Archive for November, 2014

The Mid-winter Darkness

November 29, 2014

I do not like the darkness so early. I do not like 4pm being akin to 4am. I am not a creature that thrives in endless night. I resent this shortness of daylight, this creeping cold, this devlish dark. It’s obvious why stories about creatures of the night have been spawned in the northern hemisphere – no wonder Vampires stalk the imagination as the dark descends. I am more aware of the Solstice than ever I have been in my life. I am counting down to Mid-winter and looking forward to the painfully slow rise out of the gloom, getting January and February behind us, and then sliding towards Summer.

orps snow1

Summer = Australia. Summer = home. Winter = misery (well at the moment it does – sometimes it means fires and red wine and good books). I am miserable and bleak as we head to Christmas. I am not full of festive cheer. I resent my birthday more than ever (happy birthday to me) as it’s spent in gloomy despair (perhaps an exaggeration, really) at the departure of another not so wonderful year. No, I need to be back where the seasons and the world makes sense.

I think I have some sort of mutated Jet-lag. Despite being in London for seven years now I still struggle with the seasonal difference. I can well sympathise with the early Australian settlers (colonizers, invaders – which ever word you prefer) who found the seasons and climate too strange and longer for home for this ‘civilised and sane’ part of the world. My Jet-lag means I still think it should be the end of the school year, we should be winding down to an easy end of year, getting ready for Christmas and the long summer holidays, spreading over half of December into January and stopping short around Australia Day. I should be thinking about beaches and BBQ’s, Bundy and Coke, iced champagne, swimming in my bay. Not talking about snow for Christmas, and looking for new coats or a Christmas jumper. I am endlessly confused about last year as the school year starts in September and ends in July and so I never know which actual year I’m in. The Oz school year is immensely sensible, really it is!

blurry snow

Yes, the long Northern Summer evenings do compensate, the light til ten is quite lovely – even if it’s not warm enough to make the most of it. I think now, that one of the reasons I love the Northen Territory so much was that the day’s length never changed – sun-up and sun-down was the same time every day of the year. It made sense, there was no disturbance to one’s internal time clocks and moods. It was always warm – well hot, actually, and sometimes wet but the day was invariably 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark. Living near the equator made life wonderfully stable and almost predictable.

deviot view

We are still too many days away from the Winter Solstice, still endlessly falling into darkness. But I’ll mark the day, happy in the knowledge that the darkness will remain but lessen each day and soon it will be bright again, the days will lengthen and suddenly I will feel fine again, human and cheered by the daylight. I guess it tells me I’m not a vampire! (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Tis the Season to Cough and Splutter

November 22, 2014

It’s dark and dismal outside and inside it’s germ infested misery. The only consolation I take from my current bout of coughing and hacking is that I am very far from alone. I am surrounded by sickness. I am struggling on at work, having already had a couple of days off, not enough to shake this beast off, but enough to rest and return to the fray.

Because, dear friends, as most of you know, Teaching is not one of those professions you can’t just leave be for a few days while you lie prone fighting off the latest infection or ailment. No, children still have to be taught, or at the very least, supervised. They won’t wait patiently, silently on your desk for you to get back and so you minimize your days off, knowing you will return to chaos and that you aren’t really well enough.


Teachers famously do not take off enough time when they are ill. It is the guilt monster – the knowledge that someone else has to do your job in your absence, and that the kiddies just won’t learn as much when you’re there. Regardless of your prowess in the classroom, someone else will not manage the darlings and little of worth will happen and most likely your room and resources will be trashed. Not to mention the likelihood of extra relief lessons when you get back, in that sweet way that cover-supervisors make sure you ‘pay’ for your day(s) off. Thus my workplace is festooned with teachers who can hardly speak for coughing, hardly move for pain, and plough on, not allowing themselves to get better.

No, it’s better all round to struggle in, be sick, prolong your recovery, and spread your germs around. After all, you probably picked your latest bout of flu from the darlings. And your migraine was probably caused by them, and your back or neck or other pain is exacerbated by hours on your feet, and your chronic tiredness is certainly caused by trying to contain and control the teenage beast and force some learning down them, while they cough and sneeze all over you, expecting you to give them a tissue!!


Here’s what you should do.

1.Get a flu shot – governments should give them to teachers free – in fact I worked at a very sensible school (in this regard) who provided free flu shots for all staff every year.

2.Dose yourself with Echinacea and Vitamin C as soon as the snuffle or cough starts. Get medicine into you. Get cough lollies and suck hard and often.

