I haven’t been around blog world for about a month now, and I’ve missed you all. I was busy finishing off my last two essays and dissertation, and so had to stay right away from blog posts to avoid distraction. Yesterday I handed it all in and I’m finished, hurrah!!! It was definitely a challenge doing it in one year rather than the three years that was the more usual option, but I’m so pleased that I chose that route because now I’m finished, hurrah!!! (Did I say that already?).

In the year of my course I wrote six 4,000 word essays and one 18,000 word dissertation, obviously it’s all the reading and research around each one that takes the most time. With each essay, and the dissertation, I seemed to go through the same kind of anxiety pattern, and I decided to turn that into a chart for your entertainment (To read it, you’ll probably have to click on it to open it up bigger, unless you’re on a phone or other small device in which case you’re going to struggle to read it whatever, and therefore I wouldn’t bother trying, just accept that you would have really liked it if you’d been able to read it, so just smile and nod).

Essay anxiety chart

What’s been happening in blog world then? I clearly won’t be able to catch up on all the posts I missed, but I will gradually make my rounds and visit my regulars. In the meantime, if there are any posts you wrote (or saw) in the last month that you really think I should read, then by all means pop a link to them in the comments and I shall endeavour to visit soon.

Hope everyone is well, and I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things around here again now!


Disconnected Reflections As I Enter The Home Straight

Equality does not mean justice

This picture is a good representation of some of the issues I’ve looked at. There are so many versions of it online I don’t know where it originated in order to credit properly

We’ll be back to some funny stuff around here soon, but not yet. I’m nearing the end of my Masters Degree, and over the year that I’ve been working on it, I’ve kept note of little facts and quotes that I’ve found interesting, or things that I’ve learned which I wanted to remember because they’ll be useful in other contexts. There are far too many to share in one post, so I’ve selected a few…

I’ve learned that:

- If I reach the point where I feel blocked in my writing, whether from writing exhaustion, or lack of inspiration, and I’m just staring at a blank screen, I can break through that block by simply changing something physical about what I’m doing. This usually means either picking up my laptop and moving to a different room, or switching to writing a few paragraphs in longhand on paper instead (yes, I still have to type it up later, but it’s worth it just to break through the block). I can’t fully express quite how incredibly effective this method is for me. Previously I would have either taken a break, or switched to a different task, but this way I can carry right on with what I’m doing which is sometimes what needs to be done.

- Goal setting doesn’t work for me. I always knew this really but because it’s repeatedly put forward as the best way to achieve things, I kept doing it, and kept feeling like a failure when I didn’t achieve my goals. During my course I read an article by Joanna Swann who is fiercely opposed to the practice of goal and target setting; she speaks particularly about the field of education, but what she says can be applied wider. In short, she puts forward an alternative method of achieving what needs to be achieved, by articulating it as a series of problems that need to be resolved rather than goals or targets that need to be met. Clearly everybody is different, but what she said really resonated with me and it’s worked when I’ve put it into practice. (I have already mentioned this to a few other bloggers individually).

- When I’ve completed a writing session, it’s worth spending a couple of minutes jotting down where I had got to in my thought process and what I was planning to write about next. It makes it much easier to get right back into it next time. It’s so easy to forget where we were in our thought process if we leave it, even for a day.


A picture from one of my study days at home – not too shabby right?

A couple of quotes I liked:

- “We become conscious of many of our expectations only when they are disappointed, owing to their being unfulfilled. An example would be encountering an unexpected step in one’s path: it is the unexpectedness of the step which may make us conscious of the fact that we expected to encounter an even surface.” (Karl Popper)

- “He who loses his crown and lives without it is more than a king: from the rank of a king he rises to the rank of a man.” (Jean-Jack Rousseau)

A couple of things that came up which made me think:

- The Chinese (as I understand it) believe that the differences in educational achievement between students are attributed primarily to the different rates at which people learn, and not to different ceilings that people are capable of reaching. Whilst I don’t wholly embrace that view, I do think it’s worth considering in part, especially when we talk about helping children to “reach their full potential” which is a term that I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with, because I find it actually quite limiting.

