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Time off at Christmas

So I’ve decided to do a post!  It’s been about nine months and although I’ve been reading blogs to work out which books to read, I’ve been a bit too busy to post for a couple of reasons.

  1. My social life has been getting increasingly livelier since I moved house and it’s just gone mad recently.  Partly due to having a much better house/location to invite people round to, which means that they invite me back.  And being more willing to travel out because it’s easier and more pleasant to get back home.
  2. I’ve been a school governor at a primary school for six years (and the chair for the last five).  In the last year I’ve taken on an extra voluntary role chairing the governor association for the county, which involves running meetings and working with council officials to see what we can make of the horrendously stretched budget to help governors across the county get together and work together.  And then early in 2016, the long running difficulties at my daughter’s secondary school culminated in the governors agreeing for it to be run by a Multi Academy Trust (MAT).  Now fundamentally I’m suspicious of the idea of MATs, because I don’t agree with the road to privatisation that everything in this country seems to be steam rollering ahead on.  But this MAT employs a lot of experienced ex-Headteachers who have particularly good track records with turning round failing schools, and they all seemed very committed and knowledgeable, and when I contacted them to say I’d be interested in becoming a governor, they said that sounded great, and now I’m chairing that too.  Which means that most of my 29 days of annual leave are spent doing school governance now, and it’s very exciting, but doesn’t leave so much time for other things.

This week, however, I’ve had a week of holiday, because the school where I work closes between Christmas and New Year and sad cases like me who love doing things with data and spreadsheets are forced to take some time off.

My most Christmassy read was this:


which I read about on

I’m often (most times…) disappointed by detective stories, and this is the first collection that has recaptured for me the atmosphere and puzzlement of my discovery of Agatha Christie, aged 11, or that of this present my uncle gave me for Christmas when I was 12:



Christmas present to myself was the time to read Zadie Smith’s Swing Time.


It’s the story of a what it was like to grow up mixed race in the Eighties, and the descriptions of childhood friendships and the insights into family life were astonishing.  I thought it was going to be one of the best books I’d ever read, and was thinking of getting copies for the girls, as an encouragement to actually read books.  Unfortunately, the later scenes just didn’t convince or interest me.  The protagonist spends most of the second half of the book as a PA to a thinly disguised Madonna-like iconic pop star, and it read like a fictionalised Wikipedia entry, with no real insight into what a relationship between a normal person and a star would actually be like.  Which admittedly is a tough call, because not many people actually do possess that insight.

One person who did possess a unique insight into the life of a star from the point of view of a normal person was Carrie Fisher.


I’ve enjoyed all Carrie’s books, but I liked this one best.  I think her combination of wisdom and flippancy reached its zenith in this book, published only a month before she died. It’s amazing that she never lost her wonder at being who she saw as an ordinary person (albeit with famous parents) who was plucked out for such an extraordinary life.  So sad to lose this talented, unassuming person.

Of course we took Science Fiction fan daughter number two to see Rogue One.


It was OK, but I don’t get the number of high ratings.  It’s not comparable with Star Wars VII, which abounded with great characters and humorous references.  I just spent most of the time not understanding what was going on.  The scene with the data tower was pretty cool, just for making data look like the sexy thing that that it is.  And the storyline coming together with the beginning of Star Wars was slightly meaningful, in a science fictiony way.  But overall I was underwhelmed.

Not underwhelmed with Book of Mormon though, which we saw on Boxing Day as our annual London Christmas treat.  This is becoming a bit of a pattern, where I make the girls see an exhibition first (Abstract Expressionists at the Royal Academy) which they usually don’t like, followed by a speedy Christmas shop around Fortnum and Mason’s, and then a show, which they actually want to see.

We had a great pre-show dinner at The Argyll Arms in Oxford Street, and the girls let me take a picture of them together for only about the third time since they were both under ten years old.


Book of Mormon is a story of missionaries plying their wares on a village in Uganda.  It’s a satire on American preconceptions of Africa and a wry look at how people cope with terrible circumstances.  It’s really funny, and the musical talent is incredible (the keyboard player is also the conductor, just don’t understand how that is possible), and unlike Matilda and Billy Elliott, there were no slow bits, the first hour especially went in a flash.  The only weak part was the way the ending was tied up, although it’s probably not possible to think of a satisfactory way of working out what to do with a despotic war lord character, considering that the real world hasn’t been able to in the last few decades/centuries.

The girls and I have been enjoying doing loads of things together recently, not just over Christmas, as I am very aware of Rhiannon going away to University next October.  (Her current preferred offer is Bristol for Maths and Philosophy.)  Since we got back, we’ve had a few film nights, where we settle down with takeaway.