3.Keep hydrated – water especially, tea, coffee and lovely hot lemon drinks

3.Rest if and when you can – do not push yourself and prolong the suffering. Sleep as much as you can.

4.Take time off and get properly well before rushing back – no-one thanks you for it and you do make yourself iller for longer. You also don’t function properly when you are ill or in pain. You make mistakes and get things wrong – you can cost your work-place a great deal through stuff-ups when you’re sick.

5.Eat chocolate – as much as you like, it is medically proven that chocolate in all its forms makes people better. I think toast does too.


So, go to bed. Stay there. Settle in to sleep for as long as you need. Get a nice book, have someone make you a hot drink and bring you a treat of your choice and just stay in bed. Ignore the world. It will still be there when you finally emerge – recovered and able to cope with it all again. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Education: Stupid talk is back

November 15, 2014

Just when you thought the pollies had run out of stupid pills and were edging towards some sort of sense, Nicky Morgan opens her stupid fat mouth and says stupid ignorant things and instead of wooing teachers back to the fold, she fucks it right up again. I was starting to think the Tories were really getting the wood on Ed and his lot, especially with Nicky’s understanding of the work-load issue, her compassion for the ludicrous hours we work; she’d even gone soft on her anti-gay stance.

She was looking promising, especially when Tristan Hunt had managed to piss us off with his ‘licensing’ of teachers and his latest beaut idea about firing us if we can’t control 30 15 year olds forced to read Dickens cover to cover. (Bring it on, Tris, you come and have a go!)

But Ms Morgan couldn’t help herself, she couldn’t keep it in, couldn’t stay nice and away from the stupid pills. No, she announced that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) subjects were the only choice, that Arts subjects “hold them back for the rest of their lives”. She also says that Maths is the subject employers value the most. I wonder where that came from – it hasn’t washed into my halls of learning.


It’s inconceivable isn’t it in one of the world’s leading producers of culture and Arts that the Education secretary says it holds you back – limits your career choices. Possibly it does in other parts of the world, but here, in London, where the money made from theatre, galleries and stadiums is excessive, where one of the biggest draws for tourists is the West End and the museums and galleries, what is she on about?

This type of subject-ism is already damaging students’ futures. We’ve already seen the downgrading of subjects such as DT and Food Tech. Music and Drama have been disenfranchised in the government sector, as has Art. These subjects are being culled from school curriculums and are increasingly only on offer in exclusive, expensive educational enclaves. The Arts are in danger of becoming the province of the rich and well to do. Actors are increasingly coming from the posh lot, not the working classes – no more Michael Caines. And what of music? Will it all be Mumford and Sons and X-factor desperadoes? No more Keef and Mick, or Sting?

Why publically value one set of subjects – and therefore students – over another? Why say these people are better because they can do this? Do I look at my children and say my Physics degree child is more valuable than my Fine Arts degree child? Morgan has been as damaging in her pro-STEM comments as previous commentary about the value of other subjects, in perpetuating the erroneous belief that one stream is better than the other, that choices made at 11 or 15 damage you for the rest of your life. Limit is not the same as damage, and the world is full of people who chance job, make choices as they grow older.

Society needs all sorts of people. It needs the builders and makers, the thinkers and doers, the outside-the-bloody-boxers.  Importantly, Arts and Sciences are not separate beings: they are compatible and complimentary. An engineer or architect making bridges and buildings is as much about aesthetics (Art) as it is about numbers and science (STEM).


Think about Brian May – guitarist extraordinaire with Queen, who has a PhD in Astrophysics. Everyone’s scientific darling Brian Cox also played in a chart topping band and Richard Dawkins is married to an actress. Nicky Morgan might like to consider Brian May’s career choices. His A levels were awash with Physics and Maths, yet he chose music and I hate to think how much money he’s made. More than as an astrophysicist, wouldn’t you reckon?


A child should have a rounded education in all areas, be able to make intelligent choices about their future based on their skills, their abilities, what they can contribute to society and not just on what their earning capacity might be.

A society bereft of Music or Art, or Theatre and Dance is an impoverished place to be. It lacks heart and soul and we may as well be under the rule of ISIS or any hard-line Communist regime. The Arts breed thinkers, dissenters, those that can see the world as it really is and then make it into what it should be. Ah, that’s the problem – this government doesn’t want thinkers or dissenters, it wants sheep and cannon fodder. Silly me…


This is a stupid question, but I’ll ask it anyway. Has Nicky Morgan sat in a class with students who hate Maths, who don’t get it and just want to be free from the subject as soon as they can? No, she hasn’t. And she hasn’t taught 18 year olds still attempting to struggle through their GCSE in English because someone says they have to have that too!

