Tuesday, 31 December 2013

It's almost the end...

2013 is almost at an end...  And it's absolutely flown by.  I know people say every single year, "gosh! doesn't time fly?!"  But this year really seems like it has. :)  I imagine that it's partly because I remember so clearly what I did last NYE.  It was nothing exciting, I just watched the new Michael McIntyre DVD I'd been saving specially, and had a few vodkas. ;)  I remember one moment where I was eating a chocolate mousse, he said something particularly funny, and I spat it all over myself. :)

So...  What was particularly memorable in 2013?

  • My day of interviews with the BBC about bins.  A live-on-air radio interview, a TV interview, a phone interview, and a piece in print on the BBC News website.
  • My little driving holiday to Somerset during August.  It was a lot of driving for a 3 day holiday, but I enjoyed it a lot and would do it again.
  • I also had a little trip to Wales with the parents during the summer.  That to, was also pleasant.  It had been some years since we'd been away on holiday together.
  • My various adventures with Adele, including Bicester, Ragdale and crazy golf to name a few highlights.  There was, of course, a great amount of sitting around, drink coffee, and being mauled by her crazy dog (now plus a new one, which I find myself strangely warming to, solely because he likes a snuggle.)
  • Standing a-top the Long Mynd.  A staggeringly beautiful place that I hadn't known existed, oddly.
  • Two outstanding National Theatre performances, 'Macbeth' and 'Frankenstein'.  Both were amazing, and I've gone ahead and booked 'Coriolanus' and 'War Horse' for January & February.
  • My car accident.  Looking back now, I can chalk it up as one of life's trials.  Felt pretty crap for 3 weeks after.  Especially as it mucked up two social occasions, which I've still yet to re-book.
  • My new car.  :)  By lucky coincidence, she's exactly the colour I would have chosen if I'd bought her brand new.  I've named her Bonny and she's a cheerful sky-blue Ford Ka.  The new version of what I wrote off previously.  ;)
  • A rainy and windy weekend trip to Aberystwyth for a family wedding.
  • An overnight trip to Birmingham to see Josh Groban at Symphony Hall.
  • Another trip to Birmingham to see Tim Minchin as Judas in 'Jesus Christ Superstar'.  Great show, but completely horrifyingly long and awful drive home from central Birmingham, in the dark.  If I were to do it again, I think I'd try and find alternative travel arrangements.
  • After 2 months unemployment at the start of the year, I got a job over in Brackley.  It took a while to settle in, the class were remarkably untrained, and my relationship with my TA took a while to warm up.  But come July, they were one of my most favourite classes I've ever had, my TA and I got on well and I heartily loved the school.  When the time came for me to leave again in November, I was most disappointed.  I have nothing but good things to say about that school.  But the commute was a bitch.
  • I started another Year 1 post at a school in Northampton.  Very, very different to Brackley school.  I am reserving judgement for the time being.
  • After an 18-month long saga, I am officially discharged from the hospital after my eye surgery.  What with breaking my elbow in the September of 2011, then the eye saga that began around April 2012, there hasn't been that much time, since moving to Northampton in the summer of 2011, where I haven't been under hospital care.  And I visited a friend who was admitted during January/February.  It would be great if 2014 could be the year of either No Hospitals, or visiting the hospital for purely Happy Things.
  • The heavy snow of January was a pain.  It didn't melt for a LONG TIME outside my flat, and made conditions downright treacherous underfoot.  I remember feeling very, very pleased when it FINALLY melted.
  • We had a good-weather summer for the first time in a few years.  During the summer holidays I mostly lived in shorts, and spent a fair amount of time lying on the bed, eating ice-lollies and reading some really good books.
And, I think...  That's about it.  It's been a very fast year.  With only one or two particularly notable exceptions, it's been a good one.

Here's to good health and happiness for you all in 2014.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Purging Again!

With the new year nearly here, I've been on Operation Purge again.

I did it during the summer holidays, but find that when I'm in the middle of a busy time at work (which is most of the time), I stop being as organised and tidy as I'd like to be.
I'd planned to get on it again during November, when I was off work, but found that I just "didn't have the spoons" (Google "spoon theory" if you're not sure what that is) to do Operation Purge, plus Nanowrimo, PLUS deal with car-related fallout.

Today though, I was ON IT.

Started with the bedroom.  Went through all my clothes and filled 2 bin-bags with charity shop contributions.  Also rotated what was left so that I'd wear some things I haven't worn in ages.  In fact, I am now wearing one of my oldest jumpers.  It's probably at least 10 years old, but it still fits, is in decent condition and isn't grossly unfashionable.  I threw away quite a few bits just because they looked old.  Not "bad" as such, but just well-loved, a bit thin, and very bobbly in the case of a few wool pieces.

Then I targeted my jewellery collection.  Took all my necklaces out and evaluated them.  Some of them just aren't the sort of thing I like to wear any more.  Realised I prefer dainty pendant-type pieces, not huge "statement" items.  There were even a couple of really nice ones I'd forgotten that I owned.

Next job is to target the random piles of paperwork round the edge of my settee.  It needs a purge. :)

I am also going to throw out the empty DVD cases.  The DVDs themselves are stored in boxes under the TV.  I LOVE the new system, and NOT having an entire wall dominated by DVD cases pleases me no end.
I said I'd keep the cases until Christmas, in case I changed my mind.  But I haven't.  So now it's time for them to be thrown away!  Huzzah!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Weekend Update

1:  I've now completed two weeks at New School.  Had a baptism by fire on Thursday/Friday as the teacher who I'm working with called in sick, so the 29 kids were all mine.  Also didn't have any teaching assistant support from most of the time, so it was a bit hectic, but ultimately went fine.  On Friday afternoon, the Head caught me to say that I'd done really well with my unexpected two days. :)  So that's good news.

2:  Just completed some maths planning for the first week back after Christmas.  It's actually been quite a while since I've done planning completely on my own.  Last time I taught Year 1, Steve and I did all the planning together, so to be on my own with it is new.  But it's fine.  A bit of a slow process while I get back into the swing of it, but nothing too difficult.  I'm glad I have that bank of mental ideas though.  I imagine it would be hard to do as an NQT.  My opposite number in Year 1 is an NQT, and responsible for the literacy planning.  That'll be something I'll have to keep an eye on. ;)

3:  Not really done much else this week, apart from school.  This coming week is the last week before Christmas, so there's lots of Christmasy activities planned.  Parties, performances etc.  Enough to keep us busy, certainly!  My aim for the evenings during this coming week is to get ahead on my planning for the new term.  I think I'll have enough to keep up on with marking etc, without having to worry about planning as well.  Although, saying that, "worry" is too strong a word.  Perhaps just "think about" will do. 

4:  The girl I maths tutor on a Thursday night is coming along nicely.  She did much better than last time on her school end-of-term maths test, which makes me look good.  She's asked to have a session on equivalent fractions, mixed numbers and improper fractions this coming week!  OMG.  Had to find out what they were!  Easy though, I can teach that, no problem, now I know what it is.  Quite easy actually. :)

5:  Went to swap Xmas pressies with Adele yesterday.  They've decided to permanently adopt the dog they were fostering, Ziggy.  He's a sweetie and spent most of the time I was there trying to be on my lap.  What a baby.

