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And a half.
My physical degeneration has now become actually comical. I’ve been suffering, for instance, from bouts of pregnancy insomnia. A friend kindly recommended chamomile tea; but that’s no good, because drinking liquids causes my stomach contents to slosh acidly up into my throat even despite the Ranitidine, meaning the only way to avoid heartburn is to maintain a state of chronic dehydration: and you know what that’s not good for? Low blood pressure. Yep, that’s still going on. This morning we ventured, I dunno, three hundred metres to the walnut tree to collect walnuts. Between the walk and the stooping I came over all faint on the way home and would have had a nice lie-down, except I’m in the middle of making fudge and bread dough, neither of which lend themselves to neglect.
Remember Rachel Lynde’s dire condemnation: “She washes her dishes sitting down“? Well, I’ve one-upped whoever it was by not washing the dishes at all; but everything else I’ve taken to doing more or less horizontally. I sit while chopping apples, lie down to administer Rowan’s spelling tests, and completely fall asleep while she’s reading me Pippi Longstocking for English. If I could figure out a way to be actually comatose while making dinner, I’d do it.
On the bright side, I think I’ve managed to partially stave off baby brain by maintaining a constant alertness as to the windows of time in which I can take my drugs. Ranitidine, for instance, cannot be taken within two hours of calcium or iron supplements. I’m not *on* calcium supplements, but I am craving milk like a freak; but I can only drink it if I’m not planning to nap or do Hypnobabies (ie nap) for the next few hours, because it aggravates my heartburn. (Oh, you found milk helped your heartburn? Allow me to hiss my congratulations.) And iron, of course, is best taken with Vitamin C, which also aggravates my heartburn. Then I’m supposed to take my probiotics with meals, and my iodine… any time, actually, that one’s not so bad… and my Fluoxetine late at night to minimise its drowsifying effects, but not *too* late at night because I have to swallow it with water, and again, heartburn. Which is also a consideration for the raspberry leaf tea I’m meant to be downing by the gallon to prevent my uterus becoming flabby and useless, presumably from following the example of the rest of me. And I haven’t even bought zinc yet to combat PPD and promote bonding, which – if animal trials can be extrapolated – means I am probably going to roll on and/or eat my young. And that being the case, why even bother with vitamin D? Cannibalistic sow-mothers don’t deserve to be happy and strong-boned.
This had better be one heck of a baby, is what I’m saying.
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I have questions. In my mind.
1. What is it with women who deliberately marry into awful last names?
I mean, I took Helpdesk Man’s name when we wedded up, and to be honest I sometimes have vague regrets on that score; I prefer my old last name, and after eight years being called Mrs — still sounds like I’m being confused with my mother-in-law. But it’s not like his surname is actively obnoxious… or like my old one was particularly euphonious, come to that… and it’s certainly simpler pigwise for all of us to have the same last name, so meh. Whatever.
But if his surname had been something ghastly, you bet I’d have had second thoughts. Today, for instance, I saw a photo of a lovely old couple named Mr and Mrs Poot. Which means that once a trembling young fiancee had to look down the dark abyss of years and consent to being known forever and always as a Poot. Mrs Poot. The Poots. And she consented. I don’t think I can fathom a love like that. Unless her maiden name was, like, Snotwrangler or something, in which case she and her fiance probably fell in love over the mutual trauma of it all, but then why didn’t they run off together and change both their names to Montgomery?
2. Do people eat tumours?
I mean, yes, ew, but then I have a similarly visceral reaction to all sorts of foodstuffs cherished throughout the world. There are cultures in which people chow down happily on insects, blood puddings, calves’ brains, live octopi and eyeballs, after all. So why have I never heard of people cooking up tumours? Are they, like, carcinogenic? Presumably a cross-species, denatured-by-cooking cancerous mass wouldn’t be an actual health risk to humans, would it? And certainly they’d be difficult to farm – one has horrid visions of a bunch of squealing piggies being zapped with gamma radiation or forced to live under power poles with cellphones taped to their ears – but wouldn’t that just increase the market value? I mean, we go to tremendous lengths to acquire vanilla beans and truffles.
