Saturday, 28 February 2009

Like clockwork.

What a bust day I have planned. It is a masterpiece of precise timing to try to get everything done. I have to be out of the house in half an hour to get the kids to their swimming lessons and me to the gym. Meanwhile Nick is taking Saskia (whose lesson is on Sundays) down to Mum's house to take her old divan bed apart before the new one arrives.

The library books are due back too, so Nick has managed to hunt them down and they are in a bag by the door, ready to go. So I'll have to make a library stop before getting to Mum's as the library is only open in the morning on a Saturday.

The kids will no doubt help with the divan destruction, but there are a lot of tree branches that need putting on a bonfire, so that will be the second part of the morning. Everything up in flames, while the kids run around madly enjoying themselves.

My interview for the boys boarding school is coming up on Wednesday, so I need to plan an all singing all dancing super lesson, or I might as well not bother going to the interview at all. This may well take me all afternoon.

Then a friend has a concert tonight with her Blues Band, that I really want to go to. I'm kind of getting the feeling we may not get that far though. I haven't organised a babysitter and I don't want to go on my own. We'll see.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Just Because You're Paranoid Doesn't Mean They Aren't Out To Get You.

I was a bit up tight as I was handing in my notice. The Head said something else which has taken a while to sink in. Not only did she say I was a square peg, but she also said "I hope we didn't hound you too much".

Excuse me? You're not supposed to hound me at all - it's illegal, remember? And the answer to that question is "Erm, yes, why do you think I gave in my notice in the middle of a credit crunch when I have no job to go to?"

At least I know I haven't been imagining it. They really were picking on me.

Let's hear it for the square peggies!

A New Phase

I finally did it - I handed my notice in this morning for September. I have 6 months to find something else but for some reason I'm not all that worried about it. I'm just glad I finally plucked up the courage. The Head took my letter and said I'd always been a square peg in a round hole and no doubt I'd be happier somewhere else. I couldn't help but agree with her. She said she'd give me a nice reference. I must admit I thought I'd feel more liberated than I do, but maybe that will come over the intervening months. I'll keep you posted.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Half Term

I don't know where the week has gone. It seems to have raced by so quickly. It's Friday lunchtime and the half term holiday is nearly over. Saturday was our aborted attempt to climb the Brecon Beacons, which failed due to shambolic planning more than anything else. The fact that I was full of cold didn't help. I didn't double check Nick's packing and I wasn't on top of things, so it was a bit of a disaster. Still, the hills will still be there next time we go, I should think! We'll have other chances to climb them.

I didn't get any of the jobs I applied for so far (Oxfam, GoApe, etc) but I still have the boarding school interview to go. It will be good interview practice, even if I don't get it. Meanwhile I have been having panic attacks about going back to work after the half term. It is such a hostile place to work that the thought of going back makes me start to cry, quite often. After a mega sobbing session last night Nick and I decided that I would hand in my notice next week for September, so that I have an end date to look forward to. It also gives me 6 months to find something else, and to save up some pennies in case I don't find something straight away.

We've had a very quiet half term really. One of the days the kids decided to make pizza at Mel's instigation. It always is Mel, when it comes to cooking. They went up to the local shop and bought the flour to make the dough. I said that whatever mess they made, they would have to clear it up. The pizza turned out quite well, for a first attempt. The dough was a little heavy (think: modelling clay) and the topping a little soggy (imagine a tin of chopped tomatoes topped with cheese) but it nearly all got eaten. What's more, the kids tidied up the acreage of flour they'd spilt, without moaning.

One day we went out with some of their friends from school. Elaine has three lively boys, one in Donny and Mel's class, one in Saskia and Eartha's class and one in between in age. We went to Habberley Valley, which is a stretch of common land and small copses, punctuated with large outcrops of sandstone for the kids to climb on. They had races; they climbed; they chased each other; they rolled down the hills. Finally they discovered a bit of a cave, which they climbed in and out of for ages. Then they found a broken badminton racket stuck up a tree out of reach. They spent a good 20 minutes throwing sticks and stones at it to try and get it down, though for what purpose I have no idea. They didn't succeed, despite trying to boost Daniel up the tree to retrieve it from branches so flimsy they would never have held his weight. It was all delightfully anarchic.

