Friday, 29 May 2009

The Picture says it All

Girlies Night Out

We went out for a meal last night - a sort of late birthday get together. It was a really good laugh. Here are Sarah, Elaine, Lynn and Kate and (below) a rare picture of me.

Who loved this land.

When my Dad died, over two years ago now, we talked about getting a bench made for him. I phoned up the council and asked about the memorial benches I see around the place. They told me it would cost a thousand pounds to get one because of planning permission and blah, blah, blah. And even then it is a bog standard bench with a little bronze plaque in the middle - not very inspiring.

Last year I met up with Oli, after having been out of touch with him for ages. It turns out he is working as a blacksmith and has his own forge. So I commissioned a bench from him. It has taken a year, and many incarnations as the plans for what was possible and not possible changed. Finally it is ready. We delivered it to Mum's yesterday. It is fabulous.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Abberley Hill

It is a gloriously sunny day today. We've been busy in the garden all weekend, mowing, weeding, clipping the hedge. We've been busy in the house too, sorting out stuff ready for our visitors next week.

Nick's brother Phil is coming, and bringing his eldest daughter, Milly. I haven't managed to see Milly since ... erm... I was pregnant with my youngest two (who are, incidentally, now six years old). Also coming are two nephews from Canada - Devon and Cory - whom I haven't seen for even longer. Now in their 20s, they are having their first real adventure holiday abroad. They have been backpacking round Europe for the past few weeks. I've been following their progress on Facebook.
Anyway, we finally got rid of all the faded, sun-brittled, toddler toys that have been littering the back garden for the past five years. We've taken apart the tiny trampoline which had no bounce left in it. We've sorted out a whole load of clothes to pass on to friends with smaller children, and 'recycled' the very tired looking too-small pyjamas.
I've took a very cathartic trip to the dump with a car load full of rubbish. Donny and Saskia came with me. On the way back we stopped to walk the dog up Abberley Hill. This is quite close to where we live, but not a hill I can ever remember climbing before. I see it almost daily as I drive along the road, but today we decided to stop and explore.
The hill is covered in forest, with an old quarry on the one side. We followed a path nearly to the top. It was beautiful, full of the buzzing sounds of May. The trees were so close together they made tunnels over the path. We walked for over an hour, down past the quarry and out onto a road.
I had no idea where we had ended up, so I asked a passing cyclist. It turned out that we were a good 2 or 3 miles from where we had left the red car. I gave Nick a call and he came to our rescue, picking us up in the other car and driving us back to pick up the red car.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Running out of Resilience

Resilience is a funny thing. Successful people have bags of it. They don't mind being knocked back and let down. They just get back up, dust themselves down and get back on the horse.

Holy cow, I'm so tired of climbing back on to the raging pony of job interviews. I'm considering selling the old nag for dog-food.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Jobs and More Jobs (Part III)

I am so tired, I don't know where to put myself. I had a job interview for the home-school place this morning. I think I must have read the advert wrongly. There was no full-time post. It is a 0.4 post but spread over 5 days. This effectively screws any chance of topping up the income by doing supply, and also means a drive into Dudley every day, which is no short hop. So, basically, I don't really want that one.

Then I went to the middle school interview. I've worked there before, but so had one of the other two candidates. I did a great lesson, but floundered a bit on one interview question, and they gave it to someone else. I was a bit annoyed at myself for missing out on that job. It would have been ideal.

Then I got home to get a call inviting me to interview on Friday, which clashes with another interview I have on Friday. That's the fifth job, out of the eight I applied for, that wants to interview me. Unfortunately, I won't be able to attend the interview, so I can knock that on the head.

Ho hum. Still looking.

Monday, 18 May 2009

The Joy of Cheese

Long overdue, I finally took my SEN kids out to see a dairy. We have been doing a topic on farming and cheese, so this fitted in nicely. There is a small cheese-making place in Herefordshire called The Mousetrap Dairy. I drove the mini-bus and it rained solidly on the way over.
The dairy is run by a woman who used to teach children. She was fantastic and had them eating out the palm of her hand. Before I was even aware we'd started, she had the entire class dressed up in frilly hairnets and plastic aprons.

There milk is warmed in a huge vat. The curds and whey separate and the curd sinks to the bottom. The kids got to try some curds and compare it with the rubbery version after the rennet had been added.