Perhaps tumours aren’t good to eat, though. I mean, they’re not muscle meat… are they? Or fat, surely? So what *are* they exactly? Growths of what texture of matter? Doesn’t it vary wildly? Seriously, if you have any information on this, let me know, because it’s really bugging me. What about predators – in the wild, if they come across a tumour in their prey, do they eat around it? Or can they smell the evil? Dogs can sniff out cancer, they say; and we think it’s noble, but maybe they’re really going “Mmmm, nommy”.
3. OK, so. America. The War on Drugs. Using is illegal. No?
So how come when a celebrity admits on a talk show to having spent the last few decades in a coke-addled haze, he doesn’t get carted off to the clink? I mean, he just confessed to a crime, didn’t he? Similarly, why aren’t people arrested on the way into rehab or AA meetings; or why aren’t the clearly drug-celebrating lyrics written by rock stars used as probable cause for searching their trailers for the vast quantities of crack they gleefully sing about consuming?
I mean, I know the police care more about dealing than using. And I’m not saying it would be a good thing if going to rehab got you chucked in the clink, because then no-one would ever go to rehab. I’m just saying, is the law the law or ain’t it? And if they never enforce it, shouldn’t they either start enforcing it or change it to comport with the reality of the situation? I mean, I’m sure Carrie Fisher had a legal team check through her confessional autobiographies (which are pretty good, incidentally), and did any of them say “Um, Carrie, you realise if you confess to using drugs here they can put you in prison?” Presumably not. Because of course they wouldn’t. But one assumes the same would not have applied had Martha Stewart written a wryly introspective account of her years as a tax fraudster. (Fraudstress? Fräudlein?)
4. Why are hamsters illegal in New Zealand? Because they are. And I want one. If someone were to send me a hamster, could I look after it for ten years and then talk about it afterwards on late-night TV so as to grant myself celebrimatic immunity? But then, who am I kidding; it wouldn’t last ten years. Rowan found a caterpillar on an ear of corn the other day and fell in love with it, and despite us googling the correct kinds of leaves and making it a sweet little habitat and only dropping it on the carpet twice, it pined away and died in a matter of days. And we were none the wiser until my younger sister said “Don’t you have automatic fly spray?” We’re not good with pets, is what I’m saying. A really robust hamster with impeccable gut flora and solid dental hygiene would maybe last a month, tops. Heck: maybe New Zealand made that law just for us.
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I have been reading a lot, largely on Kindle.
This has been salutary for my broad-mindedness. Not the content of the books, mind you: the format. Until six months ago I was mildly snobbish about Kindles, preferring the look and feel of REAL books. I had a Kindle – Helpdesk Man bought me one – but I rarely used it, though reluctantly conceding it was handy for travel.
And then an old, nearly-blind friend of mine mentioned that she loves Kindles because you can change the size of the print, and I had to admit that you couldn’t really argue with that. And then I got pregnant. And let me tell you, there’s nothing like spending most of every day for several months unable to get out of bed, let alone head to the library, to shoo your pontifications about the feel of Real Paper and the smell of Old Bookshops out of your lexicon right quick.
Plus, as it happens, our town’s libraries have a terrible selection and Kindle doesn’t. After an initial binge I limited myself to the free books, which I expected to be a paltry selection of dead-obvious classics like Jane Austen and Dickens.
But nope. Some study team of volunteers has gone to the trouble of scanning a delightfully arcane selection of out-of-copyright books; and it’s delightful. I have in my possession, among others, ‘The Prospective Mother, a Handbook for Women During Pregnancy’, published in 1921; ‘Strange True Stories of Louisiana’ (1890; haven’t read it yet, but I’m hoping it includes gators); ‘History of the Donner Party'; ‘Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases: A Practical Handbook of Pertinent Expressions, Striking Similes, Literary, Commercial, Conversational, and Oratorical Terms, for the Embellishment of Speech and Literature, and the Improvement of the Vocabulary of Those Persons Who Read, Write and Speak English'; and the unexpectedly hilarious ‘Sabbath in Puritan New England’. No, really.
The result is that I am now thoroughly learned. And as a civic-minded individual, I hereby pass on a selection of my shiniest knowledge, that you too may be fun at parties.
Point the First: Domestication has greatly injured the moral character of ducks. (Mrs Beeton.)
