Tripping Up

You know how the Gluestick Family doesn’t do family days out very well? Well, it seems that school trips are hard-wired into our DNA to be a disaster too.

I don’t know why I ever thought it was a good idea to stick Boo on a bus with her school peers last week. Probably because she asked me to with big, excited eyes following a very exciting assembly months ago. (Getting to see a mummified cat seemed to be the biggest draw!) But after a concerned response to a lonely-looking Facebook photo and a call from the school to report bad tidings, I’ve now got a meeting scheduled to discuss Boo’s mental fragility.

(With Noodles starting at the same school with all his autistic quirks and challenges, we’re topping the list of the school’s Families in Need right now. I can’t walk through the school without a member of staff wanting to hold my hand or looking at me with concerned, sympathetic eyes like some collective Princess Diana tribute.)

I won’t go into details, but although Boo enjoyed the things they did on the trip, the experience as a whole was horrid. But, to make her feel better, here are the top five ways members of the Gluestick Family have failed at the school trip. May it give perspective to your tribulations, Boo.

#5: Sitting in the Damp Spot

(Blakeney, Norfolk – some point in the early ’80s.)

  
Aw, seals – aren’t they adorable? Back when school trips were less than ambitious (but also devoid of risk assessments) my school considered it a good idea to stick a bunch of under-7s in a wooden boat and send us out to see to see these cutesy animals. Except it rained. So a tarpaulin was erected over our heads, removing all possibility of seeing anything. 

  
If that didn’t suck enough, I got the patch of tarpaulin with a hole in it. By the time we got back to shore I was soaked. 

The only upside was being given a bag of Foxes Glacier Mints when I got home.

#4: Abandoned

Dieppe, France – 1988

  
One minute I was drawing some touristy feature of the town…the next I looked up and my teacher and group had disappeared without me! 

Thankfully another group had rocked up, the town clearly unable to accommodate groups of more than five children at a time. I joined them instead and all was good…for me. Meanwhile across town, this being the days before mobile phones, my teacher was having a small fit! 

Serves him right though. It’s not that hard to count to cinq!

#3: On the Rocks

Anduze, France – 1990

My sister’s turn this time and I was so jealous of her getting to go on the activity trip to the south of France. Even though I was the most activity-averse child going.

  
Jealous, that was, until my sister came back telling how they’d had to jump from a  cliff into a river. My sister knocked herself out on a rock as she landed in the water and would have drowned if the attractive, young science teacher hadn’t spotted her and hauled her to safety. Then I was really jealous.  Some girls have all the luck.

#2: Escaping Arrest

Athens, Greece – 2011

Indy this time. She and Eve and others in their Classics group were shopping around the touristy area in Rome. Nobody looks less likely to partake in criminal behaviour than Indy. But she must have been fondling the beaded bracelets a little too suspiciously as the next thing she knows the shopkeeper grabs her arm and accuses her of shoplifting. Maybe he noted her archaeologist’s eye and thought he’d seek small-scale revenge for the Elgin Marbles.

  
Indy was escorted to a back office whilst the rest of the group luckily ran off to find the teacher-in-charge (ie the only one who can speak Italian) rather than just running off. Unfortunately, the teachers ignored the frantic students and sat enjoying a coffee instead. Brilliant! (This bit I’ve only just learnt! Bloody teachers!) I’m not sure a Grecian criminal record helps when your long-term aim is to become an archaeologist, digging up bits of Europe in the search for treasure, but Indy was able to prove her innocence. 

#1: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Calabria, Italy – 1992

Three weeks in Italy and it’s amazing any of us made it back alive. Events included:

– A minibus driver, whose only English was “fishy fanny”, drove off whilst three of us were still climbing into the back of the minibus. If we hadn’t had the upper body strength to hang on whilst the others collectively yelled “STOP!” we’d have been face-planted in the gravel. 

