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A Teacher’s Silver Anniversary or ‘I did it my Way’!

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I am celebrating my silver anniversary as a teacher – 25 years since I qualified on my PGCE at Sussex University back in 1988, when hair was huge and lips were painted darkest red, and that was not necessarily just the females. My student ID card makes me look like the 5th member of the Cure – they were from Crawley where I did my teaching practice so I suppose I thought I was just accommodating in fashion-terms!
But so busy have these first weeks of the new academic year been that it only dawned on me recently that it really has been this long! That I have been teaching for the majority of my life, longer than I’ve been married, longer than I’ve known most of my friends – it is the adult that I am, and the person that I am, there’s no denying.
And because that last point is true, this year has seen a pretty radical stripping back in my current post, which had become like an unpruned tree, with branches sagging with apples – increasingly fly-blown and rotting, because nobody had had the time or the care to pick them. My enthusiasm and reasonable competence when I started the job was met with one request, then another, then another to take on this little role, then that slightly bigger role, until I’d become a multi- headed monster, leading a team, the teaching and learning Lead for Equality and Diversity, an Advanced Practitioner involved in staff development and mentoring across a college of 600+ staff – while still maintaining the teaching and tutoring role that I’d always had. Out there in the ‘real’ world, several people would have been doing my job (rather tellingly, they now are) but last year it finally broke me.
Six weeks off with stress left me fearing that I could not teach, that I could not even step back into a classroom. The place that was my sanctuary, my creative hub, my other ‘home’ , had become part of a place of torture and only a crazy person would return willingly to that – many of us in the staffroom would joke about Stockholm syndrome, but there is something in that with teaching, I fear.
Whatever it was that got me back – a desire not to leave with a sense of failure, the need to prove to myself that I could still teach but could also choose not to, the money to pay the bills, I don’t know – I am glad I did. It didn’t take long for me to realise that of course, after 25 years, I could still teach but, more importantly, that I could enjoy my job. The best bit for me has always been being with the students in the classroom, doing sometimes slightly eccentric activities to encourage their creativity and a leftfield way of thinking, while sharing with them my deep love of literature and all its cultural cousins in the arts and humanities. I may be a’grandee’ of the Faculty now but while my fate publicly displayed the dangers of a job where you can never do enough, I hope now that I am showing that it is possible to keep your experience where it is most enjoyed – in the classroom – and feel valued for that, instead of believing that you have to take the alternative management route which most young teachers I meet today see as all that is on offer. Granted, you don’t get the pay rise or perhaps the status, but then I get to spend the majority of time with the people that matter most, not with the ‘suits’ who use spreadsheets where I still use conversation and laughter.
To mark this moment in my life, I am going to start the blog I have been planning to start for the last couple of years and use it to keep a ( no doubt erratic and irregular) journal of the teaching and learning, the thinking and conversations that will go on in my classroom with students studying A’Level English Literature, and it may yet become the space I’ve imagined new and old students may come to to share their ideas and meanderings. It will be called BeMused – watch this space!

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The Joy of Chalk Paint

Proud to be cited by Little Brown Hare!

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A Bureau of My Own

“It is much more important to be oneself than anything else. Do not dream of influencing other people…Think of things in themselves.”
― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

I blame it all on Kirsty Allsop dominating the TV at dinner time, but last week I found myself elbow-deep in an upcycling project, to bring beauty to a writing bureau hidden at the back of a furniture warehouse. £45 of birthday money, and it was mine!
For ages I have craved a space I can call my own. Somewhere to write, read, make, think. Here it was. But the dour brown oak was heavy and outdated, and I’ve seen enough fix it programmes and read enough vintage craft books to know that a lick of paint could transform it into something spectacular.

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Usually, I dither and fret about colour combinations and cost to the point where nothing is done. Knowing myself too well, I decided to take inspiration from Google images, search ‘upcycled writing bureaus’ and see which colour combos worked best. I’d already imagined a French grey and, sure enough, there it was with the pen holder in cream. Huzzah! I had my colours.
After some more research on how to paint old furniture, I sugarsoaped it clean, then primed and undercoated the pen holder – this was to be painted in ecru eggshell that I had left over from painting the skirting boards in our house, and I just diluted it one part water to 4 parts paint to make it more like a wash.

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Quite by chance, I’d discovered chalk paint by Annie Sloan in a shop in Totnes. It looked perfect, and – again, after researching the net – it seemed too good to be true! No priming or undercoating; one coat and an hour to dry. As a woman who likes speedy results, I decided to see if it really did do what it says on the tin.

