That Was The Year That Was

It’s customary around these parts to review the year when I finally reach the fag-end of it. And sure enough, today seems the most opportune moment to do so. 

The beauty of this exercise is that I am aided in my assessment by looking back to the post I made on January 1st in which I set down what I expected to happen this year.

This year started coldly, in the same way as it’s finishing coldly. The weather made me dread going back to Hull after Christmas, and it was even worse this year because I had exams awaiting me there. But back I went, nailing the buggers, and getting on with the rest of university life. 

The months ticked by, not a lot happened with me other than ploughing on with my university work. After all, it was my final year and I had a dissertation to write, an absolute monster spanning 15,000 words. But I did it…

Winter gave way to Spring, and yet more exams appeared over the horizon. But all of a sudden I had a new goal. Away had went my previous expectations of being able to get a 2:1. All of a sudden I’d done so well in my previous exams, essays and the dissertation to know that I could, if I pushed myself, get a First. 

The exam revision was hellish. It would be another two months before I finally got the answer I was hoping for.

In the meantime, I moved back home and began preparing for life doing a PGCE. My plan was to become a primary school teacher, as it was something I had found interesting when I did lots of work experience for them. But as the months went by, I found myself backtracking from this commitment. Somehow, it just didn’t seem right any more. Each day another seed of doubt was sewn. I felt like I was just doing it because I didn’t have any other plans.

Days later there was the joy of the graduation result, a First, and the day itself, which was a very happy moment. Then my brain began to think up alternatives. If not teaching, what else? 

Unfortunately, to this day there is no answer to that question, made worse by the fact that the recession seems to be seriously damaging my prospects. I tried and tried, but ratcheted up just two interviews, one of which was a disaster not worth repeating, and the other was a long journey to London which ended with the same result. In any event, I soon learned that a First in politics is not really that useful. 

And so the remaining months of the year have been spent here, where I’ve lived out a rather odd existence as a houseson, spending my time looking after the house while my parents aren’t here, helping my brother and sister with their homework, and generally mooching around watching DVDs or reading books. 

Not good, basically. 

Because of all this, I am, for the first time in a while, not going to label this as a Good Year. Though it started well, and the middle bit was pretty sweet, the end has been a disaster. So this is a Neutral Year. 

For the rest of my family, I have been fortune that the sadness I feared was going to happen with my grandparents has not yet arrived. In fact, things are pretty much as they were at the start of the year. So that is some comfort. But I am still worried about what might happen in the near future. 

Meanwhile, my younger but elder of my brothers has gone to university, and seems to be enjoying it. The other brother has begun his GCSEs and is turning into a right scally. But he’s still my brother, and as amusing as ever. And my sister has gone all girly-girly, but has turned into a massive couch potato, watching soaps, reality TV and endless Nickelodeon shows. Not good at all.

My elder sister didn’t keep up with her nurse training, but now has a job for the first time in a long time. Her son, my nephew, has, unfortunately, become very naughty and very thick, a change which has upset me a lot. I suspect it’s related to the beginnings of a long and tedious legal battle that will kick off in 2009 as his useless father tries to score some points over my sister. 

As for my parents, well, I can’t help but feel that living here has changed the dynamic of their relationship. Some times I feel like I’m the referee of their silly conflicts, like they appeal to me for a judgement on who is to blame for things. I don’t like it, and hope I don’t have to put up with it for much longer. 

So, sorry 2008, but I’ll be glad to see the back of you. Things just haven’t gone anywhere near the way I thought they would. A shame, but we move on…

Summer Revisited

At this time of year, with the dawning of Autumn, I generally take a look back at what happened over the summer, and whether it was a worthwhile event.

From the perspective of the weather, I feel very confident in saying it was the worst summer I can ever remember. Rain, rain, god-damn rain, day after day. I just knew it. Those late spring days in May, scorching hot sunshine, while I toiled over a mountain of revision – that was the real summer. It turns out I was spot on in my prediction that:

I’m sure by June it will be raining every day again.

That’s exactly what happened. I would say that of the 13 weeks of summer, no more than two of them can be classed as good summer weather, i.e. sunny, warm and reasonably consistent (i.e. one good day follows another). What we actually had was a hell of a lot of rain in June, July and early August, interspersed with a randomly chucked in nice day, but one which always had the looming threat of showers. And then when it didn’t rain, it was muggy and overcast, meaning the second you tried to do anything physical like play sport, the sweat would start pouring off you.

