Category Archives: Other thoughts

Thoughts outside retirement

Fame at last!

 

One side of our exhibition space
The very sympathetic write-up in a local paper

 

A real landmark in our lives. We are now well into our second photo exhibition since moving to France. It is a black and white collection made up of photos taken by all three of us and this is the second time we have exhibited it, the first being in the museum of a town five minutes from home in the other direction to this one. It took much heartache and decision-making to put it together but we’re pleased with the result. It’s interesting that we were meant to be putting on a colour exhibition but, through unavoidable technical issues, we had to change our minds at almost the last minute. In a strange twist, we have had many compliments and comments on how unusual it is to have a whole exhibition dedicated to black and white; it seems to be something for which the French have a soft spot.

The opening of this show was on Saturday morning a week ago. The mayor of the town attended and made a lovely, thoughtful speech, the press  were there and some thirteen attendees, apparently not bad for one of these things, although throughout the day we saw fifty-three in total pass through the doors.. There was fizzy wine and lots of conversation. One of the reporters, himself an artist and photographer, wrote a very sympathetic piece which took up about one third of a tabloid sized page.

Sunday was a bit quieter but we had sixteen visitors so we weren’t alone all day. This was a truly memorable day as, whilst we had already sold some postcards and greeting cards, someone actually bought a photo off the wall! She, also, was an artist, whose style is very different from ours so it made it all the more exciting that she wanted to buy one of our pieces. We almost didn’t cotton on when she asked to buy it and it took us a while to respond but yes, she left with a photo and we were the proud owners of a cheque.

We had to man the hall ourselves so made the decision to only open four days a week: Thursday, as it was market day, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  On our days of rest I was thinking about a couple of families who had come in with small(ish) children and had some difficult keeping them focused. I slipped effortlessly into teacher mode and designed a short quiz sheet based on the photos on the wall, discussed it with the other two, revised it and printed some out in French and English. I wasn’t actually there on the next open day but I was informed later that two sets of French children had completed a sheet and the adults felt it was a very good idea. Phew! I haven’t lost it!

Yesterday at roughly 15.15, our one hundredth visitor walked through the door. That’s in less than three days. We are happy.

 

English quiz sheet

 

It’s that time of year again

March is not my favourite month.  It used to host two birthdays – mother and grandmother – and has Mothering Sunday, or Mothers’ Day, in it.  My grandmother left us a very long time ago so the pain has subsided but not gone.  Mum’s birthday,  which has just gone, is more difficult.  My dear sister, who feels the same way, wondered why her birthday is so much more difficult to get through than the date of mum’s passing.  I think I know.

Once a year, we are reminded that a very special person is no longer with us and that this is the date she left.  However, that is relatively recent in terms of our whole lives.  Birthdays were another thing.  From the moment that we were able to understand, we were making or buying cards and presents to give to her.  Every year was a renewed flurry of finding a suitable card and a new way to surprise her with a gift; whether it was adorning her with a pair of earrings in her preferred marcasite or taking her out for a meal at her favourite eatery, it would always give us as much pleasure as it gave her.  Years and years of that are very difficult to brush away along with the tears.

Mothers’ Day is as bad, in its own way.  There is so much advertising that it’s hard to turn a corner without seeing some ad that is encouraging you to buy chocolates, flowers or some other token that you should have been thinking about all year, if she matters that much to you.

So, after all this time, I have decided to turn my dread of the month into a celebration.  This is the last year I will look at the Mothers’ Day cards and wish I had someone to send one to.  It’s the last year I will crawl up to her birthday and hold my breath until it’s passed.  It’s the last year I will wallow in the question of why she’s no longer here.  Instead I will take the opportunity to focus on the best she represented;  love, family, good values and strength, all of which she helped to instil in us, and which we have now (hopefully) instilled in our own families.  It has to be better that way.

Where do we go from here …? Apologies to Joss Whedon

I am taking stock.  I want to see if I can be positive in the light of the events of the last six months.

I have lived in England, Italy and now France.  I have visited Scotland, Wales (separate countries even though they are part of the UK), France (in the past), Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Slovenia in Europe, and several States in the US on a road trip.  I have friends and relatives all over the globe.  I am a Citizen of the World.

