15 Reasons I’m Not A Grown-Up Yet

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My best friend and I often talk about when we’re “grown-up”. We talk about how we’ll behave and the things we’ll be able to do. We’ve been talking about this for about 14 years. It seems no matter how old you are there are people around you that are far better at being an adult. You know the ones, they go to the post office in their lunch hour, they know when the boiler is due to be serviced and who to call for that: they’ve really got their shit together.

This time next year I’ll be 30, married and a home owner – by many measures I will technically be a grown up. But there’s still a long way to go. I present to you a very honest list and pray that some of you identify with at least some of it. I can’t be the only non-grown up grown up?

15 reasons I’m not a grown up yet.

  1. I sometimes eat naan bread and mango chutney in the bath. I know this sounds weird but you really can’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
  2. I paint over my chipped nail polish rather than taking it off and starting again.
  3. I have been known to neglect my laundry to the point that I end up wearing a bikini instead of underwear…  I blame my job for this as much as myself.
  4. I worry a lot about what other people think. Hopefully this post is a big step towards getting past that. (You don’t admit to point 3 if you’re still hung up on point 4.)
  5. I drink too much on a Friday night and it wipes out my Saturday… and Sunday.
  6. I generally avoid the doctor/dentist until something has turned an unusual colour. Actually I should probably register with a dentist…
  7. I regularly allow the car to get so messy I’m embarrassed to offer people a lift.
  8. I avoid exercise like it’s the plague. I know it’s normal to avoid things that are painful but I probably should do something. Anything.
  9. I fall asleep with my make up on. Grown ups tell me that this all kinds of bad
  10. I still say yes to things a) I don’t want to do or b) I haven’t got the time to do. Free time is precious and I have so many lovely people I enjoy spending time with I really don’t need to try and please absolutely everyone all the time.
  11. I always wear odd socks.
  12. I waste too much time online. Too. Many. Cat. Videos.
  13. I shop in Primark. Not the occasional piece – about 70% of my wardrobe. I even went to wedding in the Summer wearing a Primark dress and heels. When will I learn? Buy cheap by twice. Also the whole unethical child labour thing…
  14. I drink warm milk far more than anyone over the age of 3 probably should.
  15. I don’t own an iron. According to my best friend this means I definitely don’t qualify for adult status. But really, what do people actually iron?

For The Love Of Gilbert

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From terrorism to the steady decline of the education system, it’s an understatement to say that my posts have been rather gloomy of late. There’s plenty to be blogging about in Politics at the moment – should we bomb Syria? Probably not. Should we leave the EU? Probably not. Is the Chilcot Report ever going to be released? Probably. However it’s been an exhausting month and I  quite fancy writing something a bit lighter, a bit more hopeful. So I’ve made the decision to add a monthly travel post to the site. Like most people with a pulse, I love to travel and visit new places. To date my adventures have taken me to 4 different continents, 16 countries and countless Cathedral cities. My experiences range from typically tourist (hot dogs in New York, neon paint and fishbowls in Ko Pang Yang) to the more unusual (travelling from London to Malta by train and boat, eating fried crickets etc…)

For the first travel post I decided to write about the only time I’ve travelled alone – my summer in Italy. If you want a blow-by-blow account of this trip including detailed itinerary, restaurant recommendations and the story about the boy who decided to bring home a girl to our dorm for some romancing you can find that here. Instead this post is more a tribute to the inspiration for that trip – Elizabeth Gilbert.

Without being too dramatic, I have Gilbert to thank for the Summer That Changed My Life and believe me, I know how trite that sounds. It’s the sort of tagline you might find on a bargain bin novel or teen movie. But (again, without being overdramatic) nothing has been the same since Italy(another tagline.) In the two years following that trip I’ve changed jobs (twice), moved house, got engaged and adopted a cat called Bubbles. All off the back of that one decision and here is the passage that started it all:

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it. You must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”

– “Eat. Pray. Love.” Elizabeth Gilbert

I look back on that Summer now as the perfect balance of complete freedom and independence without feeling lonely or isolated. Every day started with “well – what do you want to see today.” Sometimes the answer was “I want to see the Trevi Fountain.” and sometimes it was “I want to read in that garden next to the gelateria.”  I was the director and star of my own little film and, like all good films, well-known faces popped up throughout. (It turns out if you announce that you’re going to Italy for the summer, many of your close friends will happily join you.)

