Sunday, 29 March 2009

Abberley Clock Tower

It was a bit of an impulse decision. I was flicking through the local paper last night and came across a story about how the charity Diabetes UK was having a fund-raising event on Sunday (ie today). Diabetes is a disease close to my heart (well, my pancreas, anyway) thanks to it running in the family. My father was diabetic, as was I during both pregnancies, and several more distant relatives have come down with it over the years. So, as far as I am concerned, it is a worthy cause. The event consisted of abseiling (rappelling) down Abberley Clock Tower, which is about 5 miles away. We pass it regularly on the way to swimming.

I took Mel and Saskia swimming this morning. Saskia went up a group at long last. She is now in the group with orange hats (ah, the prestige). On the way home I decided to stop at Abberley Clock Tower and take a look at what was going on.

What can I say? It had to be done! I called Nick to bring my climbing shoes and the camera, and a few minutes later I was donning a harness and climbing the stairs to the top of the tower.

It is quite a long way up - at least three times the height of the regular climbing wall I go to. I'm not sure if it is a blessing or not, that you can't see directly down from the stone balcony we were abseiling from. Climbing over the wall and trusting your weight to the rope tests your nerves, that's for sure! I was way above tree height.

Once I started down, it was quite peaceful. The clock face is enormous, made from little tiles like a mosaic. The chain across the front caught me, and then whacked me in the head (so that's what the helmets are for!). It also spun me round so I could get a great view across the parkland that the Tower is set in. That was an improvement on just looking at the side of the Tower, though it did initially make me feel somewhat vulnerable!

Once I arrived back on terra firma, the kids wanted to show me an ancient tree they had been climbing. It had a rope ladder and tree-house platform, as well as massive branches that sunk right to the floor. Perfect for a good scramble.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

The Sound of Music

I know, I know, it's been a while since I got to writing here. We've been a bit busy what with one thing and another. There was Mother's Day last weekend where we all went out for a meal with Mum and my brother Michael. We went to a local pub and had a lovely time. The kids got to run about in the pub garden, so they enjoyed themselves too. Michael took plenty of dodgy photos of us.

Tuesday I went climbing with some friends from the Bewdley Mountaineering Club. It was good. I didn't manage to get up the big grey wall at the end of the room, but I have only got up it once anyway. I also somehow acquired a massive blue bruise on my calf without actually noticing.

Wednesday was totally mad. I worked until 3.30, then drove like a mad thing to a doctor's appointment. By the time I got out of there, I had 15 minutes to get home, eat something and get out again with Donny and Mum to get to Stourport for Donny's show.

Donny is in the choir at school and they have been learning the songs from the Sound of Music. Last week we had a letter home saying "Could you please provide a black cloak so they can pretend to be nuns. We will provide the wimple. Oh, and they need to have a von Trapp outfit underneath."

A von Trapp outfit?? Of course! I always keep one handy! In my airing cupboard, right next to my stack of black cloaks!

So the search began for a black cloak. Apparently the local supermarket sell them. I went and asked and they pointed out that they only sell them at Hallowe'en (obviously). So I tried the joke shop - way too expensive, and it came with fangs, fake blood and a small rubber stake. So I bought some material and made one, which took me ages, but looked pretty good. (Donny lost it at the end of the show and it never came home with us).

Meanwhile, someone suggested that the von Trapp outfit could be a green check school uniform, so I had to buy one of those too (Donny's uniform is red). At least I can pass it on afterwards, to a friend whose child goes to a school with that uniform.

There were 4 schools taking part in the show. Each of them did a few songs and a bit of acting from different musicals. There was "Oliver", "Mamma Mia" and "The Wizard of Oz" as well as "The Sound of Music". It was a great show, and the kids did really well. It was a great evening out.

It just remains for me to say:

So long, Farewell, Auf wiedersehen, Goodbyeee!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

What Happened to Camping and Woggles?

A few months ago we decided to send Mel to Cubs. He's the only boy in a family of sisters and we felt he was getting a bit left out at times. He's just not into silver unicorns and pink fairies and glittery stuff. I feel for him when the other three are playing princesses or babies. Mel is happier playing Magnetix or Mousetrap but finds it hard to get the girls to spend much time joining in with him. So we picked a club that was just for boys and signed him up.

Cubs sends him home with endless requests each week. He had to clean windows one week, cook a meal the next. Instructions have ranged from finding out where the water stop-tap is, to cleaning brass, to finding the hospital's phone number, to researching St David. It's hard to keep up with all the different requirements.

