Sit Up And Take Note

I’ve always been something of a scrawny individual. At 1.82m (~6ft), I’m not small, but I’m not that tall either. In days gone by I would be one of the taller people, but the more I look around at the younger kids these days, they all seem very tall, and some of them ludicrously so. It seems somewhat counter-intuitive at first, but all the junk food people eat these days seems to be making people not just fatter but taller too. Perhaps it’s all the protein in those burgers.

So I’m a little bit above average height, but not at all heavy. I vary between 68 and 72kg. Right now I’m 69kg. According to my BMI, this is the right weight for my height, but it is towards the lower end of the scale. I’ve never been sure why I’m so lucky to never have to worry about my weight. I’m not that active a person really, and my diet is only just bordering on acceptable. I’d say on average I probably eat about 2/3 portions of fruit/veg per day per week. Some way short of the target. As vegetarians go, I’m one of the more unhealthy ones.

As it’s the holidays, and as I’m bored, I’ve decided to put my body through a little experiment. For the past week, I’ve been gradually increasing the number of situps I do in a day. Starting from 0 (the norm) it’s going up to its current level of about 50 across a couple of sets. I think they’re starting to work as my stomach muscles are starting to get sore. It would be nice to be a fit individual. I can’t say I’ve ever been such a regular exerciser that I know what it’s like to be “fit”. About the only exercise I do is walking, because I walk very fast, probably about 5mph, so the pulse gets going enough for it to start to wear me out. But I don’t do this anywhere near often enough for me to feel really fit and healthy.

I keep saying to myself that I have to do something about this aspect of me. Situps and pressups won’t help really, because they’re not proper aerobic exercise, though they will help with strength – again, something I’m not particularly famous for. When I was in sixth form I used to play badminton irregularly. That’s about it really. As I noted some time back in my Youth Reviews, I’ve never been a fan of being active. I’m lucky really that I’m not fat. My metabolism must work in my favour, because my slender qualities are not through effort, that’s for sure.

I think the reason for my inactivity is my self-consciousness. I would love to go swimming all the time, but I am a bit concerned about the somewhat minor problem of the fact that I don’t like exposing bits of my body. That rather rules out swimming. I don’t even wear shorts because I hate my legs. A t-shirt is as far as it goes.

But then I don’t want to do running or cycling or any sport for the same reasons. I used to hate it in school because of the having-to-get-changed-in-front-of-everyone-else factor. But then there was the other fact that I’m not very good at anything. If I’m not actually capable of doing anything, I don’t derive any enjoyment from it. However, I’m OK at racket sports… and this may be my way out.

Suffice it to say that I have added this to my list of plans for the next year. I need to try to get properly fit. A sprint around the block shouldn’t nearly kill me as it does at the moment. This summer’s attempts at gaining some muscle strength may have started out as a little experiment to stop me getting completely bored while stuck in during the rain… but maybe they will lead onto something else.

I’m hoping so anyway…

Crashing Down

The thing that’s been worrying me the most lately is the sudden decline of my grandad. We’ve known for a few years that he’s steadily been getting slower and slower with everything, but it’s really hit home in recent months just how bad he’s got. The doctors now think that he could be well on his way with Alzheimers. We all have to admit, no matter how bad it feels, that it would make sense.

Having never experienced anything like this before I know this is going to be hard. But then again, it’s not come as a surprise. It’s very difficult to talk to him about anything because he continually keeps forgetting what he was talking about. He then feels bad and makes a mental note not to talk any more… when he needs to be doing the exact opposite. He needs to try to keep his brain active.

That’s been half the problem. When I was younger, I remember my grandad used to read books all the time. He’d always watch the news, read the papers, do crosswords, go for walks, see his friends, etc. But then he retired. After that, he seemed to go on a steady fall into nothingness. He is now totally dependent on my gran, who has a terrible habit of finishing sentences for him, making him even worse.

Yesterday they were both sitting in our back garden. There were a few of us out there with them, and we were talking almost the entire time. But my grandad barely said anything. He knows he can’t keep up. He feels inadequate. And because the doctors are going to take him to an assessment centre once a week from now on, he keeps telling everyone that he doesn’t want to get put into a home, despite being told hundreds of times that he isn’t going to be.

What it shows to me is how vital it is to be thoroughly independent and to keep active. I’m always reading, always thinking… always doing puzzles of one kind or another. Always inquisitive about things. But I’m sure my grandad used to be all of those too.

I’m sure there are going to be sad times ahead. And we’ve had quite enough of those already lately. My mum’s cousin and her husband have always been close to our family, and they have been in a terrible time lately involving their son. He’s not someone I’ve ever met, but I know my “aunty” and “uncle” really well (of course, they aren’t my aunty/uncle, but that’s how I’ve always thought of them) and have a lot of respect for them. The details are too long to write here, but suffice to say I’m thinking of them a lot at the moment.

