I want to explore the light


I think in general I have pretty good instincts but I am pretty crap at acting upon them.  I’ll give you a few examples:

I thought I should have left my job at the homeless hostel within about 6 months of starting there.  But I thought I would be letting people down or that it might not look good on my CV if I was only in a job for 6 months.

After a year with my ex boyfriend I thought that things weren’t working and that I should leave but various things had led me to think I wasn’t strong enough to cope on my own.  So I stayed and he made me miserable and I tried to make him happy but couldn’t.  I stayed for 2 years and for that whole time he was cheating on me.

The week before I moved here I went to visit my dad and told him that he needed to start looking after himself because I wasn’t coming back for 2 years and I didn’t want this visit to be the last time I saw my dad alive.  He thought I was being ridiculous but we still talked about things like wills and getting his important paperwork sorted out.  I don’t know why I said that to him in the glow of a summer afternoon’s sunshine but I just knew somehow that I needed to because my instincts told me he wasn’t well.  And two weeks later his doctor’s visit told him he had terminal cancer.  Four weeks and 3 days later he was dead and that visit had been the last time I saw my dad alive in any real sense.  Of course I saw him for the two days before he died in his hospice bed but by that time he was not really recognisable as my father – the person who told me that I should say ‘May I get down from the table?’ rather than ‘Can I get down from the table?’, the person who would push me on the swing and let me push off his tummy with both feet just to get higher, the person who kept a text message from me saying ‘I love penguins I do’ on his phone for 4 years because it made him giggle.

So I think I know somehow when I need to change things but mostly I’m too afraid to do so because I don’t want to let other people down or disappoint anyone.  But I’m 29 now.  I don’t want to be living to please others and keeping on to see if it will be alright when I know deep down somewhere that it won’t.  And so I’ve come to a decision.

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You can take the girl out of the W.I. but she’ll not stop making cakes.


Ok, so technically I was never in the W.I., although I did intend on joining.

When I lived in Newcastle and broke up with my boyfriend I was sharing a one bedroom flat in a former convent with him and he was an alcoholic.   He was sleeping in the sitting room, I had the bedroom.  I didn’t feel like I could have friends round, as there was nowhere for them to sit and I didn’t want them to see him in that state.  Neither did I want to deal with the hours of talking that would inevitably follow over many, many days if someone came in and had upset his personal space.  We lived like this for 6 months before he moved out.

I had to find things to do to occupy my time.  working shifts as a careers adviser I couldn’t really commit to regular classes or activities in the evenings, unless you count the night shift activities of ‘Sing the lyrics of one song to the tune of another’ or ‘Read out song lyrics in a sort of Radio 4 voice for other people to guess’ or, my personal favourite, ‘How long can I try to talk like Reeves and Mortimer being Geordie Otis Reading and Marvin Gaye sitting on the dock of the bay before I begin to sound like Sarah Milllican?’.  They don’t really count as activities.  Fun, yes, getting me out of the house for something other than work, not so much.

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Exile


“I feel a shadow passing over me, it could stay for ever more
Like a wave I’m breaking far at sea, there’s no one to hear the roar

And the days are drifting into seasons, they’re the hardest I have known
A million spaces in the earth to fill but, no going home, there’s no going home

I can dream before the break of day that I’m back with you again
Then the morning blows it all away and leaves an echo of your name

Still a thousand miles lies between us where we’re waking up alone
And what if I could cross a hundred borders?
There’s no going home, there’s no going home.

When it thunders from the empty skies I shall be there
No one to hold you when the storm birds fly is there no one left to care?

I search the rumours with my hollow plans and all I want is what’s mine
Lost and lonely in a foreign land I’m left too far behind the lines
I want to tear down these walls between us but I can’t do it on my own

A million spaces in the earth to fill and there a generation waiting still
We’ve got year after year to kill but no going home
No going home, there’s no going home.”

At 1am on the 26th of August, flying somewhere over Egypt I couldn’t sleep. I’d said goodbye to my relatives, waited for hours through a storm to pass so that we could set off and my travel sickness pills had worn out. So I couldn’t sleep. I had watched the film – Best Exotic Marigold Hotel if you remember – and there was nothing else on BA’s system that I hadn’t seen or didn’t have on my hard drive, so I turned to my ipod.

I started singing along to the Kate Rusby and Kathryn Roberts version of Exile from Steve Knightley. Obviously I was singing along in my head, I’m not a complete arse. At that point I kept repeating ‘no going home’, partially because it’s catchy, also because I wasn’t going home. Not for at least two years, and though the lyrics can be read as depressing, I listened to them as full of hope and adventure.

