Music to learn verbs to

I’ve been doing avoir to the Pink Panther theme since finding this lovely TES resource at the very start of my teaching career.

Last week I found I didn’t really have anything for haben and wasn’t that impressed with my options. I went googling and found some absolutely lovely Mozart songs for both key German verbs that are very catchy, slightly silly, and will be used by me for ages to come.

I even wonder if we can get them into the soundtrack for foreign trips.

(slightly chipmunky, also very reminiscent of Sound of Music – I can imagine curtain-clad pirouetting alpine children singing these)

(This is from the Magic Flute and I’m quite interesting in trying to find sheet music. It’s classic choral harmony and I can’t hear it without trying to busk through all the parts)

This is also a great excuse for singing the Queen of the Night song. Not that I would ever do that in front of a class (ahem!).

Up until now I had been doing both sein and être to the tune of Michael Finnegan. You have to include the English in this to work as well. “Ich bin, I am, du bist you are, er ist he is…” and so on.

Both sein and être also work nicely to the Mission Impossible theme. You can fit versions of the whole verb both to the bass introduction and the treble theme once that kicks in.

There is also this balmy and awesome aller song to complete the trio of vital French irregular verbs.

The images are starting to be dated, and some classes can be obsessed with the visuals whilst not listening to the actual French, but it still plays well with most groups. I generally use it with older classes as we start really working on the near future tense. Using mixed / boy and girl bands to explain ils and elles is inspired and chimes much better with students than “on the day the priest visits the convent, they turn from elles to ils.” (although I still tell that story too)

If you are actually going to sing the songs yourself to your class, you need to practise privately before trying to do it with everyone, so you can be consistent with your underlay (how the words fit the tune.) This is why several bemused colleagues have put their head around my classroom door in the last week to find me singing Pink Panther in a darkened classroom. Even my set of personal pronoun hand gestures isn’t moving enough to turn the occupancy lighting back on.

These wonderful youtube videos mean you can use song to teach verbs even if you are the sort of teacher who does not sing yourself.

Stop press – here’s a version of the Pink Panther powerpoint converted to a youtube video!

My differentiation on this – ALL do the jazz hands on vous allez MOST sing all the words SOME sing in tune.

On the BBC the day I was born

People have been posting links about the telly on the day they were born for the last week or so and I have been fairly sceptical about whether I would be interested. The BBC have produced a gizmo that checks TV listings from as far back as 1923.

But when I went over to check a Thursday in 1978, it was actually quite fascinating.

Not very many programmes per day – there was Open University first thing, two chunks of the morning with BBC1 not running at all, and an awful lot of children’s programming that was repeated so much it’s in my memory as well as on the day I was born. Jackanory, the Mr Men and Paddington.

Despite it being August, there is the Christmas Day episode of Belle and Sebastian.

The whole afternoon is showjumping, children’s TV again (Peter Purves is going orienteering! The Wombles!) and news.

For the evening, it’s Holiday Report (“…based on two people sharing”), Dr Who (banned from watching as a child because we had too many nightmares based on it). A Barry Norman Hollywood retrospective, I Clavdivs, and two hours of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games – “live coverage by satellite from Canada”. Ooh!

Not that my mother would have been aware of any of this after, hours of labour in a cottage hospital followed by an uncomfortable 40 mile ambulance trip on poor country roads for an emergency Caesarean in Shrewsbury. Undiagnosed breech.

New toy – slow cooker

I had been thinking for a while that I would like to get a slow cooker again. I had one before that I eventually put onto freecycle because there were too many annoying things about it. It was a sealed unit, which meant washing it without getting its electrics wet was a pain. It was pretty small. And there had also started to be a taste that came through everything I cooked it that was annoying me.

So we’ve gone many years without one, but recently I started to think it might be a nice thing to have again, when low and behold, there were suddenly half-price ones in the supermarket and so one came home with me.

In its first three weeks here we’ve put it to use two or three times a week – most obviously for casserole type things. We’ve had a lamb tagine, a chicken chasseur and a strange thing that I don’t think I shall make again, with chicken breasts in pineapple juice.