6:  Went to Tescos today and bought the 'Friends' boxset.  It's been around for years in various guises, but I've resisted buying it.  Yesterday though, I saw it for £45, which, for about 100 hours of TV, is good value.  I used to have them all in individual season boxsets, but I seem to have lost a good number of the discs...  I can only guess that I put them somewhere during my various house moves, and don't know where they are any more. 
For years, I've wanted to watch 'Friends' from start to end, in the right order, so now I can do that easily. :D
I also bought myself 2 jumpers.  I seem to have lots of thin jumpers, which aren't much thicker than a long-sleeve t-shirt, and lots of hoodies and cardis.  But have very few normal thickness/normal arm length jumpers.  I bought a stripy one back in the summer and have worn it loads, which shows there is a gap in my wardrobe for that sort of thing.  So got two more.  Yay!

7:  Heading over to Shropshire this coming Saturday for Christmas.  It starts on a high Saturday night with the annual Ticklerton Tea with the extended family.  It's been good fun in the past and is becoming something of a tradition.  Should be good, and crowded!

8:  All is okay with my new car.  I'm getting to know it and am resolved to keeping it clean and tidy, at least internally.  It's definitely bigger than the old car, which is good.  The trip to Shropshire on Saturday will be the first long drive I've done in it.

I think that's it for now.
I shall try and update with my annual Christmas message before the day.

Toodles for now.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

First Week Review

Things That I've Done Lately:

1:  My Christmas shopping is almost all done.  With the exception of a plant mum wants, which I'll get a bit nearer the time - probably next weekend.

2:  Adele (my pet pharmacist) gave me a flu jab the other week.  Earlier this year, I did catch a fluey-type thing that lasted a good 10 days.  Also, teachers are (according to my union) included in the groups of the population who are advised to get it due to the large web of people we come into contact with.  Many of whom have less than savoury personal hygiene standards.

3:  Survived my first week at my new school.  I can't get over how fancy the building is.  The staffroom has under-floor heating for crying out loud!  And it is too hot all around school.  This is an extreme novelty to me.  Schools are, in my experience, usually freezing.  And in the classrooms there are skylights, which have electronic blinds, and you can dim the lights when using the interactive whiteboard.  And the lights throughout the building are all motion controlled.  And there are no key-pad entry points, it's all controlled by little swipey gadgets.  And yet, there aren't enough guided reading books.  So... can't have it all.

4:  I am due to get a new teaching assistant in January.  I spoke to the Head about it on Wednesday.  She said they've had 39 applications.  Wowzas.  For a 2-day a week job, who knew it would be that popular?!  I already have an excellent teaching assistant for the other 3 days, who seems lovely, so hopefully I'll get someone equally good for the other 2 days.

5:  It is a busy 2 weeks leading up to the Christmas holiday.  We did a play rehearsal on Friday morning...  And it was shocking how dismal it was.  The Year 2 team are the ones in charge, and they have left it too long.  The kids don't know their lines, or when they should speak, or anything really.  The first performance is only 6 school days away.  Hmmm.

6:  When I have a life-change, I find that I sleep like a baby, and have incredibly long and detailed dreams.  I've had some very long ones this past week that have seemed to go on for hours and hours!  I didn't actually dream about work at all though.  I dreamt about holidays, family, cars.  All sorts.  Clearly my brain has needed a lot of processing time this past week.

I think that's all to report for this week.

Another busy week ahead!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Had just opened this up to write, and was disturbed by the postman with an array of exciting packages! 
- My last paycheck from SF Primary School for 3 days I didn't actually work.  It was half-term but I was technically still employed by them.
- A £5 gift voucher.
- A new book from an unknown person, I'm guessing to celebrate my Nanowrimo victory?

Anyway, where was I?

Well...  November wasn't the best month for me, for one reason.  I managed to total my car, which was pretty shit, and has made me feel pretty shit for a good long time.  It has not been an enjoyable experience and not one I'd recommend to anyone.
Those of you who read this, mostly know the whole sorry tale and I'm basically done with talking about it.

For the last week and a bit, I've been driving a late 2011 new style Ford Ka around.  Before my accident, I'd been kind of thinking it would be time for a car upgrade perhaps within the new 2-3 years, and when that time did come, it would be very exciting. 
Only because it was forced upon me, I haven't really enjoyed having and getting to know a new car.  It IS a lovely car, easy to drive and is pretty to look at, but I'm still getting a bit anxious BEFORE I get in it to drive.  But once I am in the car, and driving, I'm absolutely fine and can almost enjoy it.

Hopefully, once I start my new job next Monday, it'll all become less of a brain-clog and I'll have other things to dominate my brain.  Which I'm sure I will, based on the visit I had yesterday!

I'd (perhaps mistakenly) believed that I'd have a week of hand-over with the teacher who is leaving.  Not the case, I discover.  She's here until Christmas, so we actually have 3 weeks!  I'm absolutely 100% on-board with that and it'll be useful time to have while I get to grips with the quirks of a new school.  Luckily, the teacher I'm with, C, seems very nice and genuinely very pleased to have an extra pair of hands while she's heavily pregnant.  As well as someone to take over PE lessons.  ;)

In other news...  The past few months I've really been enjoying the screenings to cinemas that the National Theatre have been doing.  Recently I've seen Hamlet and Frankenstein, which were both very, very good.  I've now bought tickets for Coriolanus and War Horse.  I'm particularly excited for War Horse.  I've heard fantastic things about it, and even looked into going down to London for it over the summer, but tickets were £70+.  No thanks.  So to do it for £12, 10 minutes from my house, is perfect.  Of course, it's not quite the same as seeing it live, but from my experiences so far, it's a very admirable second.

In more news...  I completed my 4th winning Nanowrimo novel.  It was definitely the hardest one I've done so far for a number of reasons:
1:  It turns out realistic, modern fiction is not my favourite genre to write in.  It started well, but then 30K to 40K was some of the worst, most boring stuff I've ever written.  It was just starting to pick up as I hit 50K.  Typically.
2:  My brain was just elsewhere this month.  In past years, I've really enjoyed it and enjoyed exerting the effort and stubbornness required.  This year it just felt like work.  And not particularly fun work.
3:  Before Nano started, I was sure I loved my plot.  But as I wrote, it turned out that I didn't love it as much as I thought.

But anyway, I "won" and completed the 50K on Wednesday 27th.  The previous year, I'd finished on the 18th, which just goes to show how much more of a slog it was this year.  But even so, there was only one day this month that I didn't write a word.  And that was the 2nd, the day of my accident, where I was only good for cranking up my heating as high as I could, but still shaking on the sofa, watching a really stupid, mindless DVD and popping a sleeping pill that took ages and ages to work.  Fun times.

In yet more news...  The new Waitrose at the end of my road opened its doors yesterday.  It has seemingly been a long time coming.  If I remember correctly, the first murmurings I heard of it was a letter through my door not long after I first moved in.  Perhaps it was November 2011.  There were long delays in planning (I emailed Waitrose to ask if it was actually happening or not) and then they seemed to spend an incredible length of time just not doing very much.  They took some hedges down the better part of a year ago, dumped some building supplies down, then nothing happened for a long time.
But once they started to actually build, it's gone up quite quickly.  They've messed around with the road layout outside, making a filter lane to turn into the car park, which is handy I guess.  Although personally I still wouldn't want to turn right out of the new car park onto the road.  At pretty much any time beyond first thing and night time, the road is pretty busy.  Luckily, I pretty much only ever turn left out of my road, which is easy.

