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4th July 2009

Another long-overdue update (yes, I am still alive, though not doing much with this site nowadays).

As expected, our baby arrived late: on 25th August, to be precise. She was 8lb 6oz and we named her Freya. She's now only a few weeks short of her third birthday, and we have another one on the way, due in November.

I'm still teaching Maths at the sixth form college (now doing 3½ days a week); Freya goes to an independent day nursery and seems very happy there. She'll be moving up to pre-school in September and I could send her to the local primary school's nursery for that but it would mean finding a childminder to do the wraparound care while I'm at work so I'm just going to leave her where she is.

Craig is still doing his Facilities job, and still finding it quite stressful, but seems to be well-regarded and has been promoted since my last update.

I'm no longer running homestays; I've done a couple of short ones since Freya arrived, but having a small child around makes it very difficult to give my guests enough attention, so I've decided to stop doing them. We do still take foreign students as guests for the occasional weekend, though, through a charity called HOST.

14th August 2006

Wow, is it really that long since I've done an update?! Just a quick one this time, covering major developments:

Craig and I had a fantastic wedding at Highbury last August - I'd highly recommend the venue, and you can see some photos in the photo album - and for our honeymoon we went on a 2-week cruise on P&O's Aurora visiting the Azores (mid-Atlantic), Madeira, the Canary Islands and the Portuguese and Spanish mainland. I was a bit seasick the first full day, when we were crossing the notorious Bay of Biscay, but once I got my sea legs I felt fine and we had a brilliant time. We were both cruise virgins but will definitely do it again at some point!

I now have a permanent part-time contract at the sixth form college (I didn't have enough experience for the Level 2 Coordinator job but there turned out to be a requirement for an ordinary teacher as well). However, I also got a temporary "Faculty ILT Champion" role, promoting the use of IT in teaching and learning, which meant that I was actually working full-time for the 2005/6 academic year. I've also been able to complete my NQT induction. As of yesterday, though, I'm on maternity leave, and am planning to return to work next Easter.

Our baby is nominally due on August 15th/16th, but based on family history - my three sisters and I were on average two weeks late - I doubt whether the birth will be on schedule. I've been fortunate in this pregnancy: was tired for the first few weeks but didn't have any morning sickness or nausea... at least, not until I got into the second trimester and came down with 'flu for a fortnight, but that wasn't due to pregnancy! Since then I've been fine, though July was hard going with the heat and I'm feeling pretty heavy and ponderous now. It would be nice if the baby would make her appearance sometime this week (the sonographer at the 20-week scan seemed pretty confident that it's a girl). It's our first anniversary this Saturday so maybe we should plan something elaborate; that's bound to increase my chances of going into labour in the next few days!

6th December 2004

I thought I'd better get another update in before Christmas. The wedding plans are coming on: we've booked a gorgeous civil venue called Highbury (formerly Joseph Chamberlain's house) for 19th August 2005, and my search for a wedding dress led me to eBay, which has proved to be highly addictive, so I've been spending a lot more time on there than I should. I have succeeded in buying most of my wedding outfit at bargain prices though!

Beginning in early September, the Sixth Form College Solihull (not to be confused with Solihull College) employed me on a supply basis for four days a week to cover the last few weeks of a maternity leave. I was offered full-time work, but as it was liable to be for only half a term I wanted to keep my options open and possibly get some work with local FE colleges. In the end the teacher whose leave I was covering decided not to come back, as she would have had prohibitive childcare costs and a 40-mile commute, and so I was given a proper contract for the remainder of the academic year. (I have been offered a couple of FE college teaching slots too but have decided now that I'm quite happy with my 4-day week!)

