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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.

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…

 

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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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http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2013/aug/24/robyn-lawley-supermodel

Carrying on from mine and Charlotte’s previous blog post about body image, here is a lovely article from the Guardian about model Robyn Lawley… Her comments on variety in the fashion industry are particularly interesting – she’s basically summed up what both myself and Charlotte were trying to say perfectly in a couple of sentences, as follows:

Lawley finds the “real women have curves” brigade patronising and unhelpful. “People use me as a figurehead, and to me that misses the point and is blatantly offensive to thin women – my sister, for one. Curves don’t epitomise a woman. Saying, ‘Skinny is ugly’ should be no more acceptable than saying fat is. I find all this stuff a very controlling and effective way of making women obsess over their weight, instead of exploiting their more important attributes, such as intellect, strength and power.

The issue is not that models are too thin, she says: the problem is one of variety. “Look at fashion shows. We need a range of ages and ethnicities. There are just very thin, white, 16-year-old girls on the catwalk and that has to change.”

Don’t hate on people just because they’re not a perfect 10.  Variety is what makes the world interesting – embrace it.
I promise I’ll stop going on about it now.

Body shape: Is anyone a winner?

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At the risk of annoying lots of people, I’ve decided to write about an issue that has been bugging me for years now: weight discrimination.

I’m aware this might be a contentious subject, so I’ve invited my friend Charlotte to write a counter-argument which is published alongside my own, to get a more balanced view.

I am in the fortunate position of being naturally slim. Some would even say skinny [negative imagery, anyone?]. To clarify: I wear a size 6 top and size 8 trousers. I haven’t worked to be the shape that I am (yes, I’m aware that to many of you this makes me even more obnoxious). I’m fortunate to have a fast metabolism inherited from my parents, and a fairly small appetite. I eat my share of junk food – pizza is a staple in my diet – and I don’t go out of my way to exercise, although I walk places when I can.  Many people assume I must eat healthily and exercise a lot, when in fact, knowing that I don’t gain weight (and being lazy) means that I tend not to take as much notice of my diet and fitness as I should. No doubt my body hates me for it, and one day will take it’s revenge.

But whilst to many this is perceived to be the ‘ideal’ in terms of body shape, to me it’s a bit of a pain in the arse. For one thing, I really hate clothes shopping. There are not a lot of places that stock clothes that fit me. Admittedly, my cause is not helped by the fact that I am taller than average at 5′ 8″ and am somewhat under-endowed in the cleavage department [although that’s a whole other society-induced body image issue].  M&S, Next, Debenhams, Monsoon, White Stuff – none of them do clothes in my size, unless I want to shop in the children’s section.  Some shops, upon my asking if they do smaller sizes, suggest I go to the petite section. But there’s no way that clothing made for women who are 5’3″ and under is going to even nearly fit me. It’s particularly frustrating when shopping for workwear, as a lot of the ‘standard’ places seem only to cater for larger sizes. For example, in Primark –  their workwear range only starts at a size 10.  Do skinny people not work? Clearly they think we’re all too busy over-exercising and throwing up our lunch. And then there are companies such as Marisota who stock lovely clothes only for sizes 12-32. What with the current ‘obesity epidemic’ it seems bizarre to me that it’s OK for companies like this to advertise on prime-time television. I’m not sure that making size 32 an acceptable norm and size 10 seem unusually thin is really the best way to tackle obesity.

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I long for the days when people used to get their clothes tailor made – when society accepted that everyone was different. While this ‘standard sizing’ approach, might be economical, is completely nonsensical. People are not homogenous, and shouldn’t be treated as such. I want to be able to go shopping and not feel like I have the ‘wrong’ body shape because clothes are too big, or too loose around my boobs, or too tight on the hips. We should revel in our differences, not feel self-conscious because we do not fit the ‘perfect’ shape that clothing manufacturers prescribe to us. There are days when I consider getting plastic surgery or doing some serious binge eating just to make it easier to go shopping. But then I remember that it’s a problem with society, not me, and I refuse to let them win. I simply go shoe shopping instead.