Now, a month later, I’m re-packing my suitcase and heading back again. Dad’s not doing too well and if I leave it much longer, then I might be too late. So better to go now whilst I can talk to him and sort out some bits and pieces than get back justt in time for a funeral.

In the last few weeks since people found out I’ve had some really lovely messages, so thank you if you were one of those. Some close friends haven’t managed to say anything, but what is there to say? Whenever I’ve had friends with sick or dying close relatives, I’ve not known what to say, mainly things along the lines of ‘It’s all a bit shit really isn’t it’ and then going on normally with people. And now that I’m in that situation, I’ve not got much more to say. It’s been commented on that I’m taking it all pretty well, but what more can I do? I’m disconnected at the moment, so can’t be of practical use, I have a job to do and children to teach, I’m now running the junior choir, teaching year 7 and 8 singing lessons and have started a staff singing group. I’m helping out with the West Side Story rehearsals, not to mention planning lessons and marking books. Today we made art works inspired by Rwandan Poo Paintings. They are cool, look them up.

When I go home, I’ll be visiting sick relatives (more than just Dad now, but he is in the worst shape) copying choir music, buying small instruments and chorizo to bring back. I’ll try and update this a little more regularly if you would like to keep reading. In the mean time. get on youtube and listen to Kate and Kathryn sing this song. It’s beautiful.

Leaving on a jetplane


Two weeks ago I arrived in Mwanza.

I had spent two weeks visiting family and friends, didn’t get to see all of them unfortunately, but still managed a fair few.

My flight from Heathrow was leaving at 19.20, Mum wanted to be there in plenty of time so after bacon sandwiches with my sister, niece and nephew, we set of at 11am.  That should have given us a fair bit of time, but there was a large accident on the M40.  At this point we realised we had no map so called my step-dad for an alternative route, which actually took us an hour and looped us back to where we began again.  Mum found a garage that sold a map of the whole country, not just Milton Keynes or Oxford and we made our way down arriving at 2pm.

Unfortuntely we couldn’t check in my bags until 4.30ish so we stopped for a cheapish 3 course lunch and waited for check in to open.  The night before I had packed and repacked my bags hoping to get them all within the allowed 23kg weight and when we finally got them through to the conveyor belt with built in scales it seemed I had managed to get them about right.  I had left behind most of my teaching books, and I realised later most of my clothes, but who needs them anyway?  I gave Mum a hug and we both managed not to cry as I went through security.

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Because I had tried not to put too many valuables in my hold luggage, my hand luggage was packed with a computer, two hard drives, a jewellery box, torch (not sure why) and spare clothes.  It didn’t make it through the scanner and had to be searched by a Portuguese security man who said it was just because it was so full that it looked dodgy on the scan.  He asked if I minded him searching it then kept apologising when he pulled out pairs of spare pants (clean of course).  With that over I set off through the terminal to meet another new teacher, Suzie.  She said she would wait by Accessorize and I said I was wearing a spotty top.  We managed to find each other within 2 minutes, which was rather handy.

Over the course of the next few hours waiting to board the plane we found a few more new teachers and watched as the storm I had spotted when I arrived moved closer and closer, eventually enveloping the airport.  It was only after we had boarded the plane that the pilot announced that we would be delayed for take off by one and a half to two hours.  Not too much of a problem – I played peepo with the small child in the seat in front.

I didn’t sleep much on the plane.  It got too hot, but I watched ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ which has confirmed my belief that I should be Judi Dench when I grow up.  Or Bill Nighy.  Either would be fine.

When we arrived at Dar es Salaam I managed to take a couple of pictures of the Indian Ocean from the window of the plane…

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and then waited in a gaggle of people for my entry visa.  I was sat at the back of the plane whereas all the others were up the front together and so I met the others we collected on the way.  We now consisted of Suzie, Emma, Emma, Vicki, Phil and Joe.  As we gathered our mountainous luggage, went through the next section of security and queued for an age to check in for our connecting flight we met Sandy and Vlad – Sandy is teaching art and Vlad is a pilot – and Stephan the new French teacher.  We had some minor hassles with weight limits and language barriers, but soon we were sitting waiting for our flight to Mwanza that was delayed by two hours.  Not a problem.  Time to get chatting, have a drink and eat chips with hot sauce.