  
– A beach trip that involved a pedalo, lifeguards and absinthe instead of a refund;

  
– Near-drowning whilst attempting to swim at the same beach, 1) because of a deceptively sudden drop to the seabed that created a perilous current and 2) swimming’s probably not best done after the consumption of absinthe;

– A night out to a middle-of-nowhere club with some local lads with very flash cars who decided to end the night with a road race around the country lanes near the beach resort we’d been taken to for the weekend. Said race was ended by a minibus road block (only a minibus driver as insane as Fishy Fanny would be insane enough to roadblock the Mafia!) and we were frogmarched back to the apartments with a lecture not to discuss the events with our parents when we got home!

And then I had the honour of giving a goodbye speech on the final night…in Italian. The start of the speech is still ingrained on my brain 24 years later: “a nome degli studenti turistico, desiolero ringraziavivi per tutti durante l’ottima tre settemane…” when what I actually wanted to say was “What the actual fuck?!?!”

And a bonus:

You don’t even have to be a pupil for a school trip disaster. For my sister (whose a secondary school teacher) her biggest fear is fire. So when an attraction at a theme park burst into flame (as part of the attraction, I hasten to add, not a really unlucky incident) she literally went into meltdown. Losing your shit in front of your students when you then need retain a sense of authority for the rest of your time away and back in the classroom, is not a good move.

  
And thus, little Boo, it’s no wonder you had a horrible trip. It’s a right of passage, unavoidably in your DNA. And just be glad that these days schools have to do risk assessments and your bus wasn’t allowed in the monkey enclosure at the safari park. It could have been a lot worse.

  
And a tip for the future, as your trips take you to foreign lands always learn how to say the following phrases: “Help!”, “I’m lost,” and “I wish to speak to my lawyer.” Y’know, just in case. 

* * * * *

Update: I’ve amended Indy’s experience in light of her comment below. 

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The Great Cake Bake Race

Initially I thought my last post may have been a little mean about the school summer fête. It’s not easy being a teacher, especially when you’ve got a government selling off schools to academy trusts and no one wants to invest in anything that doesn’t make a fast, demonstrable profit. You’ve got to buy pencils somehow.

…But then the school sent another of their charming letters:

  
“Cheeky Sods,” I thought. It’s the last thing I want to do at the end of a working week. Plus the Why not donate any spare cupcakes… really annoyed me. Of course no one’s going to make ONE cupcake. (Or maybe some people do!)

I was very much determined that a) we wouldn’t be making any cupcakes and b) we would give the whole shebang a wide berth.

Boo had other ideas: 

“I’m going to make an Alice in Wonderland cupcake for the summer fête.”

Oh balls!

I pretty much buried the idea though and last night Eve had commandeered the kitchen to make a birthday cake for her new boyfriend. I was pretty sure I’d got away with it.

Again Boo had other ideas and cried when she came out of school. With the fête less than 2 hours away the time went like this:

  
3.15: Placate Boo’s tears with the promise to make some sodding cakes. Inwardly panic.

3.20: Get home, give Noodles a kiss and head to the kitchen. Do an audit of required ingredients. Breathe a sigh of relief that we only need to get decorations…although I make a note to clear out the cupboards when it turns out the cornflour expired in 2014!

  
3.25: Sketch a rough outline of a cake that might look like it fits Boo’s Alice in Wonderland brief. 

  
3.30: Head out the door and into town. Purchases includes ready-made buttercream icing. Wise move! Thank you, Betty Crocker.

4.00: Back home – £27.78 worse off! – oven on, time to destroy the kitchen. Thankfully a plain sponge isn’t too taxing and 12 buns are in the oven within 10 minutes!

4.10: Along with Boo, eat excessive amounts of cake batter that’s leftover. I suppose I could’ve made extra cakes, but that would’ve meant two batches and I definitely haven’t got time for that.

Feel a little sick.

4.15: Get a bit excited that I’ve bought a hypodermic needle to inject jam into the cakes. (Sad but true.)

4.20: Noodles comes into the kitchen looking for me. I duck behind the counter and pretend I’m not there.

