Friday, 31 May 2013

Day 31: I blogged every day in May!

I blogged every day in May!

I feel like I should get a badge, or a certificate at least.

It has certainly been a challenge.  I forgot what a busy month May is at school, so many days I was working flat out from 7 till 5, only to return home with the need to write a post hanging over my head.  I was away for four days at the start of the month and six days at the end, which meant I had to be really organised about writing and scheduling posts in advance.  I'm still amazed that I managed it, but manage it I did, and more importantly, I enjoyed it too.

I have loved using the #BEDM hashtag to discover new blogs that I otherwise would never have come across. My Bloglovin' list is now much longer, and all the better for it (although at the time of writing, I have 67 unread posts after being away for a week - eek, better get reading).

I enjoyed the fact that many of the topics inspired me to write about something a bit different: while I often blog about books and travel, I probably wouldn't have thought to come up with topics such as A Day In The Life (turns out, everyone was very keen to learn exactly what teachers get up to). 

I also liked reminscing about the job that changed my life (complete with embarrassing photo of 19 year-old me) and thinking about what I'd say to myself at thirteen

But typically, the post I slaved over the most, going backwards and forwards with editing and getting The Boy to check it for me - about being fit, healthy and fat - got the fewest pageviews and comments: isn't that always the way?!

So what have I learnt? 

That I can stick to deadlines if I put my mind to it.

That sitting down to write a lot of posts at once, and then scheduling them, is a much easier way of blogging regularly.

That I enjoy taking photographs to accompany my posts, and should do it more often.

Most of all, I've learnt that I really enjoy being part of a blogging community.  I've loved 'meeting' new people on Twitter, reading new commenters and visiting their blogs to comment in turn. 

Finally, a massive thanks to Elizabeth at Rosalilium for coming up with the #BEDM challenge in the first place.  How will I ever cope with coming up with my own topics in June?!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Day 30: Inspirational women

A very quick one tonight: I have just got back from my six days away with The Boy in Berlin (more on that to follow soon).  For today's topic, I had wanted to write about my grandfather and how he inspired me but I just haven't got time so that's a post that will have to wait for another time.  Instead, here are some women who inspire me: the suffragettes. 


Image from here.  There was also a wonderful article by Kira Cochrane in The Guardian earlier this week about lessons modern feminists can learn from their foremothers. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Day 29: My morning ritual

I've documented a non-work morning here: when I'm at school it's all a bit manic and rushed after my alarm goes off at half 6.  At the weekends, though, I wake up at a more leisurely hour and drag myself from my lovely, cosy bed...


I have piles of pillows, a big feather duvet, a great vintage quilt and the comfiest bed ever, so getting out of it is a real challenge some mornings!


Have a cup of tea and some toast while reading either a magazine, The Guardian, or a book, depending on the day.  I prefer non-fiction in the morning, for some reason (I think it's because I know that, if I start reading a novel, the danger is that I'll get sucked in and never get anything else done!).


Just a taster of the many, many products I rely upon to leave the house in the morning.  I can't remember the last time I went out without make-up: maybe some time in 1992?  My routine goes like this: moisturiser and lip balm.  Foundation, cream blush, powder.  Eyebrow pencil, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara.  Straighten hair (or scrape back into a topknot) and use serum to control the frizz.  Spritz of perfume (L'Occitane Ambre is my favourite at the moment) and I'm finally good to go!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Day 28: Debt, and how I pulled myself out of it

 
Via weheartit

The worst advice I ever received?  That's easy.  It was when Natwest sold me a loan to "consolidate my debts".  Never listen to a bank salesperson, because they will lie to you or twist the truth for their own ends.  I wish I'd realised that ten years ago.

I'd got myself into a financial mess at university and in my early twenties, but by that point had managed to pay off a lot of one student overdraft and most of the sole credit card I possessed.  My Natwest graduate overdraft was large, yes, but manageable.  However, the idea of having just one loan to pay off, rather than three small piles of debt, appealed to my sense of order.  I agreed a loan of a little over £3,000.

Problem was, once I realised how easy it was to get credit, it was always too tempting to add to it. 

Maybe I'd find a new loan at a lower interest rate and take that out, of course adding a bit more to the total amount so I could buy x or y.  Maybe I'd put a flight on my credit card, promising myself I'd pay it off, but never doing any such thing.  Maybe my boiler broke, and I had no savings to speak of, so I added to the loan.  I don't even want to think about how much debt I've accrued by doing this, but would estimate the total over the years as being around £20,000.

My total debt now?  £6,000 on two 0% credit cards.  No overdraft.  No loans.  Nothing but easily managable monthly payments on which I pay no interest, and enough surplus income most months that I am building up a nice cushion in my savings account.  And all this in a year when I'm spending obscene amouns on travel because of my long distance relationship.

So how did I do it?

The Not Buying It experiment was my first step to taking back control of my finances.  For two months in autumn 2011 I bought absolutely nothing beyond the essentials (food, drink, petrol, The Guardian!).  By stepping off the consumer treadmill I was able to reassess what was important to me in terms of spending.  This impacted on me long-term: I definitely make less frivolous purchases now than I used to.  I was also able to clear £1000+ of credit card debt over the course of the two months, which just shows what a stupid amount of cash I usually spend.

I'd enjoyed the challenge of a spending ban, so last autumn saw the beginning of the £100 Challenge, in which I endeavoured to limit all spending (after bills) to £100 a week.  This time I kept it up for three months, and it was responsible for seeing off another £800 credit card.  This time, I also remembered to close the account so I couldn't rack up the debt again! 

Since completing the £100 Challenge I use a spending app on my phone to keep track of every single expense: without this, it is all too easy to 'forget' about the £2 I spend on a magazine, the £8 I spend at the corner shop, the £11 I spend in the pub, and then to wonder why I don't have any cash left.

And finally, I cannot praise the Money Saving Expert website enough.  Over the past two years I've used their advice to change pretty much every utility and service provider, bringing my monthly household expenses (including mortgage) down from £1,100 to £770 a month.  Every time I switch anything I also check Quidco to see if I can get a cashback deal: I've received £300 in cashback over the past 12 months, after changing my mobile phone, my car insurance, my house insurance and my home broadband.

I'm obviously not there yet, but the past few years really have seen me take some positive steps to reducing my debt.  I don't think I'll ever be brilliant with money - I have too much of a Veruca Salt "I need it NOW" side to me to ever stop spending - but I've got myself to a point where I no longer feel sick about checking my bank balance.  Where I'm no longer scared of bailiffs knocking at my door (this did actually happen to me once, and was one of the worst experiences of my life). 

