Thursday, December 15, 2011

Some Seasonal Cheer

Teaching at a posh school means I have a four week Christmas holiday, which is super (although it would be more super if I was on salary and being paid for this holiday time). Yes, it's nearing Christmas time and everyone is trying to remain cheerful and rise above the fact that it's been raining, hailing and blowing a gale. There's as much gloom on the news as ever, and more fancy drug dealer cars hanging around our block so the season of excess must be upon us. Therefore this post aims to be full of cheer. What follows aims to be a basket full of un-christmas related cheerful stuff.

Firstly, love is in the air. Well it is for my lovely flatmate who is falling head over heels for a Frenchman down the road. His mother is a cooking teacher who taught Princess Diana and Delia Smith, by the way. He is lovely, even if he talks about himself a lot. Which means I get the house to myself more, meaning my music choice gets played 100 percent of the time, although I have no one to blame but myself if the loo roll runs out and hasn't been replaced by one from the cupboard.

Secondly, this blog/tumblr thing. Nick Clegg is the leader of the Liberal Democrats, a party that had a conscience until they went into coalition with the Conservatives after last years elections- a sort of pact with the devil if I was honest. This is a nice little parody, and quite clever.

I love a good mix of pop culture and high culture- so Feminist Ryan Gosling fits the bill nicely.

And finally. This still makes me laugh after perhaps the tenth viewing. It's a parody of the BBC's political correspondent. It's not embedding, so I have doubts that it won't play outside of the UK, but here's the link:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Professional Paper Thrower.

Today was the second to last day of term, before school breaks up for four weeks over Christmas. Those poor folk in the state schools must trudge on for another week and accept a mere two weeks' break.

This afternoon was the annual, traditional Christmas Lunch where about 380 staff and students sit down to roast turkey and brussel sprouts (still the least favoured vegetable of children the world over). My duty at this point was to oversee the cracker pulling, party popping and balloon blowing of the pupils under my charge at Table 22. Before then escorting four students off to get the roast turkey and trimmings platters, clearing the plates and collecting desert.

Then came the building anticipation as the tables were cleared of dishes, plastic and threateningly hard paper. What followed was the traditional school sanctioned Paper Fight. There were rounds (blondes vs brunettes; Under 16s vs Over 16s) but in truth it was a free for all, and a good opportunity for me to throw things at teenagers. Things calmed down relatively quickly as everyone settled into the singing of several Christmas tunes before some were dismissed off to class and others remained behind to clean up.

Since my class seemed to be all far too heavily involved in the clean up to come to class so I went to the staffroom and helped sort the collection of christmas cards from students to teachers. When the final bell went I took my bag and caught the train home.

And that is what I got paid to do today.

Tomorrow I am helping to escort the whole school to the church across the road for the carol service (we're deep in the heart of the Church of England here folks).

Some day I am going to have a really awful job as the karma balance to this one.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Who reads policy documents anyways?

Sorry. I've been a bit shit at blogging lately. Not that I have an excuse. I just haven't been turning thoughts into posts.

And what have I been doing?

After a couple of months going through a "full time work commitments are for losers, I'm going to try being an artist" phase I realised that (a) I am not a creative genius in any way; (b)I do not have the self-discipline to turn myself into a creative genius; and (c) I like money more than I like to think I do, or at least regular doses of it.


For half the week I now work in a cafe and make coffee and such. This makes me contented in three ways. Firstly, you should know that it is very hard to find a decent cup of coffee in England. Very Hard. So when I make a flat white I get complimented on making the best coffee in the whole of Hastings, which flatters me for a second until I realise that my coffee would be pretty average compared to anything on Cuba Street or in Newtown. But my ego does appreciate it. Secondly, at the end of the day when the dishes have been done, the coffee machine cleaned and the tables wiped, I go home with no more baggage than a leftover muffin or quiche slice. The evening is mine. There is a certain satisfaction to that. Lastly, people are very polite and appreciative when they have just had a dose of sugar and caffeine. They drop coins in the tip jar and say thank-you as they leave. It is nice.

For the other half of the week, I teach GCSE English in an independent school about 15 minutes train ride north. I teach in a building that is a 700 year old abbey, right next to a 945 year old battlefield. On the days I am there, I am fed a hearty lunch. There are always biscuits in the jar, next to the tea and coffee in the staffroom. On the chairs always sits the latest copy of The Times newspaper. On Monday mornings there are assemblies where hymns are sung by the choir. I try to not say that my shoes cost £2 at the charity shop. I walk to classrooms through stone archways and narrow wooden staircases. My students thank me at the end of every lesson, listen to everything I say and I have to remind myself that they would learn just as much if I were not there at all.

Well, now look what's happened. This post was meant to be about the election and I got side tracked.

My vote is still being counted at this point. Last Sunday I downloaded my voting forms and sent them into the High Commission in London. My electorate is the one that voted Anne Tolley back in. And yes, you can blame them for that. I was going to allow myself 24 hours of political venting after the election result was announced, but I think it might turn into three years' worth.

But we can at least be heartened that John Key's presence has seen a rise in political satire... at least to me, from this distance it has. A lot of it has come through this facebook page.

Comedians are doing very well here in the UK. It's due to the recession apparently, in the same way that satire did so well in Margaret Thatcher's day.

I don't quite know why, but this impression of the BBC's political correspondent Nick Robinson had me in giggles.

