Poetry Blog: Forbidden

This feels like an ambitious poem. For me, that is. I doubt actual poets would feel anything like as intimidated by it as I did. In fact, such was the level of ambition and intimidation, it was a poem that I almost didn’t even take on. But in the end, it was a subject matter that interested me so much that I just thought I’d like to write a poem about it.

So the poem is about the mass repatriation of Zainichi Koreans who were (and still are) ethnic Koreans living in Japan. Between 1959 and 1984 93,000 ethnic Koreans living in Japan were repatriated to North Korea, despite the fact that lots of them were of South Korean origin. Furthermore, among the 93,000 were over 1800 Japanese women who had married Korean men. Many of these women had previously faced the opposition and disapporval of their families, such was the ill feeling towards Korean immigrants in Japan at that time. Now they faced an uncertain future in a land where they knew nothing about.

The repatriation was disastrous for many as the promise of a new life and the optimism that brought just didn’t work out in a North Korea that was heavily damaged by war. Later, as North Korea became more and more closed off to the outside world, the women were denied the chance to visit family and ‘home’ in Japan. My poem is written from the point of view of one of these ‘trapped’ women.

Forbidden

When we married, we dreamed of a future together in our home, 
like everybody does, I suppose. Something modest.
Having fought for just each other, we didn't need the world.
But it took only months to leave those dreams behind
and look towards others on another shore that we imagined as home.

Too young to know better, to argue, to question
we boarded a ferry to our brave new world.
Promised the dream of paradise, we told ourselves that we weren't being forced,
that this was our decision, that our nerves would give way
to delight at what our future could, would become.

But our future wasn't bright at all. Instead it was the sombre
tones of mines and factories where we made our lives,
as had been their plan all along. Our utopia disappeared,
in time becoming nothing but a prison where we shed
tears for our loss, tears for our betrayal, tears for our home.

I clung, steadfast, to memories, allowed my senses to take me home,
closed my eyes to reality in order to see the acacia in full Spring bloom,
allow the smell to envelop me, stay there for a time bathing in the warm air.
In my mind I would walk pavements in parks with him,
cherry blossom breaking over us like gentle April waves.

But none of it would be real life anymore.
When we were forbidden from visiting our parents' graves
sadness turned to loathing. Those who frowned upon our youthful choices
were now just ghosts of the past and we could not mourn
the loss of our very beginning.

Instead we were forced to mourn the loss of our very freedom, our existence,
our souls, culture, identity
and, given no reason why this should be we could only feel more detached
than ever before, disillusionment disintegrating into numbness.
We were driftwood, pushed along by the sea, forgotten by the land.

Now, it feels like I have spent my life staring blind from this window
scouring the landscape for the past that I can no longer see,
searching through the coastal mist for a home no longer on the horizon,
imagining one last glimpse, one last memory, one last conversation,
while knowing all senses are lost like our identity.

We are widows.
Abandoned, forgotten, homeless, but never hopeless,
yet cast adrift, a life not lived,
forever seeking the answers to how and why.

I hope I’ve managed to do this topic justice. As I said earlier, it was something that I read about – and have read more about since – that just gripped me. For want of a much better way of putting it, I just felt such sympathy for the women that I read about. Some of them talked about how they married their Korean partner, despite pressure from their families and how despite not regretting their choices, they were forced to live with the eventual reality that they would never see their parents again. The stubbornness of youth leading a lifetime of feeling incomplete.

The stories possibly resonated with me because at the time of reading, in the middle of the Covid crisis, I had begun to wonder if I’d ever see my parents again. Their age combined with their vulnerability to the virus made for some very difficult times and although I wouldn’t dream of thinking I’d had it as bad as the Japanese women I read about it piqued my interest in their story.

I think I quite like what I’ve managed to write. I found it difficult to write as someone else, but I’m fairly sure I haven’t made a complete mess of it. I hope you like what I’ve written too. As ever, please feel free to leave a comment.

Poetry Blog: Pursued

This is a poem that I actually wrote and then briefly forgot about. It was only when reading through a notebook and finding a folded up piece of A4 paper that I discovered it again. I think it was written some time in the last two weeks, but somehow I’d just tucked it away and forgot that I’d written it.

It’s poem that has a couple of different influences. Partly I think it’s about mental health. Not just my mental health, but peoples’ in general. It’s about not being able to get rid of the darker moments, the lower moods, which is something I’ve had to put up with for a short while now, but something that lots of other people have probably struggled with for many years. So, I’m not moaning or feeling sorry for myself; I know others have things much, much worse.

I think the other influence or meaning behind this one is that I’ve been suffering with an injury – it’s been about 7 weeks now – and it just feels like it’s never getting better. So again, something I can’t seem to shake off. (Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong; less shaking, more relaxing?)