Yesterday, we went to an indoor play area. It's one of those soft play barns full of padded climbing frames and plastic balls. It's not a particularly cheap day out once you've payed for lunch for 4 kids and yourself, but it does keep them happy for several hours. I had a good chat with my friend Sarah and caught up on the past few weeks' gossip. We always end up comparing schools. Sarah works in a school I used to work in. It is as bad as mine. We compared horror stories about outrageous things the management has done. Her school tries to prevent staff leaving by giving them bad references and not allowing them time to go to interviews. It is almost unbelievable in this day and age. It's like working in Victorian tied labour.

Anyway, we've not seen much of Tonny and Peter (my aunt and uncle) this week. Somehow, the time has spun past and I've not spent all that much of it at Mum's. We have had a few conversations, and made plans for when we are over in Holland at Easter. I haven't been great company this week to be honest, what with the cold and generally trying to get over six weeks' worth of exhaustion. I know Nick wants to go down there tonight to make sure we spend time together before they go home tomorrow.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Brecon Beacons

Our trip out to the Brecon Beacons in Wales can be viewed on my travel blog.

Friday, 13 February 2009

4am blogging

Oh, yes, it's the middle of the night again and here I am, snot dribbling from my nose, sneezing at the screen. I broke up for half term today, but the stress of my job has still not left me. I was awoken after two hours' sleep by a dream of trying to control a class of unruly children and having no sanctions I could give them to make them behave. Not unlike my day job.

The snow last week is still on the ground where we live, though it has gone from most of the lower lying areas near here. Other parts of the country are getting more snowfall, but here it is just icy. We had 5 days without heating fuel during the worst of the weather. The tankers had trouble getting round all the houses that had run out. We hunkered down and barely left the house because the roads were so treacherous.

I only worked one day that week, which meant that I had one day where I was not at work, but the school was open - ie last Monday. It would have been madness to try to drive the 23 miles to work, and certainly not worth risking my life for, or even risking crashing the car for. Unfortunately, the evil headmistress I am bound in servitude to, decided to dock the pay of everyone who took a snow day. Having checked with the unions, she is apparently legally allowed to do this. It doesn't surprise me that she took this decision. I have honestly never met anyone so poor at managing staff as she is. What surprises me is that I didn't see it coming.

Consequently, many of the staff are now refusing to carry out the extra-curricular activities that they voluntarily do. These are the clubs and trips and revision classes that give a school its richness and bind it as a community. It was already a school on the brink of academic failure. Now it has lost another resource: the goodwill of the staff.

On top of that body blow, Tuesday was a really late night, because of a school event that all staff had to be present for. I got home at quarter to ten at night. Donny, Saskia and Eartha had come with me (Mel was at cubs) so they were really tired for the week too. Then Wednesday went on forever. I did a day's teaching, and had an unproductive meeting with the head. She agreed that I was sensible not to have driven into work last Monday, but still refused to pay me because apparently the school has so many hundred thousand pounds of debt. I sort of lost the thread of her argument at that point. All I could think of was: claw your debt back from somewhere other than my salary.

From there I went directly to a job interview for GoApe. It went really well, and if I don't get offered a job, at least I know it was nothing I did to stuff it up. I should know tomorrow.

Without pausing my stride I then headed off to parents' evening for my kids. Fortunately my wonderful kids are all much loved by their teachers and got glowing reports. Saskia and Eartha are making good progress, and impressed their teacher by being such loving sisters. Donny and Mel are also doing very well. Donny is gifted and talented for her literacy, and has a reading age three years ahead of her own. Her literacy is pretty well at the standard expected for the average 14 year old. Not bad considering she's just turned 9.

Mel, on the other hand, is top of the class for maths, especially mental maths. He is also exceptionally good at science. His literacy is still improving. He has a specific learning difficulty with reading, writing and spelling, which frustrates him a lot. It has fooled previous teachers into thinking he's not all that bright, when actually he is a very acute thinker.

By Thursday, after all the late nights and hard work and lack of rest, I was developing a cold. This has now expanded to fill my whole head. I have also become run-down enough to get an infection in my old Caesarian scar, which is bright pink and sore. The doctor gave me some antibiotics today to try and clear it up.

