Thursday, 28 April 2011

2 Many Teachers

I'm currently in the unusual position of actually having regular daily work. Until the end of May I no longer have to live with a mobile phone next to my head or wait until the morning to find out what the day holds. When I originally signed up to this gig I was lead to believe I'd be mentoring Year Eleven students needing help with their English in the run-up to the fast-approaching GCSE exams. On arrival on Tuesday, I soon discovered this was certainly not the case.

I've worked in this particular Hackney school on many occasions so know quite a few members of staff. When the HR person normally in charge of me was otherwise engaged and seemed to have done a disappearing act, I sought out the English department. Having covered quite a few English lessons in the past, the Head of Department was well aware of me and promised to locate my new home once she'd dealt with tutor time.

Entirely clueless as to what I'd been employed to do, the ever-helpful English Head finally sniffed out my indirect employer and I was told where to report to. Ascending to the fourth floor, I was met by two others who greeted me and appeared equally bemused – one of which I'd previously worked with in another Hackney school and both, also temporary staff with the same agency. It seemed I would actually be teaching and “managing” the school's most challenging children who'd been withdrawn from the normal school timetable and were in and out of exclusions.

Day One:

Although school begins at 8.40, in the “Learning Centre” pupils arrive at 9.30 and leave at 2.30, forty minutes before their peers. All lessons are out of sync with the normal school bells and students are collected and deposited at reception by a member of staff. Today “Lower School” have decided the three day week means they're entitled to a longer Easter holiday and no-one has showed. Five Year Elevens arrive, however, but a few hours later three have done a runner and we are down to two pupils and three members of staff. Just before 12.30, it's time for one of the pupils who is on a personalised timetable to leave and I look around the room in disbelief – by now, with the addition of two LSAs, there are five members of staff and only two students. There is very little for us all to do so two of us tidy and organise this shambolic room that looks more like a dumping ground than a classroom.

Day Two:

No Year Elevens show and only one Year 7 decides to make an appearance, despite phone calls home the day before. We've already sorted out the room and I went around all the departments the day before trying to collate resources for each subject to help to try and deliver a balanced curriculum. There's very little to do. The “Learning Centre” regular seems to manage to busy himself elsewhere while two of us team teach, taking it in turns to have a break or teach our only punter. Both English specialists, we struggle through a session on cells, laughing hard when we came across an amusing Youtube video.

As the day progresses, yet another Teaching Assistant comes to take refuge in this peaceful corner and we move on to Geography. Finishing up with some literacy, we decide enough is enough and allow our diligent student to do an Internet search for "The Walking Dead" – a show he's already enthusiastically given us blow-by-blow accounts of and I'm familiar with. Just as we're rewarding our out-numbered worker, the new Head walks in to see him reading zombie-related material displayed on the SMART board and to comment on our three to one ratio. We're just glad she didn't appear a few hours earlier, when despite instructions to the contrary, our 11 year-old pupil started playing graphic zombie death scenes on the SMART board.

Day Three:

Today's a busy day. The same Year Seven pupil arrives fifteen minutes early and two Year Elevens arrive on time. Now there's one teacher to each pupil and every now and again Teaching Assistants come to say hello. After yesterday's surprise visit, we hope the Head Teacher doesn't decide to come in when we're watching The Ultimate Zombie Survival Guide (, although this time it really is work-related - pandering to our future leader's tastes, we're making a hypothetical "non-fiction" leaflet based around this subject matter. With the royal wedding taking place, the first week is over. Now we have to hope there's a steady growth in student numbers working in the centre so the school might continue to somehow justify the need for us until the end of May.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Flirting With The Epic Demands Of Family Outings

We'd discussed and planned this trip weeks ahead of our departure date but after a spell of freakishly hot April weather, had to make last minute decisions to travel by night. We were all packed up some time ago but still seemed to be dithering around the flat, making a final dash to find a screw-top water container. Although I'm still safely far away from the screams of discontented exceedingly demanding babes, I feel close to understanding the epic planning each journey must take for new parents.

With the first of the Bank Holidays beginning the next day, we were doing the drive from North to South to spend Easter with my olds but as Bank Holidays are popular away times, our built in son-sitter was unable to take on the job. Fearing our new addition might think we were abandoning him so soon after welcoming him to the fold, instead of expensive catteries we'd decided to introduce him to Big Nanny G, the Dear Old Granddad and his southern uncles and cousins.

