Wide Open Spaces


Sometimes in my current job we have a bit of quiet time and have to entertain ourselves with questions and games. 

A recent question that was set was ‘What song would you use to sum up your life or personality?’  Most people struggled to think of one, but mine sprung to mind straight away.  I’ll post the lyrics below:

Taking the Long Way Around
 
My friends from high school married their high school boyfriends.
Moved into houses in the same ZIP codes where their parents live
But I, I could never follow. No I, I could never follow.
I hit the highway in a pink RV with stars on the ceiling.
Lived like a gypsy, six strong hands on the steering wheel.
I’ve been a long time gone now maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
But I’ve always found my way somehow
By takin’ the long way. Takin’ the long way around.
 
I met the queen of whatever, drank with the Irish and smoked with the hippies.
Moved with the shakers, wouldn’t kiss all the asses that they told me to
No I, I could never follow.  No I, I could never follow.
It’s been two long years now since the top of the world came crashing down
And I’m getting’ it back on the road now
But I’m takin’ the long way, takin’ the long way around.
 
Well I fought with a stranger and I met myself
I opened my mouth and I heard myself
It can get pretty lonely when you show yourself
Guess I could have made it easier on myself
But I, I could never follow. No I, I could never follow
Well I never seem to do it like anybody else maybe someday, someday I’m gonna settle down
If you ever want to find me I can still be found
Takin’ the long way, takin’ the long way around
 
The Dixie Chicks
 
 
When I first heard this song it reminded me of a conversation I had in a pub with my best friend from school in 2004.
I was 20 and had gone home for Easter.  I’d met up with Clare and other friends and we were discussing what we wanted from our lives.  I had a plan (as people tend to do at 20ish) of what the next ten years would probably bring.  I would be 23 by the time I finished my degree, I would work and take a part time Masters in Music and Education, train as a primary teacher, work for a few years and hopefully start having kids at about 30. 
Clare baulked at this idea, saying 30 was pretty old to start having kids, she wanted one as soon as possible.  My mum had me at 30, although her first child was when she was 21 and the 5th at 34, so 30ish seemed a good time to get going.  We were at different stages in our lives – Clare had been working since she left school, was settled with her boyfriend and either had just, or was just about to, buy a flat.  I was part way through my first year of university and had almost had a relationship with someone who liked to dress as an elf.
 
Eight years on from that night in the pub and Clare has a lovely little boy, has been married to that boyfriend for about 6 years and is still very settled.  I finished the folk degree, started the masters, dropped out because I didn’t get a job I was relying on.  So I ended up working in a homeless hostel for two years before finding the careers advice job. So I’m still no closer to having kids unless someone hands them to me, but I’ve mostly achieved what I set out to do.  Still taking the long way but sometimes that can be a bit more interesting I guess.
 
What would your song be?
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How did we get there from here.


This year has been somewhat of a trial.  I qualified as a teacher last June and although I applied for a few full time teaching positions I wasn’t keen to take one on immediately.  The PGCE has been one of the most difficult years of my life – as I’d been warned – but this hadn’t been helped by having a turbulent personal life.  I probably should have taken the hint when I was dumped on my first day at university, but after a few weeks we worked things out knowing that things weren’t going to last forever.  I’d found out that I’d been cheated on, I lived 250 miles away from my family, most of my university friends had moved away and I’d drifted out of touch with others because of three years of anti-social shift work.

I spent 9 months getting up at 6am, going to university or school, working solidly until 10pm, letting myself watch a couple of TV shows and then off to bed at midnight.  I worked nearly every weekend and holiday between September and June.  My boyfriend was by no means perfect but was someone who I could mostly rely on to keep me going.  By the time I came round to applying for jobs I was burnt out and unhappy at home.  I’m not saying any of this because I want to portray myself as a martyr, many others were in the same boat with difficult circumstances, but just to give a sense that it’s an exhausting thing to do.  Grey’s Anatomy and Community were my lifelines and may well continue to be.

Luckily, during that time I did have my part time job as a careers adviser that kept me in touch with other people, gave me an escape from the simmering tensions at home and gave me some spending money.  After a couple of unsuccessful interviews I decided to sign up for teaching agencies and stay with my current job until a teaching position came up.  When September came there was not a lot of supply so I opted to go full time again with the careers advice. 

By December I’d still not had any supply work and I’d come to the realisation that my relationship was pretty much over after nearly 3 years.  It was something that I’d known for a long time, but hadn’t been brave enough to voice, mainly because I didn’t think I could manage financially without his support and also because I’ve never been on my own before.  I’m 28, I’m the third of five children and in the last 9 years since starting my first degree I’ve lived with 16 people.  I’m not really used to my own company. 

Making the decision to end things was actually quite liberating.  Although we continued living together in a one bedroom flat for about 6 months, he’s been on a lot of night shifts so I’ve had more time to myself. Had I not spent the last couple of years mostly being miserable then I probably wouldn’t have developed the confidence to apply outside the UK.  I probably also wouldn’t have discovered that the lyrics to the Umbongo song fit pretty well to the tune of Rolling in the Deep (try it) or remembered that my Heather Small impression isn’t too bad.

It starts.


My phone pinged its ‘message’ tone (craftily stolen from the postman in Don’t Be a Menace..) alerting me to an email. Expecting another update from the Trainline pointing out how amazingly expensive it would be to visit my family, or Travelodge highlighting that they are the only hotel chain I can afford, I sighed and checked the inbox. Instead of these, I found an email from one of the schools I’d applied to at ten to midnight two days before saying that they were very interested in taking my application further and would I like to set up a Skype interview?

Now I’d never used Skype before, but on that Thursday I had two interviews – the first with Mwanza, the second with Valencia.  I hastily tidied the section of room behind me that could be viewed by the camera and waited for the bing to let me know they were calling.  To be honest, I needn’t have bothered ‘cleaning’ as the connection was crackling and I sounded like a robot so we had to scrap the video and then the phone conversation and just resort to land lines instead.  The interview with Valencia was a bit more successful with a stop start video thing going on, but when I was asked if I would accept the job I tentatively said yes, thinking I’d really rather go to Africa.

Thinking back, the bad line may have been a result of the triple storm that hit Newcastle that night, our entrance hall was quite flooded but I’m on the third floor so all good.  I would hear from both on Friday, so I had to keep myself busy.  I bought a book and finished it that day – Private London if you’re interested – I went for Jack Daniels shrimp for the first time in about 4 years and I sat in the bath, avoiding my phone.  When I decided I would venture out, influenced highly by the shrivelling of my feet I found the message – ‘you came across extremely well and we would like to offer you the job’ from the Tanzanian school.

I can’t deny it, I actually gave a smallish squeal and then my feet did what my younger brother refers to as ‘happy feet’.  I did want to accept straight away but thought I should probably ring my mum first to warn her that I was leaving the continent for two years and would she like to look after some of my stuff please?  So I emailed back ‘yes please’, probably a fraction more elegant, but not much, and started sending out over excited text messages.