Last June, I had to come to terms with a decision that would remove, from me and mine, the rights and opportunities that we have had for forty-three years.  We were able to move (almost) seamlessly to Italy when Hubby was offered a job in Milan.  We all benefited from reciprocal healthcare – an important factor with two small children.  The kids were accepted into school without any problems.  When we had to return to the UK (not our choice), we did that without bureaucratic problems, on the whole.  During the course of our renewed stay in England, we entered and left other European countries with great ease, giving our children further opportunities to expand their education (which is not just book learning!).  We will now – if the full might of the withdrawal from the EU actually comes to pass, in spite of the referendum only being advisory and a significant number of the electorate not voting for ‘Leave’ – have to look at the rest of Europe with totally different eyes and totter our way into its future.

In the last few months, we have had to adjust to another bombshell.  A man, who is as ill-suited to the ultimate position in a major country as a mud pie, has been elected to that very position.  I still have no idea how that happened, in spite of many friends attempting to explain it to me.  Regardless of any political affiliation, it should have been obvious to anyone with any sensitivity and intellect that this man is not a leader of men – or women.  With failed marriages and businesses behind him, utter contempt for a vast variety of social groups – including the one that makes up half the world’s population – and a suspicious unwillingness to declare his taxes, I wouldn’t trust him to clear the snow from my drive.  I sincerely want to hope that many of the people who voted for him were completely hoodwinked into thinking that they would be getting something else, although I fear that a significant number actually think the way that he does.  He does not, however, have a moral mandate to run the country (if I understand it correctly) if more people actually voted for the other Party than for him (not going into personal details here), whereas the Electoral College – afraid for their futures – toed the line and confirmed him as President.

The vast majority of the people I know are as incredulous as I am and we would like this to be a bad dream from which we can wake up – soon.  So, between the non-vote for the UK to leave the EU and the non-vote in the Presidential Election, where’s that positivity I was looking for?

Well, I know that there is a groundswell of people pushing against both of these issues, both inside government and outside it.    I know that there are more people who believe in all the liberties we have come to accept than those who are trying to erode or destroy them.  I know that there cannot be a future in which this autocratic form of government can once more become the norm.

I can’t be wrong.  I just can’t.

For all those who hate the SATs

This is something I have told people over the years but I need to write it down, as I still don’t believe it.  It never loses relevance.

I was lucky enough to spend the last fourteen years of my working life in a small, private girls’ school. The first two years were as a Year 2 class teacher, during which I was responsible for teaching to the end of Key Stage 2 SATs.  The whole testing, marking and reporting back to parents merry-go-round was an annual ritual that no-one enjoyed.  These girls were six and seven years old but it was the way it was done.

The first year was difficult, as I had a huge range of abilities; there were, effectively, eighteen children and five ability groups.  The girls at the top were very bight and easy to teach whilst the ones at the other end were a real challenge.

The second year was equally taxing.  By the time we were a few weeks away from the tests, it became glaringly obvious just how stressed these children were.  I discussed it with my head teacher – a down-to-earth woman with very strong opinions – and she agreed to come and talk to the class, to try and calm them down a bit.  She did a sterling job and was just about to leave when she casually asked them to put up their hand if they had a tutor.  Two-thirds of  the class raised their hands.  We looked at each other and said nothing.  At the next break, I went to her office and she was genuinely shocked.  She told me she had no idea of the prevailing situation and was going to stop doing the Key Stage 1 SATs immediately.  We would still use them as a baseline assessment for moving into Key Stage 2 but it would be unofficial and there would be no detailed reporting back to parents.  Any comments would just form part of the end of year report.  The school governors at the time agreed.

It was a bold step.  As we were an Independent School, it was possible but the ludicrous situation of force-feeding children linguistic and mathematical information that they will probably never need – and certainly don’t need to know at seven or eleven years old – is barbaric.  I am actually ashamed to have helped perpetuate  this system for so long but it was my job and that was the price.

I once read that a famous author’s work was analysed and didn’t even make a Level 5.  What need does an eleven-year-old have to do so?

