Saturday, October 10, 2009

Back in Employment

Well, after months of uncertainty I finally received a job offer. Not a job in teaching, but almost back to what I was doing two years ago, before the deeply demoralising experience of teacher training and its aftermath. The process of writing a teaching job application is lengthy. I like tailor each application to the school in question so first of all I do my research, using online profiles, OFSTED reports and school websites, all of which is fairly time consuming. Apart from an application form there is also a supporting letter of up to 2 sides of A4, addressing the specific criteria of the individual person specification. So I would say that each application demands, at least, between 2 and 3 hours work fitted into the rest of life. I stopped counting my actual job applications after 75, most of which were condensed into the period between April and July. Having had no success by the end of term, I decided to apply for any job I could. As a family, we got to the stage where we were dipping into our savings to subsidise our income on a monthly basis and I figured it was better to have income than status. Also, if I remained in schools-based work, there was always the possibility of getting into a teaching job via the back door.

This ploy has proved more successful and I had invitations to 6 interviews in the month of September. I was accepted to the waiting list for an 18-month contract working in Job Centre Plus (a growth market, it seems!) I was a bit miffed about my lack of success in interviews for support roles in schools, given the breadth of my experience. However, I felt some of the panels may have been a bit intimidated by the thought of a 'receptionist' or whatever with corporate vision and an educational philosophy! Sadly, official unemployment rates do not reflect the number of people who are, in reality, seeking employment. People like myself, with a partner in employment, do not qualify for job seeker's allowance and so tend not to be registered as unemployed. Teachers usually register with supply agencies but I found that during the whole of September I only managed to get half a day's work, grossing me £47.50. Teaching jobs I applied for seemed to trawl, on average, 70 applicants for each individual post and support worker posts barely fared any better.

I initially applied for a job as a Teaching Assistant at my school but was unsuccessful; however, they called me back to interview for the post of Cover Supervisor which I was subsequently offered. The money is fairly crap, to be honest, but at 30 hours per week and term time only, it has its compensations. Of course, I am back in secondary schools work so at the moment I am not entirely sure what the future holds for me in vocational terms. I would like to improve my earning capacity, but frankly, teaching requires a lot more than 9 to 5 commitment and that is rapidly losing its appeal. Maybe it is down to the fact that I feel a bit burnt out by the whole process at the mo, I don't know. Certainly I am in need of respite. Being skint and incomeless is lousy but I figure that you can substantially improve your quality of life with a relatively small increase in your cash flow. Right now, investing in my relationships is more important to me.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Greenbelt 2009: Standing in the Long Now

Just got back from our 5th Greenbelt and the more we go, the less it seems to be about the programme. What is seldom is, indeed, wonderful as my mum always reminded me and Greenbelt provides the opportunity to catch up with friends from other parts of the country. Most notably, I get to see my 'family' from my fave blogs, ASBOJesus and Sanctuary. ASBOJesus has, in particular, provided a safe space for me to be me. Never one for feeling entirely at home in a typical church setting, the virtual community at ASBOJesus accepts me as I am, complete with my many foibles which then enables me to cope with the frustrations of being in the margins of church. It has evolved into something which is far more than the sum of its blog parts. Not having had the smoothest of times in the past couple of years, I have felt hugely supported by Jon, Clare, Sonia and Dennis so it was great to meet and chat in person.

The spin-off from these relationships is that we found ourselves at a couple of Proost events over the weekend. My particular favourites from the superb line-up were Andi Mac's 'I Love Elvis', a quirky little animated parable and Dubb, who was confident last year but whose presence had grown considerably since we last saw him at GB08. Not only is he a hugely talented wordsmith, his verbal dexterity in delivering the lines is nothing short of breathtaking. His debut album, Rhythm and Poetry, is now available from the Proost website. Speaking of breathtaking, on Saturday he was more than ably supported by Tyte, the human beatbox. I'm sorry, I just don't get how you can make so many sounds with one little mouth! Tyte has some beatbox tutorial videos on youtube and I once remember having a go myself...yes, I know it is not seemly for a 47 year-old mum to do such things, but I did it in private and I wasn't hurting anybody...anyway, I only succeeded in getting spit all over my laptop screen and it didn't even sound any good. So hats off to Tyte. I thought Jon was an extremely good sport joining in with the 'singy' bits, perhaps next time he should turn his cap around the other way and wear a bit more bling, just for aesthetics! Anyway, I thought it was all good but those were my fave bits. I suggest that, if you want a bit more of a flavour of what Proost is about, you download these freebies.

