Monday, 26 July 2010

The British Summer Officially Starts

Anyone who actually follows these entries and read the last one where I was about to enjoy basking in the sun on the patio as a “penthouse housewife” can be reassured that any feelings of jealousy were completely unfounded. Having spent every summer for the last ten years or more for the majority abroad or in the south, I've never experienced a Leeds summer and had forgotten an unwritten rule.

Term finished for the majority on Friday so today heralded the official beginning of the school summer holidays – as weekends were never a “school day”, the summer always felt like it started on the first would-be-work-day. As both a teacher and student, the hottest days always seemed to be during the last four weeks of term, especially in final exam-sitting season. I remember both the distracting humidity when trying to frantically scrawl exam question answers and the pain of trying to persuade disgruntled students to do some work.

This year is my first full British summer and the first time I have spent it in Leeds, despite living in the city for over a decade. It is also the first time the start of the summer holidays has been something I have been dreading. As a supply teacher, summer holidays means no pay and little work prospects, whereas full-time staff are paid but also have to endure all the other hardships and stresses that come with contracted work.

Every year I can remember, the weather seems to change as soon as the holidays begin from baking punishing heat to dreary wet humidity. I have always thought in order to compensate for this summer holidays should begin and finish earlier but LEAs don't seem to consider this an appropriate action.

Today, unfortunately followed this infuriating pattern - I woke up looking forward to a good read on the hammock and instead faced wearing a borrowed hoodie and a wet stroll into town (having had weeks of humidity and sun in London, I failed to pack any appropriate school holiday attire). I have also discovered that it is not only the weather that is against my fun – for some reason every Leeds and Bradford theatre shuts up over August so all my reviewing intentions have been shattered. I can understand that the summer is supposed to be outdoors time but what about when the rubbish weather predictably kicks in and what are all the tourists supposed to do? I guess temporary housewives should really occupy themselves with housework anyway...

Monday, 19 July 2010

Supply And Demand Dwindles

I am not a TV show style doctor, nurse or surgeon on call but still have to sleep with a mobile phone by my head. Every morning a series of three staggered alarms go off around 7.20 and then sometime after that, I hope for the call.

Being a supply teacher is living in a world of uncertainty and having the ability to act on the spur of the moment. Every night I have work clothes laid out, a smartish bag packed with a timesheet and things to amuse myself, my lunch prepared for the next day and the phone and alarms laid out next to me.

When you are a student in school, you have no idea how hard teachers work and how much they have to contend with, in terms of poor behaviour, work load, paper work, unsupportive parents/colleagues and difficult parents. On top of all of this, disgruntled children can apparently now review your performance on

Being a teacher is a juggling act but being a supply teacher is a whole different ball game. If you have never been one, you will probably have some idea of the amount of crap you have to take but not this bizarre night and morning ritual that is gone through, regardless of whether there is work to be had or not.

When I get the call, I have to quite literally jump into action, showering and grooming myself at top speed to get to wherever I am sent to “asap”. With no money for iphones, I don't have the luxury of maps so rely on a series of directions sent via text messages from the agency. Up until a few weeks ago, the agency who actually ring me and offer work had only ever sent me to two schools but now having been to a couple of others I feel like a proper supply teacher.

Every school I have been to has been different – one is all girls, another mixed, one is all boys, some have six lessons while others have five, some give you a free school dinner and the strangest of all I have encountered was a mixed school I went to where lessons were single sex. Each of these schools has one thing in common – they aren't even vaguely as “challenging” as the school I spent a five year prison sentence working at and my arrival at each classroom is always met with joyous cries of “supply”.

I am always amazed that despite being a temporary entity and covering a whole host of subjects I know nothing about from P.E. to Spanish, Geography, Science and Technology, I never get as much grief as when I worked in one place as permanent staff. Another thing I have noted is the difference between single sex male and female schools; In all girls schools pupils can be incredibly bitchy, whereas the boys I taught were rather stereotypically testosterone fuelled – two fights broke out two lessons running (in one a small boy kicked another in the head and then punched him). Being permanent staff is a bit like crowd control whereas supply is all about keeping them occupied – sometimes the work set has been either far too easy or difficult for the kids and I have no idea so am left to try to make-up another activity or just somehow keep them in their seats.

Now, as summer approaches, my days of supply are dwindling. I have gone from a seven week slot in one school to two or three days a week, down to one and now none – the salad I made on Sunday, ready for Monday's lunch still sits in the fridge on Thursday. Every day this week I have had an interrupted lie-in where I wake up feeling jet lagged. Sure supply can pay well and there is no marking or preparation but it's certainly not much good when no-one is ringing you! I now look forward to the coming weeks of being a "pent-house house wife", mooching around a sunny Leeds rooftop patio, writing the odd review and applying for any job vaguely suitable.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Entering The Three Step Plan

Back in June I wrote a blog entry entitled “Boomerangs, Beaters and Moodles” that referred to Jeff Green's hilarious men's singles guide and his seven stages of a relationship; I also posted “Another Chapter Begins” in memory of me passing to the dark age and in celebration of Old Maid's Day. Since then life has thrown me some good and bad hands and I have both willingly and reluctantly entered further into adulthood. Several of my more organised and perhaps more ambitious friends have life plans to be carried out within a certain time frame, consisting of three or four stages. The main pattern here in no particular order is:


Buying a house

Having kids


For years I enjoyed living in my house of University days (almost a decade!) and was happy to keep far away from mortgages or indeed any murmur of them. Marriage is often discussed and still seems rather grown-up, despite the fact I am virtually married, just without the paper/rings/photos and currently from a distance. Having children is a thought that still terrifies and repulses me. Despite telling you all how much like my dad I am, one thing I definitely inherited from my mum is her attitude towards children. I am never going to say never but I can safely say that right now I equate the prospect of having children with my life being over.