After all the enthusiasm and excitement of the past couple of months, life has a habit of bringing you back down with a bump…

And So…

… Another school year comes to its conclusion. Out of curiosity, and so I could compare my current feelings with last year, I’ve just read my posts from July out of the archives. It seems that back then I wasn’t all that convinced that working with the younger children would ever be something I could do… but this year has taught me otherwise.

It is both simultaneously amazing and disgusting that my seven weeks in school have flown by so quickly. Once again it has been an excellent experience and one I’m really going to miss. But this year has been different for the fact that I have been working with one year group all the time, three or four times a week for all of it. So I’ve really gotten to know each one of them very well. Last year I was running from one year group to the next, constantly forgetting names and not being able to understand each one. As a result, it’s made this year a lot more enjoyable.

On the other hand, it’s also made it very difficult to depart from. There is something particularly special about this crop of children that has made them such a pleasure to work with. I have always thought, while I’ve been there, that they’ve been really great, but today the two class teachers also said exactly the same thing to me without prompting. Some of them are so clever. Some of them are very funny. Others always have something interesting to tell you. Some of them are a little bit rowdy, yet they always win you over in the end. Then there are the ones who are a bit slow on the uptake, yet are very endearing and they make you want to work so hard to help.

Now they’re all off on their summer holidays, just like the rest of the several million schoolkids across the UK. And so am I. I am going to miss them, and it seems most of them will miss me. A lot of them kept asking me if I would be back in September, to which I had to truthfully reply that I wouldn’t. Suffice to say they were all a little disappointed at this news. But who knows what will happen in future. Never say never.

Meanwhile, on the presents stakes, I fared much better than last year. Though the teachers got more than me by a long, long way. The classroom was like a florist at the end of the day. Some of the time, effort and cost that had gone into the presents for the teachers was astonishing. One of the kids had made something with their parents which spelled out “Thank You Mrs ‘Insert-Teacher’s-Name Here'” inside a large frame. The words were entirely in paint, and formed from fingerprints. Amazing. And a lot more effort than we used to go to in my day. 11 years ago.

11 years since I left primary school. How time flies. And now I’m wanting to go back for more. I must be mad.

The summer awaits. Perhaps it will actually feel like summer soon… if we are graced with the presence of the sunshine. I don’t have anything else lined up to do though. Maybe I deserve a break. But then I’ll soon be itching to go and do something to keep me occupied. I don’t like to sit still for too long.

A hell of a lot to think about though. I will need some time to digest the future plans and what I need to do to achieve them.

The Patternation Consternation

I have a problem.

The school term approaches its conclusion, and, at long last, I have finally got all the names of the 60 children in the year 2 group I’m working in. As usual, too late for it to be of any use. The teachers haven’t helped, what with their continuous attempts to get me to do their paperwork for them, which takes me away from the kids and puts me in the resource area. I might occasionally get a chance to talk to them. Or rather, they like to talk to me at the very second I’m counting something, and always lose my train of thought.

But there is another problem. One of sentiment. As I have remarked in the past, sentimentality is one of the most useless of emotions. It causes us to hoard items which we have no real intention of ever using again, and in many cases, even bothering to look at again.

This is again going to be the case for me. Yesterday, it was “Other Faiths Day”. The children in Year 2 were learning about Hindu, and spent most of the day doing various activities related to Hinduism. Unfortunately, one of such was to make rangoli patterns on a template that the teachers had made. They were also asked to make these rather Hawaiian looking necklaces, but I can’t remember what they were called.

The patterns they made were all very nice. But, being a bit overenthusiastic on their colouring, they all decided that if I liked their work so much they would go and make another one. For me. Then one of them went one better and made me a necklace. Finally, another finished the job by making me a giant A3 sized drawing of their dog in the garden. Not quite sure where the Hindu theme went, but it was a nice gesture anyway.

I couldn’t exactly refuse their presents. At first I tried to resist… but I could tell they would be upset if I refused their hard work, so there was no choice. I walked out the school in the pouring rain yesterday (and so the work got a bit damaged) clutching my hard earned prizes.

Now I’m left with the tangled minefield of what to do with them. I could just bin the lot. They would never know. But sentimentality is kicking in. They are a nice reminder of my time this summer. But where the hell can they go? I already have two boxes and a shelf filled with the items I can’t get rid of. And they are only going to increase in amount as the years go by. Old exercise books from primary school are the bane of my existence. What am I supposed to do with them?