I used it almost entirely successfully to roast a chicken and then to make stock from the bones. The soup I then made with the leftovers was not a success, however. I have still yet to make a nice soup out of chicken bones.

In addition to that, it’s done sterling service preparing fresh homemade soups to take to school for a low calorie lunch most days of the week. Leek and potato soup was a success, if slightly potatoey. I’ve also been saving parmesan rinds for probably two years now, just for adding to leek and potato soup as per Julie / Julia. And then when I made it, I forgot!

At the moment we are cooking a French onion soup. The slow cooker was brilliant for caramelizing onions in the first place – chopped onions with a bit of butter or olive oil, seasoning, and sherry vinegar, just left in the machine on low overnight and with the door shut (so the delicious smell doesn’t invade the house.) In the morning add enough beef stock to cover the onions and then plenty more and leave it to cook all day.

It’s been busy over the weekend as in addition to Saturday night and Sunday making soup, it spent all of Saturday cooking baked potatoes. 8 hours on low with foil wrapped baked potatoes inside, plus an additional foil parcel with chopped leeks. Then scoop the centres of the potatoes out and combine the leeks and potato flesh with cream cheese and seasoning, stuff into the skins and microwave a little to compensate for the chill from the cheese cooling it down. Unfortunately this way the potatoes are not very crisp on the outside.

The slow cooker helps with meal plans – rather than choose all of my week’s food from all of the nice things I’ve ever made, I mentally think we need one veggie, one fish and then the rest of the meals. Now I know we need one veggie, one fish, one slow cooker and then the rest – and very often the rest can include a frozen meal from a previous week’s slow cooked batch.

The one slight niggle is this machine has a timer. The maximum amount of time it will cook for is 10 hours, then it switches to warm. We are almost always out of the house for far longer than 10, which means things cooking all day for far longer than is really ideal. If I set it going at 7am, leave for work, don’t come home till 6.30, and don’t want to eat till 8pm.

Ideally I would like to cook one night and prepare the slow cooker meal at the same time. But with the slow cooker you have to put things in it warm, so this has meant preparing tomorrow’s meal, putting it in the fridge, and then reheating it on hob over breakfast (porridge in one pan, chicken chasseur on another, whatever you do, don’t mix up the wooden spoons…) and then setting it going.

What should I make in the coming weeks?

Eating healthily at school

School food has improved no end since Jamie’s School Dinners. In my school you can’t even buy fizzy drinks or chocolate and there are no vending machines.

But I generally don’t eat in the school restaurant because when I do go in, I make poor food choices. I eat sandwiches rather than vegetables. I say yes when the lovely ladies ask me if I want extra roast potatoes. There are puddings with custard. And the nutritional requirements of hollow-legged, active, growing teenagers are different from those for overweight thirty-somethings.

The last few years, I can see from my weight graphs, I have lost weight in the autumn term, gained it over Christmas and then it peaks at the end of the summer when I get a bit of a grip again. My diet gets steadily worse as I get more tired, and when the lack of structure of the summer holidays arrives I am my own worse enemy.

But I do find I can lose weight at school if I am careful and sensible. This is how I do it.

Fruit

It has worked well for me to take in a week’s fruit at once and have a fruit bowl on my desk. There is something healthy to snack on right there and you can see how well you are doing – it’s a visible progress bar in front of you. Last year I took in a banana and an apple for most days, this year I think I will try and add something else as well, citrus fruit or kiwis maybe.

Another benefit is that I can rarely persuade myself to eat breakfast before I leave the house, and sometimes not until I’m well into my school day. But if I just have fruit at break time, that still counts as breakfast, right? Even if I’m on my nth cup of coffee?

And if you want to consider it as pedagogy, you could even make the point that you are modelling healthy eating to your students.

Graze boxes

These give me lots of interesting things in small portions. Even if you go mad and eat two or three punnets at once you aren’t going to break the calorie bank.

If you’ve never tried graze, you can get a free sample here.

Tinned soup

I went through a phase last summer of eating tinned soup for lunch every day. It’s definitely nicer than cup-a-soup, and reasonably healthy. Low calories for sure, and it sort of counts as part of your five a day. It is generally pretty heavy on salt and industrial food. Just as the three fruit a day tipped me over my daily recommended sugar intake on MyFitnessPal, a tin of soup gets you a long way towards your daily salt ration. But keeping a stock of tins of soup in your classroom cupboard for emergencies is definitely a helpful thing to do.