But anyway, I have come to the opinion that David Cameron, the PM over here, is, well, a bit of a dick. He was asked in Saturday's Guardian a whole range of questions by well known Britons. Some people asked questions like "Do you wish you were less posh?" and "Did you go clubbing when you were in Ibiza?" which seemed like a waste of a question. Until I realised that those who asked more indepth questions usually got an insult in return: " Richard Dawkins just doesn't really get it", " I won't give a number, Michael, I'm afraid. It's not like one of your restaurant reviews." But there was this, from the artist I talked about here:

Eine, graffiti artist whose work Cameron gave to Obama as an official gift in 2010 Imagine it's your stag weekend, which is being organised by Silvio Berlusconi. There are five places spare on the coach. Based solely on their ability to have a good time, which world leaders would you invite (past or present, but they have to be living)? If you don't choose Bill Clinton, why not? "That is so difficult. I don't know that many past world leaders. I think you probably would choose Bill Clinton because he'd be fascinating to talk to. But God, that's difficult. I like Obama – I always enjoy chatting to him. My new best friend is the president of the Maldives. He's great. That's a weird mixture, isn't it? I like Sarkozy, we'd have fun. And I like John Key, the prime minister of New Zealand."

It's going to be a long three years.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Last Sunday, a week ago now, I was sweltering in London during the unexpected October heat, picnicking in Regents Park and chillin’ on Brick Lane. This Sunday the truth that Winter is on its way couldn’t be avoided. So I thought it a good time to get back into a bit of blogging. With the primary aim of wanting to shift my time here from a WORKING Holiday to a Working HOLIDAY, I have dropped down to part time teaching and part time cafĂ© worker. So, you see I now experience what the normal people do; Sunday afternoons not spent thinking about or doing marking and planning. Today’s post is a short guide to the street art of St Leonards-on-Sea. Now I am quite a fan of the art of the streets, plain concrete walls just don't hold any attraction Let’s start with the most famous. Banksy.
Rumour is that Banksy was visiting town about a year ago for local artist Ben Eine's (see below) fortieth birthday. Note the cat stencil on the left hand side of the wall. There seems to be a mysterious animal stencillor in town.
Moths have also been turning up around town over the last year, these ones are by a group called zeroh who have conducted the Hastings Moth Project commissioned by the local council. It's done by a process known as reverse graffiti, cleaning away dirty walls to make a pattern. So in time, as the grime comes back, the image will slowly fade away. I like these the most.
And finally, there is the biggest. A pixelated young Prince Charles by an artist called Ben Eine. This was commissioned by The Guardian newspaper. Eine firstly achieved some fame for painting closed shop shutter fronts several of which are in St Leonards and Hastings. Then the PM gave a image he's done to Obama as a gift.
So there you go.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Modern hunter gatherer am I.

I am feeling a little smug tonight for I have just made fish curry with mackerel caught from off the beach not 100 metres away. Well, I should be accurate here and point out that my friend Mark caught it. But let's not mess over the details. Although I'd like to add that I did use thyme I grew myself, in a pot on my very windowsill.

Last night I made crumble with blackberries I had gathered from the woods about 800 metres away from my house and had friends over for dessert. So, you see, I am feeling quite proud of my efforts.

It has fortuitous for this week as I am broke (result of another weekend in London).

Here in Hastings and St Leonards currently being held is the month long Coastal Currents Art Festival. From what I've seen, it's very good. Which brings me vaguely to this link, which I like.

And hence finishes the post about my day.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The day that was (and still is) 9th August 2011

Today I meet an Irishman who played for Munster in a match they didn't win against the All Blacks. "They were are bunch of bruts" he said in a thick Irish accent shortly after telling us how he'd broken his collar bone after a few drinks the night before.

Meanwhile in London, there are some angry people doing a lot of damage. The Police seem unable to cope, it is interesting to read this article written nearly eleven months ago, where:
The home secretary, Theresa May, has dismissed fears that deep spending cuts could undermine the ability of the police to tackle possible civil unrest, and insisted the British did not respond to austerity by rioting on the streets.

The politicians have all called off their holidays, although at first the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, did not think it necessary to return for initially, but then he did. And now he's not so popular.

I'm going to tread a tricky line here. While I do not in any way condone violence, and violent actions should have consequence, there are some points I would like to note. Firstly, from my limited knowledge of English history, the last time riots broke out were in the 1980s with similar economic conditions and a similar government. Secondly, young people at present are faced with the prospect of high unemployment, almost impossible university costs and cuts to almost every service that has been set up to help them (with perhaps the exception of prison services). They seem unable to articulate themselves, with media reporting what seem like wild and stupid rationale for violence. Perhaps it's opportunism, but perhaps it's also a feeling of rage and unfairness.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday's Bucket of Reflections

1. Living in the attic flat, four storeys up, 100 metres from the sea, makes us a calling point for seagulls. We, these seagulls and I, share a weary fondness. They are humorous, intriguing. But when they off load, it is like a missile attack from above. They don't plop once; it's a whole string of white. And very annoying when you're running late for the morning train.

2. Two months ago, following a plan devised under slightly inebriated circumstances, some friends and I set out to walk from St Leonards, past Eastbourne, over Beachy Head and The Seven Sisters and back again. In one day. While I only made it to the turn around point, I had still managed to cover 25 miles (the last ten of which suffering on account of blisters) in nine hours. I took the bus and train back home. We set out at 4:15am and this is a picture of a friend Ralph at sun rise some 90 minutes later. I'm quite proud of that day.

St Swithin's Day, if it does rain

Full forty days, it will remain

St Swithin's Day, if it be fair

For forty days, t'will rain nae mair.

3. Last Friday was St Swithin's Day. According to the legend, if it rains on that day, then the following 40 days well be full of precipitation as well. The story goes that this fellow Swithin (or Swithun) became a bishop of some importance and built a few churches. Just before he died he asked to be buried outside so the rain could fall on him (the English eh?). But nine years after his wish was granted, some stuck up old monks moved his body and a dry summer was followed by 40 days of storm. There is some meteorological basis for this and the Met Office thinks it especially will ring true this year. School breaks up for summer in two and a half days.

4. School breaks up for summer in two and a half days.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

And it all came crumbling down.

"England's dancing days are done.
Another day, Bobby, for you to come home
& tell me indifference won."

