Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Wishing you a very merry christmas!

Today is my last day of working in despatch before Christmas.  There is very little work to do so – time to send you a blog!
The campus is very quiet, the car park empty and all is still covered in snow.   It feels very strange having our Christmas arrangements so unpredictable while we wait to see what the weather will be like.   We cancelled our family get together in West Sussex on Sunday; it seemed mad to try driving so far in such adverse conditions.  Instead I spent the day catching up.  We finally got to writing Christmas cards – yes I know I am really late, especially for Australia!   I find it really difficult to get in the mood and think of what to write any earlier – I like to do all my Christmas stuff in December so it feels really festive and that bloomin’ assignment took up far more time and energy than I wanted.  Writing cards in November to post overseas seems just too early for me!  I finally manage to make edible mince pies that we happily munched while we wrote.
I love the family traditions of Christmas which I have passed onto my own children.   When I was a child, on Christmas Eve my Dad would drive our family into central Melbourne to look at the shop windows.  As we drove the twelve miles, my brother and sisters would have a ‘counting the trees’ competition,  half counting Christmas trees on left side of the road, while the other half counting them on the right. It did get a bit raucous at times!  By the time we reached the city centre we were all very excited and would rush to Myers, the big department store, famous for its Christmas story windows.  We gazed in silence, transfixed by the moving figures and the beautifully constructed scenes.  My parents would have to drag us away bribing us with the promised of special treats when we got home.  We’d count trees on the drive home and then rush in to munch on shortbread, chocolate and mince pies while we prepared the carrot for the reindeer and the brandy for Father Christmas.  Before we went to bed our last task was to select a sock and tie it with sting to the ends of our beds.  As we got older we would play tricks on Santa; hanging a glove, tying a knot in the sock, hanging a pair of tights; all to try and confuse him enough so we’d catch him.  He was so clever, we never managed!
I was once of six children and we always had very simple presents, often home made.  One year Dad built us a playhouse. Our family house was built of wood and rested on stumps set into the ground.  Where the ground sloped away from the front of the house it left a space underneath.  Using second-hand wood, Dad boarded and floored a corner of it to form our playhouse which gave us years of pleasure as we made it into different settings – a shop, a place, a house.  Another year he built us a swing that seated at least two and a see saw,  while for another Christmas he made a set of table and chairs out of fruit packing cases.  All of our dolls’ furniture was made by my brother or my dad while Mum and Grandmas would make us dresses, aprons and petticoats and beautiful doll’s clothes.   My sisters and I learnt to sew and knit and would make each other all sorts of strange gifts! These home -made presents are the ones I remember the best.  They cost so little but were made with such love and care.
After such wonderful reminiscences it is time to come back to the end of 2010 and wish you all

Friday, 17 December 2010

School’s out!

Well dear reader, I survived- and I have the battle scars to prove it!!
Getting that assignment in was extremely traumatic and I am still exhausted.
I guess it wasn’t the best idea to have our Open House mulled wine and mince pies on Sunday but – you know what – sometimes a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do!  I had cancelled everything for two weeks and slogged away at that essay re-writing it three times and still not getting nowhere so I thought I may as well pile on the stress, have a great party and then concentrate on that deadline!  I was very disciplined on Saturday, concentrating really hard on writing; not even taking a teeny tiny peek at Strictly Come Dancing on YouTube!  I allowed myself the little treat of putting the Christmas tree in its bucket and putting the lights on.  I’d left everything else to do on Sunday – cleaning, cooking, decorating before the party started at 2pm.  Luckily my Kate came early and helped dress the tree.  It is always such fun unpacking the family decs built up over the years. Pride of place is taken by Kate’s little felt stocking and her brother’s ‘loo roll Santa’ made when they were about five years old.  That was in the 1980’s!  I then began to make mince pies, but with all those veggies coming thought it would be a good idea to make the pastry from vegetarian suet…..BIG mistake….take notes Jamie!!  You know those dog chews made out of dried up hide?  Well …now you know what our mince pies turned out like – great for jaw exercise but not much else!
Next, I thought I’d do gingerbread bikkies.  I followed the recipe precisely.  As I had no gingerbread people cutters, I decided on an Oz theme and made maps of Australia, koalas, kangaroos, Opera Houses, and Sydney Harbour Bridges.  Well they came out of the oven having spread all over the place.  The koalas and kangaroos looked like road kill and the others looked like amorphous blobs.  Meanwhile the serene, organised he who-knows- about- these- things (HWKATT) had cooked two great big casseroles, one veggie and one meat that turned out completely perfect – just typical!! 