And there are only going to be more in the next week. The last week is usually filled with card making, presents for teachers and much mourning at the passing of another year. I’m hoping I don’t get too much. Then again, if I don’t get anything, I’d feel somewhat left out…

Meanwhile, I have received the prospectus from the University I’m thinking about applying to to do my PGCE in 2008. Twice. I had a problem with submitting the form first time, but it didn’t confirm they’d received it. In fact, it gave a time out error. I just thought someone would spot it and only send out one. Are humans not involved in this kind of thing any more? In any case, it’s just a copy of the material on the website. I feel I have wasted my time and the Uni’s money…

Any excuse to charge higher tuition fees…


Another year passes by, as I reach another birthday that is largely irrelevant. Today was my 22nd birthday, and though it was great to receive a few presents and well wishes from people, it was really not worth celebrating. My life is flashing by… and the only purpose a birthday seems to serve is to constantly remind me of that fact.

The only benefit they do have is to draw a line under the previous year of my life. It is an arbitrary line, of course, but it’s as good a place to draw one as anywhere. It means that everything that has gone is now best forgotten. What matters is what is ahead. By breaking life down into year-by-year plans into the future, I keep focussed on what I can achieve right now.

It has been, on balance, a Good Year. It was mostly dominated by the drudgery of working for an MP in London, but, at the very least, it is something very few other people have done while they’re still studying for a degree. Plus, living and working in London was something brand new anyway, which is always appreciated. I like the challenge of taking on new things. And succeeding. Which I believe I did.

But, like I said, what matters now is the next year. Every day is another one worth being grateful for, I know that, but sometimes I fail to appreciate it. This year I have to change that mentality. Because every day is going to be pretty busy over the next year, as I finally get to finish my degree. This time next year, I will be a graduate, at long last. But this year I also must get my plans into place for what I will do the following year. Eyes on the prize.

Perhaps this is why I have been so relentless in my thoughts about the future and what it might bring in the past few weeks. A number of my recent posts have been all about what I want to do with myself… maybe my subconscious is trying to tell me something. It is a bit unusual that I have been doing so much thinking lately. My brain is beginning to hurt. I could do with a break. Yet I really have no time for it.

The targets for the coming year:

a) Graduate successfully
b) Apply and get accepted for PGCE
c) Investigate Student Associates. Again
d) Referee course?
e) Plan something for next summer
f) Have fun

Ideally, I need to get all six of those. Though (f) may be sacrificed in order to achieve (a).

Off we go…

Pause For Thought… Then Off Again

What has amazed me the most while I’ve been working in school is the response I have got from the kids I’ve worked with. Because primary school is dominated by women teachers, and women teaching assistants, the presence of a male in the classroom (more often in the resource area outside the classroom) is such a novelty to the kids that they are genuinely intrigued as to why there would be a man in their school who isn’t the caretaker or the headmaster.

The school I have been helping out in has two male teachers… out of a total staff contingent (including teaching assistants) of around 30. One of the male teachers is the deputy head and doesn’t have his own class. The other one is a year 5 teacher. That’s it. The simple fact that I am such a novelty because of my gender is a rather weird feeling to accept. But it’s not a bad one. The children are, almost without exception, unusually responsive to me – talking to me, showing me their work, working hard for me, joking with me, etc. They seem to value the idea that it is good to get praise from men as much as women… so much so that I sometimes feel a little bit overwhelmed when they all try to talk to me at once.

What is unusual though is that it does come with strings attached. At the age they are (year 2) they seem very interested in the fine details of my life. I get asked questions about me a lot. They like to ask how old I am, if I have a girlfriend, if I smoke, if prefer one football team over another, where I live, what I do, why I come in to help out… it goes on and on. Some of them, particularly the second one, are somewhat embarrassing for me to answer, and given the current climate about children, ones I don’t feel comfortable answering. They don’t understand (and it would be a tragic world if they did, because it would be shattering the innocence of childhood) that such questions are not really appropriate, but it’s hard to tell them otherwise.

They are only asking because they’re intrigued, not because they have some sort of ulterior motive. Of course, if an adult asked the same questions, particularly all at once, you would suspect something was wrong. It really is just kids being kids. They’re interested, in some cases they’re fascinated. But I know that society will soon squash all of these unconstrained thoughts in their minds, possibly within just a couple of years. Quite sad to witness, really.

Overall, I’m really enjoying it a lot, and the more I think about it, the more it just has to be the right choice for me. I have made myself a promise that I will go wherever this takes me. I would prefer to stay here when I study for my PCGE next year, but if that is not possible I will travel the length and breadth of the country in order to get a place somewhere, even though it is only a year. I cannot afford another year’s delay while I wait to get on a course the next time around.

After that, again, I will go wherever it takes me. Abroad if necessary. Competition is fierce for the jobs on offer, and so I cannot afford to be picky in terms of where I want to live in the country, or even on the planet. Unfortunately, there really is no room for sentiment. I must get on with it. I must get keep up the pace of change.

It would be a waste otherwise. After all the praise I’ve received from the teachers I’ve been working with, I cannot let this go now.