Just isn’t good enough. I thought last summer was bad: a worse than average June, a very poor July and a mediocre August… but this one really did smash those low expectations.

The worst of all was that last night I stepped outside to go on a little trip to the shops, and it felt cold. Now, 8°C isn’t cold, I’ll admit it. But after months of temperatures above 15C, and very rarely below that at night due to the cloud cover, it suddenly dawned on me that it felt like winter was just around the corner.

And all of a sudden thoughts begin to turn to Christmas. Mark my words, it will soon be here.

The thing is, my miserable summer weather-wise was actually surpassed by everything else. This has been my worst summer since I can remember. I have done nothing all summer but look and apply for jobs. I have done nothing but dither, and in the end have ended up back at square one. I extricated myself from the teacher training plan, but have yet to come up with a viable alternative.

I am so stupid, because I should have decided this earlier. I have no regrets right now, even though in an alternative universe right now I am starting my placement in school and starting down the road to teaching. But it’s amazing just how quickly I’ve dropped everything. I used to read the education news almost relentlessly. Now I barely visit the websites. I still find it all interesting, but it seems that I was only interested because I had to be. With hindsight, that is a very bad sign.

But if I had made the decision to quit earlier, I would have saved myself a lot of hassle, and I could have put my summer to better use. Number one would have been to do the US summer camp thing all over again. I would have enjoyed that so much more (I still reminisce about how good it was), and it would have been a great opportunity, since I’ll never be able to do it again (unless I’m still jobless next summer!). But instead it was frittered away.

I. Did. Nothing. All Summer.

How embarrassing is that. Talk about throwing your life away.

Awaiting The Perfect Offer

At this moment in time, I suspect I’ve got it all wrong.

I am thinking carefully about the future. A future that should be bright and full of promise. But my problem is that I want to do everything. I want to keep my fingers in all the pies so I can keep every aspect of my personality going.

That’s just never going to happen. There are so many different fields which I could turn my administrative capabilities to. I don’t have to go into politics in order to be political. I could be political in any organisation in the world if I get the right job.

For instance, from left field is the idea that a) I love cricket; so b) why shouldn’t I look for a job in this area? Administering cricket teams, then onwards and upwards into the ECB. But that’s just crazy. I’m not remotely involved in cricket and so don’t know where to start. I wish I was playing it though. But now it’s far too late for me to be any use in that.

See – this is what I’m up against. A scattergun approach to my future. I don’t know where I’m going. But I could quite legitimately bring up any angle of the things I like and see what the possibilities are.

I struggle to let go – that’s the major problem. I want to do everything, yet I can’t. There is no job in the world that incorporates politics, music, cricket, football, other sports, drama, thinking strategically, thinking analytically and is mostly based away from a computer. There is no perfect offer on the cards. Ever. I think that’s probably why I got interested in teaching in the first place, because it does keep almost every door open for the things I like. But at the same time, it would be extremely superficial. A couple of hours playing cricket a year with the children. Not exactly much to write home about.

What I need to do is just pick one thing. Because, as I know full well, when I get down to work, and concentrate on using my time properly, I will enjoy it and forget everything else. It happened yesterday. I was exceptionally bored, doing nothing all day except musing about the future. But in the evening I was going to be involved in the football training of my football club, which is finally starting up again as the new season approaches.

It gave me something to do. It gave me a purpose. A purpose doing something I actually wanted to do. The time flew by, and I didn’t consider what might have been and what I was missing out on when I could have been playing badminton, playing cricket, running a cricket team, going swimming, going for a run, playing the guitar, writing music and all the multitude of other guilt trips that I put my brain through on a regular basis.

The day is fast approaching when I will learn to accept that I have to just get on with it. Decide and progress with life. That doesn’t preclude continued reflection, and I can always change. It still won’t be too late. There’s nothing particularly final about any choice I make right now. Just as long as I make a choice – and that will finally give me some experiences that I can use to fully inform my life.

I have an idea where I want to go, but it’s not solid enough because I don’t have enough experience. I have to resolve that situation very soon.

BA (Hons?)

There is some debate about whether or not people with undergraduate degrees in the UK can legitimately put “(Hons)” after their degree award… largely for the reason that almost all degree courses are honours degree ones, and you only get an “ordinary” degree if you fail a lot of modules in your final year.

