Poetry Blog: Fledglings

This is a poem that I wrote about the transition to high school. It’s something that is very much at the forefront of my mind at the moment as for only the second time in a decade, I have a Year 7 form again. Not only this, but I start again on the merry-go-round of teaching English to a new Year 7 class too. So, this year I will see a Year 7 class at least once a day every day.

As one of the people most responsible for these new students, you tend to find that they’re on your mind quite a bit. So, a few days ago I found myself discussing a particular student in my new form with a colleague and it got me to thinking about this stage of their school careers. I began to think about my role, but also what I’d compare the Year 7s with and the image of fledgling birds in a nest came to mind. It’s not the most original thing, but I ended up writing the following poem from the idea.

Fledglings

(A poem best read in your best David Attenborough voice...)

Safely incubated over the course of a carefree six week summer,
now is the time for parents to let go of
one more downy feather,
as their latest fledgling ventures out into another brave new world.

Shielded up to this point by everything familiar
and much the same routine for the last 6 years,
now almost everything will change.
Another journey is about to be made,
new lessons learned and, with a tear of trepidation,
they are pushed from the nest.

Pushing through a door, a portal to a new life of possibility and potential,
some upright, confident, ready, while others seem still to lack
the confidence that will see them take flight.
Gathering in groups or shuffling into corners where adult eyes
are immediately alerted to the potential for danger
or a plan being hatched.

Already, lines are being drawn...

From here, a steep learning curve will be climbed
by choosing haphazardly from a list including
bravado, belligerence and bewilderment.
There will be casualties along the way,
tears and tantrums, but eventually all will thrive in one way or another
as confidence grows, feathers are earned and flight, however cautiously,
is taken, and however long it may take,
is embarked upon in order to begin yet another grueling journey.

With this poem – as with lots of the others that I write – it started with a few lines just arriving in my head after a little bit of thought. Usually, from there I’ll scribble them down and try to write more, before I decide what goes together…and sometimes even what it’s about!

The difference with Fledglings was that when forming those few lines in my head I could ‘hear’ the voice of David Attenborough reading them! As I wrote more, this just seemed to keep happening until, in the end, I just decided to try and write the whole thing as if it part of the narration of a show like Planet Earth. I really liked the idea of having a bit of fun with the poem. After all, it’s a very simple metaphor, so there had to be something else that anyone reading might find interesting! I hope that it’s a ‘twist’ that other people like. And I really hope that it’s not just me that sees or hears the poem this way. Maybe, if you find yourself a quiet space, you could try to read it in your best David Attenborough voice…

As ever, feel free to leave a comment as I always enjoy people’s thoughts about what I write, especially the poems!

Grassroots Football: Back on the grass once again…but it might be a very long season!

I half recognised the feeling both when I went to bed on Saturday night and then while I was having a shave on Sunday morning. With the whole house silent, other than the noise of the swooshing of my razor in the sink, I tried to pin down what it might be. I showered – always a good place for thinking – but still it didn’t come to me. Breakfast presented no breakthrough either. And then, as I closed the front door and ventured out into the brisk chill of the early Autumn morning, it hit me.

Excitement!

Of course! This was the first Sunday of the grassroots football season and despite the fact that my team had finished rock bottom of their division last season and then subsequently lost around half of its squad, I was definitely smack in the middle of a bout of excitement.

I’d packed the car, as I always do, the previous afternoon. Kit bag, footballs, nets, Respect line, corner flags, step ladders for putting the nets up and a smaller bag with my match book and a few other things in. I’d got up slightly earlier than usual, having also lost an assistant coach, whose son was one of those who departed at the end of the previous season, which meant that I’d be starting to set up on my own. And now, I was getting into the car to drive the two minutes up to the pitch. To add to my by now rather distinct sense of excitement, it wasn’t even raining! Today would be one of those rare occasions where I would be able to set foot on the grass without getting soaking wet feet within about 3 minutes!

My excitement continued, but was dulled ever so slightly when I walked across our pitch and saw the state of the grass. It was easily a good three inches long and therefore not really very convenient for football. So, not ideal then! When one of our parents arrived, we decided to change to an adjacent pitch which appeared to be slightly shorter. That buzz of excitement was still hanging around and the fact that an adult pub team might turn up later looking to use the same pitch added a sense of jeopardy too!

Time always seems to fly when you’re setting up for a match. It can seem like one minute it’s just you, your corner flags and the odd dog walker and then the before you know it, players and parents are arriving and the whole pitch is surrounded with people. It’s always at this point when you realise that all of this is your responsibility and sometimes, especially when the opposition seem to have a number of players who look like grown men, it can be quite daunting!