My PT wants me to be avoiding carbs as much as possible, and certainly not eating bread, potatoes or pasta. Even so, I am on the lookout for other long life products I can bulk buy and keep in the cupboard for the days when I can’t be bothered to make a packed lunch (or I leave it in the fridge at home). Oatcakes perhaps, the nice Carrs ones wrapped in portions?

Salad

I really ought to be eating salad for lunch every day. At first thought, that’s a very depressing thought, but there are plenty of tricks I have come up with to help that work a little better.

I mentally categorise vegetables into three groups. Ones I can eat by themselves (carrots, sweetcorn). Ones I don’t like but can eat if there are enough other things on my plate to take the taste away (broccoli, spinach). And the ones that make me feel sick regardless of how I try to swamp the taste (swede, sprouts, parsnips… it’s a long list.)

Fortunately most salad veg fits the first category. Most leaves are OK – but those salad pillows do not last very long and if you buy them at the start of the week they are looking pretty sad by the end of it. And once the pillow is opened, releasing all the putrefaction delaying gas, the contents deteriorate pretty fast. And you also need loads of it to count as a portion. Whole lettuces last longer but then you have less variety, and you have to faff about washing and spinning them.

The crunchy vegetables last longer in the fridge and are more interesting to eat. By and large you need less of them to count as a portion, and lots of them are sweet too. I like carrots, radishes, peppers, celery for starters so you can get a good salad going with that lot.

Salad dressing

The vegetables by themselves need a little something to get them going, and a salad dressing is a must. Once on a channel ferry, a prepacked French salad had a one-inch tall plastic bottle with oil and vinegar in it for you to shake and make your own dressing, and that basic idea made its way into my lunchbox. I’ve got a small glass jar for the dressing that I keep separate from the veg until lunchtime, then shake it up and pour it over.

As all good cooks should, I have a variety of oils and vinegars to choose from as well as plenty of other condiments and ingredients to add. It’s certainly true that most days there are more calories in my dressing than all the vegetables put together. But it’s not an insane amount.

A basic dressing is a tablespoon of oil (EVOO) and teaspoon of vinegar (balsamic, sherry, cider, home made red wine…). Always a good screw of salt and pepper.

And then to mix things up, some of the following: honey mustard – runny honey and wholegrain mustard with cider vinegar; just a good glug of sweet chilli sauce; a good glug of toasted sesame oil for an interesting flavour; fresh herbs like basil or tarragon.

Salad – something to look forward to

And as if a delicious dressing wasn’t enough I also like another ingredient. I don’t have to have something to take the taste away as I’m OK with most salad vegetables, but it’s still nice to have something to look forward to. A good slice of deli ham is a great start, or something sweet in the mix – grapes or raisins. Something crunchy like walnuts or seeds of some sort for texture. Anything from the world of cheese.

My #2 nemesis – cake in meetings

Who can spell ‘obesogenic’? (I just had to check!)

It’s lovely that people bring cakes and biscuits to meetings. I do it quite a lot myself. We’ve had some absolutely awesome ones and some of my colleagues are really talented bakers. Some of us buy in our cakes and that’s nice too. My problem is saying no. Or just eating one biscuit. I’m not at all equipped to resist temptation, especially after a busy day – and a lot of our meetings are after the children go home.

My #1 nemesis

My #1 nemesis on the healthy eating front is the feeling that “after the day I’ve had I deserve…” and the thing I think I deserve is a really terrible food choice. “Drive thru” at McDonalds or Starbucks over the road from school – and even the threat of meeting students there is not always enough to deter me. If I make it onto the motorway without buying something daft, there’s always the four corner shops I have to pass on the way home too. At this point in the day I’m often so hungry I really can’t be bothered to cook dinner either, so the temptation to stuff my face is very real.

And the result is plain to see on my weight graph. Which I’m not going to share. So here’s to 20kg of weight loss and no putting it back on again!

