Ruth’s Boat Adventure: Episode Three

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It’s been an interesting couple of weeks here on the Thames.

I always knew that it was a bit of a gamble to have a fairly stressful job and move on to a boat, and when I initially met the boat-mates they were very up-front with me about the challenges and potential for things to go wrong. However, for the first couple of weeks everything seemed to be going swimmingly (lets see how many water related puns I can include in this article 😉 ) and I was feeling pretty confident that I could manage the routines of living on the boat alongside fitting in all of my work when the new term started.

Unfortunately, and as Sod’s Law would dictate, it was around about the time I was getting ready to go back to school that things started to go wrong, and the past couple of weeks have been pretty challenging!

First there was Reading Festival. 40,000 people (possibly a slight exaggeration but that’s what it felt like, anyway) trudging past the boat along the half-finished tow path in their wellies-and-teeny-tiny-shorts combination to reach the campsite. Or queuing up for the festival ferries, which departed from the mooring next door, causing the boat to rock dramatically every time they sailed past. The towpath turned to sludge, and getting on and off the boat was treacherous! As the only one on the boat that weekend, I spent much of it darting suspicious glances out of the windows and trying not to think about the prospect that a drunken festival goer with a working knowledge of knots might untie our mooring ropes at 3am whilst I was asleep.

Then there was the WIFI (incidentally – for those of you who are interested in such things – there’s no phone line on a boat, so we have a 4G internet hub – not Wifi at all, strictly speaking), which broke just as I opened my laptop to commence lesson plans for the new term. Thankfully this one was easily solvable, as long as I didn’t mind paying for multiple cups of coffee in Cafe Nero, and is now fixed. Phew, I thought, everything will be fine now. Silly me.

After that there was the search for a new boat-mate. A real shame, as I was just getting to know my two fellow boat-dwellers (both of whom are lovely) and it was good to have two other more experienced tenants on board, but there we are. Some serious boat drama went down over the decision of who would be moving in and when, which I won’t bore you with. But basically, this has taught me that whilst letting agents might be a massive pain in the arse who charge far too much in fees, having a complete lack of any written contract outlining tenants rights and landlords responsibilities is also not a good option. Our new roommate moved in today (in fact, I came home unawares that he’d moved in and found him standing on the deck, which pretty much gave me a heart attack), and it feels very strange to be the one explaining to him how things work, having only been here a month!

And finally – finally – there was the water pump. It was broken, then it wasn’t, then it was broken again, then it was fixed, and now it’s broken again. The on-going saga of the water pump has been one of the most stressful elements of the past few weeks on the boat. Essentially, every time we switched it on it tripped the main fuse for the entire boat, which meant we couldn’t run it, so we had no water coming in. Like I said in my last article, all of our water is pumped in directly from the river, so if the pump breaks you’re in pretty big trouble – once your stock runs out there’s no washing up, no teeth cleaning, no showers, no nothing unless you’re willing to improvise with bottled water. Although I don’t usually think of myself as high maintenance, I’m really not a morning person, and I also have annoyingly fine hair which needs washing daily, so the prospect of having no water for a shower during my first week back teaching pretty much had me ready to run to spareroom.com and find somewhere else to live. Thankfully, after an emergency visit from the landlord, he established that the UV bulb (which kills bacteria in the water) has been damaged in some way and is tripping the fuse, so after unplugging that we can run the pump – but not drink the water. Hassle, but better than no water at all.

Problem solved, right? Wrong. First it started spewing out water every time we switched it on (luckily a super-easy fix – a loose cap on one of the pipes), and now the water pump runs for an hour and then stops completely for a reason nobody can work out. Our landlord is pretty good in a crisis and is sending someone to fix it tomorrow, so I’m quite confident (famous last words?) we won’t run out of water entirely, but like I said last time, i’ve become very conscious of conserving water.  We haven’t had a complete sense of humour failure just yet – instead we’ve created a new game out of it called ‘shower roulette’. It’s very simple: will there be enough water to rinse all your shampoo out or won’t there?
Needless to say, it’s been a pretty difficult couple of weeks. Whilst I’m still enjoying living on the boat, and I’m glad i’ve given myself the opportunity, i’ve definitely come to realise that you can’t guarantee the same kind of lifestyle as you get on land and I’m not sure whether it’s compatible with a job like teaching in the long term. Especially if you’re a massive stress-head like me. I guess that remains to be seen in the coming months.

…I still get to feed the ducks out of my window though 🙂

Over and out.