Come September I am keen to begin a new spending challenge: if anyone has any suggestions on what it could be, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Day 27: May reads


1. I absolutely loved Adorkable, which follows teen blogging sensation and self-pronounced dork Jeane and popular, sporty Michael as they first discover that their respective partners are cheating on them, and then discover their true feelings for each other.  A lot of the book rang true for me (especially as I'd been a teenage fanzine writer, more concerned with building my music criticism empire than concentrating on my A Levels, just like Jeane).  The characters were believably flawed, the writing funny and sexy and moving.  I am already looking forward to rereading this in a year or two.

2. There's A Boy In The Girl's Bathroom was a great quick read.  Louis Sachar wrote the modern children's classic Holes, and I picked this up on the recommendation of a pupil. 

3. Sophie Hannah's thrillers get ever more ludicrous and silly, but you can't fault the tight plotting and the characterisation of the recurring characters from Spilling CID.


4. The Daylight Gate is May's book group pick, and at the time of writing I haven't quite finished it.  Last month we read Jeanette Winterson's autobiography, so it's been good to read some of her fiction.  This is a less narratively ambitious novel than her early work like Sexing The Cherry, and I'm enjoying it so far.

5. World War Z was a great buy on my Kindle recently, and kept me going through a variety of flights and train journeys.

6. My mum recommended The Submission to me.  The tale of a Muslim architect who wins an anonymous competition to design a memorial at Ground Zero, it's definitely a thought-provoking read.


7.  As a HUGE fan of teen movies, I adored Stranded At The Drive-In.  Mullholland analyses 100 films from the past fifty years, and I particularly enjoyed the chapters on some of my favourite but little-known films, such as Dazed & Confused, But I'm A Cheerleader and Bring It On, as well as deservedly famous ones like Dirty Dancing.  I was most struck by the feminist reading he applies to many of the films, and found myself heartily agreeing with almost all of his judgements.

8.  After reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall I became a bit obsessed with Tudor and Elizabethan history.  The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England is a very enjoyable layperson's guide to life five hundred years ago.

9. I loved some parts of Patti Smith's autobiography, Just Kids, and found others hard going, but still its one I would recommend.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Day 26: Holiday fun

Last Bank Holiday weekend, I was in Nijmegen in The Netherlands, visiting The Boy.  This Bank Holiday weekend, I am in Nijmegen again.  We'll spend the weekend there before catching the train to Berlin on Monday morning.  I can't wait to spend almost a week with him exploring Berlin, finding fun bars, eating yummy vegan food... all in all, having a lovely holiday together. 

In the meantime here are a few photographs from my visit earlier this month, during which we walked in the spring sunshine, drank Dutch cider, admired graffitti, ate falafel, watched films, and stared into each other's eyes and all that other cheesy crap that couples do.





Saturday, 25 May 2013

Day 25: Music love

Books may have been my first love but music was (and is) a close second.  Whereas books are my comfort and my familiar home, music is what excites and challenges me.
 
Some of my most transcendental moments have been at gigs or festivals.  The first 'proper' writng I ever did was a self-produced Britpop fanzine between 1996 and 1998.  Music has soundtracked my memories, both good and bad.  How, then, can I possible narrow my 'music love' down to a mere five albums?!
 
I wrote a music Q&A recently which talked about some firsts and some favourites (and if anyone would like to volunteer to write their own Q&A guest post, then drop me a line at jbistheinitial@gmail.com).  Here are just a few of the albums that have been important to me over the years.
 
Then...
 
 
The albums I loved passionately and that defined my life at the age of sixteen were probably The Bends, The Holy Bible and Trailer.  But in the intervening years, the albums from that era that I listen to most are Siamese Dream (my all-time number one album), Live Through This, and Come On Feel The Lemonheads.

In the early twenties I went through a phase when I listened to a lot of hip hop, UK garage (don't ask!), Motown and dance music.  I loved Zero 7, Groove Armada, Daft Punk, De La Soul.  I listened to a lot of Tim Westwood.  It was a weird time.  The records which dragged me back to guitar music were Is This It by The Strokes and The Libertines debut album (and a rediscovered obsession with Ben Folds Five).

Now...


In recent years I have listened almost exclusively to American music.  My brother* is my main musical influence now (it's so irritating: I used to tell him what to listen to!) and over the years he has introduced me to the artists that I listen to most often.  Joanna Newsom, Grizzly Bear, The Shins... they were all largely thanks to Richard's recommendations.  Others, like Beach House, Fleet Foxes or Sufjan Stevens, I've come across through my own musical investigations but they're still artists he loves.

* You can read the Music Q&A he wrote for me here. 

Friday, 24 May 2013

Day 24: A nosy inside my fridge


1. Gratuitous shot of my beloved Smeg fridge.

2. Top shelf, dairy and fake dairy.  From L-R: baking margarine, soya spread, butter, soya cream, milk, goats cheese, eggs (and a lurking imposter in the shape of raspberry jam).

3. Middle shelf, where leftovers go to die.  From L-R: tuna pasta bake, half a yellow pepper, hummus, half a lime, fajita chicken & veggies from last night, kidney beans, chorizo ring, cheddar cheese.  Lurking at the back: half a sweet potato, mango chutney and soya yoghurt.

4. Bottom shelf, any random thing I can't fit elsewhere.  From L-R: red grapes, tortilla wraps, homemade guacamole in foil-covered bowl, soya milk, melon cut into chunks, all the better to dispense into smaller pots for packed lunches.

5. Off-camera: bottom drawer filled with onions, peppers, courgettes and scallions.  Fridge door shelves filled with wine and fruit juice.

So, what does my fridge say about me? 

First, that this is the confused fridge of a meat- and dairy-eater with a vegan boyfriend. 

Secondly, that I really love Mexican food. 

Finally, that I make most of my meals from scratch - no ready meals here - and enjoy baking, although apart from that I eat pretty healthily (plenty of veggies in this fridge).

I can't wait to have a peek in everyone's fridge today - I'm such a nosy parker!

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Day 23: Compliments

I don't take compliments very well.  A combination of being a woman (socialised into self-hatred from a young age), being English (compliments are not self-deprecating enough), and being shy (don't notice me, don't notice me!).  I tend to do the classic thing of either denying a compliment ("Your hair looks nice." "Oh, it's doing my head in at the moment, I hate the colour.") or ignoring and deflecting it ("I love your dress!" "Yours is amazing, where's it from?").

But recently, the loveliest compliments - ones I couldn't ignore - have come from two sources: The Boy, and my wonderful pupils. 

Me, as I simultaneously blow my nose and try to calm my bed hair: "Why are you looking at me like that?"  The Boy: "I was just thinking how pretty you look".

Year 9 pupil: "Your laugh is brilliant, it makes me laugh."

Year 9 pupil, on being told I turn 35 at my next birthday: "WHAT?!!!  I thought you were about 26!" (They decided I must look young because I don't have any children.  Fair point.)

Year 8 tutor group, after I hadn't seen them for almost a week due to SATs exams and meetings: "Where have you been?!  We missed you!"