Point the Second: Cases have been reported in medical literature of menstruation from the ear. (Anomalies of Curiosities of Medicine, 1896; a year by which, I feel, they should have known better.)
Point the Third: It was customary among Puritans to employ a church official known as a tithingman. During the week his job was to chase up families who hadn’t come to service on Sunday, and accost their children on the street with catechism questions to prove they knew their stuff. On Sundays, he stalked the meeting house with a sturdy stick, armed on one end with a sturdy knob and a thorn, and on the other with a fox-tail. When men fell asleep during the sermon, as they frequently did, he would give them a sound rap and/or prick with the manly end of the stick. Women, in concession to their delicacy, got tickled awake with the fox-tail instead.
On one occasion, a respected Puritan gent was snoozing so far back in his pew that the tithingman couldn’t reach his head for a satisfying whack. So he contented himself with driving the thorn into the man’s hand; whereupon the poor chap dreamt he’d been bitten and awoke roaring “Curse ye woodchuck!”, to the scandalised glares of the congregation and the mortification of his wife. This anecdote gives me tremendous pleasure.
Point the Fourth: “Ensor reports an interesting case occurring at Port Elizabeth, South Africa. While bathing, an expert swimmer felt a sharp pain in the thigh, and before he could cry out, felt a horrid crunch and was dragged below the surface of the water. He struggled for a minute, was twisted about, shaken, and then set free, and by a supreme effort, reached the landing stairs of the jetty, where, to his surprise, he found that a monstrous shark had bitten his leg off.”
This anecdote also gives me tremendous pleasure. It probably shouldn’t, but I’m nasty and maladjusted.
Point the Fifth: It is very impolite to apologise at a dinner party for spilling or breaking something. It implies your host is badly-stocked and/or poor enough that the loss of the item will be noticed. One can allow one’s regret to show in one’s face, but that is all.
It is also impolite to discuss The Abolition Question in front of the slaves. (One of several 19th-century etiquette books I read in quick succession.)
Point the Sixth: ‘Canyon’ used to be spelled with a tilde. Cañon. Like that.
Point the Seventh: Commercial cremation is not as simple a process as one might think. Like any oven, a cremation retort has hot spots; indeed, one off-centre jet of flame is the hottest spot in the place. One must therefore ensure that the corpse’s chest is placed beneath this jet, as the chest tends to be the thickest part which takes the longest to burn. But halfway through the process, one has to open the door, take a rake, hook the ribcage and hoick the whole body forward so the legs get a turn in the hot spot. Then after one has swept the ashes out, they go in a blender to reduce them to a homogenous mass, that the grieving relatives might not be shocked by a molar or a toe-bone peeking out of its fluffy nest. (This piece of knowledge wasn’t from Kindle; it was from a library book written by a crematory worker, titled delightfully enough, ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’.)
Point the Eighth: The hedgehog is a sort of vagabond rabbit. (Mrs Beeton again.)
Point the Ninth: No lady wears dark gloves. (Etiquette manual again.)
Point the Tenth: One can make puddings more frugal, yet equally delicious, by leaving out the eggs. (“Twenty-Five Cent Dinners for Families of Six”; 1879)
Point the Eleventh: The traits of a woman’s previous husband will influence the children she has with a succeeding husband. For instance, a child from a second marriage might be born with the birth defect of his mother’s first husband; for instance, an extra digit. It is also well-known that once a Black woman has had a baby with a white man, she will never again bear a pure Black child, even with a Black husband, but will always give birth to half-white babies. (Medical Anomalies again.)
Point the Twelfth: A misshapen woman may appear at a ball, if she is discreetly swathed in a large cape or shawl; but she must under no circumstances dance. If she considers it might give her pleasure, she should reflect that it ought not to give her pleasure. Similarly, while it is good of a hostess to ensure that plain (but non-misshapen) women are given the occasional dance partner, she should not importune too heavily on the gentlemen to be gallant, lest the absurd situation arise of plain women being engaged for more dances than the pretty ones.
Point the Thirteenth: The Chinese have developed an ingenious method of catching ducks. Wearing a calabash on his head, the canny farmer wades into the pond up to his eyebrows. The ducks, seeing a calabash float towards them on the water, are unperturbed. The farmer can thus come among them freely, and grabbing them by the legs, pull them sharply under the water one at a time and attach them to his belt until he has harvested his fill. It’s sneaky, but it’s OK because ducks have a Low Moral Character and deserve no better (see Point the First.)