4.25: There’s a little voice squeaking in the living room. Noodles wants a big hug and Curious George. He has to settle for a little squeeze and Curious George. Why does Netflix take so long to get started?!?!

4.30: The cakes are out; they haven’t burnt (much). I start wafting them like a contestant on The Great British Bake-Off.

  
4.35: The cakes aren’t cool, but I start injecting them with jam anyway. I have no idea how much jam I should be using or whether it’s even working. Oh well.

4.40: Noodles decides he wants Thomas the Tank Engine instead of Curious George. Netflix takes an age to decide that this is do-able.

4.45: The icing gets unceremoniously piped. Raspberry sprinkles cover a multitude of sins. (Raspberry sprinkles also cover the entire worktop.) I figure as only one is being judged only one needs the whole works. (I also figure I can clean up later.)

4.46: Noodles wants the same bit of Thomas repeated again and again. I let him watch twice then leg it back to the kitchen for more piping.

4.55: The plumpest-looking cake gets picked for competition entry and is topped with every decoration going. Queen of Hearts playing card: tick. ‘Eat me’ candles: tick. White rose half painted red: Tick. White rabbit telling us we’re late: I wouldn’t have been surprised!

  
“We’ll tell them you made it,” I advise Boo. She nods solemnly. 

5.01: The cakes are packed, shoes and coats are on and we’re out the door. I’ve no idea how our entry got on – within half an hour (aka another £20 spent and a bump to the head later) Noodles has had enough. I gleefully accept the job of taking him home. I don’t have to face more tears when the professional cake-baker – sorry, the professional cake-baker’s daughter – surely wins.

Still, I spot a kid struggling with one of our offerings as jam oozes down his arm. “How’s your cake?” I ask. “I made that!” He gives me a “20 out of 10.” And I’ve done my mum duty for today. (As far as Boo is concerned at least. Teflon Man has moaned that I didn’t get anything for us to eat tonight…talk about never being able to please all of the people!)

At least the little people are smiling tonight.

  

And I’m pretty sure it’s now wine o’clock!

***

An update: Our cupcake won!!!

Totally worth the effort now – Boo’s brought home enough sweets to ensure she’s on a sugar high throughout the summer holidays. 

I think that deserves another glass of wine!

Playground Extortion

    
GROUPCALL:

The school summer fete – our Grand Summer Fiesta – will be held on the last Friday of term. All proceeds to the staff end of term slush fund. 

GROUPCALL:

We will be running a sewing club for the more dexterously-capable children throughout the summer term. The club will run every other weekday when the children will make items to sell at our Grand Summer Fiesta. Please pay £2.00 per session for the cost of materials. (Just be appreciative of the extra hour you’ll get to yourself and the fact you’ll miss the school run traffic.) Participation is non-negotiable.

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a NON-UNIFORM DAY on Friday. Please donate DRY/TINNED GOODS ONLY for prizes for the Grand Summer Fiesta

  
GROUPCALL:

Thank you for the donations of DRY/TINNED GOODS for our Grand Summer Fiesta. We would like to remind parents that only NEWLY-PURCHASED goods will suffice. Goods returned from the Christmas Extravaganza are NOT acceptable, even if it saves us from having to stick on a new tombola ticket.

GROUPCALL:

Please check out our website. Parents will be able to see the great fun the SEWING GROUP children had when they received their training from real-life sweatshop workers from India. We value the importance in establishing multi-cultural links and promoting a strong work ethos within a capitalist system. All products will be available to buy at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a SPONSORED WALK next week. Please collect as many sponsors as possible so we can buy refreshments for the Grand Summer Fiesta. Further sponsor forms will be available from the school office. The child who collects the most sponsor money will win a FREE RAFFLE TICKET!!! We appreciate this will make the children highly competitive. Don’t let your kid be a loser!

GROUPCALL:

We are looking for parents to donate PRIZES for our RAFFLE at the Grand Summer Fiesta. Laptops/Plasma TVs/Cars all gratefully accepted.

