Friday, 30 October 2015

Secret agents and prison libraries

Nearing the end of the half term holiday, I have used my time kind of constructively. The first creative writing assignment has been sent. We had to choose from 1500 words of prose or a poem of between 30 and 36 lines. Because I wanted to make a good first impression on my tutor, I didn't opt for poetry. I started writing about one thing that kind of changed halfway through and ended up as something totally different. I don't know why my writing does that. It's like I make my start, and the story says, 'No, no, that's not how it goes. Write this instead...' I just need for my tutor to mark and return it and then I've got to use it for my second assignment, turning it into a script. Cue slight hysterics. The guidance says the adaptation should be 15 minutes, with each sheet of A4 averaging one minute of performance time. This, obviously, does not include time that hypothetical actors would be convulsed with laughter at the script, or storming around having dramatic tantrums and saying, 'How the hell are we meant to work with this material?' 

The assignment after that is a critique, the next is a proposal for our final piece, then comes another piece of fiction. I've decided I'm going to write about Special Operations Executive, which was the organisation that sent spies into France and Holland during the Second World War. I've been fascinated by the subject for years, and a load of new information about it is now available, so I've ordered some books. I scribbled the title of one on a piece of paper in front of me: How to be an Agent in Occupied Europe. I then realised the paper was being used as a 'jobs I'm interested in' scribbly sheet I'm compiling. It now looks like I'd like to work with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, as a bookseller at Waterstones, or as a secret agent. It might be worth a try, although life-expectancy is only six weeks and I can't speak French, which is a bit of a hindrance. 

I am job-hunting. A bit more seriously than my past half-hearted efforts. After nearly 14 years in the job, I now find myself back in the role I last had nearly 9 years ago, which is frustrating to say the least, so it may be time to move on. One job stands out for me, and that's as a library assistant. The on-line application form took two and a half hours to fill in, and regularly failed to save what I'd just written, so goodness knows what they've actually received. Applications close on November 1st, so we'll see. Did I say it's at a prison? No? Oh well, we'll kind of gloss over that bit. It's only Category C and the last time someone had a roof-top protest was a couple of months ago, so... Hmmm. Anyway, I like a challenge, and I no longer get that in my present job. It's either a new job or stop caring so much about the one I'm doing at the moment, which I'm not sure I can do. I'll keep you posted. 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Chocolate cake and chips

I have spent the afternoon in the reception class and I will never complain about the Year 6s again. Where do these little, bouncy people get all their energy from? 

Many years ago, when I started as a teaching assistant, I worked for two years in the reception class and loved it. I felt fulfilled and enjoyed the company of thirty over-enthusiastic and slightly leaky mini-humans. Truth be told, I found the Year 6s a bit scary, with their noise and back-chat, hanging off each other as they crashed down the corridor. Today, I spent two hours in reception and am in dire need of alcohol. Their welcome was lovely. They all wanted me to sit with them and look at their drawings. I was ordered to read a story about an elephant by a girl who clambered into my lap and helped me with the voices and sound effects (you can't do sound effects and animal stories with the Year 6s). I had to make an order from a girl with a notepad and purple felt-tip. I asked for chocolate cake, and she asked if I'd like chips with it, so I thought, why not? 'You can order anything from my shop,' she announced. 'What else would you like?' I thought that asking for Jake Gyllenhaal would be inappropriate, so I added some ice-cream to my order, and she wandered off to put some sand in a bowl for me. 

Can I have chips with that? Cheers. 

I suppose one good thing about the reception class children is that you can get really silly with them, (although there have been times when I've done that with the Year 6s). A crowd of them started making a Duplo house for me, and I helped by sorting through the bricks. 'Can I have a polar bear in my house?' I asked, finding one in the bottom of the box. 'You can't have a polar bear in your house!' they told me. 'What about a zebra?' 'No!' I was ordered. 'You can have a baby.' I'd rather have had a zebra...

Oh well. It was kind of fun, but exhausting, and I'm thinking about how I've changed from the days when I loved working with four year olds. At least I can remind myself of this afternoon the next time the older children are winding me up. Yes, they may try answering back at times; they may be a bit cheeky and hormonal, but at least they don't sneeze all over the tables. 

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Learning to take criticism

I'm beginning to think that the only time you get new posts on here is when I'm trying to avoid doing other stuff. Today, I'm avoiding the Open University forum. We've been asked by our tutors to post some of our work so other students can tear it to pieces critique it. During my last creative writing course, I managed to avoid posting on the forum completely. Well, I did the 'introduce yourself' bit, then fell silent for a whole year. Others shared their work and had intelligent responses, but I don't take criticism well. My response is usually to think I'm totally awful at something and hurl whatever it is in the bin. For this course, however, we have to critique work - it's one of our assignments. So, when the tutor asked us to submit our work to the forum, I quickly copied and pasted my morning's work, typed 'Please be gentle with me,' and signed off. Now I'm hoping I've not been seen as a swot for being the first to reply. I thought it was easier to be the first, because then I wouldn't already be feeling inadequate after reading other people's clever work.  

Now I've got as far as opening the OU forum page and can see I've got a response, but I don't want to read it. We've been asked to tell each other two things we like about their work and one thing that can be improved, which is exactly what the children at school have to do. So, thinking back to what some children have written on their friends' work, I could put something like: 'You've used interesting words. You used a metaphor. I can't read your handwriting in the second paragraph.' 