The Sunday service was a bit disappointing this year because there was no communion, due to all the swine flu bollocks, and the peace was an 'elbow bump'. I really think that if I am going to catch swine flu it is more likely to be via droplets catapulted from someone's vocal cords in an over-enthusiastic fit of congregational singing than by a handshake. Anway, after the main service, a significantly smaller congregation gathered over at the children's festival where consecrated elements were available for those who wanted them. I wondered who was going to be responsible for glugging all the leftover 'wine'.

The beer tent was a better layout this year - a smaller bar meant it was more spacious inside. In addition, there was a wine bar (or was it a wind car?) which provided a rather more sophisticated ambience. It was called 'NUN' and was adorned with blue lights, Aah! the days when all you had to worry about was whether to drink Blue Nun or Black was all Liebfraumilch to me... Far too much choice these days and it leads to snobbery; any old plonk used to be the sophisticated alternative to half a lager and lime. Anyway, I digress. Back to the point, we met Dennis and Sharron there on Sunday evening and DJ Jonny Baker was providing the chilled beats (is the poor lad having to moonlight to make ends meet?)

What else did we actually do there? We listened to Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop (is that right?). He seemed a nice man but I had trouble staying awake in his talk. and spirituality - either is great on its own, but for some reason, the instant you get a clergyman combining the two, somehow it becomes inert. I couldn't be bothered queuing for Rob Bell, having been turned away from his first talk which was hugely over-subscribed. But I listened to the Q & A session at the Grandstand. I liked him but I'm not that keen on farties from the audience asking questions. Some come up with good questions but often they are completely dire. I checked out Maggie Dawn and will probably get hold of her Advent book this year. At least one John Bell talk is de rigeur at GB and this is how we chose to open our festival.

Oh and I loved the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. A big selection of horns and a drummer with a little bit of hip hop thrown into the mix. I was reminded of Earth, Wind and Fire's funky horn section and couldn't resist the temptation to shrug off my terribleh English sensibilities and have a little boogie in the Bank Holiday sunshine...just kinda got me in the zone, if you know what I mean. Just as long as no-one saw me! I now discover that my EWF connection was well-spotted since the eight brothers in the band are sons of one Phil Cohran, a jazz trumpeter who worked with some of the EWF horn section and was a musical influence on Maurice White. So there! Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Gallery Valerie

A friend of mine, Valerie Marshall, has just set up a new website. Valerie is an artist of great talent whose most recent works have combined her love of painting and drama to produce a series of original paintings inspired by the works of William Shakespeare. The good news is that she is producing a series of limited edition, high quality giclée prints which are available from her web-based gallery. The full range of prints for sale can be viewed at Gallery Valerie

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Good Things Happen to Good People...

A fantastic day was had by all last Friday when my daughter, Kirsty, graduated from Newcastle University with a BA Hons in Modern Languages. These days don't come along too often so you have to make the most of them. We travelled to Gateshead on Thursday evening to give us a relaxed start to the day. The ceremony wasn't until 4pm so we did all the necessary - collected the gown, had the photos taken, had a bit of lunch and wandered around the campus to find out where our baby had been spending her time for the last four years. The ceremony was a lovely affair in the dignified surroundings of the King's Hall at the university. A strange thing about Newcastle is that you don't get to wear a mortar board - well, I ask you, what is the whole point of all that burning of the midnight oil if not to have the opportunity to wear a silly hat? Anyway, part of the award ceremony is to be 'hooded', ie some geezer called the Hooding Marshal slings the hood over your head and leaves it dangling unceremoniously around your throat, much in the style of a hangman. Strange goings on...

We had a lovely reception afterwards, with bubbly, canapes and strawberries and cream. Very nice. For our own personal celebration, we went to a Turkish restaurant and then walked down to the Quayside for a drink before bedtime. We shall live on the enjoyment of that day for some time to come...