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Ruth’s Boat Adventure: Episode Two

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It’s been an eventful couple of weeks since I wrote my last/first blog post. I finally moved out of my house after lots of packing, cleaning, and a few arguments with letting agents, and am now getting to grips with life on the water full time. I’ve also been on holiday to Malta, which was lovely – a story for another time.

I was initially quite anxious about moving on full-time, as it seemed like there was a lot to learn about the practicalities of living on a boat which I didn’t yet know. My first night didn’t do much to allay my fears! Having successfully made myself a cup of tea earlier in the day, I ventured into the kitchen to make dinner only to discover that none of the electrics were working (except the lights, which baffled me even further). I panicked. How could I possibly have broken the boat already?! I checked the fuse box, I checked the battery percentage (87%), and anxiously sent out “Help!” text messages to my house(boat)mates. Thankfully one was on her way home anyway and was able to work out very quickly what was wrong. It transpired that the battery gauge was broken – a problem now fixed, thankfully – and had been cutting out all electrics except the lights below 90% rather than the 60% I’d been warned about. All I had to do was turn the generator on, and I could have fixed the problem within seconds.

The view from our boat :)

The view from our boat 🙂

I’ve been living here now for about a week full-time, and I’m finally starting to feel like I know how most of the systems on the boat work. I’ve got to grips with the generator, the water pump, the heating, the toilets, and have even become adept at removing very large spiders without screaming.  I’ve still got a few things to figure out – like making a fire when the weather gets a bit colder – but I’m definitely much less intimidated by the whole situation than I was before.

I also think it’s been really valuable for me to have to think about how much electricity and water I use on a daily basis. The water on the boat is pumped in directly from the river and then filtered so that it’s clean enough to drink and it takes a really long time to pump and filter enough to fill the whole tank. When I first moved in, the pump hadn’t been running much due to people being on holiday, so we were having to be extremely careful with water usage, and even now that the tank is fairly full, knowing how long it takes to pump water on to the boat stops you taking it for granted and makes you really conscious of how much water you’re using – how long you spend in the shower, how wasteful you are when doing the washing up, and how much water you really need to cook your broccoli 🙂

…And I still havent fallen in!

Ruth’s Boat Adventure: Episode One

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Hello! It’s been a long time, but I’m finally resurrecting my blog. Hopefully this will be the first post of many to come 🙂

The “Big News” in my life at the moment is that i’m moving house… which, as it’s the 8th time in 8 years wouldn’t be that interesting, except that this time i’m moving on to a houseboat on the river Thames. And as people I mention this to seem either baffled or fascinated by my decision, I thought I’d try writing about it. Here goes!

I wasn’t really sure what to expect, and to some extent I’m still not. Some context: It’s a Dutch Barge, which means it’s pretty big – 75ft long by 12 wide, approximately. There are three bedrooms, and it has most of the same stuff you’d find in a flat – wifi, washing machine, central heating, TV etc – with the added bonus that you can open the window straight on to the water and feed the ducks in your pyjamas.  I’ve had the keys for almost a week now, but I’m still in the process of moving in whilst we clear out our current house, and the main things i’ve learnt this week are these:

1. It’s really hard to move all your stuff in when the local council decides to dig up the tow path outside your new floating abode.

2. It’s even harder when you can’t park your car nearer than 250 metres away and across a busy main road and it’s pouring down with rain.

3. No matter how often I remind myself that there’s a low door frame on the boat’s main entrance, I will smack my head into it each and every time I leave the boat, probably until the day I move out. Ouch.

4. There’s a surprising amount of storage in my seemingly small room. The classic ‘cabin’ design means that i’ve got loads of extra storage underneath the bed, as well as around the room. Not only does it fit all of my precious books, but my ridiculous amount of clothes (according to my boyfriend, that is…) too. Bonus!

5. My landlord (owner of the tea barge on the opposite bank) does a great cooked breakfast and I already suspect this might become a weekend tradition.

Now that I’m mostly moved in, I’m looking forward to finally getting settled properly next week, and I’m sure I will have lots to learn about how everything works (water filters, anyone?). For now, though, I’m just pleased that I’ve not fallen in the river yet. Those of you that know me and my complete lack of co-ordination, balance and spatial awareness, I’m sure you’ll all agree that this is an impressive achievement!

I’m sure it’s only a matter of time…

Harry Potter is ruined forever, and here’s why.

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Sunday afternoon. Time to chill out, eat chocolate and lounge about in your pyjamas watching films. Except that, along with everything else that teaching has decided I’m not allowed (a social life, a decent amount of sleep, cheap holiday deals…), this weekend it has claimed yet another victim: Harry Potter.