Book (series) I have known and loved

Manda challenged me on facebook…

“Book Challenge thingy. List your 10 favourite books, that have stayed with you. Don’t be shy, share truly and don’t try too hard, reading is entertainment not a credibility challenge.”

Before I knew it I had churned out 1500 words, so it seemed wise to put the words on here too for posterity.

I seem to be less able than others I know to remember things that have happened more than five years ago, and with that goes a lot of detail of what I have read. I quite often find myself in the situation of reading a book and being able to predict where it’s going – but only a few pages before it has happened. I put this down to having read it before and forgotten rather than any power of prediction.

The main thing I read is detective fiction and I almost always look out for a series by the same author that I can get my teeth into and gallop through. So lots of what I list below will be series rather than individual books. I read so fast I must miss some of the detail.
That said, lately reading for pleasure has not been much of a part of my life. It’s a holiday activity rather than work day one, and somehow this year I have managed to pass almost all of my six week holiday without finishing a single book.

Anyway, the list.

Enid Blyton – The Famous Five. Gosh, what a ghastly start. But this was my introduction to crime novels and independent reading when I took a book off my mother, who was unable to read it aloud without sniggering, and started to read it by myself. We had loads and loads at home and so I read them.

Arthur Ransome – Swallows and Amazons and the subsequent series. This also took up many many summer holidays of my childhood, and built up a relationship with my local libraries as I put in cards to request the subsequent books in the series. Somehow the awesome books never led to me visiting the Lake District or getting interested in sailing but I was happy to read about others doing same. IF NOT DUFFERS, WON’T DROWN.

Agatha Christie – Poirot books. After a while – by about 11 – I had read pretty much everything in the young adult section of the library (even the Judy Blume, here’s looking at you, ‘Ralph’) and we began to talk to the staff about me borrowing adult books. The staff agreed with my parents to keep an eye out and steer me away from anything desperately inappropriate, but it was Agatha Christie I read the most, starting with garishly illustrated ones on my parents’ shelves, branching out through the library and eventually getting a bit organised in a quest to request and read all of them in my teenage years.

Paul Magrs – Marked for Life. I got a job during my sixth form years as an assistant at Ludlow Library where I did Saturday shelving. As part of that I was once allowed to help choose the new books they bought. There were a stack of cards from publishers, each one with title, author and a short description of the book. Staff got to go through the cards and leave a tick on the ones they thought library should buy. I made them get this one because it’s a story with a gay affair at the heart of it, and as a staff member I could check it out to myself without anyone else having to see. The literary equivalent of sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to watch “Beautiful Laundrette.” Magrs was a graduate of an MA Creative Writing course so it’s pretty weird book, heavily influenced by magical realism (one of the characters becomes invisible at one point). This was his first novel, and he’s written plenty since, and is also a very influential author in the Dr Who world. Looking back on my late teens, I don’t now understood how I found time to read as much as I did. I borrowed at least 6 books from the library every fortnight and read through them very quickly. At the same time somehow I managed to get 4 amazing A-Level results too. I don’t really remember doing much studying. It was more than five years ago, I suppose.

Reginald Hill – Dalziel and Pascoe. A massive skip forward – in 2005 I allowed myself a long long holiday, taking leave from being a councillor. I spent it driving around France and camping for six weeks. Preparing for that, I bought a crate of Dalziel and Pascoe novels for next to nothing and read most of them under canvass by torchlight. NB I’ve never actually even seen the TV adaptions of these. I eventually swapped them with CH for a crate of French language Maigret novels which I regret to say I have never got very far with. On that holiday I thought the complete Reginald Hill would last me six weeks but in fact I was running out by half way. As it happened I took a holiday from my holiday halfway through to return for a good friend’s stag do, so while I was staying with AC in Geneva I borrowed her computer and bought a whole bunch more books to be posted to me in England to pick up before returning to France. Which leads me to…

Sue Grafton – Alphabet novels. I had always been a bit sniffy about these but AC had some on her shelves, so they can’t have been all bad. I flicked through, they seemed eminently readable, so I bought about 10 of them and read them then and got hooked. I’ve stayed with them as she brings out more and she is so close to completing the alphabet now. The original books were tightly plotted and very slim. Now they are getting longer and sometimes she even moves away from the first-person detective narrator, which I am not a fan of. Her detective Kinsey Millhone is brilliant.