Still, it will be nice to have a new supermarket at the end of the road.  My next nearest shop is a good 20 minute walk away, which is a bit far when you just want a paper or a chocolate bar.  So to have one 5 minutes away is very handy indeed.

I haven't gone over to have a look at it yet, because I'm waiting in for a parcel.  It's coming via courier, which is a pain, because my experience of them is that they are notoriously rubbish at everything.  And if you miss them, it's a right pain to actually get your hands on the parcel.  If it was just good old Royal Mail, it wouldn't matter, because it would just go back to the sorting office, which is a short drive away.  A sorting office for a courier firm could be, quite literally, anywhere.  So...  I'm just waiting for this item, THEN I might get out to look at Waitrose.  And I need to go to the garden centre next door to it for a Christmas present for someone anyway.  So I can kill two birds with one stone.

I think...  That might be it!

Monday, 4 November 2013


In the spirit of distracting myself from my own brain, I thought I'd do a post to tell you about BzzAgent.co.uk

Basically, it's a site now run by Tescos (although clearly not actively promoted by them, it seems to be a bit on the "shhh!"), where, in exchange for reviews and some social media activity, they'll send you free products to test out.

I discovered BzzAgent about 2.5 years ago and joined for the freebies.  It does take a while for the ball to start rolling, but 2013 has been, for me, my year of free stuff.  I've done 13 campaigns for them since January this year, which is high.

I thought I'd tell about the campaigns I've done, and the products I've tried -

Vanish Oxy Action Stain Remover - Good product.  Not something I'd have bought myself, but I do find myself adding it to washes, especially light washes.  It seems to do a good job on those annoying little stains.

Simple Facial Wipes - Didn't like these much.  They left my skin feeling clammy and itchy.  And they had a funny smell.  Used a few then threw the rest away.

Halls XS - Mini sweets, a bit like Tic-Tacs.  There was a mint flavour, which was impossibly strong for me, and a lemon flavour that tasted like bad medicine.  Halls usually make cough/throat sweets, but these were very different.  Didn't like them.  And from other reviews I saw, other people were similarly confused about what market these were being aimed at.  I've not seen these in the shops since, so either they've gone back for re-development, or the idea bombed completely.

Azera - A coffee, made by Nescafe.  I was excited to try this campaign.  I like coffee and Nescafe is a good brand.  But I was disappointed by this.  Very wishy-washy flavour, very blah.  Threw a good chunk of it away.  I wouldn't buy again.  I have seen it in the shops though, so clearly some people liked it.

Tesco Free From - I was sent some coupons to spend on whatever I wanted from the Free From range.  The things I tried were okay, from what I can recall.  Although I remember the frozen pizza being a let down.

Veet EasyWax - I'm afraid I wimped out on trying this in the end...  Ended up selling it.

Scholl Dry Skin Instant Recovery Cream - Intended for your feet, I actually use it on my face from time to time.  It's been very good for some extra-dry flaky patches I've had.  I'm not sure I'd buy it again, but still a good product.

Tesco Entertaining Cheese range - Again some vouchers to spend on anything from the range.  Hit and miss.  The goats cheese wrapped in pancetta was fantastic, whereas the pesto and mozzarella was blah.  A bit expensive, so not something I'd buy again.

Batiste - A dry shampoo, dry conditioner and a dry "plumping agent".  Well, the plumping agent was something I was never going to use.  The dry conditioner I've used a little bit.  And the dry shampoo I've really liked and found myself using quite regularly!  This is actually a product I will buy again!

Dylon Fabric Dyes - My product never arrived, so I've been unable to test that.

LowLow - They make little snack pots of cheese, crackers and chutney.  They were very difficult to track down in the shops, but when I finally did find one, I was very impressed.  Tasty!  I'd buy again.

Tesco Finest Chocolate - Still testing this.  Perfectly okay, but no better than its rivals.  I probably wouldn't choose it over another brand.

Havaianas Wellies - No actual wellies to test, unfortunately!  But in exchange for a few social media comments and a questionnaire, I'm entered in a competition to win a pair.  We'll see!

And so you see, a few "absolute no", a few "not too bads" and a few "liked it!"  Hit and miss.

I've also recently started testing with The Savvy Circle.
So far I've done Ariel liquitabs, Lenor, and I'm about to start on Febreeze car fresheners.  Which is ironic considering my car related trauma of late!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Book 4 - Nanowrimo

Tomorrow, one of my favourite months of the year begins.

November.  Or, as it's more aptly known, "Nanowrimo month".  That is, for the uneducated, "National Novel Writing Month".

I first took part in 2006.  I'd just graduated university and had just started my first "grown up" job at the DVLA.  A job I knew, within about 3 days, was clearly not going to be my "forever job".

I can't really remember how I first stumbled across the idea for Nanowrimo.  I can only imagine that it was mentioned on a blog, or on LiveJournal.  But straightaway, I knew that is was something I'd want to do.  Something I could be good at.  And something creative (there was a supreme lack of creativity in my existence in those few years - things like neurochemistry, the biology of the eye and vehicle taxation do not lend themselves to creative endeavour)

So, that first year, I plucked a vague idea out of nowhere and went with it.  And so wrote 'The Marbles Of Flamaingo'.  Let's just say that I had an original idea that was quite good, but then zero idea of how the plot should develop.  But I blabbed on for 50,000 words to claim my first Winner!status.  I've barely looked at what I wrote since the day I finished the 50k.

Now, 50k is a LOT of words.  It really is.  It's about the length of 'Catcher In The Rye' or 'Brave New World'.  Strictly speaking, more a novella than a full-length novel.  But a book nonetheless.

I then skipped out on Nano for a few years.  I made vague attempts in 2007 and 2008, but couldn't get it to happen.  Then didn't try at all until 2011.

That year I got an outline idea of a book from dad.  It was a fun idea in the sci-fi genre - a genre I like to write in, but not read personally.  Because I had the basis of a plot, it took the bulk of the idea generation away.  And so was, in it's own way, a nice step-up back into the world of Nanowrimo.

I ended up winning Nano again with the novel I named 'Chain Of Command', but after the 50k were done, I didn't really know what to do with it next.  There were some good bits there, but not enough to make me do more.

In 2012 I did it again with my own idea and wrote 'Ten Steps Behind' (later renamed to 'The Drugs I Choose', but I still really think of it as T.S.B).  I had another easy win (I think I was done by the 18th of November) and it was the one I enjoyed most so far.  As the story unfolded, I knew exactly what I was doing with it, and, for the first time ever, was able to write "The End' at 51k.  The first time I'd managed to produce a whole story arc.

At the end I knew what edits I'd like to do and even decided on a new direction for the story.  But I've never gotten around to it.  It's the first one I've written that I think has scope to continue into something more, should I ever be so inclined to do so.  I'm really quite proud of that book.

This year I'm writing 'River Road Hotel', which is roughly about people smuggling and illegal migrant workers.  Basically a modern day slave trade. 
This will be my first "real world" book.  My previous 3 being based in mostly sci-fi/futuristic worlds.  To be writing about something that could be happening today is a new one for me.

