Category Archives: Life on my planet…

Teaching … and learning.

Gove is gone.

And GM has just received a conditional offer (medical, CRB) for a primary school PGCE course from Liverpool Hope. [Apparently ‘the woman’ couldn’t stop smiling, nodding and writing ‘like mad’.] As I break up from school, my son is hurling himself head first into a profession that every current practioner seems to be trying to get out of. And my daughter is undertaking her annual fitness test for the Specials – the unpaid but fully ‘armed’ branch of the police.

We’re a strange little family, I reflect. We seem drawn to being ‘ruled by rules’ – teaching them, enforcing them – and me, well, I try to break them as often as possible.

Teacher. The Police. A pair of wonderfully dehumanising nouns. Labels which seem to entitle anyone and everyone to totally, completely and without a shadow of any guilt whatsoever conveniently remove any trace of humanity from their attitudes and behaviour, view and treatment of the said ‘non-people’.

‘The police’ are scary. It’s the uniform. When my daughter first got hers she appeared in the back garden unexpectedly and all I saw was a blur of black and the badge: Heddlu. I was shocked at my reaction at the sight of the uniform on my property and it took a long second or two to ‘see’ my daughter behind it.  My son wasn’t too affected by the day-kit but when she tried on her formal silver-buttons one, his heart raced at the sight of it.

Teachers are scary. It’s the name-thing: ‘Sir’, ‘Miss’. You’re not allowed to call them by their personal name – if you find out a teacher’s first name, it’s like some great treasure or trench warfare – there’s a little bit of ground taken back.

The summer holidays is one of my favourite times of year. Not because I’m not in school – I’m too zonked out and / or bored to think about that – it’s because it’s the only time of year parents hail teachers – and not for what we actually do, but for simply ‘having’ their children.

It costs parents a fortune to occupy and amuse their own children. Just keeping them under some level of control seems to challenge most parents nowadays. What disturbs me most is that these parents feel it’s their job to keep their children busy and engaged in some ‘gainful’ activity every single day. Children are not taught, let alone expected to amuse themselves any more. And children have to do this amusing activity under constant and vigilant adult supervision – because despite research repeatedly demonstrating that it is known family members who abuse children the most frequently, parents continue to be glued to the belief that every corner is hiding some lurking stranger out to steal and harm their child.

So it is little wonder that people who teach, like the people who police, are pretty stressed people. The responsibility of looking after their little wonders, just keeping them safe and occupied, is pretty massive. And then there are those who demand they are educated as well – everyone must be in the top set – as this is seen as some ‘ticket’ to a guaranteed future of gainful and lucatrative employment, and thus a rewarding and happy life. And despite there being little evidence of humanity as a species getting even in the slightest more intelligent, every year, children must leave school with more and better qualifications – whilst standards are maintained.

Stressed Young Teacher writing for The Guardian (click on title for article) is a classic case of a young teacher who clearly has ‘not got it’. The end of term reports, trips and picnics is the icing on the cake – they are not the camel back’s breaking straw ! Nearly every single thing this teacher bemoans is what I love about my job. He is considering giving up – he needs to realise he already has.

People don’t ‘get’ teachers – or the police. Some days I really mind this. Today is one of them. Everything that happens in our society is because of what these two groups of people do. Without the police and teachers, no one can get on with the lives we in our society take for granted. Lots of these people who teach and police get it wrong, make mistakes and get worn out and careless sometimes. There are complete ‘wrong-uns’ as well – corrupt, ill-equipped and incompetent members of these professions tarnish our image and reputations, and damage the lives of individuals, sometimes irreparably.  But by and large, most of them are hard-working and enjoy their work. And are not stressed out of their minds and the job long before they have paid off their student loans for the PGCEs they mistakenly undertook.

Gove is gone. There will be more change – and little will change at the same time. This paradox is about administrative systems, what labels are given to activities and the layout of forms. Little in the English classroom can change – you read the texts and get the kids to think about them. You train them to write about them to earn marks – a little more of this, a little less of that. Unlike science we don’t have to re-evaluate what we know, unlike history we don’t have to re-evaluate what we think, and unlike geography we don’t have re-evaluate what we do. More like mathematics, in English we look at unchanging things – like relationships and emotions, challenges and injustices. We look at how these things have been explored and expressed. Kids still gasp when they realise Romeo and Juliet look into each other eyes for a split second before his poison kicks in – girls still cry when George pulls that trigger.