GROUPCALL:

We would like to thank Matthew Lewis’s dad for donating three plasma TVs and an X-Box as prizes for the raffle at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

GROUPCALL:

We will be holding another NON UNIFORM DAY on Monday. Please donate SWEETS – but NO CHOCOLATE – to be used as prizes at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

Due to the children being slower sewers than expected, SEWING CLUB will now be for 2 hours after school EVERY DAY and throughout lunchtimes.

GROUPCALL:

SPORTS DAY will be held this week. Remember, due to data protection issues, NO PHOTOGRAPHY/VIDEO RECORDING will be allowed at the event. However, we will take shoddy photos ourselves, which you will be able to purchase at an inflated price at the Grand Summer Fiesta.

  

GROUPCALL:

Please donate TOYS to be sold at the Grand Summer Fiesta. Box-fresh toys only please. Toys and games already played with will NOT be acceptable.

GROUPCALL:

We send our condolences to Matthew Lewis’s dad who will not be able to attend the Grand Summer Fiesta as he is being held at Her Majesty’s Pleasure for burglary. We will be holding a collection at the Fiesta to raise funds for his solicitor.

GROUPCALL:

Please remember that LOST PROPERTY will be available to purchase back at cost price from the Grand Summer Fiesta next week.

GROUPCALL:

Don’t forget you can buy your Grand Summer Fiesta RAFFLE TICKETS in advance from the caretaker from his cabin. Just £5.00 per ticket! Top prize: a BMW that may or may not have been Matthew Lewis’s dad’s getaway car.

  
GROUPCALL:

We will be holding a further NON-UNIFORM DAY on Wednesday. This time please donate CHOCOLATE items for the Grand Summer Fiesta. (If we hide it well enough Mrs Evans shouldn’t be able to eat it ALL by the time of the fete.)

GROUPCALL:

A reminder that the Grand Summer Fiesta is only days away! Please use this weekend to bake fresh CAKES for sale on the day. Copies of The Great British Bake-Off Cook Book are available for purchase through the school office should you be in need of inspiration. Just £25.00 per copy (RRP £19.99).

  
  
GROUPCALL:

A reminder that the Grand Summer Fiesta will be held this afternoon. Admission: £1.00 per person (babies under 6 months are free…although pushchairs and prams will incur a £2.50 space-taking fee). 

Bring plenty of cash to buy back all items you’ve donated already at your own expense. Hot dogs and cheap wine will be available from the kitchen at prices comparable to a Michelin-starred restaurant. 

  
Don’t forget your RAFFLE TICKETS – just £10.00 per ticket! 

Deputy Head, Mr Morgan, will also be appearing as Psychic Sue and will be ready to predict your child’s SATs results. The more generous the payment, the better the results!

Once we hit our target we WILL allow the school violin club to STOP PLAYING!!!

We look forward to seeing you there.

GROUPCALL:

Due to bad weather the Grand Summer Fiesta has been CANCELLED. All goods will be divided amongst the staff and PTA. There will be collection tins stationed outside each classroom at home time for you to relieve yourselves of any cash. Alternatively, please visit our JUST GIVING page for donations by debit/credit card/bank transfer/PayPal.

  
GROUPCALL:

Thank you to all parents who so generously donated to the school. Please visit our school Facebook page for pictures of our staff night out. A great time was had by all! Have a lovely summer holiday – don’t forget to take over your child’s summer project homework ready to show off when we start back in September! Also look out for announcements of our Christmas Extravaganza preparation when we will raising funds for Mr Cartwright’s new liver!

The Night Before World Book Day

  
The night before World Book Day and everyone is stressed

We’ve had a text from school; it says to come in fancy dress!

But worse, it says, well actually, come and take a look,

‘Please dress as a character from your favourite book.’

We’ve only one day’s notice; we thought it wasn’t on,

But now I’ve got to find for two daughters and a son!

A rummage through the cupboard, last year’s costumes are too small. 

One thing for it, in the car, we’re heading to the mall!

Except where exactly are the clothes, the costumes there before?

The only thing we’re facing, empty racks upon the wall!