More specifically, Hogwarts’ education provision. Or any film with a school in it. Possibly even any film with learning in it.

The reason is this: every time they showed a scene that took place during a lesson, I couldn’t help but look at it from a teacher’s perspective. Every time Hermione put her hand up to answer a question and was awarded 10 points to Gryffindor, my first thought was ‘Not much AfL going on there’. When poor Neville was strung from a chandelier by Cornish Pixies, all I thought was ‘No differentiation in that lesson’.  And it only got worse – once my brain had seized on this idea, it went wild thinking about all the things that Hogwarts would never get away with if it was a ‘normal’ school.

…And yes, I do realise I need to get out more.

Seriously though – they don’t even teach the core curriculum! No English and Maths?! What kind of school are they running? Ofsted would be straight in there, appointing an Executive Head and placing them in Special Measures; Dumbledore Schmumbledore. Ok, maybe there’s some science, but mostly it’s Chemistry with a bit of plant-related Biology thrown in. And although studying Physics would be slightly moot, as magic can get around most of the laws of Physics fairly easily (Wingardium Leviosa!), I’m sure it would have helped to at least have some idea about levers when trying to break through one of the many doors Harry&co encountered whilst running away from (or towards) various beasties. In fact, when you think about it, it’s remarkable that the Hogwarts students in general seem so highly literate despite never being taught how to read or write. As most of them went to “muggle” primary schools, I’m actually taking this point as a compliment to our state education system, which has clearly set them up for life – or at least to be able to write a 12 inch long essay without ever having learnt how to use a semi-colon.

And then there’s their grading system – all the way from O for ‘Outstanding’, right down to T for ‘Troll’. In a world where teachers are discouraged from using negative language (or even red pen in some schools, due to a fear of its negative and violent subtext) this would probably be dismissed as unencouraging and demotivating. Gosh, no – can’t have that! Better change it to T for “Tried your best” or T for “Terrific, except…”

Clearly Hogwarts needs to work on it’s uniform policy.

Not that it’s all bad. They do have a pretty solid ‘Behaviour for Learning’ system. I mean, it’s all there – the positive reinforcement, the consequences, and most importantly the consistency of approach. I would love to be a teacher at Hogwarts; sure kids occasionally try to destroy dark wizards without permission, but it’s rare that they answer their teachers back, forget to do their homework, refuse to do any work or throw missiles at each other across the room. Oh for that to be the case in all classrooms. They’ve got it good. Maybe all our schools need is a House System like theirs, with banquets and giant hour glasses and excessive peer pressure, to fix their behaviour management woes.

It actually occurred to me at this point that Hogwarts has many of the problems that may well result from Michael Gove’s current educational reforms – unqualified teachers, harsh end of year exams with no coursework, a focus on facts rather than skills (History of Magic anyone? Yawn.), and a curriculum with little in the way of arts or technology provision. Maybe an overzealous love of Harry Potter is in fact what Mr Gove is basing his reforms on. It would make sense, as it’s probably the closest he’s been to a classroom in about twenty years… But the reality of these reforms is what? The kids hate History of Magic and learn nothing from it, a lot of them buckle under the huge pressure of exams, and Neville gets strung from a chandelier due to the incompetence of an unqualified teacher.

Thinking about Gilderoy Lockhart led me (naturally!) to consider the Hogwarts’ recruitment strategy. Considering it’s a boarding school, you’d think Hogwarts would have a fairly stringent Child Protection policy in place. And yet, somehow, they end up hiring a guy with Voldemort on the back of his head, a Werewolf, a Death Eater in disguise, and a celebrity with questionable credentials. For a genius, you’d think Dumbledore would be better at reading people. And, what’s more, they get a job without even having set foot in a classroom? Rather different from the day long interview I had to endure to get a job in teaching.

Once you start, there are endless possible comparisons between modern teaching and the parallel universe occupied by Hogwarts (What about poor wizards or witches who can’t pay the fees? Why are there no extra-curricular activities? What about SEN / G&T? What would constitute a Pupil Premium wizard?), however, at this point I’m not sure I’ll have any friends (or sanity) left if I carry on, so I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. After all, it is a fiction. I’ll try to remember that next time…

 

Review: Once

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Having been one of the approximately 6 people who saw the film version of Once upon it’s release in 2007 [other than film critics], I was fairly sceptical when I found out they’d made a musical version of it. The film is brilliant, but pretty much built on understatement, subtle changes in facial expression and small, intimate moments – I couldn’t understand how they could possibly transfer this into the format of a traditional musical. For that very reason, this review is pretty late to the party – Once has been on the West End now for over a year –  but on hearing good things from friends and reviewers I decided to give it a go.