I swing between resenting having to prove I do my job well and arrogantly enjoying the opportunity to show off; I veer between thinking I’m crap and must do better, and wondering how do I manage to do it so well after all these years. As my son and daughter embark upon the wonderful adventures ahead of them, I am beginning to reflect upon the adventure that has been my pleasure and priviledge to ‘get away with’ – and it’s even paid some bills and kept me fed along the way.

 

 

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The Inevitable Diet begins …

“Your BMI is 33.6, which means you are in the very overweight or obese category. Losing weight would make a big difference to your health – you might want to speak to your GP about the best way to do this.”

‘Inevitable’ is the only word really – middle-aged, middle-class (rarely gets off butt) and ‘middle’-sized (according to someone, size 16 UK is the ‘average’ dress size in Britain, which would be good if I wasn’t a couple of inches off the lowest percentile on the height scale). After losing over 3 st in 2005, I have managed to put back on most of it. Not funny. Having moved down 4 dress sizes I am now on my second one back up.

I have no real incentive to lose weight, to be honest: neither my job nor any of my relationships actually demand me being any particular shape or size: my face is a bigger obstacle to a modelling career and none of my relationships require any ‘taking off of kit’ in anyway – I don’t even have a swimming partner.

There are reasons I would like to be thinner: clothes designed to be worn by walking mannequins look shite on even slightly curvy bods; smoking, drinking and being over-weight is a recipe for a health disaster which will equally ‘ineveitably’ lead in to a hospitalisation which will certainly curtail smoking and drinking (not having that !) and finally, can I really attend a Bon Jovi concert in two months time spilling out of large size 14 jeans? No, rather not.

But the truth is my face is turning into a squashed-egg shape, well, a  football actually. And the ex has apparently lost his over-pregnant  tummy. And all those half-decent trousers and tops that I liked so much from last summer are going to have to be binned. And I’ll have to go back to BHS and buy new – and bigger – clothes. And that is what this is really all about. I hate buying clothes.

I had to buy half a new wardrobe just a couple of months ago. It was agony. Every bit of it. Choosing shapes, styles and colours. Then the vilest bit – trying them on. I avoid getting dressed on the best of days – if I didn’t have a job, and worked at home, I’d live in dual purpose pjs. I hate getting dressed. The physical act of it. Having to do it everyday. I am ‘getting-changed’ phobic. This is why I never participate in anything which requires ‘getting changed’ – swimming especially, but even bowling, which only requires a shoe change, makes me shudder. I would rather dig ditches than change my clothes. In fact, this afternoon I am going to ‘turn the borders over’ with a shiny new garden fork which E. is buying from Tesco as I write. The only bit I am not looking forward to is taking off my nightie and replacing it with some trackies and a top.

So the whole house has been cleared out and spring-cleaned. I have removed all the ‘crap’ from every cupboard and even the car boot has been turned out. (This is a psychological stream-lining, I imagine.) Not only have the fridge, freezer and larder been cleared of calories but I have made a batch of home-made burgers (delicious, even though I do say so myself) and 2 litres of home-made lemonade (15 kcal per average glass) now sits in an old Tesco bottle (relabelled ‘Mum’s with a mushroom logo, of course). I have re-organised the book shelves, and have put all school-only  books and journals in the car to take to school. This afternoon the great garden clear-out begins. The redundant summer house has already been replaced with neat, new turf.

Day 4. 2 lbs lost already. The borders await me.

This post was first published on April 4th 2013

Snowed In and Snowed Under

GM has been home for a week and a half. I’ve had two conversations with him.

Well, I’ve bullocked him twice, to be more precise. He arrived home at Friday teatime with most of his stuff from university and an invisible bag of dust and litter. The said ‘stuff’ was strewn all over his bedroom immediately; the dust and litter were evenly distributed throughout the rest of the house within a few hours. This is accomplished in total secrecy, like magic really:  you don’t see it happening but it suddenly just ‘is’ everywhere. The bigger ‘stuff’ is laid out, named ‘Creation Corner’ and glares defiantly at you declaring, ‘I’m here in the name of his degree – go on, just try to complain about me: you’ll be accused of ‘making him fail’ and of being a Philistine!’

