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Archive for the ‘Life in general’ Category

I realise this blogging malarkey should be regular; I’m painfully aware that I have not blogged in what feels to me like a lifetime. ‘Painfully’ because as a writer (in a previous life) writing used to be a way of life; a way to vent frustrations, catalogue and celebrate successes, self indulge and hope that one day you could write that piece that would catapult you into the literary elite. Alas, with little persistence and regularity as a writer I was forever destined to be merely part of the amateur self-publishing clique – whose writings stay housed within personal journals or the archived local press pages.

Since retraining to teach writing, along with all other facets of myself, has taken more than a back seat – it’s all but been cancelled out by the daily grind of teaching. Teaching as a profession often feels like being fossilised; trapped under the immense daily pressure and never-ending list of things to achieve. As such, I have become far too engrossed in the daily machinations of being a teacher – planning, marking and reporting. But this isn’t a blog about the tribulations and troubles of a teacher; a topic heavily documented, especially this year due to the educational climate in the UK. This blog is about my own journey as a human being over the past year and a half as a fully-qualified and as I see glimmers of a life-once-loved slowly returning to sight.

One such glimmer is the ‘me’ as writer. After a particularly care-free and hedonistic Christmas break I was skillfully ignoring the mountain of marking staring at me from my desk and the hours of up-skilling I needed to do ahead of the next term as a still relatively-new and inexperienced teacher of English and media. Drastic measures were needed if I was to avoid the inevitable last-minute planning panic that was about to ensue if this state of semi-ignorant bliss continued. Those drastic measures involved me booking a quick two-day trip away from the comfort of my reclining chair and BT Vision box.

Within 4 hours of arriving in the sanctuary of Llangollen (with laptop and marking neatly stored in my luggage) I had achieved: (in no particular order) a two-course meal, two pints, over half my marking done and written two poems, including a sonnet (the first creative writing I have done in a good many years). Proof be, if proof be needed, that breaking the cycle is healthy and was indeed, much needed.

As I reflect on the past year (an annual past-time in December, I believe) I am spurred into a renewed sense of excitement for myself as I embrace these glimmers of the old me – as writer, as traveller, as woman even. You see everything stopped for me while I adjusted to my new vocation. Wanting to be able to do something well is all-encompassing, no matter what it might be, and, as you will see from this year’s book diary, I have struggled to find time to do anything else.

Becoming a teacher was my final calling, but in answering the call I ceased to be good at anything else: I failed in my relationship, turned my back on my family and friends, scarcely wrote but a few lines in my journal, gave up on choir, and instead found myself in a relentless cycle of term time (hard, emotionless and focused) and holidays (letting hair down excessively). Somewhere in all of this I forgot to be me. So it was with relief and vigour with which I enjoyed writing my sonnet yesterday – not only was it a moment in my own history but a turning point in what could have shaped up to be a pretty pathetic and sad year.

The proverbial jury is still out on whether I have made the right decisions giving up everything I once knew to commit to this career; God knows I adore what I do – the students, the ‘light-bulb’ moments and the literary research I do – but there is no denying it is not just a job. I have felt moments of turmoil this past year that I recognise from the shaky and unknowing years of my youth. I have felt hopeless, and tired, and often questioned whether I have what it takes (and it takes a great deal). But north Wales – hoorah! you have restored in me the me I longed to see and speak to at this critical time. God bless you.

The moral? A change is as good as rest.

The sonnet? Well, seems only fair to pair the renewed blog-writer with the renewed poet.

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I’ve held back on adding yet another ‘viewpoint’ to this already hyped-up and over-saturated blog market and media analysis on what has been happening in UK cities over the past 4 days, but I’ve just seen a Tweet that quotes Cameron as attributing some of the blame to bad parenting.  I think this is the right time for me to document my views. Not necessarily for the mass market, and my views are certainly not fixed – I keep hearing differing opinions and experiences that make me re-think my position – but the issue of ‘parenting’ in the modern climate is something which I feel very strongly about.

I can’t quote exactly what Cameron said, I wasn’t listening at the time, but I can gauge the gist from what is being discussed now on Twitter in the aftermath of his second public address on the issues of the UK riots.