I suspect it’s just another part of the general devaluation of everything academic in this country, if not this planet. As I’ve grown up, every qualification I’ve ever received has always been panned by the media at just the time I got it. This is true for GCSEs and A-Levels, and now it is even becoming true of degrees. Great timing, as always. Just when I stop to think “hey, I’ve done all right!” – the world bleats out its usual message of “you haven’t, try again”.

So people have started adding on “Hons” to make it sound better than it actually is. I look at the requirements to get an honours degree in other countries, and thus legitimately call yourself “Hons” but they seem so much harder. But this is where it gets ridiculous because of how low the grading is in the UK for arts based subjects. It virtually impossible to get above 80% (I haven’t heard of it)… whereas this must definitely be possible in Australia. Well, my only source on this is Wikipedia, but still…

The reason why all this is in my mind is because in the past week I’ve had my graduation ceremony. I was up at 6am, and I finally got back at 11:45pm. A very long day, but a memorable one. Me and my parents, plus my sister and my gran came with me. Unfortunately, my grandad couldn’t because he’s not well at the moment, which he was disappointed about. It makes me a little sad too… I know full well that I could have graduated last year had I not took a gap year or did a three year course. Then he could have been there.

Nevertheless, it was still a fairly proud moment. I realised just how few people get first class degrees, so that was a very nice moment. The ceremony wasn’t all good, however, as I was sitting next to two people I didn’t know, but unfortunately, they knew each other – so they spent all the time talking over me. It then got worse when the person sitting next to me kept bugging me to ask what the Chancellor had asked me when we did the little “stop and chat” (to use a Larry David-ism) that only people who get firsts are allowed to do.

It’s nice to get the recognition… but it has also given me pause for even more thought. The Chancellor gave a very good speech in which she said how delighted she was to hear (from her little chats) that so many people with first class degrees were going into teaching. That’s what I told her, cos I didn’t have anything else to say. I didn’t want to say I was drifting aimlessly. But she said how wonderful and noble the profession is and that it will be in safe hands with such high quality graduates.

Then, speaking to my tutors at the reception afterwards, they were all highly approving of my choice to do a PGCE. They believe it’s a very worthwhile occupation.

This is somewhat in contrast to my family. But worse, it is in contrast to most of the teachers I’ve ever spoken to, who take every opportunity to disparage their profession when I talk to them. They often say “You’ve got a first class degree and you want to be a teacher?”. I find this a bit weird.

The most disappointing part of the day, however, was the feeling I got from my gran, and I’ve got from the rest of my family in general. We’re all from very humble origins. I am the first to be a university graduate on both sides of the family. But they don’t seem to realise just how much of an achievement this is. Because my family don’t understand what it means, and a lot of them have a very working class attitude of “we stick together”, some of them think that going to university is just not the done thing for someone from a working class background. I definitely got this attitude to my gran. She has rather bizarre views that won’t let her speak to anyone who isn’t a Labour supporter…

This is all new to them, but they see it all as middle class, elitist and not something the normal workers would do. My gran deliberately went out to thank the people who’d built and were taking down the marquee as we left, (“the world doesn’t run without the workers!”) and told them they should take a bottle of the wine that was left over. It had nothing to do with her, of course.

I agree with her sentiment. But we are all workers. Class is a very sad state of mind, one that is absolutely useless and serves no purpose. But that’s politics, and best left out here…

Overall though, it was a very nice day. I know my mum and dad are proud. But now I’ve really got to get my thoughts into order to make this whole bloody thing worthwhile.

Post-Birthday Blues

I’ve spent a very long time lately trying to work everything out. It seems that everything has come together at just the right moment to make me shake myself up.

First, there was the First. That was unexpected. I have been meaning to write a post for some time now about child prodigies and intelligence in young people. If I had this would all make more sense now, but I will come back to it at a later date.

Suffice it to say that the First has made me think I am reasonably clever after all. I’ve spent many years thinking I’d gone backward and others have caught up with me. It’s probably true to some extent, but I’m still smarter than the average bear. And modest too…

Then there has been my birthday. I’ve suddenly realised that I am actually quite old to be still doing bugger all with my life. Nothing concrete anyway. Most 23 year olds have started work by now. This has made things very complicated for me. I am sick of living off my parents’ back. I want to be of independent means at long last. I got used to it while not living here as a student… but the difference there was that I wasn’t earning the money myself. Mr and Mrs Taxpayer were handing it to me in loans and grants.

