Jul 24 2015

On retiring

Category: Generalfootlight @ 09:17

It was inevitable, really, that something would be said about the fact that I am retiring. I have spent most of the last forty-three years at the ‘chalk face’ even when it turned into a ‘whiteboard face’ and then into an ‘interactive whiteboard face’. I have taught pupils between the ages of 5 and fifteen and pretty much every subject on the primary curriculum. Some I have felt comfortable with and others decidedly not; never mention year six geography … ever!

I began my career with ILEA – Inner London Education Authority – at a time when that was all there was in the capital. As a ‘rookie’ (NQT – Newly Qualified Teacher) I was put into a staff pool and assigned a school. I was very lucky – I was living in South London at the time and Battersea was not hard to get to. The school also had the advantage of being in the middle of a rejuvenation project, which meant that many of the houses had been knocked down ready to be rebuilt, leaving few families and, consequently, very small classes. My first year three class in an Inner London school, way back in 1973, consisted of sixteen pupils. Not many new teachers working in the State Sector could have boasted that then and certainly can’t now.

After a year I moved back home, as my flat mate married, leaving me driving across London from north to south. This went reasonably well for a year but, when I started to realise I couldn’t remember great chunks of the journey, I called time and contemplated a move nearer home. As it happened, the grammar school which I had attended had now turned comprehensive and suddenly had the need of what was then called ‘remedial’ teachers to support English and maths. I didn’t know this, of course, but cold-called my erstwhile head teacher and asked if she had a job for me. She did; teaching English Support to years 7-9 – I think she may have made that one up for me. A year later I was getting married. We were moving to the Midlands and I, regretfully, left that job. More posts were in the pipeline before I had the two kids.

Apart from a fourteen year span whilst we were bringing them up, I have known nothing but teaching. I have seen the inception of the National Curriculum, all its varies incarnations and the New National Curriculum, the most recent. I have gone from teaching what I felt like to being told what to do and having to write it all down first. I have worked with a plethora of heads and other colleagues, some of whom were amazing and others Hell Spawn. I have been euphoric and ground down but I have always loved the job. Seeing the change in seven-year-olds as they turn into human beings, or the realisation in a fifteen-year-old that you haven’t written her off because she can’t read.

September 2013 was the turning point. I found that, in spite of trying my damnedest to get some relaxation over the summer break, I woke up on the first day of the new term feeling almost as tired as the last day of the previous term. Things didn’t improve and, by the end of that academic year, I was wiped out. I came to a number of conclusions from this experience; I really wasn’t as young as I thought I was any more, I was working harder than I had ever done and my home life was being affected. Time to go. I managed to make it through the next three terms and was finally allowed to leave. I feel so sorry for my (ex) colleagues who must continue but this is right for me. I still love my colleagues to pieces. However, on September the first, the beginning of the new academic year, I plan to send them each a text with an attachment of a photo taken down the bed of my feet under the covers accompanied by the message ‘Still not up’.

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Apr 11 2015

Happy birthday, dear Daddy …!

Category: Generalfootlight @ 09:25

In an age when medical advances have made it possible to live longer and have better treatment than ever before, there can still be one thing to cope with – mental deterioration. There is no point in living to a hundred if you have no idea what day it is or who has just been to visit you. If you actually remember that someone has been to visit you. All too often, people I know have said that they feel awful for saying it but they wish their [relative] didn’t have to suffer like this any more. It is not, in most cases, the relative who is suffering at all; rather, it is the people who see them going downhill and cannot do anything about it.

Dad is still going strong, He turns 94 today and still knows exactly what is going on. His movement is more laboured and he repeats himself more times than a parrot with verbal diarrhoea, but he can hold a complicated conversation and knows exactly what he wants. And we are all grateful. We can forgive the fixations with things that we feel are insignificant. We can allow him his overindulgences at family get-togethers, on the back of “Don’t give me too much!” followed by a request for another helping. He is the most wonderful person and I think we can forgive him anything – probably.


If I manage to ward off the ravages of time and live to be a nonogenarian, I hope I have half the marbles that Dad has – and I know how to use them!

Happy birthday.

Aug 03 2014

When hunting dragons … especially for Keira and Fiona

Category: Generalfootlight @ 22:47

Everyone knows that dragons are secretive creatures. Ask anyone you know and very few, if any, will have seen one. They live out their lives avoiding people, mostly because people just want to kill or enslave them. Many – MANY – years ago, dragons were less afraid, but they learned from their mistakes and make a point, now, of keeping themselves to themselves.