Luckily the mulled wine turned out well so everyone had a fantastic time and we got to bed at 1am after finishing all the cleaning up.  I couldn’t do much writing on Monday as I was working on the Maritime campus as an ambassador for a visiting school. I enjoyed catching up with the others from the events and educational liaison teams and the school kids were much better behaved than the last lot thank goodness! I really had to get cracking on the essay that evening but I was too tired to get much done.  Gone are those days when I could stay up all night working!  I finally finished by midnight on Tuesday.  The deadline wasn’t until the next day but I really wanted to get it in before I went to sleep.  I kept trying to submit it until 1.30am with no luck so finally gave up and collapsed into bed.  The next day I learnt that there had been a technical fault in the system – aaahhhh! It was finally fixed at about 10am and it was with great relief I pressed that ‘submit’ button! I went into uni early to hand in my placement manager’s report placement because it is hand written and needs to be signed.  I celebrated by having turkey roast dinner with all the trimmings in the Dome – a bit sad but it was yummy!!

That was our last day in college before Christmas and I came home to a house that looked like a hurricane had been through it -papers and books strewn everywhere.  Instead of doing the sensible thing and spending a day sorting everything out ready for the new term, I chucked it all in one room, shut the door firmly and began to prepare for an annual event in my calendar - the Christmas Sweat Shop!

This is when my friend Chloe comes over with fabric and ideas for Christmas pressies.  I have to then figure out how we’ll make them and we then set up the production line. I do all the machining and  issue instructions about what to pin cut, iron, trim etc.  We made four retro style aprons, a cushion, and cupcake shaped pincushions and the kitchen was covered in pins, sequins, scarps of fabric and stuffing when HWKATT came home.  He promptly picked up the shopping list and recycle bags and headed off for a bit of retail therapy in Sainsbury’s!!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Panic Mode!!

The most used key on my computer
After being stuck in so much of last week with all the snow outside, one would think I’d be completely on top of all my work; totally organised with a serene expression of smugness on my face.
Well…no…that was the intention but it just didn’t quite work like that. I battled away with my assignment due in next Wednesday but it just got worse and worse.  The more I wrote the more muddled I got.  Trouble is – we aren’t given a title and the subject is me!  It is a professional log meant to be about my professional development though these first few months. We are supposed to incorporate all the elements of the course with lots of theory that relates to it and at least 25 references aaahhhh! We are meant to have a theme and I just haven’t got one.  I finally had a proper melt down on Saturday afternoon and he-who-knows-about-these- things copped it big time, poor thing.  He sat me down with a cup of tea and listened to my tale of woe and despair then became the glorious voice of reason and declared that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was.  He then told me to pack it all away have a night off and start again in the morning.  That was good advice and  after sleeping on it, I managed to cobble something together  on Sunday and Monday.  Although it doesn’t need to be handed in until next week I am so busy between now and then I really want to get it in asap. I have not started Christmas shopping and we are having our mulled wine and minced pies Open House on Sunday.  We only just sent out the invites and I still have to get the decorations up, muck out of the house (yes it does look like horses have been living here!) and make the mince pies. I know I could buy them but they just don’t taste the same….

How I would like to be...


Tuesday, 30 November 2010

It's snowing!

Saturday was Open Day and we all arrived looking like Scott of the Antarctic ready to be allocated our setting up tasks. Mine was to do the signage with Navin and Micheal, which involved attempting to predict just how lost visitors could get finding their way round then pre-empting the possibility by strategic placement of signs and directional arrows.  On completion I took up my post fro the rest of the day with Team Reception and got buffeted by icy winds blowing in every time the doors opened. We looked after visitors, checking their registrations, directing them and handing out prospectuses (I still don’t know whether the plural is prospecti or not) and other information.  I was very impressed with the funny barcode thingy that you can scan with your smart phone to access these blogs and the uni twitter site.  I had to ask an especially tolerant visitor to do it for me so I could go ‘Wow!’  As you know, I have only just mastered my IPOD and my mobile was constructed in the Bronze Age!

Sunday was a day of buckling down to get really serious about my assignment due in on 15th December.  I am finding it really tough.  I gave up by 7pm and sat down to a yummy roast dinner cooked by he-who-knows-about -such-things.  He had also been shopping for all the ingredients for my Xmas cooking so I had a lovely evening preparing Christmas pudding, a Christmas cake and mincemeat for mince pies.  I found it a very therapeutic experience!

My friend came over yesterday for  help to make Christmas pressies for her children and family. While the Christmas puddings bubbled away merrily for 6 hours, the cake baked slowly for 4 and the mincemeat suffused in its yummy juices, we sat merrily occupied making froggie bean bags, mouse pin cushions and a half pinny all from old pattern books from the 1970s.  I find it very funny when people call that retro - I remember it from being there!

Froggie bean nags
Mr Mouse the pincushion

Now I have the onerous task of having to ‘feed the cake’ at regular intervals.  According to the fragrant Delia Smith every few days the cake needs to be unwrapped then poked all over with a darning needle.  Then I have to spoon teaspoons full of brandy over it and then rewrap it in two layers of wax proof paper and foil.
..a woman’s work is never done!