Having a taste of that, I want to go further. Plus, I see the sacrifices my mum and dad have made for me. I don’t want to keep asking that of them. I want to give them something back.

I can’t do that while I’m poor. And it’s highly unlikely I’d ever be able to do that as a teacher, either. It’s not a well paid profession unless you become a headteacher. And then you have to put up with government targets, league tables, assessments and inspections in a massively high pressured environment. And then after all that you don’t get to teach any more, which is what most people ostensibly go into the profession for. Not much of a reward, is it.

Suffice it to say that in the past few days I’ve become quite sceptical of the idea of becoming a teacher. This is quite a radical turnaround.

So I’m getting older. I’ve got less time to make a go of life. But I have the tools to do it now. I don’t necessarily need to spend another year doing the teacher training. I really should only do that if I definitely want to be teacher. I had originally thought that it would be good to do it even if I don’t become a teacher, because that way I keep the door open. But after all this time, it might not be sensible for the reasons above. It may not be my life’s ambition after all.

It gets worse when I consider the best plan for leaving this country, if ever I chose to do that. But then it means me making a career choice with emigration in mind. I could probably turn my hand to most things, though… which means that if I want to leave I should choose the career that is the most in demand. Teachers are always in demand. But it’s very difficult to transfer knowledge of one country’s curriculum to another country.

This is serious reflection time. My thoughts on this are all still very muddled. I don’t think I’m quite in a “blues” situation… but I will be if I can’t turn all of this into a logical plan which will stand up to scrutiny. I just know for certain that for a multitide of reasons, not least being fed up with feeling like a drifting, aimless student all the time, I want to reject teaching.

Will it stretch me enough? I don’t know.

I need to get some answers and quick.

23

And so, another year, another birthday. At the ripe old age of 23 now, I am beginning to feel just a little concerned that I am ageing and noticeably so. I look back at old photos of me, even from a couple of years ago, and it is clear that there’s just a certain something different in the way I look now. I can’t quite put my finger on it… is it the eyes? Not so bright now. Has my hairline receded? If it has, it may be a millimetre, no more.

There appears to be more lines on my cheeks when I smile. And my face seems to have a bit more of a drawn-in look. Maybe it’s because I’m comparing myself to a time when I had four kilograms of extra weight. Maybe if I put that back on it would go onto my face and I would look a little healthier again.

But in any event, I am undoubtedly older. The problem I have is that I don’t want to be reminded of this fact any more. So my birthday is now a very, very low-key affair. Yesterday was little more than a mere handful of useful presents (socks, razor blades) and a couple of nice things, like a DVD or two and a book. And then we went out for a pub meal. Nice but dull. And that’s how it’s going to stay.

This is a good moment to reflect on the year gone by. And what is impressive is that I even have my own benchmark to compare against. This time last year I wrote this post which said that I wanted to achieve the following six things during my 22nd year of life:

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

A was a roaring success, moreso than I thought it would be. B was also a success. C was a failure, but not one I’m not overly disappointed about. D was also a success. E was a failure, because this summer is a disaster. F? Hmm. I would say on balance that I didn’t succeed in that, partly because of the unforeseen results of poor housemate choice. But there was enough fun to make it liveable.

So with three successes, one of them a massive one, two failures, one of which I’m not bothered about and a separate so-so, I would say that I’ve had a Very Good Year. This is in contrast to last year’s Good Year (though I didn’t have any benchmarks to compare against). Does this mean things are on the up?

It’s very hard to be sure. In the past few days I have become extremely concerned that I’m doing the wrong thing. I absolutely love working with children, but I am wondering if being a teacher is the right way to express it. Could there be another avenue to do it in? I have always preferred being a friend and mentor to children, something which is not particularly compatible with being a teacher.

All of this is very inconvenient considering that I’m about to start a PGCE course. So it is with this current state of flux in mind that I am not giving myself an ambitious target regarding this…

Here is what I would like to achieve this year

(1) a) Complete the PGCE course successfully
OR b) Begin an alternative worthwhile career that will allow me to work with children
OR c) Begin an alternative career with enough free time to work with children as a hobby
OR d) Begin some other form of professional qualification
(2) Get fitter, either through refereeing or taking up a sport
(3) Try to do more with my nephew
(4) Make a serious assessment of life plans, especially considering options to emigrate if it makes sense
(5) Take up a new hobby OR enhance a current hobby (e.g. piano lessons)
(6) Earn some money, somehow!
(7) As always, have fun

In other words, this is quite a serious year on the cards. It’s make your mind up time, dude.

