Dreams

 

Sit back. My dears, EBL is going to get all reminiscent.

Once upon a time, when the world was young, finding out information was difficult. There was no Google, if toy can believe such a thing and no Ask Jeeves, nor Lycos, nor even Excite. Not so much as a pixel of search engine goodness at the fingertips of even the most advanced computer scientist.

In those days EBL was a keen young thing at school and one day she had a lesson in English where the supply teacher was interesting. This in itself was shocking, with all due respect to Mrs P who was the usual teacher. Mrs P did her best but she was worn down by years of service to the cause of drumming Dickens and Hardy and Shakespeare into adolescent heads more interested in pop music and fashion and dancing. No one could sustain interest in the face of such barbarity.

The young supply teacher was fresh meat though and still had the dewy optimism of the newly qualified, all ready to change the world. So she talked to us about Old English poetry. I suspect my classmates do not recall this at all, but it struck a chord with EBL.  The chord was, however somewhat limited.

I remembered a fragment of verse because it sounded cool. I liked languages, even then, and it sounded interesting – English but not English. I knew it involved a battle. Well of course it did – it was Anglo Saxon poetry after all.

While I was nosing around my local library one day (those were places you could go to find books and borrow them, another feature of life now much reduced) I decided to see if I could find it again. There were no books on Anglo Saxon poetry in our little local library so I moved on and found one on Schiller which was pretty good, along with a copy of Candide by Voltaire. Ah, A-Levels.

So I left it alone.

When I got to university I asked friends who were studying English if they knew what it was. They blinked at me and muttered about The Faerie Queen and drank a few more pints.

So I left it alone.

One day while the Offspringses were older and studying and the Internet had been invented I searched on-line. But there was little to see and most of it was on UseNet which was a wild place not suited to discussing Anglo Saxon poetry.

So I left it alone.

When I was older I spent some time in another library, in a bigger town, while the Offspringses were in the children’s section, looking for Anglo Saxon poetry. But there wasn’t any still.

So I left it alone.

One day a friend mentioned the same poem and asked if I knew what it was, and I had to say I knew of it but not its name or date or even really its subject – beyond a battle, which wasn’t much help.

So I left it alone.

One day much later, when it was a new millennium and I was a little bored and Google had been invented I thought I would try again. The incredible thing is that even after all the years (probably around 35 years had passed by now) I still remembered the phrases and almost the spelling. And the other incredible thing is Google.

Google worked out I meant “hige sceal the heardre, heorte the cenre” when I typed in “hige sceal heorte” – that is one fine algorithm.

Google found the poem.

So I didn’t leave it alone.

I was able to read about it and to read the text in modern and Old English. I fell in love.

I found a study group of like-minded souls and have discovered more about this period of history and had incredible joy from sharing it and learning more about both the history and the language, the culture and the literature. I have met lovely people and been to brilliant events and read amazing books.

Yesterday I went to a course at the University of York on Icelandic and Norse sagas, which inter-relate to the Anglo Saxon period very tightly (Vikings, duh!), and learned how Skaldic Poetry is composed and fell in love again.

This little shoot of happiness has been growing and growing after long years fallow.

Sometimes we have to wait until the time is right.

Never forget your dreams. May the time be right for yours soon.

Namaste.

 

 

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When you know it’s time to go.

My dears, I was pointed to this blog recently and wanted to share it with you. I had to give up as School Governor last year, and my experience was not dissimilar to this writer’s – although obviously I was only involved for a shorter time (9 years in fact), and not as a classroom practitioner.
I cannot say how the current national approach to teaching hurts. I prefer not to get very political usually, beyond my bleeding liberal tendencies, but today I am in the mood.
Namaste.

Love Learning....

I’m leaving my job. Not right away – I’d never leave children half way through an academic year – but I’ll be off in July. I think back to the post I wrote on teaching forever and I blush with the charge of hypocrisy, though, to be fair, after 22 years I think I’ve probably earned the right to say I did my bit. And hopefully I will continue to do more bits, but not again, I don’t think as a full time teacher in a school. So why? Well, it’s complicated.