I really should read that comment on my work, and stop being so wet. Hang on... Oh hell, there are now four replies... 

Phew. People have been very kind. They've said my description is good and there are no negative comments, only a question on how I'm going to adapt it into a script for the next assignment. And I've been very good and commented on someone else's work. Maybe this won't be so awful after all. 

I'm having to get used to a new keyboard, which is making writing extra tricky at the moment. It has a different slope and the keys are a bit further apart, so a lot of this post has been deleted and re-typed as it's been complete nonsense. My old keyboard had half the letters worn off, which was fine for me because I learnt how to touch-type at school, but it drove The Husband crazy. He is a one-finger typer, and it takes him half an hour to write a short email. The fact that the R was so worn out it looked like an I, and the L was completely missing, used to lead to great bouts of swearing and noisy deleting, so we now have this new keyboard. It's a gaming one, which I got because they're more robust (according to various websites) and I liked the bit at the front that you can rest your wrists on, because I type so much that I've got painful bits on my wrist-bones, or whatever they're called. Of course, the way it can cycle through purple, blue and red lights is rather good, although I do have to switch that off because it's distracting when you're trying to think of un-clich├ęd ways to write about dust motes in the sunshine. Son Number One is predictably scornful about my choice in keyboards, and points out that I only ever play Candy Crush, so why would I possibly need a gaming keyboard? 'Because I want one,' is the childish answer. The same reason that Son Number Two owns about twenty different watches. The same reason that I really wanted a fire-starter, even though I knew I'd never use it (and Son Number Two bought me one for my birthday, because he understands). And the same reason that I'd like a really expensive fountain pen, when a cheap biro will do the same job. 

I'll point out that I didn't want a fire-starter for any sinister reason. I just watch a lot of survival programmes and you never know when the zombie apocalypse will start. I'll be fine, because I now have a fire-starter and a craft-knife in my handbag (which I have to take out when we go to concerts and there are bag-searches, just in case I'm arrested. I only use it for putting up school displays, honestly, but if the apocalypse comes and you need someone to gut rabbits, you know where I am.).

And now, I must go and do some more work on my assignment, now that I know it's not a total load of rubbish. 

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Blue doughnuts and choosing quotes

Many, many months ago, The Daughter and her boyfriend came up with the idea of buying a travel-package-type-thing, in which they could tour the world (or part of it, anyway) changing flights as and when they liked, depending on how much they enjoyed being in that particular country. Plans were made, and I didn't have to worry as it was ages away. Except, now, it's last Thursday. They stayed with us for a few days, then The Husband and Son Number One drove them to Heathrow and waved them off.

They're in Dubai now. Daughter and boyfriend, I mean. Tomorrow, they fly to Sri Lanka, then it's Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand (for Christmas), then back to Dubai, before returning to the delights of a shivering and dismal England in early January. I know they'll have a marvelous time. They're going to Buddhist temples and elephant orphanages and tours around New Zealand on a minibus, but I can't stop doing the mum-thing of worrying. Will they forget that they're not allowed to hold hands in the street in Dubai? Will they appear on the news after some elephant-trampling incident? I've seen photos, and they're both still smiling, and neither of them are behind bars; so far, so good. Actually, I have been pathetic (in the eyes of my eldest son) and bought myself a tablet (The computer-type. I'm not on the other sort yet.) just so I can get Instagram and follow their progress. I've seen some pictures of amazing buildings and waterfalls and, strangely, some bright blue and green iced doughnuts, which look as if they'd be banned in the UK for being too much fun and containing too many E-numbers. 

Alarmingly, I got an email from The Daughter this morning, with the heading 'Ur gent' (yes, it was spelt like that). I opened it, wondering if we could afford the bail, and whether I'd be allowed six months off work to argue with UAE lawyers and do BBC news appeals. The email was an advert for a weight-loss programme. I warned The Daughter that she was spamming all of her friends, and then had a quick lie-down while my heart went back to normal. Mind you, too many of those blue doughnuts, and she may be needing the programme herself. 

My mother has just finished jury service. A couple of years short of her 70th birthday, after which she would have been excused, she had to travel by train every day to Ipswich and listen to a rather nasty court case about child pornography. Unfortunately, she came down with a virus which made her lose her voice and cough so much that she had to be escorted out of the court-room and sat down with a drink. She had to miss the final day, during which the defendant absconded, causing a man-hunt which was all over the local news. He was found guilty and captured, but my mother feels rather peeved that she missed all the excitement.  

I have done some OU work. I've replied to my tutor's post on the forum. He asked us to choose a quote we liked, say why we chose it, and discuss its genre. I waited and waited but no-one else replied, so I thought, bugger it - I'll write something and all the intelligent people will then get motivated to rip my ideas to pieces. How to choose just one quote I liked? I ended up cheating, and copied out the whole of the first paragraph from the children's book Tuck Everlasting, about the first week of August hanging at the top of summer, like the highest seat on a Ferris wheel. Predictably, people followed that up with quotes from Jane Austin and the like.  

And now, I'm meant to be doing my assignment, so I must get off here and make some coffee and have a biscuit and read a book. I am justified in doing this: reading extensively makes you a better writer, I've been told. So, reading a Ruth Rendell murder mystery is actually homework.

Think I'll just check Instagram first, though, and make sure I don't have to do any prison-visiting.