We had a quick look round the store at the maturing cheeses. It smells really musty in there, but the mould shows that the cheese isn't drying out. Then they had a go at draining the curds and patting the rubbery 'popcorn' into a round shape so it could be turned into a round of cheese.
We drove to the Wyre Forest Visitor's Centre for lunch. I managed to clip the wall on the way out of the dairy, denting the minibus a little. The kids, naturally, thought it was hilarious, and I was ribbed the whole way back about my rally driving. At the forest I bought them all an ice-cream because it was my birthday.

Our final stop was an organic farm in Bewdley. The famer kindly allowed us to see the milking machine, stroke some calves and sit in his tractor. The kids really enjoyed it.

Birthday Girl

I have the dubious honour of being 39 today. Everyone has been lovely. I've had a lot of messages wishing me a happy one. Nick took me out for a meal on Saturday night and the kids roped Mum into helping them bake a cake for me. It was yummy and has pretty much been eaten already. Mmmm.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Trip to the ThinkTank

I took a group of Year 9s to a science museum in Birmingham last Wednesday. I'm the co-ordinator for Science Gifted and Talented kids, which means I get to organise fun stuff and then go on the trips with the bright kids. Cushy number!

So we had over 30 kids, and four teachers including me on the ThinkTank trip. The museum is very interactive with lots of things for the kids to press and play on. There was also a dinosaur exhibition - the models from the BBC's Walking with Dinosaurs are there for a few months.

I'd also signed the kids up for a Forensics Workshop, where they could pretend they were part of the CSI team. They got to analyse fibres, take their own finger-prints, detail a crime-scene and decide whose shoe left the guilty footprint.

After lunch, we had a quiz about space and planets, which was kind of fun, although I though some of the questions were a bit misleading - eg Can we push people across space on light rays? Now, I answered NO for that because it is patently ridiculous, but apparently the answer is YES because somewhere someone is working on solar powered spacecraft (although they haven't actually managed it yet). Is it me?

Jobs and More Jobs (Part II)

The application forms must have started hitting the mats because I got a call inviting me to interview at Aston Fields, the school I used to work at 3 years ago. Pros: it's part time with people I know I like. Cons: it is only for a year while Karen is having a baby and a little birdie told me they are looking for an internal candidate, so don't hold your breath.

Then I got another call inviting me to interview at Cherry Tree... on the same day. Pros: homeschooling, so I would be out of the classroom. More money pro rata. Cons: Full time and based in Dudley, quite a drive away.

I spent a lot of time phoning between the two, but I think I have now managed to arrange the interviews so that I can attend them both.

Phone call number three: Nunnery Wood in Worcester. Pros: One of the best schools in Worcester. Cons: Full time.

Phone call number 4: Church Stretton. Pros: 4 days a week, nice rural school. Cons: Only for a year and a bit of a drive away especially in winter as I'd have to cross the Clee Hills every day, which get very snowy at times.

So, I'll be getting my interview practice in this week, if nothing else!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Gloucester Docks

I'm not quite sure why the cub-scout brigade wanted to go to Gloucester Docks for the day, but I'm glad they did. It was Mel's first day out with the group so I decided to go with them. There were about 10 cubs and maybe 6 adults that we picked up with the coach. The weather stayed warmish and dryish and windyish, so was fairly pleasant.

The journey takes about an hour or so down the motorway. We were given sheets of pictures of things we had to spot on the way - apparently there is a prize. Spotting the cows and lorry were easy, though the stegosaurus was a little harder. We arrived just as the Waterways Museum was opening up. They gave each cub a quiz sheet once we got in, and we wandered off to view the displays.

The museum was very good, full of lots of interactive things for the kids to have a go on. There were sandbags to pull on, to see how well pulleys work; there were boats to race, to see how hull shape affects the speed; there was a working model of a lock, so the cubs could change the water level in a tank. They really got stuck in.

The quiz sheet was impossible. I knew the answers from general knowledge, but even skim reading the acres of text on the walls, I couldn't find where it told the kids. In the end we gave up, made up a couple of answers and got on with enjoying the museum.

We got to look round a couple of narrow-boats and a Dutch dredger, complete with huge metal buckets on a conveyor-belt. I love the traditional art-work found on narrow-boats. I love the colours or the 'roses and castles' designs.

Upstairs we had lunch, next to the dolls from the children's TV series Rosie and Jim. I think they were the original ones, but I could be wrong. They certainly looked like the real article. Anyway, it was lost on the cubs, who were all too young to remember it from at least 20 years ago.

Instead the cubs found some dressing-up clothes and made themselves up as Victorian boat-workers. Mel looked rather fetching in a cap and waistcoat. Some of the other cubs looked rather fetching in bonnets and pinnies. Who am I to comment?

