Thursday, 29 May 2008

Feet of Daring

The artist Beryl Cook died this week. I recognised her work from greeting cards available in independent book shops (where I really try to purchase the bulk of my books, honest!), but didn't know a great deal about her. The BBC news web site has been offering an overview of her work, and I find her cheerful plump ladies with thunder-thighs and way too much eye makeup rather endearing. Very British too. However, I just adore this portrait of dancing feet in the kind of shoes I used to wear all the time --- until Plantar Fasciitis (which I call "Nazi Heel") threatened the amount of walking I do. There's something very assertive, joyful, and unapologetic about these feet. I like them very much.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Curtsey while you're thinking; it saves time

I knew all that family history research would finally bear fruit. My notoriety is assured. Oh yes, I've discovered mildly famous relatives in my family tree before: a distant cousin who was Lord Mayor of Birmingham, a slighter closer cousin who not only captained two of the greatest luxury liners of the twentieth century and had someone ghost-write his memoirs and had same tome featured as a Reader's Digest Condensed Book, but also served as a consultant for the film A Night to Remember. Oh yes, and got an OBE. My own father, years after leaving us with his debts, went on to earn an MBE in the Queen's New Year's Honours List for 2006. Honest to God. For fund-raising. My maternal grandfather, so I gather, is quite famous amongst entomologists for his studies of the tsetse fly. A great-uncle's home (so I'm told) became a museum devoted to his missionary work in the Congo and Cameroons. Oh, yes, my genes are marvelous.

This, however, beats them all. Ever heard of David Nightingale Hicks? Nope? Neither had I. He was a very well-known designer. Had his obituary published in The New York Times. He'd been sitting in my database for months sans his middle name, when I stumbled upon him in someone else's database, along with his wife: Lady Pamela Mountbatten. Remember when Prince Charles married Lady Diana Spencer? Okay, if you don't, here's a picture: Now, see the tallest of the three bridesmaids standing around looking less than enthralled? That's India Hicks, the youngest of David Nightingale Hicks' three children. She became a fashion model, had about four sons with her partner, and her brother is a famous architect and designer. She's also, due to her mum being a Mountbatten, about 462nd in line for the throne of Great Britain. That means if some catastrophe wipes out the 461 people ahead of her, I'll be fifth cousin to the Queen of England. (Her kids won't inherit the throne though; she never married their dad.) India Hicks, her moderately famous brother Ashley Hicks (who married an Italian who is probably Catholic, so I think he's not in the line of succession either), and her sister Edwina are great-great-great-great-grandchildren of William Hales of Aldgate, London. As am I.

You're impressed. I can tell. I gather from David Nightingale Hicks' obit, he'd be less than thrilled to meet me. Apart from being an unapologetic snob, he'd be appalled by our d├ęcor, which is stuck somewhere in Late Student/Early Child. However, I refuse to let a quibble like that stop me from going out to meet My Public this afternoon. Stand aside, you peasants. Make way for a fifth cousin of at least half a dozen people in the Line of Succession.

Lest this make you feel inferior, let me leave you with this thought: Anyone claiming a single drop of English blood can claim to be a direct (direct, mind you) descendant of Edward the First. A drop of Scottish blood gets you direct descent from Malcolm the First (I think), and a drop of Welsh blood ensures your ancestors as the great Welsh princes (though not the Princes of Wales). Anyone with a drop, just a drop of Western European blood can claim Charlemagne as a forefather. So get out there and embrace your greatness, people. Ain't genealogy grand?

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Inadequate, but good

I've never been much of a Star Trek fan. I liked the funny episodes like "The Trouble with Tribbles" and "I, Mudd", but for the most part I was forced to watch it, mainly because my sister (a Leo) insisted on it, along with Gilligan's Island and a host of drek. When William Shatner moved on to other stuff, like TJ Hooker, I did not follow. The new Star Trek movies? No thanks, with the exception of The Voyage Home (another funny one). Shatner moved into his self-deprecating era, and onto Boston Legal. Ho-hum. Nothing against the guy, just not a particular fan. (And this has nothing to do with his gradually looking more like the Grinch.): However, I was rifling through the more recent magazines at the speech therapist's office (instead of writing letters, or responding to reports, as I should have been doing), and came across a recent interview he did with Maclean's (that's a Canadian news magazine, for you non-Canucks). Full of that self-deprecation with a hint of the ego for which he is also famous, there were a lot of witty remarks and brief mentions of his personal tragedies, but his answer about being a parent stayed with me. I'll italicize it, but I am paraphrasing, because I don't have the article in front of me:

I've been an inadequate father, but a good one. The two go hand in hand.

Okay, buddy, I wasn't a fan before, but I am now. You've walked the walk, haven't you?

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

You'd Think by Now...

It isn't fair, it isn't right.
I've gone over and over the scenes in my head,
Lay here awake over half of the night.
No, it isn't good, and I can't let go.
Must have been someone or something I hurt
In some other life somewhere long ago.
I don't know how I started down this tailspin.
Why one more time I just did not see it coming.
And you'd think by now,
I'd have figured out the pattern.