Today we woke to a magical scene of snowy loveliness.  I always get so excited when the snow comes (must be my Aussie blood!), but getting into Despatch was quite another matter!  I decided against risking my scooter but donned hiking boots and suitable waterproof garments and, armed with my trusty mountain trekking walking stick, set off for the wilds of Studgroom Cottage after parking the car on the main road.  The view from the window was absolutely beautiful – a true winter wonderland. 

Below are pictures of Studroom Cottage at its loveliest!

Cotton ball bush at Mansion Hill

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I am starting to get pretty anxious about my first assignment due in by 15th  December. As I have a personal tutorial today I thought I would deal with my anxiety by taking some time out to prepare for it by working out my main concerns and getting more organised. 

The assignment is called a professional log and it involves doing a sort of ‘mini research project’ based on a personal log we are meant to keep during the year.  We have to link the three aspects of our course: theory; skills practice from our ‘triad work – sort of like role playing but dealing with our real issues; our placement work with real clients; our personal development work experienced in our special group work; and insights gained from our compulsory personal counselling sessions.  All this has to become a coherent 3000 word piece that makes sense to the examiner and accords with his /her  experience of us as students.  We have to discuss about our strengths and weaknesses, learning gained from both successes and failures in our clinical work and our interactions with peers.  So you can see why I am pretty terrified – there is no hiding behind glossy words!  We have to be pretty open and robust.  The last time I submitted a written piece was May  at the end of my first year so my assignment writing muscle feels quite rusty. One of the reasons I wanted to write this blog was to exercise it a bit.

I do feel a bit better now I have read all the course handbooks (some bits for the first time), sorted out all my notes including downloading all the lecture notes from the tutors, and dug out my last assignment with the feedback from this tutor. One great advantage of reading the handbook  was finding extensive notes about the assignment. No wonder the tutors keep going on about reading them!  Now I ‘just’ need to make sure I cover all the bits required, and block in sufficient time slots to work on it without getting myself into a panic. I cannot stay up all night to write an essay – I need lots of thinking time and I always end up doing about five or six drafts.  I always have to set the deadline at least two days early so I don’t panic about the computer blowing up, the printer running out of ink and/or paper or me coming down with a deadly virus. I think that all goes back to the days of doing my first degree while on call for home births, and running a household as a single parent!

I have a busy rest of the week with rellies staying tonight and tomorrow and another university  open day on Saturday.  If you recall, at the last one I made between 5-600 cuppas so I wonder what Jess, the boss has in store for me this time – watch this space!

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A Very blowy week!

It’s been an odd week and I am feeling as blown around as the trees outside my window as I write.  Sometimes I feel that my life is very compartmentalised – at others I feel like my different worlds seem to tumble together  in quite an unsettling way.
Our second vehicle is a little 50cc scooter and with its tiny engine, and small wheels, I am very affected by road and weather conditions. Last Thursday morning I arrived at my counselling placement feeling really buffeted by wind, flying leaves and disgruntled car drivers.  I hope you, dear reader, are not one of those motorists who throw cigarette butts and other rubbish out of the car window straight in the face of some poor biker like me!
I try to arrive at my placement in time to strip off my leather jacket, padded trousers, and turn myself into a respectable looking professional.  Sorting out my ‘helmet hair’ is always difficult but after preparing the counselling room I sit quietly with a cup of tea, and the clients’ notes, refreshing my memory then preparing myself to listen as well as I can.  I have four clients booked but it is rare that all turn up.  Some report illness, conflicting schedules, childcare problems, or prearranged holidays.  The one’s that unsettle me the most are the ‘Did not Attends’ or DNA’s who just don’t turn up or stop their therapy with no warning or notification.  I had my first DNA last week.  Not knowing why leaves me with a sense of ‘untidiness’ and unfinished business.  Another client was stuck in traffic and 20 minutes late which meant we had a rushed shortened session leaving us both feeling dissatisfied. My other two clients arrived on time but both related unsettled weeks.  By the time I left, having completed my paperwork,  the wind had died down and I was able to ride back home in the lull before further gales set in that evening. I was looking forward to my stained glass class but I made a mess of my glass painting and felt like I hadn’t really achieved anything. I missed my after class drink with my Sister-Out- Law (we are ex’s of brothers)  because her dog was so poorly she couldn’t leave him.
The rest of the week was strange. My SOL made the decision to have her dog put down.  He had been her companion for twelve years and, being a dog person myself,  I understand how dreadfully she misses him. She is coping with her grief by submersing herself in a frenetic and totally uncharacteristic bout of house cleaning!  Another friend organising a dear friend’s funeral needed some support so I helped with the cooking and then joined her for the after- funeral meal.  It was strange being there with people grieving a person I did not know. We toasted his spirit, raising a glass to his portrait  - showing a kind, gentle man.
On Saturday my cousin celebrated her 80th birthday with a gathering of the clan for a meal. Our  present was the mobile phone she had requested.  We had great fun teaching her how to use it then all posed for a  group shot with our phones to our ears and our cousin sitting in the middle decorated with 6” badge declaring her to be ‘80 years young’!  I am so impressed that you can now buy a simple phone with no apps or camera, large text and very clear instructions.  She mastered it much more quickly than I had my IPOD!    Am I going backwards?  The more apps and complicated the  appliances get,  the simpler I want them.  I want my camera to take pictures, my phone to ring or text people, my computer to be a work tool not a games console.   I think it is old age!
On Tuesday I turned up for work in despatch looking like I’d just had a major dose of botox!   As  I was pulling the loft hatch down the night before,  it crashed down on my top lip and front teeth.  Alan my boss has already had to patch me up once after I tripped and fell really badly a couple of weeks ago while rushing back to work.  He thought bubble wrap might come in handy!  I told my son Jack that I looked like I’d just had botox.  He misheard me and began frantically reassuring me that I really didn’t want to get into all that stuff and I was just fine as I was! 
So after this strange blustery week full of quite disparate events, I have requested a quieter, calmer  next one  - but then again I have just checked my diary…