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I just ran out of icing sugar. A pesky, but not in itself noteworthy phenomenon. But it got me thinking: why do I always run out of icing sugar? I mean, specifically? If I reach for the high-grade flour, in general, there it will be. Same with baking soda. Cinnamon? Sure. Cream of tartar? Lurking at the back behind the maraschino cherries, but there. Lentils? I never run out of lentils. Possibly because we only eat them twice a year.
But there are a few ingredients which exist in a state of perpetual emptiness, and icing sugar is one of them. I can’t remember the last time I opened the pantry and found a plump, full bag of the stuff looking at me. There’s always a measly cupful in the bottom, taunting me lumpily.
Golden syrup’s the same. One can never scoop a luscious tablespoonful out of a brimming tin; one is always scraping around the bottom. How? Why? Where does it go? I can understand chocolate disappearing – Helpdesk Man’s existence answers that – but to my knowledge, nobody tipples golden syrup on the sly. Nor is it prone to evaporation; especially in a tin which requires the use of a spoon to pry up the welded-on lid at the best of times. (Don’t get me started on the flaws of golden syrup tin design, my goodness.) The pigs couldn’t get into it even if they thought to. Mice neither. It’d probably baffle a moderately intelligent Martian.
And it’s not just sweet things, either. The same thing happens with sesame seeds; though that’s less disastrous, as I generally only need a few tablespoons at a time. Also brown rice. I buy brown rice regularly, and in theory it should last forever because Helpdesk Man has an abominable, privileged distaste for brown rice. But it doesn’t. Could he be pouring it down the sink in the dead of night? Possibly; but he likes sesame seeds, and (as much as one can gauge something this personal in a mere eight years of marriage) has no particular animosity to icing sugar. There’s no pattern here. There’s no motive.
However, I am a blithe and Pollyannaish soul; so rather than angst over the insoluble mystery of it all, I have decided instead to view it as a probably universal and timeless phenomenon. There was probably a housewife in Crete two thousand years ago who kept running out of olive oil; or an Egyptian housewife whose fig-jar was perpetually barren save for a few oldish withered ones clinging to the side. And thus I am part of a great, cosmic sisterhood of domestic incompetence, and that is a comforting thought. Though it doesn’t tell me how I’m going to ice the rest of these blasted biscuits.
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Doctors worry me sometimes.
A few days ago I went to one in search of a prescription for heartburn medication, Gaviscon and Mylanta being unable to touch the might of my fetus-enraged stomach juices.
She: “OK, so the one we usually prescribe is omeprazole.”
Me: “Cool. And that’s safe for pregnancy?”
She: “Oh… let me look.” She pecks on the computer for a bit and brings up a chart. “It’s class B3. That means it’s been taken by a limited number of pregnant women without any bad effects. But it has been associated with fetal abnormalities in animals; but they’re not sure how relevant that is.”
Me: “Um. Great. Are there any other options?”
She: “Oh, OK! I’ll check.”
After some hunting about we decided on ranitidine, also known as The One That Doesn’t Cause Fetal Abnormalities in Animals and is Class B1. Is it just me, or would it not make sense for that option to be the go-to for pregnant women? She said they worked about equally well. Isn’t mutant-rat-babies versus no-mutant-rat-babies a fairly clear-cut choice? But then, I am not a doctor.
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To the midwife today, to continue my long-standing hobby of startling medical professionals with the lowness of my blood pressure. Despite a brisk walk from the river (the birth centre really needs more parking), I had a diastolic of 40 this morning. For those unfamiliar with medical terminology, 40 is basically zero and means my heart isn’t even trying.
My midwife, impressed, tactfully informed me I suck at pregnancy. Kinda knew that already, but at least she said it nicely – apparently I have a “delicate system” that “doesn’t adapt well” to the strain of gestation. I have ample hips and linebacker shoulders; being called delicate is gratifying regardless of context. But still.