Still though, the excitement hung around. I spoke to some parents, to some of my players, to the opposition coach and still the flutter stayed. As we warmed up and closer still to kick off, as we conducted a team talk, I was optimistic and looking forward to the game to come.

Sending your players out onto the pitch at this level can relieve you of any control that you thought you might have had. And this is where the excitement can begin to dissipate. It certainly did on Sunday. I sent my lads out onto the pitch on Sunday we some simple instructions, I’ve decided this year to try and think of games in terms of 3 Golden Rules because this should mean I’m never over-complicating matters for my players. I may then speak to people individually, but as a team I want them to all think in terms of these golden rules and trying to do a few simple things as well as we can.

After making a decent enough start on Sunday, we then conceded 3 goals in quick succession and the game was almost already out of our grasp. Worst of all was that they were avoidable goals, meaning that my excitement quickly turned to tension, dread and a real feeling of helplessness. I ask my team to enjoy playing and stay positive, but for them and for me it can be difficult when nothing’s going your way.

At 3-0 down I could see heads dropping and I could hear one or two of my players sniping at each other and arguing a little bit. Obviously, I tried to encourage them to stay positive and to keep playing and pushing forward, but by half time, we were 6-0 down and I knew that it was going to be a difficult half-time team talk!

That earlier feeling of excitement now disappearing somewhere over a local hill, I tried to stay positive. I pointed out the mistakes that were being made, but also reminded my team that they were a far better team than both the last 35 minutes and the score were showing. I repeated the three golden rules and pointed out some positive aspects of our performance, but made sure that I didn’t give anybody any excuses to relieve themselves of any responsibility for what was happening. I made sure that we all understood that every one of us was part of a team. No one person was responsible for this scoreline.

To cut a long story short, we were better in the second half, but we still lost the game 9-1. We had 7 new players in the squad, so it was always going to be a bit of a learning curve as these are 13 and 14-year-old kids getting used to new people.

At the end of the game I ramped up the positives and made sure everybody knew that in the second half we’d been far, far better. We train again on Wednesday evening, when we’ll try to tweak a few things about how we play in order to cut out the kind of silly errors that cost us dearly this weekend.

Then, we have another home game next Sunday. Same time, same place, different opposition. Hopefully I won’t allow myself to get too relaxed and too carried away then, because as I found out at the weekend, it turns out that excitement’s not always what it’s cracked up to be!

Always look on the bright side: Things that made me smile.

Almost two weeks ago, it was time for me to head back to work. A new academic year has now started and having spent the whole summer free of this particular stress, I never take the return very well at all. Despite 22 years as a teacher, I never get used to going back and I never look forward to it.

That first week would also later turn into the week when Queen Elizabeth II passed away and whatever your feelings about the monarchy, it seems to have hit large swathes of people really hard, especially here in the UK.

While none of this made me hugely emotional, it all combined to make me feel low, quite sad and just a little bit like I could do with a boost. So, rather than wallow in the doom, I thought I’d think – and write – about some more positive aspects of the last few weeks, something that I started to blog about early on in August. Here they are in no particular order.

A few weeks ago I chanced upon an article on the BBC website, something that I make sure to have a look at every day. The article was about a restoration project with a difference – the re-planting of seagrass off the Welsh coast. Seagrass is, as the name would suggest, a type of grass that grows in the sea. Bigger than the type of grass you’d find in your garden, but grass all the same. Brilliantly though, a single hectare of seagrass can be home to 80,000 fish and 100,000 invertebrates. It also absorbs and stores carbon dioxide, making it a really important plant to have in our seas.

The project is taking place off the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, which is somewhere we holiday every year. Its aim is to plant seeds that will grow into a 10 hectare seagrass meadow by 2026. In the sea off our favorite beach, there is already an area of seagrass, which is revealed every time the tide goes out. So the story really resonated with me and I must admit, the idea of its benefits just really made me smile.

The next smile giver is a little simpler than the serious, but exciting eco-project I’ve just written about. We’re big telly watchers in our house, viewing a whole range of things from terrestrial channels, Sky, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon. We even have ‘Family Telly’ time every day in our house, where we all sit down to watch something appropriate together. But it’s not a family friendly piece of TV that has made me smile recently.