People have asked me "why do you do it?"  Or "what's the point?"
To which I don't really have an answer for either.  For the first question, my answer is usually something like "because it's fun and it's a challenge."  For the second, it's usually just "fun".  But there is So Much More To It Than That.  I do think that until you commit to Nano'ing yourself, people just don't understand how fulfilling it is.  It is impossible to put into words.  Indescribable.

I'd have to rely on people far more eloquent than me to explain it.  All I can do is say that you marinate in a sea of creativity for a month.  People who enjoy creative pursuits will understand how much fun it is to be creative.  Well, in Nano month, you just get to bathe in that sea of fun for a solid month.  It's really quite incredible. 

People always put a barrier up when Nano is suggested to them.  But honestly, if you enjoy creative writing, then try it.  Because at the moment You Are Missing Out.  Believe me, it will really be one of the best things you ever do.

As someone cleverer than me said - "... I remember how swept away I felt when I was writing it..."

And if that isn't enough to get you to at least try...  Well, just go away.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Just so sleeeeepy!

Saturday day time, I think I was the most tired person in the world.  I went out for lunch with Hazel and Brian (a little new job celebration), and when I got home, the tiredness hit.  Then I went to bed as soon as I thought it was okay to do so.  ie: 8:30.

I'm finding the past few days that I'm okay in the morning, but in the afternoon, an absurd tiredness takes over.

Possible reasons -
An 8 week long term is hard work.
I've had a bug.  I had a cold which didn't amount to much, and currently have conjunctivitis.
Or my body is just going "aaaaaaaannnnnd.  DONE."  After a short period of not insignificant stress with regard to the process of getting the next job.  I think that perhaps we react in strange ways to a sudden and dramatic lifting of a stress point.

In other news - I got myself a new mobile phone, courtesy of Brian for my birthday.  It's a Sony Xperia M.  It's quite fancy-pants and does all sorts of tremendously complex and clever things that I'll probably never need.  I'm just waiting for a case for it to arrive from Amazon in the next few days, as I'm reluctant to take it out in its naked form.  All that delicate glass is just asking to get broken otherwise.

Tomorrow, weather-dependent, I have an exciting outing planned...  To IKEA!  For some reason, I didn't know there was one in Milton Keynes until very recently.  And I am in the market for some sort of side-table type thing.  Wildness in me knows no bounds.

And on Wednesday, much excitement!  Adele and I are off on our annual jaunt to Ragdale Hall for some day spa action!  I seriously can not wait for that back massage. :D  And that's just reminded me that I need to go and dig out my swimsuit...  I sort of know where it is...

That is all.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Time Has Come...

Well, as some of you might have known, I have officially come to the end of my contract at SF School.  And I was sad.

I must say that it took me a bit longer than usual to settle in.  I was with a year group that I was a little out of practise with, who had some moderately serious behavioural issues due to staffing changes and a not-strict-enough student teacher for a term.  Also, I was in a town that I didn't know AT ALL.  I'd never been to this town in my entire life and it felt strange.

Anyway, I did settle and got the class whipped into shape.  Mostly thanks to a lovely website called DojoClass, which worked wonders with their behaviour.  Oh, and bribery.  By July, they became one of my favourite classes I'd ever had.  Most other members of staff who came into contact with them didn't have a single positive thing to say about them.  But I liked them.  I really did.

At the end of July, I went in to see the Head who said that parents sung my praises and that I'd done really well with the class.  Hello there, ego massage.  They were a job well done.

And now, after 3 interviews (my best success rate yet), I've been offered a post to teach Year 1 again at UM School, just 10 minutes drive from home.  It's not a school I know, but my Head at SF says it's a lovely school.

When the Head from UM called, she said how fantastic I'd been with the children during my observed lesson.  And when I fed this back to a member of senior management at SF, who I don't know all that well, she took hold of my arm and rather thoughtfully said, "Yes, I've heard that about you."

Well, let me tell you.  Right at that moment, I wished I had a direct line to the (now ex) Head at a previous previous previous school.  A person who ripped my confidence to shreds and left me with issues and doubts that I am still dealing with some 3/4 years later.  I just wanted to wave this conversation under her nose and say, "You know what?  FUCK YOU."  Those of you who know me well, will know that I'm not really an angry person, but she still makes my blood boil.  And the fact that she still angers me after all this time, just makes me angrier still.

What has happened over the past few days has just provided more evidence to the fact that she was wrong.

For what it's worth, karma got her recently.  And man, it was one of the sweetest moments of my life.  You really do get what you give.  Maybe not straight away, but it'll come.

It'll come.

Anyway, I'm feeling good right now. :)

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Summer Project Review - Part 2

The wooden cupboard -

When I moved into my house in Newbury, the bedroom had some furniture left by a previous tenant.  There was this cupboard, a sort-off dressing table with mirror, and a wardrobe straight out of Narnia.

Being a little short of furniture, I adopted it, but it's all solid wood and heavy as...  So when I came to move away from Newbury I decided to take only the wooden cupboard, as the most practical and the only thing I thought we had any chance of moving without significant trauma.

(As an aside, when my landlord came to inspect the property as I moved out, with the furniture already gone, he asked about the bedroom furniture.  I said that the wooden cupboard hadn't been there when I'd moved in...  And glossed over the fact that it was, by now, safely stored in the parentals house in Shropshire. 
I completely bluffed over the obvious grooves in the carpet where the cupboard had quite obviously stood until fairly recently, and I fixed Mr landlord with my most polite and innocent smile.
I also failed to mention that the front of the oven was no longer attached to the oven, but balanced against the wall above it.  The landlord didn't spot it, and I didn't mention it.  The thing fell apart in my hands, honest gov.  What a shit-heap that house was.)

Anyway...  In Newbury it held mostly clothes.  But when I left Newb, I had a massive clothing purge and now had empty space.  In the move to Northampton it ended up holding a motley assortment of things.  My satnav, Christmas things, birthday cards, fancy dress stuff, amongst others.

During the summer, I purged the contents -
1:  I sorted out my extensive birthday/other occasion cards collection.  They are now sorted into 2 boxes.  "Birthday" and "Other".
2:  Fancy dress stuff is bagged up tight, along with Christmas stuff.
3:  Everything else in there now has its place.

The other plastic drawer unit -

It was purchased when I moved in, due to the need for more storage.  It's the ugliest thing, and my long term plan is to replace it with something better looking.  Probably a wooden drawer unit of some sort.  It mostly holds school stuff, cables for electronic things and all those little odds and sods that aren't kitchen things.  There's a lot of stationery stuff in there as well, as well as printer paper and my laminator.

During the summer I purged the stationery considerably.  Every pen was tested and judged on how easily it could be replaced/stolen from work, should I need another of its type.  I also came to the conclusion that I no longer needed 100 colouring pencils of assorted lengths and quality.

The current project -

For a while I had been internally debating this.

Getting rid of my DVD boxes and storing the discs elsewhere.

I'd seen pictures of other peoples systems of storage, and it appealed.
You see, my DVD collection was completely dominating an entire wall in my living room, as well as a small wooden bookcase that could be much more usefully used to store home office supplies.

So now, all my discs are in 2 storage boxes underneath the TV.  Neat, tidy and categorised into the following categories:

And the system has plenty of room to grow.  All the discs are kept in individual plastic wallets.  Discs of special features and the like have been moved to a carry case I already owned and used at university.