Lastly, my aunt (Dad's sister) and uncle arrived today from Holland. They are staying with Mum for just over a week. It will be two years this Saturday since my Dad died suddenly. It is good for Mum to have some company in the house this week and it is lovely to see them. The kids talked solidly at them for three hours this evening, and made them play rock-scissors-paper with them.

Oh, one more thing: I have an interview for the state maintained boarding school coming up too. That will be in March, for a start in September. I shall give it a good go, and see where life takes me.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

And this is why I'm not at work today..

OK, so there are parts of the world that get loads of snow. England, on the other hand, grinds to a halt and gets all excited at the first flake.

Yeah! We got snowed on!
Lots of photos of snow:
Christmas trees in the blizzard.

Palafox in the snow.

The snow children.

Snow scape.

The back garden.

The front garden.

Cecil Shiver Frosty Freezy Chillblain.

Three good things, probably

Well, the first good thing is that I found the 'R' out of the alphabet blocks, so I amazingly have the complete set. Secondly, there is a layer of snow several inches thick lining the world outside my window. So this week, I have managed to only go to work once. Both my school and the kids' school are shut, and not even workaholic Nick went in today.

On the down side, we have run out of heating fuel and the house is rapidly cooling down. I'll have to build a fire in the living room grate.

Donny and Mel are playing backgammon, and the younger two are downstairs watching daytime TV in their pyjamas. All is well. It feels like Christmas.

The other piece of good news is that I have an interview for GoApe. There is a new GoApe being built at the Wyre Forest, just down the road from here. It is a set of aerial slides and climbs, that weaves its way through the trees about 50 feet from the ground. It trails off through the forest for maybe half a mile, never touching the ground, just going from one tree to the next, like a modern day Tarzan set.

It opens at Easter and they are recruiting for people to man the equipment and take people through the sky-maze of ropes and scramble nets. The first question I need to ask is: how many hours will they give me if I get the job? Effectively, even if they gave me 40 hours a week I would still be taking a pay cut. I would be OK with that, if they guaranteed 40 hours a week. If, however, they reckon 20 hours is more likely, then I can't afford to give up my miserable teaching job. There is still the possibility that I could work weekends on the GoApe site and still keep my miserable job, especially as the majority of GoApe's customers will be in the summer months when I'm not at school anyway. Question two is - do I want to do two jobs?

If I had another (professional) job to go to in the autumn, we could ride out the lack of dosh in the summer and I could do the fun job for a few months, and build up my experience in outdoors supervision. The ultimate question is: what do I do?

What I want to do, and what I can afford to do are not the same thing, so which way do I jump?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Don't wo**y, you ha*dly eve* use *!

Yippee! Snow day; legit! My school is closed and so is the kids' school. This is good because now I won't get into trouble for not going to work, because let's face it, I wasn't going to go in anyway. There were maybe 4 inches of snow when I woke up this morning. It's starting to melt now, (tea time), but the roads were lethal at 7am.

The kids finished building the snowman, which they named by committee. The heap of snow on my drive with a smile made out of pebbles is called:

Cecil Shiver Frosty Freezy Chillblain.

A fine name for a snowman, I thought!

Eartha did some painting and Saskia spent at least an hour walking round making an annoying dog-shaped toy bark repeatedly. We walked the (real) dog and then they played Twister for a bit. Then they got the train track out. At this point I went into "Have you considered putting things away before you get the next lot out?" mode.

There was a flurry of tidying before Mum went ballistic. I got them to look for a set of alphabet blocks that they haven't played with for ages. The set was spread throughout every toy box in the house. So far we have found 24 of the 25 blocks, and two that belong to a completely different set which has been in the attic for the past 4 years.

My house is such a mess! If I could find that last one, I could bag them up and give them to someone who might actually play with them. It's not much of a gift if one is missing! (Here, have an alphabet - don't worry, you hardly ever use R!).

Monday, 2 February 2009

Snowcastles and Sandmen

It did snow, at last, a decent amount. Nick went to work in it, but I didn't. There was a coating of the white stuff this morning - maybe an inch or so. Mum called to say that she couldn't get out of her drive. It is a steep farm track and whilst she might be able to slide down it, she'd never be able to slither back up again.