If, therefore, you wish to find a dragon, there are a number of signs to look for and points to remember, the most important being this one:

Chapter 4 – Dragons are dangerous.
They eat most things and there are no documented cases of vegetarians. As dragons eat a variety of food – some eat cows, some eat fish … some eat people! – it is as well to know which one you are dealing with, should you actually find one at all. Since it is quite hard to get chatty with a dragon in order to ask about its eating habits, there is only one sure-fire way to find out if its preferred food is human. Poo. If you are ‘lucky’ enough to find some in the middle of a path between two lines of fern, get down and have a good sniff. Dragons that eat people leave an odour very much like old Brussel sprouts. Look carefully at the colour. If it is a dark brown with yellow flecks, that is another good clue. Is it in a neat pile? If so, you have clue number three. Last thing is the texture. The only way to find this out is – in the words of Ol’ Teagan McVain, the reknowned dragon hunter – “When coming suddenly upon the poo of a dragon, get yer fingers in and see what ‘e ‘ad for his dinns. Only this way will you know if you are likely to be on the menu in the future.”

The rest is up to you, but a strong pairs of legs is a good idea.

May 29 2014

Python lives!

Category: Generalfootlight @ 08:05

Visiting dad yesterday, I was privy to the last ten minutes of the weekly armchair exercise class, having popped out to run an errand for him. The very few residents who had chosen to attend had been arranged in a semi-circle and the ‘personal trainer’ (it was written on the back of her top, so it must be true) was engaging them in grip exercises using a tennis ball. She is very good, let it be said, and she never expects them to do anything they can’t or gets cross with them.

So – the session finished, they all said ‘bye-bye’ to her and the trolley arrived, complete with tea, coffee and French fancies, to rebuild them after the exertion. I lent a hand to pass them round and make sure that everyone could reach a table to put theirs down on.

Then the chat started. A lady who I had not seen before and may be a new arrival, began the conversation.

“That was good.”
“Yes – very good.”
“I can really feel it in backs of my arms.”
“And my legs. I can feel it in my legs.”
“Oh, yes – my legs as well.”
“Nice cup of tea,”
“Oh, yes. She [the warden] makes a nice cup of tea.”
“Yes, she does.”
“Peter’s not here tomorrow.”
“No, he’s gone away.”
“So there’s nothing in the afternoon?”
“But the hairdresser is here tomorrow morning.”

Sadly, as I was leaving, a call came to say that the haidresser would not be coming in the morning. I felt dreadfully sad for the ladies who were apparently looking forward to that so much.

I did suggest to dad that he entertain them in the afternoon (instead of Peter) with a medley of Frank Sinatra songs and he jumped at the prospect. Anyone have a karaoke CD?

May 06 2014

Ammonia in burgers – a Storm in a Bun

Category: GeneralDave @ 10:47

I recently saw a Facebook post which contained a link to an FB page called “The Mind Unleashed“. I haven’t actually looked at the page itself as this image from it was more than enough:

Anti-MacDonalds poster

Later in the same post, there was a reference to “Hamburger Chef Jamie Oliver Proves McDonalds Meat has Ammonium Hydroxide”

First of all, Jamie Oliver is not a “Hamburger Chef”!!

All in all, this is another example of taking the facts and then bending them to fit your agenda. The news is about four years old, so why resurrect it now? It applies only to the US (YMMV in other countries) and the correct figure was 15%, not 85%, for two reasons: a) the FDA only allows 15% (but of course, that may not have been being enforced) but, more importantly, b) if it had been 85% it would have been really, really obvious! And… the burgers would have been obnoxious. 85% pink slime – think about it 🙂

Now for the usual links to cancer.

Ammonium hydroxide is simply ammonia dissolved in water. It is, for all practical purposes here, the same thing. perhaps they use the long name as it sounds more frightening. Most people are familiar with ammonia – it’s used in all sorts of household cleaners – but would probably not be so sure about ammonium hydroxide.

That some meat is processed using ammonia is unquestioned. It’s used basically to kill bacteria. So, one has to ask this: if MacDonalds et al have stopped using ammonia for this, what are they now using instead? And is the replacement substance dangerous? They are. allegedly, no longer using pink slime but there is no guarantee they don’t use it to treat other meat.

Ammonia boils at around 33C, so cooking the meat will drive virtually all of it off. Some of the remainder (if any) will be leached away by the fluids that run out/boil out of the meat during cooking. So:

  • What concentration actually remains in a cooked burger?
  • Is what remains actually a problem?
  • Does a cooked burger actually have *any* NH3 still in it? I doubt it but would like to see the results of independent tests.