The only DVDs that are still in their boxes are my "24" boxsets, "Game Of Thrones", and the family home movie DVDs.
The rest of the DVD cases are currently cluttering up the second bedroom.  I've made a decision to keep them until Christmas, in case I have a change of heart about the system.  If I don't, I shall begin the process of throwing them out/recycling them.  Unless someone has a desire to take 200 DVD cases off my hands.
I'm rather pleased with the outcome!

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Summer Project Review - Part One

This past summer holidays, I made it my mission to "sort out" my second bedroom.  Because the people who built these flats decided that "people don't need or want any cupboards outside of the kitchen" (not true), there is zero storage, apart from a very small coat cupboard.  Which is only big enough for storing coats and a hoover on the floor.

As a result, the 2nd bedroom became a dumping ground.  Because, like every household that's established for long enough (5 years now in my case), you accumulate "stuff".  Things like wrapping paper, Christmas decorations, sellotape, printer paper, mugs, envelopes.  All things that you need at certain points through the year, but all of which take up space and require storing.

And of course, my line of work comes with its own clutter.  Those puppets you use for circle times, those resources you spent time and £'s to produce can't be thrown away, those costumes you wear for World Book Day, those teacher manuals and children's books.  All have value and have to live "somewhere".  Not to mention all the day-to-day stuff that you carry to and from school every single day.  All that stuff takes up room.

So...  The summer holidays was going to be the summer of "sorting".

First I started with a 6-drawer unit that mostly held art resources and scrapbooking stuff.  I was big into scrapbooking 5/6 years ago.  But for a long time I didn't have anywhere to store it, and so got out of the habit.
Then when I did have room to store it, I thought "hurrah!  I'll use it!"  Then it sat, basically untouched for 2 years...  So I went through all the drawers and sorted everything into 3 piles:

1:  Things From The Past - Old birthday/Christmas/thank you cards with meaningful messages, old notebooks, things from secondary school eras.  Not things I particularly love, per-se, but things that tell a story from the past.  I'd feel like I was throwing away a piece of history if I got rid of these things.

2:  Things That Are Crap - Part-used sticker sheets, dried up pens, empty & unattractive notebooks, ugly things in general.  These all went into a bin bag to join the great landfill in the sky.

3:  Things That Someone Could Love - I filled a large supermarket fruit box with arts & crafts supplies.  Then donated the entire box to Adele's younger sister Louise, who loves all that sort of thing.  About 3 weeks later she gave me a sweet hand-made thank you card.
So, OUT:  A whole box of stuff I didn't want.
      IN:  One thank you card.

Already my burden on the floorboards is lighter.

Those 5 empty drawers are now used for excess food storage.
You see, when it comes to food, I have my hardcore favourites.  And not always the most expected of things.  Possibly one of my most favourite foods is a tinned chicken curry from Tesco.  It sounds many shades of awful, but is possibly one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten.  And now I have it at least once a week.  Sometimes more.  It takes 10 minutes to prepare (most of that is rice cooking time), so I eat it usually on a Thursday when I don't get home until nearly 7pm.  It's the ultimate in ease and tastiness.
But then I worry!  What if Tesco stop making it?!  My delicious and easy tea will be goooooone!
So now, quite often, when I eat one, next time I go to Tesco, I'll buy 2 to replace it.  Or if it comes up on special offer, I might buy 5 or 6.

So now, a whole drawer of this unit is devoted to tinned curry.  ;)

Another drawer has toilet paper in it (it was on special offer).  I have my favourite brand (Andrex Quilted if you're interested!  You're not, I know), so when I know I need more in the next month, I watch out for it being on offer.

Another 2 small drawers have Quavers in.  I love Quavers, have done for many a year.  I have flirtations with other brands, like Monster Munch, Walkers Hoops & Crosses, or Wotsits, but it's always Quavers I come back to.
Things like Quavers are MUCH cheaper to buy in bulk and have a decent shelf-life.  So when they are on offer, I stock up.  But those 40 bags of crisps have to live somewhere...  So now they have a home in a drawer unit.

Another drawer is mostly empty.  It only contains (I just went to look), 2 boxes of boil in the bag rice, and (randomly) some beef gravy granules.

And so, a drawer unit, filled with stuff I neither needed, nor wanted, is serving a useful purpose again.

This is such a nerdy post...

Join me tomorrow for part 2!  The Wooden Cupboard and the Other Plastic Drawer Unit.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

And so she emerges...

I'm alive!

Having been missing for the entire month of September, I'm back! 
My excuses are that September is notoriously busy for me.  It's "back to school", which comes with its own challenges and keeps me busy.  But as I settle into the routine again, I start to come out the other side once I'm in October.

Normally, weekends are my blogging time, but the past 3 weekends have been very busy with various significant commitments.  First up was my cousin Diane's wedding to Shane in Aberystwyth, Wales.  Now, Aberystwyth is a long way.  It's pretty much as far west as you can go on the mainland UK, without falling into the sea.  It would be a 4-hour drive, and not a very easy one.  Not so bad when still in England, but in Wales, they "don't do motorways", thus making a long and slow journey.

On the day itself, it rained, blew and was downright cold at times.  Only really cheering up when the wedding was drawing to a close.  Such is life.

After many long and boring hours on a train, I got home at midnight on Sunday.

The next weekend, I spent the best part of my Saturday at an open day at school.  Our attendance was expected.  I spent 3 hours with that stupid fixed smile that you have to give people when you want to create a good impression.  It was mind-numbing.  Then the visitors just Would Not Leave.  Even as I "tided up" around them, they continued their social chats.  In the end, I had to announce, in my best teacher voice, "so who's going to help me tidy everything away for home time?"  Give me strength.

Weekend 3 was my birthday weekend!  But it was mostly over-shadowed by my marathon walk for Shine!  I have raised £357 I think, which I'm pleased with.  Thank you to everyone who contributed!  It was a great atmosphere on the night!  Everyone was chatting and friendly, and there were LOADS of us! 
I did fine until mile 14, but from then on it was pure stubbornness.  My feet hurt, my upper legs felt strange, I felt light-headed and kind of queasy.  But I soldiered on!  Finishing shortly after 7am I think.  NEVER AGAIN!
I'd do the half-marathon again, no probs, but not the full 26.2.  So if anyone wants to do the half with me in the future, let me know!  It's a fab atmosphere and the bragging rights are good. :)

I will say though, it's taken me a while to recover.  I had 2 epic blisters on the backs of my heels, but they weren't really painful.  Monday my legs and knees were very stiff and sore, but I was fine by Wednesday.  What has taken longer to recover from was just the absolute and total draining of my resources.  I felt really quite weak and blah for quite a while.  And it was only really Thursday before I felt relatively "back to normal".  And this was on top of carb-loading, which I did for the whole week prior to the event.  I hate to think how I'd have been without that energy store on-board.

That night, after a bit of sleep, Hazel, Brian, Adele and Ed took me out for birthday tea at TGI Fridays.  I had a fajita and it was exactly what I needed!  I got sung to by the wait staff and got a balloon hat.  It was a good night. :D

What else have I done...?

Oh.  Tuesday I was off on strike.  Mostly because Michael Gove, the education secretary, is a massive shit.  The way I see it, if you don't strike, you've got absolutely no leg to stand on with regard to moaning about anything in the future.  You had your chance to register a protest and you didn't take it?  Well shut the hell up.