A bigger issue for me in the last few years has become the fact that people seem to think that they can comment on my weight freely, frequently, and often in public. Last year whilst working in a boarding school, I found my colleagues commenting on the contents of my dinner plate. One said “I’m going to sit here and watch you eat all of that. I don’t believe you eat.” The same colleague thought it OK to comment on my weight in front of students and imply that I didn’t eat.  Aside from the terrible impression this might leave on the young (all female) students, what rankles is that it seems to only be acceptable to comment on the weight of thin people [see HERE]. Due to publicity campaigns to use less excessively thin models and more ‘real’ women in fashion images, it is no longer socially acceptable to criticise somebody for being overweight. You wouldn’t dream of telling somebody to ‘eat less’ over lunch, or comment on their few extra pounds in the workplace, so why is it ok to comment about my body? I am very much in support of positive body image campaigns and not using size zero models, but I think that part of this means realising that people come in ALL different shapes and sizes, not just size 12 and above. There is nothing unhealthy or wrong with my being slim, and just because my BMI says I’m underweight doesn’t mean I’m starving myself.

I also noticed recently that a friend of mine had joined a Facebook group called “Curvy girls are better than skinny girls”. Now, I’m all for curves. In fact I often wish I had more of them. But to state that someone is “better” than someone else due to their body shape seems to me, well, a bit – dare I say it – fascist [gasp!]. In my opinion, it’s equally as bad as high fashion’s known preference for Size 0 models. And what’s more, I couldn’t find an equivalent group supporting slim women, because that would be deemed massively offensive and be taken down due to fears that young girls would become anorexic.

So, here’s the bottom line: I am thin. I have never had an eating disorder. And please stop thinking it’s OK to comment on my body in public. You’re giving me a complex!

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Charlotte says:

Like a growing number of people, I am in the opposite situation to Ruth; I struggle with being overweight. At 5’9”, I currently wear clothes from sizes 18-22 (UK), and have been on the ‘larger’ side of average since secondary school.

Some may refer to my stature as ‘curvy’, ‘voluptuous’, ‘curvaceous’ or ‘shapely’, and each of these terms makes me cringe more than the last. Such rhetoric has been coined to excuse the expanding waistlines of women in this country, and yet those such as Ruth who are thin, are resentfully described as ‘skinny’, ‘rake’, ‘waif-like’ or ‘lanky’.

I will freely admit that I have a problem with overeating, which has obviously led to this weight gain over the years. The transition from skint student to graduate worker with an extremely long commute has not helped. Sweets to alleviate boredom and tiredness on my way home; a well-deserved ice cream and glass of wine at the end of a long day; takeaways when I get in from work at 9pm… I could go on! Being a child of the internet generation and a self-confessed know it all, I am not starved (excuse the pun) of information on how I should feed myself. From being a young teenager, I have spent hours in front of the computer reading up on the latest weight loss research, diets and miracle cures. However, as I hope fatties up and down the land will agree, it’s not that simple. Losing the weight and keeping it off requires total reprogramming of habits and lifestyle. It also requires a harsh dose of reality and tenacity to fend off that well-meaning diet saboteur who persuades the dieter that ‘one chocolate éclair won’t hurt’. I have sat in many a diet group meeting only to listen to excuse after excuse; ‘well, it was my auntie’s best friend’s dog’s birthday party – to turn down the banoffee pie would have been rude’; ‘I simply COULDN’T go to the seaside and not have fish and chips, ice cream AND candy floss’. You get the gist. I do not make excuses for myself – I know why I am overweight.

Clothes shopping can be a torturous task, as for Ruth; although a growth in online shopping has vastly increased choices available to us who are overweight.  Ironically, Ruth is my favourite person to go clothes shopping with. We could both try on the same item of clothing (at opposite ends of the sizing spectrum of course!) and both hate how we look in it. While the material might strain over my ample bosom, I realise that wishing for a small chest might not be all it’s cracked up to be. I do still envy her flat stomach though!

