Monthly Archives: March 2013

A Troubled Life, Saved

Abby is 9 years old.  Her father is no longer in contact with her and her mother’s boyfriends are abusive to her and her mother. Both are heavy drinkers.  Life at home is at best, difficult and at worse, unbearable.  It affects her self esteem and her school work and as she gets older she is more likely to find herself caught in a cycle of bad behaviour, leaving school without qualifications and much worse. Much much worse.

 However, Abby has a chance.  A glimmer of hope on her horizon because she lives in Somers Town.   Somers Town is in North London, an area north of St Pancras that has a high percentage of council owned properties and some children for whom english is not their first language.  An area of a fair bit of deprivation.  She has been chosen by her Primary School as a perfect candidate to take part in the theatre mentoring project run by Scene and Heard because of her background.

Scene and Heard is a unique mentoring project that partners the inner-city children of Somers Town, London with volunteer theatre professionals. They give the children intensive, one-to-one adult attention, enabling them to write plays which are then performed by professional actors.

These performances give the children immediate and public experiences of success, raising their aspirations and boosting their self-esteem. Scene & Heard is committed to producing the highest quality theatre with and for the Somers Town community. Their work improves literacy skills and attitudes towards education and develops communication and social skills. 

They believe that in order to have a real and lasting impact they must offer more than a one-off experience; they invite children back to continue working with them over several years.*

I got to experience this myself recently.  A friend of mine was directing a play so I went to see the show.  I was blown away at how wonderful it was.  All the volunteers which include the Dramaturgist (who work with the children on writing the play), The actors, the directors, the costume designers, lighting, stage managers are seasoned professionals. The quality of the plays were outstanding and the content………..well just incredible!

 The children are not allowed to have real people depicted in the plays so all the character are inanimate objects who talk.  From the last show these included a HP Bottle, a handbag, a football boot, a thin blue plastic corner shop bag.  The stories are honest, sometimes sad but the language is never changed.  The way a sentence is written by the 9/10/11 year old is left and what this means is some really lovely, honest language that tugs at your heart and invariable makes you laugh as well.  Anything that shows what a child sees or hears in his or her world is unique and interesting, a reminder that sometimes us grown ups stick to the rules and get a little boring sometimes.

 Please visit their website and sign up to their free newsletter so you can go and see one of their plays when they are next on.  Seeing a show is free but they do ask that children attending are at least 7 years old as often the themes are ones that younger audience members may not quite grasp.  Here is the website, please pop on and have a look at the video and the work that they do.

 What is amazing about this acting company is that offer a much needed lifeline for these children. An opportunity to be heard, a place to go and see familiar friendly faces and more importantly a place to keep revisiting every year to build on what they have learnt and to, hopefully, realise the opportunities that are out there for them.

 The future is a little brighter for Abby and fingers crossed she is able to continue her journey with Scene and Heard for the next 8 years, breaking the cycle in her family and forging into the world a little happier and more confident.

 *adapted from text on their website.

PS: The added bonus of my trip was sitting within arms length of Damian Lewis AND more importantly, being near to Mr Maker!! Who obliged me with a photograph so I could prove to my kids I’d chatted to him.

Ofsted report Panic

Logo courtesy of Ofsted

Logo courtesy of Ofsted

We’ve just had a letter through the door and I’m slightly panicked.

It’s from our borough council advising us that our Headmaster of over 20 years is going to take early retirement because the Ofsted inspection they had a few weeks back was “disappointing”.

Well, there is a lot to take in on this.

Firstly that the Ofsted inspection was disappointing is of major concern to me.  Last inspection had it listed as “good” and I was happy with that.  I know Ofsted isn’t the be all and end all of a school, which is why I visited the school and many others, but I think it’s a good barometer of how hard the headmaster and teachers work within the confines of the system.

Secondly that a trusted and well liked Headmaster is leaving.  That gives me the collywobbles.  If his replacement isn’t someone who all of our teachers get on well with, then we could see them start to drop like flies.  I’m worried that the likes of the head of the infant department, a woman who far exceeds her role and is sensible, down to earth and a brilliant teacher will decide she can no longer stay.