It’s not because of the kids…

But they’re not easy. Last week one pushed me pretty hard and told me to fuck off. He’s vulnerable and floundering. We used restorative justice to talk through the situation and I got one of the most heartfelt apologies I’ve ever had. He beams at me in the corridor now. I’m not…

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The cruellest cut

This week’s Prompt for the Promptless from your friendly neighbourhood dinosaur, Rarasaur, is on the subject of Remaking.

To remake is to make anew or in a different form.

“Remake?” I thought. “That’s the problem with people today – they just keep remaking things instead of making up their own stuff. Leave my damn stuff alone and get your own! Boy bands. Bah, humbug.”

Then I had a cup of tea and calmed down.

As I sipped I remembered how I tried to remake myself once upon a time, in the flightiness of teenagery. I have been known by regular readers to mention that I have long hair and this is largely because (a) I had a crush on Mary Hopkin when I was six, and (b) my mother hated it and I still won’t give her the satisfaction of cutting it.

I have to confess that (b) is not strictly true. There was an occasion when I did cut it. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.

When I was a fat, bespectacled and generally bullied teenager I was still foolish enough to think I could change my life and find friends by changing how I looked.  It’s a common error, made all the time by vulnerable, insecure souls, and fed by the insatiable greed of the cosmetics and glamour industries. Magazines airbrush their photos, models wear unfeasibly skinny clothes, designers cater for a vanishingly tiny (in every way) proportion of the market. As a result the rest of us are left feeling fat, ugly and unloveable – unless we spend money on a miracle. Then we may be worthy of love. Those great big bullies just keep feeding us the lie and we keep trying to please them until either we grow out of it or we find someone who persuades us we have achieved it. When you are a teenager, those few years of self-doubt are a long and bitter lifetime. Or perhaps it was just me.

Any road up, as we say in this part of the world, usually to tourists, I decided that I needed a makeover. Of course, that wasn’t how I thought of it because I don’t think the term had been invented in 1976. I just thought that I needed to make myself different, more acceptable, and that then I would be more popular. My mother, as I said, was always keen for me to have my hair cut and there had been a couple of incidents at school when one of the prefects had given me a hard time about it being too long and untidy, and threatened me with detention, which, unlike today,  was Very Serious Indeed. I was tired of all the nonsense and decided to be adventurous and win popularity.

I screwed up my courage and headed for the hairdresser. My mother arranged for me to see the man she liked to cut her hair, and who was known locally as an excellent hairdresser. I have to say that he was as camp as a seventies sitcom, and made Quentin Crisp look like Bear Grylls on testosterone. He walked, as a friend once remarked, very light on his feet.

Whatever his personal inclinations he was said to be a fantastic hairdresser. I had not been to a hairdresser since I was about 10, when my mother had my hair permed and it was a disaster. I simply refused and even then she could not make me. Do you remember when you first found out that your parents can’t actually make you do things? I think that was it for me.

I sat in the swivelly chair, already feeling unstable, and not reassured by its tendency to twist beneath me. Suppose it twisted as he was cutting? I’d look like David Bowie! Well, I’d look like a fatter, short-sighted, female David Bowie, but less hip. We’re all less hip than David, of course, but I was even less hip than other people, more Laughing Gnome than Ziggy Stardust.

“What do you want doing with this?” he asked, giving my hair that kind of sneer only the best hairdressers can muster.

“I would like it cut shorter,” I said.

“What style?”

I had no idea.

“Just make it look good,” I muttered gracelessly.

He wittered on about stuff I didn’t understand and I nodded and said “OK” in that sullen teenage sulk that comes from bewilderment and confusion and lack of confidence. He cut away, first removing my glasses so they didn’t catch on the scissors. I was blind.

At the end he gave me the glasses back and I was revealed in full horror. The haircut made me look like a Bay City Roller but more boy-ish. It may have looked fine until I donned the Deirdres, but with those on my nose I was a bona fide monster.