In happier news, since finding out the baby is a boy I’ve been inspired to start sewing. Current haul is one tiny tweed waistcoat, one tiny tweed hat to match, one tiny velvet waistcoat and two cut-out-but-not-yet-sewn onesies. And today after my midwife appointment I dragged my 90/40 self around three fabric shops and came out with a billion snap fasteners, two lots of ribbing, a pleasing grey remnant with which to make yet another tiny waistcoat, some pale brown poplin out of which to construct a hasty drawstring maternity skirt, pale green velour for a onesie and some remarkably cheap white fake fur, because why bother having a son if you can’t dress him up as the Abominable Snowman? Such fun. I’d forgotten what tiny quantities of fabric newborn clothes need; it feels terribly frugal.
Also? I made tweedy hats for the Big Pigs as well.
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Ahem! Fetal update: Pig number three is a boy. Miles is delighted; Rowan is bearing up very graciously, all things considered, and has already started patting my tummy and saying “How’s my little brother doing in there?”
Also relevant: pig number three is a terrifying mutant alien-child. The tech snapped this photo in great delight, saying “Oh look, it’s opening its mouth, and you can see the lens of the eye!” “That’s horrific”, I pointed out, and she giggled nervously. If I hadn’t just watched three seasons of The X-Files, thus priming myself against existential ghastliness, I probably would have leaped from the table and set fire to my own stomach.
I like to think the baby was saying “Hi Mummy! I wave my arm-stubs in a friendly fashion as my lone eyeball devours your soul!”
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair:
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The Star Wars teaser is out. You may have heard.
When I first watched it I was mostly just confused. Was it fan-made? Was it real? Had they already started filming? I haven’t been keeping up with the gossip, and was under the vague impression the film wasn’t coming out until 2017 or so, so the fact that existed at all took me by surprise. It wasn’t terrible, but it was just… ehh.
But after brooding on it for a day or two, and suffering the deep emotional trauma of learning that a family member by marriage (not Helpdesk Man) actually got excited about it, I have decided that actually, I’m mad. Because it was terrible.
Because the purpose of the Star Wars teaser – arguably any teaser, but particularly this teaser – shouldn’t be to give us plot hints or show off fancy ship designs or introduce a bunch of new characters. The purpose should be to reassure us. Its job was to show us the tone of the new film in a way that said “It’s OK, people; I get Star Wars. I’m not going to muck this up. It’s going to be fresh and character-driven and exciting and funny and gritty and a little bit cheesy. I know why you loved the films, I know why you hated the prequels, and I agree with you. Trust me.”
And instead, JJ Abrams gave us a billion reasons yo expect the worst.
What does Star Wars need? Lightsaber duels that don’t rely on ever-more-ridiculous, fanciful lightsaber designs (or lightsaber quantities), but which work because they’re character-driven and emotionally-charged. Did we get that? Nope, we got Absurd Lightsaber Hilt Guy. Great.
What does Star Wars need? A core group of characters bound together by love and loyalty and scrapping and laughter and danger and mutual trust. What did the trailer show us? Pretty much no two characters interacting. In fact, pretty much no characters showing character. ‘Voicerover Guy is probably evil’ doesn’t count. And for the record, slowly voicing portentous statements of doom in a creepy voice isn’t cool any more. Didn’t work in the prequels; didn’t work here.
What does Star Wars need? Realism. Grittiness. Textures. Some assurance that the new films won’t suck the life out of every scene with greenscreen and sharp-edged CGI. What does the trailer give us? A bunch of clean-looking CGI shots.
What does Star Wars need? Action sequences that are, again, character-driven and emotion-fuelled: but also creative. The Falcon hiding inside a space worm on an asteroid and floating away with the garbage. Han Solo shooting blind while Leia strangles the Hutt to death with his own chain. Star-Lord ripping open a necrocraft with a mining ship, dropping down inside and flying the ship with a ship – OK, not Star Wars, but if you want a blueprint for how to make the new Star Wars awesome, Abrams, take a long hard look at Guardians of the Galaxy and then hire that director instead. And in the teaser trailer? Generic shots of CGI ships flying fast and stormtroopers marching. Creative.