It’s no secret that I am an advocate of education, and that I feared youngsters would be priced out of education by the increase in fees and loss of EMA, so it comes as no surprise then that a small part of me wants to stand up for the kids who want an education, and who want to play an active part in society rather than be a statistic or a part of the “completely ignored underclass” as quoted by Camila Batmanghelidjh, founder of Kids Company in this wonderful article in today’s BBC coverage.

There is a view in many schools that teachers are left to do the work of parents with little or no back up from the parents or carers themselves, a view also touched on in the above BBC article, and I’ve been saying throughout the last few days that politicians seem to at best misunderstand and at worst be clueless about what really goes on in a large number of UK homes these days.

Calls by MPs and the Metropolitan Police for parents to ‘contact their kids’, ‘tell them to come home’ and to ‘ask them difficult questions about their whereabouts’ I fear were falling on deaf ears, confirmed by reports that some kids were out with their parents at the time, and my own knowledge and experience of families who are not interested in raising law-abiding and moral members of society, for a variety of reasons.  I know mothers who steal alcohol for their daughters, who let them smoke pot, and who also smile and smirk at their offspring acquiring ASBOs or police warnings – all part of being a member of the “underclass”, a badge of honour that you are a notable member of that class, that you are succeeding. And a sure sign that they have no fear or belief in the justice system, no fear of consequence. Add to this the fear of the law felt by teachers and some parents for too long now, and I’m afraid to conclude we are now feeling the effects of them feeling powerless to discipline unruly children.

I appreciate those last few paragraphs may come off as an ‘awfully middle-class’ thing to say, but it’s my summary of the things I have seen ‘on the streets’; David Cameron and ‘Bumbling’ Boris Johnson – these are hard times, and it’s time to face the real but hard facts about just who is involved in your ‘Big Society’ vision.

There are some parents today who really don’t care where there kids are of an evening, as long as they are out from under their feet.  Then there are parents who find themselves in tough positions because they have wound up with an army of offspring who they love and care for but do not have the support network themselves with which to provide a fulfilling and disciplined upbringing for their children.

I’ve worked with one such parent in Bristol. She is a single parent with no fewer than six children! No one could argue she doesn’t love her kids. No one could say she doesn’t try. But with a limited education herself she finds it hard to support her kids academically at home. She volunteers at all the kids’ schools and she tries to make up for her lack of academic support in other ways. But during an intervention meeting at one child’s school the representatives from all the Bristol authorities working with her family insisted she needed to take parenting classes. Great, a proactive step in empowering her with the tools to cope with the varying needs of all these children. Not so great when the class is held on the other side of Bristol at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. She has six kids, all of different ages, all needing care throughout the day. Do they offer a crèche for her while she attends the classes over the 12-week period? No, they don’t. So she is stuck in a self-perpetuating cycle of not being able to accept the help the school and the council think she should.

This is just one example of where the support network and the ideas of helping parents be better parents fall down, and this is before many of the cuts have kicked in, so let’s realise these problems are already in place, and I fear will only get worse over the coming years. This example also features a loving and aspirational Mother trying to do what she can to get by. This example excludes all those kids whose parents do not value education, maybe because they have no respect for the opportunity it brings, perhaps because they have never seen anyone achieve who comes from a similar background, or perhaps because they believe MPs and educators are all crooks and time wasters.  We’ve uncovered at least four separate complex issues in this last paragraph alone which all need addressing individually and holistically.

I feel I’m doing a terrible job of articulating my thoughts, and the inspiration I felt in an instant to catalogue them post-Cameron’s speech. Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know I have made several conflicting points over the past few days, and my ‘standpoint’ (if there can ever be one) is ambiguous at best. But my belief in ensuring that all the systems are in place to support those who want support are in place is stronger now than it has ever been, and it’s not just about making sure fathers stick around. My dad didn’t. I still grew up ok. I funded my own education, ok I borrowed the money from the state to fund it, but I still had aspirations to improve opportunities. I have worked since I have been able to. There isn’t one inch of me that could find the reason or ability to steal a pair of trainers or set fire to someone’s home or business. But I do know how hard it is out there for parents and teachers, and we need to empower these people to become the driving force of ambition for the children of tomorrow. And this should be at the heart of whatever plans are hatched by Parliament tomorrow to deal with the issues uncovered in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, Gloucester…

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It’s now officially Twestival week, T-minus 3 days until showtime. I wanted to do a quick note about what we’ve been through recently in trying to organise this event.