I was numb with shock. I paid and left, hurried home and cried for an hour. My mother arrived home from work, and ran upstairs eager to see my beautiful new hair. By now I was not only freakishly-haired, but red and blotchy and snivelling. No mother can be expected to react well to that. She didn’t. She cried too and kept telling me not to worry.

What did she know? I had to go to school next day.

And the day after.

And the day after that.

It took years to grow out. It’s still not quite back to full length in my wedding photos, seven years later.

So much for remaking my image. It may be at such times you find out who your real friends are. I already knew that, so it told me nothing except that hairdressers were a waste of money and indulged in child abuse for cash. I didn’t go back to one regularly for over 30 years. Even now when she suggests, tentatively, longingly, resignedly, that perhaps I might like to cut it short for a change, I shudder and say no. She sighs a little in sorrow, and trims it beautifully but still calls me one of “her ladies.” Finally I am accepted.

Namaste.

 

The Incredible Shrinking Man

When I was little I had one of those candlewick bedspreads. It was pink, obviously, because I am of the chromosomally advantaged gender. I liked to pick out bits of fluff from the pattern to make new patterns so after a while it looked pretty manky.

The other thing I liked to do was pretend the rows of fluff were paths or rivers and that the bedspread was a tiny country with tiny people I could imagine living in the countryside or towns. I would bend my knees to make mountains and marched an army to the top and back down, like the Grand Old Duke of York. That’s what soldiers were for, of course, marching up and down in peacock displays or else meeting mysterious old women by the road and obtaining magic tinder boxes and finding treasure. Otherwise soldiers were pretty useless and just part of the decoration.

The tiny bedspread world was less the result of a god complex than a rather over-active imagination from being read too many stories about cheerful ladybirds or adventurous ants.

When I was slightly older, my friend and I played wild games where the Earth was a living being and we were involved in all kinds of exotic adventures trying to put out forest fires or stop men in suits from building dams or destroying wildlife. Mother Earth would tell us about dolphins needing help somewhere and off we would go to help them. I suspect a teacher had tried to explain the Gaia Hypothesis to us before we were quite ready for it, so we interpreted it in a way that worked for us and rampaged about the playing fields and the riverside, getting muddy and breathless and feeling virtuous for saving the planet.

Meanwhile the miniature worlds I created started to turn into stories for Composition class or more complex games with models made from lego or plasticine (or sometimes, rather messily, both).

My dears, I am sharing this rather bizarre set of memories because they seem to have come to a point recently, as if Life has been leading me here. I know, I‘m a bit slow on the uptake. Bear with a poor old lady.

As I grew older still I discovered fractals. To be fair what actually happened was the kind of odd process by which children often obtain precious knowledge. I watched TV.

My teacher at school had recommended that I watch “Star Trek”. He was officially the Best Teacher Ever and I have written about him before. However, among his many fine qualities was his ability to work out what would inspire a child. For me he chose “Star Trek”. He was so right. I may regale you with my own personal mission to boldly split infinitives one day, but not today. Suffice it to say, I was a science fiction enthusiast for life.

So when good old Auntie Beeb decided to run a series of classic science fiction films later that year I was glued to the television. One of those films was “The Incredible Shrinking Man” and at the end of the film, where the eponymous hero shrinks to a sub-atomic level, I was introduced to the concept of cellular structures replicating macro structures. A cell is a tiny galaxy. Our galaxy might be a tiny cell.

My mind officially exploded. I went to talk to my teacher the next day and he started showing me fractals. Bear in mind I was only about ten at this point, so understanding was limited. What I understood was that the small bits of the universe replicated the big bits, potentially endlessly, like two mirrors reflecting each other.

I imagined the Incredible Shrinking Man falling forever through galaxy after galaxy, seeing civilisations rush past him, appearing as a massive cosmic cloud and reducing to human size over the years and finally dropping down into the next cycle of galaxies. It felt sad and lonely and exciting and thrilling all at once. My imagination kicked into overdrive again.