Mary Roach – Stiff – I can’t remember who first put me onto the books of Mary Roach, but she is amazing. She is a pop science writer who takes something unpleasant and writes a book about it in gory detail with hilarious footnotes. The stories she tells are about how she learned what she writes about, and the people who are often unsung heroes. Stiff is the story of dead bodies, with a chapter on “the body farm” which Patricia Cornwell readers will know about as a research facility into decay; a chapter on crash test dummies – they use cadavers in that field too; a chapter on how dead bodies used to be powdered and turned into medicine. It doesn’t sound at all promising, but it is fascinating and very funny and all of her books (Bonk, Stiff, Gulp, Spook and Packing for Mars) are the best thing ever.

Edmund de Waal – Hare with Amber Eyes. While we are on non-fiction this is a memoir of de Waal’s family heirlooms. It’s a book divided into three – first the story of how his Jewish banker family acquired this collection of Japanese carvings, and how Jewish people got very wealthy in a bunch of different European countries in the 1800s onwards. Then there’s the story of what happened during the Anschluss in Austria and how fast and how hard they fell from grace when the Nazis sacked Jewish homes and murdered people. Finally there’s the story of how the heirlooms were recovered and how they spent their time 1945-1990 in Japan, in a story that’s just as interesting. It’s very readable – the wartime section is horrifying – but the stories before and after are just as interesting. The carvings are the thread that holds the book together but the real stories are the people who owned them.

Janet Evanovich – Stephanie Plum novels “One for the money” etc. Grafton started on a finite series A is for… Evanovich went with a rather more open ended plan, started on a novel called “One…” and carried on from there. I heard about these from a book discussion Radio 4 programme, ordered the first one, read it overnight, ordered a ton more, lent them to my friends and parents and now, as with Grafton, I read the new ones as they come out. Light and fluffy crime novels told from POV of an incompetent female bounty hunter with somewhat loose morals. Very funny, untaxing, readable in about 5 hours, excellent for airports, loads of them to get through.

So what to choose for #10? I think Terry Pratchett as another prolific writer of very funny novels. Surreal and weird, sometimes it seems whole universes are spun around a single bad pun or a deliberate misunderstanding of something. You can’t really describe Pratchett, but the beautiful covers the books all have are a fab partner for the chaotic and hilarious plots and characters.

You might also like this thing I wrote the last time I got tagged in a book meme in 2006.

Dinner party

I had planned to tidy the house over the summer holidays and then host a dinner party at the end of the summer holiday to celebrate getting over the C.H.A.O.S. (can’t have anyone over syndrome). However, I had left it very late to start and the place was still a long way from presentable when plans were formed to have dere ole friends over for a spot of supper.

Once a friend described a colleague as someone who went a little too far in preparing for dinner parties because “she made her own chocolates.” If it were tempering chocolate and moulds and fillings, I think I would agree but a few simple ganache based truffles are easily achievable if you have a few days’ warning.

Here’s our menu:

Orange gin and tonic

The original recipe from an old Olive magazine: Shake a tea spoon of marmalade for each shot of gin with some bitters and serve with tonic. I added some of crème de pamplemousse rose from a previous trip for a little more zing and was trying Fevertree tonic for the first time. This tasted good!

Frittata 

Another tip from Olive is to make frittata in a cake tin with a cake liner rather than a frying pan. This helps us particularly as we do not have any large non-stick frying pan. Fry an onion, a pepper, a grated carrot and some chopped sundried tomatoes. Add some ham chunks – I had roasted a bacon joint the day before to give some nice meaty chunks. Put the vegetables and meat into a lined cake tin. Beat six eggs with a heaped teaspoon of baking powder, pour on and bake for 30 minutes at 180 deg c.

Sausages

I’m not so good at main courses, so any excuse to visit our local awesome butcher. Johnny provided us with some “cappuccino and chocolate” sausages and some “basil and tomato” ones. Popped in the oven as the starters went out, steamed some carrots and beans and boiled some new potatoes P grew in the garden. Served in warmed bowls for people to help themselves with gravy made with fried onions and mushrooms with red wine.