Packing the car took several trips up and down in the lift from our twelfth floor vantage point to the parking spot on minus three. Aside from the normal entourage of weekend bags and laptops, we had carriers full of Easter eggs, snacks for the road and new additions to the car like giant sacks of cat litter and cascading bags stuffed full of Major Richard Parker's favourite play things and snacks.

Naturally the VIP in the plastic holdall would be taken down last but first we had to encourage him to use his toilet, ply him with travel sickness pills and adorn him with a £15 “calming collar” that would last no longer than a month. I cleaned the tray half an hour before we planned to leave, hoping that, as normal, the sight of fresh litter would encourage him to leave his mark but alas no such luck. Slightly perturbed, I moved on to the even greater challenge of administering the meds.

Having dealt with some pretty sick pussies in the past and also some decidedly stubborn ones with a knack of suddenly spitting out pills almost five minutes after apparently swallowing them, I was expecting the worst but actually got a pleasant surprise. Concealing a large white ginger-flavoured travel sickness pill behind a cheese and chicken treat worked like a charm and The Major actually swallowed the pill first rather than the munchie on both occasions. The weird smelling powder covered collar proved more tricky but even so, we were finally ready to roll.

After laying out the plastic sheeting to protect the back seats from any cat-related accidents, I positioned myself in the back of the car next to the black plastic holdall and a suspicious looking ginge. Surrounded by bags, the car seemed dwarfed and thoughts of a very grown-up family estate car momentarily entered my mind.

On the road at last, The Maj and I were taxied along as The Boy took the role of chauffeur while I acted as calmer, repeatedly stroking a rather disturbed barrel of fluff who occasionally made alarming noises and repeatedly did rather distressing snake impressions. Not long into the drive a rather unpleasant smell manifested itself and The Boy and I both convinced ourselves it must be coming from the rural outdoors the motorway cut through – when the smell disappeared we felt all the more justified by our beliefs like proud parents, silently congratulating our self-restrained offspring.

It wasn't until we were about half an hour from our destination that an even more revolting smell dominated the air. Now most definitely in the thick of the Kentish countryside we convinced ourselves those pesky cows were the culprits. Unfortunately the smell continued to linger this time and was followed by loud panting noises and drool hanging from The Maj's lips as he began to panic.

Pulling into the drive, we swiftly came to The Maj's rescue and took him into the house first. Opening the metal grid door to his travel case, we were met by the sight of two not very neat and exceedingly pungent piles of poop. Queue discussions about necessary preparations for a bath and lots of purposeful procrastination.

Thankfully, despite most probably sitting on his produce like a hen warming its eggs, The Maj had someone managed to salvage his beautifully soft clean coat and arrived fully in tact. Unlike parents of newborns, we thankfully wouldn't be bathing a poo covered giant ginger baby but were still left with the lovely job of depositing the goods and unpacking an exceedingly full car.

Friday, 15 April 2011

When Saving Money Becomes Expensive

We've all had those regretful moments of uncertainly when we've been out shopping... All those times you've found something you kind of fancy but know you shouldn't really buy, think perhaps is not quite right or can't quite afford. Invariably you don't buy the tempting object and later, once at home with time to mull over your decision, you wish you'd been more spontaneous and just bought it, perhaps even actively searching for the item weeks afterwards.

To this day, I still regret not buying some plastic PVC effect black and white wedge trainers when I was about fifteen. Honestly. I still shop with one eye open, half expecting to see their reflective charms, even though my taste has somewhat changed since my teenage years and I'd probably never wear them. Another more recent regret is my failure to try on some dark navy knee high boots in Krakow. Having already fairly thoroughly searched shoe shops in every city I'd visited, I'd established dark navy is clearly not currently a fashionable colour – particularly not in boots. Finding them in Krakow, was something of a small miracle but of course the timing wasn't good because I had very little money. Instead of walking away without trying the boots on, I should have at least given them a go because now I have that constant niggling uncertainty as to whether they'd have been perfect or not. I'm not going back to the city anytime soon and now in my head I have the perfect boot inaccessibly tucked away in a Polish shopping centre. I'm sure if I'd just tried it on, I would have either bought the damn thing or would have found them to be not so perfect – either way I could stop mentally berating myself and perhaps even abort the navy boot mission.