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Day 22: Dear Janet...

Hints and tips for my thirteen-year-old self:

Mum is going to come out to you soon.  You'll cope with it reasonably well, but you could do with being less of a bitch to her girlfriend.  She's really quite nice, and it just makes you look like a brat.

You're never going to get over being the weird kid and will carry the notion that no-one likes you right into your thirties.  This is actively damaging to your friendships.  Try and be a bit more confident in their ability to make an informed choice to be friends with you.

If you think wearing a C cup bra is bad, just you wait: one day you'll be in a HH (but you really won't mind).

And on that note, being called "melons" by the boys is not something you have to grin and bear.  Not all attention is good attention.

If you choose not to do any work during your A-Levels, fair enough, but don't then feel all shocked and upset when you do really badly.

You will meet rock stars. You will stay up all night.  You will live a life that you - the geeky, studious, swotty bookworm - can't even conceive of for yourself at the moment.  And you will have a blast...

... But you'll eventually realise that that life doesn't make you happy in the long term.  Enjoy it while it lasts, and embrace the change that comes afterwards.

Don't pick up that blade.  Just don't.  It will condemn you to long sleeves in summer for the rest of your working life.

Try not to harp on to your parents about how you'll never drink, or smoke, or do drugs.  They will revel in reminding you of this in seven years time.

That tattoo you want when you're nineteen?  Your parents are right; it's a terrible idea.

One day you will belong, but first you need to realise that there's a value in not belonging, too.

When you tell people that, "mobile phones will never catch on," you'll be wrong.  Likewise iPods, iPhones... basically, when it comes to technology just assume that you're always wrong.  Apart from Minidisc players.  They really won't catch on.

At the moment, you think that the love you read of in books will never happen to you.  But in a couple of years, you will find a girl who you adore.  In your twenties, you will fall in love with a boy who treats you badly.  Finally, once you know you really deserve it, you will meet someone who looks at you with love in his eyes.  Someone who can debate the finer points of feminist theory.  Someone who gives the best cuddles.  Someone who makes you happier than you ever thought you could be. 

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Day 21: Dream job


My dream job?  Easy question... it would be one that involved books.  Lots of books.

I have two dreams, in fact.  One is of finding myself financially able to become a student again.  I would love to spend the rest of my life studying; ensconsing myself in libraries and university departments until I retire.

Secondly, of winning the lottery and being able to open my ideal bookshop (the lottery win is an important part of this dream, because living in penury trying to make money from a sadly dying trade does not appeal). 

Like Powell's in Portland, Oregon, my bookshop would shelve new and used copies together.  It would have a colourful kids area with rugs on the floor, all the better to settle down and leaf through the books; a large and well-stocked YA section; a really great music section, with CDs and records for sale too.  There would be squishy leather Chesterfields, and lovely upholstered reading chairs.  There would be huge vases of lillies (a la the bookshop at Salt's Mill in Saltaire), and music playing quietly in the background.  There would be homemade cakes and good tea and coffee on sale.  And there would be me, sitting behind the counter, book always in hand, happy to chat and recommend good reads.

Now, I have worked in a bookshop (Waterstones, 1999-2001) and I know that the reality is a far cry from my idealised verion.  But hell, it's my dream so it can be the way I want it to be.

And, of course, for now I am lucky enough to do a job that enables me to rant on about books as much as I like.  In fact, it is pretty much my job to do just that.  My favourite thing about teaching English is sharing book recommendations with the teenagers that I work with; hearing their opinions; seeing them fall in love with literature.  If my pupils ever think about me once they have left, I hope it is to remember the book-mad teacher with the overly loud laugh, who briefly convinced them that in  Shakespeare, or Louis Sachar, or Bali Rai, or Wilfred Owen, they can find the answer to everything.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Day 20: What makes me angry

The prompt today was 'Talk about something that's in the news today', which was a bit of a red rag to a bull.  At the moment, I am struggling to keep up with the news because it is so relentlessly, soul-destroyingly terrible that it makes me so furious and sad, and I can't bring myself to spend my time feeling that way.

It's so easy, isn't it - in this lifestyle blogger-land - to pretend that everything is cakes and flowers and pretty shoes and happy times.  I like to keep my blog as a (mostly) positive space.  Although I will ocassionally admit to less-than-cheery feelings, I prefer to focus on the nice things I see, do and experience.  But there are times when it becomes hard to continue the pretence that everything is peachy.  When, instead of making my usual 'ooh, look at these lovely things that make me happy' lists, I want to rage because I am so fucking angry.

I am angry because recent figures show that, by the end of the Coalition's term of governemt, 1 in 3 children in the UK will be living in poverty.

I am angry that despite austerity measures having been proven to not be effective in easing recession, the Conservatives are using it as an excuse to pursue ideological policies which do real damage to people's lives.

I am angry because we live in a world where teenage rape victims, instead of being counselled and cared for, are bullied until they commit suicide.

I am angry that our government is determined to make benefits impossible to live on, while doing nothing to improve wages or job security.  Hey politicians!  It doesn't take a genius to work out that - while zero hours contracts proliferate and wages stagnate - people will continue to choose a life on benefits.  It also doesn't take a genius to work out that maybe the solution isn't to slash benefits, but to improve working conditions.

I am angry that my fellow teachers and I are continually attacked and belittled by Gove, Wilshaw and their ilk (people who have never spent a day in a classroom and, by the sound of some of their ideas, can't accept that they are in the 21st century rather than 1950).

I am angry that rape continues to be used as a weapon in conflict zones; that seemingly every other report from Egypt or Syria mentions violence against women.

I am angry that our children and teenagers are amongst the most-tested in the world.  That they are maligned by the government and the media while their lives are made ever-more difficult by the stress of an  education system which does not best serve their interests, but the interests of big businesses.

I am angry every time I open up a newspaper and read about yet another homophobic attack, and then turn on my television to see the same homophobia being espoused by MPs in Parliament in the name of 'family values'.

I am angry that there has been an increase in the picketing of abortion clinics in the UK by 'pro-lifers'... and that in countries close by, women are dying for want of legal abortion.

I am angry because there are still so many things I could add to this list.  I am angry that my anger is driving me into inarticularcy.  I am angry.

