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?