of the sun to indulge in some sight-seeing (cultural), bike riding (wobbly) and swimming in the sea (bracing, but including the whole 'running and jumping off the end of the pier' thang, so fun too). On arriving home this evening, I note with amusement that my weekly horoscope reads

Your luck continues to hold out, especially if you are traveling abroad, or going on an adventure anywhere. Trips to interesting and challenging places and vacations to sun-kissed beaches are all well starred. So you can safely let the gypsy in your soul out for another chance to play. But as with all good things, it isn't going to last too much longer, in fact by next week this run of blissful pleasure will be replaced by an urge to get to work, so enjoy it while you can.

And so I shall - tomorrow I'm off camping in the Peaks for the weekend, then heading off to France on Tuesday for a few days sampling the local culture, returning just in time to start work again!

This week has provided much opportunity to spend time contemplating life, work, friendship, love and other such things. Whilst there are many things that could be said at this juncture, I think it's probably wiser to keep these thoughts to myself for now, leaving you instead with this:

Hi Mad, In a bored moment at work, I found your blog, and you're just as strange as I thought you were! TTFN Dave P

That's OK then - hi Dave!! :-)

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

I hate packing.

My computer is v-e-e-e-e-r-r-r-r-y-y-y-y-y s-s-s-s-s-l-l-l-l-o-o-o-o-o-w-w-w-w-w-w. Why isn't broadband available everywhere?!

Drununk. Whoops.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Things about the internet that make me smile...

Number 1:
I primarily write this blog for myself - I know of some people who drop in (often because they send exciting messages via that there box o'er on the right) but I have no real idea who, when or how often. Occasionally I toy with the idea of site stats but always end up choosing ignorance over knowledge, knowing that I will continue to write regardless. It does, however, give me a small buzz of excitement when I see Planet Mad listed on other people's sites. It's almost a vote of confidence, and finding two such links in recent weeks leaves me feeling fine 'n' dandy.

Number 2: A.Word.A.Day's word for today is Madeleine, and spelt correctly too. I am happy to be associated with both cake and happy memories.

Number 3: The inappropriateness of computer assumptions. Following my experiences with blogspot's adverts, my Amazon book recommendations include several Rowling/Pratchett-type books, and then - lurking at the bottom of the page - is The Atkins Diet. Bwa-ha-ha... how little do they know?! ;-)

As a result of a little bet-ette (I *knew* that "enrichened" isn't a real word) I had today's lunch bought for me by my good friend Mark. This means that I have had no occasion to look for food until now. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a packet of bacon languishing in the fridge and a tub of Ben and Jerry's Cookie Dough icecream nestling at the back of the freezer. I am a happy lady. Or, at least, woman.

Arrrr, arrrrr, aaaa-harrrrrrr! Avaaaaast! Yo ho ho! Any port in a storm! Aaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!

(This blog entry was brought to you in conjunction with the Pirates of the Caribbean)

Sunday, August 10, 2003

Home again, to be welcomed by a (still alive!) Fatso and 230 spam emails, which were gobbled up by my spam filter, thereby avoiding a nasty case of RSI caused by clicking the delete button.

I've spent much of the last week mooching, lounging, reading, chatting and getting small children soaked in water fights; these are all good things, and I feel far more normal (ahem) than I did before. I also had to fry about 150 sausages one evening: this was not such a good thing as it was a tad warm in the kitchen tent, but they *were* very tasty, so that was OK too. Mind you, my poor little brain cell is struggling from too many late nights - and the litre of port I consumed last night probably isn't helping - so I'm off to catch up on some sleep now. More tomorrow...

Saturday, August 02, 2003

Ah bless. Last weekend these kids were on my camp; this weekend they've got it on the web! What a fast-paced society we live in!! :-)

Tried to bake, but got side-tracked by the smoked salmon and almond croissants. Result: no cake, but nice pasta and pudding. Hey ho - you win some, you lose some.

I feel that a long post is necessary to fill in the gaps about the past week and a bit, if only to indulge my desire to commit thoughts to paper (in a metaphorical sense). You have no obligation to read this. It's probably not funny or interesting, but I know that I will look back through my archives at some point, read this entry and have to wipe a speck of sentiment from my eye - after all, if you can't write for yourself, then you might as well give up.


GaSCiT: The hours of planning were obviously sufficient, and Amy's list-making paid off, as it all went smoothly and the kids had a great time. It felt very strange taking a back seat and leaving it to the sub-camp leaders when it had been *my* baby for so long - I even got to spend time sitting in the sun and reading the paper, which is not a normal occurance on camp! There were a couple of incidents (dealt with efficiently and causing no major problems) but from my side the only mishap was the sudden lack of voice... one morning it was there and by the afternoon it was gone! I spent a very peaceful couple of days looking for it again!! The kids left on Tuesday and their departure was marked with a BBQ and party, which saw me drinking lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and.... I'll leave it to you to fill the gaps, because I certainly can't! I'm finding it hard to write about the whole sheebang: it's been 2 years in the planning, and suddenly it's gone - just like that. Maybe more will come back to me as time passes; maybe it's just been blanked from my memory...?!

And then on to...

Guide county camp: Arrived Wednesday evening, complete with clean clothes and a slightly raspy voice. On Thursday I had to run the evening's campfire, so I spent much of the day conserving my voice, which meant another peaceful day for all around! Friday drifted past in a haze, and we'd finally got the Guides off to the evening disco and started packing when the security people came and evacuated us from our campsite - there was a gas leak! On arriving at the evacuation point, I was grabbed by the County Big Cheese who greeted me with the ominous question, "You can sing, can't you?" I then had to entertain the massed ranks of Brownies and Guides to distract them from the sight of fire engines arriving on site. I was quite upset by this, as I would have relished the opportunity to watch the firemen (phanar, phanar!). Hey ho. Instead I got to play with microphones and PA systems, slipping up only once when I asked people to move out of the way of the (rather pleasing eye-candy) disco lads as they got their kit off the stage. Sadly I forgot to say "the stage". Luckily, the Big Cheese laughed!

So there you go - eleven days, two camps, both wildly exciting to attend and probably very dull if you weren't there. Sorry. Tomorrow, Planet Mad moves to Bedford for yet another camp. It's going to be late next Sunday when I return, so more uninteresting updates then. (Bet that's really inspired you to return, eh?!)

Home: smelly and tired. Am off to rectify both of those things, so you'll just have to wait a while for the story of the emergency evacuation and my impression of Dame Vera Lynn entertaining the troops. Ho hum.