I also listened to music on the radio (or “wireless” as it was then) and heard all the hippy tunes, including, memorably, “Woodstock” –

We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon…

So I grew up with the firm and clear perception that we were part of the universe not only psychologically and spiritually but also physically. We were all made up from the matter that created stars, and we dissolved back to star-matter after we died. We were immense and tiny all at once, containing cells containing galaxies containing cells….

I never doubted it, I never questioned it. I read about Mandelbrot when I was a teenager, and carried on reading science fiction, exploding my mind again and again with new possibilities.

Now I have started to try to meditate this truth becomes yet more self evident. I can see this erratic, stumbling, drunken meandering from childhood to middle age has led me to an inescapable conclusion.

We are everything and nothing, enormous and tiny, mortal and eternal.

We are legion.

We are one.

Namaste.

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls

Rarasaur has suggested (and who am I to disagree?) that in our unending quest to find reasons to blog, we might do worse than to think on the theme of wabi-sabi. For more details of her prompts for the promptless, read her post. As I have been caught up with work, I am utterly un-prompt in my response. Nevertheless, better late than never, as Grandma used to say.

Wabi-sabi is the beauty of the imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is the beauty of things unconventional and modest.  It’s not just a style of art, it’s a world view.

I read the definition Rara thoughtfully provided, and immediately a poem popped into my addled brain. Honestly, I seem to go on about poetry all the time, which is very strange because while I enjoy it, I rarely read any poetry these days. I am beginning to wonder if my brain is trying to tell me something. Either that or the microwaves from the aliens’ Mothership are hooked on Rhyme and Reason. Well, why not? I expect they came to our planet to enjoy the culture, and they could do worse than school poetry books.

Which poem, EBL? you prompt your promptless correspoondent.

Oh, yes, my dears, that.

It was Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Pied beauty”. GMH was a Victorian poet, but his style was quite new and different so although this poem was written in 1877 it wasn’t published until after the Great War more than 40 years later. I think that is fitting; the poem is about finding beauty in unconventional places and things, and so too I find beauty in his unconventional style. It just took publishers a while to catch up.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

There are some gorgeous images in there. “Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls” – isn’t that just the most perfect way to describe those leaves in autumn as they drop from the trees to make bright, crunchy piles on the path for us to run through? I don’t know why that is so much fun, but it just is.

Even thinking about it makes me feel better. I’m not sure if it’s exactly wabi-sabi, but who cares?

Scuffle leaves with me and feel the love!

Namaste.

The Spirit of Willy Woodthorpe

19890611Ashford Woodthorpe Road School5Recently the daily prompt at WordPress asked me to write a memorial to part of my childhood that had been destroyed.

It’s not fashionable to admit liking school. Sometimes anti-intellectualism goes too far, and so I am here to tell you that school was happy for some of us, at least some of the time.  My secondary school was horrible, but primary – well, I lived in heaven for several years, my dears. I told you about one of my teachers there the other day. The fantastic Mr B.

It wasn’t just Mr B though; it was the school itself. It wasn’t Hogwarts (if Hogwarts ever had a prep school, which it didn’t, but never mind), with Houses and homework and ghosts – although allegedly there was a ghost in our classroom. I think Mr B made him up, but you can’t be too careful about these things. The ghost lived in the roofspace over our classroom; you see that big arched window in the main building? That was our classroom, and Willy Woodthorpe, the ghost, lived above it.  At the end of the day, when we were getting giddy, Mr B would sit us down and play his version of Sleeping Lions. We had to sit at our desks and not smile or giggle. Meanwhile he stalked among us, telling us about Willy Woodthorpe and making silly faces and noises until we cracked. The last one to laugh won.

When I say the school was special, I don’t mean the teachers, although most of them were fabulous. Except the one who threw the blackboard wiper at your head if she got cross. She was not fabulous at all. She was the threat we held over annoying kids.

“I’ll tell Miss Scary!”

That wasn’t her real name of course, although it was how we thought of her. I doubt she meant to be scary, but she did get quite angry quite often. She used crutches because she had had polio as a child, and so she was not very mobile. I suspect the throwing was compensation for a clip round the ear, which other teachers might have adopted.