Anyway, last week, Mel comes home saying he has to research yet another saint. I have nothing against saints, in general, but a new one every week? It's like going to Sunday School! What happened to camping and woggles?

So I researched St Peter and printed out a picture of him manning the pearly gates, grumbling under my breath as I did so about the religious overtones the Scouting establishment has fallen into. It is supposed to encompass all the faiths these days.

[A quick aside about religious stuff here in the UK. Unlike in the USA, the British are quite reserved about their religious affiliations. We tend to keep our beliefs private and only share them if asked. For example, I worked with a chap for a year before I discovered his parents were missionaries and he met his wife at church.

Consequently, joining the Scouts - a group that is nominally secular, despite its Christian roots, - I don't expect to have religion forced upon me at every turn. It is quite an affront to the way we do things here. People that are too pushy with their own take on the Truth are called 'God-botherers' or members of the 'God Squad', and are generally somewhat avoided by all but their own kind.]

Where was I? Oh yes, moaning about St Peter. I mean, I could understand it when they asked for stuff about St David: he is Patron Saint of Wales, after all. And it was his feast day at the start of March. But St Peter? Why?

So, I find out all about the chap, and download half of Wikipedia for Mel, only for him to turn round, slap his own forehead and say:

"I think it was St Patrick, actually!"

"What, the St Patrick that is Patron Saint of Ireland and responsible for the increase in Guinness sales on the 17th March? That St Patrick?"

"I think so"

It all makes sense now!

Thursday, 12 March 2009


I've been taking a bit of time to look at where I am. There have been a number of changes recently in circumstances and I've had to adjust to more change coming up. My job is ending and I have nothing lined up. This in itself is scary. What am I going to do with myself and how are we going to survive without any money? Tricky!

The money thing hasn't really hit home yet. I think we'll be OK, if we cut our cloth to fit the income. It will be tough having to cut back on luxuries like gym membership and swimming lessons and holidays. I have pretty much given up on the idea of our planned summer holiday. We were originally going to Estonia for a while, and maybe down through the Baltic States of Latvia and Lithuania to Poland. Then our Polish contacts couldn't do the same dates as us, so I changed the plan to just include Estonia.

Having looked at the prices of flights / accommodation and other expenses, there doesn't seem to be a cheap and easy way of doing it. So I'm guessing that Estonia will be replaced with camping in Norfolk or similar. A bit of a come-down, but about a thousand pounds cheaper.

I've had some quiet days this week. I've written a lot of the children's book I'm currently writing. I've cooked homemade meals. I've kept the place tidy and done the washing. I've taken the dog on long walks. It has been very relaxing and just what I needed.

In fact I can see my future stretching ahead of me full of home cooking, woodland walks and a tidy house, instead of the stressed mania of the past six years (instant pizza and bomb-site home). I can even see the possibility of decorating and gardening poking its long forgotten head up to say hello.

I've missed out on so much domesticity by working so hard over the past few years. Mind you, I don't think I was ever a domestic goddess. The thought of aiming towards such a status would have made me laugh in fear a few years back, but now it sounds like an oasis of relaxed bliss. I can't wait until the summer when I can say Goodbye to endless stress, and Hello to self-sufficiency.


I just haven't worked out where the money is going to come from yet. There are three possibilities:
get another job part-time,
publish my books and live off the royalties or
win the lottery

I wonder which is the most likely.... hmm.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Staick House

I took the kids swimming this morning, which utterly exhausted me. Then I went back to bed and swore I wasn't going to move for about three days. Damn this black cloud. Saskia came and asked me what was wrong, so I told her I was so tired I didn't know what to do with myself. She said "You can colour with me!" So I did. We spent a happy half an hour sitting in my bed colouring pictures. It was very therapeutic.

Then Mum came up on her way to see Mush. Mush has many names, some more formal than others. I never quite know what to call him, though I've known him all my life. He is a few years older than my Mum, which makes him getting on for 80. He was best friends with Mum's late brother Colin, and he lives in the village they all grew up in. Indeed Mush and Colin never left or got married; they just carried on doing what they'd always done as they got older.

