Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Work 2

I'm always interested that very few of the bloggers I read tend to write about their work. Some appear not to have paid employment - (I do keep recommending that my children marry money. They pay no attention). Some are retired. And then there's Thimbleanna, who works more or less full time but also creates beautiful things eight days a week and reads and comments on a million blogs. I think I've worked out how, though. She's twins. Ha ha! - rumbled you at last, Anna.

But many bloggers, though they give the impression that they have jobs, seldom say anything about these.

Is it because you don't want to get the sack, I wonder? Or do you not want to think about your work in your leisure time? Are you being deliberately mysterious? - not that there's anything wrong with that. (My name is not Isabelle, or at least my first name isn't. )

For all my complaining I do find my job endlessly interesting. My colleagues are good fun, the students are usually lovely and it's nice to have so much to do with beautiful young people when you're 59. Much of my work is connected with words and stories and I'm very fond of both of these. In many ways I'm very fortunate. And we do have great holidays. I occasionally wonder if life will seem a bit empty without all this. Life will be one long holiday; will I miss the heady joy of the last day of the session?

Philip Larkin wrote another poem about work called "Toads Revisited", in which he thought about retirement:

Walking around in the park
Should feel better than work;
The lake, the sunshine,
The grass to lie on...

And then he wondered if in fact he'd miss having something definite to do, with status and an in-tray, and decided to keep on working:

When the lights come on at four
At the end of another year
Give me your arm, old toad,
Help me down Cemetery Road.

Such a cheery chap, he was. In fact he died before he got to retirement, so he was right.

I would - will - miss a lot about work. The students, the colleagues, the feeling of usefulness. But I think I'd cope.

What does your work mean to you? Apart from money?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Work 1

Thank you, kind commenters. I am now able to post this picture of Daughter 2 and Sirius having a little nap. They are both talented nappers, though Daughter 2 is sometimes very busy. Unlike Sirius.

Philip Larkin, the curmudgeonly English poet who died in 1985, wrote a poem called “Toad” in which he complained about having to work. It begins

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

He was latterly the head librarian of Hull University. My job isn’t nearly so elevated but at this stage of term, work for me is all-consuming. Classes are big, students are being diligent with homework and we have to create schedules of relevant work for them. I teach some straight English, but also teach Communication – practical English – to students of computing, hairdressing, film, art and so on. When I say “relevant” I mean that I have to find reading material and writing tasks suitable for the subjects they’re studying. I never stop for lunch and always spend coffee breaks answering emails and phone calls.

I don’t mind this; I do actually like my work. But what I don’t like is doing it in the evenings and weekends. Yesterday was an Edinburgh holiday and I spent most of it working. Marking is the worst. That’s when my job seems like that warty toad, crouching heavily on my back and sucking my life away.

(Still, there are compensations such as this essay, beginning: To me the British monarchy is an embolism of disrespect and tertiary power.)

Some day soon I hope to be back commenting on your blogs.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Communication failure

Is it just me and my computer or is anyone else finding that they can't add pictures to their blog posts? Everything on the picture-adding screen is very pale and especially the "Cancel" and "Upload Image" squares, which aren't clickable. I found this last night and thought that Blogger was just having an off day, but it's still the same. Any solutions?

My colleague Joyce's son, Stephen, works part-time as a temp for the BBC, in Radio 1 - he has done this for some time and hopes to make radio his career. He phoned her on Thursday in a state of excitement and though it was a bad mobile phone line she was soon jumping around and squealing with equal or even greater excitement. After a while they had to terminate the call because it kept breaking up. "What was that all about?" I asked.

"Yesterday [famous presenter] gave him a lift home!" she beamed. "Maybe [famous presenter]'s going to be his mentor! Isn't that great? I'm so pleased for him!"

Then her phone beeped: a text.

It said: "I think you got the wrong end of the stick. I shared an elevator yesterday with [famous presenter]."