I'm teaching Maths, mainly at Level 2 (GCSE resits and Adult Numeracy) but since half term I've also been teaching Pure Maths at AS level. Having done an engineering degree, I've done plenty of Maths before, but I haven't used anything beyond GCSE level for well over ten years so the AS work is keeping me on my toes! My timetable is front-loaded because the Numeracy course finishes in March and the GCSE one in May, so at the moment I have 19 teaching periods per week (each period being 55 minutes) and am working about 35-40 hours in my 4-day week, but later in the year it will be far less. I far prefer this job to teaching in a secondary school; even though quite a few of my students are not too enamoured at having to continue studying Maths, they are at least (for the most part) mature enough to appreciate the importance of what they are doing, and to refrain from throwing things across the room and stealing things from each other's desks. If their behaviour does cause problems then I can ask for them to be removed from the course, which isn't an option at secondary school! (The removal doesn't often actually happen though - at least not for quite a while!)

The Head of Maths is currently in hospital, where he's just undergone major heart surgery, and it's hoped that he'll be back at work in late spring. The department's staffing requirements for next year aren't going to be clear until then, but there is going to be a need for a Level 2 coordinator so I'll probably apply for that. Since getting my contract I've also been able to make a start on my induction; teaching at a sixth form college is eligible provided that the local LEA approves the induction programme offered, and things are a bit woolly there at the moment but we are going through the motions of following the DfES requirements as well as the college's own induction programme.

Craig also has a new job, as Facilities Supervisor for a finance company in Birmingham city centre. He's finding it fairly stressful but seems to be doing well.

3rd September 2004

OK then, what have I been up to since my last update? Ummm... finished my teacher training, qualifying in July as planned (seriously hard work); had homestay guests in April, July/August and late August; had a new central heating system installed; done a working holiday, rebuilding a 25-metre stretch of drystone wall in the Lake District... and on Friday 13th August, the final night of the holiday, while we were almost waist-deep in Windermere, Craig proposed to me! I was thoroughly taken aback and left the poor guy to stew for a few hours, but a bit later in the evening I did accept his proposal.

Since we were in Cumbria, we'd already planned to go over to Whitehaven to visit my parents for a few days afterwards, and so we bought the engagement ring while we were there (though it turned out to have a Birmingham hallmark!).

The wedding date hasn't been firmly set yet - we haven't even decided for sure whether we're going to get married in this country - but we have provisionally booked a venue in Birmingham for a civil wedding in August 2005. We would have quite liked to stick with Friday 13ths (I was born on one too so I don't consider them unlucky!) but the only forthcoming ones are in May 2005 and then January and October 2006, none of which are compatible with school/college holiday dates.

The reason I'm sitting at home doing this update rather than working my socks off at school and getting my NQT induction year out of the way is that I haven't got a school teaching job for this term. There may be a national shortage of language teachers, but most of the jobs out there are for someone who can teach two out of French, German and Spanish; most schools aren't interested in Japanese! I'm also quite fussy about what jobs I go for; I don't want to travel far and I don't want to work at a "challenging" school.

I do have a few other things in the pipeline, possibilities of school supply work and of teaching GCSE Maths, Adult Numeracy and ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) part-time at various local colleges, but that's still all up in the air at the moment. Things should be a lot clearer in a week or so. At the moment Craig is between jobs too, having been made redundant in April after 22 years working for the same company.

11th January 2004

A long overdue update!