PJ Harvey Let England Shake

It's the height of summer here in England, so as you'd expect I'm sitting inside watching the rain pour down outside as the festival market on the square outside heads steadily towards a washout. To be fair it's not typical, I went for a lovely swim in the sea in the calm evening last Monday.

However, the gloom seems to reflect the newspaper that all the newspapers are talking about- The News of the World. You would have to have been in a coma here to have missed hearing about this one. The suspicions many (including myself) had, that Rupert Murdoch's media corporation News International had phenomenal amounts of influence with the Police and the Government, can at last it seems, be proved. This clip probably best explains how it all started, and why I have a new found respect for Hugh Grant.

The actual article Hugh wrote is here.

The implications of this, that the Government really is just a puppet, are immense.

For me however, it adds to a growing sense I have had, ever since arriving in Britain, that I am living at the centre of a crumbling empire. One that has been shrinking for a while, admittedly, but even in the time that I have been here (a year next Tuesday) I have seen the value of my savings diminished every time I send money back to New Zealand, I have seen university fees go beyond reach of most citizens, and a significant number of social and educational services scraped.

The decline and decay of the British Empire has become a little bit of a fascination for me recently. I can't help feeling that I should get out, but I feel drawn to stay. A friend of mine worked in the London financial markets in the 1980s. Just before The Crash (without realising what was coming) he had sold up everything and taken off to India, only to hear about it all on the BBC World Service. I asked if he felt relief at escaping the downfall. His reply was actually no, he would have quite wanted to be there to see the chaos shatter everything to the floor.

And I think I understand what he means.

Monday, June 13, 2011

A counterfeit horse, a spinal monkey and seagull poo.

I was watching a documentary and heard this song for the first time and quite like it. It was the lyrics, more than anything, that caught me. Here they are in their almost entirety:

It's the monkey on my back
Makes me talk like that
It's the monkey on my back
makes me act like that

I've just moved house. It's temporary, but tranquil with views of sunset and sea. And an occasional soundtrack of pub fights and reversing rubbish trucks. This is what I saw out my bedroom window at 9pm this evening (as seen through seagull poo stained windows).

My recent viewing habits have been a strange diet of intense documentaries, and light BBC comedy panel shows. I saw this one when it aired on BBC1 a few months ago and couldn't stop laughing, and it still makes me laugh several watches later. See the summary for a wee explanation of how the game is played.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Yes, yes, it's been a while...

Life got in the way a little- sorry about that- so did GCSE, but lets not go there.

I have since been to Berlin, Holland, The Lake District and Birmingham. They have been all a whole lot of nice.

Spring is here and I can't remember the last time the rain got in the way- about 6 weeks ago perhaps.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Simple Answers

"We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future."

Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882 - 1945)

In Canada, according to a friend of mine, being a teacher entitles you not only to a 'good' wage, but also free dental care, eye care (including cost of contact lenses), medical care and massages. But don't go trying to get a teaching job in Canada- they're hard to find. Being a teacher has prestige, social standing and is considered a more than acceptable career choice.

Here in Britain yesterday a quarter of a million people protested in London about the Government spending cuts. Almost every week for the last few months our head teacher has been outlining another thing the school will have to do without or do itself in the coming financial year. Some schools are having to take desperate steps. Last week for us it was careers advice, the week before cuts in Teacher Assistants/Aides. Two staff members recently quit after time off on stress leave, I can think of at least another two who should be on leave, but are turning up each day because, like so many, the fact that they care is still getting them out of bed in the morning. It is my experience that this kind of situation is the rule, rather than the exception in most schools in England AND New Zealand.

So it was refreshing to see on Friday the former CEO of what I consider to be one of Britain's least environmentally and socially responsible supermarkets chains speak out in favour of higher teacher salaries. Sir Terry Leahy argues that instead of freezing teacher salaries as planned in September, the government ought to make the higher pay of teachers a spending priority.

“We want the profession to have higher standing in society. It is more than just pay, but pay is part of it. You want it to be a profession that the best and the brightest want to go into.”

Sir Terry Leahy. From here

Yes, I couldn't agree more and it is great to see someone from the corporate world coming out in favour of government spending in education, even if he does centre his argument around economics rather than the benefit to humanity. However, one thing caught my attention:

Asked about his spell advising Gordon Brown’s Labour government on education policy, he said: “It was easy to give advice on education because unlike other areas of social policy the answers are relatively straightforward.

“Perhaps they (the Government) knew those things but focused rather too much on target-setting and there were perhaps too many central bodies seeking to impose performance standards rather than actually working on simpler first principles that empowered schools to teach.”

Now, putting aside some of the fundamental flaws in the institution of education and schooling for a moment, there can be found some straightforward solutions. Being quite opinionated and occasionally passionate about this topic, I have had many a conversation with teachers (and others) about what, given an unlimited budget, could make schools better equip young people. Smaller class sizes, more non-contact time, greater wages and recognition for teachers usually stand out. These solutions are so uncomplicated that is frustrating to think how easily these issues could all be solved.

But all the answers aren't simple. I have often sat at my desk at the end of a school day, or over a drink at the end of the day, or (far too often) waking and mulling it over at 3 o'clock in the morning, feeling frustrated that I don't know how to help a class learn effectively, or how to help a particular student get through a situation. If you believe, as I do, that we should measure schools on the quality of young, informed, participating citizens it develops, then there is no clear quantifying examination or study guide to lead towards this.

Currently the greatest pressure on my teaching is to ensure that my pupils meet their grade targets. They are given by the school free breakfast study sessions, study kits, close mentoring and every six weeks I have to send a new gradecard to their parents. Yet my class of a dozen 'bottom set' fourteen year olds don't have the social skills to sit in a room with each other for 50 minutes without yelling abuse at each other, crying or getting close to physical confrontation. They are actually wonderful young people but they don't know how to listen to each other, complement each other and, worst of all, they don't have any belief in themselves as valued members of the school community. They are often told (by myself included I'm ashamed to say) to simply behave and stop talking to each other.