Happy birthday, Mum

Not many women live their lives in virtual obscurity, as far as the wider world is concerned, and yet have such a true impact on their future.  A mother is a very special person, as I’m sure most people will agree, but to have laid such firm foundations for two generations (so far) is not something that can be overlooked.

Coming from an immigrant family, she arrived in England as a toddler over ten years before the start of World War II.  She grew up in the English education system which she hated, until one teacher gave her a love of history.  She lost her mother whilst she was still in her teens and her father when she was still in her early twenties, being effectively brought up by a maiden aunt.  She lost close members of her family in the Holocaust.  She made her own way in employment and lived on her own for many years.

She and her aunt were on the verge of emigrating to Australia – they had the papers ready – when she met Dad.  If ever there was a story of love at first sight, this was it.  She actually told someone that, if she didn’t marry this one, she would never marry.  I’m sure she meant it.  On Dad’s part, he felt exactly the same and the story could only have had one end.  Mum and her aunt didn’t go to Australia and I am the living proof.

Her own life – early loss of a mother, fending for herself to some extent, caring for a dying father – could have made her such a very different person, full of hate and bitterness.  However, it all strengthened her and she was a woman of high morals and principles.  This didn’t stop her from also being compassionate and understanding.

Her legacy is a far-reaching one.  As children, we were given a good, solid grounding in how you treated people and life in general:

  • See the best in them unless provided with evidence to the contrary.  It was not often seen but you really did not want to get on her wrong side!
  • Work for what you want – nothing actually comes free.
  • Plan – surprises aren’t all good.
  • Be faithful – friendship is a two-way arrangement.
  • Everyone deserves your respect – I know that, between my sister and I, we have raised three old-fashioned (in the best way) gentlemen and a formidable woman, and the fact is often remarked upon.
  • We all deserve the same chances.

Thank you, Mum, for being who you were and for helping us to forge our futures.  Happy Birthday.

IMG_5410mumyoung2

I am probably about to be controversial

I’m confused. Headline this morning on the BBC New site – “Fire brigades ‘must do more to improve racial diversity’ – minister”.
Whilst I am all in favour of giving anyone and everyone the chance  to reach their potential, surely this area of work – like any other, should be based on suitability for the job. I also wonder how a campaign would be run – would the job centres latch on to someone from a ‘minority group’ thinking “Ooo, here’s a possible!” and ask them if they would like to join the fire service? What should happen, in this as in all areas of employment, is that the same tests and checks should be applied to all applicants and may the best ‘person’ for the job win. Kinda like ‘The Voice’ where, in the Blind Auditions, the only thing the ‘Coaches’ know about contestants is their voices. I was under the impression that all anyone really wanted was equality and the opportunity to do a job well but what do I know.

That one colleague …

I recently heard of a newly appointed member of an office staff, who resigned only a couple of weeks after starting work.  It wasn’t the workload or that the job didn’t match the advertised description.  It wasn’t the hours or the rate of pay.  It was one other person in the establishment, who made her life so awful in that short time that she couldn’t stay, regardless of any other good aspects of the job.

We’ve all been there.  We’ve all had a job that would have been perfect if not for that one colleague, who had an over-inflated sense of their own importance.  We’ve all felt the frustration of knowing what was the right thing to do but being thwarted at every turn by one person, who seemed to have sway over the final decision makers.  We’ve all seen more than one of our colleagues feeling the same way but equally impotent.  It’s not an easy situation to resolve and no blame should be laid at the feet of those too insecure or lacking in self-confidence to stand their ground.  It’s harder if the difficult person is longer established, even if your position is senior.

At some point, this situation will ex – or im – plode.  This will not be good for anyone at the point of ignition but it will ultimately clear the air.  It may result in someone leaving – it should be the catalyst, but that isn’t a given.  However, someone – the senior manager for preference – needs to be strong.

headinhands

Leaving work has opened many new horizons.  More time to do things during the week without rushing it all; more energy to do those things; less watching the clock and the calendar.  Above all, however, there is ‘not having to cope with work politics’.  In the most cordial and friendly of environments, there is always someone who thinks they can rule the roost, even if they aren’t the chief chicken.  I wish it was simple to take that stand, but it isn’t.  We can only hope that someone will have enough before it is too late.