- If a teacher said that they had a child of 14 years old in their class who couldn’t read or write very well, or couldn’t add up simple numbers, we would probably describe that child as having special educational needs (or in the UK we would, other countries have other terms of course). Whereas if a teacher said they had a child of 14 years old on their class who wasn’t very good at composing music, or remembering dates in history, we wouldn’t attribute that to special needs, we’d just say that different people are good at different things.  So some subjects are deemed to be the deciders of whether people have something wrong with them or not. There are reasons behind that of course, but it’s still worth a little ponder before we make those judgments.

Studying with the cat

Another study day, with help from the cat

Right, better get back to those essays now…

Hurry Back Valerie

Me and girls in France

From L to R: Me, Emmanuelle, Joanne, Valerie. France, 1976, shortly before we moved up to the mountain.

Visitors to the mountain were extremely rare. In fact, aside from the night that I’m about to recount, I can only remember one other occasion in the year when we had visitors, but that’s a tale for another day.

The other children and I slept in the same room. We had a motley assortment of beds and mismatched bedding, and I was in charge of making the beds every morning. We generally slept well after our daily wanders in the mountain air. On this particular night, we had gone to bed. As usual. And drifted off easily. As usual. I couldn’t tell you what time it was, but sometime after we had fallen asleep, we were awoken by the sound of loud bangs. Pounding bangs. We sprang up sharply in our beds. Confused. Fearful. More bangs. After some whispered discussion we concluded that it must be someone at the door. Somebody was pounding at the door. Who? It wasn’t a noise we were used to.

We sat very still. Unsure. Afraid. Shortly afterwards, we heard the adults lumber down the stairs. More bangs. Raised voices . The door must have been opened because the banging stopped, and new voices were heard. Muffled. We couldn’t make out what was being said, and people were shouting over each other.

Next, the sound of something being dragged. Furniture being moved? Why? Doors being open and closed. Still the raised voices. What was happening? Why was nobody coming to tell us what was happening? We had instinctively clustered together on the same bed now and held each other tightly. Joanne said that she would creep down the stairs a little to peep. Joanne was brave, but we said she was too young, so Valerie went instead. We urged caution, and let her go. We waited. Clutched each other in the darkness. Hurry back Valerie.

After a short amount of time, she scampered back in. She didn’t speak until she was right back into our huddle, and in urgent hushed tones announced “C’est la police!”

This is my fourth memoir piece from the year I spent as a child living self-sufficiently with my mother and another family in an abandoned village in the French Alps, with no electricity, or any modern conveniences. If you missed the previous parts, they are here: A year in the French Alps

How Vivid the Painted Rainbow Stripes Were

Vanessa and Emmanuelle

Me (bottom) and Emmanuelle. France, 1976

There were rainbow stripes painted on the upright canes. So pretty. Magical almost to our young eyes. There were four canes, wedged firmly into the ground, and they formed the four corners which supported the makeshift roof. The whole thing was no wider than the width of my arms stretched out, or rather Emmanuelle’s arms, as she was the one that took the measurement. And probably half the depth, but I can’t be sure because we didn’t measure that. The canes were of the type that might be used in gardening, for plants to know which way to grow, thicker though than the ones my Dad used for his tomato plants. The sides and roof had been made from branches and grasses that must have been found close by. It was difficult to tell though where the structure ended and natural growth started, because they had become intertwined over time.

We pushed through the growth and sat inside. There was just enough room for the four of us to kneel in there. We looked up at the sky through the gaps in the branches of the roof. We knew there would be much fun and adventure to be had here, but not today. Today was for sitting and looking up and around and feeling happy at our new discovery. We imagined children such as ourselves must have made it, maybe with grown-up help too. We were sure it must have been made for playing in though, we couldn’t imagine grown-ups having a use for it. This was a place for make-believe.

It must have been there for some time because nobody lived in that part of the mountain any more apart from us. It had somehow withstood the adverse weather that is prone up there, and still it stood. Perhaps more surprising was how vivid the painted rainbow stripes were still. Yellow. Red. Orange. Green. Blue. It aroused the curiosity of young minds. We wondered whether the children would come back sometime to play in it again. Or just to see if it was still here. Perhaps we would get to meet them. What fun that would be. New people to play with. But maybe they were too old to play now.