While plus size (ahem, size 12) models and mannequins are making headway in the world of fashion, the campaigns to see real women do not take into account stretch marks, not-so-pert breasts, and saggy stomachs. They are still airbrushed – an unobtainable vision of ‘reality’.

I disagree with Ruth that it is ‘only acceptable to comment on the weight of thin people’. I was horrified when a ‘friend’ posted on Facebook recently about a cinema trip, ‘well, the film wasn’t great, funniest thing was a fat man trying to find his seat in the dark’. There are also several groups dedicated to fat jokes on said social network. However, I do absolutely agree that there is an underrepresentation of those who are naturally slim. It is rare that one can pass by a magazine stand without seeing straplines targeting the skinny celebrity, who has cellulite ‘just like us’, or is berated for becoming ‘too thin’.

However, I am coming to realise that this is the body that I have been dealt and to make the most of it. On a recent group holiday in Italy, I consciously made the decision that my size was not going to hold me back. Not in a ‘screw you I’m so sexy’ ugly aggressive type of way, but grateful for the fact that I have working arms and legs and am able to enjoy the beautiful sunshine. Conversations on that holiday between women and men of all ages, shapes and sizes around the swimming pool and dining table at times revolved around weight, and I realised that it is a rare lucky soul that has never suffered from any form of anxiety around their appearance. I still want to shed this excess six stone or so, but for now I will smile and make the best of the body I have in this moment now. The weight loss will take me a while, so I’m not going to put life on hold until it happens.

My first attempt at fiction writing, courtesy of The Guardian. Don’t be too hard on me!

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This post is a response to a thread on the Guardian website inviting readers to respond to the first line of a story with their own interpretation.

It can be found at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2013/jun/14/neil-gaiman-write-a-story?commentpage=7

 

 

Cat

Cat (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

It wasn’t just the murder, he decided. Everything else seemed to have conspired to ruin his day as well. Even the cat. From the moment he’d woken up to discover it had vomited all over the bedroom carpet, Owen had known that it wasn’t going to be a good day. Fumbling to locate the anti-bacterial spray in the cupboard, he felt a pang of loss. This was the kind of thing his wife would have dealt with, when she was still here. He missed her every day, for unexpected and ever-increasing reasons.

Now he was at work, trying to regain some normality. As a Detective, Owen had seen it all. There was very little that shocked him these days. But there was something about this one – this brutal, yet perfect crime – that had got under his skin. He had been trying to solve it for weeks. Each time he thought he had something, the evidence would lead to a dead end. It was meticulous, the attention to detail that rendered the case unsolvable. No fingerprints, no DNA evidence – not even the murder weapon was identifiable. And the longer he was at large, the higher the likelihood that he would kill again.

As he checked the case file for the 47th time that day, Owen sighed. If only there was something to go on, but they hadn’t even been able to ID the victim. He pulled his coat on and prepared to leave for the night, pausing as he suddenly heard a shriek from the direction of the morgue. A voice filled with emotion cried out, ‘That’s my daughter! Jane, oh my God, no! How could this have happened?’

Despite himself, Owen felt a surge of excitement and hope – this could be the information they needed to solve the case. Perhaps his luck was changing.

Hello!

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So, yesterday I had 590 people visit my blog.
Well, that was unexpected.

I started RuthRambles as a bit of fun, somewhere to have the occasional rant and air my opinions – mostly to stop me being tempted to do so at work. Apparently it’s unprofessional or something, when you’re “educating young minds”. And now I’m struggling to get my head around the fact that suddenly 600 people are actually reading what I have to say!

Nevertheless, I wanted to say thanks for visiting my blog. I’d love to hear any suggestions / general stylistic comments about my writing that you have to offer – I’m fairly new to this whole thing, and I’m pretty much just playing it by ear.

I hope you like what you’ve read so far. And if not, well, don’t be too hard on me. I’m only a music teacher and not a writer, after all.

Ruth x