Monday, 8 November 2010

House Fairies, Fireworks and cheese on Toast!

We have three fairies living with us.  Ms Sock Fairy lives in the washing machine and only ever steals one of each pair.  I figure she is either one-legged or quirky enough to like wearing odd socks.  She must have moved here with me as he-who knows- about- such- things never had a problem before I arrived with my washing machine! Then there is Ms Plastic Lid Fairy.  No matter how many times we sort out our plastic container box you can guarantee within a month the occasion arises when I’ve just put the leftovers in a plastic container ready to go in to the fridge and the lid is missing – but of course only the lid for that container.  I’m convinced that this  fairy lives in a very snowy landscape and enjoys plastic lid sledging so much she needs to constantly replenish her supply. Our third fairy is particularly active at the moment. She is Ms  Procrastination Fairy and has been stealing my motivation for college work all week.  I decided to tell you about her in the hope that all the publicity would placate her enough to encourage her to go away and bug someone else for a while!

That naughty last fairy has sent me some lovely distractions this week. One of my favourites was  the fireworks display at Blackheath last night.  Every year we wrap up warmly and fuelled by large bowls of thick vegetable soup, walk the mile or so up to the Heath.  The crowds get thicker the closer we get. Normally I avoid such large gatherings but this one is always friendly and accommodating.  As we wait, children  play with sparklers and glow sticks, others  visit the stalls and food stands and everyone seems happy to chat to strangers around them. As the tinny music fades the countdown is announced.  The crowd roars out the numbers – 10….9…8..down to  ‘zero’ and  the first rocket explodes, showering the darkness with its brilliance. It is followed by 40 minutes of noise and colour assaulting the senses with pure delight.  The crowd is silent apart from the oohs and ahhs accompanying the many  spectacular moments.  As the last shower of sparks disappears the crowd breaks into applause.  With our visual appetites satisfied we begin the walk back, the smell of the chemicals lingering in the air  and the memory of such beauty still so fresh – a huge friendly crowd dispersing into the night. We walked back with three friends who stayed to share a late meal – rounding off a perfect autumnal celebration.

Now it’s time to banish that fairy and get on with my work …. but not until I share one of my favourite family cold weather foodie treats with you  - perfect for those study breaks- or dare I say it – when you need one more thing to stop you getting started!

Alice’s Family’s Welsh Rarebit  (or posh Cheese on toast)
For two people


Grated cheese – about a handful per person – I like strong cheddar – the stronger the better but just choose your fave*
Teaspoon of mustard – I like Strong English but use whatever you fancy*.
1 egg*
A little milk*
Pepper and salt and herb to taste*
Worcestershire sauce*
4 slices of bread*


Turn on the grill . While it is heating mix the * ingredients together with a fork. Use enough milk to make the mixture a little bit runny but not too sloppy or it will fall off the bread. Toast the bread and sprinkle it with Worcerstershire sauce.  Spread the mixture over the toast and grill it until it is browned on top and the mixture firms up.  Then – enjoy!!

Some variations:
Try sliced tomatoes under the cheesy mixture.
To make it spicier add paprika or cayenne – not too much though!!
Basil or parsley is yummy in the mix.

Why not try it then let me know what you think! If you have more ideas on variations I’d love to try them.  Now, no more excuses – time to get down and write that case discussion ready for next week – aaaahhhh!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

An interesting read...

My daughter Kate and I have been reading a book called ‘Why am I so disorganised? Sort out your stuff’ by Dr Marilyn Paul. Using an in depth psychological perspective and illustrating the work with her own deeply painful experiences, she writes about clutter, lateness, procrastination and disorganisation and the incredible negative effect these habits can have on one’s life and relationships.