Without Mum coming, someone would have to stay home and take the kids to school. I volunteered. There is more snow forecast over the next couple of days, especially today, and I was worried about driving the 23 miles to work, but not being able to get back. Mum's decision to stay home solved my dilemma. I called them to say I wasn't coming in.

As it was, once I dropped the kids off, the snow was coming down thick and fast. I walked the dog, lost the dog, picked up some essential groceries, posted some letters, found the dog and nearly hit a lorry on the way back home. After several unanticipated swerves across the road, I hit the kerb with a bit of a jolt. It was an improvement on hitting the truck, but my last vestiges of conscience at not going into work were salved. I would have to be nuts to try that journey today.

By 11.30 the kids' school had called to say they were shutting, so I slithered back down to pick the kids up. I checked the internet to see which other schools have shut. It looks like most of them around here, plus a couple in Bromsgrove, but notably not mine. I bet the Head will make the staff stay for the Monday night meeting after school too. She's insane!

The kids have been making a snowman outside since they came home. They got out their beach stuff - buckets, rakes and spades. We wondered why it is we build snowmen and sand castles and not the other way around. As it is the snowman looks like a small, sad pile of snow with a frozen carrot stuck in it, like some sort of mutant unicorn horn. A castle might have been easier.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Shoe Leather and Snow

Thursday was the longest day of the year so far. It started at 2am and went on until nearly midnight. I taught 6 lessons, then stayed for a parents' evening. The last appointment was meant to be at 18.50, but I was still there at 19.45. By the last appointment I could hear myself begin to say things to the parents, then drift off, whilst they were still looking at me expectantly. I made Nick talk to me on the phone the whole way home to stop me falling asleep at the wheel. It takes getting on for an hour, so it's not funny.

Friday, I was still black under the eyes. I caught a train to Birmingham and signed up with a number of agencies. I trudged round a whole load more that claimed not to do the sort of thing I was looking for. In fact I'm not sure the ones I did sign with do the sort of thing I'm looking for either, but I've got to start somewhere. My feet hurt afterwards, and I'm sure I wore away the soles of my shoes with all the walking.

By Saturday I was just feeling jet-lagged. I didn't go to the gym like usual, I just sat and watched the kids swimming lessons. In the afternoon I filled in three application forms for jobs I probably wont get. Two of them wanted Chemistry teachers, rather than Biologists (my speciality). It's still worth filling them in in case they can't get a Chemist. Then they'll interview any scientist available. The other one was a state-maintained boarding school, which means it would be full of lovely polite kids and would expect me to work about 20 hours a day. To be fair, this isn't too far off what I'm doing now, but without the feeling of job satisfaction!

So, today, I am still shattered, but I feel like I have achieved something. Nick says only 5% of any effort is worth it, but the trouble is: you never know which 5%. Never a truer word!

I skipped the usual Sunday swim too, and just watched Saskia's swimming lessons. Then we popped into Mum's to see how she's doing. Uncle Mikey (my brother) was pruning the apple trees. Saskia did a Mr Men jigsaw.

We came home and I crawled back into bed, where I managed to stay all afternoon. I finished my book on climbing Mt Kennedy in Alaska, and wrote 4 letters. Donny joined me and wrote to her penpal too. Saskia joined me and went to sleep. Eartha joined me and wrote a letter to the Snow Fairy, which she was planning to put outside this evening.

We have been threatened with snow by the Met Office. It is supposed to dump tons of the stuff all over Britain over the next two days. I just hope it dumps enough so I don't have to drive all that way through it tomorrow morning. So far we have just had a few flakes dancing in the breeze, like midges on a summer's evening. Nothing is sticking.

Meanwhile Nick has been wheezing because he ran out of asthma medication. His repeat prescription wont be ready until Tuesday, so he finally made the executive decision to go off to the hospital and get some emergency treatment. He drove himself there, and has just come back (2 hours later) looking and sounding much happier. They put him on a nebuliser and pumped him full of exciting drugs, which are making him shake, but at least he can breathe properly again now.