Day 19: Traditions


I have an almost-Asperger's-like level of obsession with order and tradition, and drive my family mad with my insistence that things must always be done "just so".  This comes to a fore in the run-up to Christmas.  I wrote in detail about my festive preparations back in November, but that post barely touched upon the iron-like grip I maintain on the family traditions at Christmas.  Some of those traditions date back to my childhood - the Christmas Eve meal of lentil & carrot soup, for example - while others are more recent additions, such as watching Carols From Kings.  I'm ashamed to say that I can become a bit of a brat whenever anyone suggests making a change to our routines.  What can I say?  I don't cope well with change!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Day 18: My friends

Last summer I wrote about four of my close friends and, well, I don't have a great deal to add to that post, except that isn't it funny how much changes in the space of seven months?  Life has come so far for all five of us... engagements, falling in love, moving house, new jobs... between us we have experienced pretty much all of life's major events in a short space of time.  Things have not always been easy and difficult decisions have been made, but the words of Anthony Kiedis still apply:

"'Cause I'll be on your side / You know I will"

Friday, 17 May 2013

Day 17: Taking a diversion

I was singularly uninspired by today's Blog Every Day in May topic - Journey To Work - as I drive to school, so it's therefore difficult to take photographs or notice anything much beside the road, and my route takes me through two council estates and an industrial estate, so it's not exactly inspiring or picturesque.

However, I didn't want to take a day off (well, I kind of did, but Mrs Tibbs Teacups would not let me) so I decided instead to take a diversion to highlight just a few of the great posts that I have stumbled upon because of #BEDM. 

One of my favourite things about this challenge has been the many, many amazing blogs I have found and the fab people I have 'met'.  More than ever, I am feeling part of a blogging community... and shock horror (as I am by nature rather misanthropic and loner-ish) I am liking it!


Oh Gosh Em's amazing bunting quilt (image from her blog) has gone straight to the top of my 'To Make' list. I know a small person with a birthday coming up, and I'd love to make this for her.

I have fallen head-over-heels in love with Just Me, written by the mysteriously named The Girl.  Her prose style is brilliantly funny and honest, and her posts are always incredibly well written.  I would love to be able to write as beautifully as she does.  When Baking Goes Wrong made me laugh out loud, and her post on being in a long distance relationship made me punch the air with recognition ("Does having The Person in my life make my life better? Absolutely, 100% no doubt about it.  But do I need The Person in order to lead a fulfilled and happy life? No, I do not. I have friends... I have family, I am capable of keeping myself amused.  And this is how I cope with being apart from him. By knowing that when we are together things are super mega awesome, but also knowing that things can still be awesome without him there."  I basically could have written exactly that about me and The Boy).

Ashleigh's post for Day 8: My First Job was incredibly funny and jaw-droppingly horrifying in equal measure.  Do take a read.



Finally, The Nearsighted Owl is not Blogging Every Day In May but I came across the blog by following a link from another #BEDM-er (can't remember who though!).  It's definitely gone straight to the top of my list of favourite fat acceptance blogs, and once I finish this challenge I am going to take a look at her How To Be A Fat Bitch eCourse.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Day 16: And... relax

Teaching is a notoriously stressful profession, but I think I largely manage to avoid too much stress.  My secret?  Not giving a toss about my job. 

I jest!*

I think one of the main reasons I stay relaxed is by being blisfully childfree and living completely alone.  I've never really understood how teachers manage to keep their sanity when they return home from a busy day in the classroom to be faced with a houseful of kids; the most precious moment of every day for me is when I close the front door, walk into my living room, and savour the wonderful sound of silence.

Other favourite ways to leave behind the chaos of the classroom include:


- Hanging out with some yummy food, a good book and a pint of cider in my favourite Leicester bar, Firebug (book just out of shot in the photograph above!);

- Snuggling under the duvet all morning with my favourite boy;

- Going for a long walk in the countryside, then returning home to a hot cup of tea and a slice of cake;

- When I'm in dire need of relaxation, a spa break at Ragdale Hall, near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire, is the most luxurious treat you can imagine.  They do relatively bargainous (although let's face it, it's still bloody expensive) 'Overnight Reviver' packages, which I sometimes use as a post-Christmas pampering.

- Escaping into a book... any book, any time, any where.  I find YA fiction the absolute best way to completely de-stress.  Perhaps because, as an adult reader, they are undemanding in the sense that they are easy to read (their themes are often anything but undemanding, and I am not for a moment suggesting that fiction for teenagers is 'lesser' than adult fiction, just that as an accomplished adult reader they are quicker to read than, say, Anna Karenina).  I can particularly recommend the novels of David Levithan, which are funny, romantic and sweet, but have just the right amount of 'edge'.  I love them.

* Mostly - I do think there is something to be said for not taking your work home with you (which can mean literally - I am careful to never take marking home at weekends, for example - or figuratively, by not spending your free time worrying about work).

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Day 15: Life's a lesson

"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.  Security does not exist in nature." 

The words of Helen Keller, and ones which my mum shared with me last year as I was preparing to embark on a daring adventure of my own*.

Like most people, I like to feel safe and secure.  But my inclination is often to avoid risk so thoroughly that I end up doing... nothing.  There is a Midlake song which contains the line, "I'd like to go home and stay out of sight for a long time," and that is often how I feel.  Safe in my little house, with music playing and books to read and a duvet to snuggle beneath.  No scary outside world, no having to connect with people, no having to overcome my shyness.  Some days I find just leaving the house and no longer being "out of sight" difficult. 

Luckily, I am generally pretty good at forcing myself out of my comfort zone.  At recognising that, as scary as it might be, I'd rather have the daring adventure than the illusion of security.  I've travelled a lot on my own, backpacking through South Africa, crossing America by train.  But the big things are often less nerve-wracking than the small; going to a party where I know almost no-one or meeting someone for a blind date**.  When something feels too much or too scary, when I feel overwhelmed by a situation or am finding it difficult to cope, I focus on the daring adventure and it makes it easier to take a deep breath and take the risk.

*an adventure that did not happen in the end, but that's another story.

** It terrifies me how close I came to cancelling my first date with The Boy because I was so nervous.  All I wanted, as I walked to the bus stop, was to return to the imagined security of my living room.  Thank goodness I chose the 'daring adventure' that time!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Day 14: Food glorious food

I absolutely love pottering in the kitchen, the radio playing as I chop, fry, stir and bake.  One of my favourite things to do with The Boy is to cook together; we have perfected our vegan fajitas and do a mean curry, too. 

Left to my own devices, I tend to cook from scratch three or four nights a week, relying on frozen portions of home-cooked meals for the evenings when I'm too knackered to get creative.  One thing I always have the time and energy for, however, is baking.  I have such a sweet tooth and am somehow convinced that homemade treats are better than shop-bought ones.  Here are some of my favourite recipes...
 
Mouthwatering Macaroons, which are surprisingly easy as long as you obey the recipe to the letter.

Rocky Road Bars adapted from a Nigella recipe.

The most incredibly fudgey, gooey, clog-your-arteries Chocolate Brownies.


And my favourite, easy-peasy Lemon Cupcakes. 

Ingredients

- 4oz caster sugar
- 4oz self-raising flour
- 4oz butter
- Grated rind of one lemon plus a squeeze of juice
- 2 medium free-range eggs


Method

1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 4, 170 degrees C.

2. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs a little at a time and beat well.

3. Stir in the flour and the lemon rind.  Add a squeeze of lemon juice to the mixture and stir.

4. Put into cupcake cases and bake for 12-16 minutes, until very pale brown and firm to the touch.

5. Mix the rest of the lemon juice with a tablespoon of softened butter and 6oz icing sugar. Beat to form a smooth icing (adding a splash of water if required).

6. When the cakes are cool, ice them, and try not to eat them all in one go.

Not long ago I read a (hopefully tongue-in-cheek) socialist critique of cupcakes that suggested they represent the ultimate triumph of the individual over the collective, a sort of cake version of Thatcher's "There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women...".  It went on to say that the departure from traditional British confections (such as the more restrained scone and rock cake), and the growing popularity of cupcakes (with their extravagant decoration and gaudy colours) somehow represented the increasing influence of a capitalist and consumerist society.

Now I like I good socialist critique as much as the next person, but as far as I am concerned any foodstuff in which the cake to icing ratio is often approaching 50/50 is ok with me, and politics be damned.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Day 13: Go green

Do you ever feel that, no matter how many bottles you recycle; no matter how many shopping bags you re-use; no matter how much you reduce your energy consumption, ultimately the measures needed to control climate change will always be blocked by the money men in suits with opinions like this one?  I try not to be defeatist about it, but my gosh, it makes depressing reading when I open the paper and discover that global carbon levels have reached a historic high, or that the Kyoto protocols still haven't been implemented fully.

All I can do, on an individual level, is try to live out the maxim, "Be the change you want to see in the world."  Small actions can have big effects, and the fact that the notion of 'being green' is an accepted and mainstream idea shows how far we have come in the past twenty years.  I just wish there wasn't still quite so far to go...

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Day 12: Collecting

I like to think I live a simple life, unencumbered by excess consumption and clutter.  But this is a massive self-deception.
 
The truth is, I love stuff.  I adore my many collections... of books, of music, of art, of any random thing I find at vintage fairs and charity shops and when I travel.  I have been known to spend happy evenings gazing at my lovely things and murmering, "my precious," in the manner of Gollum.
 
These four collections are just a fraction of the things I like to seek out. My collections also include wooden printing blocks and typography prints; vintage cookware; patterened china teacups and plates; fabric. Minimalism? What's that?!
 

Two collections in one here - books themselves (currently around a thousand, and counting), and South African stuff, from sculptures like this one, to framed prints, wall hangings, fabric, table mats, basketwork, even Nelson Mandela coasters.  There's not a room in my house which doesn't have something South African in it.



Penguin Books ephemera.


Black & white photography (again, also showcasing some other obsessions of mine: South Africa (two pictures top left), Yorkshire (bottom right), intitial and lettering, and music).

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Day 11: The books that changed my life

Oh my, if ever there was a Blog Every Day in May topic made for me, it's this one: Book Love.  Since I learnt to read at the age of three (first book tackled on my own: The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, which I got bored of waiting for my mum to read to me at bedtime), I have been an avid reader. 
 
Books have been my solace in times of trouble, my companions when I was lonely, my entertainment when I needed cheering up.  I studied English Literature at university, I own upwards of a thousand books, I teach English, I go on a near-annual pilgrimage to the ultimate book town, Hay-On-Wye.  In short, I like books.  Therefore my only problem with this post was deciding what, exactly, to write about.  Having already blogged about my recommended reads a few times, I thought that this time I'd instead highlight those books which had a greater impact on me than just, "wow, that book was great".
 

The book which taught me that being an imaginative, bookish, slightly weird kid was ok
My mum had been trying to convince me to tackle her lovely hardback pile of Anne novels for years, but I resisted (I hate being told what to read) until the BBC began showing the wonderful 1980s adaptations starring Megan Followes.  That was it: straight after the first episode aired, I grabbed the books and headed to my room, working my way through the entire series in the space of about a week. 

Anne of Green Gables is the first and still the best in the series, and together with Jo March in Little Women, Anne-with-an-e is the patron saint for all bookish girls who live as much in their heads as they do in the real world.  Although I was altogether better at avoiding scrapes than Anne was, her flights of fancy, her quest for "kindred spirits", her powerful determination to prove herself as good as - if not better - than the boys at school... these were all qualities that I could see in myself.

The books which got me through those painful early-teenage years
Paula Danziger's novels brilliantly capture how it feels to be awkward and unhappy for no particular reason.  To fancy boys but not understand them (or even like them very much).  To feel frustrated with your family even while you love them.  In short, they capture exactly how it feels to be thirteen.  I devoured the whole set, often on long car journeys while my brothers squabbled next to be in the back seat, and still return to them when I want a satisfying and quick read.  At the time, my favourite was the girl-coping-with-divorce-and-new-step-family story The Divorce Express, but now it's all about There's A Bat In Bunk Five, in which main character Marcy discovers self-confidence, herself, and love at summer camp.

The book that all disaffected teens adore... and I was no exception
What can I say about The Catcher In The Rye that hasn't already been said?  Returning to it as an adult reader, I tend to find narrator Holden Caulfield an irritant, but as a sixteen year old I thought he was the ultimate rebel without a cause.


The book that showed me an alternative way to live
Poppy Z Brite's two novels set in New Orleans and Missing Mile, North Carolina, Drawing Blood and Lost Souls, fired something within me: a desire to be 'other'.  Her depictions of people living on the edges of society - artists, computer hackers, strippers, musicians, bar tenders - are so seductive that I immediately set about seeking out the corners of my community where mainstream culture refused to go.  Part of what made me fall instantly in love with Alcatraz (the nightclub I wrote about a few days ago for #BEDM First Job) was that it reminded me powerfully of the bar in Missing Mile, The Sacred Yew.  Her description of a nightclub that was home to "poets and painters, firebrands and fuckups, innocents and wantons" had left me yearning to find a similar place of my own, and in Alcatraz I found the best approximation that I could.

The book which made me realise I would never be a writer, because someone else had already written 'my' story... and more perfectly than I ever could
Reading Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld for the first time was the most incredibly uncomfortable experience.  It felt rather as if she had crawled inside my mind and then set down on paper everything she found there.  Although the novel deals with protagonist Lee Fiora's time at boarding school, it was a pretty perfect approximation of my experiences in Halls of Residence at university.  The fact that Lee is a hugely flawed character only made the reading of Prep more uncomfortable, as I was forced to face up to the ways in which my own behaviour had contributed to my unhappiness.  I knew after reading it that I could pretty much give up my dream of being a novelist, because Prep is exactly what I wanted to write; better than I could ever hope to write it.