I grew up with the strong messages of ‘waste not want not’ and ‘don’t throw it out as it will come in handy one day’. People who grow up with different messages and find it easy to tidy up and keep possessions to a minimum, find it difficult to understand messy people who surround themselves with clutter and vice versa.
When my children grew up and left home and I merged houses with my very tidy and organised partner, I found it extremely difficult to clear years of acquired possessions and move into my new life as a ‘post dependent children’ person. 

The words of William Morris became my mantra: “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”. Parting with unwanted gifts or never-loved heirlooms felt like betrayal but once I took those words to heart, I thought of it all as recycling as I offloaded via the tip, the Freecycle web-site and charity shops.  I found the hardest part was making the decision about what to get rid of – once it was gone I didn’t miss it and felt nothing but relief.
“Simplicity of life, even the barest, is not a misery, but the very foundation of refinement; a sanded floor and whitewashed walls and the green trees, and flowery meads, and living waters outside.” I haven’t quite managed the living waters outside unless you include the excuse for a  pond we made from sinking a large bucket into our tiny garden, however,  having pared my possessions right down the house is a pleasure to clean and tidy and it feels fresh and spacious. 

Marilyn explores the myths by which messy disorganised people live. These include ‘if you are neat you can’t be creative’. ‘Tidying up is boring’, ‘I don’t have time to do housework’, ‘I’m always late because I am so busy’. These were her myths and they affected every area of her life.  As she explored them, challenged them and began to change her habits her whole life changed.

She learnt the importance of allocating the correct amount of time for a task to include preparation and clearing up – it is an unfinished task without.  She found that by considering clearing as ‘a return to readiness’, she found it a posiitve experience rather than a time wasting procedure. She gave the example of washing up; by drying and putting the dishes away the kitchen is then in a state of readiness for the next meal preparation.  She stresses the importance of allowing transition time between tasks to have a break, say goodbye to the completed one and prepare yourself for the next.

Anyway I think it is a really interesting and informative book and has great relevance for me on many levels. I will mention two here:  Firstly, one of the ideas I am exploring for my research proposal is the topic of hoarding – why people do it, what is the thinking behind it, what keeps them in a state of such unhappiness surrounded by so much stuff that is neither useful or beautiful.

Secondly, I am determined to plan this year more carefully than the last to avoid major imbalance, unnecessary stress and feeling overwhelmed as deadlines approach.  By understanding and identifying underlying reasons and unhelpful thought patterns that lead to getting myself in such a tizz I hope to change bad habits and  improve my university and study experience. Maybe other students who struggle in similar ways will find this helpful – good luck and I’ll let you know how I get on!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Harvest Time

Autumn harvest
What I love about this time of year are the colours.  As we prepare to curl up in our woollies for the long cold dark months ahead we are surrounded by the brilliance of nature’s Autumn palette – yellows, golds, oranges and bronzes.  For me this also means pumpkin time!

Himself and I visited West Sussex on Sunday and our first stop had to be the famous pumpkin farm in Slindon near Arundel. Many years ago Mr Upton began growing pumpkins and squashes of every imaginable variety and his son Robin has continued the tradition since he died a few years ago. On Sunday the place was packed with people picking up the common orange pumpkins for their Halloween carvings. However, for me it is all about taste and colour. I grew up eating the rich deep orange flesh of the Queensland Blue pumpkin as part of my Sunday roast or boiled and mashed as a  regular part of our evening meal. Now I also love it made into a rich vegetable soup or into pumpkin fairy cakes. We returned with a selection chosen mainly for their gorgeous colours and shapes to use as my Autumn table decoration.  We get the enjoyment of wonderful kitchen colour that we can eat our way through over the next few weeks – very economical!

Now that the summer flowers have faded we have filled our planters with winter colour composed of cyclamen, winter pansies and curly purple ornamental cabbages. These bloom for months and cheer me up when the winter just seems to go on for ever and I start to wonder when the sun will appear.

Beautiful woodland cyclamen - perfect
for winter colour
Curly ornamental cabbages

We have planted bulbs ready for the Spring and hope we can ward off the squirrels long enough to get  some blooms. They love to eat tulip bulbs but dig up the daffodil bulbs just to play with leaving them scattered around the garden too damaged to replant. I can’t get too cross with those pesky critters – they make me laugh too much with all their antics!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

The Big Draw

I ended my last missive about to set out for The Big Draw. 
I arrived at Potters’ Field next to Tower Bridge with Chloe my work colleague. She has worked as a community artist for over 20 years and I began working on art projects with her a few years ago. As Community Arts London we have done lots of workshops for schools and community groups where we encourage them to find the artist within and create collages out of different fabrics which we then form into large banners which are hung in the community or school. We were discussing running a project for the Big Draw next year so volunteered to help for a day this year as part of our research.