About three weeks ago, I made reference to a devastating new development on the front lines at younger daughter's school. At the time, it was the eve of my birthday, the "eve's eve" of elder daughter's birthday, and I couldn't face trying to blog about what happened. Now, with younger daughter's birthday and Mother's Day out of the way....I still don't know if I can face it. But I feel I have to try.

In the fall-out of an upsetting so-called "Student-Led Conference", I had sent, after three days of hard thinking, what I thought was a carefully-worded email to the principal, resource teacher, SELC (special education learning centre) teacher, and the educational assistants. That was a Sunday. The email resulted in a flurry of activity, many hall conferences, and a hasty twenty-minute meeting just before school the following Friday. This had mixed results. It had been a busy week, particularly stressful on younger daughter, but she had participated in class activities with a greater intensity, and I felt understandings had opened up, particularly with younger daughter's designated Grade Five teacher. The Resident Fan Boy and I were made uneasy, however, by an air of defensiveness at the meeting. I also felt that the meeting underlined how far communications had broken down between the SELC teacher and me. This was doubly distressing because we've worked with her for nearly three years, and of all the team, she probably knows younger daughter the best.

The Resident Fan Boy's lawyerly instincts were aroused and he promptly composed a follow-up email, sending it to me for vetting. Now, here I was a bit torn. I didn't think it was a good idea to send an email so soon. Also, the RFB has sent inquiries and comments before, usually to do with elder daughter who was identified as "gifted" in Grade Three. These also were phrased in crisp, formal, legalistic language and sometimes I felt compelled to check in with the teachers to make sure they weren't intimidated. However, this was a rare initiative on his part on behalf of younger daughter, who somehow always ends up being my area. So I had misgivings, but was loathe to say so. I made some non-commital comments, then held my peace, rather hoping he'd forget by the end of the weekend.

Of course, he didn't. Hiding my reluctance, I suggested a toning-down in a couple of areas. The final draft was a bit grim, but not vindictive and certainly fair. He sent it to all four staff members who had attended the Friday meeting. There was no response. In the meantime, as had been agreed during the staff meeting, I got emails detailing the upcoming week from both the classroom teacher and the SELC teacher. I responded with my thanks and mentioned that younger daughter had been invited to a birthday party during school hours the coming Friday, but, given that she had a speech therapy appointment that same morning, I hadn't told her about it and would wait for the teachers' preference. Classroom teacher responded promptly, saying he thought that wouldn't be a problem.

The next day, after school, younger daughter's "guardian angel" asked to walk home with us, and said, as we left the school building: "I have something bad to tell you..."

Oh dear gawd. She had overheard SELC teacher and classroom teacher's team-teacher (who teaches PE and Math to the Grade Fives, and who had not attended the meeting, so had not received the Resident Fan Boy's email) speaking in furious undertones during the afternoon math class. "They said she was doing as well as other Special Need students," said guardian angel. "They sounded really angry and Mr. (team-teacher) said that if they're not happy, they can go to another school. Then I heard Mr. (team-teacher) say it was just another excuse to get out of school. Then they lowered their voices...."

I felt as if I'd been punched in the stomach. Part of it was bewilderment and despair that we had been so misunderstood, and the worst of it was the thought of two supposedly responsible adults griping like two indignant adolescents within hearing of ten-and-eleven-year-olds. Who else beside "guardian angel" had listened in? I wanted to believe that she had misheard, but the comments tallied with the weekend's emails and the events of the previous week which the little girl would not have known about. Oh, excrement, excrement, excrement...

I shook my fist; I've leapt too soon.
The soft wounded animal inside of me
Stood up on its hind legs and howled at the moon,
Anger rises in a violent storm,
And when I am wisest I lie down beside it
And hum in its ear until it gets quiet
I don't know how I started down this tailspin.
Why one more time I just did not see it coming.
And you'd think by now,
I'd have figured out the pattern.

So this latest development pretty much ruined my birthday the next day. I vented a bit at younger daughter's music therapist, but was deciding that some kind of overture had to be made to the SELC teacher in the hopes of salvaging something of what had seemed to be a partnership. I was also coming to the conclusion that team-teacher (who will continue to teach younger daughter with the other classroom teacher next year --- groooooan) is....oh dear....a jackass... I mean, "go to another school"? What planet is he living on? Does he think I actually have options? And "another excuse to get out school?" Speech therapy and music therapy? Guardian angel reports that he speaks to younger daughter as if she's really really slow, and I haven't been impressed with his tone with her even when I'm present. Presumably, he'd prefer a classroom full of attractive, athletic, typically-developing students that will flatter his image as a teacher. I'm leaving him to heaven.