Overall, I’m still not completely convinced by the musical version of Once. Although it was a sensitive adaptation with a lot of great elements, I felt that it didn’t quite capture the mood of the film well enough to do it justice. The script was clever, but subtleties don’t work so well in a musical and on a lot of occasions I felt the female lead was overacting. I have no doubt that this was necessary in order for her to reach those at the very back of the audience, but for those of us in the stalls it seemed a bit hammed up for such a low key production. I suppose what I’m really saying here is that the show would probably be better in much smaller venue where the actors wouldn’t have to try so hard to convey emotions.

Undoubtedly, the main thing this musical has going for it is cracking songs – they’re all written by Glen Hansard and MarkĂŠta IrglovĂĄ, who starred in the original film, and ‘Falling Slowly’ even won Best Song at the 2007 Oscars – deservedly so. Well written, memorable and heartfelt, the songs of Once form the basis of the plot as well as the emotional heart of the musical, and even better is that they aren’t the usual cheesy belters you find in musicals. Instead, they offer something a bit different – think guitars rather than synths – which is in keeping with the mood of the show as a whole.

Along with the songs themselves, the way the music is ‘organised’ in this musical is brilliant. All of the musicians are on stage throughout the whole show, and between them form the chorus and secondary characters as well as providing scene changes, props and incidental music. Their ability to switch between these multiple roles with complete fluidity is really quite impressive, and at one point there was even a man dancing with a cello strapped to his chest, which is an automatic win in my book.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

That brings me nicely to one of the things about this musical that I didn’t enjoy so much – the weird interpretive-dance-style choreography. This isn’t the kind of show that really needs dancing at all, being pretty low key with mostly folk rock / indie musical numbers, but it felt like they’d been obliged to find a way to squeeze some in, resulting in some slightly bizarre hand-wavy moments a la Kate Bush. Despite being used sparingly, this did occasionally ruin a poignant musical moment as I tried not to giggle at (for example) the bank clerk’s slightly camp swirly hand motions, which I’m sure the show could have coped perfectly well without.

Another aspect of the show that was slightly clunky was the use of accents. A Czech accent is very difficult to do, and there were a fair amount of moments when the lead female’s accent just wasn’t strong enough to be convincing, either sounding Russian or vaguely American. What was a really nifty trick, however, was the use of scrolling text on a screen along the top of the bar, which displayed the Czech translation whenever the foreign characters were conversing amongst themselves on stage. This was a great way of reminding the audience (alongside the accents, of course) that they were only speaking in English for the sake of the English-speaking audience, without being too much of a distraction from the plot.

Despite it’s flaws, Once is definitely up there with some of the best of the West End at the moment. It’s unique, well written, with a great soundtrack and an array of interesting characters. Add to that some cracking pre-show entertainment, and you can’t go wrong – just don’t watch the film before you go!

 

 

Top Ten: Great Danes

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Evening blogosphere!

So, the big news in my life this week is that yesterday I booked a holiday to Copenhagen, and since I’m massively excited about it I thought I’d write a Denmark-themed blog post. Especially useful as after booking I realised that it’s a country I know very little about – other than it’s cold, they make bacon, and it’s near Sweden. It’s been a while since I’ve written a ‘top ten’, so here are my Top Ten Danes – enjoy 🙂

The Australians liked Denmark so much, they created their own.

The Australians liked Denmark so much, they created their own. Photo courtesy of BaroBert.

1. Hans Christian Anderson: writer of fairytales such as The Ugly Duckling and The LIttle Mermaid. If you don’t know who he is, I’m not sure you had a childhood.

2.  Jørn Utzon (1918–2008):  architect. This is the guy that designed the Sydney Opera House, one of the most recognisable buildings on the planet. And it’s a long way from Denmark.

3. Hamlet: Ok, he might be fictional, but he’s still one of the most famous Danes in the world. Telling the story of a Danish Prince struggling with his own sanity and the need to revenge his father’s death, this is Shakespeare’s longest play, and most-performed.

4. Niels Bohr:  A physicist who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922. His work in theoretical physics and quantum theory shed new light on atomic structure, and whilst some of his ideas have been overtaken, the principles behind them are still valid. During the Second World War he helped refugees in Denmark before fleeing to Britain and later becoming involved in the Manhattan Project. Later he called for international co-operation on nuclear power and helped set up CERN. On the whole, a pretty impressive bloke.

