A nice surprise

Last year wasn’t that great, things went wrong, I was ill, I was off work and then embarked on some low-level wrangling to be released from my contract so I could make a fresh start. The frustration and anxiety caused by not being able to walk away from the thing that is making you ill is indescribable. The support of my wife and children has been immense – which I guess is why I love them so much!

As January loomed and I was finally poised to be free of my contract I was faced with the awful truth that I would also be free of my income. Not that I hadn’t realised this would be the case, but knowing something is going to happen is different to it actually happening.

Numerous job applications, some speculative – but most well within my ability and skill set, had only resulted in a few interviews and a pile of rejection letters. If you are not currently looking for work I can tell you there is very little out there. Okay, correction – there are plenty of minimum wage, zero hours contracts with no prospects, benefits or opportunity to use my 25 years of expertise and knowledge. But not many real jobs for grown ups with mortgages and other commitments.

With few other options, I signed up with a supply teaching agency that had contacted me after seeing my CV online. The plan was/is to see if I get enough work for us to get by and find out if my constitution is strong enough for me to manage (that sounds more melodramatic than I intended, like some poor Victorian dandy with a touch of the vapours.)

So at the start of January I set off, knees trembling and heart pounding, to my first assignment. It was fun. I’m not quite sure that’s the exact words I want, it was in a special unit for young pupils who are disengaged from the mainstream because of their behaviour. It was busy – no breaks, some restraint, lots of swearing and kicking, a little spitting and some lovely quiet moments when boys (yes, all boys) engaged, worked, laughed and joked. It was very hard work, especially after a year of choosing my own pace, but fun!

Since then I have spent more time with that unit, as well as working in several other schools around the county. All of it has been rewarding and enjoyable, early morning phone calls, meeting new people, working with age groups that I used to teach previously and have not worked with for several years. This has all been good so far and my delicate disposition is holding up.

Anyway, the nice surprise. Yesterday I was asked to spend the afternoon in a local school where I used to work part-time. It was over 8 years ago and I was pretty sure most of the small number of people I had worked with would have moved on or would not remember me that well.

As I settled into the class a member of staff who I remembered (I used to teach her daughter) came into the room, she recognised me, came over and gave me a hug and said hello. Then she left the room. Unknown to me she started to circulate the school finding people who knew me and telling them I was there. As the afternoon went on people kept popping into the room to say hello, much to the bemusement of the students I was teaching.

For someone with a poor self-image, which has been hammered over the last 12 months, it was both flattering and humbling that so many people had remembered me, and most of them had an anecdote to share, things that I had forgotten or been blissfully unaware of. They all assured me that they had been talking about me only recently. It was really good to see them again, and knowing you touched other peoples lives in some positive way is a good feeling – I left on a high.

For now I will carry on supply teaching and see how it goes, but if it is all as good as yesterday afternoon why would I stop?



Outside it is raining. Not just a bit of light rain that you could probably put up with and go or a walk if you wanted to. No, this is the sort of rain that wakes you up in the night, the sort of rain that permeates every layer of clothing you are wearing; including the expensive waterproof coat you treated yourself to for just such an occasion. It is pissing down.

If you have been in the UK for the last couple of months this won’t be a surprise to you, you have endured this too and have become adept at remembering to take a coat/umbrella, timing trips from the front door to the car with split second precision, driving only routes that aren’t prone to flooding and talking at length about how bad the weather is with friends and acquaintances.

If, on the other hand, you are in the USA this may help you understand the bleakness of our rain; my youngest son announced he ‘would rather be in Florida’. We did of course challenge him about this, reminding him that it had also rained hard when we were in Florida – point to us.

He countered with ‘yes, but the puddles are warm.’ Game, set and match to him I think.

Anyway, it’s raining and we are all inside doing things, there is a TV show on in one room, music in another, art work taking shape at both ends of the kitchen and general hubbub of things happening quietly, independently of each other but in the same space.

We are lucky to live up a hill and so not be affected by the flooding that is causing misery to many other people. Nevertheless, the garden is awash, the leaky back guttering that needs fixing is leaking away to its heart’s content and the water butt is already well-stocked for next summer. The run –off from the garden has worked its way under the patio, unseating all the slabs I lifted and reset last year – I guess I’ll be doing them again this year some time.

For many years I have dreaded rainy weather. As a teacher it only ever means one thing – wet play! The horror of having hundreds of children unable to access an outside play area for a day or more was enough to reduce me to a trembling wreck. The havoc and chaos that ensued was always draining, the mess and breakages dreadful, the lack of an outlet for burning of excess energy made afternoon teaching hell.