‘Who wants to be the same?’ we say. ‘Let’s be creative, it’s a cinch.’

Some cardboard, paints and sellotape will turn you into Grinch.

‘But I want to be a princess…no a fairy…no a whale.’

Riiiight, just watch me fashion that from grey sweatshirts in the sale.

A ‘cloak’ of black, a scar, a ‘wand’: ta-dah we’ve Harry Potter! 

Yes, it’s not the franchised one, but please don’t be a rotter.

Ok, some jeans a top – that’s it, your normal winter gear – 

You’ll pass as Tracey Beaker, though won’t win costume of the year.

The youngest likes Pooh Bear the best, a red t-shirt and we’ve won….

Except he’s coloured himself in yellow and won’t put his trousers on!

In the morning, all lined up; Facebook photos with a smile.

At least it’s only once a year. No need to worry for a while.

  

Inner Circle of Hell: the Inter-House Gym Competition

Last night England took all three medals in the ladies’ individual gymnastics something-or-other. Well done, ladies!

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I watched with baited breath as they flung themselves around before nailing landings. How do they do that? How do they make that first, literal, leap that allows them to have the faith that they can FLY, whilst turning somersaults and flips and so many many shades of what-the-heck?!!!

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It makes my palms sweaty with nerves just watching.

But maybe this Pavlovian sweaty response is also due to something more personal. To an experience deeply routed in my adolescence. The INTER. HOUSE. GYM. COMPETITION.

Oh my God. I feel sick just thinking about it.

Imagine it. You’re 14. You’re at that age where your body is doing weird shit: sprouting and sweating and just not being what you want it to be. Your face is pimply, your hair a disaster of a dodgy perm (in my defence it was the late-80s, plus my mum was still 100% in control of my hair since she was paying for it) and your mind hates it all. Why couldn’t I be more like Emma Calloway, with nice hair, a pretty face and boobs? What had Emma Calloway done to weather the puberty storm so well?

But my strategy for life, to get through puberty and school and all of the hideousness (including some merciless bullying for being so very far away from cool, but not so far – ie with enough attitude – to pull my quirkiness off as uber-who-wants-to-be-mainstream-anyway-cool) was to keep my head down and not draw attention to myself.

So it wasn’t great when I got a request to go to see the head of my house. I wasn’t sporty. The inter-house competition was roughly 99% about sport. It wasn’t going to be good.

Oh, but there are layers of not-good. Being on the netball team I could just about manage, although for a non-contact sport netball can be vicious. But netball season was over. Tennis maybe? Again, I had the skills (in that I wouldn’t spend most of the lesson just trying to hit the balls out of the tennis court and into the road) but I had no competitive spirit. I’d be crucified. Besides, it was a bit early to be hauled in for that one.

No, it was worse. Worse even than the swimming gala (swimwear, lack of boobage, but plenty of unwanted hair, spectators, but at least most of the time you were underwater). It was the gym competition. Lycra, lack of boobage, but plenty of unwanted hair, spectators and NOWHERE TO HIDE!

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Plus there was my complete inability to do gymnastics. A fairly major detail.

But there was a space on the squad. Someone had seen sense and pulled out and thanks to my gobby, sports-friendly friend, the head had been made aware that I danced, which was the ability to prance around more than the cooler girls had. Damn and blast not just hanging around the bike sheds with a fag in hand. There’d be practice sessions. It’d be fine.

Except it really wasn’t. Despite the practice by competition day I still couldn’t pull off a handstand, never mind tumble my way to glory. I could – would – probably tumble my way to disaster, but not with the gravity-defying acrobatics they’d want; more the clumsy, uncoordinated arse-over-tit tumbling of your worst nightmares.

Up in the changing room I put on my red tap leotard, minus the leggings. Instant sweat patches under the arms. And the need to raise both arms in the air to make my entrance onto the floor. Great.

Still, at least the dark patches under my armpits might detract from the stray hairs down below. At least until I’d have to cartwheel. Seriously, what mad man invented gymnastics? What perv then decreed the outfit choice?