I meant to post something about this ages ago, but forgot. Anyway it is something I am really chuffed about. My big sister, Maria, and her daughter Jeanette have been involved for a few years with a kids' project in their locality. It is called the Stockbridge Village Junior Rangers and involves working with youngsters to look after a local area of woodland and learn all about nature. Anyway, they were nominated for an Observer Ethical Award and were joint winners of the Ecover Ethical Children's Award. Maria, Jeanette and other leaders attended the award ceremony at the swanky Kensington Roof Gardens amongst such luminaries as David Attenborough. Highlight for Maria was undoubtedly the opportunity to snog Mr D'Arcy himself, Colin Firth...perhaps I exaggerate ever so slightly! Have a look at the video link to find out about the fab work of the Rangers. I am so proud of Maria and Jeanette for the hard work they put in.

Jeanette is second from left and Maria is the one next to her snuggling up to Mr D'Arcy!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Week 2009

And so the cycle continues...Holy Week already. As I write, it is almost done. It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it actually is to be reflective, even for such a short time. It seems that when we have time away from our work routines, we expand the 'things to do' to fill the available time. That said, it has, in its way been a worthwhile week.

Monday was a curious day. I received a phone call last week from a cousin to inform me of the death of his father. This was very sad to hear. I barely knew my uncle. This is, sadly, so often the case in large families. But I know he was a lovely person from the distant memories I have of both him and my auntie when they used to visit my parents. We also exchanged Christmas cards each year. I am always glad (if this is the right word in this context) to be available to attend funerals. So much of life is given up to work that, as a society, we seem to be loathe to give up any time to pay respects to a life well lived. A benefit of my current 'state of flux' is that I can afford myself the luxury of time when I need it. The funeral was taking place just a few minutes from where I live so I was able to attend. Though a sad occasion, there was part of me that was excited to meet my aforementioned cousin, with whom I had had limited contact through Facebook, the infamous social networking site. As much as I can see the disadvantages of Facebook, I must say I have enjoyed a number of very positive experiences through it. On this occasion, it certainly took away that awkwardness that you can feel when you connect with family you have never met before. To round the day off nicely, I managed to tip the scales a pound lighter than the previous week at the Slimming World class. 16.5lbs, so far (she adds, smugly).

Tuesday was a day in the city with my youngest. A coffee in Starbucks, a film (Marley and Me - not my choice but it was harmless entertainment) and a bit of shopping. This was also Phil's birthday so it was out in the evening to Dine India and chocolate cake back home. We were able to share the candle blowing ceremony with Kirsty in Spain via the wonders of Skype. We even cut a symbolic slice of cake for her which Lol ate on her behalf! Still trying to get the cake crumbs out of the keyboard!

Wednesday was a more relaxing day, but the highlight was a visit from my friend and former work colleague, Julie. It was lovely to have an opportunity to catch up as it is a rare treat these days.

Thursday, Lol and I met my brother, John, in Liverpool. The weather wasn't brilliant but we did manage to take a walk along the river front and we had a pub lunch. John's daughter, Margaret, was able to join us for that which was fun!

Good Friday means the traditional Walk of Witness. Numbers do seem to have dwindled this year but I don't think the weather helped. We always finish with a light buffet lunch at St Mike's and this year we had the benefit of the lovely new church hall. I love these occasions because it is good to catch up with so many lovely people. I also did the Good Friday service at my own church at 3pm. The best treat was a phone call from Phil in Guernsey with whom we share lovely memories of toasted hot cross buns on Good Friday.

Now that I look back over Holy Week, it has been all about people, taking time to talk and enjoy their company...which just reinforces the sense that the meaning of life is all about relationship.

Happy Easter, to you and your loved ones...when it gets here!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Good grief! Is it that long since my last post?

How very remiss of me! Well, no doubt, after the last one the big question is, "How is the healthy eating plan going?" Not bad...I've shed a stone now so hopefully things will continue to move in the same direction. I've had an interview for a summer term which didn't go my way, but it was good to know that the application was successful in getting me that far. Haven't really got much in the way of news so I thought I would post this little vid for your delectation. I haven't watched the whole programme, myself, but I've heard it is a bit hit and miss (as is often the case with sketch shows). But this one really made me chuckle...enjoy!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Drastic Action...