The spirit of Twestival is that you only have 4-5 weeks to build an event from scratch, our team consists of volunteers and Dan and I have basically managed to get everything sorted now.

We picked a venue, we secured a great band through a contact, we selected a charity by community decision and we put out a call for raffle prizes, all about 3 or 4 weeks ago now.

The more I tried to sort out, the more problems I uncovered. The basis of which was that we’d secured an awesome band but with an intimidating technical spec!  Given that our original venue had no sound equipment at all, I set about the task of seeking out everything from the list.

Over the past 2 weeks I’ve pleaded with various strangers, poured my heart and soul out to all the random numbers I have called, and with less than a week to go upon the advice of numerous Bristol sound engineers the decision was taken to try and find a venue which was already geared up to house bands of this calibre.

Just this morning did I get such a venue confirmed: The Metropolis, formerly Jesters, of Cheltenham Road, Bristol. Their manager is a wonderful man, and if he doesn’t make a certain amount over the bar then he is running our event at a loss, and after giving us the venue for free I truly am praying this doesn’t happen.

Now, I can’t set about my next list of things to do without first reflecting on all the help and advice I have received from strangers this week – so thank you Bristol, you really have been amazing.

We’ve now got a shit-hot venue, a great line-up of bands (Dub Mafia and Temple Circus and Pieman Beatbox), a superb raffle with some amazing prizes like the iPad2 and the Kindle, a truly heart-warming and worthy charity in the Rainbow Centre, and a stupidly low door price of £7 in advance. I have to ask, Bristol, seriously now, what more do you want?

After all the effort and man-hours that have gone into this, sleepless nights for me and Dan, additional worry and stress on top of everything else that goes with it and trying to hold down our regular jobs, I really hope that people buy a ticket for Thursday 24th March and turn out to support our charity.

We raised £6,000 last year, and we want to do so well for our local charity this year. But we’ve done our bit, and it’s a bloody big bit! So now it’s up to you music-, drink-, and prize-lovers of Bristol, get your ticket now!

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As news of this year being a census year reached the recesses of my brain, my initial thought was to boycott it. It’s the automatic rebel in me – when I can flip the Government the bird, I will. And then I started challenging myself; haven’t I grown up yet? What really is my reasoning for not wanting to complete the form? And so when I saw it, and when I heard it takes 40 minutes to complete, I figured this might be reason enough to boycott it. I’m a busy girl, working hard and spending nothing to ensure I pay off my debts, can afford my spiralling food and utility bills, and pay my ever-increasing taxes. Isn’t that contribution enough?

But as with anything, you can’t really have an opinion about something unless you first know something about it, so I got to reading up on it a bit.

I know it happens every 10 years, although I don’t remember doing one 10 years ago, perhaps because I was a rebellious student at the time who smoked too much weed. I also know that it started in 1801, and the only time we haven’t had one was during The War. I know the logo is purple. And I am told that it is ‘sponsored’ by an arms company. I’ve also read that even if you are a Christian you shouldn’t tick to say that you are ‘religious‘. I’m told it is illegal not to complete it but also that that is impossible to enforce, so becomes a moot point.

But this isn’t enough. I still can’t make up my mind. I guess I should open the damned thing to see what it is they really want to know before I pass my judgment on whether to complete it or not, but as with all the mail I get from BT inviting me to ‘Come back’ all I really want to do is write how I really feel on the envelop and Return To Sender. As is quite eloquently demonstrated by one of my fellow bedroom activists here.

My message? ‘Vote of no confidence’ / ‘personal data security risk’ / ‘I could not void my vote but I can boycott this census’ – or something along those lines.