‘All Of Us Are Dead’ is a South Korean high school zombie horror show and to be frank, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds! We started watching it around a month ago and, despite its obvious flaws – blood stains on the kids’ uniforms that have clearly been scribbled on with a marker pen, for instance – it is just a fantastic piece of telly. We’re big fans of anything apocalyptic in our house, so it was onto a winner from the start, but its jeopardy and originality really make it stand out. It’s dubbed, which might spoil it for some, but still if you enjoy the odd fright and a bit of a rollercoaster ride of a programme, then I’d highly recommend tuning in.

While not wanting to go into too much specific detail and attract any unwanted – and frankly unwarranted – criticism, my daughter’s GCSE grades really put a smile on my face. Our faces, in fact, because it was a boost for all the family. She’s worked incredibly hard over the last few years in preparation for them and in the end got very much what she deserved. It’s a set of grades that should help open some doors for her and hopefully help with her progress as she enters further education and even when heading into the world of work eventually. She has a habit of asking, shall we say, ill-thought out questions, as well as just saying ridiculous things, but it turned out that we have a very, very bright kid on our hands and her success made me immensely proud.

Football can be a very cruel sport. Especially when you’re particularly invested in it, as I am. In fact, football was very cruel just a couple of weeks ago, when my team Newcastle United lost a game in time that had been added on to the time that was added. In essence, we lost a game because the referee seemed to revert to playground rules, allowing play to continue until the home team scored the winner.

However, just before this game we had rescued a point in an away game at Wolverhampton Wanderers with an absolute wonder goal from Alain Saint Maximin, our maverick Frenchman. The ball was cleared from deep inside the Wolves box, going so high I expected it to come down with snow on. And what did Alain do? Volleyed it straight into the back of the net from around 20 yards out! Smile? It made me leap around our front room like a giddy teenager again!

The final thing that has given me a bit of a boost over the past couple of weeks has been the surprise I’ve had upon going back to work. Two weeks ago I was dreading returning back to work after 6 weeks of summer holidays. I always do and wrote a post about it.

Teaching: That first week back.

However, although I still can’t declare myself happy to be back working, I’m surprised by how smoothly it feels like I’ve got back into the old routines. I suppose, having been a high school teacher for quite a while now, I should expect just to be able to do my job with the minimum of fuss. But there’s still anxiety at this time of year, every year. Still though, although I’m tired beyond belief at the end of every day – age can be a cruel mistress, dear reader – I’ve not encountered any problems at all and have just been able to take up where I left off a couple of months ago. Definitely a reason to allow myself a bit of a smile!

More again soon on this topic. I’ve enjoyed writing about the things that have made me smile and I think it definitely helps with my mood! Feel free to leave a comment if you enjoyed reading!

Teaching: At times it’s just like riding a bike…

Last week I posted a blog about that difficult first week back as a teacher. The anxiety, the new classes, the lottery that can be a timetable, building relationships and even just having to get out of bed a couple of hours earlier. Having spent 6 weeks living life at a slower pace, it can all be a bit much.

However, every year I tell myself the same thing. I tell colleagues too. And I tell my long suffering family, who have had to live with this ‘even grumpier in September’ bloke for far too long: get the first two weeks out of the way and it’ll be alright.

That first two weeks essentially allows me to find my feet and reminds me that I can in fact do my job effectively, having spent the previous two weeks – without fail, every year – feeling like I’m going to stand at the front of the classroom, trying to teach, but just not remembering how to do it anymore. My students will talk over me until it all gets out of control and I end up in a tearful heap on the floor! It never happens that way though.

My first two weeks have been incredibly busy, hectic at times, but nothing I couldn’t handle. Really, it’s been OK. I feel like I’ve found my feet quite quickly and that the confidence that is needed at the front of that classroom has returned and allowed me to jus do my job without too much stress at all. I’m back in the old routine, using the same skills, adapting to different texts and techniques, learning some of the new names that I have to learn (this always takes me a while) and even managing to get through meetings without too many thoughts of simply throwing myself out of the nearest window. I knw that will come though!

There have been some minor challenges as well. Sadly, I’ve noticed that my eyesight has got a bit worse, meaning that I can’t read the register without my glasses and that certain texts have been a little more difficult to read through than they were a year ago. In vanity news, I have had to come to work for 9 days with hair that has looked like a hedge left to its own devices for a number of years until it has just become untamed. This, courtesy of my hairdresser who had the audacity to go off on holiday without warning…for a month. Until last night I hadn’t had a haircut for over 10 weeks, which was beginning to cause me some trouble!