It's hard to find someone to blame. I work with teachers and some school leaders who are incredible passionate about these young people and the frustration lies in not having the resources or emphasis to help them. There is clearly a missing factor in Terry Leahy's argument because the debate seems to be centred around the economic costs of miseducating our young people, more money will equal better teachers, will equal better schools, will equal a more profitable economy. It's hard to articulate what it is that's missing, but I think we could start an intrinsic belief within government, within society in general that young people matter more than anything else. Nothing economic should take precidence over our teaching and nurturing of them.

I'm going to stand by my comment...

Sunday, March 20, 2011


This is my new camera:

Well, not exactly. It's a picture I found on the internet that looks a lot like my camera. Whilst in a charity store last week I found the camera for sale. I asked the guy how much it was. "We don't know if it works, so make an offer" He was happy with £5 and I took it home. It is a Beirette E. Ludwig Maritar 2.0/4.5, made in East Germany probably in the late 1960s. When I got it home I found the shutter release button didn't go down and had lost its cover, so I didn't have high hopes. But I put a film in it yesterday and it works.

Friends of mine are running a half marathon today. Those of us who are not so brave are watching them run past, one mile from the finish line from our friend's place- he has an apartment on the waterfront. Last night we went to an exhibition opening in which he had a piece. The theme of the exhibition was Conflicts in Time and he had a digital installation based on a theory of Einstein's about how time changes as it approaches the speed of light.

My grandfather turned 92 yesterday. You may remember him from here. He had a good day, the weather was sunny and they went for lunch at my uncle and aunt's place. I know this because my grandmother, who is 84, just sent me an email on her new laptop telling me all about the day.

It's three weeks until the holidays. I have a lot to do before then, so the posts may be a bit erratic for a while. A fortnight ago I was offered more teaching work at the school I am at now, at least until Christmas and before these holidays arrive I must have made my decision. Whatever I decide seems to have a lot of consequences and it's leading to some deep thinking, especially about teaching and my role in it. I've now learnt never to promose anything about future posts, but I will try to keep you informed.

Peace out.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Next Chosen Career of Curley Fermudge: Episode Two

The late May sun was well into its decent as Curley Fermudge strolled the pavements home following his first day as the new employee of L.J. Horr Realty. He couldn't wait to get home and reflect on the day over a glass of wine.

For now though his prime importance lay in focussing on the ambience of each property that he passed by. Ever since finding out that his new offer of gainful employment also included a company car which could be left at the office, Curley had decided to apply a theory he'd read about in one of the text books from his CUSS* course.

The Imaleech Theory proposes that by getting a sense of the unhappiness of those in a household, one can gain an indication of how easily the members of said household could be suggested into selling. The giggling children at No. 124 Trout Street had led him to cross them off his potentials list. But the loud blues music coming from No. 278, and subsequent woman's raised voice demanding the volume be lowered suggested to him that things were not all rosy. Placing a brochure in the letter box, or even a chance visit one evening, might plant the idea in their heads that their unhappiness lay with the house they resided in, rather than an unhappiness with each other. It did seem like an extreme example, but Curley knew that he had to consider such things as these if he was ever going to make it in the real estate trade.

Arriving at No. 666 Trout Street, the Fermudge residence, Curley took the newspaper from the mailbox (his wife was out of town, probably a good thing as he needed to focus on his new chosen career) and went inside. An hour later, sitting on the patio drinking a glass of Devilsweat Estate Pinot Greasio 2007 (a bitey vintage, with tinges of chilli and cedar bark), Curley sighed a long sigh and thought of Roger, his new boss; Felicity the secretary and Moss, Jeanie and Trev the other agents. All great inspiring characters who had spent the day giving advice, as well as running through the protocols and working methods of LJ Horr Realty. Jeanie had been particulary helpful, even suggesting that Curley should use fake tan to radiate a more successful look. She'd even kindly offered to get him the appropraite supplies fron the chemist on her way home (after she'd secured $20 from Curley to pay for it).

Yes, Curley thought to himself, it had been a good start and Curley was just as sure that he'd made all the right impressions upon his co-workers. He had indeed made a switch for the better.

*CUSS= Certificate with Uniform for Selling Stuff

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Next Chosen Career of Curley Fermudge: Episode One

The fourth Tuesday in May was just like any other. The sun shone weakly, as it tends to do on fourth Tuesdays in Mays. The birds were chirping meekly as they tried to rise above the morning sounds of people heading in to work on this day, the fourth Tuesday in May, a day like any other.

Well, that is to anyone except Curley Fermudge. It was a special Tuesday for Curley, for only a fortnight ago had he graduated from OUST* with a CUSS**, gained his terracotta coloured jacket with apricot coloured handkerchief and been invited to join the junior ranks of L.J. Horr Realty on Lime Street.

Curley tried to maintain the air of dignity and slight smirk that was expected of a man of his new profession, but inside his heart fluttered with the excitement of what was to come, the chance to prove to his doubters that he could be a man of substance and humility and realty, all at once.

Even the seagull that crapped on Curley Fermudge's jacket as he crossed the street could not soil his mood. He simply wiped it away with the bottom part of his apricot coloured hankerchief and stepped through the reflective doors of L.J. Horr on Lime Street...