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It isn’t cheap, this paint, and clearly has a bit of a cult following with blog after blog dedicated to Annie Sloan products (and, usefully, cheaper substitutes!). I coughed up, knowing that I’ve got a LOT of boring pine in the house that needs freshening up so it wouldn’t go to waste.
At first, I felt a bit sick as the paint ‘chalked’ up with the brushstrokes and I began to regret covering over the beautiful markings of the oak. But I’d read that it’s best to paint with longer-than-usual brushstrokes in one direction, and with a paintbrush whose tips are just ‘kissed’ with water. Great advice and the paint began to glide on.
What I hadn’t really noticed until I started painting the bureau was that the wood was differently-textured in different places, and this affected how the paint covered the different surfaces. Depending on how ‘distressed’ a look I wanted determined whether I went with a second coat or not. I enjoyed getting to know my bureau like this. How often do we pore over such detail, and make such responsive decisions? It was an incredibly absorbing process, almost like a form of meditation.

I hummed and haa-ed over whether to spend another mini-fortune on Annie Sloan wax but by this point I felt I was in for a penny, in for a pound. I did experiment on a small area of the desk with an alternative – Luberon’s clear wax paste – but the Annie Sloan does bring out both the paint and the wood markings quite noticeably, and I do think it was worth it.

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I still want to cover the desk surface with more attractive material, but I already have a beautiful bureau I can now call my own.

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www.anniesloan.co.uk
www.thelilypadcottage.com
Great tips for using chalk paint

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Love the life you’re in

…as you get older…I just feel that you don’t have to judge your life by other people’s standards. It’s what you make of it. You just have to live the life you’re in, really.” Emily Watson, The Observer, 14th April, 2013

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April 14, 2013 · 10:17 am

Maggie, Elvis and Me

I bought one of those compilation CDs of Elvis Costello’s greatest hits last year, and found myself close to tears as I listened to ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’, the song he wrote in the 80s about stamping on Thatcher’s grave when she finally died. At the time, I would have done that, I believed. But my reaction to the news of her death on Monday took me by surprise. Instead of punching the air as I’d imagined I would, there was just a vacuum. The old lady who watered roses under police escort died lonely, in a society which she claimed does not exist. I had no desire to join the parties in Bristol or anywhere else springing up to celebrate her death, but equally it’s a bit rich to be told to ‘respect the dead’ when we appear not to be able to respect the living. On the day she died, the government introduced a raft of cuts to welfare and taxes which will penalise the poor, and put an extra £100,000 a year into the pockets of our millionaires. Gorgon-like, you cut off one head and more grow to take its place.

There’s a poem by Carol Ann Duffy from ‘The Other Country’ ( an anthology published in 1990 which offers a tapestry of voices of the different players of this era, some personal, some political but all reminding us that the two are inextricable) called ‘Making Money’. Duffy adopts the persona of a banker – he’s ruthless, heartless, amoral as he revels in the poverty of kids living in Indian slums, of women prostituting themselves to finance their next fix. Yet in the last verse there’s this sense that almost despite himself there is a creeping awareness of not just the destruction of others but the destruction of himself in the relentless pursuit of cash:

Palm Grease. Smackers. Greenbacks. Wads. I widen my eyes

at a fortune; a set of knives on black cloth, shining,

utterly beautiful. Weep. The economy booms

like a cannon, far out at sea on a lone ship. We leave

our places of work, tired, in the shortening hours, in the time

of night our town could be anywhere, and some of us pause

in the square, where a clown makes money swallowing fire.

Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Making Money’, from ‘Selected Poems’ (1994, Penguin, London)

It’s hard not to read this poem, 20 years on, and feel that – while the economy is far from booming – little else has changed.

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Journey’s End

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A perfect end to a long journey – Newgale, Pembrokeshire.

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The Daily Post

Today, let’s explore photo apps, shall we? From in-phone editing to photo sharing to managing your image libraries, you can experiment and have fun with cool tools out there.

We’ve rounded up some popular ones below:

Image editing apps

Hipstamatic: The tagline — “digital photography never looked so analog” — perfectly describes Hipstamatic. With just a swipe, you can “change” the lens, flash, and film of your image. It serves up a number of filters to give an image a vintage look, or to create a distinct effect or frame. The app is part of the IncrediBooth and SwankoLab family: IncrediBooth allows you to create photo booth-style pics with your pals, while SwankoLab acts as a darkroom simulator and lets you choose and experiment with chemicals to process photos — right in your phone. (Download for iOS.)

SnapSeed: This app offers retro filters, dramatic effects, and frames, as…

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