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In addition to the mess outside, God has messed up the outside: we have had the heaviest snow in H.K. in living memory – W., the neighbour opposite has lived in H.K. for 35 years, so that’s a fairly decent ‘living memory’. We missed the good bit – giant flakes of white crystal floating down filling the air with layers of living net curtain landing gracefully on the lawn and covering it with the cliched blanket of white. We woke up and it was there: tonnes of it! And more was coming down from an ugly black sky.

Whether you see it as fortuitous or not, we were warned about the heavy snowfall on Thursday evening as we left the third parents’ evening in three weeks – (spot ‘the moody’ there: yes, this is ‘coursework’ month, and yes, I have sent a snooty email to my line manager* via my weekly department email.) *yes, we now employ factory language to reflect our factory-like attitude to education. – so I left school armed with a huge bag of marking.

The rest of the weekend was ‘fun’: the ‘children’ went up to the Scout ‘Hut’, a formidable brick building, complete with hall, kitchen and huge storage rooms, to build an igloo. Even E. went. Both of them tried to come home at one point or another, and both were sent back out ‘to enjoy themselves’. G. ‘broke’ his car by reversing into a snow drift and disconnected the engine shield. The igloo turned into a snow mould which couldn’t even pretend to be a fat snowman and so the day went slightly ‘failed igloo’ shaped in the end. By Sunday morning G. was besides himself and so I had to get Big Bro out to help fix his car. In turn I then had to offer to do Sunday lunch for ‘his lot’ as well and was forced to venture out to Tesco.

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This was fun. Not. G.M. came with me and was clearly itching to get back out of the place as soon as he stepped over the threshold. He is 3rd Year uni: green, healthy eating, the environment is dying and supermarkets are bastions of pulp animal cruelty and genetically-modified, non-organic lumps masquerading as ‘vegetables’. He later also complained of rude people ‘driving into’ him with their trolleys and of it having too many people in there.

And so it continued. My normally gi-normous kitchen shrank to a cubby hole as my brother and his family invaded – with the dog, obviously. The beef was great and so was G.M.’s school-recipe lemon cheesecake but it was all rather uncomfortable as everyone seemed to have grown since the last dinner we had together.

Monday was completely wasted as E. and I sat around waiting for a 45 minute MOT on ‘Miley’ Micra to take six hours (because they were having “a ‘mare wiv a van stuck up the ramps”) but yesterday I had to face up to making a start on the marking. There is a stack of it: Year 13 3,000 word coursework drafts and six sets of practice GCSE papers.

HfRvtRyRheJust as I was getting back on the hamster wheel I had to get dressed properly to go to see ‘Educating Rita’ at the local theatre. It was great: including getting out of the snow-filled car park and an idiot trying to barge into a single line queue going in the opposite direction who shouted at me. J., G.’s, mum hurled back, “You’re ugly!” at him. This must rate as the most random and bizarre insult I have ever heard. I was gutted that I had to drive off without being able to see the chaos that must have ensued, as there was no way all the traffic behind us were going to realise the queue had come to a standstill because of one or two cars were determined to drive down what had become a single lane. Who would have thought the biggest laugh of the evening was from leaving the place. The snow, it seems, is a bit like old age: it has not come alone!

This post was first published on March 28th 2013

Digging.

I have spent the afternoon digging a trench around the summer house. As you do. When you notice puddles creeping up above the slabs it is sitting on and the woodwork looking rather wet.

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All the hedge cuttings and dead leaves from the last 11 years have been piled up behind the summer house and finally turned to a gorgeous compost. Unfortunately this has stopped all the rain draining away! Even worse the water has eroded the earth underneath away and it is clearly leaning backwards! The entire garden looks a mess – remnants of dead leaves, clumps of wet grass and horrible, lifeless patches of mud around the montebretia. In the midst of all this the poor little summer house is looking wet, dark and tawdry. It may be time to finally say goodbye.

This entry was first posted on February 10 2013. 

The New Bed and Green Tea

So, the new bed finally arrived.

After weeks of a cronky back and years of this giant sprawling across most of my bedroom, on the last day of the Christmas holiday I finally took the plunge and bought a new one.

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As soon as I got home from the bed shop – in which I had to ask the salesman to leave me alone whilst I made various starfish and snow angel shapes, and faked tossing and turning on every bed they had – I knew I had made a mistake: apart from the extra storage the drawers would give me, and perhaps a few inches of extra floor space, I realised I would need a new headboard and bed clothes. And my cronky back was probably more to do with wearing 5 inch stilettos every day.