Outside there was a rope-making machine. The kids could make rope (just like we saw done at the Touw Museum in Oudewater). They twisted it all up, tied it off and made it into skipping ropes, which the kids could take home. I think each cub got one in the end.

Last thing on our list was a trip on the Queen Boudica, for about 45 minutes. It was nice to watch the water slide past and listen to the history of the area told by the Skipper. A lot of the dock-land is being refurbished, but it was easy to imagine how it used to be.

The boat itself had quite a history, dating back to 1936. It was actually one of the craft used during the evacuation of Dunkirk. I sat imagining the decks full of tired and wounded soldiers, glad to be going home alive. It was quite moving, actually.

The boat turned round to make the return journey. A team of rowers in one of those racing skulls came round the corner. We thought they would stop and wait at a safe distance, but no, they just stopped rowing and drifted up behind the Queen Boudica close enough to bump into her stern. This, in itself, was not all that bright, but when the Captain put the engines on to move forward, the closest members of the team were drenched in frothy spray! The cubs on the back rail thought it was hilarious.

Back on dry land, we were given an hour to do what we liked. I had some much-needed coffee before we looked round the gift shop. After that we went outside. Next to the car-park there is a huge Ferris wheel, giving views over Gloucester. We still had 20 minutes, so we payed up and climbed aboard. It was fabulous. We could see for miles, over Gloucester and over the surrounding hills. We could see Gloucester Cathedral and look down on the docks. We could also see all the other cubs getting into the miniature minibus far below us.

Actually we were only about a minute late when we raced up to the bus. We didn't tell them where we had been... it's our secret.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Jobs and More Jobs

I went to the gym while the kids were in their swimming lessons. For the first time in months I have all four at the same time on a Saturday morning. It makes life a lot easier. At one point I was there three times a week - it felt like I lived there.

Anyway, I got home and decided it was time to apply for some jobs. I haven't got anything lined up for September yet and I sort of feel I should. Well, realistically, we've been a bit stressed out this past couple of months, because there has been a big question mark over Nick's job. Just before Easter they told everyone that they were going to down-size. They said there would be redundancies, but at that point we didn't know who.

We got back from our holiday to find that we hadn't had a letter making Nick redundant, so at least hurdle one was over. On the other hand they then decided that everyone had to apply for their own jobs. Nightmare. Talk about stress! We have been wired little Duracell Bunnies for the past week.

Nick went up to Doncaster last Wednesday for an interview for the job he is already doing. If he didn't get it, then he would be out of a job on Friday. Fortunately, he did get given his own job back, but it was a hairy few days.

Anyway, in the wake of the scare I have applied for eight jobs. I actually quite fancy doing about two of them, but the adrenaline of last week is still running. The possibility of being jobless and homeless and everything else, on someone else's whim, is something I don't wish to experience. I like to be in control, and the insecurity has shaken me a little.

So, I just hope I get one of the ones I fancy, and don't get the ones I don't really want, because I really can't say 'no'.

Friday, 8 May 2009

More Cider Tales

Anyone else find it funny that Mel lovingly presented his tee-total teacher with a bottle of cloudy home-made cider on the day Ofsted arrived? I had to snigger when she told me...

Monday, 4 May 2009

Greenman Festival at Clun

It's May Day and that means one thing: the Greenman Festival at Clun. Clun is a small village about an hour away from our home. It hosts an annual festival to celebrate the start of summer. The May Day festivities start off with the Battle on the Bridge. This is a staged fight between the Greenman (a symbol of summer) and Old Frosty (a symbol of .. you've guessed it.. winter). Summer always wins, though today it was hard to tell as it remained cold and rainy. I guess the Greenman needs a bit more practice before he gets into the swing of things this year.

We watched the battle and then headed to the market field, where the kids made a bee-line for the circus toys. They had a go at stilt-walking and juggling sticks and balancing an hour-glass shaped thingy on a string. They enjoyed themselves.

We had some pancakes for lunch from one of the stalls. The kids got very sticky from the maple syrup so we went down to the river to wash the worst bits of sticky off. We were just in time for the duck race. About 200 plastic ducks were launched into the stream and floated under the bridge. Someone with a bit of insight had rigged up a net downstream of the finish line to stop the ducks heading for the sea.

We took a look round the stalls and the kids watched the fire-breathing show. Then we went up to the castle ruins on the hill overlooking the market field. By this time we were starting to get chilly so we headed back home.