The book which changed my attitude to work, money and consumerism
I read How To Be Free two summers ago, just after returning from America.  The trip had already got me thinking about the way I lived and my work-life balance (or lack thereof), and Tom Hodgkinson's book - which is part comic writing, part political polemic, part philosophy, part manual for changing your life - was just what I needed to bring my thoughts into sharper focus.  It kickstarted my Not Buying It experiment in autumn 2011, and indirectly led to my £100 Challenge in autumn 2012.  As a result of reading this book, I cut my hours at work and managed to pay off a large chunk of credit card debt*.  It genuinely changed my life.

* Ahem, we'll ignore the fact that all this to-ing and fro-ing to the continent to see The Boy has kind of racked that debt back up again.  The point is, I managed to get rid of it for a while!

Friday, 10 May 2013

Day 10: Travel dreams


I love travelling.  I love planning trips, I love reading travel guides and making bookings.  I love airports and train stations.  I love that feeling of arriving in a place where no-one knows you and being totally free to explore.  I'm different when I travel: more confident, more relaxed, happier.  And I am incredibly lucky to have a job that not only affords me plenty of holiday time, but that also pays me well enough to be able to afford to do some (if not all) of the trips I have long dreamed about.
 
Sunrise over Table Mountain, August 2012

Over the past few years I have had some incredible holidays: a week of hiking and book buying in Scotland's Highlands and the Isle of Skye with my brother in August 2010 was a somewhat damp but still great experience.  The following summer, I travelled across America by train - from New York to Seattle, via New Orleans, San Francisco, Eugene and Portland - in what was truly the trip of a lifetime and later in 2011, I went to Iceland with a colleague for a few days.  Summer 2012 found me in South Africa, and 2013 so far has taken me to the Netherlands three times, plus a wonderfully romantic weekend in Paris with The Boy.  Meeting him has reminded me of the joys of travelling with someone else; after years of solo trips, its great fun to explore new places with a partner in crime.
 
Spring blossoms on the Ile de la Cite, April 2013 
 
I know I am utterly spoilt to have so many great holidays, but I choose to spend the lions share of my income on travel.  I drive an old banger of a car, my house needs updating, but my priority has always been to see as much of the world as I can.
 
Travel, for me, is about escape: from the drudgery of every day life, from the small annoyances and big responsibilities of work and home.  It is about seeing how other people live and work, exploring new places, finding out about the history and culture of an area.  I love nosing in new bookshops and vintage stores, drinking in interesting bars and eating the local cuisine.  It always amazes me how different even the countries closest to home are; the Netherlands or France - despite being two of our nearest neighbours - are so different from the UK and also easily distinguishable from each other.
 
There are so many places I dream of going: Vietnam, Laos, Bali, New Zealand, Botswana, Cuba, Costa Rica, Sweden, Greece, Turkey... the list goes on and on.  But if I could be anywhere in the world right now?  That's easy...
 
Image from Wikimedia

How can you fail to love a city which has 'Keep Portland Weird' as its unofficial slogan? 

A city where you're more likely to see someone commuting by skateboard than by car. 

A city with a vintage store on every corner.

A city which, so I'm told, has a vegan stripclub. 

A city that's home to the best bookshop in the world. 

A city where the per capita ownership of tattoos is higher than anywhere else in the USA (I might be making that last one up - but it certainly feels like it's true).

Portland, Oregon is my absolute favourite place on earth, and if I could be anywhere in the world right now, it would be there.  I'd throw on a funky vintage dress and some red lipstick (all the better to fit in with the hip-but-not-hipster residents), pack my resusable cotton shopping bags and head over to the Hawthorne district to browse the craft and vintage stores, before heading back downtown to buy a stack of books from Powells, pick up snacks from a food truck and go for a hike and a picnic in Forest Park.  Finally, I'd repair to McMenamins for a restorative pint of cider. 

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Day 9: What my social media updates say about me

 
28% #BEDM
The Blog Every Day In May hashtag has dominated my Twitter feed for the last week.  Although I'm finding it a challenge to write something every day, the bigger challenge is keeping up with reading everyone else's brilliant posts: it's so time-consuming that I'm barely reading anything else other than blogs.

20% I'm in love, and I'm going to tell the world!
Last time I did a 'What my social media updates say about me' post, I was chiefly concerned with dating stress.  Worrying about what to wear, about when to "put the crazy out there", about why he hadn't kissed me yet.  Well, who would have predicted from those neurotic tweets that, six months later, I'd be madly in love with that same boy? 

But unfortunately for my friends on social media, from the day we first said "I love you" (which I unwisely and drunkenly commemorated by tweeting from the pub), I have become that person: the one who clogs your Facebook feed with praise for her perfect boyfriend, who constantly Instagrams pictures of their amazing dates.  I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone who has wanted to vomit on reading my lovestruck updates.  I do make myself sick too, if that's any help, but I'm really just so damned happy that it's hard to keep it inside.

18% Travel plans
What with the whole long distance relationship thing, at the moment I'm always either getting ready for a trip, booking flights and trains, or just arrived back home.  I'm lucky to be in a position - both financially and in terms of free time - to be able to pack my bags and go away at the drop of a hat, but it must make for tedious reading when every other status and tweet is, "Booked my Eurostar tickets," or "On my way to the airport, I can't wait!"

14% Boo, I have no money
See above!

10% Mmm, food
For some reason, I'm obsessed with homemade guacamole at the moment and have tweeted about it far more than is normal. 

10% Books
Books I love, books I want to recommend to people, updates to my Goodreads app that then appear on my Facebook feed: literature is always a common theme of my social media use.  Recently I've been discussing Wonder with Sarah on Twitter, enjoying Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal on Goodreads, and recommending great holiday reads in blog comments.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Day 8: The job that changed my life

Strictly speaking, the first jobs I had were as a paper girl when I was 13, and a Christmas spent behind the tills at BHS when I was 16.  But those jobs didn't mean anything; they were just something I did to earn a bit of pocket money.  However some jobs change your life, and the one I had between the ages of 18 and 20 was just that. 

I still remember the first time that I walked into Alctraz.  I'd been in Leicester for a few weeks and realised pretty quickly that the usual fresher activities and uni nights out were not for me.  The mid-nineties were a time when alternative culture was still very much just that: alternative.  The vast majority of my fellow students were incredibly mainstream and they found me - with my dyed hair, nose piercing, jumble sale clothes from before vintage was cool, and esotoric music taste - baffling.  An old school friend who was studying at De Montfort University took pity on me and, one Saturday night, we walked through the doors of the place that was to define me for the remainder of the decade.

I was hit with a wall of music and smoke, the interior so dark that at first glance I could barely discern what was going on.  The dancefloor was packed with people who looked a bit like me but more so - more pierced, more funkily dressed - thrashing around to Rage Against The Machine.  The walls were covered with brightly coloured murals.  The bar staff all looked incredibly and intimidatingly cool.  That first night at Alcatraz I didn't dance, I barely drank.  I just sat and looked around with eyes wide, amazed that a place like this existed and that it could be mine to visit.