Pursued

I feel like you defy description. I don't know how to cope with you 
and words almost fail me.
Every label seems not to stick,
neither adequate nor accurate.
You're definitely not a friend,
but not a stranger all the same
and a cloud hanging over me can actually pass on the wind
before returning, whatever the forecast.
This is a nagging doubt, a feral dog trailing too close at my heels,
craving trust, but up to no good.
An excrutiating headache, pressing down,
a torchlight shone in my eyes or maybe a spotlight exposing me
when I feel the need to hide.
A flare in a clear night sky, marking me out, just as I find sanctuary for the night.
A light that offers no illumination, but lets me know that there's to be no rest,
no safety, nowhere to serve as an escape,
just an uncomfortable reminder that tells me to keep moving,
because at times like these, slowly, tentatively,
like an old man shuffling around the room to find the candles in a power cut,
that's all that I can do.

I don’t know if feeling this way is a legacy of lockdown and all things Covid or simply just another stage in my life; an age thing perhaps. But where before any sense of feeling low was fairly easy to shake off, lately I’ve not been able to. So ‘Pursued’ seemed the perfect title for the poem as it’s absolutely how I’ve felt both mentally and physically and how I imagine lots of people who are struggling feel too.

As ever, feel free to leave a comment below.

Poetry Blog: Farewell Mike Ashley.

This is a post that’s been a long time in the making. It’s a poem about one of the greatest loves of my life, Newcastle United. And if that seems like a bit of a pathetic sentence, then you should probably stop reading. But the football team that I support have been a constant in my life for well over 40 years now and let’s face it, around the globe there are plenty of us that fall in love with their chosen sports team. The club is something that I blog about sporadically as I like to write about lots of different things, but I couldn’t resist this one.

The poem itself was written in June 2019, when I’d finally allowed myself to think that Mr. Ashley, the owner of my football club, was actually leaving. For those who don’t know, Ashley has owned the club for 14 years and it’s been an incredible low point in our history; lacking in investment, lacking in ambition, lacking in hope and a time where balancing the books has been deemed way more important than success or even excitement and hope on the field.

When I wrote the poem a Saudi Arabian investment group seemed on the verge of buying the club, meaning that hopes and dreams could return. And then, to cut a long story short, it didn’t happen.

Fast forward 18 months or so from when the news of our takeover first broke and following high profile legal action, and almost at the drop of a hat, the club has been sold. So, here’s my poem.

Farewell Mike Ashley

When you first pitched up you were greeted optimistically.                                                                                                                                 A sportswear billionaire set to change the Toon fiscally.                                                                                                                                        But then, a reason to doubt your intelligence                                                                                                                                            when you sloppily disregarded your due diligence. 
But, your black and white shirt in the away end provided a distraction,
the drinks are on Mike, no need for (Sports) Direct action.
Then you brought back King Kev, a masterstroke,
yet the way that you treated was nowt short of a joke.
Wise and Jiminez, your plan to bring the good times back,
followed by Gonzalez and Xisco; two straws to break the camel's back.
Keegan gone and relegation drawing near,
your answer? Joe f***ing Kinnear.
A sleeping giant in an idiot's grip,
you were seemingly determined to sink this ship.
But you didn't reckon with Kinnear's heart
which inadvertently gave us a brand new start,
Shearer tempted, a legend returning
but his hands were tied, the ship still burning.
Relegation and Shearer left waiting for your call,
but you chose to ignore the greatest scorer of them all
Against the odds Hughton took us straight back up,
but still the chequebook remained shut.
In time you brought in Pardew and a Director of Football...
Kinnear again though; pissed and capable of f*** all
Years passed and we made it to the Europa League
but with little investment we fell away, fatigued.
As Pardew stuttered you committed the cardinal sin
out with SJP, the Sports Direct Arena in,
terrible and sinking with Pardew's palava
as he blamed the grass, the science, the fans, then left us with Carver.
Still there was time for you to behave like a wanker
by blanking poor Jonas, stricken with cancer, 
and oh the sweet irony when he came to the rescue,
yet still you got rid like a cockney Ceausescu.
And then more alarm bells as you gave us MaClaren, 
a hair island, no idea and his tactics board barren.
Even Benitez couldn't save us from our fate,
another reason for more Geordie hate.
But Rafa rebelled, he was made for these fans,
but your silence said you had other plans,
but the tide was turning, a truth became clear,
we were nothing but right not to want you here,
we didn't want Charnley and we didn't want Bruce
whatever you did there would be no truce.
Transfer windows where nothing was spent
anyone could see it was time that you went.
Protest groups, boycotts, banners and the Trust gave hope
now finally, deal done, get out of our club you fat dope.

The future looks incredibly bright for Newcastle United and it’s been a bit of a ridiculous few days. I’ve watched the celebrations in the city from afar, just wishing I could be part of it. Making do with social media footage and various reports on the telly has had to be enough, but it’s still been amazing to watch. Then you read the media reports and the quotes from Amanda Staveley and others involved in this new dawn and it’s been as bewildering as it’s been exciting.