Another conference with the speech therapist that Friday as I plucked up the courage to write a letter to the SELC teacher. By the Sunday, I was rough-drafting it: . . . Over the past two weeks, I’ve been awakening in a flop-sweat, beset by the gremlins of two o’clock in the morning.
I feel I’ve failed (younger daughter) this year and I have a horrible feeling (if I’m any judge of body language) that I’ve failed you and alienated you.
Sometimes I wake up thinking, “She thinks I’m ungrateful and blissfully unaware of all that has been done for (younger daughter).” Sometimes it’s “She thinks I’m judgmental and critical, that nothing she does will be enough.” (Both not true, by the way --- I swear!)
I worry that you think I have no conception of how difficult and stressful your job is. I really worry that you think I want to interfere with what happens in the classroom. (Both really not true --- believe me!)
Most of all, I wake up terrified that, by failing to speak up earlier, I have ruined our cooperative relationship beyond repair. Or by saying anything at all. Geez . . . .
It seems to me that in my panic, bewilderment and plain clumsiness that I have broken protocol and made you feel that I am an adversary. This is the last thing you need at the best of times . . . and if there is anything I can say or do to repair the damage, please let me know. . . .

And I stuck it in a card and delivered it to the office mid-week. (Having checked my horoscope first. I clearly need all the help I can get.)

No it isn't fair, it isn't right,
I've wished on a million or billion bright stars,
Prayed like the devil with all of my might.
And somebody said, "What's really true.
Yeah all of this stuff is different I know.
But what is in common has always been you."
I'm starting to see and the heavens are starry.
And if I'm not too proud I’ll learn to say I'm sorry.
You'd think by now I'd have figured out the pattern.

How sorry am I really? The emails have gotten results; I feel better informed and I really think Grade Five teacher is reaching out. But these are people under stress, and they can't criticize me to my face. I cringe thinking what's been said in the staff room, but am livid about what was said in the classroom. However, as painful as it's been, younger daughter has been making steady progress; I simply can't afford to get in a shooting war.

Nothing was said about my note, but I physically felt the tension ease the next time we passed in the hall, and the smile seemed genuine. (I'm not so sure about the principal, but maybe he's just preoccupied.) Last week, I watched the team-teacher glad-handing and schmoozing his way around parent/teacher functions. He's probably aiming to be a principal himself. At least that might get him out of the classroom....

(The quoted song lyrics are from "You'd Think by Now" from Carrie Newcomer's latest album. The link is in the first verse, and at the website you can listen to this ballad which has been haunting my thoughts for the past three weeks.)

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

I'm in love...

...but it's a warm, maternal sort of love. Liam is 18, a student in Edinburgh, and hysterically funny. He's two years older than my elder daughter, and I'm sure his mum's heart melts on a regular basis. Liam is also a "vlogger", and his videos, which I stumbled upon yesterday, were really my introduction to serious "video-logging" which boasts quite a community consisting of young people talking mostly about themselves. Liam's differences are his witty presentation, clever editing, spot-on timing --- and the fact that he's a dead ringer for David Tennant. What follows are two examples of his work. In the first, Liam reveals a worrying development:
He's rather adorable, isn't he? Here, Liam tries to "vlog", but keeps getting hijacked by a certain time traveller: This is one clever fella! I plan to keep watching him, because I'm sure he's going on to great things!

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Just a short one...

The new season of Doctor Who has produced a spate of fan tributes at YouTube; unfortunately, it's mostly the Ten/Rose bunch, all in a dither about Rose's impending return (however brief) to the series later this season. I don't mind a good Doctor and Rose fanvid, but it actually has to be good. Really, really good. Otherwise, my points have to go to those intrepid vid-makers who have actually moved on. I'm delighted to see "Thehellishgnome" has pulled together a delightful ode to the petiteness of both the Sontarians and Martha Jones who have appeared in the Doctor Who two-parter that concluded last night. (Last night, I said I was hoping the second part might be better than the first part. And it was, though admittedly, it wouldn't have taken much. The ageing fan-boys seem happy, so that's something. I say, bring on the Doctor's daughter, the Steven Moffat two-parter, and Agatha Christie's alien wasp...)

I hadn't actually noticed that Freema Agyeman was all that short, but she does always seem to be in heels: The song (for you infants) is Short People by Randy Newman. It caused quite a kerfuffle in the late Seventies, because Little People thought Randy Newman was being offensive. He said it was a poke at prejudice and discrimination of all kinds.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

As if I didn't have better things to do

It will be a few hours before the first illegal postings of Doctor Who appear on the Internet, so I was blog-checking and noticed that Rob of The Medium is Not Enough is posting pictures of David Tennant sitting (or lolling or reclining), in order to titillate the fan-girls. (Rob's or David's? I'm not sure. I still haven't quite forgiven the former for an vitriolic review of the television series "Saving Grace", based on sixteen minutes of viewing. And he thinks fundamentalists are judgmental. But I digress.) I just happen to have this hidden away for my private enjoyment, so I tried to share it. It showed up beautifully in the preview of the comment field, but failed to show up in the published form. But it's too good to keep to myself. (It's Thom Yorke --the lead singer of Radiohead -- with DT and Catherine Tate in the holding tank at the Jonathan Ross talk show a month or so ago. I think they're watching some sort of snake-handler. Or John Hurt.)

Oh well. Back to waiting. I'm not sure why I'm anxious; it's the second part of a two-parter by Helen Raynor and the first part was not great. She did a two-parter last year and the first part was better than the second part. So maybe the second part will be better. Gawd, I really do have better things to do...