Sunday, 26 October 2014

Itchen Way and Navigation

At risk of being a stuck record (people still know what they are, right?), I am an introvert, so tend to do introverty things. This includes going on long walks on my own. Okay, it wasn't actually that long distance-wise, but it took a long time because I really wanted to notice everything. I wanted to enjoy the sights of autumn, savour them and record them for me to enjoy later. (Also, I ended up chasing a pheasant half-way to Winchester, but more on that later).

I am so fortunate to live where I do. I live in a city with many amenities on my door-step. I am a ten minute (or less) walk away from a train-station, a co-op, two ice-cream parlours, a sweet-shop, a bakery, a butcher's, three pubs in the Good Pub Guide, really good Indian restaurants, a really good pizza parlour, some really good chippies and Sainsbury's. I'm also very close to some really nice parks, and within a twenty minute walk I'm basically in countryside.

That's where I headed today. The Itchen Navigation runs along an old canal route, between Southampton and Winchester. It passes through a Natural Conservation area, the Itchen Valley. I headed to my local Co-op and bakery for fuel (a bacon and cheese pastry wrap and a bottle of Pepsi), as I embarked on my adventures.

I really loved the colours of autumn in Riverside Park. The sky was bright blue, and the leaves are turning into their delicious golds, red, and greens. At the end of Riverside Park, there is a row of maples (maybe sycamores) that are ablaze with reds and oranges.

Riverside Park


At the end of the park, you come to Mans Bridge, which has had a bridge at that site since the 900s. It used to be the southern most crossing of the River Itchen. Here you walk up towards the Itchen Way, which is the old tow path along the Itchen Navigation (a series of canals that run the course of the Itchen River). Just before getting to the tow path, I met this little critter.

The Itchen Navigation still has evidence of locks along it, including these 300-year-old walls, that would have supported the lock gates.

Along the way, I met another little critter, this time a dragonfly (I think it was a common darter).

We even became friends.

I was amazed by the array of colours that I saw on my walk. Yellow...

Sometimes, all together.
After a while, I decided to head back. Then I spotted something: a flash of shimmering green, a pearly band and russet. It was a pheasant. I became determined to get a photo of him. So I chased, the little rotter a mile up the Itchen Way. I stalked him through crackling leaves, straddled muddy slopes and slunk through nettles. This was the best photo I got. The bird then got away.

However, the chase did lead me past some interesting sights (including the berries above).

It's these sights and scenes that make autumn such a special time for me. The variety of colours and the strange quality of the light make everything magical. It's the last burst of life before winter.
There were some things that I didn't get a photo of such as a dog that looked just like a red panda and a woman picking her nose at the play park. Oh, and a close up of that ruddy pheasant.


Saturday, 25 October 2014

Life after school

I often find myself, as the average teacher, bemoaning the loss of life my profession brings. The heavy workload, the parents' evening, the exhaustion leads to few opportunities for culture or enjoyment. There's probably a sermon about appreciating what you have and living in the moment in there somewhere. But this isn't the post for that. This is a post of celebration and good news, not of didacticism and moralising. This week...I've had a life! (Hold the press! Front cover scoop!)

Last Saturday, I went to see a performance of Othello at the Nuffield. Admittedly, it was with students, but it was with the sort of students that you just tick off the register to say they're there and you can leave them to their own devices. The production company was called Frantic Assembly, and they try to take plays and make them modern and accessible. They mostly do this through rich, sharp, choreographed sections; grimy sets and modern music.

Steven Miller (who is of Casualty fame - if there is such a thing) played Iago brilliantly. He was sleazy and serpentine, evoking Edenic temptations. The actor who played Othello was not as nuanced, perhaps as a result of his excessively tight trousers. Overall, it was really good and the kids loved it.

Then, Tuesday evening, I went to see another theatre production: Wicked. I saw it in the Mayflower, Southampton. It's the first time I've seen it, but according to my friend who's seen it about eight times, it is a good as in the London theatres. I was also impressed by the friendliness of the staff at the Mayflower. We arrived with about a minute to go, where they greeted us at the door: "Are you Tom and Liz? We have your tickets." Then they showed us to our seats, smiling as they went. The staff at the merchandise stall were chatty and enthusiastic about the products they sold.

Ashleigh Gray as Elphaba, from the Basingstoke Gazette.