There are other, darker issues to address with this takeover but for now I’m happy to just wallow in what it could mean from a footballing point of view and try to forget the last 14 years of penny pinching and constant disappointment under Mike Ashley. As someone who first sat in the East Stand aged 6 and has been in love with the club ever since, I’d resigned myself to the fact that we probably wouldn’t win anything in my lifetime. As someone who walked away from attending games 13 years ago as I realised what Ashley represented, that feeling was utterly miserable. But it’s time to look to the future, because the future’s bright; the future’s black and white.

I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment.

Grassroots Grumbles; a short update as I tear my hair out!

So having posted a blog about the current trials and tribulations of coaching a football team at the weekend, I felt compelled to update things a little following our latest game on Sunday. Indulge me. Let’s just call it some form of therapy or anger management even…

We were playing a team that we’ve played a lot in the past. In fact, our last game of last season was against the very same opposition. They’re a good side, but on our day we’re a match for them. In fact, after our previous game – which ultimately we lost – their coach was kind enough to text me and compliment the team on our passing, which he said his team couldn’t live with at times. So, it was safe to say we knew the challenge we faced, but also felt like we’d be at least competitive.

We were also at home and it was a fresh, sunny Autumn morning. We had none of our big hitters unavailable for once and a good sized squad, meaning that we could make substitutions if anyone tired. We were even wearing our brand new home kit for the first time. It felt like the footballing gods might just have been smiling on us.

Turned out the smile was more of a grimace. Imagine the face a baby pulls when it’s got wind.

We lost the game 6-0 and to use boxing parlance we barely laid a glove on them. I’ve coached these lads for just over 4 years now and I don’t think I’ve felt so frustrated in that time. For the second game running we’d more or less beaten ourselves and for the second game running we’d stopped thinking, ignored advice and taken very little responsibility for what was happening with the ball. Time and time again we hoofed the ball forward without thinking of why we were doing it or what it might achieve. It felt like no one really wanted the ball and so the best thing they could do was just to get rid of it. It reminded me of what Einstein said about insanity being people doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

We were much better, much more like ourselves in the second half, but by then it was too little too late. At least though it might have allowed us to end the game on a positive. But we couldn’t even manage that as we had a player sin-binned in the final few minutes for verbally abusing the referee, which was completely unacceptable, but all the more so as our referee was the father of one of our players!

And so we are left banging out the same messages, working on the same skills, praising wherever and whatever possible and hoping that next week some of it pays off! Meanwhile, I’m reminded of a moment earlier on today, after school as I was sat marking assessments. Hearing voices, I looked to my right to find some of our younger pupils taking part in some extra-curricular football. I spotted a boy I teach, just as he gestured his team mates towards him and, just like their heroes in the professional game, they held a pre-match huddle to get out all those important messages. And it’s moments like this that make me love football and love coaching kids! So, I guess I’ll just keep going!

Let’s see if we can improve next Sunday!

Grassroots Grumbles – Busy, stressful, alarming…but still loads of fun!

While it’s just fantastic to be back involved in grassroots football without (much) Covid intervention, I’m afraid I’ve got a bit of grumbling to do.

I’ll level with you, dear reader; I hate losing. I’m not a bad loser; I don’t shout and bawl at my team, I don’t kick equipment across the field or jump up and down like some kind of demented kangaroo on the sidelines either. But I hate to lose. And we’ve been plunging headlong into losing of late!

In many ways it’s been a brilliant start to the season. We’ve got a lovely new kit – the players, not the coaches; we get very little! We actually won our first game, handsomely and for a short period of time were 2nd in the league. And this came after we’d got to less than 24 hours before the game and not been able to locate any nets for our goals! So I thought we were riding our luck pretty well really! The weather’s been great as well and for once I’ve not been soaked to the skin in either training or on the touchline during a game. And there’s just been a lovely sense of optimism about our club and our team.

But then came our second game of the season.

We’d been told we’d been placed into a cup competition with clubs from an entirely different league and while it turned out that we didn’t have to travel over far to play, we were drawn against a completely unknown quantity. We’d learn more soon enough.

By the time of the weekend of the game I’d been able to establish that our opponents were in a higher division than us; just not which one. By the end of the game not only had it been made clear in the performances, but I’d been told by their coach as well. It turned out that they were four divisions higher than us – the equivalent of a Premier League team playing a non league side – and thus we took a bit of a beating.

For a while it was actually quite a heartening performance. At half time we trailed 1-0 and were still talking about the fact that if we could get the ball forward quickly, we might just be able to nick a goal. Game on! It quickly went downhill and by the end we were beaten 8-0. For the last 15 minutes or so our lack of fitness had become all too apparent, we were repeating the same mistakes, over and over again, we looked a bit scared and some of our lads had simply given up.