Can we get a grip on what Education is and what it should be and shut the fucking politicians up before they do any more damage to an already broken and shattered part of society? Now would be good. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

My Family – nearly all grown up now

November 8, 2014

This morning I am alone. This is an unusual occurrence given I am married with three children and a full time job. But this weekend, with my beloved ensconced in France and my big two long flown, the youngest has spread her wings and gone to Holland for the weekend – her first solo OS trip.

I am left to think about this situation. She won’t be here for much longer – tis really a matter of months now until she leaves home to finally become an independent adult. It is as it should be. The other two have been long gone – nine years and six years. I thought at the time that they left too soon – 17 and 18 – and was somewhat bereft, but consoled with my fluff bucket full of cuteness and energy, who also thought he ruled the house.


But I would feel a failure as a parent if my grown children were still at home, still tied to us, unable to function in the world. Yes, I know there are mitigating financial issues for some, especially in the UK, and from time to time, when the situation arises, they should come home to re-charge batteries, recover from life’s bruises. But for all concerned, children need to leave home. They need to live their own lives.

My three have gone far and wide and from much younger ages. They are braver and stronger, fiercer and smarter than I was at their ages. But that’s as it should be, isn’t it? Don’t we want our children to have more opportunities, better lives? Don’t we want children we are proud of – who we can skite about, as well as love and cherish?

But in order to have adult children who can do things, who you like as well as love, you have to put in the work from the start. I don’t think it matters how many children you have – one or a dozen – as long as you do the right thing by them, as long as you take care of them and I don’t just mean physical, material things. It is about time and tough love; it is about sleepless nights, school concerts, parent-teacher evenings (oh yes, they’re fun on the other side of the table!), birthday parties, smacks and tears, stories and homework, fairness and consequences.

Good parenting also about rejecting any ideas about perfection. Banish stupid shit about what good mothers do, that working damages children, that childcare is the devil’s playground. Ignore people who tell you staying home is not needed for you or your child. Ignore those who say single parents can’t cope, that all boys must have their fathers around. Parenting is a highly contested, visible area, and just like Education, seemingly everybody has an opinion on how it should be done. You need to trust yourself, ask for help when you need it, but make decisions for you and yours based on what is best for you, not anyone else. It can be hard, but it’s your family and you can make it any way you want. But make it good – we need decent people, well brought up and properly loved.

I have epically failed as a parent. There were days when mine were young when I did wish them away. When I wondered what the other life would have been like – where I was thin and not always worried about money. I was chronically unable to say no to my baby. She never seemed to need it, being such an easy child, but her causal easiness evolved into a casual refusal that became intransigent stubbornness that perhaps should have been addressed earlier. I broke promised to all of them at some time, didn’t do things I said I would, didn’t see lots of movies; borrowed pocket money from my boy but mostly paid him back. I passed the too hard stuff with my big girl over to her father, who really did save her life. Thank God he did, as she’s now one of the best things in my life.

But I knew when I’d stuffed up. I apologized to them. I was human and real. I lost my temper and swore in the car when they were in the back seat – glossing over it by saying it was okay to swear in the Murray car (we had a blue Subaru and a red XJS Jag, which became Wiggles coloured cars, thanks to the young pad-wan). Now they are real with me and confide in me and ask for help or advice when they need it. I ask them too!

But a very wise woman, who worked and had six children of her own, offered a life-saving piece of advice – if you’re getting it right eighty per cent of the time, then you’re doing well. She reminded us that doing the best you could, that stuffing up things with your children was what happened. At the end of the day, it would be all right. And you know, she was right.

Having a child is the ultimate experience. If you have a child with someone you love the intensity of the experience is overwhelming. It blows you away. You made this amazing tiny thing, that hopefully will be the best of both of you. You watch it grow, look after it, love it the best you can and, if most things go right, you end up with amazing young things that you adore, that you could not imagine your life without.

I am a lucky woman. Is luck the word? I work at being a mum. I know how I felt about my own mum and I want mine to feel the same about me. My father had failed as a parent. Sadly he ended up with both of his children estranged from him at his death, not a good place to be. Not a place I intend to be.

So, mine are grown and almost all gone, soon spread across the world, but my family is strong – we like being together, we enjoy each other’s company, we take care over birthdays and Christmas, we keep in regular contact. My big two are hilariously funny when together. My children like each other and that’s a triumph too.