Me, circa 1998.  Annoyingly I can't find the photograph that I know exists somewhere, of me behind the bar at Alcatraz wearing my awesome Spiderman t-shirt (age 9-10)

I became a regular, often going out on my own for lack of fellow indie and rock fans to accompany me.  I would float between the dancefloor and the quieter back room, clutching my drink, trying not to look too awkward and alone.  It always felt like more than just a nightclub; there was something friendly and relaxed about the place even though it could also be cliquey.  And so when posters advertising part-time jobs appeared around the club, I jumped at the chance to apply, but assumed that nothing would come of it.  I didn't think I was hip enough to work there, and could hardly believe it when I got a call to go and try out for a coveted place behind the bar.

I did my first shifts in May 1997, had a month off for exams and to go to Glastonbury, then returned at the start of July for the best summer of my life.  Those intimidatingly cool staff turned out to be some of the nicest, funniest, most interesting people I'd met.  And best of all, they were willing to let me - me! - join their gang.  After being the swotty geek kid at school, then the weird indie kid at sixth form and university, Alctraz was the first time in my life that I had ever truly belonged anywhere.

At Alcatraz I found my place in the world.  That summer, and for many summers afterwards, it became a home-from-home where the music was always good, the beer always cheap, my friends always behind the bar or on the dancefloor.  We - Kirsty, Dave, Steve, Millar, Rebecca... too many others to name - would go to the pub before starting our shifts, hang out after work into the early hours, go to the park together during the day.  We lived and breathed Alcatraz.  There were so many of us having fun behind that bar, and we were all so young, and had so few responsibilities.  We were beautiful, in a very mid-90s, skater chic way, and we snogged and slept our way through our colleagues and the clientele of the club.  We drank, and drank, and drank, and slept very little.

In retrospect, working at Alcatraz indirectly led to all sorts of dumb life decisions; dropping out of university during my final semester being one of them (turns out that working until 3am four days a week, and going out every other night, isn't conducive to academic success!  Who knew?).  But it changed my life for the better, too, making me more self-assured and bolshy and happier than I had ever been before, and giving me the confidence to be myself.

Alcatraz is long gone now, a victim of too many rival clubs opening as alternative music and fashion started being cool in the early 00s.  Gone, maybe, but not forgotten by me and the legions of other people who loved it.  And I will always remember how good it felt to stand behind the bar on a Saturday night, listening as the DJ played music that could lurch from Britney Spears to Tool to Blur to Run DMC within the space of 20 minutes, drinking cheap cocktails, having water fights, laughing, dancing... being part of something awesome.

Day 7: On not liking animals

I hate animals. Yep, you heard me, I hate them. I mean, I'm glad they exist - fragile ecosystems and all that - but I just don't want the smelly, hairy, noisy, biting creatures anywhere near me, thank you very much. I don't watch wildlife programmes (boring), I've never had a pet (expensive), and I really don't appreciate your dog jumping on me.

The only exception to my anti-animal views (apart from cats, which I don't mind but am allergic to), are lambs.

 
Photograph via @Herdyshepherd1

Ickle bah-lambs! Running and jumping and being oh-so-cute! Just one glimpse of a lamb, and I turn from sarcastic misanthrope to user of horrifically cutesy babytalk. I've threatened to put one in my rucksack on many a hike, and it's only the knowledge that the adorable baby lamb will turn into a big, smelly sheep that stops me. I'm genuinely devestated that BBC2 seems to have abandoned Lambing Live, which was my yearly fix of lamb-related geekiness, although @HerdyShepherd1 on Twitter is doing a very good job of replacing it with daily lamb updates from Cumbria. It's ace for when you're feeling a bit miz - just look at photos of lambs and everything feels better.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Day 6: Bank holiday



For those new to my blog; back in October last year, after being single for a looooong time (ten years to be precise.  You can read my reasons for that here), I met a lovely guy who I call The Boy for reasons of anonymity and because it makes me smile*. 

Just finding The Boy in the first place was something of a challenge, and then getting two socially awkward and shy people to declare their 'like' for each other presented a second challenge.  But next came the biggest challenge of all: in January, he moved to the Netherlands to work on his PhD for eight months.  Cue a great deal of travelling for both of us, as we embarked on a long distance relationship and fell in love while hundreds of miles apart.

So, this bank holiday (and the next, and the one after that) I will be wearing out my passport to visit him in Nijmegen.  I have my euros ready, my bag packed, and by the time you read this on Monday I will be very happily lazing in bed with the man who makes me happier than anything else in the world.

* It particularly makes me smile that some of my IRL friends who read this blog have taken to calling him The Boy in day-to-day conversation, rather than by his actual given name.

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Day 5: Fit, healthy... and fat

Today's Blog Every Day In May topic was Fit & Healthy, which sort of ties in with a topic I've wanted to write about for a while: a follow-up to last year's post about the politics of fat

I enjoy quite a bit of thin privilege within the fat acceptance movement; wavering between a size 14 and an 18, I am able to fit into most straight-size ranges and have a whole host of fashion choices that women size 20+ don't.  However, relative thin privilige is all very well but there's no denying that, in the eyes of a society which values and promotes an extreme, size 0 version of skinny, I'm fat and, for the most part, that has been fine with me. 

I don't recall a time when I ever felt thin.  But I've worked hard to resist external messages about bodies, so I also find it hard to recall a time when not feeling or being thin has seemed like a big problem.  I have never dieted.  I have never limited my consumption of food.  I have never tried to exercise my way to thinness (which is not to say I don't exercise; I do and always have, because it feels good.  I just don't do it to lose weight). 

I've always considered my fat acceptance to be political; feminist in fact.  Have I always loved my body?  Hell no, but I've always felt that to diet, when I'm perfectly healthy, would be to fall for a lie which is, at its root, deeply misogynistic.  The lie that, if only you can attain the 'perfect body', all will be well.  The lie that encourages women to take up as little space as possible; to devote their time and energy to becoming thinner instead of, I dunno, doing something of actual value instead.  I've always maintained that if my body can do what I need it to do - if it is fit and healthy - then why deny myself?  A body can be unhealthy at any size.  Mine - with every part functioning well; with a recent full physical exam proving that I'm as healthy as can be; with its ability to work out in the gym or climb a mountain - is demonstrably healthy*. I thought I had this body positive, self-love thing down pat.

But just recently I look in the mirror at my body and I am sure it is bigger than before.  It wobbles.  It doesn't make me feel good to see it.  When I'm lying naked in bed with my boyfriend and he tells me I have a beautiful body, I can't help but give him the side-eye.  Can't he feel my belly, squashed up against his taut, muscular stomach?  How can he think that my hips, my back, my arms, with their excess flesh, are "beautiful"?