On Thursday I went to Birmingham to see 'Jesus Christ Superstar'.  I've never driven in Birmingham before, so to drive through the city centre at rush hour was a slightly nerve-wracking experience!  Driving home was worse!  Mostly because I am a bad night-time driver.  I don't think my night-vision is up to much, and it's definitely worse than it was a few years ago.  And then I spent an hour crawling along the M6 because of roadwork-related lane closures.  Eventually got home at 1am, when I should have been home at about 11:30pm.  Sucks.
That being said, it was a fantastic show!  I mostly went in order to see Tim Minchin, who I slightly adore, playing Judas.  And he was kick-ass brilliant.  As was the whole show really!

Umm...  I think that's it!

Saturday, 31 August 2013


Every so often, I stumble across something on the internet that genuinely impresses me.  Lots of things I like, but it isn't that often that I'm really blown away.

This video is a perfect example of someone with a serious talent.

The first few seconds you think "what on earth have we got here?"  Then she starts to play...


Nearly time...

Tomorrow it will be September.

September is exciting for many reasons:

1:  It's my birthday month.  This year I "celebrate" it with a marathon night time walk around London in aid of cancer research UK - specifically focusing on their leukaemia research branch - after that horrible disease took my grandma in the 1990s.  She was someone who I would very much have liked to have known better.

I am after sponsorship, so if anyone is so inclined to do, or feels as strongly as I do about beating cancer, please do make a donation.  It's so easy and completely secure.


2:  It's back to school!  Now, whilst I enjoy the 6 week break very much, I don't really mind the fact that I have to go back to 6:45am get-ups.  I'm back to teaching Reception, which is my very favourite year group.  They are so much fun at that age, but I literally have to teach them everything.  Just something as simple as forming a straight line to walk down the corridor is something I have to actively teach them.  Each year I forget how much they don't know.  But they change so much, and so quickly.  It's amazing.

3:  The change in seasons.  September is always the month when you step outside for the first time and feel that very distinct chill in the air.  It's very distinct, and quite different from just a "cool" summers day.  I really like the first day I notice that.  Generally the weather through to Christmas, although cold, is pretty harmless.  It's Jan/Feb that really suck.

In all, September is just the month of "new".  It's a bit of New Years all over again.

Friday, 30 August 2013

So, I went on holiday...

I wanted to see how Movie Maker worked, so over the course of a little mini-break to Somerset(ish), I took a few short clips.

I put them together into a little movie.  It's really, really easy to do!


You can watch it here.  If you want.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Am I Old?

On a forum I visit sometimes, there was a thread asking "what have you done this weekend?"  This is what I've done -

Yesterday I watched an online screening of the opera "Billy Budd", which I've been looking forward to for quite a while. After watching it through once, I went back and re-watched some of the best bits. Then had a craving for my "special mashed potatoes" so made them. Then washed my hair and watched a LoveFilm disc.

Today I finished a book I've been enjoying "The Orphan Master's Son", whilst drinking coffee and eating bourbons, then I watched the Tom Hardy documentary about poaching on ITV Player. Plans for the rest of the day involving making tea next, having a bath whilst starting on my next library book. Then I may watch a DVD as there doesn't seem to be much decent on TV tonight.

And then I realised I must be getting old.

Reasons Why:

1:  I watched an opera.
2:  I liked it so much I went back to watch some bits again.
3:  I got excited by mashed potatoes.
4:  I read a book.
5:  I watched a documentary about rhino poaching.
6:  I borrow library books.

What my weekend should have been like.

Wellll...  Saturday day time I went up town and spent £60 on clothes and had a McDonalds Happy Meal.  Then I went to Tesco and bought a shit-ton of alcohol and got ID'd.  Then I went to Adele's house and we got good and drunk and then went up Wetherspoons and then Embryos nightclub. 

Today I have a stonking hangover, so went to McDonalds for a mcmuffin.  Then I went back to bed.

I'm just not cool any more.  Or perhaps just not 18 any more.  Those were the good old days.  ;)

Friday, 23 August 2013

I'd Tap That

My brain took one of it's convoluted, tangled little strolls this afternoon.

It began with a 3-hour long performance of Benjamin Britten's opera 'Billy Budd', which I've wanted to see for a long time, and found out about a month ago that Glyndebourne opera company were doing an online screen of the 2010 performance of the show.  Anyway, it was very good, and as it's an all-male cast, there were plenty of opportunities for eye candy.  The chap who played Billy was particularly pleasing on the eye...

This led me to consider that I have a LoveFilm disc to watch.  'Lawless', with Tom Hardy in it as some gun-toting gangster.  Now Tom Hardy is very high up my "I'd Tap That" list.
(Sums up my feelings quite succinctly)
So then my brain went down a very enjoyable path of "so who exactly would join Tom on "Sally's I'd Tap That List"?
So I present, in no particular order...  The List.
Tom Hardy

Okay...  He totally transforms himself physically for every role, looking completely different every time I see him, often looking completely un-lovely.  He has a lot of slightly crap tattoos...  But he films TV shows about saving elephants and played Heathcliff in 'Wuthering Heights' in an extremely sexy manner, so all is forgiven.

Kit Harington

JON SNOW!  For those of you who haven't watched 'Game Of Thrones' I advise you to do so immediately.  Saying "I'm not really into fantasy" is no excuse.  I don't much like fantasy either, but GoT is SO SO SO the exception.  Get to Season 3, then we'll talk.  Because that's when THAT happens, and THAT AND THAT AND THAT.

I got off topic.

Kit is the pretty boy of the show.  But honourable mentions should also go to Jaime Lannister and Robb Stark, and a bonus to Tyrion Lannister for proving that little can be hot as well.

But Kit, all Night's Watch in black and noble and well-meaning and downtrodden and lovely and tasty tasty...  Lovely.

Josh Groban

Oh Josh...  My original dfhafhsdafaguh (that's a wordless typed expression of "You just made my ovaries explode, damn you")
Now he's just in the realms of "so cute!"  But I don't think I'll ever not love him.  If he's in England, I'll make every realistic attempt to see him perform because he's my cheesy little happy drug.

Bradley Cooper & Gerard Butler

A bonus twosome having a man-date at the Wimbledon Men's Final.  Pretty much the best thing about this match, apart from a BRIT WINNING was the camera continually going to this pair of friend-shaped lovebirds.  And they were SO into it! 
I dunno, just these 2 together makes me chuckle.  Gerard...  Reasonably tasty...  But I'm Bradley all the way.  I think it's those baby blue eyes and the butter wouldn't melt face.

Tim Minchin

Tim is the most talented person I've ever encountered.  And in things I admire completely.  Plus he makes me laugh.  For those reasons I can overlook the mad hair.  He is the perfect example of the inside of someone's head winning me over LONG before the external appearance got a look-in.  Now I want to have a 3-hour lunch with him AND have his ginger babies.

Now, 2 bonus categories:

Firstly,  Men over 40 who still qualify as a "Tap That".

Kiefer Sutherland

No...  Actually, just give me the entirely fictional Jack Bauer...  Grrrr

Kenneth Branagh

Had a soft spot for him since I can't remember when...  But saw him recently in Macbeth and it just reminded me that "oh yeah... I like him as well."