The next phase is upon us – my beloved and I will be alone again, just us. It will be very strange, but good too. Weddings loom and I guess grandchildren will appear in due course. As it should be. We will gather together again to laugh, take the piss, and enjoy our family as it grows and changes. And my beloved and I will indulge in our favourite topic of conversation: our wonderful and utterly lovely three. (Images from Private Collection)

Friendship – it always matters

November 1, 2014

When we’re young we need our family, whilst begrudging them a great deal, but we enjoyed and cherished our friends. We seemed to find more comfort with our friends. Remember the old saying, ‘at least you can choose your friends’.

But really, how much choosing happens? Your first friends occur mostly due to proximity and age – the other kids in the street and the kids in your class at school. Did you actively decide between one person or another in acquiring friends, especially in the back-yard? Didn’t you just get out there in the dusky haze of daylight savings and play all sorts of games until your parents called you in?

Pal's pals@GCSE

I know school days and torturous memories tell us finding and keeping friends at school could be a highly fraught experience. It seemed once you found your set, your little group you were fine. Your problems came if you ended up on the outer for some reason, or your little set was too small and when the others were away it was just you and no-one else would let you play. Yes, we’ve all been rejected, had days when we wished the school playground would swallow us whole. We’ve all been chosen last for the teams at school.

And sometimes that happens in life too. Once we leave school and move into the wonders and dangers of the world it can be hard to find your place again. How do you make friends when you’re older, how do you connect with others once the familiar and forced nature of childhood friendships evaporate?

I can think of a range of situations where making new friends is part of the scene and no matter how we may affect cool we all need to connect and belong, we all need friends.


Think back, how did you make friends

At school – if you moved around a lot

At university or college

At work – in your first job

At work – in every subsequent job

At home – when you moved as a child, or when you left home and then got a place of your own – do you know your neighbours, are they your friends?

In clubs, or groups, sporting teams


I remember standing on the outside, watching people connect and make friends, be drawn easily and readily into an established group. I remember that from uni, from work, from various clubs and activities. I wondered, and I don’t think I ever knew, why some people just seemed to belong, while others struggled to make connections, even though there was nothing obvious in why one and not the other.

Now, I am a person with many friends, from most stages of my life and for that I am thankful and appreciative. I don’t struggle to make new connections but I think that is because I know myself very well, can suss out the sort of person I will find more likely to be my friend, make the necessary investment, but am in no hurry or desperate need to have friends, because, like many people my age, I have enough friends. Perhaps its one of those logical impasses, the more friends you have, the more you can have.

Pal's pals @prom


Some simple tips

Smile at people – it shows you’re open to friendship

Take an interest in others, talk to them, listen – remember key things about them

Take others up on their offer of friendship – to do something together

Get involved in activities – simply doing things with others can get the friendship ball rolling

Being prepared to take risks – the person you wouldn’t normally talk to might be the friend you need

Not needing friends – just being part of the scene

Being patient – others want to make friends too

Having friends is important. Having friends means people like you, want to be with you, value you because they want to, not, like your family, because they have to. Friends affirm us in ways that our family can’t, even if they want to, and that’s why friends matter. They tell us we are worthwhile, they want to spend time with us, make an effort to stay in contact, keep our secrets, set us straight on things, love us unconditionally but tell us when we’re being fools. Think of Bridget Jones and her mates, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Elle in Legally Blonde had friends who got her through her darkest hours, The Lord of the Rings centres on friendship, not to mention Friends itself. Yes, the celluloid world confirms the importance of friendship.

Friendship takes time; it grows slowly and needs care and attention. There are often false starts and breakages along the way. It can be a risky business. The loss of a friend can be as shattering as the loss of a lover. Friendship means patience, kindness, resilience, acceptance: working at it. All relationships need work and not necessarily the same amount at the same time – as long as you’re happy, that’s what matters. It’s a lot like love. In fact, it’s more like love than not – just as love is a many coloured, dangerous, terrible and wonderful thing, so is friendship.

It also does not matter for one moment how many friends you have, as long as they are true and real friends. I am not a better or worse person because I have more or less FB friends than you – in fact I might be in a better place because every one of them is someone I know and am happy to call friend. Remember too, you can find friends in your family – sisters seem very good at being best friends and husbands and wives get very fond of saying their other half is their best friend.


It seems it easier to keep friends once you’ve made them than to make new ones, so perhaps we should take as much care of our friends as our family. After all, we know that friends – real friends – are as important and special as our family. So, cherish your friends, get in touch today and see how they are. Show them you still care, remind them you’re still here, still their friend. (Images from Private Collection)