*OUST= Open University for Sellout Types
**CUSS= Certificate with Uniform for Selling Stuff

The Poor Poem from Monday's 5:03 Ride

The train stops at a red signal
And I search
Outside in the wild among
The skittle twigs and
Branches ragged for
Signals of Spring. We move

Forward as I catch
It, glimpse a little yellow bloom.
Winter's spell is
Being bustled away. And
The moss on Battle platform
Shifts its tone, but
Not its shape. From a satellite
Of gloom to the light
Rustic scent of postcards

To be posted home.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Right now, in New Zealand time, it is my dear Mum's 60th birthday. She was born in 1951, but she's not actually sixty, she's a little over a sprightly 52. How is that? I hear you ask. Well I have done a small calculation. You see there are 22 organs in the body and 206 bones. All 22 organs, and 203 of the bones are 60 years old. However, two years ago she had a knee replacement, three years ago a hip replacement, and 4.5 years ago another hip replacement. Taking the age of these three bones into consideration brings it all out to an average age of 57. Yet hip bones and knee bones are not only bones, they are joints, which makes them worth about ten times the average bone. The recalculation of which brings it out at a little over 52 years. This calculation is also intended to get me back in her good books after making an 'old' joke. She has threatened to skin me alive next time she talks to me (it's amazing what you can do on skype nowadays).

Last night, my Dad and sister Rachael organised a surprise birthday party for Mum. The genesis behind it being that they didn't want to hold a normal party as she would enivtably end up doing a lot of the preparation. So, over the past few weeks, while Mum was at her Tuesday quiz nights Dad and Rach got on the phone and organised it all. This didn't always work as sometimes Mum dragged Dad along to make up the numbers in the quiz team and sometimes Mum didn't go.

So sometime on Saturday Dad said he was popping out to get diesel and returned instead with Rachael from the airport. Mum, wiping away the tears was told to get dressed as they were going out to dinner. She must have been starting to get suspicious, especially when they arrived at the venue and Rach said to the waitress "Hi, we've got a table booked for Jackman" to which the waitress replied "Oh, you're with the par...[Rach making frantic gestures for her to shut up]..". Nevertheless the surprise worked and a great party ensued with much cocaine sniffing, absinthe drinking and table-top dancing, so I am told. Rock on.

Still is was a good to hear Mum had a night to let her grey hair down, she's been working hard recently looking after my three grandparents.

Happy Birthday Mum

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Monday, March 7, 2011

Emails from home.

Last night Mum forwarded me an email from a cousin of hers living in Sumner, on the outskirts of Christchurch. Nearly two weeks later it is still hard to believe they don't have running water or a sewage system other than portaloos at various points along the road. They have decorated their portaloo with gnomes and seats. The strange irony is that they have been without television coverage for a lot of the time so have been unaware of the true extent of the damage in the central city that I've been seeing up close on the web from the other side of the world, including a picture of their portaloo. On thier street it all has a emptiness to it as few have stayed on, but life in a strange sort of way is continuing on.

Meanwhile Mum has nagged Dad to bracket the free standing wardrobe in their spare room in case an earthquake strikes while a guest is staying. I've been in both the last two big (although they hardly seem big now) earthquakes in Gisborne over the last twenty years and I remember how jumpy you get- everytime a truck goes past the road you think it's another aftershock. You go to others' houses and wonder how stable their pieces of free standing furniture are.

In the days following February 22nd I felt a sort of detached emotion. So connected and empathietic to what had happened, but distant from it all. Now I almost have a guilty feeling of being glad to be away from it all. For a start I don't have to suffer John Campbell's mundane and endless broadcasts, but mostly I think there is going to a long road back to normal. This is a wound that's still very much open. There is a lot of healing and rebuilding to be done and I am lucky to not have to face the realities of that everyday.

Today, for instance the most challenging thing I had to do was explaining to 11-year-olds why Juliet decided sleeping potion was the best answer, why she wasn't just allowed to marry anyone and why Shakespeare just couldn't let her get over it and not die. I tried to explain as best I could and thought of lost lives in general.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

For Richard...

... who is still realising the role cats play in the domestic environment.

Notes on a Saturday

I took some pictures yesterday during my bike ride to the next town east. But the computer won't let me have them, so the pictures will remain hidden for now and I'll plagiarise this one from the internet.

I went along the coast, past old churches and castles and monuments and coastguard cottages. There was also a military canal, a left over guard point from WWII, a lot of signs detailing history. The Normans were here, there were smugglers in the eighteenth century, it was French territory until Henry VIII, the shoreline was further inland, seventeen coastguard men lost their lives in a storm at this point at this time.

In the town of Rye the antique shops outnumber the rest (including one called RYE DIY). I can hear the accents of American and French tourists and it seems strange. We don't get tourists in Hastings, the reputation of St Leonards is such that even people in neighbouring Hastings and Bexhill don't go there.

The train from Rye only comes once an hour. I catch it back and check the map. Must have been about 17 miles I rode today.

That evening I meet friends and we go to the (re)opening of The Roomz. Back in December, when I arrived in St Leonards I was delighted to find a music venue just around the corner called The Rooms, basically a small cafe/performance space with some rehearsal rooms in the basement. It went to see a blues band play there in December and the next week I saw it had closed down. Well last night it re-opened with a new coat of paint and now definitely more hip with a 'z' in its title.

The highlight of the night was the Swedish/Russian gypsy punk act called The White Trash Family. The drama of the night came when, during the warm up act, a member of The White Trash got locked in the toilet. It seems the new door handle was reluctant to move. The barman who was in middle of fetching my round had to go and help. In the end, my friend Mark (a plumber by day) used a knife from the kitchen to get it open- all to massive applause from the packed out audience. However, this was not before the fire service had been called and for some reason the bar staff had been told not to serve anyone until the fireman had given the all clear. The barman, quite young and now very flustered, got back to my round. I felt very honest in reminding him of the two drinks he had forgotten to charge me for.

Still it was nice to be listening to good live music again and to have A Very Nice Saturday.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Visit to the Gurkha Chef

There are two Nepalese restaurants in St Leonards-on-Sea. The local word on the street is that the one on the corner of Warrior Square isn't as good as the Gurkha Chef on the Grand Parade. So tonight it decided to put it to the takeaway test. Feeling exhausted I entered the recommended spot and ordered, being told I had a fifteen minute wait.