Oh well.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


It's been such a long time since I posted. I feel like a boxer - thrown against the ropes each day just to stagger back in time to face another. Teaching is such an all-consuming job, keeping people entertained and supplied with suitable handouts all day, every day. And then there's the marking.

The garden blooms on, unseen.
At the end of last session I decided that I would no longer teach an evening class in addition to my full-time job. Somehow I seem to be doing it again. There were no other volunteers. I do get paid extra for it and actually it's my favourite class. The marking is a killer, though. There are 29 people in the class - far too many - and if they all write something in class and also do their homework, that's 58 pieces of work to mark each week, just from this class. When you consider that each piece can take up to 15 minutes - well, it adds up. I just hope some of the students aren't too diligent.
So I teach till 9 o'clock on Tuesdays and I stayed at work on Thursday last week till 9 also, just to try to catch up a bit. And of course I bring work home too. Yes, I know: teaching's a part-time job. Ha.

Daughter 2 went down to London last week to see her actor boyfriend on The Plinth. British people will know about this - one plinth in Trafalgar Square hasn't got a statue on it, and the artist Antony Gormley has invited people to occupy it for one hour each, 24 hours a day for 100 days.
The actor boyfriend applied for, and was allocated, one of these hours. Unfortunately for him it was between 2 and 3 in the morning but astonishingly, about twenty of his friends were there to support him as he sang his own satirical songs and accompanied himself on the ukulele. Daughter 2 supplied the banner and lots of cupcakes for the spectators. I'm torn between thinking the whole thing is ridiculous and telling myself that he's young and this was a bit of an adventure. (And he has nothing much else to do because he's largely unemployed.)

As usual, last weekend was a rush, too. There was the usual dusting and tidying to do. Then Daughter 1 and her husband got home from holiday and came for a meal on Saturday. She turned 30 while they were away (what happened to that 30 years and how am I so old?) and so on Sunday they came for a birthday tea and we had a cake and sang to her.

"It's just as well we cycled over," said Son-in-Law, surveying the 30 candles burning away, "to offset that carbon footprint."

Our son came over again. I think we need to have a crisis or a birthday every weekend to bring him home. (The photo of him arriving is in the wrong order but life's not perfect.)

And then the week began again. Ten classes, each with 20 to 30 students I've never seen before, many of them called Kerry Ann or Carianne or Lee-ann or Lianne or some such confusingly similar name.

I plan to work for two more years. About 375 working days to go. I think that might be manageable.
Just about.

I apologise for any typos here. Normally I type in Word and then copy and paste but Blogger wouldn't paste tonight so, having spent ages doing the photos, I then had to retype it all on to the post. And now I must go and mark and then get up to my mother's house

Sunday, September 06, 2009

What did you do at the weekend?

On Monday mornings colleagues often ask what one did at the weekend.

Saturday morning – woke at my mother’s house, took her a cup of tea, set out to collect Daughter 1, Son-in-Law and their three guinea pigs plus assorted paraphernalia: Daughter 1 and her husband were going on holiday and the guinea pigs were to stay with us. Arrived at their house and waited while obsessive-compulsive SIL did his checks; then came back here so that he could to his satisfaction install the piggies ( who had more luggage than their owners) in our sitting room. (Not our only sitting room.) The cats sat outside the patio doors gazing through the glass with fascination.

Then Mr Life took Daughter 1 and SIL to the station and I brought my mum down here for coffee and a chat. She hadn’t been out since her funny turn on Monday. I took her home again and went for my library book and to put petrol in the car. When I got home, Daughter 2 met me at the door. “Come and see what we’ve found,” she said, and led me into the kitchen, where Son sat, on a surprise visit home. (He can do this now that he’s only in Glasgow rather than the distant town in the south-west.)

So that was lovely. We had lunch and then Daughter 2 had to go up town, Mr Life had to cut the hedge and Son and I went for a walk. When we returned, we tidied up the hedge-clippings and Son went up to collect my mum to bring her down for an evening meal.