All that said, now I am back from my travels and The Boy began contemplating renting in Leeds, for the first time in my life I found myself encouraging him to buy. As the recession has been against us all in so many ways, buying a pad while prices were down seemed like a plan.

After various battles and disappointments I let myself in to our “penthouse” flat last weekend. We actually got the keys a few weeks ago and I have spent one night in it before but unlocking the door alone with my own keys was a different matter. I am now in the “homeowner” category and have to admit, it doesn't feel so bad. Of course I am still predominantly in London persevering with the writing malarkey but at weekends, I now have a chill pad and the prospect of hours trawling around shops like DFS each Sunday – something that surprisingly terrifies me less and less.

Although I have entered into the rigid “life plans” of others, I don't think I have an exact “life plan” - perhaps just trying to remain contented, keeping busy and prolonging entry into each of these expected stages is enough for me?

Monday, 5 July 2010

Tiger Delivers Broods For The Boys

“Can we have your boxers?” An embarrassing line delivered with alcohol-fuelled determined composure.

Looking at the dare card still unsure of whether this request is to be taken seriously the lone vulnerable-looking unsuspecting male, who has already been assessed as an “easy target”, asks: “Are you serious?” Realising this to be the case, he calmly and most obligingly trots off to the men's toilets returning with the sought-after “treasure”.

This is the first truly traditional Hen night I have ever been to - naturally members of the Hen party who are the Hen's oldest and dearest friends have decided to supplement her original plans with Hen games and dares. Our night begins with a disastrous round of that old classic, “Mr and Mrs”. Our hostess seems to be struggling to find the correct answers - something I can sympathise with having not so long ago played this game myself; I made a legendary faux pas involving a confusion of comedians called Bernard – something I am clearly never going to live down. Enough said.

Moving on from the hotel in our 70s and 80s attire, we're a brightly-coloured brood walking through the streets of a slightly bemused Manchester in broad day-light. Our destination for the entire evening is Tiger Tiger who apparently offer reasonably priced “Big Night Out” Hen packages that we are due to take advantage of. A mere £23 gets us a two course meal, comedy show and night club “entry”. On top of this all drinks are half price until 9pm – arriving at 5pm this is surely going to be a messy night. Somehow, knowing all of this, doesn't quite prepare us for our fellow clientele.

Sitting behind us is another Hen party and on my way back from the cash machine, I spot our nemesis group - all clad in black t-shirts especially printed with the Hen's name and each reveller's, this group are also staying in our hotel and checked-in at the same time. As the meal comes to an end, the number of Hen parties around us increases. For an all inclusive meal, it wasn't bad, it's just a shame the comedy “show” is more of a trial than a treat.

The majority of the audience are rival Hen parties all decked out in their selected theme – army, princess, space, bunny, glitter... Incorrectly the compere and “comedians” all decide sex is the theme to satisfy such a crowd and the opening description of the make-up of a typical Hen night is thankfully a far cry from our good-humoured unslutty crew.

The first act has us with our heads in our hands as he delivers corkers like “Call him Mr Bond and he'll have you squealing like the slut he wishes you were.” He seems to think it's acceptable to encourage rape and paedophilia, bragging about “all the pleasure of paedophilia without the social stigma.” He considerately remembers the few male members of the audience: “Guys, one piece of advice... if you get the chance to have sex with someone, just say 'Yes' – it's the only way you'll discover what your type is” and leaves with a hearty round of applause as we all celebrate his departure.

The next act intersperses appalling sex gags with a barrage of gingerist “jokes” but is mildly less offensive. The crowd is thinning - those who can, have discreetly left. After the first act a row behind us have disappeared and another have turned their chairs to face the back wall, quietly chatting throughout - by the end of the second act, both rows are empty.

As 9pm draws near, we stock up and brace ourselves for “the piece de resistance”, presumably how the organisers of this painful “comedy” club view their final act. Three of us chip in and get two bottles of wine, a cocktail jug and a Gin and Tonic (all for £28), having to request glasses for the cocktail. Although equally as unfunny as the first two “comedians”, this final stand-up is harmless in comparison, preferring to joke about buying a locket for his Gran's Birthday engraved with “I leave everything to...” Finishing up, he gets loud cheers as his audience have been getting steadily more inebriated and are sincerely grateful it's all over.

Outside near the bar there are a disturbing number of wigs resembling my David Bowie style Labyrinth ensemble. Heading out into the dance floor, we're surrounded by girls so when the dares begin, it's hard to spot likely male victims. In the “club room” the male/female ratio is seriously unequal and we decide Tiger Tiger's “Big Night Out” presents single males with the optimum pulling conditions - before 9pm, they can generously appear to buy targeted ladies a drink without stretching the wallet and after 9pm the quantity of females wearing high prescription beer goggles is likely to be up.

Our clan manage a a drama-less evening and safely make it back to the hotel, passing the aftermath of a stabbing, without coming to any harm ourselves, although there is one casualty of the night - we do have to convince one “liability” to abandon the donated dirty pants to the floor of Tiger Tiger.