Then I started talking to Raj, the waiter, about Nepal and his journey here with his wife. We talked about the roads in and out of Kathmandu, the ethnic groups, the landscape and the language. It made me miss my second most favourite country just a little bit.


And my dinner was delicious.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The week.

I was in Ireland this week. It was there I heard about the Christchurch earthquake on Wednesday morning- about ten hours after it actually happened. It took a couple of days for the reality of it to set in. The death toll currently is 113. It feels strange to be here- to feel strongly with what has happened, but yet be disjointed from it. Life goes on normally here, yet I have spent a lot of the week attached to news websites and realtime feeds, mostly I think to make sense of it all. A few hours ago I heard from the last friend I couldn't get hold of, which was a relief. The above picture, taken just after the quake struck, reflected the enormity of it all.

Growing up in New Zealand I think we are always aware of the propect of the long-overdue 'Big One' a quake that would stretch everything.`It seems strange to think it's actually hit.

So, you see, it would all be a bit strange to post about anything else just now. I hope all reading this back in New Zealand are safe, along with their families and friends.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

It must be time for a half-term break.

Only half the department turns up to the department dinner last night. "Only two days to go" is frequently heard. Media studies is being taught more prominently (recognising and analysing conflict in East Enders). The bulb blows on my interactive whiteboard projector at the start of a double lesson (no replacement until after the holidays). Child says, "Why are you making us write stuff. We'll learn to write when we get to college". There are tears in the staffroom. An email from the head of department says we've overspent the photocopying budget with several weeks to go. Someone goes home sick and I see my free periods disappearing out the window. Ran out of time to make a thermos of coffee in the morning. By 3pm exhaustion over-rides repulsion and I reach for the instant coffee. No milk left. Just missing the train home by one minute and the next one is twenty minutes late.

One more day to go.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Where it all started.


This is actually the song I was most referring to:

Note the jaw grinding between every line. This is actually only about six weeks before he died.

The thing I love about music (especially now with the Internet and YouTube... and blogs) is just how much one song can take you on a journey to other music. I don't believe any songs exist in isolation, with out some kind of influence.

I never was much of a fan of hip-hop or pop and rock music seemed to be less likable as it headed out of the 1990s so it made a bit of sense to me to search in the other direction- to it's origins. I was a MASSIVE Pink Floyd fan about ten years ago, now I've gone as far back as Big Bill Broonzy. By this time next year I may have fast-forwarded to the post-emo apocalyptic rock of 2015.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Trouble in Mind

Trouble in mind, babe, I'm blue,
but I won't be blue always
Yes, the sun gonna shine,
in my back door someday

I'm goin' down, down to the river,
I'm gonna take my rockin' chair
Lord, if the blues overtake me,
I'm gonna rock on away from here

'Cause I'm trouble in mind, you know that I'm blue,
but I won't be blue always
Yes, the sun gonna shine,
in my back door someday

Big Bill Broonsey

At the end of this week it will be the half term break. This will be a week long, and for me, unpaid. But, I'm going to Ireland for six days in which I will seek commiseration with the down-trodden Irish. On Saturday, the day I leave it will have been seven months since my arrival to England. I can't really think of a statement in which to sum up this time, so I won't even try.

By Friday it will complete a seven week long half-term in which I have felt like teaching has drained the life out of me, rather than providing any kind of backbone of meaning. Including the Christmas break which I spent working in the pub in London and the half term prior that I was doing supply work and starting my job, it feels like I have barely had a moment to breathe since early November- all with an inadequate amount of sunshine hours. The last musical gig I attended was early December, the last trip to the theatre was about three weeks before that.

This last weekend I was in London, my first time back in six weeks. As well as catching up with friends and shopping, I went to the London Transport Museum and thought a little bit about The Underground and other things. I brought back to St Leonards a few CDs bought over the summer. One was from the Rise and Shine Blues Festival I went to in London in August. I got to see Vali 'Sir Blues' Racilla play- a Romanian blues guitarist- and it was delightful to listen to him again.

Being indentured to an education system I am losing faith in does have a flip side- it provides a healthy weekly wage and I'm clinging to the idea that it might lead somewhere. As Shakespeare said, "The miserable have no other medicine, but only hope". So bear with, this blog will cheer up soon.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A guide to youth slang in East Sussex: Part Four

Today's lesson about slang words left me in rather a confused and slightly embarrassed state.

Discussion on the themes from Of Mice and Men was going quite well with my Year 11's period 4 today. I was trying to emphasise a really important point that I knew would be in tomorrow's mock exam- I was trying to drop a hint in other words. So, I stated something like this, "Candy feels isolated and without a sense of place because, due to his age and injury, he could be tossed off the farm at any moment". At this point the whole class burst into fits of laughter.

Really unsure as to what had caused this I asked what I'd said. There was quite a pause, some couldn't stop laughing, but mostly it was due to no one really wanting to say it.

"You said 'toss off' miss".

I was still confused.

"Well", said George at the back, "I could draw you a picture".

Matt and Duncan at the front endeavoured, in quiet voices, to explain, "Well miss, you know what someone normally does when they're alone, well it's when a girl does it to a guy instead"


"What do you think it means, miss?"

"To throw, fling or discard" I explained, trying quickly to find an example, 'toss those sausages off the BBQ' is probably not going to work, "Toss another log on the fire", I added.

Whew, think I might be able to retrieve this lesson, better get on with it now they've gained composure.

"So, as I was saying, Candy's isolation, because of his old age and because of his injured hand..."

