Sunday, 27 May 2012

Teacher’s Pet (Hate)

Very recently Mr V and I attended Parents Evening.  With three children spanning 14 to 19, it’s fair to say we’ve ratcheted up quite a collection of evenings huddled around a classroom desk opposite a teacher.  In our time spent grouped around those various desks, we’ve met an awful lot of teachers.  The truly great and the ruddy awful.  This week was no exception.

We made our way over to the Physics tutor – a man.  And a very bored man at that.  ‘Pleased to meet you,’ he said in a flat tone.  He shifted one buttock from his plastic chair and scratched absent-mindedly.  ‘Right,’ he nodded at Eleanor.  We sat expectantly.  ‘What’s your name?’ the tutor asked.  My husband’s eyebrows nearly shot off his forehead and I had to stifle an exclamation of surprise.  This man had been teaching my daughter for nine months!  My daughter reminded him who she was.  ‘Okay,’ said the tutor looking none the wiser.  He then consulted a list in front of him.  ‘Oh yes.  Looks like you’re a C student.  Obviously you need to work harder,’ the tutor stood up and held out his hand indicating the meeting was over.  We didn’t take it.  Nor did we stand up.  I cleared my throat.  ‘Actually, this is a subject Eleanor finds quite tough.  So much so that we’ve had to engage a private tutor.’  The teacher shrugged in a so be it manner.  I ploughed on.  ‘Do you have any helpful pointers in how Eleanor can increase her understanding?’  The teacher shrugged again before acquiescing, ‘Stick with the private tutor.’  We stood up and wondered what on earth he was doing in the teaching profession.  With such utter disinterest, was it any wonder that his students lacked enthusiasm and high grade achievement?  We moved on to the next appointment. 

‘Good evening Mr and Mrs Viggiano,’ beamed the Spanish teacher.  We beamed back.  How refreshing to have a teacher who not only addressed you but also got your name right.  I don’t mean in terms of pronunciation, I mean in being correct.  My children are from my first marriage (their father is deceased) so they have a different surname to me.  And whilst my second husband had nothing against my first husband, he’d rather not be addressed as Mr Coveney.  We lowered our backsides into the plastic moulded chairs and huddled together.  The teacher gave us an earnest look before enthusiastically launching into her address.  ‘Now I know Spanish isn’t Eleanor’s favourite subject, but with a little bit of effort she could do so well.  Her written exam achieved a Grade A and she was just 2 marks off an A*.  The oral exam was weaker – a Grade C – but once again only a couple of marks away from a Grade B.  Eleanor has a beautiful accent and so much potential.’  The teacher then waxed lyrical about school trips to Spain, recommended some Spanish films to watch and suggested the attendance of lunch-time workshops that she held twice a week.  ‘I’m more than happy to give up a lunch hour for my pupils,’ she assured, ‘or you can seek me out after school with anything you might be stuck on.  Can I also suggest, Eleanor, that you read Spanish gossipy magazines to whet your interest in the language and increase vocabulary?’  We thanked the teacher for her time, shook hands and stood up. 

Now that was a teacher who didn’t just know our names, but knew her pupil’s name, her pupil’s strengths, weaknesses and potential. AND was passionate about her job and the subject she was teaching. 

Meanwhile Eleanor has noted her Spanish teacher’s helpful suggestions.  Whilst cleaning her room and sorting out a pile of overflowing papers on her desk into ‘keep’ and ‘throw’, I happened across an article ripped from a gossipy Spanish magazine.  Hurrah – my daughter was taking her teacher’s advice on board and increasing her vocabulary!  Delighted, I opened up the article to see if I could work out what it said.  Having never studied Spanish, it would most certainly have been a challenge to translate had it not been for the graphic illustrations of copulating couples. 

I appreciate my daughter’s curiosity, but that is one topic that can most definitely wait.  I put it into the ‘throw’ pile and replaced it with a book of Spanish verbs. 

Meanwhile this particular Physics tutor needs to ask himself if he’s a good teacher...

Sunday, 20 May 2012

A Doggy Tail

How ironic that last week I blogged about my dog and her toots.  Twenty-four hours later she nearly died.

