By Fran Hill
We wagged church today and walked on Bigbury Beach in the rain. It was lovely – it was spitting a bit really, not raining. There is a lot of posturing in wetsuits always happening at this time of year on Devon and Cornwall beaches. A lot of people would like you to believe that they are experts in something that they have never ever done before and are trying very hard to impress cool young people who know their way around a surfboard. I am glad I am old and decrepit and no-one will ever mistake me for a surfer. Still, there is amusement to be had. We watched an American gentleman talking to a lifeguard and trying really hard to pretend his Weever fish sting wasn’t really killing him. (They’re tiny but they have needles in their spines which they share with unsuspecting humans by burying themselves in the sand just where the beach meets the sea – just where bare feet will be a wandering – the little rascals). Bless him, I think he was panicking a bit because how could something that small deliver that much pain. However, a nice lifeguard gave him a laminated sheet to read which assured him that people hardly ever go into toxic shock or have a heart attack and he seemed a bit comforted.
Just before the book review and there is a connection – it’s about a teacher – it’s tenuous but it’s there. Can I just put my two penneth in and say why on earth can’t we just give pupils the grades their teachers gave them? Ok, some may be a bit high but this has not been a normal year. Let these poor kids go to uni and have a great time. If they are not good enough they will know soon enough. And, unlike members of this government, they will probably hold their hands up straight away and say so. We are in the middle of a pandemic. No-one has failed because no-one has been able to take their exams and it wasn’t their fault. Give them a break! Phew. Going for a lie down in a dark room now.
Anyway, the book. This is a diary of a schoolteacher. It’s a bit in the style of Bridget Jones with a visit to the scales and the mirror every morning to examine menopausal acne. I was a bit worried at first because I’m not sure that Adrian Plass has done the author any favours by describing her as “The Victoria Wood of the classroom.”. That’s a high bar there. So it is a joy to discover that the book is a really good laugh with genuine laugh out loud moments. Fran is obviously a teacher and knows her stuff – especially about the heavy load of outside school hours work which, at one point seems to be taking its toll on her whole life. The most joyous parts are the parts with the pupils who she obviously adores (and also feels driven to the end of her tether by) and you do get a great picture of how rewarding teaching is and why people do it – despite the bone-numbing exhaustion. I had a look at the Amazon reviews which are almost uniformly excellent apart from one person who winges about the Christian element of the book. I have a few things to say about that. Firstly, if this is supposed to be a rounded and honest appraisal of what makes this woman tick then it should include her spiritual life. Secondly, if this is your idea of too much Christian content, you need to get out more – or maybe read the books I was “encouraged ” to read as a youngster. Thirdly (and I really don’t want to sound like some terrible right-wing strange person here but here goes). If she were a Buddhist and mentioned that every Wednesday night she met up with mates to go a chanting – I am willing to bet good money that it wouldn’t even get a mention. Does my head in.
I’d like to see a sequel, to be honest, as, towards the end, we get to find out a bit more about her past life and I think it would be good to know more about how this has affected her as it comes out in the open. Anyway, this is really good. It’s writing with depth but it’s really funny about a normal person doing a sterling job. There’s also a good deal of writing about cake which is apparently what is keeping the teaching profession going under a great deal of pressure and that can certainly never be a bad thing.