Waiting for the delivery men on Saturday morning I decided that my old bed wasn’t even a kingsize and the whole thing was just a waste of money. The delivery men were very professional and quickly assembled the new bed whilst I collected all the cardboard and plastic wrapping for the recycling. And then they left. And I started to make the new bed up.

First the sheet … and, hang on,  this feels a bit odd … and then the duvet …  there is definitely something different here … and then … Oh my god! How feckin high is this?!?!!?

Well for a start, it was so high I couldn’t actually ‘sit’ on it! The only way I could get my little fat bum up on it was by standing on tip-toe and jerking myself backwards up to it!! How could this have happened? I didn’t have to do this in the shop! Was this actually the bed I had ordered? What on earth had I been thinking? And then I realised: in the shop I had been wearing my 5 inch stilettos!

Later that night I had to adopt a weird hurdling-like shape with my right knee and actually climb on to the bloody thing! Once ‘up there’  the ceiling seemed to have moved down to meet me and the glaze on the wall-mounted LCD tv had now disappeared! When I had a mad sneezing fit at three in the morning and had to get out of /off it to get some tissue from the bathroom, I had to dangle my legs down the side and then slide down it (think inside-out abseiling without the safety gear) until my feet found the floor. Except that I didn’t quite get that far – for just as I was about to ‘go over’ another huge sneeze propelled first my head and then the rest of my body forward and across the room straight into a glass-doored bookcase! About one inch away from killing myself by slashing some important vein and ending up looking like some bizarre murder victim!

And although this may not be one of the most hilarious stores ever recounted it is just the kind of thing a certain Mr Tony Zaidel would have loved to take the piss about. So I dedicate my latest ‘You just couldn’t make it up’ to him.

Cup with green tea and green leaves.

He’d have liked this one too: Shopping list for E. today: foil, olive oil, fish food and Clipper Organic tea bags. 

Get home from work. Need cuppa. Boil kettle, place newly purchased teabag in mug. Pour water over teabag. Water turns green. “Emma, my tea is green.” “What do you mean ‘green’?” “It’s green. The water is green.” “It’s what?” “It’s green!” Brain kicks in. “You’ve bought green tea!” “What’s green tea?”

This entry was first posted on February 13th 2013.

 

Just when I thought it was all over it snowed properly and E. signed me up for three more years of slavery.

Considering I have spent the last four years worrying about my raison etre ceasing, there seems to be an awful lot of more raison etre occurring.

The son has now decided to apply for an MA in London – one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, undertaking a course for which there is no financial aid.

However, in all fairness, this is less than surprising since he has always been less than resistant to take on board my philosophy of putting off full-time employment for as long as possible. What has been surprising is E.’s sudden adoption of this.

She is now applying for a three-year course at the local university to study Crime and Criminology.

I am never going to be able to retire at this rate: and ironically, it was only a few days ago I was saying how wonderful it was to have no more studying in our house: no more homework; no more revision; no more summers awaiting exam results.

To cheer me up Bon Jovi released their new single…

This entry was  first posted on January 26 2013.

 

Snow Day and What Teachers Do When Their Prayers are Answered

Knew the school would be closed. IMG00329-20130121-1408 buses can’t get the kids back up the lanes to the little villages. But town and the main roads were clear so the Head decided it was worth giving it a go – until the coach companies informed him they couldn’t  guarantee getting kids home safely. Got the ‘school closed’ text half-way to school. It was all quite jolly at school – staff being turned away at the gate, inside it was bacon butties and the head smiling away, sixth formers in to do January A level exams – all     good fun.

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Massive queues on the dual carriageway so decided to go home ‘the long way round’ and called in at Tescos – bought mushrooms and E. and I had a huge plate of mushroom and onion gravy with bacon and sausage for breakfast.

Spent the rest of the afternoon pottering around the house and had annual drawer clear-out – this is what snow days are for.

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Spent Saturday and most of today marking A level coursework – and trying to take photos of birds in front garden. They don’t usually turn up till around one o’clock but they flocked in around eleven this morning. The robin turned up late and missed the stale bread and bacon rinds so had to give him two slices of fresh loaf. Took him ages to venture down from next door’s roof and then he fled before I could get camera back out.

The Great British Motorist. Some great pics of idiots driving with tiny ‘windows’ in the snow on their car windscreens.

This was first posted on January 21 2013