I didn't go to Ninestiles School in the end; when they finally came through with the formal offer, the salary was only £12,000, considerably less than the £13,266 minimum that the Teacher Training Agency stipulates a GTP trainee should be paid. I questioned it with the school and they just told me it was all they could afford. So I spoke to the TTA, who spoke to the school, and three weeks later - about a week before the end of the summer term - the school came back to me saying that the salary was now £13,266 BUT that it was being pro-rata'd down to only cover the period from 1st September to the end of the summer term, so in fact I would only get a gross salary of £11,735. (Bear in mind that the school was getting a grant of £13K as a contribution towards my salary, as well as a grant of £4K to cover the costs of training me.) I thought this still sounded dodgy so I went back to the TTA, who told me to speak to my Local Education Authority as it was now a contractual issue. The LEA confirmed that Teachers' Pay and Conditions states that any teacher employed for all three terms of the school year must be paid for the entire 12 months, but unfortunately was powerless to enforce this as Ninestiles is a foundation school, which means that it has more financial autonomy than most. I called the school and told the Head's PA what the LEA had told me, and the Head called me back half an hour later and said something to the effect of, "Look, do you want this placement or not? We've already reconsidered and we're not doing it again." I decided that if my relationship with the school had got this bad before I even started there then I didn't want to work there, so the next day I hand-delivered a letter explaining, as politely as I could, why I was turning down the placement. The school, together with its two partner schools, was also taking on another 11 GTP trainees, presumably all on the same terms, so I made sure that the TTA and LEA were both aware of the situation. Hopefully the other trainees will have ended up being paid the salary they're entitled to!

While all this was going on, Tudor Grange School (which I'd approached earlier in the year, but had stopped pursuing once I got an offer from Ninestiles) had been back in touch, asking if I'd managed to sort out a placement. In the end Tudor Grange agreed to take me on, initially as an unqualified teacher, but with a view to getting me onto the GTP as soon as possible. I'd missed the application window for Newman College, TG's partner training institution, but it was hoped that someone might drop out of their September intake, giving me the opportunity to take their place. In the event, nobody did, but I got accepted for a January start and so am now officially a GTP trainee. The term's work as an unqualified teacher wasn't wasted, as I kept just about every piece of paper that came my way, and a lot of it will be useful in compiling evidence to show which of the Qualifying To Teach standards I've already met, so hopefully I'll still be able to qualify by the end of the summer term. I'm still not being paid a huge amount, only the legal minimum, but at least I don't feel as if I'm being ripped off.

I started off teaching 20 hour-long periods per fortnight, which is about half the workload of a qualified teacher (or maybe just under half, since qualified teachers are additionally expected to cover the odd lesson for absent colleagues and the majority also have the additional workload of being form tutors). After half-term my workload went up to 24 periods. I'm also covering three Year 11 registrations per week, to allow the regular form tutors to mentor individual pupils who are "coasting" - i.e. not achieving as well as they could be. I'm teaching Maths to one Year 7 class (ages 11-12), and the rest of my classes are German, mostly Key Stage 3 (ages 11-14). I've been finding it very hard work, and I now have more respect for teachers than ever before! I'm still not sure whether I want to stick with secondary school teaching as a long-term career, but I'm certainly intending to stay with it until I qualify. After that I should really do my NQT year (a probationary year that has to be completed by all newly-qualified teachers), otherwise my qualification will lapse after five years. I enjoy the teaching itself but I could do without having to deal with naughty and/or arrogant kids who just don't want to be there!

Other news:

Had a good working holiday at Wallington and trip to Germany in June. Hot weather in Germany, though not as sweltering as when I went to Brittany with Craig (whom I've been seeing since May) in early August. We were visiting Craig's brother Simon and sister-in-law Lisa, who work on Jersey but are doing up an old farmhouse near Dol-de-Bretagne. You can see photos from all of these trips by clicking on the "photo album" link at the top of the page.

My Tanuki House homestay programmes are still operational but of course are now confined to the school holidays. At the end of August I had a couple of guests in their 60s: the Yamamotos from Osaka. They must have enjoyed their stay; they said they wanted to come back at least twice a year!

In early December we had a weekend in Berlin with SHOT. This year we were organised enough to pre-book a restaurant, which proved to be very good, and 26 people came along for the meal. Berlin has changed a lot since my last visit, which was in 1993. It was interesting in particular to see how Potsdamer Platz has changed; during my final year at university I did a project on Berlin since the opening of the Wall, and a major part of the project concerned the plans for Potsdamer Platz, which was the heart of Berlin in the 1920s and 30s but became part of no-man's land when the Wall went up. In summer 1993 it was still a wasteland, apart from a new road running through the middle of it, but now all the new buildings have gone up and it looks totally different. Unfortunately lack of time meant that we didn't have time to explore as well as I'd have liked, but it was interesting nonetheless.

