Tuesday, 18 October 2016

busy doing nothing

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I'm a procrastinator.

There. I said it. I admit it.

Why get that one important, it's been sitting there for ever needing sorting, thing out when I can do all those not-really-necessary-but-will-fill-that-gap-of-time-when-i-should-be-doing-something-else thing.

You know, like taking the day to paint a shed when I should be booking my car into the garage to investigate that clanging noise. This is because I hate making phone calls. To strangers. I can chat all day to people I know well.

Or hanging a shelf when the words of my novel are still floating in my head rather than lying seductively on a page. I've never hung a shelf before but lo and behold, there's a great big wonky pink one next to my desk complete with sliding books that were quite happily languishing on the floor.

What's it all about then? All this procrastination? Laziness? Boredom? Confidence? Fear?

Fear! Yes let's look at that one. The absolute fear of getting it wrong, of being rejected, of ...cue cliffhanger pause...failure.

Procrastination enables me to get some inane task all bright, shiny and correct (bar the shelf clearly but you know I tried, right?) whilst leaving the seriously challenging ones for another time slot. This is quite a dangerous trait to develop whilst working alone at home all day although interestingly, not one I recognised when I was in my old day job.

The difference? There were others who relied on me. I would struggle the day long so as not to be tardy, ill prepared or lacking when I was in teacher mode...or mum mode, to be honest.

The supportive words of wonderful friends soon become frustrated imperatives as I, once again, doubt my experience and ability.

And there it is. What I'm avoiding is being the me I want to be.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

wrapped up in books

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My biggest Pinterest obsession after afro hair styles is the reading nook. Swathes of ideas about where to store your book collection and where to sit comfortable in book heaven. 

Since the beginning of forever I have loved a book. I love books.

Hiding under the blankets using the light on my watch to read Enid Blyton's Famous Five quicly followed by the Secret Seven before hopping across the pond to discover Nancy Drew. This is where my love of crime drama came from. Memories of surreptitious smuggling of Judy Blume books with mates at school were recently revived when I bought the box set of her kids fiction for BigL (omitting Tiger Eyes and Forever - there's plenty of time for that!). And between the compulsory University Shakespeares and English canon readers I discovered the black woman in the works of Alice Walker, Maya Angelou, Zora Neale Hurston, Gloria Naylor, ntozake shange, Zadie Smith and Andrea Levy.

Are you surprised I became an English teacher for nigh on 20 years?

I am the parent who has cherished my own favourite books for my daughters to love. I am the friend who buys books for birthdays having scoured the bookstores for a story that will excite or reflect your child in the narrative. I am the woman with a books-to-be-read tower in the corner of my room but still finds herself shopping for the next can't-do-without novel.

Book-lovers amongst you will recognise the joy a book can give when it lifts you out of your now and tips you into an alternative life, predicament, galaxy.  How a book can grip and drag you into the wee hours when you know the minutes are creeping ever closer to your morning alarm; just one more chapter you promise yourself. 

From the minute they could point to pictures in a baby board book I have been reading to my daughters; post bath-time curled up with superheros and talking food. Their reading journeys alongside clever mice, wizarding buddies, adventurous beasts and mean girls in even meaner school have now segued with mine and we search dystopian worlds together.

My monumental moment in books so far: waiting with a ready hug as BigL read the last page in Private Peaceful. The power of the written word understood.

Friday, 7 October 2016

come as you are

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You know that moment when you hear your parent's voice telling your childhood self that maybe you shouldn't do something until you're older? And then you see (more than likely) teen self thinking yeah yeah yeah blah blah blah ? Then you get older, maybe have kids and that moment is revisted and you wish oh wish that you had listened to your parents.

I'm just gonna say tattoos and piercings.

I have them, I like some of them, I regret some of them. I can't hide any of them from my daughters.

It's ok they're not all over my face or anything and as much I admire the sleeve tattoos that I see on people these days, I don't have those either. Two small tattoos on each arm, just under the t-shirt boundary and one on my back. The piercings have ranged from many of the ears, nose, tongue and tummy over the years; some have disappeared after having babies but I'm hanging onto the others.

I see MiddleS watching me and plotting what adult-MiddleS is going to look like. And that's when I get a little fidgety. I can recall the horror on my mum's face as I arrive home, aged 18 with tattoos, and again when I shaved all my hair off except for a dyed blond Tintin quiff, and again when I pierced more and more bits of my body. With a youth of constraints at home, in school, on track and field I guess I had discovered my expression and exploration in this way. At the time I loved doing it but she clearly didn't.

And now I get it.

That beautiful, smooth skinned, bundle that was her baby was not only growing older with all the shrugs and smells of a teenager but was now piercing and painting that package of perfection and what was she to do?

What will I do if that's the choice of any of my three? What the hell can I say? Who really listens to the regrets of others before making their own decisions? Maybe I'll join them in the tattoo or piercing parlour to get more done - that'll make it instantly off-trend, right?