Anyway, not the teachers. The school itself, the bricks and mortar and crumbly, fading glory of it that you could pick out of the cracks with prying fingers when you were bored.

It was typical of many schools of that age – high windows and ceilings, resulting in cold rooms with grumbling, clunky radiators fighting a losing, cantankerous battle, and a polished wooden floor in the main hall where we went to sing hymns and do gym (not at the same time). The stage had library shelves at the back which you were allowed to use once you were good enough at reading. It was brilliant. There were books about astronauts and dinosaurs and volcanoes, although sadly not all in one stupendous volume.

The playground had lots of nooks and crannies, because the building was so fractal on the edges. It was a bit like Slartibartfast’s fjords, lovely and crinkly, providing a baroque feel. By unspoken agreement, different year groups inhabited different areas. Once we were in the final year we took over the space outside our classroom and held manic conker competitions and pretended to be daleks and had fights and long, soul searching discussions on the benches (because it was almost, but not quite, time for puberty).

During playtimes we might see our mums going past on their way back from shopping in town, which meant we had to be reasonably well-behaved otherwise we would be in trouble at home time. There was a rain shelter (you can just see the edge of it on the left hand side of the photo; it’s the square brick wall poking in behind the railings) which only held about half the school complement on days it was wet, so the smaller children tended to steam slightly if they sat near a radiator on a wet afternoon. We always went outside at break, without exception. Blue knees were pretty common because the girls all had short skirts and the boys all had short trousers; the science class on circulation of the blood made complete sense once you had examined your mottled knees and realised your life was being sucked from you by vampire winds. Our mums knitted balaclavas to keep our ears warm, but knees were left to fend for themselves.

I suppose the school was hard to heat, although the kitchens cooked us hot dinners every day so it felt warm in the hall itself. The only way in and around was up and down stairs, which were problematic if you had difficulty walking, like Miss Scary, or like the boy in our year who had cerebral palsy. He took forever to get up to the classroom. At the time we just waited because that was how long he took, although some of the boys called him names when the teachers weren’t around.

The downside to this suburban idyll was the toilets. When I say toilets, don’t be fooled into imaging pristine water closets with working flush mechanisms and gleaming porcelain. This was the 1960s. They were in special blocks the other side of the playground, and they were unspeakably horrible. I suspect most of us, if we learned nothing else, learned top quality bladder control because really anything was preferable to having to use them. It was a wonder we didn’t all catch cholera, although if we had I expect we would still have had to go to school. You needed a cast iron excuse to be off sick, such as death, and even then only if your mum wrote a note.

Most of us were happy there. Most of us learned to read and write and add up enough to get by.

I also saw the first man walk on the moon one summer day, and discovered that not everyone speaks English when a couple of Chinese children arrived (no one actually explained but I suspect they were refugees). I had my first crush on an actual boy, won another boy’s best conker in a fluke attack, and did handstands against the toilet block walls with the other girls. I made a model of an archaeopteryx which hung for the rest of term from the classroom ceiling.

Admittedly I also learned some unsavoury lessons, such as: if I hit the boy who teased me, he got in trouble for teasing a girl, and no one believed I had hit him. He learned the game wasn’t worth the candle and left me and my friends alone afterwards.

Eventually the council got fed up with the crumbly old building and hazardous toilets. They sold it to the Salvation Army and this is what is there now.

But the spirit of Willy Woodthorpe lives on, and, to paraphrase appallingly, you can’t take my school from me. Cue fiddles!

Take my love, take my land

Take me where I cannot stand

I don’t care, I’m still free

You can’t take the sky my school from me.

 

Take me out to the black

Tell them I ain’t comin’ back

Burn the land and boil the sea

You can’t take the sky my school from me.

Know my school and you know me.

Namaste

 

Best. Teacher. Ever.

A recent daily prompt asked me (yes, me, personally) to write about a teacher who had a strong influence on me. I wrote about our French teacher from Hell yesterday before I saw the prompt, which coincidence amused me. I am easily amused.