As usual, Christmas was spent at my parents' in Whitehaven and New Year in Scotland with SHOT. This year we were staying in Plockton, a pretty village near Kyle of Lochalsh (where the bridge goes across to Skye). The series "Hamish Macbeth" was filmed in Plockton, and the place is quite a tourist trap in the summer. The whole area was very scenic. The weather was mixed, but we did get a few clear days and some fairly ambitious walks were undertaken (though mostly not by me!).

20th May 2003

Still unemployed, and actually quite enjoying it. By about the end of February I was starting to get a bit restless but now I've got plenty to keep me occupied. I've been offered the teacher training placement I wanted, starting in September on the Graduate Teacher Programme. My training institution is going to be Ninestiles School, just two miles from my home and next door to my local sports centre. My main subject is going to be German, and I'm hoping I'll be able to arrange to do Maths as my subsidiary subject.

Had a good week on the Isle of Harris over New Year, with a couple of decent hikes. We actually got far better weather than most of the UK, which was suffering from floods at the time. In mid-April I led a National Trust working holiday in Northumberland - staying at Wallington and working on the Gibside estate - and then in mid-May I led another one in Wasdale in the Lake District, only about 20 miles from where I grew up. (The photos from the April one are online; those from the May should be within the next few days.) Then I got a desperate call from the Volunteers Office asking if I might possibly be able to lead another one back at Wallington in early June, so I'm off up there again soon - three working hols in two months! I've also been doing some gardening and created a small vegetable patch in my back garden: I'm growing potatoes, parsnips and peas, as well as a few strawberries, raspberries, plums, pears and rhubarb. Everything except the pear tree is new this year. Hopefully the squirrels won't eat it all before I get a chance, like they did with the pears last year!

I've had a couple of homestay guests early in the year (follow Tanuki House link in menu bar for photos), but interest fell off dramatically when the Iraq war started; the Japanese are very good at reacting to scares in the press, and of course most Japanese don't realise that Baghdad is as far from London as Delhi is from Tokyo. Then SARS kicked in, so they're still scared to travel overseas, making business pretty slow. I've just signed up with an organisation called HOST UK which organises free weekend homestays for overseas students. I won't be able to run Tanuki House homestays during school term time anyway once I'm on my teacher training, so I thought I could take visitors through HOST for maybe two or three weekends a year and gain some publicity for Tanuki House that way.

Since I haven't been to Germany for about eight years I thought it was time I went back for a visit, so in mid-June I'm taking a trip over there to brush up on my German and catch up with some friends I haven't seen for a while. After I come back I'm going to be doing the intensive 4-week CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults) course at Solihull College. It will help my business credibility to be able to say on my website that I'm CELTA-qualified, and will also give me a backup qualification if the schoolteaching doesn't work out.

21st November 2002

Well, there goes my job! For the last couple of months I've had very little to do at work and, as I mentioned in my last update, I knew that my existing role wasn't going to be a part of the new structure following the Goodrich takeover. On November 12th I went down to ask the HR department what the situation was with regard to redundancies, and the next day I was officially told that my job was "at risk", and that I would be made compulsorily redundant unless I found a suitable position "within a reasonable time". There were a couple of opportunities in the new organisation that I could have gone for, but I was pleasantly surprised by the value of the severance package I was being offered, so I decided to take it. I couldn't have carried on building up my homestay business alongside a job with only five weeks' annual leave anyway, so I might as well leave now with a redundancy payment rather than in a few months' time with nothing. Today I've been told that I'm going to be finishing work on November 29th, which is a week or two sooner than I anticipated, but I can't complain too much.