I felt horrendously guilty for not taking her to the vet earlier. But then again, you can hardly tear into a surgery crying, ‘Help!  My dog won't stop tooting!’ because most of the time dogs toot a lot - especially beagles who suck cuddly toys, chomp on socks, lick floors, chew on plants, and bust into your dustbin given half a chance to consume heaven only knows what manner of manky leftovers. The fact that they survive and escape unscathed merely fools you into believing they have constitutions of iron.  However, by Monday morning it was evident things were very wrong.  We hastened to the veterinary surgery.

In the waiting room, a nervous elderly lady was perched on a chair clutching a caged rabbit. The bunny was first in the queue. My pooch was second. Moments later a third patient came into the waiting room – a Staff, wearing a muzzle and sporting a plaster cast on one leg.  The Staff growled ominously as it clanked around. Hot on the Staff's heels was a massive German Shepherd.  The German Shepherd’s handler yelled, ‘Stand back everybody!  Move out the way!’  Exactly where everybody was meant to move to in a postage stamp of a waiting room I'm not sure, but the lady with the bunny was looking absolutely terrified. The Staff spun round to check out the German Shepherd.  It was greeted with a row of sharp teeth and baritone growling, whereupon it decided to launch itself at the German Shepherd. There was the sound of plaster cast meeting shaggy skull followed by all hell breaking loose.  The dogs tumbled over and over.  Leads entangled.  Owners shouted.  The elderly lady with the bunny flattened herself against one wall.  At this point, if you are eating or have a frail tummy, stop reading.  Or skip the following paragraph.

As canine war broke out, my terrified beagle's bowels lurched and she promptly crapped herself. But because she wasn't well, what came out was comparable to aerosol mist. My pooch fought against her lead to escape the mayhem, her quarters swinging around the waiting room.  And it would be fair to say nobody escaped being spray-canned by my dog's backside. The lady with the bunny nearly fainted.  The Staff's plaster cast went from grubby white to chocolate brown.  The German Shepherd stopped fighting and looked gobsmacked.  And the air turned not just brown but also blue as major swearing broke out.  Ever watched Love Story where Ali Macgraw tells Ryan O’Neal, ‘Love is never having to say you’re sorry.’?  Well no matter how much you love dogs, sometimes saying sorry just isn’t enough.  ‘Sorry,’ I bleated, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry.’  I do not lie when I say everybody, even that bunny, gave me a shitty look. 

The vet appeared in the doorway and insisted my pooch was seen first.  We walked off down the corridor with my dog's backside spraying leaflets on worming and a wall showcasing a local resident’s designer doggy leads for sale. Total nightmare.

The pooch was diagnosed with Hemorrhagic Gastroenteritis which can be fatal if not dealt with promptly.  She was immediately hooked up to a drip and pumped full of antibiotics.  One week later she’s fighting fit, once again giving me a run for my money with needing eyes in the back of my head.  And hopefully we won't have to go back to the vet's waiting room for a very long time...

Sunday, 13 May 2012

A Musical Dog

The downside of owning a dog is that sometimes – well okay much of the time – they parp.  And toot.  And even occasionally trumpet (especially if they’ve swiped your beans on toast when you weren’t looking).  But in the case of my pooch forget the parp, toot and trumpet.  There is a whole orchestra of wind instruments going on under that tail. 

A beagle is a bit of a wotsit when it comes to grub.  As far as this breed is concerned, all food is theirs.  Even yours.  They will eat anything and everything and have no comprehension of their stomach ever being full. 

I have a feeling that my pooch has ingested something she shouldn’t have when out in the garden.  I also have a feeling that come Monday morning we will be queuing at the vet’s to make sure all is well and possibly have an antibiotic injection.  In the meantime I’ve put her on soft boiled rice to calm the gut down.  That and throwing all the windows in the house wide open. 
With a bit of luck the wind music will soon stop. I much prefer it when she sticks to playing the piano... 

Monday, 7 May 2012


Recently I began jogging again.  Not because I liked it.  Rather to tone up, lose weight and get fitter.  To date I look no different.  Nor has any weight been lost.  However, fitness might be up a notch.  This was put to the test last Thursday when Mr V and I caught a plane to Prague.

