Friday, 24 May 2013

Caveat Invigilator!

A busy time at Hedges Towers. Exam season is upon us once more, which means I'm currently doing my third part-time job as an invigilator. For those who don't live in the UK - invigilators are people who supervise public exams in secondary schools. In the past, it was a job done internally by teachers, but now it is done externally by us. Unsurprisingly, many invigilators are retired teachers -  after all we know the system and are used to working with groups of teenagers. It is a pleasant way to supplement our meagre incomes which doesn't involve unsocial hours and stacking shelves.

Basically, invigilating involves the ability to sit reasonably still for a couple of hours with one's eyes open. It is a lot harder than it seems. To distinguish us from the teachers and students, invigilators wear green lanyards with an ID badge. I'd really like something a little more distinctive - maybe a nice black leather jacket with Invigilator on the back in big brass studs, so that I could also supplement the meagre income by doing door work at the weekends. I have floated the idea past the Exams Officer, but he is thinking Exams Office budget, so as yet there is no interface.

The thing people always say when they discover I work as an invigilator is:  'Oh, exams were much harder in my day.' Not sure about that. Certainly not in the subject I tutor, English Literature. I have exam questions going back to the 1970's, courtesy of my old English teacher, and I often set them for students. The texts haven't changed much either. This year I have been teaching Paradise Lost Book 9, King Lear, 'Tis Pity She's A Whore, Othello, Dr Faustus, and The Pardoner's Tale, among other texts. The first two were books I studied for A level back in the 1960's.

Exam pencil case, courtesy of Kim
What has changed is that back then if you were dyslexic, dyspraxic or, as in my case, just plain disruptic, no allowance was made. Now, students can get extra time. Some have readers or scribes. Or both. And the rise of the internet has brought a whole new rise in opportunities to cheat, so students can only use clear pencil cases and bring unlabelled bottles of water into the exam room, as it is possible to download 'fake' labels with formulae on the back. Seriously.

We are all extremely vigilant, but even so, we had an incidence of cheating a couple of years ago. It is still referred to in hushed tones. It was during an A-level resit. The senior invigilator noticed a student's ruler was sitting proud from the desk. She picked it up, and several strips of paper with notes cascaded down. The student, who had joined the Sixth Form in Year 12 from a posh private girls' school was escorted to the Exams Office, where the 'evidence' was photocopied. Her father was then phoned. His only response: 'Oh, you caught her, then?' Unbelievable.  Ultimate irony: she was resitting a Philosophy and Ethics paper.

Now I would never condone cheating in any form whatsoever, but the pressure students are under today is immense. I managed to score two unconditional offers to read English and Archaeology from London and York universities. Wouldn't happen today. In fact some of the 'top' universities are now asking for A* grades. In certain subjects, namely Art, Design, and Creative Writing, they expect students to have a blog up and running too.

Back then we left with a degree, the expectation of a reasonably paid job, and if you managed it correctly, no debt. I ran a baby-sitting business, and worked for John Lewis at the weekend and in the holidays, so I came out with money in my pocket. In many ways, I'd hate to be eighteen today. Which is just as well, because even with the huge advances in medical science and plastic surgery, it is extremely unlikely to happen!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Timewasting with Veolia Water

A slightly bizarre week at Hedges Towers. A few nights ago BH was out for his reluctant nocturnal 'walking-is-good-for-you' walk when he suddenly noticed water gushing up in a huge fountain from the middle of the road. Being the concerned individual that he is, he immediately got out his mobile and rang Veolia Water to report it.

Big Mistake.

Ten minutes later, after a long wait and on a call that he was paying for, the person at the other end was still far more interested in trying to elicit his personal details than in alerting the engineers to a very burst pipe and a serious flood. In the end, he hung up. Next time, he says he won't bother. So much for being a responsible citizen. Explains perfectly why the Great Flood caused such universal devastation. I can just imagine the scenario:

Babylon Water:  Hello, you are through to Babylon Water.  How can I help you?

Noah:  Listen, I've been told by somebody who really knows about these things that there's going to be rain for the next 40 days and nights and all who dwell upon the earth will be wiped out.

BW:  I'm sorry: you are?

Noah: Noah.

BW:  Can you spell that for me please.

Noah: Listen: the earth is going to be destroyed by floodwater.

BW: Could you give me your address and the number you're calling from?

Noah: You're not listening are you? The whole world is about to be flooded. You need to alert people.

BW:  I'm sorry, who told you this again?

Noah:  God.

BW:  Is that God with a 'g'?

Noah:  It's actually beginning to rain heavily now....

BW:  Could you give us the contact details of your informant.

Noah:  I think we're going to have to get into our ark.

BW:  I'm sorry, we don't deal with homelessness.

Noah:  Please. Just warn everyone. The floodgates are about to open. Look, I have to go - I need to get all these animals on board.