Mush lives in a 600 year old manor house called Staick House, which belonged to his parents before him. To be fair, he only lives in about three rooms of the place. The rest is under dust sheets, left almost exactly as it was when his father died in the 1960s. In many ways the house has fallen into disrepair, particularly on the inside, where ivy is growing through the broken windows and suchlike. The house has always been a focal point for friends to meet up, chat, drink buckets of tea and eat endless biscuits. Years ago there were all night gatherings. The young lads (as they were then) played snooker on the full sized table in the Billiards Room, and stayed overnight in the Train Room (where Mush had a working train track as a child).
Things are a little quieter now, but Mush still gets lots of visitors everyday. We were the first to arrive at 3pm. Mush is a bit nocturnal, so there is no point turning up in the morning. The kids went off to explore the deserted house and look for the resident ghosts. Mum and I sat around the newspaper-laden table, snuggled up to the Aga, and tried to do the crossword with Mush. The kitchen is spectacular in it's dereliction. It hasn't been cleaned or tidied in about 40 years, Visitors have to pick their way through the clutter and inspect the insides of their mugs for delicacies, such as mouse droppings. It is an experience, not for the faint hearted. It is all very organic and no-one stands on ceremony.
We drank tea and ate the requisite out-of-date biscuits that is part of any visit there. Duck arrived, then Simon, then Fliss, and no doubt more have come and gone since we left. (Fliss, I noticed, brought her own mug!) It was a jovial afternoon, where we had a good laugh. Conversation often spirals off into the esoteric and philosophical. I really should make the effort to go more often. It is good for the soul.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

What next?

Well, somewhat unsurprisingly, I didn't get the job at OSH. They phoned up and told me how wonderful I am, and how I was their second choice, but that the rugby-playing teacher from the boys' grammar school had pipped me to the post. (No? Really?!). I pointed out that it would be an awful lot more satisfying to have come second if there had been more than one vacancy. It's a bit like getting two numbers on the lottery, when you need three for a prize. 'Almost' is not enough.

So yesterday I met my friend Elaine and went for a long walk in the forest, which was lovely. We probably walked for an hour and a half, while the dog got himself coated in mud. Elaine said Pal always looks like he's just been washed and blow-dried, because he's so wonderfully fluffy. I said 'Not in this lifetime!'. He certainly didn't look like he'd just been to the dog-parlour by the time we got back. He then spent the afternoon asleep in the hall, shedding dried mud onto my carpet.

The weekend stretches ahead of me full of possibility. I have some stuff to do for work, and a few letters to write but I don't feel motivated to do any of it, really. I'm so exhausted, and mentally quite depressed too. The energy has sapped out of me. I need to spend a few months getting better. I suffer from depression from time to time. There are some years when it doesn't trouble me at all, and then that black cloud comes back and I have to take some time to deal with it. I'm getting better at this process, and the advent of modern medicines has made things a lot less painful, compared to what was on offer 25 years ago. Having said that, I'm not taking any drugs at the moment, and I don't really want to rely on them as a first resort.

The sun is streaming through the glass into the hall downstairs. I think I might just lie on the hall carpet and shed dried mud for a few hours.


Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Gosh, OSH!

Interview time, today. It seems like I have had a long wait for this interview. Old Swinford Hospital is a lovely school. It is set in the centre of Stourbridge, within striking distance of Birmingham. The buildings date from the 16oos and are a mixture of beautiful old stone and more modern additions. The boys are well mannered and smart, and the staff are friendly and helpful.

I arrived on time, after only one missed turn. There were four of us for interview: me, a female PGCE student, an experienced teacher (female, Asian and from Wolverhampton) and a man who had been teaching at a boys Grammar school for the past 3 years (who claimed to be bored at his current school). All of them seemed very nice.

We had a tour of the school and the boarding houses. We had our documents checked and finally had to go and teach a lesson. I got the second half of the lesson that the teacher from Wolverhampton had started. I taught, but it wasn't a good lesson. I had pitched the content far too difficult for where the kids were at. They did their best, but frankly they struggled. I came away thinking it was satisfactory at best, and no way was it outstanding.

After that we had to do a task that involved planning a revision lesson. That wasn't particularly challenging, and I think I did a good job of it. Finally, towards the end of the afternoon I had my interview. I was the last. I think I did OK, but it probably came across that I wasn't happy with my current school.

Why do you want to work here? Erm, cos I hate my present job. Probably not a good answer. (No, I didn't really say that, but I guess they could tell, especially as my reference from my school apparently told them that I'd resigned. Great.)

So, do I think I got it? No, not in a million years. I'm guessing the lad that has been teaching in a similar school will get it. At least I got a free sandwich and I didn't have to teach 9e3 today. What more could I want?