I am (a) 46 years old, (b) overweight and (c) out of a job. None of this is good, but I am limited in terms of what I can do to change this. The date of birth is fixed - I have to accept this. Applying for a teaching post is not like going on The Apprentice. Sir Alan Sugar may be quite happy to turn a blind eye to certain details on dynamic young things' CVs, but LEAs and CRBs will have no truck with even the smallest porkies. Even if your date of birth is not a requirement, it doesn't take an Einstein to figure out that if you list your O levels which were awarded by the JMB, you are not far short of baby boomer status. Actually, this is just as well as I have not yet met any Einsteins. As for the job applications process, I have had offers from a couple of people to read through my application. One is a primary school governor who has read lots of applications over the years and the other a secondary school headteacher. I may take them up on the offer and suffer the ritual humiliation which will be bound to follow. I also got a phone call from a guy at the college where I did my PGCE, firstly to congratulate me on graduating, secondly to ask me to take part on a little survey to find out what former students were doing. I responded with almost inverse triumphalism that I was unemployed - well, call me old fashioned but, to me, a job is something you do roughly 9 to 5, 5 days per week until you or your employer decide otherwise - supply doesn't cut the mustard being just a couple of days a week (if you are lucky). Sadly this was the closest I got to dinting the armour of the mighty HE establishment. I had obviously bombed out at the first stage on the guys's flowchart and he just gave me a phone number to make an appointment for CV advice. So I might do that.

So, I can't do anything about my age, I'm doing what I can about the job situation, what about the weight problem? I have bitten the bullet and joined my local branch of Slimming World - oh! the indignity! Now I do have a little history with Slimming World. In 1999 I joined for the first time and enjoyed significant success. I lost 2 stones and felt great. Sadly I put 3 stones back on. I have waddled around since with my excess baggage, eating what I want when I want and kidding myself that I am a dress size smaller than I am in reality. I turned up at the local recreation centre and was talked through the 'eating plan' (diet is a 4-letter word!). The 'consultant' opened with, " Now, before I go through the plan with you, I want to say well done for just coming through the door, I know it's hard..." Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for me to be lowered by a crane through the ceiling? No, I'm not that big - I had a good 6 inches of clearance on either side of me as I entered through the door!

I tipped the scales at 12 st 4.5 lbs - eek! I'm only 5'3"! According to the Body Mass Index in the Slimming World books, That puts me just inside the purple zone which places my health at a significant risk. Not quite morbidly obese but definitely time for drastic action. And to ease things along I have invested in Davina's Super Body Workout (did I say 'ease'?). If I can shoehorn myself out of my armchair, I shall aim to do it 3 times a week. I am certainly not shelling out for gym membership.

I am hoping that tackling the weight problem will assist in the other two areas. I will look a bit younger and this in turn will help me get a job. I think I have uncovered an inherent ageism in primary school recruitment panels. And I wouldn't be surprised if they were fatist, too.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Woolies Lament.

In the last week we have seen the demise of one of those great high street shops, Woolworth. In the past few months we have seen the deaths of two wonderful women from our parish church community. I was lucky to have been able to attend the requiem masses of both women to pay my last respects to them. It always amazes me how you can learn so much about people from their eulogy. I ask myself why I didn't know these things when they were alive and they could have told me themselves. So it is with the passing of Woolworth. I discovered that the first UK branch of Woolworth was on Church Street in Liverpool. This is important, why did I not know this? I have never known a shop mourned so sincerely by a nation as Woolies. I suspect that the passing of this chainstore stands as a symbol of something much bigger, the passing of a way of life.

My first job, a Saturday job between the ages of 14 and 16, was at Woolworths. Education was simpler then - most people did O levels or CSEs. The academics stayed on for A levels and possibly (though not exclusively) university. It was accepted that for some jobs, no qualifications were needed, some required a handful of O levels/CSEs, some required A levels and others required a degree/diploma. There was a role for everyone. Probably the majority got a full time job at 16 and those for whom the education system hadn't worked were enrolled on a YOP scheme, ie an opportunity to gain some work experience whilst obtaining a modest sum of money from the Government. Important to note that the YOP scheme and its successors were heavily critiqued at the time but I wonder if we really have anything better now. I remember sitting down and writing half a dozen letters, on spec, to Personnel Departments (HR) of local organisations that were 'good companies to work for' on the advice of my mum and dad. Littlewoods (mail order and pools), the Gas Board, Royal Insurance, Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and United Biscuits. Within the week, I had replies from all, most promising to keep my name on file but one invitation to interview at the Royal Insurance, where I got my first full time job.