We joined a group doing monoprinting. This consisted of painting large sheets of Perspex with acrylic paints and either scraping into it or doing direct painting with bushes, fingers, sponges or anything else that came to hand.  It was important to work fast before the paint dried.  We then laid a piece of paper over it and smoothed it down to make a print. There were some wonderful images and it was exciting to see groups working together so enthusiastically - school kids, families, visitors to London, couples and older people. The prints were hung on makeshift washing lines strung between the birch trees. We had such fun and worked really hard but after a day working outside and constantly wet from all the cleaning involved, I ended up with a nasty cold.
That didn’t stop me from catching the Blockheads performing at Blackheath Halls that evening nor from going up the next day to join in the events in Southwark Cathedral on Saturday.

The cathedral was full of people sitting around with sketch books, drawing the statues, the stained glass and artefacts excavated from the Thames. There were lots of artists there to help and encourage so I had a go at drawing some of the images of water shown in the beautiful ‘creation’ window at the back of the nave.  It is so high that I had never noticed it.  There were binoculars available to study the detail.  After an hour of sketching and chatting away to others doing the same, I had to leave so I could tuck myself into bed with a hot lemon drink. 

It is a wonderful festival and there are Big Draw events going on all over the country.  Those two days by the Thames were free and an amazing experience.  I am really getting into free events now I am a poor student!  Watch out for it next October and get along – it’s great.

Now my head is less muzzy, it’s time to get my reading done ready for this for this week’s theory lecture. It’s a bit different from doing the BSc. We don’t have seminars, just two hours of theory that we read up about beforehand. We usually have at least 4 chapters or papers to read for each week and if we don’t do the readings it is hard to figure out what the lecturer is on about! I am looking forward to my counselling placement on Thursday as I am starting with my fourth client – and my first man. Most of my working life has involved working closely with women so this will be new experience for me. I wonder if he’ll realise he’s my guinea pig?

Friday, 22 October 2010

Stained Glass Class

In an early blog I wrote that I was working on ‘balance’ this year.  I tried and failed quite spectacularly to achieve this last year but I am determined to have good mix of study, creative arts projects, practical stuff and socialising. 
On the creative aspect, last year I completed my City and Guilds Level 1 in Stained Glass at evening class. I made new glass panels for my front door. It is so amazing to see a glass panel that you have been working on for months flat on a bench suddenly transformed when it is up and backlit. It seems to come alive and changes throughout the day as the light hits in different ways.
The restoration window

My front door panels

Beautiful detail of the window - you can see the damaged panel that I have replaced with a newly painted one

This year I’m restoring a beautiful old window that was given to me by a workman who had had it lying around in his shed for years and thought I would be able to ‘do something with it’.  It was so filthy, I did not realise how beautiful it was until I put it over the light box so the colours could be seen properly. Two of the really intricately painted panels are so badly damaged that I need to paint new ones.  I am fairly terrified that I will not have the ability to do them justice but the teacher is so good I have to trust her to guide me properly.  I attend the class with my sis-out-law (we are the ex’s of brothers) and always go for a couple of beers after wards in a fairly crazy pub nearby.  By the time we get there at 10pm the only customers are the regulars playing pool, watching the sport and chatting up the ever patient barmaids.  As the only two women (and older ones at that!) customers we attract a fair bit of curiosity and some strange advances from all the oddballs. Luckily the pint sized manageress looks after us (I must be twice her size!) and moves them all on so we can settle down to have a good chat.

So my Thursday now starts with the morning in my placement as a counselling student with three or four clients, and ends with my stained glass class and a quick pint.  That feels great! 
Now I need to end here as I am off to volunteer for the Big Draw and event being held all along the Thames today and tomorrow to encourage everyone to be find their creative within themselves and have a go at drawing, painting sculpting etc.  I wonder what I will be doing but whatever it is it should be such fun! 

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Mastering my IPOD :)

Well, dear reader I have finally made it into the 21st century. I have discovered the joys of the IPOD.  He –who-understands-such-things presented me with this strange thing last Christmas feeling so proud that he had chosen it in one of my absolutely fave colours – orangey bronze. However, after a few attempts at trying to work it, despite his comprehensive tutorials, I’m afraid I put it in my too-hard box to give me time to build up the strength to try it again. I must say it is very different from my first record player that consisted of a varnished wooden box with a turntable moved by a little rubber wheel. When the music on my 45’s started playing too slowly I knew it  was time to lift off the turntable and clean the rubber wheel and the inside of the turntable with methylated spirits. I was then set for another few hours of happy listening at the right speed. It all seemed so easy then!

…but today was the day! I was determined. Fuelled by a cup of builders’ strength Yorkshire tea and a fist full of digestives, I took out the instructions and managed to find itunes on the web.  What a treasure chest of delights!  I am sitting here typing extra fast jiggling away to a US radio station - RAZR Country.  Billed as ‘Country Music with an “EDGE”!’, it’s fantastic – I’m hooked! Now all I have to figure out is how to put it onto the IPOD as for now I’m listening to it on the computer with my headphones on. I’ve got to figure out the next bit as the lead is just too short to go very far!

Anyway if you’ve got a nasty deadline and need to type at twice your normal speed stick on a bit of  RAZR!