So it was a Sunday afternoon of reflection. While not wanting to impinge on any of my lads’ enjoyment of training or matches, harsh words were going to be needed in order to re-focus people. I’d been a little perturbed by some of the silly behaviour at the previous training session and the messing about, chatting and not listening, the half paced attempts at drills. And I blame myself for that type of thing when I think about it. Was training interesting enough? Was that the right drill? It’s funny how you can beat yourself up for a result and performance where you didn’t actually set foot on the pitch.

The two subsequent training sessions were a bit of a mixed bag, but largely positive. We concentrated on drills with the ball and a longer game where we could stop play, ask questions and point out options in the first session. Then, for our last session we went with fitness work and a shorter game at the end. It seemed like everything had gone well and with a game against the second placed team to come at the weekend, I at least felt like we were ready.

As ever with grassroots football though, there would be a complication. As training ended on the Thursday, two of our best players – twins – told me that they wouldn’t be able to play on Sunday. Two out of four of a first choice midfield gone in an instant. And I couldn’t even feel too vexed as the reason they were unavailable was that they were off to St. James’ Park, home of my team Newcastle United, for a stadium tour. Us Geordies have got to stick together!

On the eve of the game I’d managed to scramble 13 players together and had an idea for a side and a system. But any optimism wouldn’t last as we turned up on the Sunday morning. The current petrol crisis made me a little late setting off, as I’d been queueing up to get much needed petrol. Must remember to thank the first petrol hoarding moron I see. Then when we got there we couldn’t find the pitch as it was part of a 15 pitch complex set up on a huge park in north Leeds. When we finally found our opposition I then had to run back to my car to retrieve the phone I’d left on the dashboard! This left me around 5 minutes to announce a team, talk through a system of playing and go through any last minute messages and reminders about how we try to play. A shambles, but not untypical at grassroots level! Certainly not for this coach anyway!

Despite making a good start, we still managed to come in at half time losing 2-1. We were clearly the better side and so we pointed out how we needed to be better in the second half. Less panicking on the ball, working harder, being braver with the ball. We ended up losing 7-1 and again, the confidence was shot once more.

I think we’re struggling a little bit because of the amount of new players we’ve taken on. At the end of the season, we lost 2 first team players, one of them our goalkeeper who had been excellent and vital to the team. We’ve since spent the whole of pre-season trying to replace him with players coming in and then deciding they don’t like being in goal after all within a few weeks. We’ve started with one of last season’s outfield players in goal and he’s brave, I’ll give him that. But to be playing in the huge 11-a-side goals when he’s not really a keeper is giving us a weakness that previously wasn’t there. As coaches we’re working hard on his game and his confidence, but he needs time and with a game every weekend he hasn’t really got any. The best thing is that his attitude is great and he’s working hard to improve too and relishing the chance to be in the team. So maybe we should expect results to take a bit of a hit while also being thankful that we found someone to play in goal!

A lot of the other players that have come in have had little or no experience of football. So it’s proving quite a step up for them. So far this season I’ve been asked ‘What’s offside?’ by a sub that I was just about to put on and also ‘How do I pass?’ by one of our new boys at the start of a drill. Call me naïve, but I hadn’t expected that. It means that we have to try to work on a one on one basis with some of them in training, which obviously takes time away from others. The result of this is that our work as a team can suffer as there are often not enough coaches to be bringing new players up to speed, offering a goalkeeper specialist drills and also working on team play with the players who we’ve had for years.

Making the transition from 9-a-side to 11-a-side isn’t easy either. The pitch is much bigger, as are the goals and the positions that players are asked to play will differ too. I suppose it’s a lot to get your head around when you’re 12, regardless of how much time you’ve spent playing football.

So while it’s been a bit of a disappointing start to our season and there’s lots to be grumpy about, there might just be enough positives in there to tell me that every one of our present clouds might well just have a silver lining. Let’s hope things get better this Sunday with our latest game – a second home match and the first chance we’ve had to wear our brand new kit!

Poetry Blog: Rain on the roof

There’s no great mystery about this poem. Quite simply, it was prompted by rainfall on my classroom roof. It’s quite a cool noise I suppose and I think the sight of it and the relief I felt at being indoors and being able to just sit and watch and listen to it, was quite inspirational.

I have what I think is referred to as an outdoor classroom. It’s not actually outdoors, but it’s a stand alone building away from the main buildings of school. Maybe they’re trying to tell me something. My classroom is actually known as the ecopod; I think it’s supposed to be eco-friendly, but I’ve never really worked out why. The structure is covered with wood and we have skylights and also movement activated lighting, so I suppose there’s something in the name. That said, because it’s wooden, early on in its school life my room was also widely known as Nandos…

It was the skylights that partly influenced the poem, which is basically about the sound and the sight of the rain during a particularly heavy downpour about a week ago. My class were working and the rain just got me thinking, so I scribbled some lines down on a bit of paper and went back to it later to finish what I’d started.