Tuesday, 4 October 2016


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It's 1980cough and I'm walking to school with my bezzie mate. We eat dairy milk chocolate bars - yes on the way to school - and chat about the England football players or members of INXS we're going to marry. We go to school, then at 3.30 we repeat the whole thing again.

It was all so simple then.

Prepping the eldest for the solo walk to high school I allowed the occasional bus journey to meet me on the high street. This was to encourage a bit of streetwise confidence and to stop me embedding a microchip in her neck whilst she slept. I needed to release the apron strings a millimetre or two and this seemed like the best way.

First few weeks of the new high school term I managed not to follow her down the road whilst she cycled or walked and all was good. Until the desperately sad news about the young teenager who was abducted on her way to school and endured an horrific attack before she was discovered knocking on residential doors four hours after her ordeal.

Stop the world I want to get off and I'm taking my daughters with me.

Yes miserable things happen every day but after hearing this news one school morning it took every ounce of strength not to knit an new umbilical cord and live life like this for ever more. 

Discussions about when do we let our children walk to school alone surface every year and having lived a pretty sheltered life I had aimed to nurture more confident kids on the street, not street corners mind or in the middle of shopping centres, just kids who have good street awareness.  But now I'm considering self defence classes and pointing out hazards along the school route yet will this stop me worrying or indeed reduce the dangers of the outside world. No, no, no.

I have heard parents on the radio saying how they wouldn't let their kids walk to school alone but then realising they are primary school parents, I'm thinking whether they will seriously maintain this attitude with their Year 10 son or daughter. The balking of a walking teenager may be placated by a drive-by parent drop but then are we creating a generation of lazy chauffered kids who will cower in a ditch come the first sign of trouble; unaware or unconfident of their options in a crisis.

So how do we protect and prepare our tween/teens for the outside world without frightening the socks of 'em?

Answers on a postcard please.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

family business (things i have learnt about holiday-me part4)

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Saying goodbye to aged grandparents that I've barely met in my 44 years was one of the most heartbreaking things I've ever had to do.

In the blistering sun, dressed in comfy airplane attire, I hugged my Caribbean grandma and grandad and (in my best West Indian vernacular) me bawl. My three children were agog at the dribbling mess that sat between them on the taxi ride to the airport; this certainly was a waterproof mascara day.

This is an unsual experience for me as my grandparents have lived for the majority of my life in Grenada so apart from the baby years, a couple of childhood visits abroad and taking a quick trip over during my three maternity leaves, I've never considered that I had much of a relationship with them. How could I? They were three thousand miles away and technology arrived too late for us to establish a true connection.

Life moves on doesn't it? We plough the seeds and scatter and all that.

Yet in researching the Caribbean journey from home to the UK, I found myself with more questions than answers. My grandparents came were post-Windrush generation and not from Jamaica so the footage and documentation regarding their experience was always sparse. I wanted to know what it was like on the boat on the way over, what it was like to arrive, live and work in the 1960's, what made them return home when those around them were putting down roots?

A memory lane trip around Shepherds Bush with my dad, who arrived in the UK at 16, was incredibly useful in painting a picture for the life I needed to create for the character of Gracie in my novel:a young mother who follows her husband from Grenada to London.  But I needed the first hand tales of my grandparents to understand how it felt to be in Britain at that time.

Having the opportunity to visit my grandparents and listening to grand-uncles and aunts regale stories of years past, I felt blessed that I was able to hear them first hand. Afternoons spent sifting through faded photo albums led to volumes of anecdotes that transformed my grandparents from the elderly people I saw before me to the young, spirited, hard-working people they used to be; people from a time that their children and grandchildren would never know.

So much is already gone and forgotten with a generation who left snippets of history from their own lives and I realise with sorrow the conversations missed with people I have not taken the time to value.  The simple fact is that everyone takes  a piece of their life-stories with them one day and I fear that in this selfie-life we are too preoccupied with the us and now; we are disregarding our past and losing pieces of our history puzzles.

Writing my novel led me to explore my family history which, amongst hurrah-inducing finds and foot stomping frustrating dead-ends, led me to question the who, whats, wheres and whens that contributed to little old me. Desperately trying to keep up with she who married Mr So-and-So's brother from down the hill who is also our family you know was a daily challenge and a daily reality as I was introduced to yet another cousin. But these revelations also opened up branches of a family tree I never knew existed; pieces of my missing jigsaw.

Although the goodbyes were painful I am overjoyed that I got some time with my grandparents because the bare-face truth is that I am unlikely to afford a return trip any year soon. But the time spent with four generations together have made life long memories and certainly reminded me of the importance of listening to those who came before because one day we will want our stories to be heard by those who will follow after.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

school's out for summer

A relatively large section of the working world will crow at this time about how teachers have it easy, and whilst in my teaching youth I used to prickle at this comment, I now retort with statistics of teaching shortages and how the profession welcomes newcomers from all walks of life - come join us. But be warned because, depending on how long they have been teaching, the summer holidays will hold different cans of worms.