In one of my classes I have a student with a hearing impairment, which requires me to were a kind of digital microphone that hangs round my neck like a lanyard. Much to the student’s delight, I forget about it, without fail, every lesson and she has to remind me. But even this is good in a way as it allows me to overact, like some kind of pantomime dame, and really ham it up about how useless I am and what a great helper she is. Sometimes, even the simplest of things can make a student smile!

So, while it’s been as difficult a couple of weeks as I’d imagined, it’s not been too bad and it’s funny how old habits die hard. As the headline suggests, it really is like riding a bike…provided you could ride one in the first place!

Teaching: That first week back.

I’ve been a teacher now for 22 years. It’s a job I love – despite the fact that I fell into it, rather than approaching it as some kind of vocation – yet a job that causes all manner of stress. And one of the biggest causes of stress is the first week back after summer.

If you’re a non teacher, I see the irony in that last statement. You don’t get 6 weeks off in summer and therefore probably think it’s decidedly ungrateful to feel stressed about going back to work after such a long break. Truthfully, I don’t really care what others think. It’s how an awful lot of us feel and probably not something that can be understood too well if you’re not in the job.

Some teachers are seemingly full of enthusiasm for the first week in September. I’m still not convinced by this enthusiasm though. To me, it seems simple; you’ve been on full pay for six weeks during summer and within reason you can get up to whatever takes your fancy. A wonderful way to live one’s life and the closest some of us are ever going to get to some kind of carefree celebrity lifestyle (albeit it as decidedly Z list celebrities). But then someone orders you back to work and all of the early starts, late finishes, politics, behavioural issues , meetings…children and everything else that comes with being a teacher. What a pain in the arse!

I thought I’d write a post reflecting back on some of my experiences in the first week back this year. I feel sure that any teachers who read, or indeed anyone who works in education will recognise at least some of what will follow.

The first day back used to be a time for easing yourself back in and just generally getting things sorted out. Then someone had the brainwave; the brainwave that became known as an Inset day! In my experience this started out as having to endure a couple of hours of various members of SLT talking at you about results, routines and – shudder – mission statements. There’d be some graphs that you didn’t really understand, but smiled through anyway because you knew you’d be released back to your classroom soon enough.

Gradually, this developed into things like lectures and group activities, often prompted by the dreaded phrase, “You’re going to work together” while you gawp at the people from different departrments that, if you’re me, you don’t know the names of. One of the worst of these was on some Head of Department training over a decade ago when we had to develop strategies for what was called a marketplace activity where students work in groups and then ‘teach’ other students via the presentation on their ‘stall’. I can still hear a woman bellowing “Roll up, roll up!” at the top of her voice in an affected cockernee accent as she got deep into character and it still makes me want to crawl under the nearest rock.

This year, our first day back was spent in two locations. Make of that what you will. We started off at the lead school in our trust for what felt like 36 hours before returning back to the more familiar surroundings of our own school later on for more briefings and I think 8 whole minutes of our own time to prepare for the next day when the kids came back. At several points during the briefings I snapped back to reality faced with the fact that I’d probably just been staring blankly at the person speaking for what could have been 7 or 8 minutes. I was finally able to leave work at just after 5pm, almost organised for the next day, only vaguely aware of my own name and already knackered.

Staggered returns have become a new way of thinking since I started in the job. So now, instead of Year 7 being plunged into big school, with all of the other enormous, scary students they’re given a bit of grace and allowed to come in before everyone else. Depending on the school, this might be for a few hours or a full day. We gave them half an hour (!) but then kept them in forms for most of the day to preserve their innocence for a little while longer. This was a particular delight for this grizzled old English teacher who has never been a fan of year 7s. By the time the whole school went to a token lesson for the last period I was delighted to see my Year 9s, having worn out my fake smile and Disney teacher voice and grown tired of repeating several variations of the phrase “If you’ve got any problems come and see me” with my fingers crossed behind my back. At least the later start allowed me a couple of precious hours of planning time, even if I couldn’t remember how to get my board on, leading to a call to IT support who then came down and, much to my shame, made it work by plugging it in.

Wednesday brought our first full day. By this point, the 6am alarm was taking its toll and my body had gone into a state of shock. My brain wasn’t coping well with the fact that both of own kids didn’t start school until Thursday, either.

My second lesson of the day was with our alternative curriculum lads in our internal PRU. I’ve never taught them before in this setting, but had taught several of them in mainstream school, so in a way I knew what to expect. They didn’t disappoint! Thus, after much calling out, the odd piece of bad language and every last one of them moaning about doing any work, they waited until I walked to the other side of the room and ignored them a bit before just doing the work. Wasn’t it Robin Williams who in his role as an inspirational teacher in ‘Dead Poets’ Society’ said, while standing atop a desk, “kids, even in a non mainstream setting, are funny little buggers”? Well, he was spot on.