What other news?  Saturday was Open day on all campuses. I was based on the Avery Hill Campus and after running around helping to put up signs and get out boxes of prospectuses (or should that be prospecti?) I was put in charge of refreshments.  I think I served 5-600 cups of tea, coffee and water every so often rushing off the Dome with handfuls of empty thermoses. Rhoda there was a treasure keeping everything stocked up and informed me we used up the entire supply of biscuits. – a first for an open day! It was great fun and it was lovely to see people who arrived all frazzled from long journeys, or hunched up from the cold wrapping their hands around a warming cuppa and unwinding. People had travelled from far and wide; I met people from Devon, Ireland, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. When I arrived home with sore feet I was greeted with the words ‘Come in, warm up and I’ll make you a nice cup of tea!’.  Reader – I swooned!

I am really enjoying college now that we have all settled in. There is such a different quality to the second year. Although I know the work is going to be much more intense, we have settled as a group, we know our way around the campus and the IT, and we are studying with greater depth.  I love the work at my counselling placement and am working with three clients and am soon to have my fourth. As a extra mature student on a part-time course doing all this extra work within the university gives me the opportunity to meet loads more people and with the added bonus of continually bumping into people I know from events, or from Clearing. It’s such fun- I would recommend it to anyone.

This next week is a bit quieter work wise so I’m looking forward to catching the Blockheads at Blackheath Halls on Friday night.  I am treating He–who-understands-such–things as I remembered him recounting the time he saw Ian Drury playing with them there at one of his last gigs before he died.  I think it will be quite poignant seeing the Blockheads playing without him - such a personality.

…hmm now I’ve written this blog in double quick time thanks to RAZR, I’ve got time to figure out how to get some blockheads onto my IPOD to get in the mood…..

Thursday, 14 October 2010

An Outing with the injection bum!

Yes that has been my adventure this week – sad or what!  Skills London 2010 was a four day event in the Excel Centre in East London, designed to showcase opportunities for work, study and apprenticeships to students studying A Levels and GCSEs.  Greenwich University had a stand and I joined the team on Friday and Saturday.  My remit was to work on the skills table for the School of Health and Social Care.  Pride of place was held by the injection bum – a plastic model for students to practice giving injections in that part of the anatomy  more correctly known as the maximus gluteus muscle.  One cheek was intact while the other had a section cut away to show the nerves and blood vessels you could hit by injecting in the wrong place. 

We had some interesting comments from students:

‘Errr (poke poke) is it real?’ to which I replied ‘Yes, of course!  The rest of her is under the table!’
or ‘Nah – they wouldn’t let us chop up a real person so we had to do with this plastic one!’ 

We had boys turning the model over to check out her ‘bits’  and I did wonder how they expected to learn much about the birds and bees from that experience.

I was joined by four paramedic students on Saturday.  They were only four weeks into their course and hadn’t ‘done’ injections yet. They had great fun demonstrating and practising themselves.  Julie, the nursing tutor, had to demonstrate all the electronic temperature, blood pressure, pulse and oxygen saturation equipment to me because when I trained in the 1970’s it was all mercury thermometers, feeling pulses with my fingers and  counting the beats for 30 seconds timed on a hand held  watch and taking blood pressures with a mercury machine and a stethoscope.  Of course we also lived in caves and dressed in animal furs as well!

…anyway the event was very busy and we ran out of prospectuses having given out 1500  by early Friday.  We then took names and addresses to send them out later so you can imagine how busy we have been in despatch this week!

I arrived home on Saturday exhausted with little voice left after talking to so many people and competing with the events on the stage next to our stand.  However, I was incredibly impressed at how everyone mucked in together and worked so well as a team. 

The rest of the week has been a bit of an anticlimax!  Sunday was a day to relax and enjoy that gorgeous weather before rushing through all the preparation work and reading needed for college on Wednesday.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Busy bee...

Tuesday October 4th

Busy day today! This is my third Tuesday working in Despatch – part of the Enquiry Unit. Tucked away in the far corner of the car park at the Mansion Hill is Studgroom cottage that , as the name suggests, was the home of the head groom when the original mansion was the centre of a huge, very posh blingy estate. Behind us are the old stables now used for storage.

Alan and Richard the two full timers are joined by a different student for each day of the week. It’s yours truly on Tuesdays! Letters to students come through Web CT with different number codes for all information requested. These codes relate to trays containing different types of leaflets and prospectuses. We put it all together, bag it up and off it goes.  It’s a lovely peaceful place to work tucked away from the hurly burly and when we need a bit of breather, we can step outside to enjoy the view of  beautiful trees around us changing into their autumn colours. We also have our pet spiders in the hedge by the door. We can feed them with tasty flies and watch their amazing web work - just like Charlotte’s web.

