Entries in work (17)



 I’m not the most efficient writer I know. I find it very hard to achieve a lot of work in an evening. But I do try. My evenings are planned and timetabled week by week: there’s a certain amount of work I aim to get done.  I might waste a lot of time staring at my computer screen or reading Twitter (which is where the inefficiency comes in) but generally by the end of the week, I’ve met my target one way or another.

I refer to this process as ‘work’. It’s misleading. I don’t get paid for it; no one makes me do it. It’s work that I’ve chosen to do for no reason other than that I want to ‘be’ a writer. Which is a hard thing to explain to the average non-writer.

Occasionally I get asked to do extra work at school in the evenings and I find it difficult to turn it down. I’m one of the few support staff without children and therefore a solid reason why I absolutely can’t do anything else in the evening... so I’m often an early point of call when cover is needed.

When I do extra paid work, my writing time suffers but I find it hard to justify my writing as being ‘work’. Indeed there’s no payoff to speak of and it’s very difficult to explain why I think it’s important to maintain my commitment... particularly when someone’s stuck and needs support to cover an absence.

If I had another paid job in the evenings, I would have to turn things down more regularly than I currently feel able to. Is it really any different, I wonder? Is a commitment made for oneself less of a commitment than the ones made to other people?

Image by Ildar Sagdejev.



I Blame the Armbands

On a Thursday afternoon I have the dubious pleasure of sitting on the edge of a swimming pool shouting encouraging comments at ten year olds as they learn how to swim.

Their swimming teacher is very good, and every time I watch them, I think how much difference your swimming teacher can make to your relationship with water and swimming.

I’m a fairly poor swimmer. I can do a nervous breaststroke that involves keeping my head out of the water (much like a paddling dog) and wincing anytime someone splashes me, but that’s about my limit. And I’m terrified of jumping in.

I love the concept of swimming; I love how freeing it looks to be able to swim well. In fact, dreaming of it is one of my preferred ways to relax at bedtime. In reality though, I’m very nervous of large expanses of water and my swimming skills leave a lot to be desired.

I was taught to swim with armbands by a lady who walked along the edge of the pool with a long metal rod and occasionally shouted at me about how I needed to kick more. I loathed swimming lessons. The pool was sunk in the middle of a concrete building lined with changing cubicles and there was always a faint smell of urine. We were supposed to change much quicker than I was capable of and the teacher would get cross if we took too long to blow up our armbands. I can still remember the sound the reverse alarm on the school minibus made: the sound that filled me with dread every time I had to go swimming.

The children I take to the pool on a Thursday are taught to get their heads wet and jump in before they even start learning to swim. And there isn’t an armband in sight. Floats, yes. Armbands – those bright, uncomfortable inflatables that make it impossible for you to keep your head under even if you want to – no. They’re taught variety: front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, picking things up from beneath the water... Actually, I think that happened when I was taught too, but you only got to do most of it once you’d mastered breaststroke... which I didn’t.

Every time I watch the children’s lessons, I think about how much I would like to be able to swim properly. It looks relaxing, freeing – comfortable even – to be able to do it confidently.

So I’ve been thinking I might to try to get myself some adult swimming lessons one of these days... though preferably not at the local pool, where I’m bound to run into lots of children I know, all of whom are vastly superior swimmers to me.

Photo by Chip Smith


A Concert before Lunch

You’ll have noticed the lack of posts round here lately (especially of the non-writing-related variety). This largely correlates with the lack of life I’ve been having as I suddenly find out where my self-discipline’s been hiding and start making up for lost time. My house is a mess too, but we won’t go into that.

I haven’t really being doing anything apart from going to work and spending long evenings at my desk. This is a good thing. But it’s making me antisocial, uncultured, and slightly peculiar... and as such, things to write blogs about are proving few and far between.

So it’s a good job I work in a primary school and occasionally get to go on educational trips.

Today’s was with a year five class to see the London Symphony Orchestra play. This isn’t the first time I’ve realised how lucky we are to live in London or how lucky our children are to get these opportunities.