The musical itself was fantastic. The story is witty and somewhat moving, with good musical numbers and interesting characters. The lead actors, Ashleigh Gray and Emily Tierney, were amazing in their roles as Elphaba and Glinda the good. The set design was awesome. It was just really good.

Obviously, being a teacher and all, two things in one week is going to be enough. There can't be anymore, right? Wrong! On Wednesday, I went out yet again. This time it was to a pub, not the theatre. It was a friend's birthday/ get together with old PGCE buddies. We went to the Rockstone. The intention was to go to Marshal's but the oven wasn't working, so we got sent to their sister establishment with 20% off. The Rockstone is renowned for its hefty burgers and massive portions. We spoke hilarious rubbish, laughed a lot and I told my classic, grim and somewhat inappropriate anecdote (that I'm saving for my memoirs).

So that was it, surely that was enough culture and socialising for one week. That's what I thought too. But a friend was planning to see Mark Thomas with her dad. Unfortunately, her dad wasn't able to go so I was asked to go instead. 

Mark Thomas is a comedian, political activist and a domestic extremist. Apparently, he has an apron with 'domestic extremist' cross-stitched into it. The first half was his political ramblings and jokes. Highlights include his comment about the pronunciation of the name of UKIP's leader's surname and giving it a definition. The second half was the Amnesty Freedom of Expression Award winning monologue, play or retelling of Mark's life as a political activist. The content ranged from exposing the illegal activities of arms dealers to tales of friendship and betrayal. It was well done, funny and poignant.

Now, that is is. I promise. Otherwise it's going to end up as a visit Southampton advert. There's only so much fun boring teachers are allowed to have.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

A lotta allotments

Autumn is here; the weather is getting wet and cold. So, what's the perfect activity for this time of year? Gardening, apparently.

Last Saturday, a group of us from church went to help out on a friend's allotment. Their circumstances this year have not been conducive to keeping on top of weeding, etc. So in preparation for next year, we turned over her beds so the are ready to be planted in. Hopefully, it'll mean just a bit of weeding (although she has bindweed and dandelions a-plenty) and she is all ready to go.

We had a few occasional showers, but the sun was bright for the most part. It was particularly nice during lunch.

I've also got myself a more permanent allotment fix. Another friend has one local to me and I'm going to be helping out on theirs (I just need a key). This plot comes complete with a mud hut. So my winter is going to be spent digging and seeking refuge in the hut. I might buy a wood burner for it.

I'll return with photos over the year.

Monday, 6 October 2014

I'm the King of the Castle

My school has a staff and student book club. Up until now I've got away with not reading anything; they've all been books I've already read. However, I decided I would actually, you know, read a book for a book club.

The book I ended up reading was I'm the King of the Castle by Susan Hill. It features a young sociopath, a well-meaning dad, a feckless and foolish mother and a boy called Charles Kingshaw who has to negotiate all this. For the most part, nothing much really happens. There are a few childhood scraps, Kingshaw gets attacked by a crow, Kingshaw attempts to run away, there is an accident at a castle. But that's probably the beauty of it. It's a simple plot that is woven in beautiful description and insightful narratives from the characters' minds. The settings are so crafted with detail and precision; the characters are developed and nuanced.

Furthermore, the simplicity of the storyline allows the ideas of the claustrophobic house, the fight for power between the boys, loss and injustice to explored in depth. It meant that readers are able to sense the struggles and the pain that Kingshaw feels and they understand it fully. As a result, I found it impossible not to be drawn and relate to this world of an eleven-year-old boy. I was surprised at how emotionally involved I got when reading it.

It is the first time that I truly resented a character. It wasn't the sociopathic and chilling Hooper that I hated, but Kingshaw's mother. Everything she did was to the detriment of her child. I found myself getting so frustrated with her, just as Kingshaw did. I'm the King of the Castle ends rather tragically, and I was glad for it. There was a sense of relief, but I also felt Helena Kingshaw deserved it. That stupid woman deserved every grief thrown upon her. I can't remember when a book brought out such a nasty side of me.

So, perhaps it's not a sweeping tale on a grand scale or a biting social commentary, but it was a pretty good read.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Can't stop... Zombie hordes

So, I've recently got my first iPhone. I knew this day would come eventually, but I put it off for as long as I could. Finally, I relented and succumbed to the worldly desires that rage within me. My lust for shiny tech has won.