Thursday and Friday passed in a blur with Friday being all the more memorable for having to fend off the ‘we’re getting two weeks off school because the Queen died’ rumours all day. I told them that they were very wrong; it was three.

Friday also brought me into contact with a brilliant new Year 8 groups. They’re a very low ability group of only 8 students, with low literacy levels and a cavalcade of complex stories between them. Fifteen minutes in, I quickly emailed the friend that I’m sharing the class with to tell her that I wanted to adopt them all. I wanted to take them all home and cook them a nice, hearty meal before letting them watch telly for as long as they wanted. Every so often you get a group like this, who regardless of ability, you just adore. I am going to absolutely love teaching these kids!

And that was that. First week done, eyes barely open having zombie-walked through 5 whole days and done the commute on auto pilot, 4 trips to the supermarket because fatigue and stupidity made me miss something every time I went, sore feet and a Friday where I wore a black tie to somehow pay my respects for a lady who I never knew, but whose death shook the word. And while I remain convinced that I wasn’t born to work for a living, I’ve found out once again that it’s strange the way that you can slip back into the same routine as if you’d never been away.

Parenting: It’s nearly time for results day!

It’s the kind of landmark day that you probably don’t give a passing thought to as a parent for quite some time. Not before your child is at least a decade old, I’d say. Until then, there are far too many landmarks to give thought to, meaning that those that are going to happen just as your kid is on the verge of adulthood (but still very much your little girl or little boy) won’t even occur to you. After all, with everything from emptying the contents of their stomach or bowels all over you to first steps, first words and first days of nursery and school, there’s a lot to think about. Your thinking time is pretty well taken care of for quite a while!

However, at some point, as I’m finding out in the next few days, your child will start to come up against potentially life-changing days and will either achieve things that you would have never thought believable or be forced to cope with the biggest phase of adversity that they’ll have had to face up to so far in their time on the planet.

Thursday is GCSE results day in the UK and my daughter, who at present is staring out at me across the kitchen on the side of not one but two mugs as a very cute, laughing toddler, will be faced with opening the most important envelope of her life so far. On Thursday, she will collect her GCSE results as the biggest phase of her education so far draws to a close, ready for the next one to start about a week later. It’s quite a concerning time for all!

As a parent, I feel quite calm and rational about it all. This is probably because wen I’m off pretending to be a proper adult, I’m a high school teacher. So Thursday won’t be my first rodeo, as they say. I know the drill and have worried about literally hundreds of kids and the contents of their envelopes over the years. So, in a sense everything’s zen for me personally.

However, while the above is very much true, it still promises to be a stressful day. Results day has never mattered this much. And while I’m calm on the surface and not a natural worrier, I’m still obviously feeling concerned and over-protective.

In a perfect world, I wouldn’t have to worry at all. After all, my daughter is a bright kid who realises the importance of education and qualifications and has the will and determination to do well. She’s worked damned hard too, spending much of the last two years revising in her spare time, making notes, flashcards, doing online tests, battling through hours of homework, listening to podcasts and just generally leaving no stone unturned in her quest for success. The trouble is, it’s not a perfect world. She really deserves a good set of results, but there’s obviously no guarantee of success with exams.

There have already been reports that results will take a hit this year, due to the fact that they were viewed as being inflated during the two non exam years of the pandemic. So, there’s that to contend with straight away, before she even gets the envelope in her hands. And we’ve been contending with it. Such is the reach of social media and 24 hour news these days that kids see almost everything that’s out there. And of course, my daughter has read all of it, meaning that she’s thoroughly stressed out already. I really feel for her. In my day I had no awareness whatsoever about results and grade boundaries and everything else that goes into gaining a GCSE. Having scare stories thrown at you left, right and centre can’t be any fun and there’s very little we can do to protect her from it.

As a parent, I can’t help but hope that she just does really well. I understand that good GCSEs aren’t the be all and end all of things for her and that she got a lot of life to live, with a lot of opportunities to come whatever her results; but I’d still love to see her come home with a great set of results. Whatever her future holds, it’d be great to think that had a firm foot on the first rung on the ladder!

Despite our attempts to make her look into colleges and different types of courses, my daughter was very firm in her intention to carry on at school via 6th form. One of my biggest regrets is doing just that and while our schools are enormously contrasting (hers is good, mine was like a cross between a safari park and a prison), I wish she had at least assessed her options properly. Now – and this has been discussed and will be handled on the day by my wife who is heading to school with her – she has to make the final decision on which A-Levels she’ll be taking. She knows what she wants to do, but this will come down to results, which has meant more stress and more ‘what ifs’! We’ve talked about options though, so there’s at least a Plan A and a Plan B, which is two more plans than I had at that age!