Rain on the roof

Incessant, unrelenting and blended into almost one wonderful noise,
you set the tone, make me feel glad of these four walls
and the roof above, reluctant to leave and glad of my warm, dry room.
Through the window a filter of unedifying grey
blights the green of fields and trees, makes fools of the eyes,
blurring houses, factories, towns on the horizon.
The vague hope of home is lost in the mist
as the rain plays its song on the skylight.
This will pass before I venture out once more,
but its footprint will remain for hours yet.

The effect of rain on the roof of my classroom always raises a smile. It will always prompt at least 50% of the group to stop working. Next we might get an incredulous ‘Woah’ before finally eyes turn to the windows in order to watch the downpour. It’s as if the rain couldn’t actually be happening if all they could do was hear it! And given that we live in the north of England, where rain is fairly frequent, it never fails to amaze me that my students can be so captivated by something as simple as this and that they see on such a regular basis. That was kind of what I meant in the last line as you can always guarantee that your class will struggle to behave if it’s raining. Throw some wind into the equation and you’ve got a battle on your hands!

From my classroom windows I can see in the direction that I live and am able to spot certain places that I’ll pass on the journey home. It can be a bit of a comfort when I’m having a bad day. And so, when it’s misty and cloudy all of that disappears; hence the line about the ‘vague hope of home’. Strange how such a simple thing can spark so much into happening!

As always, I hope you enjoyed the poem. Feel free to leave a comment.

The long, wet summer just passed me by…

I’m very lucky, in many ways, to be a teacher. Forget things like pay and conditions – which in actual fact, aren’t that bad – there are lots of things to be thankful for in my profession. I get to work with young people full of ideas, emotions, hope, naivety and energy for one thing. I get to help kids produce amazing things. I get to work alongside them and many brilliant colleagues and I have to admit that I get to have what can feel like endless laughs.

All very nice, right? And now you’re thinking, here comes the bad stuff? Make way for the abuse, the long hours, the meetings, blah, blah, blah. Well, you’d be wrong. What I wanted to mention was the summers. The teacher’s summers. Because after a couple of decades of teaching, it’s still the summer holidays, those six blissful weeks, that are the most attractive feature.

So, I thought I’d go through a quick review of my latest summer holidays.

After all of the build up, I’m not going to lie; this one’s been pretty damn poor in many ways. One of my favourite things about summer is standing in the garden early in the morning, hanging out washing on the line, looking up at a blue sky, feeling the sun on my face and just thinking about the fact that the rest of the day is stretching out in front of me, as is the rest of whatever remains of my summer. Bloody wonderful.

Except, that hasn’t really been the case this summer. As the rain fell and just continued to fall and fall and fall, I distinctly remember that our washing basket was positively overflowing. In fact, I remember my son telling me that he’d ran out of underwear at one point! So, it’s safe to say that the weather this summer has been really underwhelming. And that, ladies and gents is more than enough to make your summer…well, a bit of a bummer. Not only does it impact on one’s leisurely laundry fantasies, but it means that days out, gardening, and any outdoor jobs and projects that have been saved up for these precious 6 weeks, just sit there, undone and nagging at you. As a result, I have to say that in many ways it’s not been the best of summers.

One thing that we have done that’s really maximised the fun we could have over summer is to take a couple of holidays. I say holidays; one was a three day break that was then followed by two days in Newcastle seeing family and friends, so that was a holiday in a kind of left field way.

I’ve blogged about our main summer holiday in North Wales, so I won’t dwell on that here, suffice to say that we had a lovely time in a truly special part of the UK. We left the day after the end of the academic year and it felt absolutely amazing to be wandering around on a beach, escaping the stress of work life so quickly after leaving my classroom.

Our other holiday was a bit different. Firstly we spent three days in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. We stayed in a nice guest house, spent some time on the beach and spent a whole load of time in arcades – having raided our coppers jar for 2 pence pieces in advance – while also upholding the family tradition of having dad (me) hold the bags while mum and the kids go on some rides! It all felt really relaxing.

Straight after returning from Scarborough we headed to Newcastle for a couple of days for a break that we had all been looking forward to. The main reason for this was because this would be the first time we would see family and friends in 18 months (because of Covid, not out of choice).

Again, we had a lovely relaxing break, meeting up for coffee with our closest friends on the Quayside in Newcastle, going out for tea with my parents and then out for a nice walk with them the next day. We also visited an excellent gluten free bakery which happened to be in a part of the city where I’d spent a lot of my childhood, but hadn’t been back to in probably over 25 years. So that was a really interesting thing to do, not least because it allowed me to show my own children these places. Interesting to note that in what we might call a slightly rougher end of town, within seconds one of my children was asking if we should be locking the car doors!