I finished my ‘shift’ at 2pm then headed for the library to get the readings needed for  the group tomorrow.  Whenever I go there, I am amazed at the staff – they all seem to be blessed with endless patience, and courtesy. I have never had a bad experience! Were they trained in customer service by those who may remain nameless – who put the fear of God into us during our clearing training? I then jumped on my scooter and headed off to Chistlehurst for an hour and a half of ‘group supervision’ at my course placement.

A bit more about my course:  It has three components – theory, skills training and personal development and each component has its allocated slot on our one day in college. We have a placement in a counselling practice and are required to complete 80 hours of counselling clients. For each 8 hours of practice we have one hour of individual supervision and one hour of group supervision arranged within the counselling practice. We use this time to discuss the clients and seek guidance and support in our work.  We have reports written about our performance there and we have to present case studies to our case discussion group, write up placement assessments, professional logs and theory papers. Lastly, we have to complete 40 hours of personal counselling by the end of our second year. That bit seemed , and still seems, strange to me attending counselling as a requirement of the course, not because I have burning issues that need sorting. I’m sure I will adapt to it and see the benefits.  We have no exams for this course; it is all essays and reports – a lot of work but suits me far better than having to memorise a lot of stuff then try and regurgitate it in a coherent manner in a fixed amount of time – ahhh! Even telling you about it leaves me feeling exhausted!

This was the  first time I had had to ride my scooter from Avery hill to Chistlehurst. I carefully wrote all the directions out and made my way there only having to stop once and retrace my steps. That was great but then trying to get from there back home to Hither Green (a 15 minute journey) had me doing a grand tour of south east London. Eventually I made it back in 45 minutes, via Bromley, Beckenham and Lewisham to be greeted by a bemused Ian just serving out a beautifully cooked chicken risotto – what a petal!

Thursday 7th

Last night was our second week of the course. I feel we are now settling in together. The mysterious Keith who was on our list but not there in person turns out to be a phantom and doesn’t exist and we met Sharon, the last student joining us for the year.  That means we have a cosy group of 16 – perfect. I did my first case discussion where I had to sit back and have others read out my script of a client session (suitably anonymised) and then stay silent while they all discussed it. I felt like a nervous wreck by the end but it was wonderful learning and such great comments from everyone. 

It was specially helpful as I was back in my placement today seeing that client and also a new one. I am really starting to relax into the work and I enjoyed today immensely. The material brought by the clients is so rich and I feel incredibly privileged to be trusted with it. I’ve just coming back from my personal counselling session and after writing to you all, I am going to stop all this thinking stuff and go off to my stained glass class. That is my treat for the week. I am restoring an old Victorian stained glass window so I’ll tell you all about that in another blog!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

My goals for this year...

My plan this week was to get myself organised for the year ahead.  For starters I set myself the easy task of putting everyone’s email addresses in groups in my contact folder.  I pressed the wrong button and deleted half of them which then required a help! email to the rest asking for them back..  The next job was to write my case discussion ready for next week only to find I have run out of white printer paper so it has to be on girly pink – not my colour really!

I have set myself a goal this year  to balance things better between academic work, income generating  tasks, socialising and creative stuff.  Taking a break from the computer, I spent Saturday with my daughter in a tiny village in West Sussex. A walk from her flat  always seems to turn into a  veritable feast.  Last time I came back with sloes to make our Christmas sloe gin, rosehips to make jelly and blackberries and elderberries to mix with apples for a delicious crumble. This time we munched on grapes scrumped from the vineyard up the road, and I returned with sweet chestnuts to mix with brussel sprouts, onion and bacon in white sauce – one of my favourite warming dishes.  Another treat is nettle and potato soup but I have to remember to take the marigolds out with me! Nettles don’t grow in Australia and for years I only knew about them from reading books. I discovered what they were when, on my first job in the UK as a strawberry picker in Kent,  I squatted behind a tree for my ‘comfort break’…not a pleasant experience!

Friday, 1 October 2010

My First Blog

Well this is a first! I have heard of blogs but never figured out how to do one. I am still terrified of the IPod Ian gave me last Christmas and as for twitter… My son Jack thinks it is hilarious and can’t figure out why I just want a mobile that is just a mobile, not a camera, computer or anything else.  However I am determined to move into the 21st century so here goes….

Wednesday was my first day as a second year student. It was great to see familiar faces, catch up on the summer and meet the newbies - sad to see the gaps left by the two who have deferred for a year. At first I was really excited at getting stuck into the new year but by the end of the evening it had really hit me how much work there was to do.  I left in a state of complete anxiety!! Could I pull it off and get through another year? It is a really intense course. Teaching is from 2pm – 9pm every Wednesday.  We also have a student counselling placement and have to complete 40 hours of personal counselling. However, our year group consists of just18 students who provide invaluable support. Calming down with a stiff G&T I was gently reminded of this fact and that there is no reason I couldn’t get through it if plenty of others before me had! So here I am now, surrounded by piles of papers determined that I am going to be organised by next week - oops is that another pig just flew past the window?