I think the main point in dealing with such a big thing as GCSE results has to be reminding your kid of how loved and valued they are. While I’m desperate for her to do well, obviously in the main for her but let’s not deny that parental pride won’t come into it, this is merely a step to get over. If the results aren’t what she would have really wanted, then it’s still a world full of options and it’s still a house we’re she’s always made fully aware of how loved and supported she is.

Given how quickly things move, I suppose it’ll not be too long before we’re discussing her next steps. At the moment, university seems to be at the forefront of her mind and I’d love her to go, but I’m hopeful that with a bit more maturity, she’ll listen to as many options as possible. She has some interests where she shows a huge amount of talent and I’m quite hopeful that these may be areas that she can explore further in the future. It would be wonderful to think that her work was also something that she loved.

Before then though, we have two more stressful nights to get through. And then the drama will begin in earnest on Thursday morning! I’m hopeful that it won’t actually be too dramatic though. Whatever happens, as parents all we can do is to be as supportive as possible, listen carefully and try to offer useful advice, even if this is a day that we’d happily tucked to the back of our minds with the thought that it was far too far off to really worry about!

Fingers crossed that everything will turn out alright!

Book Review: ‘Satin Island’ by Tom McCarthy

As an avid, lifelong reader I pretty much always have to finish a book when I’ve started it. Love it or loathe it, I really have to get to the end, even if it feels like I might die of boredom in the process. I consider it a bit of a super power to have the good sense to just give up on a book that you’re clearly not enjoying. But sadly, it’s one of many super powers that I simply don’t have and it’s a real rarity if I put a book down in order to give up on it. Hence the slog to get through what was actually a relatively short book.

Satin Island is by no means a terrible book. In fact, it was shortlisted for the 2015 Booker Prize and so, if you believe in awards, then that’s a decent yardstick of the quality here. Satin Island just wasn’t for me.

The story revolves around anthropologist U (or was it C or K, I genuinely don’t remember. Whatever it is, he hasn’t got a proper name) and the quest that he seems to have found himself on. He’s employed by a company to research stuff…this, that and maybe the other…I was never really entirely sure what he was doing to be fair and the crux of the tale seems to be the findings of his investigation.

The problem – both with the narrative and for me, the book itself – is that U doesn’t seem to ever really do anything that resembles work or the work that we’re led to believe that he should be doing. He’s researching stuff, but it never really seems to have anything to do with what it is he’s actually meant to be working on. Mind you, even the project here is vague. So, while you’re reading about what U’s up to, you’re also wondering why on earth he’s doing it. And for me this meant that the narrative never really took shape and I realised about halfway through the book that I had no idea what was going on.

U investigates the death of parachutists. U starts seeing a girl. U Googles stuff about Staten Island. U reads up on South Pacific cults. U spends lots of time looking into lots of different things producing very little in the way of results. In essence, U spends his days doing the equivalent of you or I disappearing down various YouTube or Facebook holes and while he gets paid to do it, this really added nothing at all to the book. In fact, with each little bit of research or thinking that U did, I would get optimistic that finally we were getting somewhere, only for U to find he’d headed down another dead end and me to find I still didn’t know what was going on.

For me, Satin Island is one to put down to experience. I don’t feel that I can give it a bad review though. Rather, I feel like the book was possibly just a little bit cleverer than me. So yes, nothing seems to have happened, but maybe there’s a hidden meaning and I’m just missing the point. It wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve missed something in a book or a film. Whatever, it was though, I finished it!

Now, in terms of recommendations…well I’ll leave it to you. By all means read it and feel free to let me know what I was missing.

I give Satin Island,

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Poetry Blog: Process

I’ve had a burst of activity with poems lately and written three or four that are in varying states, as well as several lots of notes that will serve as drafts for other poems.

I love it when this happens. Primarily because it’s good to be writing and in most cases, these poems provide something to go on the blog! But also, there are times when I haven’t written for a while and start to feel like I might never be able to do so again. So, to al of a sudden be able to produce some ideas, let alone some actual poems, is a bit of a relief.

I had to read this poem back a couple of times before I could work out what it was about. I’d written it a few days ago and, as is regular for me, it was done in the early hours of the morning after I found that I just couldn’t sleep once again. Hence, coming back to it, I was unsure who it was about as well as precisely what. Turns out it wasn’t that complicated because it’s just a poem about me and my state of mind at the moment.