Sometimes I even manage to take over-conscious shopping one step further by refusing to purchase certain items if above a set price – particularly if this price is considerably higher than that normally found in said shop. A classic example of this was my failure to buy a grey and black horizontally striped skirt in Primark. At £9 the skirt was above my standard £5 mark for skirts (I know that's a tough call but hey, I'm not lowering my expectations) and also in excess of the pricing for a similar style Primark skirt. I “uhmmed and ahhhed” for so long over this garment, I eventually decided to purchase it in the sale. You can of course guess what happened next.... Yes, in the sale they no longer had it in my size! So, what did I do? Unlike an ordinary person, I didn't give up – instead I asked my parents and unofficial honorary in-laws to check branches local to them, while I trundled across London to all the Primark stores in the capital, went to Bradford, tried the other Leeds branch and even managed to convince my poor long-suffering boyfriend to take a trip to Wakefield. Of course, having wasted all this petrol money and still not succeeded, I may as well have forked out the original £9. I'm glad to say the story's not a wholly unhappy one as I eventually got the same skirt in white and black in the sale for £5, purchased some fabric dye and made my own almost identical black/grey skirt.

Unfortunately dye isn't always the answer. The Boy and I adopted an Ikea sofa-bed from his parents and having finally decorated the flat's spare bedroom, decided we needed a purple sofa cover. Covers in Ikea all cost somewhere between £70 and £100 but pink ones in the sale were a mere £30. We got the pink covers and purchased some washing machine fabric dye but of course the covers were too large for our washing machine and all the local laundrettes we asked, did not allow dye in their machines. Managing to swap the machine dye for cold water hand wash dye, seemed like the perfect answer – at least in theory. The covers were huge and took virtually a day and a half of continuous exhausting ringing and pummelling before they dried almost the same colour they began. The whole exercise was a complete waste of money, energy, water and my time. Not to mention the fact, I ended up with purple tinted hands AND right before an interview!

The final solution seemed to be to buy fabric spray but having used a whole can, once again the colour had barely altered (all for a few patchy blobs) and a whole £10 canister hardly covered one side of a two part cover. We've both since had to admit defeat and will either recycle the stubbornly pink covers at the tip, boot sale or freecyle them. We're still without purple covers so now face either forking out for a large suitably coloured throw or the full price of non-sale covers (on top of the £50 we've already wasted on various dyes and the ill-fated pink covers!). Again - ridiculous but true (and I haven't even been featured on Ripley's Believe It Or Not).

Friday, 8 April 2011

Consistently Inconsistent

You expect a level of consistency from chain stores and from big corporation names like Cineworld but I've repeatedly been frustrated and surprised of late. Being a monthly Unlimited Cineworld member is great and on the whole I can't fault Primani's pricing but...

I initially signed up to the Cineworld package that excludes central London cinemas and now it has been over a year, I've found myself slipping into the routine of heading out to West India Quay or Wood Green. As both journeys take approximately half an hour from Angel, neither are particularly inconveniently far and probably not that different to journey times to the more centralised branches. In addition, I find my Wood Green trips particularly useful when a weekly shop is needed. Slightly out of central London, Wood Green is full of cheap shops and rather than moderately sized Waitrose, Sainsbury's and Tesco, there's the option of trawling around a huge much cheaper Morrisons or the quirky budget-wares Lidl randomly stocks.

I've moaned about Primark in the past when around Christmas they sneakily ripped off the printed tags of onesies and hand-wrote a higher price as if they'd been reduced. I've also been frustrated to find clothes in the sale in one shop but still marked at full price in another but this last week really went beyond the bizarre when Wood Green's Primark seemed to be charging £17 for a non-sale Maxi dress, priced at £15 in three other stores!

Cineworld in Wood Green is equally as strange in its ticket policy. When I first went to this branch, it was possible to buy tickets for two or more films at the same time but after several trips there, I was told this was no longer the case and a manager confirmed this inconvenient policy alteration. Naturally, this isn't the case in other Cineworld branches – just Wood Green!