(shrieks of laughter)

Only a fool would try to continue. I set them paragraph answers to do and resigned from the front of the class.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Top Five of Two Thousand and Ten: #5. Live Music (worldwide)

Seeing your musical idols and heroes live in the flesh can, in my opinion, result in one of two outcomes. Either you see a false pawn of an industry of cool, or, you realise their humanity, their brilliance in a world that has dealt them the kind of fate you can relate too (and more). Seeing Neil Young live at the start of 2009 for me was the first instance of the latter. It was 43degC in Melbourne and Neil walked out looking like a middle aged accountant at a BBQ- linen shirt, cargo pants and leather sandals. But that's where the comparison stopped as he played with ferocity for over 2 hours in the intense heat. He ended the set playing until every guitar string broke.

But enough of 2009, this post is about 2010 and I was able to see a lot of live music throughout the year. From seeing friends and favourites at the Wellington Botanical Gardens in January to the local indigenous music in the Chaing Rai markets in Thailand, the local radio music of bus drivers in Albania to the influenced styles of open minded Japanese artists on Shikoku Island and Dixieland Jazz players in Tokyo. It was a year of taking on what the encountered world had to offer.

There had been a purpose to this. I had left Aotearoa on March 9th with a purpose to see and hear more music. I'd left behind my ipod and any copy of any of my previously owned music. This has caused frustration at times, yet it has also forced me to listen to the live world as I have encountered it. See other people's music as they saw it.

Shortly arriving in the UK on July 19th I noticed that Bonnie 'Prince' Billy was playing. I think his music has a depth to it I rarely find anywhere else. So, surviving on baked beans for a fortnight allowed me to pay for the ticket at the Shepard's Bush Empire. And it was a thrill, to see a musician who hadn't been sucked into the suckers of the music industry. To give you an idea of his depth Johnny Cash covered one of his songs in his American Recordings.

Well, to tell the event succinctly, I went to see a true musician play at one of the world's iconic venues and didn't come away disappointed. Seeing this musician's ability in the flesh has left me more of a devotee than I had ever been before.

The music was amazing, because I got the feeling (much as I had with Neil Young) that these musicians in front of me were playing music with their own passion for it and we were just lucky bystanders who became part of the sound and part of the experience. That to me is really good music.

The other delight of the year was seeing a concert with Gillian Welsh, Dave Rawlings, Old Crow Medicine Show, John Paul Jones (best known as bassist for Led Zeppelin) and Mumford and Sons at the Troxy on September 17th. I'm not sure how I feel about the whole idea of people recording parts of concerts and putting them on YouTube- but it gives you get a taster of that night.

Gillian is just super- she seems to be all about the music, never bowing to the idea that she must cake herself in makeup or have a stylish haircut in order to be a respected musician. Unfortunately, in the above video her mic wasn't working and she looks across to the right at the sound man trying to get the attention of the sound man who wasn't paying any. So I give you the below as well.

I never learnt to play an instrument, as much as I would have liked to the chance and determination weren't there. This means I'll always be limited to being a music appreciator. 2010 felt like a year in which I did that well.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A 12 hour school day makes this Jack a slightly batty one

Keeping in line with a theme of posting insightful things other people have come up with I give you this. Arriving home late from parents' evening may have also contributed to the hysterics I had after reading it. You can sign up for a daily email of savage chickens cartoons. I highly recommend it. Most days it will be interesting enough to put a smile on your face and occasionally one will have you chuckling. Being in NZ means the emails arrive in the wee small hours so having it sent to your work* email address will always help lift your spirits as you face a new day.**

*Curmudgeon- I realise this word only applies to you whimsically, but it might help to make you grumble less, and it's better than all those TV adverts you keep watching.

**No sarcasm intended.***

*** Note correct use of the asterisk

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A mid week interlude.

In every bit of honest writing in the world there is a base theme. Try to understand men, if you understand each other you will be kind to each other. Knowing a man well never leads to hate and nearly always leads to love. There are shorter means, many of them. There is writing promoting social change, writing punishing injustice, writing in celebration of heroism, but always that base theme. Try to understand each other.

– John Steinbeck in his 1938 journal entry

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Women whose names begin with M.

I am starting to think Wordsworth is a bit of a bore. A bit Wordsworthless really.

All afternoon and evening I have been struggling to put together lessons about one of his poems entitled 'The Affliction of Margaret'. Affliction is an apt word. For 11 stanzas it rambles on about the pain of a mother who wants to know the fate of her son disappeared for seven years. Not that I am trying to make light of lost children, but this really is drab. The rhyming structure admittedly is alright, but the crux of the lament arrives and departs in stanza one. Stanza two gives some background info and there's a nice bit at line 34, but the rest is just dribble. And exclamation marks. Why does a poem with such a sombre tone need three exclamation marks I ask you. My class of sixteen year olds were just starting to see that poetry could be beautiful by last Friday (thank-you Mr Yeats), now alas the word boring is going to crop up again sometime around 9:23am tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile I have been listening to 'So long Marianne' and I think it would be much more wonderful if we could teach Leonard Cohen lyrics. Not poems two hundred years old.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A guide to youth slang in East Sussex: Part Three

Now I know I can be a bit gullible sometimes, but I don't think I am being taken for a ride here. They seem genuine, without much sniggering. Or maybe I'm being fooled too well.

My Year 9 class inform me that 'boofing' (rhymes with woofing) means being nerdy or geeky. For example 'Why did you sit me at the front of the class miss, everyone will think I'm boofing', or 'Can I try your glasses on... I look right boofing'.

This is ever so slightly isolated rural Sussex, but even so I think they are fairly attached to the world. Yet this evening a quick search on google and urban dictionary tells me that boofing actually means inserting drugs up ones backside for prolonged effect, or other such anal acts. The fact that it is also a term used in kayaking saved my google images search from being too explosive.