I loved my time at the Royal Insurance. We worked in a modern building in the business end of Liverpool and we were well looked after. There was a profit-sharing scheme, cheap company mortgages after a period of eligibility and a lively sports and social dimension. We had a fab staff restaurant with good quality subsidised meals and panoramic views of the Mersey, to boot (I reckon views would be lost now, thanks to the level of building which is slowly destroying the Liverpool skyline.) We could get free flu jabs each year from our fully equipped medical suite. We even had an onsite gym overlooked by the staff bar...yes, the staff bar, open each evening with subsidised booze. But then this is before the days of binge drinking. Oh, did I forget to mention flexitime?

I may have been mad, but I took the trip across the road to Littlewoods after a year as the money was better. I spent 12 years at Littlewoods until after the 'old man' had died and 'the family' seemed more interested in carving up the inheritance than looking after the least that is how it seemed at the time. The old man in question was Sir John Moores, or Mr John as he was known by his extended family of employees. Even into his dotage, he would come into the office each day, latterly in his wheelchair with the aid of his assistant. I am convinced that 'young Mr Grace' of Are you Being Served? was based on him.

Littlewoods paid for me to do a Business Studies qualification on day release. This wasn't so unusual back then. Nowadays, the Government is so busy sucking up to big business that the education system has been all but ruined in the bid to provide skills that industry needs. Back in my day, industry and business were investors in people and put their hands in their pockets to equip workers with the necessary skills to succeed in their work. Even the much applauded 'modern apprenticeship' schemes are a shadow of the real, 4-year apprenticeships which we used to have.

Aye, the times they are a changin'

Those who know me, see if you can spot me on these museum exhibits! Just click on the photo to see a bigger version.

Littlewoods Further Education Awards 1981

Littlewoods Further Education Awards 1982

Huge thanks to my good mate Jon Birch for his Woolies cartoon at the top of the post.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy 2009!

Blimey, its been ages since my last post. I suppose I've been waiting for something to happen but very little has happened in the last few months which is worth recording. More than anything, I'm waiting for a job. I have been working as a supply teacher since September. This has been an interesting experience. I find I am often greeted by children saying, "Are you our supply teacher?" to which I respond in the affirmative. This provokes a response, "Yisss!!" Now I would like to think this means they are looking forward to some interesting and stimulating educational activities. In reality, it means they are looking forward to high jinks with someone they probably will never see again after today. I would never have believed that children so young could be so devious. As a supply you never have the chance to develop that all important relationship with the children which enables you to develop strategies for dealing with poor behaviour. I have, however, had some delightful classes, often in schools serving areas of significant social deprivation. I have found that a strong, slightly scary head generally means well-behaved classes.

A good benefit of doing supply is that you get a chance to visit lots of schools and see which ones you would like to work in. You also get lots of ideas which you can incorporate into your own class when (if) you get it. You also see lots of things NOT to include in your own class. The worst idea so far, is not having afternoon break (I don't have a problem with no afternoon break if it means finishing 15 mins earlier) but instead having 'tuck' in the middle of the afternoon. I cannot fathom the wisdom of allowing the children to fill themselves with apparently unlimited e-numbers in the middle of lessons. Surely this just encourages spending the last hour bouncing off the walls! I can't see me going back to that particular school.

The only other thing to report from the end of 2008 is the arrival of Cleo. She is about 8 months old and is a rescue cat who came to live with us about two months ago. She is very sweet but rather mischievous. Not sure she loves me as much as she could, but that is because I am the only one in the house to impose any boundaries.

Desires for 2009? At the moment, I want more than anything to find a job, preferably a permanent post but in all likelihood a maternity leave cover to start my induction year. I crave my own class. That said, I am considering taking any job, even one outside of teaching, just to keep the wolf from the door. The credit crunch is likely to be tough for us, since his Lordship is in Sales and his wages are largely commission-based. I really need to pull my weight a bit more. My other desire is to get to 2010 relatively unscathed by the financial crisis.