Of course if pushed for time between films as I often am, it's possible to just buy tickets for one film at the counter and then move on to the popcorn or ice-cream stands to get further tickets. Ridiculous but true - and a tip I've shared with equally annoyed Cineworld customers, I've spotted spouting the same argument I first tried. If both films are downstairs, you can also just jump between screens with only one ticket because despite staff being ridiculously over-the-top upstairs and refusing entry with carrier bags, no-one seems to care once you're down the escalator – a particularly annoying oversight on Cineworld's part when giggling teens film surf, creeping into higher certificate films.

Now I've spotted these inconsistencies, I'm always on the look out for other places equalling the illogical heights of Cineworld and Primark. It's like the elusive and misused apostrophe I'm instantly drawn to on badly-written signs.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Transported Back To Teenage Years

This week has seen me retracing my teenage years in more ways than one. I started the week childishly pranking with my sister and was instantly reminded of oh-so-hilarious “joke” calls we used to make to bide our time as perpetually “bored” children. These phone calls were much more drawn out than Bart Simpson's clever rather juvenile name requests and used to involve long conversations pretending we were selling things like double-glazing. Of course as soon as our victims realised we were trying to sell something or having a laugh, the call terminated pretty swiftly. This week's “prank” was on a grander scale than these phone calls but far less imposing and more of a twisted social experiment.

As my sister and I share a confined room and exceedingly uncomfortable single bed with a pull out camp-bed style section to transform it to a creaky double, we've been forced to rekindle the bond we once had before we both went to University. Working in a restaurant doing evening shifts, leaves her little time for socialising or meeting the one who'll make her a “kept woman”. As a friend of mine had unsuccessfully signed up to free dating website, Plenty of Fish, Tiff decided there was no harm in following suit. The creating of her profile has led to a kind of domino effect as her friends have joined up too and one has even found love. Unfortunately, she has been less successful and seems to attract body builders, topless posers and much older men – many of whom seem to enjoy taking pictures of themselves in mirrors.

After Tiff dressed up as a chorizo for a Spanish-themed Boxing Day family party, we decided to set up a Plenty of Fish profile in the character of a chorizo to see if she'd have any more luck or interest under cover. As I work days and she works most nights, it's only three months on from our initial discussion that we've finally put the plan into action. Sadly since creating this profile (, 48 guys have checked us out but no-one has spontaneously messaged us. To try to get the ball rolling we wrote to some of these window shoppers but got very few responses – one from a guy denying having looked at our profile despite the damming evidence and another from someone cluelessly telling us “weird pictures you have there mate :D” in response to us pointing out we both share a love of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Disappointing as all of this is, neither Tiff nor I have given up hope that this lonely sausage might find love.

On a more adult note, I've also been doing some serious soul-searching this week and confronting some nasty truths about who I was as a teenager. For years I have held this resentment inside of me, believing I had been wronged by certain ex-friends and suffering from this bizarre allergy to ex-secondary school peers. Every time I see someone I used to go to school with I haven't seen for years I have this tendency to either try and hide or rather rudely ignore them. I have often mused as to why this is and this week I finally did some growing up and admitted the reason to myself.

Everyone has memories or actions they are not proud of – thankfully I don't have too many that have affected or upset other people but the ones that I do have tend to haunt me they are so out-of- character. In the first year of GCSEs I decided I no longer wanted to be friends with someone who was once considered a “best friend”, mainly because for some inexplicable reason I started to find her excruciatingly irritating. At 15, I had no idea how to cope with this revelation so alongside my other “best friend” bullied my way out of the situation. As someone who was bullied for being a fattie or retro weirdo for most of my life, I was exceedingly disappointed and shocked when I finally admitted to myself what had really happened.

What surprised me most was the realisation that what I had done was essentially what those ex-friends had also done to me, except they had simply started to blank me and make backhand remarks, rather than outright bully me. And even more difficult to admit was the reality that they'd probably ditched me because in secondary school we actually started to get different interests and my strange aversion to old secondary school folk was probably brought on by my own guilt. As an adult dealing with these kind of awkward situations isn't easy but as a child it's even harder to make the right decision and be tactful. In order to try and make amends for some of these poorly judged actions, I have sent a series of apologetic out-of-the-blue Facebook messages to wronged parties. After all, it may sound cliched but life really is too short for enemies and the world far too small – something I never understood as a child but grow all the more conscious of as each year passes.