Look - a conjoined twin strawberry and Daughter 2.
After that I took Mum home again – for her first night alone since her funny turn – and I organised Sunday lunch for the next day.

In the morning, we went to church and then had Mum back for lunch. Later, Son and Mr Life went on a boys’ outing to research sound systems while Daughter 2 and I went for a walk.

Daughter 2 has been making a banner on and off all weekend, also in the sitting room – more of this another time – and later went out to dinner with friends to watch the end-of-the-Festival fireworks from their window. Son went for a run and then he and Mr Life watched “ER” with the cats.

In the evening, Mr Life took Son to the station to get the train back to Glasgow and I am currently in the middle of speed-reading two books on the history of our church to write a summary of them for the church website. I can hear the thunder of fireworks in town a couple of miles away.

I had been thinking, by the way, that the comments on my blog had been getting a bit sparse. The solution: write a pathetic post, currying sympathy. Thank you so much for your good wishes to my mum. She seems more or less recovered, but still rather anxious about what happened and a bit wobbly. Tooth – hmm, not sure. Difficult students – didn’t appear. (Yes!)

And then it’s Monday again, back on the work treadmill.

What did you do at the weekend?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Not so good

Goodness me, it’s been an exhausting week and it’s only Wednesday.

On Monday, Daughter 2 phoned me at work to say that the doctor’s surgery had phoned her, telling her that my mother had been taken into hospital with a suspected stroke. She’d had a friend round for coffee and had suddenly been unable to speak coherently. The friend had phoned the doctor and the doctor had come and phoned for an ambulance. I rushed to the hospital to find Mum, thankfully, already much better

We were at the hospital all afternoon. The doctors thought that she’d suffered a mini-stroke. She had various tests, which were inconclusive except to show that that her blood pressure was very high (it always is) and one of the arteries in her neck is a bit narrowed. Eventually she was allowed home, but not before she’d developed a terrible headache, which led to suspicions that her symptoms suggested migraine and possibly not a mini-stroke at all. Which would obviously be better. But there isn't a test to prove it one way or the other.

Doctor Son came through from Glasgow after work, which was lovely because he has a very kind bedside manner and while he’s just a baby doctor, he actually knows quite a lot. Certainly more than us. Then Daughter 2 came up with roses and stayed to chat to her granny while I took Son home and we both had dinner. He also fitted in a bit of cat-time before going up for a final visit to Mum and then returning to Glasgow. (Sirius is such a soppy cat!)

Daughter 1 was meanwhile on her way to Bristol for a conference.

Mum is reasonably recovered now, but still slightly muddled – she's asked me the same question several times about her new medication, for example. And she’s tired and anxious – understandably. I’ve had to go back to work but have spent the nights at her house and phoned frequently throughout the day. We’re all worried. She’s 87 and very much aware of the implications of her health situation.

And oh dear, work! Our students are now back in college and teaching is tiring. And I have toothache, which really doesn’t help – I had to make an emergency appointment at the dentist for tomorrow. And I have two students in different classes who may be a bit difficult - though I haven’t met them yet. One was stroppy in a colleague’s class last year and both lecturer and student have refused to be together again this year. Granted, the lecturer is not the world’s most accommodating person. I just hope that the student is so pleased that I’m not the other teacher that I’ll start with an advantage. The other student has a very pushy and unpleasant father, so I’m told. Ho hum.

And today I was teaching Communication to a class of computing students. Often these students have remarkably poor keyboard skills – tapping away with two fingers. I was going round, looking at what they were writing and there was one student using only his right hand and I said…. and how I wish I’d engaged the brain before opening the mouth… words to the effect that he might find it easier if he used both hands. At which he raised his left sleeve, which dangled empty from the elbow…

Two more days to go to the weekend. I think I might just make it. Not quite sure.