When we returned home after our breaks in Scarborough and Newcastle we were exhausted and apart from getting through a veritable mountain of washing, we made sure that we relaxed and did very little for the next few days. And I suppose this is an excellent example of the privilege’s of a teacher’s summer; there often isn’t any sense of urgency. Whether you go places, take on projects or extend yourself in any way is entirely up to you – you do not need to give work or going to work even the briefest of thoughts for whole chunks of your summer. Ask most teachers and they’ll tell you that there will always come a point in every summer where they genuinely don’t know what day it is.

By this point I’d also managed to do myself an injury which did its best to curtail my summer fun. Maybe it was the sense of freedom that did it, but while throwing myself around in goal during a training session for the team that I coach, I damaged a nerve under my shoulder and found myself in quite intense and constant pain for a while. And because visiting a doctor during these Covid times is quite a drawn out affair, it took far too long to get proper painkillers. Thus, my decorating slowed down, my enthusiasm for anything remotely physical waned and my mood took a bit of a beating.

A planned break in the Lake District was duly postponed – too much to do at home, too tired from galivanting around the country for the previous few weeks – leaving us to see out the last couple of weeks of our summer together with the odd day trip and catching up on some of those long put off jobs around the house. The weather didn’t help the appetite to leave the house as the British summer petered out and seemed to surrender far too easily to autumnal conditions. And before I knew it, I was doing the usual of kidding myself that it was a good thing that I still had3, then 2, then 1 day left at home.

I can’t complain too much. Even the weather doesn’t get in the way of the fact that I can spend 6 weeks not having to wear a suit and tie and that my shirt ironing is down to a bare minimum. It’s also 6 weeks of leisurely cups of coffee, of an extra hour in more in bed, more late night television and best of all, 6 weeks of possibility where work will hardly ever get in the way.

So while Summer was wet and seemed to pass by far too quickly, it was still peaceful, it was a considerable amount of fun and despite the injury still hanging around, it was still, in many ways, pain free.

I hope you enjoyed reading and as ever, feel free to leave a comment as they’re always appreciated.

Poetry Blog: Pain

At the risk of repeating myself, this is yet another poem that was borne out of a sleepless(ish) night. I’d found myself clambering out of bed not long after midnight as I couldn’t get to sleep because of the pain in my shoulder and arm after I’d damaged a nerve during a coaching session when I should have known better than to take on goalkeeping duties. I’m 49 for goodness sakes!

So I went downstairs with my book as I find reading takes my mind off things while also never failing to make me feel sleepy, whatever else might be going on

It amazes me how many times it happens that my mind is full of ideas and potential lines from a poem at these times. But it happened again, so I began writing, ending up with two poems; one about making the decision to get out of bed in the middle of the night and this one, about the pain that I was suffering with.

Pain

The voice that tells you not to speak,
the constant nagging doubt,
a sleeping partner tracking your every move,
a shaft of moonlight in a 4am garden giving the illusion of movement,
the urge to run from something unnamed that might not even be there,
a telephone staring intently as you ponder the call you don't want to make, paralysed,
a strangled scream,
a fruitless sneeze,
the date that teeters on your horizon, pulsing ever so slightly,
the message you should have sent,
an unvoiced opinion,
the stinging comeback stopped in its triumphant tracks by a tongue bitten,
the memory that refuses to ever truly leave.

With this poem I just found myself thinking of things that I’d compare pain to and once there were a couple of ideas written down it became a kind of stream of consciousness.

In daylight hours, on next read it became an exercise in editing; sorting the wheat from the chaff so to speak and getting rid of ideas that jarred with others or just anything that reeked of the nonsense that might sound great in the sleepless early hours of the morning. There was also a little bit of repetition where ideas were a little too similar for my liking. I guess that comes with writing when you’re so tired! Thus, this became a relatively short poem.

I hope it translates well enough. I hope there are comparisons in there that you can identify with and that you might recognise as being familiar in terms of being in pain.

As ever, I hope that you enjoyed the poem. It’s always nice to read comments too, so feel free to leave one as I genuinely appreciate the interaction.

That difficult first week back: This teacher’s diary.

Having written a blog a couple of weeks ago about my predications for September and seeing that people seemed to genuinely enjoy the mixture of cynicism and ridiculousness, I thought I’d diarise my first week back at work as a high school teacher. Typically, having been thrust straight back into the chaos of a high school, it’s taken longer to write than I thought!

The first week actually went fairly well and wasn’t half as painful as I imagined it might be. And as a bonus, it seemed to pass very quickly. Where that first week back can sometimes feel as long as the holiday we’ve just enjoyed for us teachers, this one seemed to just take the required week’s worth of time, which is always nice. So here’s a look at the week.

Day 1

Having settled back into my classroom and thrown a few old resources out – new year, new start and all that – I went to a neighbouring classroom to attend our first online briefing of the year. It’s not a criticism to say that these are usually tedious affairs. I mean how do you talk about results, approaches to teaching, school routines etc without it sounding a bit boring? So, it’s safe to say that although my eyes are open, my ears are at least partially shut. My brain, as ever, is focusing 90% of its efforts anything but what’s going on in front of me.