One of the selling points was the range of apps. I've just bought 'Zombies, Run!' (I know, I'm chasing behind that bandwagon too) and it's pretty fun. It's a basic concept: it's a fitness app with a post-apocalypse game thrown in. If, like me, you have little intrinsic motivation, it can be a great way to get you going. There's nothing like the words "Zombies approaching... Run!" to help you get your sprint on. If you're not up for having to add sudden bursts of speed to your run, you can turn the chase mode off.

So, if you see me running with a blind look of panic, there's probably an undead horde nearby. Just another normal day...

Saturday, 4 October 2014

The Not Quite There

This was a poem I wrote last year to commemorate my first half-term as an NQT teacher. When my mother was shown this, she thought it was written by Michael Rosen. I'm pretty sure it wasn't.

The Not Quite There

The Not Quite There can be seen from a mile,
With deep dark bags and a faltering smile;
And they're clutching at coffee with quivering hands
Whilst frantically looking for long term plans.
What's the first unit? And how long for?
Where are the levels for key stage four?
Who are my EALs, SENs and PPs?
And where is the list of all my tutees?

It's the fourth of September; school has just started,
But comes an announcement that makes them fainthearted.
The office that deals with qualifications
Has waited until the last day of vacation
To tell them the news that ruins their plans.
And behind this news is an odd looking man:
Like a pig in a wig with sticky-out ears,
And a big bulbous head full of silly ideas;
And a big bottom lip and a Thunderbird's chin;
And small beady eyes filled with evil and sin.

So the pig-like man said from his puppet-like jaw,
"The Speaking and Listening shall be no more!
For those poor children whose writing is weak,
But have good ideas when given to speak,
Should be, in my judgement, seen but not heard."
Which, I might add, is quite frankly absurd.

Scrapping work that had been completed?
The poor students would clearly feel cheated!
But teachers then thought of a genius plan,
And entered the kids in November's exam.
This early submission would surely secure
The marks the poor students had done the work for.
So reassured by this hopeful belief,
The teachers all sighed a sigh of relief.

But the pig in the wig with sticky-out ears
And a big bulbous head had other ideas.
With a menacing grin the pigman said
(raising his brows to the top of his head),
"From now on league tables will purely be set
By the first grades the children collect.
Requesting fresh chances is far too bold;
This country has standards that it must uphold!"

The Not Quite There heard the confusing new news,
And waited to see which path they would choose:
Would the poor kids be withdrawn from exams,
Or would the school keep to the original plans?
The staff were all thrown into a blind panic;
The Head was becoming completely frantic.
A Governors' meeting was quickly convened,
To think how to respond to that pigheaded fiend.

The submissions will stay! The exams will be taken!
And, although the staff were considerably shaken,
A decision was made and this cheered them on,
What else at this juncture could go possibly wrong?
The Mocks! That's what could go possibly wrong.
For, when the papers were looked upon,
The grammar was grim and the spelling was dire
The department had found themselves stuck in a mire.
The exam was too soon! Was it too late
To turn the tide? The ask was too great.

Extra sessions were scheduled. Targets were set.
Papers were practiced so they would not forget,
The skills that they needed to pass the exam.
Staff taught the students like battering rams,
Repeating advice, "Use capital letters!
And winsome words to make your work better!
And use an ellipsis and paragraphs too."
The answers improved and confidence grew.

And, although this was good, the work was not done.
Targets were set, extra session were run,
Papers were practiced and then given marks.
This was all quite a formidable task.
The teachers were white-washed, completely expended,
Dead on their feet when the half-term had ended.

Was it enough? Well, we'll just have to wait!
The exam is after they return from their break.
But at least you have been able to see,
What the first eight weeks were like for the poor NQT.

How to be an introvert...

Two years ago, I blogged about introversion and extroversion. I went into what my Myers-Briggs type indicator was. Now, let's get into some technical details about MBTI. There are a lot of criticisms about the whole system that raise questions about its validity. First, it relies of the self-reporting of the subject. The subject has to answer questions about themselves and if you want an honest appraisal of someone- never ask them! It can effect the accuracy of results. Extroversion, for instance, is valued in western culture, so subjects may answer questions to show a preference for this type indicator regardless as to whether they have a preference to it or not.

Another issue with MBTI is that no one is ever a perfect type. The system relies on four dichotomies, and for it to be a reliable personality indicator, the subjects should fall at the extreme ends of the scale. However, people do not. People's results tend to gather somewhere in the middle of the scale, making the effects of the types negligible. It becomes untenable to say that this person is definitely and ESFJ, or whatever.