What does the new Star Wars need? To stand on its own two feet, not clinging desperately to past glory in an effort to gain nostalgia points. What do we get? A shot of the Falcon, reminding us of the rather depressing fact that the young and beautiful Han Solo is going to appear craggy and old and cameo-ed. (Because Indiana Jones 4 worked so well.) Look, we don’t need to see Han and Leia and Luke. They had their time. Let them go. Do your own thing. It’s a vast universe, and the prequels made it amply clear that shoehorning once-beloved characters into someone else’s story does nobody any favours.
Now, of course it’s possible the film will be infinitely better than the trailer. Pixar makes awful trailers and fantastic movies; the thing can be done. Kasdan’s involved. Abrams did a good job on Star Trek. So I’m not entirely giving up hope on Star Wars VII just yet. But the fact remains that the teaser isn’t promising, and given that the prequels’ major problem was Lucas being surrounded by yes-men, and given that fans have an unprecedented ability to influence movies – even after principal photography has wrapped! – by voicing their opinions, I think the worst thing we can do is decide that the teaser’s cool simply because it’s Star Wars. The last thing JJ Abrams needs is to see thousands of fan comments saying “Wow, this is so awesome!” over a mediocre trailer. He needs to be constantly pushed to include more heart, more fun, more humour and more Star Warsiness into the movie.
Then again, maybe I’m just jealous they didn’t use my teaser trailer idea. Which, incidentally, would have been awesome. Picture this:
Space. Calm and quiet. A battered X-wing spins across the screen. It’s out of control, sparking. Suddenly it ignites, and you realise it’s hit the atmosphere of a planet.
The camera follows the craft as it falls to earth, twisting and flaming. It crashes, shuddering, on a barren and hostile planet. We catch a glimpse of the pilot’s face as it goes down; he’s crying quietly.
The camera moves away across the landscape. It is night. There has been a battle here. Small fires are burning; the earth is scarred and bloodied; the carcasses of large creatures mix with droid parts and the occasional piece of human. It is eerie and still.
Then suddenly, in the distance, muffled laughter. The camera follows it to a glowing hollow at the base of a cliff. A small group of fighters are sitting around a campfire. They are filthy, bloody and exhausted; draped over each other, passing a bottle and drinking. Despite everything, they are having a good time. Their little campfire casts a warm light on their faces.
One of them reaches forward with a bandaged hand to poke the fire, and that’s when you see it – roasting on a spit, dinner for the hungry warriors. The head of a Gungan.
Cut to black. STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS. 2015. Done.
Pascalls: There In the Hard Times
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This morning marked the beginning of this year’s high school exam scrutineering. It’s my third year, and probably my last for a while.
Every year I go into it with good intentions – the work basically being a three-hour leisurely stroll, I figure I can use the time profitably in plotting a novel, composing a sonnet, praying for the nations, revising my times tables or otherwise redeeming each golden minute. But between the heat and monotony and gradually increasing stench rising from the serried ranks of teenage boyhood, I invariably fall into a hypnotic torpor, shuffling mindlessly up and down like a zombie.
The most intellectually stimulating thing I did today, for example, was read the graffiti on the desks. Most of it was genitalia or genitalia-related discourse, but there were a few which showed evidence of original thought. “RIP draw a fish if you’re bored”, followed by a fish, pleased me greatly. “[Illegible name] Your Black” gave me pause for thought. “Kick Back” was intriguing, as it could be variously interpreted as “chill out, dude, life is short” or “resist The Man’s oppressive regime”. But my favourite was one desk which contained not only a number of swastikas, but “JESUS ISNT REAL” and, somewhat obliquely, “TEXAS”. A perfect axis of teenage rebellion, penned no doubt by an atheist Democrat with genocidal tendencies… y’know, that trope of Kiwi high schools.
Other than this, the amusements were few and far between. We had a moment of excitement when a boy claimed his schoolbag had been stolen, but then he found it. I had to frown down a youth who asked me if he’d spelled something right (he had, but we’re not allowed to tell them that. It was ‘thrust’. How would you even misspell that?) A boy finished his exam and wandered out without permission, leaving his paper unattended on his desk, which necessitated a Special Report. Another boy’s pen ran out and I gave him mine; he kept it, which would have been upsetting, only I’d filched it from the supply room and the clicky bit kept falling off. (Rule 1 of scrutineering: do not bring your good pens from home.) I got called “Miss” a lot. There was cake in the break room. And so the morning passed.