We had ventured a little further than usual today, probably further than we were allowed if we were to check. Sometimes it’s best not to check.

This is my third memoir piece from the year I spent as a child living self-sufficiently with my mother and another family in an abandoned village in the French Alps, with no electricity, or any modern conveniences. If you missed the first two parts, they are here: A year in the French Alps

A Small Favour (with a ‘u’) To Ask…

Dolls in school

I need some help with sharing a link, via Twitter, or whatever means you would like. It’s part of the research that I’m doing for my dissertation. I’m looking at how mentoring is used with students in schools, particularly students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

I’ve set up a survey which is for staff in any schools in England (secondary school age) to fill in. Even if you’re not based in England yourself, you probably have followers on your social media platforms who are, so the more people who can share the link, the more potential survey-completers I will find!

This is the link to the survey:

I’ve prepared a couple of versions of a tweet that you can simply copy and paste (you’re welcome), or feel free to share the link to the survey in any other way you would like. I would be SOOOOOO grateful.


Do you work in a secondary school in England? Do you have 10 mins to fill in a survey? @VanessaJ2011

If you work in a secondary school in England, please consider filling in this survey, thank you! @VanessaJ2011

The survey will be open for two weeks initially, but I may extend if I need to.

Apologies that I haven’t been as active in reading and commenting on your blogs lately, I’ve been busy with my studies, some of you have been lucky enough to receive a visit from me, ha! But it’s all been a bit random. Normal service will resume in September.

Thanks in advance of your help!

photo credit: - Annetta - via photopin cc

Packaging and Meaningless Multipliers

Woman and cleaning products

With such a range of cleaning products, it’s no wonder that lucky gal is delighted!

I have previously expressed my amusement at packaging labelling (oh yes, it’s all party party party around here!). Recently I’ve been noticing something new – an increase in the use of meaningless multipliers. Let me explain…

First, take my make-up remover wipes. Actually don’t take them, I need them, just look at them:

Makeup wipes I don’t know if you can read the small black print on there, but it says “2 doses of cleansing milk”. To the best of my knowledge, a dose is not a specific amount in itself, and nowhere on the packaging do they tell us how how much one dose of cleansing milk is, therefore stating that there are two doses is completely meaningless.

And look at these crisps:

Crisps Twice flavoured indeed (and yes Mike, flavoured has a “u” in it).  It seems to me it would be more efficient to just put enough flavour on in the first place rather than having to do it twice.


My laundry liquid says “3 x Cleaning System” :

Laundry liquid

Does anyone have any idea what “3 x Cleaning System” means? I certainly don’t, and there is no explanation on the back either about it. Just the usual instructions, warnings, and reassurance that the queen is a fan of products made by this company – I always insist that my household products have that royal stamp of approval, if it’s not good enough for the queen then it’s not good enough for me right? :

Back of laundry liquid  Queen approval

My hair conditioner boasts “Triple resist x 3″ So does that mean 9 times resist then? And what is it resisting? Close scrutiny I expect.


In fairness to this conditioner, it does attempt to explain what triple resist means with a little list of three things further down:

1. Reinforces
2. Nourishes from root
3. Feels stronger

I’m not convinced that those three things actually work as an explanation for “Triple resist x 3″ though – Number 3, “Feels stronger”, surely that’s an outcome of numbers 1 and 2 working well? But I guess we’re not meant to over-think any of these meaningless multipliers, we’re just meant to believe that we’re getting a few times more of something than we would usually expect to get.

Have you noticed any meaningless multipliers cropping up on your packaging?

Smiling lady with cleaning products photo credit: missmac via photopin cc

The Vocabulary Holding Zone


Drawing of Vanessa looking in a dictionary

My wonderful blogging/doodling/author friend, Mike Allegra, drew this picture of me specifically for this post. Do you think he’s captured my likeness?