The always-wonderful Bethany at Arched Eyebrow wrote a fabulous post about fatphobia recently and included in it this great line: " it doesn’t matter how much work we do on ourselves, how high we drag ourselves up the ladder of self-love and confidence, we will always exist in this environment that hates our bodies."  When you live in a society that is constantly sending out messages about how the 'ideal' body looks, it's easy to internalise those messages without realising it.  I think I have briefly succumbed to society's fatphobia.  I need to start dragging myself back up that ladder of self-love again.

* Although I often wonder: if I was thin, would I feel the need to write that list. Would I need to 'prove' my health?

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Day 4: Five blogs I love

I've banged on about my favourite blogs before - Make Do & Mend, Sarah Rooftops (sadly on hiatus at the moment; hurry back Sarah, we miss you!) Nekomentsu and Make, Do & Spend are my top reads - but here are five other great blogs...

1. Knitting On Trains has been a favourite for a while now.  Jess writes about her thrifty, crafty and bookish goings-on.

2. Helen - who blogs at Using My Loaf - and I long ago discovered that we have all sorts in common. Her posts always make me laugh and I love reading about the progress she and Rob are making with their home makeover and VW camper renovations. 

3. Distract Me Now Please would be on my list just for her brilliantly funny Shit My Family Says post, but the rest of the blog is fab too; a great mix of random musings and lifestyle stuff.

4. I discovered Foof And Faff after Elise commented on something here, and I now love looking at the photographs of her walks around the Scottish countryside and coastline and noseying at what she's wearing in her outfit posts.

5. I really enjoy looking at Mizhenka's photographs and am glad she's back blogging after a short break.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Day 3: A day in the life

Yesterday was the most boring of all possible days!  I swear my life is usually more interesting than this...


6.15am
My alarm goes off.  I press snooze.  It continues to go off, at 4 minute intervals, until about 6.35, when I finally wake up properly and drag myself out of bed... after checking Twitter, Whats App and Facebook on my phone, of course.

A quick wash, brush teeth, then make-up and hair.  I throw some clothes on - usually a dress and a cardigan - then pick up my laptop and lunch and get in the car.

7.15am
Arrive at school*.  Look at the huge pile of worksheets, marking, paperwork and general crap on my desk and want to cry.  I make sure my lessons for the day are all planned, then quickly check The Guardian website and my emails, before heading downstairs for a cup of tea, a breakfast bar, and a natter with colleagues.

* Insert obligatory rant about bloody Gove and his assertions that teachers don't work hard enough. I wonder if he's at his desk just after 7am every day?!


8.10am
The bells rings for the start of school.  I go and register my tutor group - sorting out letters from parents, helping them with homework, reading out notices and talking to the lads about their defeat at football last night - then start teaching lessons at 8.35am.

This morning Year 9 are getting ready for their GCSE Controlled Assessments, so even the naughty kids are calmer and more focused than usual; they recognise the fact that this assessment is pretty important.  Next, Year 8 are 'doing' Romeo & Juliet, which I love.  I possibly get slightly over-excited when talking about the balcony scene, but they don't seem to mind and produce some lovely work, writing a diary in character as Romeo. 

After breaktime my Year 6 class tackle a practice SATs paper with great effort, if not much actual ability.  It breaks my heart to see 10 year olds sitting silently in ranks, brows puckered as they try to figure out a long text about the Great Plague (way to keep kids engaged by using contemporary materials in English tests, QCA!).

Finally, after an hour of non-contact time in which I meet with a pupil and then mark books, Year 7 arrive high as kites and I have to send one boy out of the room to calm down.  Three children haven't done their homework so need sanctions; half of the class misunderstand the instructions (despite being told them verbally, shown a copy on the board and having a worksheet in front of them) and need to start again; after twenty minutes, one boy has managed to draw a single line in his book and has to be moved away from his friends so he can concentrate.  I keep most of the class behind - an extremely rare occurence for me, as I expect and generally receive excellent behaviour  - but we're all out of the classroom by 2.55pm.


Some days I'm lucky enough to be away from school just after 3pm (still an 8 hour day, bearing in mind my start time), but more often than not I'll have a meeting or lots of work to get on with, and so will stay at school until 4 or 5pm (if the meeting is a late one).  Today's a good one, and I manage to escape quickly.

4pm
Home, after taking some clothes back to GAP and buying a couple of things in Boots.  A quick shower and wash my hair, then I start packing my bag for a trip to visit my boyfriend in the Netherlands this weekend.

5pm
I sit on my laptop at the kitchen table to catch up on reading blogs and to write my own, while listening to the Steve Lamacq show on 6 Music.


7.30pm
I make dinner - reheated lasagne, from a batch I made last week - and sit down with a glass of wine and watch How I Met Your Mother while I eat, before relaxing with a book for a couple of hours before bed at 10pm.  After all, I'll be travelling for about 6 hours tomorrow, so I need my beauty sleep!

Thursday, 2 May 2013

Day 2: Spring is here!


Photo via weheartit

This spring, I am looking forward to...

... spending this weekend with my lovely boy at his home in Nijmegen (in the Netherlands);
... the weather finally warming up - please?  Soon would be nice?
... finishing the make-over of my living room - photos coming soon;
... a visit from my dad;
... and a visit to my mum;
... seeing my friends Hannah and Darren, who are visiting Leicester from Norfolk soon;
... tackling the stack of books which is building up on my bedside table: next up, a choice between Christopher Brookmyre, Marian Keyes and Jeanette Winterson.  I'm nothing if not catholic in my tastes;
... my trip to Berlin with The Boy at half term;
... counting down to my birthday in June.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Day 1: Five lines

First day of the #BEDM challenge, and our instructions were to "introduce yourself or sum yourself up in five lines."  But because there's not much I haven't said about myself on here (I do love a good FAQ post, like this one, or this) I wanted to think of five things I haven't shared before.  So...

1. I secretly like parents’ evenings at school, because I always get told by at least one parent that I’m a brilliant teacher* – and what teacher doesn’t enjoy hearing that?!

2. My happiest memories are all of festivals; something about the combination of music, sunshine, friends and cider.

3. I have an overactive imagination and always think the worst.  Mum visiting me and is 10 minutes later than she said she’d be?  Dead in a crash on the M1.  Boyfriend hasn’t replied to my messages?  Obviously doesn’t love me anymore.  Bus hasn’t arrived yet?  I’ll miss my train and therefore my plane.

4. When I was a child, I wanted to be a writer or an actor.  The one job I said I would never do, under any circumstances?  Yep, you’ve guessed it: teacher.
 
5. I'm a less picky eater than I used to be, but I retain a trinity of hated foodstuffs: mushrooms; vinegar; fruit as a garnish on (or in) savoury meals.
 
* I'm not claiming they're right, but it's nice to be told it regardless of whether it's true.