BW:  We don't deal with stray animals either.

Noah: (puts down phone in disgust) I give up.

On another separate front, I have been accused of bullying one of our beloved local councillors. Yes, I know. Barely credible, isn't it? It happened the day before the local elections. I was checking the Green councillor's Twitter timeline, and discovered Tweets from a Tory councillor and from the leader of the Labour group on the District council applauding the EU neonicotinoid ban.

Tory Dude (who seemed unaware that his Great Leader voted against the ban) went further, declaring his love of all things wild and the need to preserve them for posterity. Couldn't resist, so tweeted words to effect that if he loved wildlife, why was his council planning to kill off all our legally protected Roman Snails.

Had tea. When I returned to Twitter, unbelievably, the leader of Labour group had piled back in and accused me of bullying poor Tory Dude, who is, by the way, an adult, not 12 years old and so quite capable of defending himself. Re-tweeted this with great glee. By next morning - the day of the local elections, his and Tory Dude's tweets had mysteriously been deleted. Classic example of locking the stable door after the bullshit has bolted.
The latest leak....

** Re: Veolia. I contacted them via their website to complain about the jobsworth who dealt with BH, and the cost of the call. So far, so nothing. Leak got fixed. But sadly, there's now another leak ....

Friday, 10 May 2013

The PINK SOFA Welcomes Bev Spicer

Bev Spicer
Bev Spicer is another of those lovely writers that I met since joining Twitter last August. Bev currently lives in France (the PINK SOFA is wooden with jealousy) with her family. She is a prolific writer and, as you will see, has had some VERY interesting jobs. I'm sure she will be delighted to talk about them later. In honour of Bev's visit, there are croissants and bowls of coffee on the coffee table and the PINK SOFA has tricolour ribbons tied round its legs and is humming the Marseillaise. So, Bev, over to you...

''Thank you Carol for letting me sprawl on your sofa. I would love to leave my mark, but that might not be socially acceptable to your next guest. (The PINK SOFA is used to the errant behaviour of its guests, so would not mind in the slightest) Well, I was the girl that was never chased in the playground. I hung around, but no one tried to catch me. In a game of kiss chase, it was the boys who were screaming. Between the ages of ten to thirteen I was designed to repulse. My grandmother insisted on dressing me in Jaeger dresses and designer fur-trimmed coats. The genteel assistants must have been horrified to see their beautifully cut clothes on an irregularly shaped potato of a girl with gappy teeth and piggy eyes.

I did not realise I was a 'minger' at the time. But I did have a great deal of time on my hands, while my peers were out at parties having fun and snogging boys (so they claimed). So I wrote stories for my sisters. I don't remember most of them, but I do remember one. And I recall my youngest sister begging me to write the next instalment so she could find out what happened.

Time moved on. I lost the pounds and gained a less frightening smile, becoming if not a swan, then a passable goose. I spent a lot of time travelling and worked as a secretary for a posh bin-bag company, a croupier for Playboy, a newly qualified and easily distracted secondary school teacher, a conscientious university lecturer and an extremely over-worked and under-paid examiner for Cambridge Exams.

Then, I remembered that I quite liked to write. So, having produced what I mistakenly believed to be a finished book, I foolishly sent it off to be rejected by a selection of literary agents. When I had completed my third book, and learned about editing, I didn't want to spend months waiting for a junior agent to flick through a few pages and send me a polite stock email, so I took the plunge and published Bunny on a Bike, on Kindle, (a humorous memoir of my time at Playboy).

 I followed this up with a mystery/psychological drama: My Grandfather's Eyes, which tells the story of  Alex Crane, a flawed heroine who discovers a family history that shocks her and reveals a secret she had subconsciously been aware of in childhood recollections and dreams

There was no stopping me after that. I wrote another mystery/family drama: A Good Day for Jumping with a complex plot and intriguing characters who share a secret past. And, because I so enjoyed Bunny on a Bike, I have just completed and published its prequel: One Summer in France, based on the study break I spent with my best pal in the south of France while enrolled on a language course at university. That's the story so far.

Bev, on holiday recently. The bottle contains water. She says.

I have two more completed novels on my desk to work on, and another couple under my pillow and several more hovering in the space between my ears. Quite an achievement for someone who started out as a cabbage-patch child-model for Jaeger!

Thank you so much, Bev. What an amazing and very impressive story!! Bev will be staying around to answer any questions and chat, so do stick around.

If you have to go, check out Bev's blog:  where there are direct links to her books. The PINK SOFA also recommends that you read her blog post for the 27th April - one of the funniest posts out.. 

You can Tweet Bev @BevSpice
All Bev's books are available on Amazon as ebooks.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

There's A Party - But Not Here!

If you've reached my blog via the usual need to go to

That's where the party is ...just for this week!