Talk of disadvantaged students makes my mind wander and I’m faced with the horrific realisation of my own disadvantaged school days. Here, because we didn’t have a great deal of money, my trousers were bought at Geordie Jeans – a kind of budget version of a charity shop with the emphasis on cheap versions of last year’s styles – and for at least one year, my jumpers were knitted by my mam. The memory of those jumpers alone makes me almost squeeze into a corner in embarrassment and it’s a wonder I don’t shed a tear.

Our Head Teacher’s briefing is held in the hall, meaning that I’m thrust into a crowded environment where I’m not really Covid comfortable. So I make a beeline for a back row.

The briefing is quite an entertaining affair, but I’ll mention a few highlights. Firstly – and forgive me, I can’t remember what parallel was being made – but the Harry Potter Castle is mentioned. The toy version, that is. Apparently it costs the best part of £400 and it makes me think they’d need a special kind of magic to get my credit card out of my wallet to pay for it. More pertinently though, I didn’t even realise that there was a Harry Potter castle. If there’s a castle, what on Earth is Hogwarts then?

Further to this, our head then throws in a couple of old photographs of himself from the 90s. Definitely a highlight because it’s always funny to see those – dare I say it – embarrassing pictures from back in the day.

The rest of the day is spent both in my class preparing for the rest of the teaching week, as well as in more meetings. By the time I get home I’ve taken on the haunted look of a soldier returning from war. It’s going to be a long year.

Day 2

The hours before students actually come back to school are possibly the best few hours of any year. Sure, interaction with your classes is great, but it’ll never quite beat the serenity of pottering in your classroom while they’re not actually there. Suffice to say, I’m grateful for the fact the Year 11 have a later starting time today.

I’m grateful too for the fact that I manage to avoid the call to arms to go and welcome in our new Year 7 cohort as they make their way in, earlier than every one else. I don’t avoid it on purpose; I’m just in the repographics room having my daily wrestle with the various photocopiers in there. I leave with around 60% of what I came for, which is definitely above average for the spoils one takes when heading into battle with these machines. And anyway, it’s for the best that Year 7s aren’t greeted by me. It’ll make for a more enjoyable day for them, I’m sure.

Later, during an extended form period I have to explain that the school isn’t “all so strict” as one of my students claims. Rather, it’s the fact that minor issues like Covid meant that attention was diverted from things like uniform and make-up issues. In the fightback against Covid, masks, bubbles et al are somewhat under control and so we have time to address the fact that some people are dressed for a hen night, while others look like they’re planning to jog into the office in their black trainers. Not strict in terms of being in a school, when you think about it. A bit of a culture shock to some though, clearly.

In other news, I’m already developing a mint habit and a chewing gum addiction…

Day 3

Wednesday marks the first full day of school. And to mark the occasion, I’ve got a full day of teaching; 6 lessons, 4 different classes and a 2 hour lesson with my Year 11 form to start with. Exciting news…if you’re a masochist. It’ll only get better from next week when someone will add a Period 7 to the day and more Year 11 time.

To be fair, it’s mostly what we call expectations lessons today – going through plans, rules, giving out books etc followed by a short task or two if there’s time. But it’s not the work that’s the problem. It’s the managing the behaviour and emotions of 20-30 kids in a room after they’ve spent much of the last two academic years not in a room together.

By the end of the day I’m wiped out, a physical wreck. I’ve promised myself an early finish, but 4.30 ticks by and I’m still planning and trying to lay my hands on various bits of equipment, books and copying. An old headteacher used to tell us that it was like we were on an oil rig and wouldn’t see our families for a while during term time. I feel like I’m already staring longingly at the sea.

Day 4

Like a child on a long car journey, my head is full of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ And it’s a case of answering with ‘we are and we aren’t’. Thursday; not quite the weekend, but still in the right half of the week.

Year 11 start the day full of complaints. ‘We’ve done Macbeth’, they tell me almost to a man. Only we haven’t. We covered some of the context at the back end of last year and as the rest of the lesson reveals, they’ve forgotten it all anyway across the course of a six week summer.

I’m down to teach 2 periods of PSHCE to year 9 this year and today I have my first lesson. It’s about healthy and unhealthy relationships. One young man, who clearly doesn’t understand the concept of accents, tells me that I’ve got his name wrong. I point out that I haven’t and that’s it’s just a matter of pronunciation; as a Geordie I’m going to pronounce things differently to someone from Yorkshire. He refuses to understand. Apparently, I’m wrong and just got his name wrong. I guess we’re all learning about how to create an unhealthy relationship. From now on he’ll need to start making ours healthy again, otherwise it’s going to be a long year. For him.