Second bonus category - The girl crush.

Jennifer Lawrence

Not because she's exceptionally beautiful, but because she says stuff like this ^.  And she kicks butt as Katniss in The Hunger Games.

So which lovely men (or women!) are on your list?

Monday, 12 August 2013

Youtube Favourites - Jenna Marbles

I'll preface right now: -

Jenna Marbles will not be to everyone's taste.  For instance, if you're particularly anti-bad language, she's not the Youtuber for you.

Me?  I find her absolutely hilarious.  She says what women my age are thinking, but don't get around to saying, or documenting in an amusing fashion.

Following on are my top 5 Jenna Marbles videos.  In no particular order, because that would be just too hard.

1:  How Girls Pack A Suitcase

Some highlights:
"Dresses.  Coz I'm a fuckin' lady."
"Some flippy floppies."
"Some tampies."

2:  How Girls Get Dressed
Some highlights:
"This shirt smells like pee!  I wander who did that?  *looks at dog*  You fuck-face."
"I guess I'll just wear this sweatshirt... the same sweatshirt I wear every day..."
"It's not raining out."

3:  I Hate Being A Grown Up

Some highlights:
"You just had a baby?  Congratulations.  I looked at pictures of cats today."
"Mum!  What's for dinner?  Oh yeah, that's right.  She doesn't live here."

4:  How Diets Work

Some highlights:
"Nothing like a hot delicious salad..."
"I'm fucking starving."

5:  My Epic Halloween Costume

Some highlights:
Not a comedy video per se, but still fun!

Sunday, 11 August 2013

How To Be A Grown-Up

About 18 months ago, I started my own list of things it is handy to keep in mind in order to be a good pretend-adult.  Basically, things I encountered and thought "I should remember that".
Leave a comment if you have any good tips of your own.   :)

This is it:

Any courier firm is pretty much guaranteed to screw up any delivery.  Keep a note of the decent ones, and avoid the bad ones like the plague if you can.

At work, don’t offer opinions unless specifically asked to do so.

At work, if new, be quietly polite.  Trust no one.  Don’t worry right away about making friends.  Talk to plenty of different people and see who you click with.  Trust your gut, but when an old-timer in the workplace gives the stink-eye or makes close-to-the-edge comments about someone else…  Heed the warning.  Both of them should be given a wide berth until you have time to make your own judgment. 

That one member of staff who has been nothing but lovely/friendly/charming to you, but about whom no one else has a single good thing to say, should probably be avoided.  Put them in your mental box of “people I can smile sweetly at, but must be guarded around”.

Perfect the “staff meeting face”.  It means a neutral expression for the most part, but try and make eye contact with whoever is speaking, nod thoughtfully and go “hmmm” from time to time.

If you’ve bought something a few times and decide you just don’t like it… stop buying it “just to try”.

The above rule applies mostly to tea and porridge.  You don’t like them.  Ever.  I have a weird thing about buying both of them occasionally, just to see if I suddenly like them.  I don’t.

Any food that comes in any sort of Christmassy packaging, other than established brands of chocolate or sweets, is usually awful.  Save that craving for bacon-wrapped sausages and mozzarella sticks for another time.

Don’t save important things to “do tomorrow”, because you’ll forget or something else will come up that means you can’t do it.  Do them now.

Don’t rely on the internet to work tomorrow either.  Send that important email/do that important work thing right now.  It’s just easier.

Always keep a pot of change in the house, and keep it topped up regularly.  £2 and 50p coins are both good ones to save.  I have pots of both.

Similarly, a purse in the glove compartment of your car with a few quid inside can only be a good idea, and is perfect for unexpected parking fees/service station coffees.  Just remember to take it out when the car goes to the garage for its service.

Keep your own records.  Days worked, money paid, cancellations, anything important.  Don't rely on an employer to remember how much they owe you.

Set up an adult filing system for important documents that would make sense to your mum in the case of an emergency.  That pile on top of the bookshelf is not a filing system.

Get phone credit before you run out.  22p remaining is not enough.

Never say “I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember it.”  You won’t. 

If you have holiday time and want to take an actual holiday that involves travel, money and effort, always do it in the first half of your break if you get the chance.  NEVER the last half.  Do that and you’ll just feel disgruntled and like you’ve not had a break, however lovely your actual holiday was.  It turns out that the most restful place to be is your own home.

The ring road, may be further, but it’s ALWAYS quicker than driving through the town centre.

Don’t go to supermarkets on Saturdays, unless you plan to be there before 8am.

Always do the washing up on the day you make the mess.  Because you’ll hate it So Much More tomorrow.  A dirty kitchen in the morning is horrible.

Take that little pile of recycling to the bins every time you have a bin bag to chuck out.  So much easier to manage than a massive pile once a month.  The same goes for other bins around the house.  At least check them before going downstairs.

Fill up the windscreen washer before a winter drive of any length, particularly if it’s rural or involves motorways.  You’ll be pleased you did.

If you’re not sure whether to say that thing to that person.  Not saying it is probably the best thing to do.  Or at least make a decision to sleep on it or save it for another time.

Always carry painkillers and lady products (if you’re a lady!)  Just in case.  There’s nothing quite like a nagging low-level headache to ruin an otherwise lovely meal out with friends.

If a social occasion comes up that you aren’t 100% sure you are going to enjoy… drive there.  A car is a perfect get-away vehicle for when you’ve had enough.

Don’t go to parties when you only know the host.  Even the most outgoing person in the world would hate that.

Chuck some bleach down the loo once a week.  Again:  Easier.

Buy new loo roll when you start on the last roll of the previous packet.

Have that list in your head of “Things You’ll Need Until You Die”, that you can stock up on if you see them on a great special offer.  For me it’s washing up liquid, toothpaste and hand wash.  Things that won’t go out of date.

Try and do at least one thing every day that makes your living space nicer.  Even if it’s just “straighten out that row of shoes”.

Be the person who reaches out to friends first.  When you think, “wow, I haven’t spoken to Sarah in a long time”, be the one who emails first.  Then at least, come what may, you’ll know you did your part.

Try and maintain your house with a frame of mind that “I’m moving out in 3 months” (even, and especially, if that’s not true).  That’ll help keep the clutter at bay and you’ll become an expert of getting rid of that junk you’ll never use or need.

Ebay stuff like DVDs and computer games.  They will sell quite well.  Yeah, you can freecycle or donate most other shit.  But when time or mental resources are low, feel no guilt about throwing the lot in the bin.  If you are hanging on to something because “I should try and sell that”, it’s usually better to just chuck it out.

Actually, it’s usually better to just say nothing.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Choral Bucket List = Achieved!

For as long as I'd been aware of them, there were a few choral classics that were firmly on my bucket list of "pieces I'd love to sing one day".

When I lived in Newbury, it just so happened that one of the oldest amateur choirs in the country rehearsed every week 10 minutes walk from my house.  It was the type of choir that took itself terribly seriously, hired the best conductors they could afford, gathered soloists from the world-famous early music vocalists, "The Sixteen", and had "Seasons".  All terribly serious and very fantastic.

Now, they say that being able to read music isn't a requirement.  Hmm... beg to differ!  I can read music well, and struggled.  Those early rehearsals, I didn't know if I was coming or going.  These were dead serious pieces we were learning, that first concert I prepped for was "opera choruses", just to give you an idea.