I’m so angry at this government, and perhaps I should vent this a little bit more in my blog, but the truth is, I always end up feeling powerless and let down, so I give up. The inner voice of me regurgitates echoes of who I once was; I hear my old willingness to fight for the truth and stand up to injustice, but my truth now is that after so many years of being let down by numerous governments of all colours, let down by the NHS, the Revenue, and generally feeling anti-empirical, the exasperation is simply too much to bear. So I bend over and take it, like the millions of others, because I no longer have the energy or the power to change things.

So this is an easy one, right? Just fill out the bloody form and become part of ‘the number’? Or, reclaim a little bit of my rebellious and righteous self, and indeed my youth! Don’t spend 40 minutes filling out the form, but simply post it back with or without pathetic anti-Government statement. Or, if I’m feeling particularly energised, rally the troops and ritually burn our forms and post the video on YouTube tagged ‘Sticking it to the man’.

C’mon them troops, which should it be? A, B or C? And I’d love to know who among you are boycotting and why.

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It’s hard to do all these challenges while holding down a full-time job, and the lack of transport has also stifled our efforts, but as Manny and I near the end of our week together we’ve been taking it easy and reflecting on our time together.

Wednesday was a fairly innocuous day; we had a brief rendezvous with a fireman and Manny did a short stint as sales director at the Food & Drink Guide office. He didn’t last long though, they didn’t think he showed the right level of commitment for the job. I also had to have a minor procedure on my arm so I left Manny covering me at work while I went to the doctors. I’d already told Manny that we’d be taking the night off so I could just rest, he seemed cool with this, he was tired too.

Having made contact with the lovely people at the Bristol Hippodrome earlier in the week, Manny and I were invited to join them on Thursday lunch time to get a snap of him on stage. We’d been asked not to get any of the set in the photos, as far as conditions go I thought this more than reasonable. I was also taken on a quick tour of the backstage area which is something I would probably never have had the opportunity to do if it weren’t for Manny, so I’m very grateful to him and them for that.

I had hoped to take Manny caving with me last night, something I do regularly and I wanted to show him a little bit of my normal life, but when the boys came to collect me they expressed their concern at getting him into the entrance of the cave – a narrow downward ladder and tight squeeze of a hole. I agreed it was probably a task too far and left him behind. Again, Manny was glad of the rest, and I was glad of some time off too, truth be told! Some sense of normality in the middle of this anything-but-normal week I’ve been having!

We’ve a busy weekend ahead I hope, but I think that the final challenge of ‘stalking’ the radio show presenters over the weekend is a bit creepy, and Manny and I are undecided whether we’re really that way inclined. We have already made some pretty cool plans too, so we’ll see what the final two days of this adventure bring. One thing is for sure, there is something about this meerkat that I will miss when we part company. Whether it is the way he makes people smile, or his role as motivator for me to get out and do things, or the way he has made me return to my brassy, cheeky roots, I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that I will miss Manny.

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Where did we leave off?… Oh yes, our sourpusses at Cabot Circus. After a well-deserved rest on Saturday night, Sunday brought new adventures out of town, but not before Manny joined me on my shopping trip to Tesco.

As we were loading our shopping and Manny into the car, the chap in the car next to us hollered: “Fair play to ya, I’d have blagged him if I’d seen him n all”! I nodded and laughed politely, but what I really should have said is, “I didn’t just half-inch this thing from Tesco, mate!”

After dropping the shopping back at home and a quick bite to eat we set off down the A38 towards Weston-super-Mare. I swear to God this has been the windiest week on record! Manny nearly took off on the beach, and as such the chap looking after the donkeys wouldn’t let us too close to the animals for fear that if Manny ‘flapped’ he would spook them. Given that there were small children boarding at the time I decided to heed his not-so-friendly warning, and after another quick snap near the pier we got back in the car and headed off to Cheddar Gorge. It was becoming clear Manny liked the outdoors, and as a fan myself I thought he would enjoy seeing the Gorge. I’d already discovered during that Manny isn’t a fan of cheese sandwiches, so we avoided the actual Cheddar and headed home.