I wouldn’t say that I was particularly low; just not particularly happy. Confused about a few things maybe and while not struggling, definitely not finding things as easy as I’d like. There’s been a lot going on with family issues and health issues and I think it’s reflected a bit at least, in the poem.

Process

Thoughts emerge like a pack of cards being dealt haphazardly,
some spinning and turning over as they drift through the air,
others plummeting directly to the floor
and the time spent on each left interrupted as more and more land to steal away your attention from the last,
and although your gaze may return to some randomly, 
none will be allowed to feel complete,
so you twist and turn, restless for an end that doesn't look like coming.
Similarly, your questions are all frustratingly rhetorical.
There are answers, but they are never a truth,
a rock, a definitive
and as a consequence, you do not know which route to take.
This is a process.
No one else need get involved or share the burden.
All of this, you hope, will pass.

For once, I have reasons behind the title of the poem. And for that reason, I think that for once, I have a decent title. I called this one ‘Process’ because my whole state of mind and the situations that I find myself going through will get worked out. They really are a process. As well as this though, I used ‘Process’ in terms of the fact that I’m just trying to figure things out. In know what’s happening and I know why, but I can’t really figure out how best to get through it. But I know that I will.

The end of the poem is quite important for me. In terms of problems or any kind of mental health issue that I might have, I’m never great at sharing. It’s not that there’s no one to share with and it’s also not that I don’t believe in sharing, talking or unburdening yourself. I totally understand that a problem shared is a problem halved, as they say. It’s just that I’m usually fine just dealing with stuff myself. It might take longer, but at least I don’t have to trouble anyone else. Apart from by writing about it, I suppose!

I hope you enjoyed reading and would love to hear any comments that you might have.

Until next time…

In lieu of a better title for a feature here’s ‘Stuff I enjoyed this week’.

So clearly being not very good at titles doesn’t just afflict me with poetry! But I’m hopeful that as a feature, not only will this grow and become regular, but I’ll come up with a better name for it.

Anyway, while I was sitting trying to enjoy the sunshine this week I found myself reflecting on stuff I’d enjoyed over the course of said week. That and worrying that I’d burn or just end up reduced to a puddle on my patio that would swiftly evaporate and leave my wife and kids forever wondering about the mystery of my disappearance! And so, I thought I’d write a blog about the stuff I’d enjoyed! It was a good excuse to get inside before I melted. So, here we go.

  1. Julie’s Facebook post. My friend and former colleague Julie moved all the way from Yorkshire to Devon a short while ago. It was a complete lifestyle change and a huge gamble and I was full of admiration for the bravery that it involved. Anyway, this week on Facebook she posted this and it really made me smile. Definitely some evidence to say that she made the right decision!

2. Sanding. Sad, but true. This week, in the midst of a heatwave, I got up early . and sanded all of our garden furniture down in preparation for applying some wood oil. I did wood work at school and always enjoyed it and there’s a bit of me that regrets not persuing this type of thing as a career. I always enjoyed it and was good at it too, but I guess it didn’t seem like the kind of career choice I could have faced my parents with, so there you go. The sanding was really hard work and I was far too pleased with myself by the time I’d finished. Probably far too sweaty and hot too! But it made me genuinely happy. Here’s one of our benches – have a look!

3. Nick Pope. On Friday, a Newcastle United site on Twitter (Toon Polls) set off on a mission to get the name of our goalkeeper Nick Pope trending. They replied to a poll on a Burger King post with the alternative answer of ‘Nick Pope’, who if you don’t know is a goalkeeper for my team, Newcastle United. Lots of Toon fans joined in and then after that it’s safe to say that things went a little bit mad as football clubs, global brands and celebrities got involved and it made me smile…even if my own attempt to join in was spoilt by predictive text on my phone. Not to worry, it made for a good day on social media and was a cracking effort from our fanbase ad the internet in general!

4. A conversation. A simple one this. On Wednesday after training with my Under 14 football team (I’m the coach, not a 13-year-old for those who don’t know) I had a lovely conversation with the parents of one of our new players. They’ve recently arrived from Armenia and it seems, are loving life in Yorkshire. I was really pleased for them. They were also asking for help in getting their son some friends, obviously through football and I promised to try and help. Again, it gave me a bit of a warm glow to think that I’m lucky enough to be in a position to be able to help.