And if there was a tiny amount remaining in the meat…

Below a certain concentration, ingested ammonia would be neutralised instantly by the hydrochloric acid in your stomach (NH3 + HCl -> NH3Cl). and would produce ammonium chloride. Ammonium chloride in small amounts is harmless and is used in a number of foods & drinks… and not just by big corporations: sal ammoniac (an old name for it) is used in some traditional Indian cookery. Your stomach contains between 20 and 100ml of quite strong hydrochloric acid, so you’d have to drink that much strong ammonia solution *just to neutralise that acid* before ammonia could have any effect whatsoever.

And so, the claim that ammonia in burgers causes stomach or intestinal cancer strikes me as bullshit: you’d have to consume so much actual ammonia that you’d burn out your gullet first. OK, so maybe several thousand burgers a week would do it…

My gut reaction (sorry) is that “pink slime” was and is a Bad Idea, although I don’t know of any proper studies that show it to be a health hazard. However, using pseudo-science to fight corporate greed is a bad idea: once the nonsense is exposed, it backfires and will tar a whole campaign as being nonsense. The truth is powerful enough and doesn’t need that kind of “help”. Stick to the facts and you can’t be called out on them.

Apr 07 2014

Dracula lives!

Category: Generalfootlight @ 12:45


Needing a routine blood test, I took myself off to the local phlebotomy department at our nearby hospital. The department has recently moved into a brighter, more efficient part of the hospital, with cosy voices calling your ticket number, swapping from a man with a lilting Welsh accent to a woman speaking not quite BBC English. I assumed they have been deemed the most soothing to listen to. It would have to be that – I felt really sorry for the poor girl on the reception desk!

After half an hour – not long really, given that there were six cubicles and around a hundred patients waiting – my number was called (by the nice Welshman). I stepped into cubicle 6 and was greeted by a young nurse who was obviously nursing a cold (see that?). “Poor thing”, was my first thought. “Breathe in the other direction”, was my second.

On this particular occasion, I only needed a small amount of blood taken, so I was expecting a quick ‘in and out’. Silly me! First, she couldn’t find a decent vein in the preferred arm – the left. Eventually, she found a reasonable looking one and gathered the equipment, having asked me if I had drunk water this morning and suggesting that two giant mugs of tea wasn’t quite the same thing. Nope, says she, not coming out. Not until she removed the needle, that is, at which point it bubbled like a good’un. One piece of lint and a plaster later, she was into the other arm and this went smoothly. The second lint and plaster clearly wasn’t interested because it came off as I rolled my sleeve back down. Number three. The poor nurse must have apologised to me half a dozen times fore the various mishaps, most of which weren’t even her fault!

Not an awful experience, as these things go.

Mar 02 2014

A balancing act worthy of a Command Performance!

Category: Generalfootlight @ 13:25

In January, one of my resolutions – which I have, remarkably, stuck to with great … well…resolve – was to adjust my work/life balance so that I do actually have a life. In order to achieve this, I revamped my medium term planning to include all the headings that are expected in a daily lesson plan and printed a set off. These went into an lever arch folder with a simple piece of lined paper beside each sheet. On this, I am writing my lesson evaluations, notes on children’s progress (or not) and any other notes I feel are relevant. These will inform ME for future lessons, but they will also show anyone moderating my plans that I am thinking in depth about what I am doing. Another box ticked.

The secondary – or primary, in this case – effect is that I have had my weekends back for two, whole months. No longer am I spending hours copying and pasting from one document to another, so that I now have two copies of ewxactly the same thing, just in two different formats. It means that my medium term plans are more involved and precise than before but once it’s done, it’s done.

It is a failing or a strength in my family – depending on how you look at it – that if we do a job, we put everything into it. A job half done isn’t worth the effort. I have done this all my life and will now be drifting towards retirement, in the next year or so, confident that I will arrive sleek and in control, not frazzled and gibbering.

Just the end of year production to go, then.

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Feb 21 2014

Disappointment should be expected

Category: Generalfootlight @ 15:47

I first went to the Horniman Museum as a small child. My dad and mum were always taking me – and then ‘us’, when my sister was born – to places of interest. Museums, parks, country houses, art galleries, London’s tourist attractions – we were exposed to every form of culture available at the time.Some of it stuck, some of it didn’t, but at least we were given the chance to choose what we liked and what we didn’t. Back then, the Horniman was a fusty, old dark place, full of stuffed animals and dingy hidden corners. I loved it, though, as it was so different from my everyday life.