When I say home, I mean home via the airport. After facing opposition at Cabot Circus and with donkey man, we were really scared that the airport weren’t going to let us in. I nearly lost my bottle, but found it again somewhere near Wrington and we pulled hopefully in to the drop-off car park at Bristol Airport. I’ll be damned if I’m paying £4.60 to park, so we Challenge-Anneka’d our way to the Easy Jet  check-in desk and quickly explained what we were up to with our biggest smiles. They were incredibly obliging, and indeed saw the funny side, so snap accomplished we hot-footed it back to the car in the hopes we would get out of there within the allotted 10-minute free parking. We did.

A busy Sunday, done.

Monday was back to work, and the daily challenge was to get a shot with a Banksy. 200 extra points awarded for a shot with the actual man himself, but after a quick phone call or two we discovered that he was living it up in LA for the Oscars. Oh how the other half live. Monday ended up being fairly quiet; a quick trip to St Nick’s Market to grab a bite to eat and a random encounter with a nice chap from Food & Drink Guides Ltd who offered Manny a job, he’s hopefully going for a try-out later this week.

I had to get to the Technology For Marketing & Advertising exhibition at Earl’s Court on Tuesday for work. So naturally Manny had to come with me. He manned our stand for a while, and had a wander round turning the heads of many a professional marketer and advertiser from all over the UK and Europe. Manny did me proud!

I couldn’t take him to London without taking him to see some of the sites, so we boarded the tube and made our way to Westminster. He saw the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, had a quick gawp at the London Eye, wandered past Downing Street and it’s scary armed guards, past the cenotaph and down to Trafalgar Square. He loved it! And London loved him too, loads of tourists stopped us and asked for our picture, he was quite the celebrity in London.

It was a long day, and sadly an uncomfortable journey home for Manny on the 20.00 FGW train from Paddington to Temple Meads. The only place I could fit him was squeezed behind the luggage rack and the end seats. He wasn’t best pleased, but he was gasping for a decent cuppa when we got home so I made the tea and apologised for his train discomfort.

Back in the office today, Manny is looking a little worse for wear, but the week is still young, and many a Manny challenge awaits!

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Friday turned out to be quite an adventure. Manny and I went to my work quiz on Friday night at the Slug and Lettuce. It was clear from the off that Manny was going to attract quite a bit of attention.

After a quick cocktail with a colleague, the quiz began, and Manny was quite happy in his role of independent adjudicator when our team ended up in a tie for first place. Of course winning meant a few celebratory drinks, and it was a good job Manny was on form as things began to slide from a ‘bit tipsy’ to ‘really quite drunk’.

Moving on from the Slug we attempted to get into Mother’s Ruin, Manny was barred before he even set foot in the place. Who would have thought that a cardboard meerkat could pose such a threat? After much debate with the bouncers and seeking the permission of the manager inside, he was eventually allowed in. We drank, danced, and made a few new friends before heading out to grab a pizza and a taxi home.

There’s one thing can be said for carrying Manny around town, and that is that you’ll never be without someone to talk to! Bristol embraced Manny as their own and we all headed home thinking everyone should have a meerkat in their lives.

Saturday dawned, and we were feeling a little bit worse for wear: Manny had lost his head, well, not exactly, he’d been involved in some head banging on Friday night and as it turns out cardboard isn’t that strong really, least of all when it’s wet from a days’ worth of rain. After a quick repair job using some stiff board and lots of glue, we dusted him off and set off into town.

The world and his wife were out in Bristol this weekend: we’d queued for ages for a car park and decided to head for the zoo first and face the city centre challenge later.

Bristol Zoo Gardens were busy too: a full car park and loads of kids around to show Manny to. We took him to see his cousins, they admired his growth and enquired what we had been feeding him before scuttling off into their lookout hole. Manny told me they were showing off. I agreed, but had to concede they were very, very cute.

A quick pint at the White Lion in Clifton so we could show Manny the Suspension Bridge and then back off into town we went. Low and behold, as it turns out you’re not allowed to take promotional photos in Cabot Circus. So we left feeling a little bit glum at our first encounter of opposition. It seems everyone loves a meerkat, everyone except Cabot Circus that is.

We decided to call it a day.

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