The overall result of all this poor weather is terrible; flooded homes and fields, damaged roads and buildings, noisy children and housebound pets. But I have to be honest and say that an enforced day at home once in a while with the heating on, a book to read and some projects to get on with is good for the soul.

These are my top 5 rainy day songs;
UB40 – I think it’s going to rain today – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5b-_lhBfD8
Jane Siberry – it can’t rain all the time – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfZzkhfz89c
Tom Waits – Rain Dogs – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsuQj0ZGE6c
The Pogues – Rainy Night in Soho – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3MKMF-qIZk
Nina Simone – I think it’s going to rain today – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjQgN-PhBEU

Batman is watching over the baby.

As we decorated the house for Christmas (one week before the big day – after all the pre-Christmas birthdays are finished) I was entrusted with setting up the tiny ceramic nativity set on the mantel piece. Actually, I was entrusted with more things than that, I also got to crawl around in the loft, carry all the boxes down the ladder, find all the necessary extension leads and identify and replace any broken/malfunctioning light bulbs too. I am a ‘key player’ in our house – well at least I like to imagine so.
But I digress; I was setting up the manger scene. As everybody else was busy with their own jobs I took a moment to fetch a small Batman figure from another room. I carefully put him at the back of the manger, watching over baby Jesus as he slept, along with Mary and Joseph, Shepherds etc. he blended rather well into the shadows at the rear of the tiny building.
I am hoping as I write this that it does not make me sound like a bit of an idiot. I should clarify at this point that this is not an isolated event in our house, nor I suspect (hope) in other homes. My wife once read an article about a father and daughter who liked to hide a soft toy where the other person would find it at unexpected times, under pillows, in shoes, car glove boxes, you get the idea. This continued long after the girl had gone off to University, left home and started work.
The story made us all laugh and together with the children, we started to leave things for other family members to find in odd or amusing places. For a while these objects got moved around, in and out of the kitchen, on shelves, in drawers, under clothes, always returning to the kitchen counter to be redistributed.
Gradually, over time, the relocation of the objects waned. Instead of moving things they were left were they were for others to discover. At this moment in time I could pinpoint in our house; a toy crab, a sting ray, an orangutan, Boo from Monsters Inc, two penguins, a peg angel, a hand (?), several Lego men, a lizard or two, a kangaroo, Superman, Frankenstein’s monster and of course Batman – who is now relieved of Baby Jesus watching duties and has been ‘relocated’. All are watching over us benevolently, waiting to be picked up again.
As objects they are all inconsequential and unimportant. Some have stories and background that go with them, others are just things. What they have in common is that they all form part of the fabric, the myriad of little things that make our house more than just a house. As long as I have a tiny man in a walnut shell boat watching over me I will know I am at home.


Today is wild, wet and windy – but not in a good way. We are all wrapped up cosy and warm indoors and various TVs are being watched, toys being played with and sleep being caught up on.

Last night we were invited unexpectedly to a party and decided to go along for a drink and some social getting together. We almost didn’t make it as en route we passed a friend’s house, we knew she was on holiday over Christmas and New Year and so were quite surprised to see the doors wide open and all the lights on with music coming from inside. There was, obviously, a simple explanation. Our friends teenage son had told his mates where they spare key was hidden and told them they could have a party there if they wanted as nobody would be using it. The party going teens were asked to tidy up and leave by my wife and almost certain disaster was averted, probably.
Eventually we arrived at our own (legal) party, there were plenty of kids there, all roaming freely and stocking up on liquid and solid sugar in case 2014 didn’t provide any. At one point an adult walked smiling into the room shaking their head and saying ‘your son!’ Three different sets of parents (including us) turned and said ‘What?’ in unison.

The opportunities for slipping away quietly earlier in the evening did not present themselves as it was a fairly select gathering, which meant we were still around when the Charades started. Both being reasonably proficient Makaton users and adept at finger spelling we had joked earlier in the week about how we could blitz any Charades game if the opportunity arose. In the end we were good and did not use our special secret skills to gain any advantage – although we still reserve the right to use our signing when out and about if we need to talk about other people without their knowledge.

Our youngest managed to keep going manfully until the new year had been seen in and then asked if it was time to go home now please? Tempting as it was to seek revenge for his babyhood and keep him awake indefinitely until he was so tired he didn’t know whether to laugh or cry we went home and snuggled down.

Today, as mentioned, is wild, so no pressure to do anything apart from stay indoors and celebrate the New Year quietly and with as few sudden movements as possible. Happy New Year.