 

Eventually our plane came and we were flying again, this time with complementary cake and a brochure outlining Mwanza’s night life options.  When we arrived we were greeted by a selection of the school staff and driven to our new homes.

 

Limbo


I’ve started my anti-malarials.  So far, no side effects, which is good, but they are likely to make me feel nauseous, more sensitive to the sun and all sorts of other fun things.  So essentially I’m moving to the sun and taking medication that will turn me into a vampire. 

I’ve nearly packed – two suitcases of clothes, books, toiletries, dvds, shoes, staplers, staples, snap cards, hand blender, etc. and one more to fill with vitamin tablets, sunblock, stationary and pictures.  Little gifts that have come from my chims at work – Hello! – are going in there too.  I think I may have to repack some clothes to pad it out a little and take some of the rattling about out of it.

We’re leaving at 12 tomorrow for my 19.20 flight, better to be there waiting than in a queue on the M25 waiting.  Not sure how my mum is doing with all this going on, she’s storing all my stuff and driving me down, but my little brother is already trying to claim the dvd collection. Git. He’ll soon find that I’m actually taking all the good ones with me and leaving the empty cases for him to cry over.

It’s been less stressful, the irritating ex *finally* gave me some money today, so that’s my US dollars sorted.  Family members have also donated some so I now have a waterproof jacket, batteries for my torch for when the power cuts out and 6 bottles of sunblock.  Ta very much to them.

Not sure how I’m feeling about things at the moment, I think I just need things to be done now.  I’ve visited people, but not enough of them, I’m missing a festival that I’ve been going to since I picked up my GCSE results 12 years ago – Towersey Village Festival if you’re interested, it’s good, go next year if you can – and I’m feeling like I’m in limbo.

The next one of these I’ll write I’ll probably be sunburnt. I’ve got some Aloe Vera so don’t worry.

One week.


There are things that I really hate doing sometimes. I hate washing up if it’s hot outside. I hate running. I hate feeling like I’m not in control. I hate having to walk dogs – it really stresses me out after a bad experience when I was little, I hate writing job applications. And I really hate asking people for money that they owe me. I’m now in my last week in England for a while and I still have lots to do. I’ve got a shopping list of about 20 things I still need to get but I’m running low on cash.

My ex boyfriend has had plenty of warning of when I would need the money by and he’s been off work (his choice, not sickness) and so hasn’t really got it to give to me. I’m getting paid a little from my old job, but not until I’ve gone. I’m getting some money from the school, but not until I’m there. I don’t want to borrow more money from friends or family that I’m not going to be in a position to pay back for a while when he knew he had to get this money to me.

It’s making my last week really stressful. I’ve got family to visit, packing to do. I’m not sure if I’ve got to much stuff for my weight allowance, I’m coming to terms with the idea that I’ve seen my grandmother for the last time (she’s 99 and ¾, so that’s not just being pessimistic, it’s a very strong likelihood), that I’m going to miss a big chunk of my nieces’ and nephews’ lives, that my dad needs more support than he is willing to admit and I’m leaving my siblings to sort that out without me, that I may not have the opportunity to go to my best friend’s wedding, that I’m heading to somewhere that is completely alien with no one I know and now I feel guilty because I’ve told my ex boyfriend’s mum that he owes me lots of money and would she be able to help out?

I know that he’s been trying to pay me the money and he has given me some of it, but I had budgeted for him giving me the rest, as he said he would. And now that’s gone wrong and I’m not in control of what I need to be. As I mentioned before I hate that. His mum is probably going to help out and then I don’t have to worry about it any more, but I still feel guilty, like I’ve betrayed him by telling her.

I also feel guilty that I’m storing lots of stuff at my mum’s house and so it’s a bit chaotic for her at the moment. I know she doesn’t really mind too much and she now has access to a substantial DVD collection, but when you move 9 years of your life into boxes in cupboards, you can’t help but feel that you are infringing on someone else’s life.

There have been some positives in this past week – I’ve spent time with one neice and nephew and am going to see the others on Tuesday, I’ve had a good day with the ancient grandmother – she recognised me, looked highly irritated when I suggested she was 120, told her everybody’s news and she told me she loved me before I left. I’ve started the ball rolling for the support for dad (with the help of some of his very lovely friends) and he’s already sounding better than he did before and apparently feeling so. I’ve spent a lovely day with the best friend who I’ve not seen for a stupid amount of time and it was like no time has passed. I’ve even given her some centre piece ideas for the wedding and have called upon a standby date for the wedding in case I can get back over for it. I’ve been to my little brother’s housewarming bbq, made some chocolate orange brownies, seen a shooting star and looked after some chickens. I’ve also been in touch with three of the other teachers who will be in Tanzania with me, so hopefully that will ease the way.