Off we go…

Let Them Eat Cake

Since Christmas I have really taken to the idea of baking cakes and various unhealthy items. This has been something of a surprise for me in truth because I normally have an allergic reaction to making food from scratch.

But it seems that with the passage of time I’ve realised just how simple it is. My latest creation was the easiest and yet the best thing I’ve ever made, a microwave golden syrup sponge with custard. Oh yeah. The family enjoyed it, most of all my dad who, despite being very thin, likes anything cakey, biscuity, chocolately, etc. Must be where I get my sweet tooth from. My dad won’t have a cup of tea unless there is something sweet to go with it. Weird.

I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to make any use out of it. I could, maybe, use these recipes in school when I’m a teacher. But then again, that’s probably unlikely given the outrageously packed national curriculum, which generally regulates every minute of a teacher’s professional life. Hmm. Maybe I’ll have a think about that one.

Meanwhile, my mum is back from her working holiday. It was very interesting to compare notes with her from the time I worked in a summer camp in the USA. She was one of the seven staff there to oversee the school Year 8 holiday to Barcelona so she had a similar experience to me in terms of dealing with homesickness and keeping children entertained. Though they had it easy because there was an itinerary all planned for them. I had to make it up as I went along!

While we talked about this I did feel like I’d missed out again. Really, I should have been back in the USA again this summer. Though this is not yet 100% regret. Maybe by the time this holiday is over I will feel I could have used it much more effectively. To be honest, I would say that is very likely. Right now, I’m not doing enough to justify taking the safe option of staying here.

Naturally, too, there was one other thing that I’d missed out on.

Cake. And food in general. Because out in the USA they looked after us staff extremely well. Lots of food, and lots of dessert. Oh yeah. I put a whole four kilograms on while I was out there. And all that while I was hiking mountains virtually every other day. Perhaps I did overeat a bit. Then again, having M&M thick pancakes (not like the crappy thin British pancakes) for breakfast as well as cereal every day, it wasn’t exactly difficult to overeat.

Anyway, enough reminiscince. I missed out. My fault. I have to make this time here count for something. I’ve not yet worked out what I should do with it. I thought I’d have a job by now, but the good news has not yet arrived from my Contact Who Often Provides Work. If I earned a fair old stack of money then I could feel like I hadn’t wasted this opportunity of lots of free time.

Perhaps I need to get my thinking cap on and see if I can do something more productive with this long summer, probably the last one I’ll ever have.

A Brief Perfect Moment

There are very few moments in life where I feel “everything is just perfect at the moment”.

Yesterday, however, contained one such time. But it does demonstrate just how easily pleased I am. And in any case, it lasted about 5 seconds… but you just know it when suddenly you get a feeling inside which just simply says “Life is good”.

I was sitting in the warm sunshine with my grandparents after I’d went out with them for the day. We were sitting on a field, a gentle breeze, and I was eating cheese, tomato and coleslaw sandwiches.

I felt I had to note this event. The food was good, the weather was nice, the location was perfect and it was just awesome to be spending some time with my grandparents. After all, none of us know the minute, and my poor grandad is slowly progressing into what is certainly a form of dementia. But at that moment, everything was perfect.

I spent the rest of the day with them exploring and just generally wandering around. I had gone with them to help them carry their stuff up to the static caravan they’re staying in at the moment – and as always they’d picked a nice day for it. I’m beginning to get a little worried that my life contains too many events revolving around caravans at the moment… how depressing.

That was good fun – but not that much else has happened in my life lately. But then again, it summer, and I do deserve a break. There’s not much else I can do right now except wait for the temporary job offers to roll
in. Well, offer. Hopefully I’ll have more on that next time.

There is something else I’m doing at the moment, which is being an exam invigilator in my local school. But that has turned out to be something of a waste of time, since they told me I would be in every day (no one else wants to do it) … except, now the exam time has come around, they don’t actually need the invigilators anyway.

So far I’ve done one two hour exam and I’m doing another one later. And I’m not likely to do any more.

Though Tuesday did give rise to a classic, when one 15-year-old kid pointed to a picture of a swede on the English language exam paper and asked me if it was a fruit or a vegetable.

Perhaps I only want to be a teacher because I want my sense of humour tickled…