5. A notification. Now these things can be the bane of all our lives, but this one made me laugh. It was a notification from my own phone offering me the chance to view highlights of my recent trip home to Whickham, which is the village just outside of Newcastle where my parents live. I’d gone to visit my mam because she’s been poorly for months and is housebound. So literally, all we did was sit in their bungalow drink coffee, eat and chat for about 6 hours! It was lovely, but I didn’t really see the need to view the highlights, not least because I was there! I had a lovely bacon sandwich though, which my timeline didn’t pick up on!

So there we have it. Five simple things that I enjoyed this week. Hopefully I can find some more for next week and hopefully I can come up with a better name for it all!

It’s been a weird couple of months – a bit of a health update.

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog about the latest downturn in my health. I didn’t do it because I’m self obsessed and imagine that anybody really wants to know how I’m feeling at any given time. It was written mainly because my health was the reason that the blog started in the first place and also because writing stuff like that is a good way of taking the weight of any worry off my shoulders. If you fancy a read of that one, it’s on the link below.

A spanner in the works.

For a bit more context, just over four years ago I was taken into hospital with heart problems and then, having been fine ever since, last month I spent a Sunday afternoon in a bit of a secretive mild panic as my heart decided it was about time it start racing once more. When I eventually confessed to feeling unwell we had a bag packed ready for a visit to hospital quick smart! In the end though, I didn’t need to go as after an awful spell of dizziness and nausea, everything went back to normal.

A few days later I had an ECG and some blood tests at my doctors and was referred back to Cardiology at our local hospital. This then led me to another local hospital some weeks later, where I got fitted with a 24 hour ECG machine. The most exciting thing to happen within that 24 hours was going to the hospital. Once I had the ECG machine on, my heart behaved impeccably, which was both a comfort and a frustration. A kind of proof that nothing was wrong alongside the mystery of what had actually happened in the first place. So, it sort of confirmed what I’d felt all along; that the latest setback was just a blip, while still leaving open that nagging sense of doubt!

In between times I gave myself a short break from any exercise at all. However, in the back of my mind I knew that I had entered the Leeds 10k and was desperate to do it. With 4 weeks to go until the actual race I set myself a challenge. I would train as best as I could, without pushing things too hard and a few days before the race itself I’d make an honest decision on whether to run or not. I presumed that if there was a problem, I’d know before then anyway.

On my first training run I had to detail my exact route and approximate finishing time to my daughter, so that if anything went wrong, she’d have an idea where to find me. This was much more for her benefit than mine as really, I felt quite strong. I also texted my wife the same details just to reassure her too.

Fast forward four weeks and I found myself on the start line suffering with my usual bout of pre-race nerves, but also feeling a huge determination to run a good time. It was a warm day, but quite still so I was pleased that I wouldn’t be battling the wind too much. What I felt I was battling though, was a bit of a lack of fitness. I’d run a solitary 10k in around 6 weeks, so while I wanted to run a good time, I didn’t know how capable I was and the state of my heart was always at the back of my mind too.

In the end, despite any reservations, I ran just two seconds outside my personal best! I got a little confused in the final mile, thinking I had more to run than I did – I’d definitely put this down to fatigue – and so I didn’t start picking up the pace until it was a little too late. I’ll know for next year though!

My latest heart scare had come after another 10k race about 6 weeks previously having just gone straight back to training, so I made sure I rested properly this time round. In fact, I don’t think I’ve run a 10k since, just concentrating on 4 and 5 mile runs when I go out in order to just stay sharp.

So, at the moment, everything seems OK healthwise. I actually spoke to a cardiology doctor last week, about the results of my 24 hour ECG and the general consensus seems to be that what happened was a bit of a blip. He did brielfy float the idea that I may have had another, much less serious atrial flutter (my problem first time round), but having consulted with another doctor, neither of them were too sure or too concerned. There doesn’t seem to be any need for medication and the only minor concern is that my heart rate is particularly low while I sleep, but from my point of view, that’s OK. I keep an eye on my heart rate when I’m out running, but only looking once or twice, usually once I’ve got up any big hills! Again, there’s been nothing alarming to report.

I’m learning to listen to this middle aged body a bit more though! I’m hopefully finding out that it’s not in as bad a shape as I thought it might be. Oh, and I’ve also learned that I need to hydrate far better, after another doctor told me that my blood test results looked like those of a bloke who didn’t ever actually drink water! So, now I start every day with a glass of water and then make sure that I’m drinking throughout the day. It sounds easier than it is, so again, I’m still learning which is ridiculous at my age.

The good thing is though, despite a few more heart worries, I’m still going strong(ish)!

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