Following Easyjet’s advice, we arrived at Stansted Airport two hours prior to take-off.  Checking in the luggage promptly, we congratulated ourselves on having plenty of time to twiddle our thumbs.  Sitting down with cappuccinos, we set about putting the world to rights.  And lost track of time.  Stupidly we hadn’t gone through the X-Ray bit and, as luck would have it, there was a queue a mile long.  A lady swathed from head to toe in flowing garb was repeatedly setting the alarms off and flatly refusing to co-operate. The queue ground to a standstill.  Chuntering broke out.  Staff looked harassed.  Twenty minutes later it was finally our turn.  I didn’t get through.  Boots, belt and wristwatch had been removed.  A stern woman with a huge metal detector scanned me.  More demented bleeping.  Next thing I was being thoroughly frisked by hand.  I was finally waved through when the queue was at boiling point and airport staff determined the numerous decorative studs on the backside of my jeans were to blame.  We now had ten minutes to catch our flight.  Even worse, the monorail wasn’t working.  At various points notices proclaimed: If you are late, we won’t wait.  And thus began our run through Stansted Airport as we searched for Boarding Gate 2.  We belted along corridors, skirted trolleys, bypassed dawdlers, leapt two stairs at a time up escalators, flew round corners and finally found Gate 2.  The area was devoid of people and the gate was locked.  At that moment there was an announcement.  ‘Last call for Prague, please go to Gate 13.’  Not Gate 2?  We turned and thundered off in the opposite direction.  We were the last to board the plane.  Mr V’s heart was hammering so hard his shirt was visibly pumping.  Whereas I was puffing but not about to have a coronary.  So the good news is:  jogging works.  Oh, and we got to Prague.

The following morning we set off to explore.  Like all good tourists I’d downloaded a map of Prague the day before using all my printer cartridges in the process along with an entire roll of cellotape to stick hundreds of A4 sheets together.  Whereupon the receptionist gave us a dinky map all neatly folded up.  ‘Catch the Number 22 tram to the river,’ I read from my tourist guide.  As if on cue, a tram rattled to a standstill by our side and we hopped on.  And off we went.  In the wrong direction.  An hour later we still hadn’t found the river but we’d checked out some diverse market stalls where you could buy fresh flowers.  And cannabis.

Totally lost, we came across a church.  ‘Let’s go in,’ said Mr V.  Inside a few religious diehards sat in pews, heads bowed in prayer.  The silence was so profound it was literally deafening.  As I’m a firm believer that God is everywhere and not just in a church, I didn’t imitate Mr V who was frantically crossing himself and clearly muttering apologies for not having been inside a holy place since heaven knew when.  The interior was a Godly version of Madame Tussauds.  Eerie giant-sized statues of saints and a dying Jesus jostled for space here, there and everywhere.  A padre glided silently out of an elaborate confessional box and greeted us.  Mr V did lots of bowing and scraping and reversed towards an exit.  The padre put up a hand to halt us.  Terrified that he was going to be hauled into a confessional box, Mr V made a break for it.  Whereupon the real reason for the padre’s attempt to stop us became apparent.  Only God would know when that particular door had last been opened.  It groaned back on its hinges, creaks and cracks splintering the air, shattering the silence and shocking the occupants within.

Finding the underground, we disappeared into the bowels of the earth.  More by luck than design we ended up in a place that was totally unpronounceable but began with S and was near the river.  And thus our exploring of the Old Town properly began.

Prague is a beautiful city with a plethora of cobbled streets and quaint buildings steeped in history.  However, so many have been marred by prolific graffiti, indeed I have never seen so much of the stuff in my life.  And any ideas to do a bit of frivolous shopping and buy yet another handbag went out the window when I saw the number of tramps, beggars and lost souls on the streets.  These were people who needed a meal.  And although we gave a few some money, I doubt they fed themselves.  To say it made you sad is an understatement.  Likewise when I saw a beautiful young girl offering her services to a bunch of drunk stags.  All I kept thinking was, ‘That’s somebody’s precious daughter,’ and I wanted to shove the leering louts away.  But all cities have their dark side.  Prague was probably no different.

Putting the seedier bit to one side, it was nice to visit another patch of the world and explore that country’s culture and history.  Would I go back?  Possibly.  But next time I’ll be paying closer attention to departure gate changes – and have on my trainers...