Then I clocked Emma Calloway. Oh my God, so it’d be the sort of perv who envisaged all teenage girls look like that. I could sort of see where they were coming from. She was Jessica Rabbit meets a bit a Lycra.

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And we walked out into the gym hall and OH. MY. GOD!!! So many people. All around the perimeter of the floor area. People. Boys! Teachers!! All wearing clothes. My armpits started to flow like rivers. My hands clammed up (for heavens sake, who invented sweat?!). It was a nightmare made real.

I took my place and watched. There were some amazing routines. There were others, like me, just there to make up numbers. I couldn’t fathom out why they needed two girls per house per year group when most obviously weren’t gymnasts. I suspect that Suzanne Collins may have had to take part in her school’s gym contest too, but wanted to write about something comparable but less cruel in The Hunger Games. The weak were definitely fodder to make the real gymnasts look even better.

By turns I’d feel better, then sick to my stomach, then better, then ‘Holy Cow! I shouldn’t be here!’

They called Emma Calloway’s name. The theme to Howard’s Way started (late ’80s, remember). She glided around the floor. She executed each move with grace and precision. She flipped and cartwheeled and looked amazing. She didn’t have any sweat patches. What deodorant was she using?!

She finished to massive applause. Arms raised, serene smile, her forever legs stretched her back to her place, hips wiggling, boobs just perfect. Why couldn’t I just have her boobs? Or, right now, her ability to do a handstand into a backwards walk-over?

And then I heard my name. My name? Right after Emma Calloway?! They were kidding right? It’s shit before shovel after all, isn’t it?!?! Is it possible to throw up at the same time as fainting?

God only alone knows how I made it onto the floor. I stepped forward, raised my arms – the burgundy patches on my leotard were so large now they could be mistaken for a badly conceived leotard design. A metaphor for my badly conceived inclusion in the competition. I pulled out a wedgie. How could my leotard set out to humiliate me in so many different ways?

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Not a soggy pit between them! It’s witchcraft, I tell ya!

The music started. The theme tune to All Creatures Great and Small. So very far away from cool. The next 2 minutes of my life was a blur of ‘please don’t make this worse than it already is’ and ‘how could it possibly be any worse than it already is?’

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I very much didn’t look like this.

But I got through it. I finished without falling on my arse or wetting myself, both a distinct possibility. A heartbeat later (or in my case 100 heartbeats – I was racking up some serious BPMs, to an extent normally only observed in the drug-induced) the music finished.

I think there may have been some applause. Maybe only the polite ‘we’re glad that’s over too’ kind, but at least it wasn’t stunned silence.

I was done. Although, I still would have preferred not to have done it.

My score was mediocre, but I wasn’t last. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for that. I must have scored mercy points, the judges aware that I didn’t need to suffer further indignity by coming last.

Emma Calloway picked up a medal. But of course she did.

At school the next day – because the organisers didn’t have the good grace to allow us competitors to run away and hide over a weekend, the gossip of the competition replaced by whatever party had got out of hand on Saturday night – I got some kind comments. There wasn’t even any bullying, the bullies surely realising that they couldn’t do any worse to me than I had done to myself.

And because I’d been a sucker that year I got instantly roped in the following year. I still had sweaty armpits, issues with pubic hair and a distinct incompetence at gymnastics.

My biggest relief was when the school sports hall burnt down. My first reaction was ‘Great! No gym competition!’ I don’t know if they ever caught the arsonists responsible, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a reluctant gymnast with a desire to avoid social suicide behind that lit match. Whoever it was, I really couldn’t thank them enough.

I’m sure I learnt some important life lessons that afternoon. Finding the right deodorant matters, perhaps? No matter what life throws at me I could never feel as self-conscious as I did at that moment? I’m not quite sure. But I do know I can’t watch gymnastics without some kind of post-traumatic stress response.

So well done, Claudia Fragapane et al. I admire your ability to fly. But I admire your ability to even step out there with dry pits even more.

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