So I decided to reccie for a school visit next academic year, as it will have changed dramatically in the years since I was last there. I was not wrong.

Firstly, I had chosen to go during half term week, which was unavoidable as I can’t go during the week in term time. Consequently, the place was teeming with children, each adult appearing to have more than their fair share – I’m guessing they were taking some for people who had to work. There was at least one pushchair per group and none of the ‘pushers’ would have gained a licence if they were giving them away! The museum now has considerably more floor area and is on three floors, but this did not seem to alter the fact that I felt as though I was running the gauntlet just to get from one side of a room to the other. There was a lot of ‘stuff’ (I apologise to my colleague, who would know who she is if she ever managed to read this) which was displayed in huge, glass cases in every room. The museum possesses a massive musical instrument collection, also behind glass. The African room is packed with scary masks and headdresses and the old part of the building – the one I remember – is still full of stuffed (mostly extint) animals.

The teacher in me was sorely disappointed.
1. In order to speak to the Education Officer, I would have had to queue up for the ticket office to ask to speak to her/him – even though I didn’t want a ticket. The queue was incredibly long when I arrived and no better when I was about to leave. I didn’t bother. I was given this information by a young man at the door who had a walkie-talkie but was apparently unable to contact people with it,
2, There were no gallery specific leaflets – not even for ready money.
3. There was no museum guide. Anywhere. I asked.
4. A school party would be able to enter the special exhibitions for a reduced price, but it wasn’t possible to book online or over the phone. It had to be done on the day, at the ticket office.

I really want to take some kids for a story-telling workshop but I’m not at all sure I would be able to book it without a lot of hassle. I will try because it looks good and because the devil in me wants to be able to complain when something goes wrong. Am I a bad person?

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Feb 17 2014

On your doorstep – is too damned close!

Category: Generalfootlight @ 19:42

An innocent and generous thought. Pop to Sainsbury’s to get some decaffinated Earl Grey for the Hubby. Clean out and short of options for afternooon tea. The shopping trip went like a dream, in spite of the fact that I couldn’t see the product I wanted right under my nose. One assistant and some little embarrassment later and I’m on my way home.

As I drew up outside the house, before turning across the road in order to back on to the paved front, I notice that next door there are three people – two young men and A. N. Other who was hidden behind the others – apparently engaged in conversation. A gap appeared in the traffic and I swung across the road, then backed onto the paved area we use as parking. In the seconds that it took to do this, the ‘conversation’ had turned into what looked like play fighting and, by the time I had put the handbrake on, it was clear that there was no playing involved. One of the young lads had a knife. Without turning off the engine, I had already decided that I would stay put, lock the doors and call the police from the safety of my vehicle. This was not necessary, as it turned out. The victim had wrestled the knife from his assailant, who ran off immediately. I felt able to get out of the car and ask if my neighbour was OK. He asked me to call an ambulance.

As it turned out, someone in the house had already called the police and the ambulance but I waited around to see if I could be of further help. I gave a brief statement but expect to be seeing a policeman sometime later on as well.

At this point – an hour and a half later – their house is still taped off as a crime scene and the SOCO van is parked outside.

It was strange. The first thing Hubby asked was whether I was alright. I replied that I was fine and unhurt. He hadn’t meant that. He had meant was I ‘alright’. It was, after all, quite a horrible experience, to have witnessed a knife attack. But it was next door. These things don’t happen next door.

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Jan 26 2014

Work/life balance

Category: Generalfootlight @ 13:40

Trying a new method of using my lesson plans which does NOT involve working for half the weekend. Instead, last Saturday, I was able to have a lie-in, make a leisurely breakfast and prepare the evening meal well ahead, whilst Hubby and Daughter were doing the big grocery shop. I had some down time and a relaxing evening in front of the box.

In the morning, after a delicious breakfast of asparagus omelette (provided by Hubby) and fresh bread (provided by the machine), Daughter turned into my personal shopper – again – and we went to M&S to spend the Christmas vouchers from my class. Leisurely lunch on our return – at lunchtime! – and more chilling out. Now at the tail end of cooking for tonight (spaghetti bolognaise for them, chicken for me), whilst Daughter makes the vegetable curry for tomorrow’s dinner … and several more meals, I suspect!

We’ve started, again, planning a menu and it makes such a difference. We know all week what we are going to have and who will be cooking it, which helps to distribute the load, as we all work.

I returned to work on the Monday refreshed and ready to make a difference!

Happened again this week. Looking good!

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