 

Deep thoughts

I don’t often get sloppy, but seeing the news over the last week or so has focussed me a little.  We have lost a number of entertainment icons since January 1st and the world has been in uproar – who knew so many people loved David Bowie, for example.  How can Celine Dion bear the loss of two of her closest family within days of each other?  Hasn’t Alan Rickman left a huge void in the entertainment world?  I have also heard of less well-known, but not lesser people, who have lost their fight, whether through illness or old age, and it appears to be a trend.  It seems that every year, during these winter months – and especially just into the New Year –  people ‘move on’; not through the unpredictable weather, although we should all look out for vulnerable friends and relatives as the cold bites, but because their particular fight has become too much to continue.

Last week, when I took my 94 year old dad shopping, he absolutely insisted that this particular jacket was warm enough over his short-sleeved shirt.  He had his flat cap, if he needed it – what was the problem?  You can only try to change his mind for so long but he’s an adult – and then some – and ultimately it’s his choice.  To be fair, we didn’t spend a lot of time in the open, so I wasn’t too worried.  But I sat here, reading about Bowie and Rickman, leaving us at sixty-nine, and others in their seventies and eighties , or even younger, and mentally looked around my family and friends.  We are very lucky.  Obviously, we have had our losses but, on the whole, we are a long-lived, healthy bunch.  I believe that the most useful – and challenging – resolution we could all make for the new year is to make the most of every day, whether it’s to do more, do less, make more of an effort to be with people, exercise *shudder*, eat less, eat better – the list is endless.  However, at the top should be ‘think of me’.  You’re no good to anyone if you’re no good to yourself.

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

“You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” –A.A. Milne

Auld Lang Syne

Spinning, once again, towards a new year makes you think.  Well, it does me, so I decided to review my 2015.  Boring, I hear you say.  Everyone does that.  Yes, they do, but I intend to focus on the positive – if I can.

Last January hove into view with my decision to retire firmly sealed in an envelope, ready to hand to my head teacher.  The next few months were a flurry of putting paperwork in order, reassigning jobs (which may not have always been strictly in my job spec but  I had been doing anyway) to other people and, of course, teaching.  Clearing my desk drawers was a challenge.  The most important question I had to ask myself was “Do I need this?”  My brain kept trying to substitute ‘want’ for ‘need’ but I won in the end.  I re-purposed some items by donating them to colleagues and simply disposed of most of the rest.  (There is one zip-top, plastic folder snuggling in a corner of the lounge that contains things I just had to bring home – mainly small items of stationery!)

There was ‘Poldark’, of course, about which I was in two minds, having seen the original, but enjoyed very much in the end.

In April we celebrated the 94th birthday of my crazy, wonderful dad.  Brilliant to still have him making those awful jokes and, sometimes, even more awful faces!  After a major operation and the addition of a pacemaker in the last few years, he is still going strong and is surprisingly independent for his age.

Dad proving that a splitting headache usually has a reason

Later, we had an election which, in my opinion, was a travesty.  No more on that – I was going to be positive!

On July 9th, 2015 (let it be recorded) I retired.  It was a smooth transition and I can honestly say that the only things I will miss are   some great colleagues – who, I hope, will stay friends! – and imparting knowledge.  Two days after that I attending the wedding of my son and, in one, fell swoop, gained a daughter and a whole new family!

Start as you mean to go on

Now, ever since deciding that I would definitely retire people have been asking one question – what will you do?  My first answer has always been ‘Nothing’, followed by ‘take the opportunity to go on breaks in term time!’  Well, first I did a lot of not-planning and not-marking throughout what was still, for me, the summer holidays.  That was the only sign, at that point, that something was different.  In September, when I did not return to work, we visited friends in the East of England and the Midlands; in November, we took an overnight trip to France.

The view down into the lobby from the first floor of our lovely little hotel

This December we were lucky enough to share Christmas dinner with the best newly-married couple and had a wonderful, relaxing day with good food and good company.

So much for 2015.  Next year will prove to be a challenge, but more of that later.  May I wish all who have read any of my ramblings a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.