I think this will need a bit more investigation.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

This week she'll be my idol

Quite a few years ago I walked into The Warehouse in Gisborne with the prospect of a long drive ahead of me to what ever other part of New Zealand I was desperate to escape from there to. I went over to the bargain bin and pulled out a handful of CD's that looked interesting. One was a recording of Bo Diddley live and I got it for $1. I'd never heard him before, but it was cheap and my constricting environment was making me feeling experimental. Two days later as I drove the windy roads I placed the CD on. From the first track I was fixated, the rhythm seemed so simple, yet was complex enough to be masterful. It was John Lee Hooker upbeat. This was somewhere in the mist where blues became rock and roll and I wanted to know more.

A couple of days ago a documentary on Sister Rosetta Tharpe gave me that. This was a woman who suppossedly influenced Elvis. This clip is from a disused railway platform just outside Manchester, UK when Rosetta was aged 49.

The story of her life is incredible, being slamed between the twin forces of the church and the music industry from the age of six (mostly by her mother), never knowing anything other than a life on the road.

I'm not going to tell all it to you here, but I thought I'd make a note of it anyway.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Brief History of This Week.

Went to a bike shop upstairs in an outdoor shopping alley and had it repaired. The mechanic reminded me of why I think I am living in the friendliest part of England. I talked to the owner about Japan- he went there with his Japanese then wife a few years ago (he's got a Russian wife now the mechanic told me).

In the evening met with some friends dressed all bright and shiny for our 'discotec' evening. This was a pre-arranged event from last week at the Horse and Groom when the five of us had decided it would be neat to investigate the clubbing scene of Hastings. We arrived at the 'discotec' venue sometime after 11pm only to find it almost empty and a niggling sense we could almost be mothers and fathers of half the clientele and all the staff. We waited for some dance music to kick in but the DJ seemed a very big fan of medium to heavy rock. The basement venue next door contained all of the above plus a strong smell of bleach and nothing but black decor. But the company and a stroll home along the waterfront in the early hours made it good.

A swim and a listen to recently acquired music. Lovely.

I don't like my job that much. But did get a message to say that my muffin recipe is being successfully used in the best cafe in St Leonards on Sea. Participated in a bit of culinary boasting on facebook.

I hate my job, I wonder if I can get out of this contract?


Ok, maybe I can just last until the end of the contract.


Spent half a lesson with my most unmotivated class practising our Australian accents. A small progression helped by having a common thing to take the piss out of.

Had a debate on the train with a middle-aged banker who works at Lloyds. I have a degree in Anthropology which gives me, I believe, enough authority to argue that we did not all descend from Seth; Eve was actually ten women in Africa 2 million years ago and NO- not all New Zealanders are of Welsh heritage. "But," he said, "I've got a book in my bag that proves it". Ummm, this is my stop.

I am quite happy the weekend is here.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday is put asside for such decisions as whether to fly to Ireland in the mid term break, or take the ferry. And of course a few hours of school work.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

For now you may call me... Nicola... of (RBB)

I have been given an honourary title...for now. It's a small honour with a lot of meaning that comes on top of a bit of a rough week.

I've been told a lot this week how brillant the teacher I replaced was by several of the students, and tonight by one parent. But I think this is true (or maybe not) of most teachers trying to take over a class mid way through the year. My favourite in the 'I wish we still had Mrs Y' camp is one little boy in Year 9. He has taken theatrical sulkings to such a level that I now have to walk away to stop myself from sniggering. The week has gone something like this:

Y9 student (with bottom lip protuding): "I want Mrs Y back"
Me: "Tough. I'm going to be your teacher, forever"
Y9 student buries face in folded arms on table

Y9 student (in a whinging voice): "Why does Mrs Y have to have a baby. Babies can look after themselves, she should be here"
Me: "Would you like a cuddle to make it better?"
Y9 student buries face in folded arms on table

WEDNESDAY: A very special day in which I taught 'Y9 Student' three times and suggested the electical tape in my bag could come in handy.

Y9 student (in a whinging voice): "Why did you ring my Mum, she made me do my homework. And anyway, she hates Australians."
Me: "Well isn't it just as well I'm from New Zealand"
Y9 student: "Er... well she hates all New Zealanders then"

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

It is important your hairdresser gives you a style most beneficial to learning.

In staff briefing yesterday we were told of a child who had come to school with an 'extreme hair style'. Negotiations were continuing with the child's mother about getting it removed, but in the meantime he would be wearing a hat around school and in classes.

This afternoon some of my students showed me a letter that was handed to students to take home. It included the specification for what constituted an extreme hairstyle (mohawks or very spiky hair; bright colours; words or images shaved into hair; anything less than a Number 2). Anyone considering an extreme hairstyle was to consult the school before going through with it.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A stranger to these parts...

...the sun makes an appearance.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Top Five of Two Thousand and Ten: The Brief.

Shortly before Christmas and shortly after spending hours on a train just trying to get to London, I spent time with friends watching High Fidelity. It was cosy inside while outside the snow was turning from white to polluted black on the curbs of Edgeware Road. Even though this must have been my up-teenth viewing I still laughed loudly at parts I'd missed before, and gained appreciation of the music that hadn't sunk into my consciousness earlier.

So in honour of this film and an all round adventurous year, I present (in forthcoming segments) my own personal Top Five Experiences of Two Thousand and Ten. After some rough thought I give you the following:

1. Nepal and the Indian Himalayas
2. Northland, Aotearoa with Rachael
3. Enchanting Japan
4. Durmitor National Park, Montenegro
5. Live Music (worldwide)

Number one is definitely the most important and memorable. The rest all seem to come second equal. As the thoughts on experiences 1, 3 and 4 are currently in journals in an attic in London, we'll start with numbers 5 and 2.

Being that 2010 was the year I also read more books than ever before, there will at some point be a Top 5 related to that. But for now I just want to see if I can follow one of my 'posts in multiple parts' ideas beyond the first gasp.

So... start the countdown.