A lot of words cannot be fully explained by the dictionary alone. They have a subtle hidden meaning that can’t adequately be described, it is only through hearing the word being used regularly that we grasp their full meaning. Or they have more than one meaning and the context is everything. This is one of the reasons why learning another language can be so difficult, and it’s also why translations are often so funny – a literal meaning of the word is used without an understanding of the more subtle sub-meaning, or alternative meaning. Some of you may remember these mistranslations  I posted a while ago. Many of them (though not all by any means) would actually stand up to a dictionary definition, but a greater knowledge of the meaning is needed to see why they are funny.


All of this is why I am sometimes reluctant to incorporate new words into my vocabulary until I’m confident I understand their full meaning, not just the dictionary definition. We all occasionally hear words that we feel drawn to – either we like the sound of the word itself (Like “serendipity” or “discombobulated”), or we look up the definition of a word and feel that we like the meaning and can see uses for the word in our vocabulary. They’re not necessarily completely new words to us, they may well have blipped across our radar many times, but didn’t register before. I like to put those words into a vocabulary holding zone; I think I’ve understood them but I can’t be totally sure until I hear them used several more times. Once I’m happy, then they can graduate into my general vocabulary zone. Once in the general vocabulary zone then I have to make a conscious effort to use them a few times quite soon to make sure they are properly glued into that zone, otherwise they will slip out, and goodness knows where they end up after that.

1) Some of my recent graduates from the holding zone into the general vocabulary zone, with dictionary definitions, are:

Gravitasseriousness, solemnity, or importance (Gravitas spent a few years in the holding zone – I’d understood what it meant for a long time and yet hadn’t had the confidence to use it for some reason, so it had to keep repeating a year before it was able to graduate. I think that says a lot about the word itself – gravitas is a word with gravitas! Those who are familiar with it will know that it has more to it than the definition alone).

Rhetoricthe art of using speech to persuade, influence, or please (It has other definitions too, but this is the one I’ve picked. Again, it’s a word that has been around me for a number of years because I work in a university and it’s a very university word, but it’s only since I went back to studying several months back that I’ve been able to incorporate it myself.)

Disaggregate - to separate from a group or mass (this one didn’t need long in the holding zone).

Polemicof or involving dispute or controversy (not quite as straightforward as it sounds).

2) Words currently in my holding zone, with dictionary definitions, are:

Nomenclaturethe terminology used in a particular science, art, activity, etc (I think I’m happy with the meaning of this word, it’s more a crisis of pronunciation with this one, I can’t say it fluently yet).

Zeitgeist - the spirit, attitude, or general outlook of a specific time or period, esp as it is reflected in literature, philosophy, etc (I love this word, I might give it some extra special attention so that it can graduate quickly, but ssshhh, don’t tell the other words).

Hermeneuticof or relating to the interpretation of Scripture (I can’t see that I’ll have much opportunity to use this word, but it’s just a very satisfying word to say out loud. Try it, all together now – “Hermeneutic!” See?).

Reificationthe act or an instance of making an abstract idea or concept real or concrete (this is a very new entry into the holding zone, wish it luck).

I can date the development of my vocabulary holding zone concept to my late teens when I had just started working. I had never understood what “cynical” meant, but knew I wanted to use it, so I looked it up in the dictionary and thought I understood it. In order to impress one of the bosses at my work with my wide vocabulary, I threw it into a sentence, like “He’s being rather cynical isn’t he!”. To which he replied “Well I wouldn’t exactly call that cynical”. Drats. And thus the holding zone was born.

Do you like to incorporate new words into your vocabulary? If so, do you have a holding zone for them, or do you just throw caution to the wind and start using them right away? Any recent additions to your vocabulary you’d like to share?

Picture credits:
Doodle of Vanessa by Mike Allegra
Dictionary photo credit: jovike via photopin cc

Three Things Thursday

I was trying to think of a catchy title for a sundries post for today and thought I was oh-so-clever coming up with “Three Things Thursday”. Then I decided to Google it and discovered others have come up with that name already. Sigh. Is there nothing new and original any more? And now I’ve just realised that it’s still Wednesday. Well I’m going with it anyway. It’ll be Thursday soon enough.