5. Ole Kirk Christiansen: All you need to know about this man is that he is responsible for the development and mass production of LEGO. ‘Nuff said.

Lego_Color_Bricks

LEGO! Photo courtesy of Alan Chia

6. Queen Margrethe II: She might be the current Queen of Denmark, but that hasn’t stopped her having multiple other careers. She’s fluent in 5 languages and has helped translate books, including Lord of the Rings. Her links with Tolkien don’t stop there, as she also provided illustrations for the Danish version of the book – she is a talented artist and holds regular exhibitions of her work. Not to mention that she designs clothing and has worked as a costume designer for ballet and film. As well as, y’know, being Queen and having to open hospitals and all.

7. Viggo Mortensen: Any man who plays Aragorn is alright in my book.

8. Poul Le Cour: Back in the 1890s, he developed wind turbines that could generate electricity. La Cour was the first to discover that fast rotating wind turbines with fewer rotor blades were the most efficient in generating electricity and in 1904 he founded the Society of Wind Electricians. Denmark now has the largest wind turbine in the world.

9. Bjorn Lomberg: Environmentalist, writer. Sometimes a controversial figure, Lomborg has campaigned against measures to cut carbon emissions in the short-term, and argued instead for spending money on research and development for longer-term environmental solutions. In 2008 he was named “one of the 50 people who could save the planet” by the UK Guardian, and in November 2001, Lomborg was selected “Global Leader for Tomorrow” by the World Economic Forum. Although there are those that disagree with his views as a “sceptical environmentalist”, nobody can deny that he has opened up the debate on climate change a great deal.

10. Nielsen: I couldn’t write a top ten without including a musician… Also a skilled conductor and violinist, Nielsen’s said to be Denmark’s greatest composer. He wrote 6 symphonies, an opera and a large collection of chamber works which have become an integral part of Danish national heritage. He even made it onto Danish banknotes for a while before being ousted  in 2009 (anyone else seeing a similarity between him and Elgar, who was also unceremoniously dumped from ÂŁ20 notes?).

Credits: Thanks to Wikipedia and various other websites for this information – too many to list, but nothing written above is directly quoted from other websites in any case.

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What’s the big deal about mocking someone’s accent?

Wow, so it turns out that your NQT year isn’t really compatible with blogging. However, it also turns out that spending all your time working isn’t really compatible with sanity either.

So in an attempt to regain my sanity, I’ve been trying to get back into blogging recently. Annoyingly though, I’ve found myself completely incapable of picking a subject – it seems there is nothing but teaching in my brain these days. Earlier today I finally decided on a topic, and on browsing the interweb for some opinions, discovered the following article on our attitude towards accents.  The author has said exactly what I wanted to say (and more), and it’s well worth a read if you’ve got the time. Determined not to be defeated though, I’ve added my two-penneth (is that the right phrase?) in the paragraph following this one – any excuse for a good rant. Sorry.

As someone with northern parents, who grew up in the Midlands (on a somewhat related side note – despite what northerners / southerners variously think, this means I am neither a northerner nor a southerner. The clue is in the name) and now lives in the south, it frustrates me no end to have my accent corrected wherever I go. Just because someone speaks differently to you doesn’t mean that they speak incorrectly. Giggling or commenting every time I say “class” or “task” or “grass” with a short ‘A’ strikes me as slightly offensive and closed-minded. I can’t help my accent – it’s a part of me, it reflects my history and I like the added sense of “home” that it gives me. The way we speak is just another form of diversity, and diversity is there to be embraced not scorned. It brings with it the ability to learn about the world outside your own sphere and to gain a more balanced outlook on life – surely that can only be a good thing? Life would be boring if everyone looked, spoke, dressed and acted the same. If you want the people around you to be a carbon copy of yourself, move to North Korea.

And besides, in my head, YOU’RE the one pronouncing it wrong 😉

so long as it's words

As a society, we’re getting better at not being dicks to each other. It’s a slow progression, but some hurdles have been royally leapt: women can vote, homosexual couples can adopt, and ethnic minorities legally have access to the same goods and services as everybody else. Of course, we still deal with individual douche-canoes mouthing off at people because of their sexuality, gender identity, race, ability, age, body shape or a million other things; institutionalised prejudice hasn’t been eradicated; and prejudice is still enacted on a micro-level, often not from a malicious footing, but as the product of a society still breaking free of intolerant belief systems (that blasted patriarchy!). I’ve painted a cheery picture there, haven’t I? … but in general, while things are by no stretch of the imagination fixed, in most ways they’re getting better, and we’re a lot sounder to each other than we used to…

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