In general I’m worried for the school.  I love the school a lot.  It’s got a small school feel to it (despite 3 form entry) and it has a sensible approach to most things, which I love.  For example:

We were given no “rules” at the start of the year.  My friend’s school were told they had to invite the whole class to parties, No sweet things in lunch boxes, no photos at school shows.. blah blah blah.  No rules for us.  Other than a sensible nut allergy rule and no chocolate bars (chocolate is fine on top of a biscuit).

I only had my 2nd parent evening last week when, after the academic chat, I asked about the social aspect of Pickle’s days at school.  I said “I’m sorry if that sounds a bit weird, I kind of think the social part is as important as the academic part at this age, because she will learn the rules of friendship ect.. “.  Her teacher replied “Oh yes, definitely.  I think its more important in some ways”.  We then went on to talk about the dynamics of the girls group that had formed and she told me how she was going to teach them things to try to change it’s course.  I love her.

I’m really panicked about this change to the school.  Right when so much else is changing there as well. This year saw the first 3 form entry and as a result building work is underway for Year 1 expansion for next year and then further work is scheduled next year to increase every year to 3 form.  We really didn’t need this news.

What will it mean going forward if a bad Ofsted is published?  Will all the parents next year and for the next 3 years choose other schools over us? Will it be that only the lethargic parents end up there?  Will this affect the school going forward?  What I loved about this school was its cultural and demographical mix.  Poor, well off, Asian, black, chinese, White and everything in between.

Has anyone else experienced issues around bad Ofsted results, the loss of a headmaster or BOTH?  Am really looking for some good news stories now.

Asking for advice

I love to chat to people.

Chat to other mum’s, colleagues at work, friends and family.

I love to chat because through conversation we build our world.  Stick with me….this will make sense.  Through every conversation I have with people I build my vision of who they are, I build my knowledge and views about a subject and in a lot of cases I then pass that view or understanding on to the next people I speak to.  So slowly through discourse (talking) we influence and are influenced.  It’s a really interesting area of Psychology too.  A part of my degree I really enjoyed.

So when I get chatting to someone at work who mentions that they are having problems with their 2-year-old waking in the night, I have to assume that they are sharing and wanting to converse with me in order to see whether I can sympathise, empathise or offer advice.   So why that then gets thrown back at me as being smug or interfering is beyond me.

It wasn’t that obvious, but I’m a sensitive soul and I can tell.  The sad thing is that I’m a big believer that people find a way, we are all different and we all have different ways of doing things.  It would be a very dull world if we didn’t.  So I never go into these conversations saying “listen to me, I know everything. Look at how clever and right I am”.

Image courtesy of Blunt Card

Image courtesy of Blunt Card

I am meticulous in the way I tell my story, or offer suggestions. I never suggest (or think) that my way is the right way but I love the idea that by chatting to me, they may start to work out what might work for them.

The same goes when people moan about a situation with a friend or partner.  I listen, I listen some more but at some point I will regale a story that I remember that might help them know I empathise, or perhaps I offer some advice or PERHAPS I suggest that I don’t agree with the situation.  I’m not suggesting I’m right.  I’m only saying what I think and someone might take that information and add it to other information that other people have said or written and over time it will help form their view on the subject. Perhaps they won’t change their mind, or perhaps they will find themselves in a situation where all that information suddenly makes sense to them and they stand up, share their opinion and make a change to their life.

I mean it’s all we are trying to do in this world.  Make sense of everything, prop each other up, support and learn.  Some of my posts have been about me trying to get some advice.  Please don’t think people are being judgemental or smug because they have an opinion. I have no control over how you feel about my advice, but how about you assume it comes from a good place.  A place that cares.  Take the advice, push it aside or take it onboard but for goodness sake move on.

Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.
– Chinese proverb

When I Grow Up

What do I want to be when I grow up?

 Well I can tell you what I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be a 9-5 grinder in a role involving spreadsheets, Gantt charts and the management of the unmanageable….oh hang on.