The concert was aimed at Key Stage Two children and was really well structured to keep them engaged and teach them (and me, who’s generally ignorant of all things music) about the workings of an orchestra.

My overwhelming feeling about it was, as it is at pretty much every music event I attend, one of total admiration.

I can never quite get over how all those individual instruments, by playing all at once, can create such an immense sound. The LSO played excerpts of various well-known pieces for the children, and this really highlighted for me just how amazing it is that this music can be produced.

Watching the musicians work together to produce these magnificent pieces made me admire their discipline, skill and – perhaps more than anything – lack of ego. In order to play in an orchestra, in order to play these amazing pieces of music, the musicians have to give themselves over to the group. No one’s going to say, “Oh, I really thought the fifth violin sounded beautiful tonight.” In an orchestra, a musician is like an ant: only useful as part of the colony. I couldn’t do that (even if I could play an instrument). My ego’s quiet... but it’s there.

My other thought, mixed up with the admiration and the gratitude, was how lovely it must be if your job is to play in a major orchestra. Like anyone who gets to pursue their chosen art form for a living, these people are doing what many people will only ever dream of.

And for me, it was a great way to spend the working day!

Image by Ian Britton



My Grandma, I realised the other day, has had to overcome a lot of hurdles to accept who I am.

It has been hard for her to accept that I’m never going to be a career woman; that I’m not interested in becoming a journalist or a teacher, or indeed embarking on any kind of career that would earn me a useful amount of money. She has just about accepted that working part time and spending the rest of my day writing is the way I’d like to live my life. But she doesn’t understand it. She tells me about my cousins who have both bought houses in recent years and are more financially secure than I’m ever likely to be. And every time she does, I feel very aware of that stability I don’t have; that house I can’t afford; those holidays I don’t go on.

And then I remember: I’ve chosen not to have those things.

For me, the process of affording them will not make me happy. A full-on career with all the stresses that go alongside it and the complete cut in time for myself would make me miserable. Perhaps I would be able to buy a house, but unless I could spend lots of time in it writing and cooking and doing all the things that make me happy, it’s not much use to me. For my cousins, it’s a sensible choice. As far as I gather, theirs are careers they enjoy and the houses are a bonus.

I’d love to have a house of my own. I’d love to be able to decorate my living room or decide to put shelves up in the bedroom. I’d love to know that my home is mine. But what I enjoy doing won’t pay for that right now. And what’s the point in life if you’re not enjoying it?

My Grandma understands the theory, just not the practice. And when I talk to her about it, I feel a little bit guilty for making her worry. She accepts that I’m doing what makes me happy; she just can’t for the life of her think why it does. And every time she remembers how much I’m paying in rent or the state of my bank balance at the end of the month, a little part of her panics.

But that, I remind myself as I open the front door at an hour when the sun is still reflecting on the letterbox, is no reason to become a journalist.

Image by Ian Britton



‘Do you want to play with us at playtime?’
‘I can’t – I’ve got a funeral.’ She says it seriously, matter-of-factly.
‘I was invited to the funeral too, but I don’t want to go.’

I am concerned at first. Who did all the children know that died? Why don’t I know about it? Will there be anyone left in the classroom after playtime? Does the office know they’re all going out?

‘Whose funeral is it?’ I ask one of the kids. He doesn’t answer me. I wonder if it’s too sensitive a subject, but he seems unconcerned.

‘Oh, Miss,’ says another child, ‘it’s not a normal funeral.’
‘What is it then?’ I ask.
‘It’s a funeral for Joe’s DS.’
‘For his DS?’
‘Yes – his sister broke the screen so he’s having a funeral for it at playtime. Everyone’s invited…’
‘It’s a long story,’ interrupted another girl, wisely. They nod gravely and walk away.

Right then, I think. The children are holding a funeral at playtime for a Nintendo DS. That’s normal.

Image by Gerdthiele