Pear 3 ways

Pear sorbet – blitz two tins of pears in syrup with the juice from one lemon and dump in the ice cream maker.

Poached pears – two large glasses of white wine, one of water, 300g sugar and a bunch of aromatics – star anise, lemongrass, ginger chunks, cloves, cardamom pods. Boil lightly until peeled pears are soft enough to push a toothpick into.

Pear jelly – set a pint of the poaching liquid with gelatin and separate into serving bowls, chill.

Reduce the remaining poaching liquid to a syrup to serve.

Vanilla mascarpone – one of the most delicious things I have ever made – a small tub of mascarpone beaten with two tablespoons of icing sugar, the scrapings from the inside of a vanilla pod and a few drops of vanilla extract.

Truffles

Two different ganaches fridged overnight and rolled into balls. Peanut butter ganache from Dan Lepard’s cake – half quantities – 120 gr dark chocolate, large spoon peanut butter, splash of sugar, 100mls double cream, melted very slowly and stirred together. Roll the truffles in either cocoa or chopped peanuts. For contrast, an Earl Grey white chocolate – scald 100mls double cream with some Earl Grey teabags, strain and melt 120 gr white chocolate into it. Roll in icing sugar.

Coffee

The latest beans from my monthly coffee club.

The dessert and starter were made well in advance, the main just cooked while we were eating.

Maybe now the house is edging tidier we might be able to do this more often.  I had a slightly crazy idea of doing two dinner parties two nights in a row with essentially the same meal twice running – edging from cooking to catering. The frittata would do 12. The poached pears could be doubled without too much hassle. Roasting 24 rather than 12 sausages makes no difference, but you would have to peel a few more carrots.  The real squeeze though would be having to do all the washing up overnight so you could start again the following night.

GCSE results

I’m a little fascinated by the table that Steve Smith has reproduced here which stretches the not inconsiderable period from 1993, including 1994 when I got my A* in French, all the way to today, including a small group of students I taught. Of all the people getting GCSE grades in French in 2014, I taught 0.008% of them for less than half their GCSE! Go me! There were 13,000 of us who got A* when I did and 16,000 this year.

All of this slightly silly numbercrunching led my friend Matthew to produce this graph

french

And I wondered about the relative popularity of French, German, and Spanish, went back to the amazing home of GCSE data tables and produced this graph:

mfl entries graph

Spanish is clearly now more popular than German and is continuing to climb, but is a long way away from “replacing French” as this Independent article claims.

Some other points – you can see why it is hard to get a languages teaching job if you have no French at all. And yet it is increasingly common for strong languages graduates only ever to have had the opportunity to study one language at school.

The Indy article speaks of Spanish as an important world language gaining in popularity but I’d argue this is a very North / South American perspective. German is far more common in Europe as this fascinating Wikipedia paragraph points out:

German is the main language of approximately 95 to 100 million people in Europe, or 13.3% of all Europeans, being the second most spoken native language in Europe after Russian (with 144 million speakers), above French (with 66.5 million) and English (with 64.2 million).

I guess we are not talking European Union languages for the factoid about Russia to be true. Spanish languishes in 5th place in Europe.

I left university in 2000 with a 2:1 in French and German with an equal emphasis on the two languages. French has always been my stronger language and I still have a much wider vocabulary and more comfortable grip on the grammar. By the end of my degree I felt a bit of a failure in German – my language module marks were the lowest, I was very poor at university level translation, and I pretty much made a promise never to become a German teacher.

On the way into teaching, however, I was made to feel that my German skills were vitally important, and that anyone who could vaguely pronounce Staatsangehörigkeit or spell Eierschalensollbruchstellenverursacher had a moral responsibility to wade into the modern languages battle and staunch the flood of candidates away from German.

My students regularly ask why they can’t learn Spanish and I only have flippant answers. There’s no-one in school who could teach it, for starters. If you want to learn Spanish, the school would have to fire all the current language teachers and hire new ones. My favourite flippant response to “Why can’t I learn Spanish?” is “I’m not stopping you. Feel free.”