I'm planning to take it easy for a while, then look for a job where I only have to work during term time, so that I have the summer holidays free for homestays. I might do the CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults), which would qualify me to look for a part-time job teaching English to non-native speakers. Another possibility is to retrain as a teacher, probably through the Graduate Teacher Programme, which is an on-the-job alternative to a college-based PGCE.

My working holiday on Exmoor in October went very well. The weather was a bit showery, but it could have been a lot worse. There's a full page on it, with lots of photos, in the National Trust section of this site. I have a busy schedule for the next few weeks: this weekend I'm flying up to Edinburgh to see my parents' new flat there; next weekend I'm going on Jaeda's hen weekend in W Devon, not far from Bude; and the weekend after that it's the SHOT Christmas dinner trip, which this year is to Lisbon (Portugal). A couple of quieter weekends after that, then up to my parents' in Cumbria for Christmas and then to the Outer Hebrides for New Year. How did I ever find the time for a job?

3rd October 2002

About time I did another update, I think. I'm in the process of giving the whole site a major revamp and moving to a new host because the old one started bombarding my visitors with popups, so I might as well update my news page while I'm at it.

So what have I been up to since May? Well, my employer has just been taken over by Goodrich so at the moment another big reorganisation is in progress and I don't know what's going to happen to my job. I'm pretty sure that it's not going to continue to exist in its present form for much longer though.

I had a lodger for most of last year called Ben, who was on a Year in Industry placement at TRW between school and university. He moved out during the summer and has now been replaced by another YII trainee called Richard.

Over the summer I had two sets of homestay guests: a girl called Yoshie from Hikone who came on her own in mid-July, and a group of three from Tokyo - a mother and her 8-year-old daughter, and a friend of the mother's - at the end of August. Both visits went well; you can see photos and testimonials on the Tanuki House website (link in menu bar).

Other Japan-related news...

  • My friends Tomochan, Megumi and Mikaru from the the Hikone area came for a short visit in mid-August. It was great to see them again. Photos from their visit are in the "friends" section of the photo album - see link above.
  • In mid-June I took part in a Japanese cookery day in Coventry with the local JETAA group (people who've participated in the JET Programme, like I did).
  • After a break over the summer, my Japanese lessons have restarted.
  • I've joined the Birmingham Japan Society, or Eiwakai.

I've been on a couple of recent hiking weekends with SHOT: at the end of June we spent a weekend at a pub / B&B called the Berwyn Arms, near Llangollen in North Wales, and in mid-September we went to Smithy's Bunkhouse, just outside Abergavenny in South Wales, to celebrate a couple of 30th birthdays. Photos in the album. The next hiking weekend is to the Lake District in about ten days' time.

I've been getting back into my National Trust voluntary work lately, with a "dirty weekend" at Erddig, on the Welsh border near Wrexham, in September. It was an excellent weekend, with great weather and varied work: removing temporary fences, clearing up the timber yard and hacking down excess undergrowth. You can see a few photos from the weekend in the NT section of this site (also accessible via the photo album). I've also booked to lead a week's working holiday on Exmoor later this month, where the main task for the week will be the traditional craft of hedge-laying.

During the summer holidays I started going to ceroc on a Monday night, at a comedy club in Birmingham called the Glee Club. Ceroc is a style of partner dance developed in France and based on jive and salsa. Sometimes it's referred to as "leroc" or "modern jive". I've been to a couple of salsa nights too, but not enjoyed them as much; the atmosphere at the ceroc nights seems more relaxed, somehow, and you can turn up on your own and not feel excluded. During the lessons they rotate the partners every couple of minutes so that nobody is without a partner (or stuck with a really bad one) for any significant length of time, and everyone gets to dance with a wide range of partners. During the freestyle periods, good dancers will ask beginners up to dance and vice versa, which was something I didn't see much of at the salsa nights I went to. Nobody ever refuses a dance so there's no fear of rejection. And the music's not so loud that you can't make yourself heard by anyone more than six inches away, so it's possible to communicate verbally as well as using body language!
Unfortunately the ceroc nights clash with my Japanese lessons, now that term has started up again; however, the timing is such that I would be able to go on to ceroc after Japanese and get there around the time the beginners' lesson ends. I've been going for long enough to have covered most of the beginners' moves now, so as long as I'm feeling fairly energetic I should be able to manage it.