The newbie They are about to embark on teacher training - whether via tried and trusted routes such as the BEd or the PGCE or their sparkly new cousins Teach First/Troops to Teachers/School Direct - so their summer may involve studying directly after finishing their old job or university course. Professors and tutors will drown them in pedagogical directives required to get ready for teaching and learning come September. They,on the other hand, will probably be downloading specials of Grange Hill,Waterloo Road, Gangster's Paradise, School of Rock or even To Sir, With Love in order to become au fait with teacher life on the frontline. As September draws closer the excitement at giving something back or inspiring the next generation makes way to a sickening fear every time they see a group of teenagers standing together speaking their yoofspeak. 

The new recruit They've been in the game a while but they're starting a new school - either for a change or a promotion. Their rational experienced mind will tell them that they have earned the new job, they know what they're doing and kids are kids, right? However their wake up thought for 6 weeks will be mixed with the relief that they have finally left their old school but niggling worries about suppose the kids hate them, suppose the staff do that aloof-you-have-to-earn-your-place-here-thing and suppose maybe they've made the worst decision of their life? August will be spent reading Ofsted reports and past academic data; learning the names of new students and remembering timetables and new rooms (if they are lucky enough to be given that new info - otherwise they have to sink or swim like the new fodder); writing lessons plans for a new curriculum; spending hours creating engaging and challenging PowerPoints to wow staff and students alike on September 1st.

The veteran with kids They've done all the above, worn lots of end-of-year t-shirts, and indeed if you cut them they are tattooed with the name of their school, like a stick of rock. End of term means they start their other life. As mother/father of those children living in their house. Years of teaching has enabled them to plan each day and week to encompass a range of individual, group and friends-allowed activities - which may or may not include a holiday (organisation skills:expert level required for this). Each week will involve indirect historical/geographical education, some sporting action (observed or partaken), timed computer access, a strict cleaning rota (maintained in weeks 1 and 2 but usually abandoned by mid-August on account of the sighs and pocket money involved) and a teeny bit of explicit learning as the holidays hurtle to a close so that the offspring don't suffer from the dreaded summer dip. Evenings are spent mainlining wine and/or chocolate whilst finishing unfinished projects from the last academic year and preparing for the new academic year. Somehow , there is always a new topic or method of teaching the same topic - even though they've been teaching for what feels like a million years.

The veteran without kids Whether offspring were not a choice, haven't arrived yet, or have flown the coop - this, to me, offers the ultimate summer. A week or two in work at the start of the hols completing projects, admin, lesson plans or sorting classrooms with the piece and quiet of an empty school. A couple of weeks messing about where, with and whoever takes their fancy. Back for the August results to get their data analysis done before the September panic sets in. 

I have yet to meet a teacher who sits from the end of July sipping cocktails by a bar, wearing a cravat and a hat tipped on the side of their head until the Autumn term. But if anyone knows one - I'd like to meet them and shake their hand; for they will have truly mastered the summer holiday.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

big fun

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Ooh I love a sports day.

I did as a kid. Athletics was my teenage life so of course school sports day was my time to shine. Even as a teacher sports day was a major fun day especially when you were good friends with the Head of PE...need someone to help measure long jump or tally scores? I'm your lady. I bowed to student pressure by competing in a few teacher's races; survived by never coming last or falling over in the home straight.

Work has always got in the way of me getting to see my own kids at their primary school sports days until this summer. I would finally get to witness the offspring at the starter's mark of their Olympic athletic careers, maybe.

Not so.

Focusing on enjoyment and sportsmanship, I was initially crushed to discover that there would be no traditional top three placings at sports day this year. Instead the children would compete in teams within their own classes over a number of rotational events.

Now before you pooh-pooh all of this and start gnashing at the teeth about this isn't what real life is like, kids need to know how to lose (graciously) as well as win, how is this teaching children about sport (which is exactly everything I griped about when I first heard), let me tell you about what I saw.

On the whole I saw a bunch of kids running, jumping, throwing, spinning, cheering, laughing, protesting; it was all going on there wasn't any time for checking who came first. The difference here, from what we usually expect or see at sports days, was that everyone had a chance to succeed, everyone had to work together to complete events.  It wasn't just a day where the fastest runners achieve and everyone else gets to sit and watch. It was a fun-day with points awarded for team effort, behaviour, support, teamwork.

On a glorious sunny day there were kids getting active and soaking up the fun in the last week of school with their teachers - for the year six about to leave, they will soon look back and long for the simplicity of primary school sports days.

And for those of you worried about future sports stars being squashed in the pursuit of inclusiveness; in a school year there are so many clubs, competitions and PE lessons for them to shine.

Having seen my three (over three separate sports days) get over the fact they wouldn't be able to improve on the firsts and seconds they received in previous years and actually just throw themselves into the new generation of sports day, I walked away happy... with two 1st and a 3rd place in the mummy's race...sometimes we need to stay serious about sports!