 You know that feeling when you realise you are too far down the road now and there is little opportunity for you to change tack?  I’m there. Sitting in an open plan office, not hating my job, but feeling there has to be more to my life than this. Obviously there is, my family, but I spend 30 hours a week here……..that’s a lot of hours doing something I don’t love.

 I was thinking the other day about my hope for my children’s future. How I might encourage them, support them and do some of the leg work to see what options are available to them when they show an interest in something. I never got that you see. My parents saw me as an office worker (it’s easy, basic stuff) or at best a flight attendant (that way I could meet a pilot who would support me to stay at home).  Even my Grandmother suggested a Doctor’s receptionist would be good, that way I could meet a nice doctor who would support me… get the picture.

 Actually, what I ended up doing (later rather than sooner but never the less) was nothing short of amazing.  Having come to the UK to study acting and dabbling in it a little bit, I happened to work for a company that was run by a guy who was a little like a cross between Mr Selfridge and Alan Sugar.  Great ideas, constantly changing his mind, but needing a supportive team of people to mould and shape and promote. I was one of them.  So in the space of 8 years I went from part-time data entry clerk, through several different and interesting roles to working for a different company as a Project Manager.  Decent money, flexible hours (sort of) and definitely re-employable if I so needed to find another job.

 So I’m here, running a team and saying “What’s it all about, then”. Because surely this isn’t it.

Image courtesy of e

Image courtesy of e

 Admittedly a very BIG reason for me not moving into something else (I quite fancied being a police woman at one stage) is that I have very much got used to the money I now earn.  Any loss of earnings would have a serious detrimental effect on where we live and what we can afford.  That’s the problem with climbing the pay ladder…….you get yourself in a position where you’re outgoings always sit just behind your earnings whether you earn £700 a month (my data entry earnings) or what I’m now earning.

 I have done a Psychology degree. I completed and graduated in March 2012 but in order to do anything with it I’d have to go on to at least a Masters and in most cases a PhD too.  I have yet to see any options open to me for anything without the extra study and of course you need to do work placements, voluntary work etc… which is difficult with a job and children.  Of course it makes me more employable for having a degree and perhaps the fact I have a psychology background makes it all the more interesting.

 The fact is, I’ve always fancied running my own business but I’ve never happened upon an amazing product/skill that I could sell.  I don’t want to be part of a pyramid selling scheme (Avon/Tupperware) I want to do something interesting and exciting and ideally creative.  I’m not a  massive risk taker either, so anything I started up would need to be done alongside my job for a while until I felt secure about it.

 It’s a pretty scary prospect to me that my profession is THIS ONE…………and it makes me kind of sad too. I’m properly stuck in a rut and can’t see the way out.

 Anyone out there find themselves in a similar predicament?  Major career change?  How did you manage with little money?

The Mistakes of the Past

For some of us, our youth is not a time for entirely happy reflection

For some of us there are things we’ve said or done that don’t sit well now we look back at it

The only word I can muster is regret, but I’m sure if my brain was back there again with only the 18 years of wisdom I had no doubt I’d do it all the same again.  So, I’m not sure regret is the word I have.

I guess “contrition” is a good word.

I was 17, nearly 18 and had never had a boyfriend EVER.

Well, not if you don’t include the son of my parents friend who lived an hour away that I spent 2 hours with and who shouted “will you go out with me” as we drove off in the car and I nodded and then never saw him again.  I don’t think you can count that one.

I didn’t have a boyfriend because I was skinny (ridiculously so, not in a good way) and flat chested. I’d had one bad haircut too many. I didn’t look terribly pretty.

Then in the few months between finishing highschool (our last year in Oz, your version of 6th form but we do it a year before you. I was 17 in my final year which runs February to December) I bloomed a little.

Me circa 1990

Me circa 1990

My boobs didn’t so much, but my hips grew so much I still have the stretch marks, my skinniness looked a little less harsh, my hair seemed to look better permed and swept up into that immovable fringe we all had in the late 80’s.  I managed to get a bit of makeup on my face. I looked ok.

In the summer before we were all about to turn 18, we did a bit of sneaking into pubs. Inevitably I was caught out with my false id, but the court date happened a month later, once I turned 18, so it was thrown out.