After we’d watched Zootropolis, I asked whether it was even better than Monsters Inc, which is the ultimate test.  Apparently, it wasn’t so, but it was very close.  I can’t understand why it’s not in every top ten list of the year.  It was funny, the characters were buzzy, it had a great mystery story which had me (veteran reader of mysteries) fooled, and I was very surprised by the depth of the satirical take on race relations in the USA.


Also a film that should have been higher up on films of the year was Sing Street.  Coming back to the theme of childhood, this was a laugh out loud film about teenagers in quite a rough area of Dublin forming a band in the eighties.  Again, some really touching insights into a troubled family life, a nostalgic soundtrack, and a very cleverly composed set of original songs of catchy eighties-esque music that the teens could conceivably have written.


And sadly, that is all for Christmas!  I have one more day of holiday and then back to work on Tuesday.  I might be back with a change of direction in the New Year.  Basically, the specification for GCSE English Language has changed and Isabel has to do a new style (harder) exam in June 2017.  One of the things they have to do is write pieces in response to articles of topical interest, in particular styles (eg opinion piece in broadsheet newspaper), and their writing has to be “engaging” and “varied” to get high marks.  Which is going to be a challenging ask for someone who’s only read a newspaper about twice in her life.  I’ve suggested “just write a bit every day/few days” on her blog, and that I will help by modelling this on mine.  Which is also going to be a challenging ask for me.  Watch this space.



  1. What an awesome update Denise! I’m so pleased you’ve been able to spend so much tine with the girls, and what a gorgeous photo of the two of them.

    Book of Mormon sounds amazing, I’ve not heard a bad word yet. I’ve been eyeing up Swing Time, but will probably give it a miss now. Life’s too short to read disappointing books. I’m still making my way through Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, and have to say for a classic, I’m underwhelmed.

    I don’t know much about MATs, but it does sound like the combination of knowledge from ex-heads could be what the school needs. Our school was in special measures a few years ago, and they brought in a super head who turned it all around, and doing great now. Although are completely obsessed with numeracy and literacy to the detriment of everything else (in my opinion…) probably different for primary schools?

    You would get on so well with Andy, who also loves data and spreadsheets. He studied philosophy at uni, and often says that he’d recommend it to anyone over many other subjects. Best of luck to both girls, such a lot going on!

    Happy New Year to you all xxx

    • I didn’t know Andy studied Philosophy, how talented that he’s also into data and spreadsheets! It’s sad that the lit/num obsession is so widespread. So many more things to education, as I am sure you are discovering.
      Hope you had a good Christmas break and would be great to get together some time. And thanks for taking the time to message, I know you are a busy person. xx

  2. You’ve had a busy time, and sounds like fun too – and your girls are lovely! Glad you got some Christmas mystery reading in – I’m firmly in the camp of thinking that the oldies are best!

    • Yes, and there’s something about them being short stories too, which I’m not usually so keen on. It’s like having a selection box of chocolates.

  3. Jennifer

    Glad to see you back! I’m glad to be back too! You are one committed governor! How you find the time ……..

    • Nice to see you blogging again too! It’s been a while, hasn’t it? My governing body clerk did once ask me if I ever sleep. I do enjoy it though. That’s the secret I’ve found to most things – if you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it.

      • Jennifer

        That’s the whole secret! Sleeping is a good thing though – if you can make the time!

  4. Taking timer off. Outrageous. No more Xmas pud for you.

    On the other hand, I’m glad you’ve been having fun. Repeat ten times; “One cannot live by blog alone”. 😀

    • Hopefully returning to work refreshed tomorrow. I’m actually looking forward to it, which is good, as I was definitely ready for a break a couple of weeks ago.

  5. Welcome back! So glad to read something from you again. And also gladdened by LD1’s choice of Mathematics and Philosophy (not that I’m biassed or anything…)

  6. Your gorgeous girls! I love the sound of your London day out. I missed the Abstraction at the RA because I simply ran out of time. Was it good? So pleased to see you back blogging. I’ve been thinking of new ways to tackle it too, and like you, I’m hoping that folk will watch this space.
    You are most certainly a busy bee Denise – happy new year to you🥂🍾

  7. I agree 100% with your assessment of Swing Time!

    So jealous that you got to see The Book of Mormon! I’ve been wanting to see it for years but it’s impossible to get tickets for the touring productions – they sell out so fast.

  8. Great to see you back to blogging Denise, you have been busy and so glad all is well with you and you’re enjoying such a lively social life. Eldest son and his girlfriend saw Book of Mormon and loved it. We’re all going to see Thriller at the end of the month, Christmas present to all of us 🙂 Your Boxing Day, and having the week off sounds great, and of course love the photo of your LD’s. So sad about Carrie Fisher, I want to read her last book too. Happy New Year, I hope 2017 is a great year for you, and we must try and meet up again too!

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