To sing in English was unusual to say the least.  We did a lot of Latin, a lot of Italian, some French, some German, and some English if we were lucky!  I loved the Latin and Italian and actively disliked the German, too hard and not phonetic!

Now, ticking away in the back of my head were those pieces that I've always wanted to do...  and if I was ever going to get the chance... it would be with Newbury Choral.

I started strong by ticking off 'Va Pensiero' in that very first Opera Choruses term.  A nice, relatively easy one to start with, as most of it is in unison across the four voice parts*.  I always loved the little staccato quartets and the sudden dynamic changes.

Quite a long time after... after a year or more of works I didn't love, we did Handel's 'Messiah'.  And woe betide anyone who dared to call it 'The Messiah'!
There are a number of fantastic pieces within 'Messiah', but by far the best, and most exciting to sing is the 'Hallelujah Chorus'.

Then, the next season, it was the most exciting one yet!  Possibly the most dramatic, exciting piece of choral music out there.  'O Fortuna' from 'Carmina Burana'.  Starts quiet, gets MASSIVE.  One of those pieces where, if your vocal chords don't ache at the end, you're doin' it wrong.
1:39 on this recording...  gets me all a fluster.  Then at 1:59, you have to find a little more to ramp up the volume a jump more.  This is the one piece I know of where you teeter right on the edge between singing and screaming.  To sing this, sitting right next to the drums...  Amazing.

Then, I had to leave Newb Choral to move house.  I thought I wouldn't get a chance to do the final piece in my choral bucket list...  But I was wrong.  I was invited back by a friend to take part in a 'Come and Sing' event.  One of the pieces we performed was 'Zadok The Priest'.  Otherwise known as the coronation anthem.  It's just a really beautiful piece and gives you that little burst of patriotic zeal.

With that, I'd ticked off my "big 4" of the pieces I'd always wanted to sing.  I remember doing all 4 so clearly.  Each one was very much a life highlight.  It doesn't get much better to realise as you are singing, that you're in the middle of a bucket list moment.  It's very special.

* When in four voice parts, I was always alto.  When we worked in eight parts, I did alto one, or very occasionally soprano 2.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The fourth Wall

Here is Rolando Villazon (my favourite tenor - watch any interview with him - all round nice guy), breaking the 4th wall* when the audience just won't stop clapping.

* When a performer breaks character to, in some way, acknowledge the presence of the audience, or some other factor outside the realms of the world the character inhabits.

And here is Rolando just being fab, nailing a "The Impossible Dream" duet.  It starts getting awesome from 2:04.  If you can't get a bit mental and OTT during opera, when can you, eh?

Gun Control

(Another cross-posting from an old blog)

It has now been almost a week since the tragic mass-shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Listening to all the news reports, it reminded me so much of the shooting that happened in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996.  I was 11 years old at the time of that shooting, and I remember how shocking and scary it was.

Now though, these events have taken on a different significance for me.  Because, but for a twist of fate, I could have been the teacher of any of those children, both in Dunblane and Newtown.  I teach children in that age group and younger.  I often have sole responsibility for 20+ very young and vulnerable people.  And when these tragic events happen, I find myself thinking about the teachers.  What did they do to protect their children?  And perhaps, what would I do?

An average day at school and no one could ever be prepared for the sound of gun shots somewhere in the building…  It would be an incomprehensible nightmare come true.  I find myself thinking about escape routes in schools I have known, items around the classroom that could become a weapon…  I actually talked that one through with a friend the other day…

Thankfully though, I live in a country where this is an extremely rare event.  But, perhaps most importantly, as a direct result of the Dunblane shooting, within the year, ALL unlicensed cartridge-loading handguns were banned in the UK.  The only guns that remain legal are muzzle-loading and historic handguns.  Security within schools was also tightened and new controls put in place with regard to building access.

Was there public uproar?  No.

Have gun laws relaxed again?  No.

Why couldn’t this work in America?

Well…  To a Brit, so many aspects of life in America, which are so normal to them, are utterly incomprehensible to us.  Be it their attitudes to guns, marriage, health care, social care, religion…  For a country that regards itself as forward thinking and progressive, many of their attitudes seem stuck in the 1700s.  You only have to look at the political parties to realise that… Our Conservative government has a very similar policy to the Liberal government in the States.  Only difference being, that the things President Obama is campaigning for… we’d had sorted out 50 years ago.  Britain basically looks like what America might look like if they manage to hold on to a Liberal government for the next 50 years…

And a (I think) key reason for our liberal nature?  a quarter (roughly) of Brits identify as atheist.  Compared to around 2% of Americans.  Forecasts indicate that by 2018, Christians in the UK will be a minority group.

Should politics be tied to religion?  Absolutely not.

Is politics tied to religion?  In the USA, yes.  In the UK, no.


Why can’t the American government outlaw guns?

Because they are scared.

Lobbyists from the NRA are a powerful group in politics.  Essentially, if you want to get elected, it doesn’t hurt to keep the NRA on your side.

This is so many kinds of wrong.

But it works.  Because these are white, upper-middle-class men.

To quote the brilliantly funny Louis CK, “I’m a white, middle class, man.  You can’t even hurt my feelings!”

This group is, worldwide, the most privileged group on earth.

These men say, “You can’t ban guns.  It’s my constitutional right to bear arms!”

Well you know what?  Stuff your constitutional right.  That was written in a time of single-shot muskets that took 4 minutes to re-load, in a time when many American’s lived in a land of untamed, dangerous wilderness.  It was NOT intended for a world of automatic weapons that have the potential to kill 20 unarmed people in less than a minute.  IT WAS NOT.

But what scares me even more?

It was something I saw via an American acquaintance on a blog.  She claimed to have needed a gun “a number of times” in the past month alone to “protect their property”.  HOLY WHAT?  And the way she said it was, like, “no big deal…”  If that had happened in England, it would be a public outrage, front page news and a public enquiry.  Not an attitude of “meh.”  And worse still, this is small-town-America.  It’s a tiny place, quite literally in the middle of nowhere.  It sure isn’t New York or Los Angeles.

And these obviously intelligent, caring, all-round-nice people, just don’t see how crazy that is.  It, quite literally, makes my head explode.

These people are anti-gun-control because they need them to protect their homes… and yet say these burglars/child murderers committed their crimes because of lack of mental health resources and poor parenting…  I mean… wtf?  POOR PARENTING?

And yet, here in the UK, we have problems with mental health resources/care, we have social deprivation and poor parenting…  BUT WE DON’T SELL GUNS IN SUPERMARKETS*.  And because we’ve made it difficult to get hold of guns, we don’t see our children murdered in their classrooms.

Sorry America, but you need to grow some balls and step into the 21st century.  How many more young people must be sacrificed before someone has the courage to say enough is enough?

Your relationship with guns has become a self-fulfilling prophesy.  Guns are easy to buy, so lots of people have them.  Bad people have them and break into your houses.  Good people need guns to protect themselves from bad people with guns… Luckily it’s easy to buy guns, so lots of people have them…

Get a clue.
*Seriously, one of the strangest and scariest things I saw in America was racks of guns for sale in Walmart.  The equivalent of Tesco.  Can you imagine how mad it would be to walk into Tescos and be all, "okay... milk... bread... fish... automatic weapons... pasta..."  MADNESS.