Teachers have had a massive influence on my life, for good or bad; I am sure this is true of many people because many people spend a lot of time in their formative years with teachers. In his younger days, Sigoth was a primary school teacher and the children loved him very much, He is still in contact with some of them, over 20 years later, having seen them grow from barely more than toddlers to graduates and working adults.

I had a teacher like that too. Lots of my teachers were frightening; they thought that was how you managed children, poor things, or they enjoyed it, even more poor things. Imagine finding happiness by scaring little kids – how sad is that! Either way, I had one teacher who just loved teaching us and found great things to show us and teach us about.

The most important lesson he gave me was when he got the better readers in the class to sit with the slower readers and work through their books. Can you guess which I was? EBL: you can say many things about her, but not that she is slow with a book.

I sat with a boy who was virtually illiterate. The first thing he asked me was how to spell “phlegm”. I had no idea and supposed he wanted to write something rude, but I had a go and got it wrong. He was absolutely delighted to tell me the correct spelling and our teacher agreed he was right. I looked at the boy with fresh eyes and then we worked through his book.

I’m sure you can guess what had happened. Mr B, the teacher in question, explained it to me later so that I didn’t feel too bad (the lad had not been very gracious!). It wasn’t a fluke or chance that he got the spelling right, he had been primed by Mr B so he could show me he knew something I didn’t. That he could learn, if someone spent the time to teach him. That he was not, in fact, stupid.

Well, it worked. The boy felt better (and I hope he isn’t reading this! If so, know this: the respect stands), and I learned a lesson about hubris, which I can also spell.

One of the best lessons we had with Mr B was following an “incident” at school. Someone, someone you see, had been writing on the outside walls a very rude word. We didn’t know about graffiti back then, because it was the 1960s and English suburbia. Mr B got a boy to admit it (it might even have been our hero of the earlier story, in fact – hence my readiness to believe he might want to write “phlegm” somewhere). Then Mr B told him it was a bad thing to do, and paused.

“The thing that really upsets me,” he said, clearly upset because he was a bit red and huffy, “is that you spelled it wrong. It has a C in it. It’s actually an old Anglo-Saxon word for having sex. If you are going to do this kind of thing, at least make sure you know how to spell it and know what the word means. Swear words aren’t just swear words. They mean something.”

You could hear the jaws of 35 kids hitting the desks.

There was no more graffiti.

I kept in touch with Mr B after moving on to the school from hell. It was him that made my parents enter me for the scholarship. He told them that if I went to the comprehensive down the road I would be so bored by the time I was 12 that I would be in prison by the age of 14. I think he may have been right. He knew me well; I get destructive when I am bored. He wouldn’t have known how awful the teachers were or how soul-destroying the school could be. Even if he had, it was still better than the alternative. I won my scholarship and went to the posh kids’ school where I was bullied by some children and some teachers, but also had a chance to learn all the fancy stuff I love. Thanks to him I kept out of prison and went to university instead; my parents would not have put me in for the scholarship without his intervention. They did so because they liked him and trusted his judgment too.

So Mr B kept in touch and even came to my wedding. He was a lovely man and we often slipped up and called him “Dad” instead of “Sir”. He loved taking us all out for walks on the Common and bringing back pond water to look at under the microscope. He showed us how to make paper, and papier-mâché dinosaurs and how a candle went out in a bell jar because it needed oxygen. He taught us to respect the world and that we would lose the pandas and rhinos if we didn’t take care. He taught us to ask questions, and that knowledge was more important than tradition; he was incensed at a hymn we had to sing one day because none of us understood the words (“He who would valiant be”) – so we had a whole morning on what they meant and who John Bunyan was. We held trials in the classroom, where we had to play judge and jury, and prosecute or defend a moral argument.

He got in trouble for not teaching us traditional lessons, but we were the brightest class in the school.

He was inspiring and I have become unexpectedly emotional writing this. It was my privilege to have known him.

I hope you have all had the fortune to have known a teacher like him.

Namaste.