Thirdly, people and situations change. Things that you enjoyed may not be the same in a couple of years. As a result of this and all these factors, it is exceptionally common for people's MBTI scores to change after a few years, or even months. Two years ago, my result was an ENFJ (Extrovert, Intuition, Feeler, Judge). Yesterday, it came up as ISFJ. So, apparently, I'm now an introvert. That makes quite a bit of sense to me.

So, the question is, what is it about me that makes me an introvert? This is a guide on how to be more like me: exceptionally socially awkward.

Think, "Why are you ruining this?"
This is what goes through my mind  when someone says, "We should invite so-and-so as well." I obviously say, "Great idea! More the merrier!" I'm actually thinking, "If I wanted them there I would have invited them already." Introverts tend to socialise in small intimate settings, and large groups can be exhausting. Therefore, we can be a bit select about who we invite.

Also, we often have to plan or mentally prepare ourselves for the interactions we're about to face. So, having that one extra person come along might not seem a big deal, but I often find it really throws me.

Be sad when you hear other people's music
I don't like to hear other people's music. Whether it is from a car passing down the road, a neighbour with a load sound system or a friend adding ambience to a meal, other people's music can add stress. It's not because I think they have bad taste. Introverts value quiet and limit the amount of stimulation they get. It's a bit like being shouted at; it can be a bit invasive to personal space. Ironically, a way that introverts sometimes isolate themselves from the outside world is through turning the music up. (I have been known to hide in my car, with my CD player on to get away from the world.) As a side note, I also hate adverts and radio DJs interrupting my listening. And I hate people shouting at the television when they're watching football. Loud laughs are pretty irritating. Too much noise, people, too much noise.

Don't like sharing news
I'm generally pretty open, but there are some occasions that I can suddenly and unexpectedly be reticent to tell others things. This can be due to various factors: tiredness, stress and the type of news it is. Only a few select people know when I'm dating someone. I hate the questions that come with this type of news and all the interest it cultivates. I will limit the information I give and I will probably not tell you the girl's name. Introverts tend to be quite private.

Now, when introverts do share things with you, don't congratulate them. I've sometimes had people say, "Well done for being open." I am quite articulate; I am fully able to let people know how I am feeling. Sometimes, I just choose not to. On the rare occasion I choose to, don't patronise me, otherwise it won't happen again. I will let you know the important things, but in my own time and on my own terms. Don't force it. And don't make a big song and dance about it either. That's exactly what introverts try to avoid.

Feel claustrophobic
If I'm ever stuck in a group of people with no way out (like in the middle of a row of seats against a wall in a restaurant), I can feel trapped and claustrophobic. I have to make an effort to distract myself from the fact that I CAN'T GET OUT AND I'M GOING TO DIE HERE. Social situations are exhausting, not being able to leave a social situation is terrifying. If you ever notice me fidget, take deep breaths or start counting backwards under my breath, I'm feeling penned in. To overcome this, I often have an escape plan...

Hide in the kitchen
I often tell my friends a particularly crafty lie. I tell them that I love washing up. I claim that scrubbing greasy pans and handling other people's half-eaten food gives me more pleasure than anything else in this world. Despite the absurdity of it, they believe me (or are more than happy to go along with it as they end up with clean dishes). And why do I do it? It's the escape plan. If sitting in the living room with everyone else has been too much, I sneak into the kitchen and start tidying. I can be safe in the knowledge that I will be undisturbed by everyone else. I just have to hope that another introvert hasn't beaten me to it.

Get lost on solitary walks
I often seek out the quietest spots I know. I'm not going to tell you where they are, that'd be stupid. I don't want to go there only to find you hanging around. In my effort to be alone, I will change course if I hear other people coming. This has got me lost a couple of times, when I've totally disorientated myself by people-dodging.

Be confident
This is one that is not quite to do with introversion, more to do with addressing a misconception about introverts. Introverts are not (necessarily) shy and their introversion is not a result of low self-esteem. I can happily talk to strangers, address groups of people and speak in front of crowds. I daily put myself in front of classes and subject myself to scrutiny, humiliation and confrontation. I am not shy. I just need to hide in a dark, quiet place for a while after any social interaction.

Get over yourself
Yes, I can be grumpy around people; I can get frustrated or annoyed quickly when social situations feel out of control. However, often I try to hide my feelings or I just accept they're my problem and not those around me. But if I am ever grumpy, and you're not sure why, it's probably because the social situation I'm in is causing me stress or just wearing me out.