Next week I’ll see more relatives, hopefully some school friends and finish packing. Then seven days from now, I’ll be heading to Heathrow, freaking out a fair bit no doubt, taking travel sickness tablets and wondering what on earth I’ve let myself in for.

Something’s Coming.


Something’s coming.

It’s my last Friday in my current job, we are having a paper aeroplane contest in honour of the Olympics and I have built a cracker.  Preliminary tests showed it to be a good flyer, with a slight tendency to curve to the left after about 12 feet.  Since the initial testing phase I have given it a decorative all blue Union Jack design, but I think this may have compromised the aerodynamics a little.

I’m feeling a little bit odd at the moment.  I had a health scare earlier in the year and yesterday went for my 6 month check up.  Although they said everything looked fine there were a couple areas they biopsied to be sure, since I’m going away.  I’m not too bothered about that to be honest, I’m sure it’s all fine but it’s just another thing to add to the list of current unknowns.  For example, I know I’m being booked 3 suitcases for my flight but I don’t know anything about the size of bags or total weight I’m allowed, whether one of those counts as hand luggage.  I know I need a visa to travel, but I don’t know how to get this yet.  I know that my ex boyfriend owes me a fair amount of money that would cover a lot of things, like my anti-malarial tablets, but I don’t know if he’s going to pay me any time soon.  I know that I need to finish packing, but I don’t know when I’m going to get the motivation to do that.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  I’ve got a day off tomorrow, Sunday morning and a whole day on Wednesday, but I do have a lot of stuff and I’m not sure that I want to keep it all.

The unknown that is going to be revealed soon enough is my surprise leaving party – yes I know you’re probably thinking that it’s not a surprise if I know it’s happening, but other than the fact that I’m getting collected at 7.15 this evening and delivered to the venue, I don’t know much else.  I’ve bought some fake nails to try out (mine are bitten down to an almost embarrassing length, a habit I’m yet to break even after that rank tasting nail varnish that’s meant to put you off – I started biting the skin around the nails instead and so thought the nails were the lesser of two evils at that point.)  Never had fake nails before or nails of a normal length so it might be a bit odd. Still, thought I should make an effort as people are making an effort for a party for me.  I know 6 people are going.  Hopefully we can push it to 10!

I think the oddest thing is that I’m starting to feel the same way I did this time 9 years ago – I’d been accepted on the Newcastle University Folk Degree roughly a month before and it had suddenly dawned on me that I was leaving the home I had lived in for 16 years and the area that I’d lived in all my life.  It wasn’t happening the way I’d planned, I was planning on working for another year, then travelling for a year before heading off to university, but then circumstances changed – I’ll leave that story for now in case I need to get £500 for my story from a weekly woman’s magazine – and suddenly I was heading north.

It wasn’t the thought of leaving my family all those years ago, but more the fear of being found to be a fraud.  I’d had a good group of close friends at school and had been friends with quite a few others in different groups, but somehow I always felt like I was on the outside looking in.  Also, I was joining a course for a type of music I loved, but didn’t really know a lot about.  What if I was laughed off the course? What if I didn’t make any friends?  I’ve got the same concerns now I suppose.  I’ve been out of the classroom for a while and although I know I’ll be good at the job, it’s big thing to start with a new class, in a new school, a week after I arrive in the country 4500miles (ish) from home? I’m sharing with someone new – my 17th flatmate in 9 years – what if we don’t get on?  What if the school decides after a term that they’ve made a horrendous mistake and send me home?

I know that these worries are probably unfounded but as I spend 6 more days in my adopted city I can’t help but ahve them playing on my mind.

Still, loads of entertaining things have happened in the last few weeks, won the pub quiz twice, been to Olympic football matches – Mexico vs. South Korea, Gabon vs. Switzerland – seen an amazing production of Julius Ceasar by the RSC, developed a crush on Tim Roth (don’t judge), been given a lock by a stranger so that I ‘don’t get the AIDS’, been to see the Dark Knight Rises, been to see my friend perfoming at a local gig – Kate Edwards, look her up, you’ll be impressed – watched lots of sports on the TV and soon I’ll be off to the ball.  Or something. And I bought a hat.

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?

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.