I had never “gone out” before so I had to wear a little tight stretchy black skirt and a tight midriff top. It’s all I had.

Suddenly I was catching the eye of fella’s in our pub.

Suddenly I was having flowers bought for me from those “single rose” sellers.  I literally would get about 2-5 a night.

My mates all had boyfriends in the navy.  They were a little *ahem* more confident than me.  They had slept with guys, they knew what they were doing and I didn’t.

In fact I used to take great delight in mentioning it because some blokes seemed to think it was inconceivable.  HA HA.

So when my mate’s boyfriend rocked up at the pub with her, all brooding and gorgeous (he was drop dead gorgeous. Looked like John Stamos in his younger days — google it). I decided to try a little flirting. I’d never done it before. How do you do it.  Look, eyes down, dance, look, caught my eye, look away, look again, keep dancing.  It was fun.  Look at me, I’m flirting.

I eventually stopped flirting. I needed a wee. So trooped off.  HOWEVER, as I left the toilet, guess who was waiting for me in the corridor. Bloody hell. John Stamos is waiting for me.  He said a few things (long since forgotten) and suggested we go for a walk. So I did. I mean, I had no idea what I was doing.  Shit, they really take this shit seriously don’t they. I was only trying it out. Fucking hell. What do I do now.

We walked around the block and stopped. He pushed me up against the wall and snogged me.  My first proper ever snog. Wow.  Unfortunately I think he had a tiny bit of plastic from a straw in his mouth, so I was focussing a bit too much on that but despite that, it was very nice.

He told me he was being chucked out of the Navy for some misdemeanor and was moving out of his accommodation on board (the navy island) the following evening. He had one day left before he moved to the Eastern States.  He wanted to spend it with me.

He’d dated my mate for around 6 months, was practically living at her house with her family and he wanted to spend his last day with me.  Argghhhh. What do I do.  Now obviously the correct thing was to say “You know, I really like you, but clearly our timing is all off. You’re with XXX right now and it would be really wrong of me to rob her of her last day with you. We should just reflect on tonight as something that could have been and let it go”. But, of course, I didn’t say that did I? I had never EVER had a bloke want to spend time with me.  I just said “yes”.

So I picked him up from my friends house (cringe) and we went horse riding. I’d never had a date before, this seemed like the sort of thing people do.  After horse riding we snogged a lot in the car.  Then I drove him on board to clear out his stuff.  He said we didn’t have to “do anything, but it’d be nice”. I grinned like a moron and didn’t commit and thankfully he took that as a no.  I’d didn’t know WHAT the hell I was doing.

Then I drove him back to my mates house.  SHIT!

Why am I telling you this?  Welsh “the mate” did get her own back (I’ll mention that in another post if you’re interested) but we did kind of spend time on and off in each other’s company over the next 2 years.  Never great mates, but she was mates with my mates so she was there. Just there.  She eventually joined the airforce and moved to the other side of the Country, got pregnant to a married man, had her son.

She came over to visit me on Wednesday in London! Eek.  Her hubby is English and she’s got family in Germany so she is over here every couple of years.  I don’t know her THAT well, but enough to see that it made sense for us to meet up.  AWKWARD.

Well, it was quite awkward.  We don’t have a huge amount in common. I talked like an idiot, filling the gaps. She slowly got drunk on vodka, him on a bottle of wine. They told me about my other school friends back in Oz.  She didn’t ask what I did or ask anything about my life, how I feel about living here, nothing. I volunteered information.  I asked all about their life, what they did.  She said she wanted to visit my children yet NEVER once engaged with them. Didn’t really speak to them at all. No photos, nothing!

It was an odd setup. I was obviously worried about it as I couldn’t sleep that night, but it’s done now.  I may make an excuse next time she visits. Maybe see her again the time after that. I usually have no problem dropping friends, but it’s not like her see her often.  I don’t know………I felt I needed to see her.

Do you have weird acquaintances or old friends like this? Or did I made a big mistake? AND more importantly, did you make stupid decisions in your teens that you now somewhat regret?