9th May 2002

I haven't done much work on this site since returning to the UK last August, but it occurred to me that the people I knew in Japan - as well as other friends and possibly even a few nosy individuals who don't even know me - might be interested in what I've been up to since I got back. It's just going to be an occasional summary of my recent news, so don't expect a detailed account like you got while I was in Japan!

A couple of weeks after arriving home, I started work again, back with my former employer (formerly Lucas Aerospace, now TRW Aeronautical Systems). Although strictly speaking I'd overstayed the limit of the career break they'd granted me, I was still on the headcount and so was taken on again despite a freeze on recruitment - albeit at an embarrassingly low salary for the first few months. I was back working for a manager I'd worked for previously and whom I get on well with, in the Product Planning department. In April 2002, after surviving a round of redundancies, I moved into the newly-created position of Business Development Information Manager, reporting directly to the Vice President for Business Development. The role is still taking shape at the moment but basically involves gathering information and producing assorted reports and briefings for the VP.

The company is now up for sale so the security of my job is still in doubt, but at least if I get laid off my redundancy payment will now be based on a half-decent salary!

In the meantime, I've been working on getting Tanuki House, my homestay business, off the ground. So far I have a couple of weeks' worth of bookings for the summer holidays, and will be running these in annual leave from my day job. Hopefully the word will have spread enough by next year for me to take it full-time. I have an ad appearing in the Shukan ST on May 17th, which should help to get the ball rolling. (The Shukan ST, for those who don't know, is a weekly publication with a wide circulation among Japanese people studying English.) I can't fit very many guests into my annual leave this year, so I hope I won't be too overwhelmed with enquiries! Still, if people are leaving it until the second half of May to book their summer holidays then they must expect vacancies to be getting scarce, so maybe some of them will be content to book for next year instead.

I spent Christmas at my parents' home in Cumbria, as usual, then went up to Tobermory, on the Scottish island of Mull, to spend New Year there with friends from SHOT, my university ex-members' hiking club. We have a tradition of going hiking in Scotland at New Year. All the rest of my annual leave this year is set aside for homestays so I don't think I'll be having any more holidays in 2002 - at least, not until Christmas.

Tobermory seafront
Tobermory. Click on the "photo album" link at the top of the page to see more pictures from the trip.

I've had some building work done on my house - when I eventually managed to find a builder who was willing to do it - and now have a nice new kitchen and a downstairs toilet. Got the kitchen units fitted by a professional (Stef, a friend I go circuit training with), but did all the tiling (walls and floor) myself.

New kitchen
New kitchen

Bought a new car at the beginning of February: a silver Toyota Yaris, to replace my elderly (but very reliable) Nissan Micra. They have the Yaris in Japan too but its Japanese name is Vitz.

I'm back circuit training at the local sports centre twice a week, with the same bunch of friends I've been training with for several years now. Every few weeks we go out for a curry afterwards. South-east Birmingham has a huge choice when it comes to curry houses!

Once a week I have a Japanese lesson at the Brasshouse language centre in Birmingham city centre. I'm fortunate to have a suitable class within commuting distance. A couple of weeks ago I took part in an intensive Japanese weekend run by the Brasshouse. People came from more than 100 miles away to participate. The weekend consisted of about 9-10 hours of lessons, a cultural activities session (calligraphy, origami or tea ceremony), and making okonomiyaki (a kind of savoury pancake eaten mainly in western Japan).

That's about it for my recent news. Watch this space for the next update!

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This page last edited 4th July 2009