Thursday Thing One:

Last week I filmed some pickups for an independent feature film that I have a small part in called Marriage. It’s a small, but significant, part and I’ve loved being involved with this film. The filming began towards the end of 2012, and they hope to have the film completed and ready to rock and roll by the end of 2014. They need time and funding to get it finished. This is the trailer for it. There’s a very brief glimpse of me around 1min 44secs on the right hand side of the screen with a cut lip:


Did you catch me? And if you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s a 9 minute documentary about the making of it. Again, I make a brief, but slightly longer, appearance around 8mins 21secs:


Thursday Thing Two:

As some of you know, I’m one of the contributing bloggers over at the Limebird Writers’ site. For various reasons, we’ve decided that the Limebirds will be no more. It felt quite sad, but we’ll all be keeping in touch. The site will stay up anyway so that our archive posts can still be accessed. Our goodbye post is here

Thursday Thing Three:

For the benefit of some of my newer followers, if you’re interested in cooking, you may like to know that I also have a cookery blog, I don’t post there very often, but I posted something last week, and thought it was time I gave it another shout out over here. Here it is – Sugarness

And one final thing…oh wait… my three things are up! I knew I should have made this Four Fings Friday instead.

Well, enough showcasing of my stuff. Any Thursday things you’d like to share with the class on this fine Wednesday? Or while we’re showcasing, feel free to showcase, or show-off, any of your own things in the comments, go on, don’t be shy…

Handy Things My Computer Does That My General Life Doesn’t

Computer graphic image

1) Gives me an “Are you sure?” prompt before I make any big changes.

2) Lets me know very quickly if I’ve made an error, often even suggesting ways to correct it.

3) Allows me to delete things and start again.

4) Warns me when my memory is running low so that I can make alternative arrangements for storing information.

Elephant with computer

5) Allows me to replace parts or upgrade when things wear out or need updating.

6) Gives me a status bar so that I can see how much longer there is to go until something is finished.

7) Offers “Help” at the touch of a button.

8) Allows me to recover things that I thought were lost forever.

9) Auto corrects me as I go along.

10) Allows me to be in several places at once.

11) Warns me when there might be a virus around.

And best of all…

12) Lets me know when it’s necessary to shut down for a bit.

Sleeping dog

Can you think of anything else your computer, or any other technology, does that you wish your life did? 
photo credit: opal nova via photopin cc
photo credit: via photopin cc
photo credit: Plbmak via photopin cc

Using My Knife as a Mirror, and Seven Other Quirky Things I Do

People doing strange things on a beach

This isn’t one of the quirky things I do, but only because I haven’t previously thought of doing it. Anyone want to join me, it looks like fun?

Last year I posted Five things I do that I wonder if you do too. Here are some more things I do that I wonder if you do too…

1) When watching cookery contests on TV, I worry unnecessarily that the food has probably gone cold by the time the judges get to taste it.

2) If I’m reading a book while out in public, I always read a bit faster than usual in case someone is watching and might think I’m a slow reader (no idea why I think they would care, or why they would be timing me, or what scale of average page read times they would be measuring me against, or what would happen if I fell short).

3) I always feel the need to apologise for my unkempt appearance to any unexpected person who knocks at my door to deliver something, sell something, or attempt to religiously convert me. “Oh, sorry my hair is a mess, only the cat kept me up half the night and so I slept in a bit later than usual, but I am going to wash it later before I go out – my hair that is, not the cat, the cat can wash itself.”

4) I make clothing purchase choices based largely on whether it is something I’ll be able to get away with not ironing.

5) I often have suspicions that I eat a lot more than other people do.

6) I use my knife as a mirror in restaurants to check I haven’t got spinach in my teeth.

7) I buy Christmas presents for my pets, and then won’t tell anyone what I bought unless I’m sure the animals are out of earshot.

8) If my chair squeaks, or a floorboard I’m standing on creaks, or anything else makes a sound that is even vaguely fart-like, I will deliberately remake the sound lots of times in a row, exaggerating the physical gestures required to make the sounds, just to be absolutely sure nobody else around could possibly think that I actually DID fart (the fact that they might think I’m completely nuts obviously doesn’t bother me).

Anything ring true for you here? Any quirky things you do that you wonder whether others do too?