Day 5

It’s taken what feels like 6 weeks to arrive but today is finally Friday. And while last year my Friday featured free periods from 11.30 until 2.45 (none of it wasted, by the way, always productive in order to reduce workload elsewhere) this year I have a full day of teaching. That Friday feeling is conspicuous by its absence.

Part way through Period 2 however, we have an assembly to go to, so at least my day is slightly reduced. I settle at the side of the hall to have a good view of the assembly and its audience, but also in order to ensure a swift getaway at the end. It is from this vantage point that I spot one of the biggest spiders I have ever seen, stomping its way across the floor. It is no exaggeration to say that this spider is the size of a dog. Maybe even a bear. OK, maybe it’s a slight exaggeration, but it’s big.

Across the course of the ten minute assembly, said spider mainly stays still. Clearly it can sense that I’m watching it. However, occasionally it makes a dart across the floor. I know this as the ground shakes when it moves; it’s that big. Before I know it this veritable monster is heading towards a girl on the front row and as anxious as I am about the shock she’ll get if and when she spots it, I’m more relieved that I wasn’t asked to pick it up and do the humane thing by accompanying it back outside. I’m not particularly bothered by spiders, but this one must have measured a couple of feet across and stood at least a foot tall…

There’s more drama later when one of my still new Year 8s decides he doesn’t really fancy the classroom today and follows up on his refusal to remove his head from the cover of his blazer by getting up and walking out, giving us all not one, but two middle fingers. Not on the same hand, I hasten to add. This little drama is equal measures frustrating yet mildly amusing but makes me worry about many of our pupils and what the future holds after the stability provided by our academy (and I take very little credit for this) is taken away.

The week ends with a huge outward breath followed by the realisation that my early finish still won’t happen. After students have left, I sit at my desk planning, catching up on various bits of admin and sending resources to print for photocopying. It’s getting close to 5pm by the time I leave.

It’s been a relatively stress free and smooth first week. In what will feel like a year it’ll be Christmas and my body will be screaming at me to stop. I’ll take stress free and smooth for now.

As ever, feel free to leave a comment, good or bad. I hope you enjoyed reading. Enjoy your next week at work!

Book Review: ‘The Honest Truth’ by Dan Gemeinhart

It might be argued that there’s no more honest truth than the fact that you’re going to die. I mean, I’d like to hope that – inspired by the theme tune to ‘Fame’ – I’m going to live forever, but you can’t escape the honest truth though, can you?

Mark is a young boy who’s facing up to a whole lifetime’s worth of problems, only they’ve appeared in the shape of just the one big problem. And with that problem comes his honest truth. It’s looking pretty much certain that he’s going to die. I mean, that’s a big old problem when you’ve not even made it to high school age . And Mark’s facing this problem…by running away to climb a mountain.

Mark has had cancer for most of his life. He’s battled to stay alive, battled to fight off the cancer and just be a normal child. But however many times he fights it off, it keeps coming back to have another go at him, as is the way with this horrible disease. In running away, he now hopes to just die and end all of the heartache for not just himself, but his parents and his best friend Jess. While he’s at it, he hopes to climb a mountain like his grandfather asked him to just before he himself died. In short, Mark is a boy who has simply had enough of the hand that life has dealt him.

The subject matter of ‘The Honest Truth’ isn’t what you’d call particularly nice. The death of a child, even a child with a terrible illness, is never pleasant. As a parent, having one of my children in hospital for any length of time and for anything at all, is a real nightmare. But Dan Gemeinhart writes about Mark’s situation with a wonderful balance of optimism, humour and of course a tinge of sadness. It all makes for a compelling story and right up until a few pages from the end, you’re never quite sure how things are going to work out for Mark.

‘The Honest Truth’ is probably what we should be referring to as a YA novel. But, even at my age, I still love reading novels from this genre. I have a bit of an excuse, given that I’m a high school English teacher. But regardless of what it is and where we squeeze it in, ‘The Honest Truth’ is an excellent story and at not much over 200 pages, a really quick one to get through too!

The story is intriguing as Mark runs away with the intention of dieing on the mountain, while dodging a missing person’s investigation that has been publicised on every format of media you can think of. As a reader I felt like any second now, he’d be found. I mean you’d imagine people would be on higher alert than usual keeping their eyes out for a little runaway, stricken with cancer. But, with the help of his dog Beau – the kind of amazing, loyal canine companion we’d all dream of having – he seems to stay at least one step ahead of it all, despite becoming increasingly sick and increasingly slow in his ‘escape’ to the mountain.

In all, ‘The Honest Truth’ is a just fantastic read and I was gripped from start to finish, torn between wanting Mark to get his final wish and wanting him to get caught and taken home to his parents and best friend, Jess. Whichever way it ended, it almost wouldn’t have mattered and surely that’s the sign of a truly wonderful story.

I’d give ‘The Honest Truth’

Rating: 5 out of 5.