I ventured through Venice alone tying myself in knots getting lost and summoning the courage to try out the small amount of Italian I’d learnt. I drank local wine on a farm in Tuscany with my oldest friends, I swam and sailed through Lake Como with some of the best travel companions a girl could ask for and, when I finally  reached the glorious city of Rome, I had a very special guest in the shape of my friend, The Man On The Piccadilly Line. That summer is a montage of happy memories with some of my best people and yet some of my happiest times were warm evenings sat alone with a glass of wine and a book, awaiting my spaghetti alla puttanesca .

Before booking the trip I’d toyed with visiting one of Gilbert’s other destinations, India or Indonesia but the food swung it in favour of Italy. A country that encourages you to eat pizza, spaghetti, gelato and coffee every day is the sort of place I want to be. My trip was less “Eat, Pray, Love” and more “Eat, Eat, Eat” but despite 5 weeks of a diet based entirely on pasta and gelato I returned to the UK 8lbs lighter – god bless you Italy.

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The most striking thing about Italian food is how simple it is. Most of the meals I ate were made from 4 or 5 really fresh ingredients. I am grateful for this as it means on cold,  winter evenings, 1000 miles from Rome, it’s possible to recreate some of those beautiful meals. Puttanessca, as well as being of my favourites, is as simple to make as it is delicious. I will leave you with this recipe from Naples:

Spaghetti Puttanessca

750g Pounds Canned Pureed Tomatoes
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
1/2 Cup Olive Oil
200g large Black Olives
3 Anchovies
4 Tablespoons Capers
Salt & Pepper
1/2 Teaspoon Red Pepper Flakes
400g Dried Spaghetti

OPTIONAL EXTRA: Balsamic Vinegar (because my family believe most meals can be enhanced by balsamic vinegar)

Heat the oil in a medium sauce pan and add the garlic, and cook briefly.
Pit the olives and cut into halves
Discard the bones from the anchovies and thinly slice
Add the tomatoes to the oil and garlic, and then the olives, anchovies and capers. At this point you may wish to add a glug of the Balsamic but y’know – no pressure.
Season with salt & pepper and red pepper flakes.
Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
Use to top spaghetti pasta cooked “al dente“.

Buon Appetito.

Italy pasta

Bankers: Some advice.

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The news that bankers who retrain as teachers are exhausted by the hours is not surprising.  I’ve been off work these last couple of days those that know me know that is virtually unheard of. I have some nasty virus thing but mostly I think I’m just really, really burnt out and my body is definitely letting me know. 60 hour weeks, plus tuition, clubs and weekly meetings adds up. That’s before you factor in any marking or preparation for the next day. In California they’ve set up a “Survive and Thrive Mini-Sabbatical Intervention Program” for teachers which sounds quite lovely. However I am nowhere near California and I’ve got a Christmas play to produce in 15 days. So instead I’ve decided on some rules to keep me healthy as we approach Christmas. Any bankers thinking of entering the teaching profession – consider this advice:

  1. Cut back/don’t take on too much. If you really can’t cut back on anything change this to: “don’t take on any more additional responsibilities. ” Asking for help is good too. You’re, hopefully surrounded by talented, supportive colleagues – use them.
  2. Get to bed by 10. Well actually 9. Asleep by 10. Sounds laughably early but it really isn’t when you have to leave the house at 6:30am. Which takes me on to my next point…
  3. Whenever possible, leave for work at 7am. Not 6:30am. This means my alarm doesn’t need to go off at a time that starts with 5 (which is surely the dream.) Obviously this can’t start tomorrow because I have to get in and catch up on what I’ve missed.
  4. Try, even if it kills you, to do some gentle exercise swimming or walking. (Sadly, watching your class swimming doesn’t count.)
  5. Give some of your evening over to doing something you love be it reading, writing etc…   but limit screen time. I love my blog but coming home each evening and staring at a screen is neither healthy nor conducive to a good night’s sleep.
  6. Keep socialising for the weekend. Now I’ll be honest, my school night socialising is limited almost exclusively to dinner with friends at conveniently located Pizza Express. It’s not wild but for now I’m going to have to try and keep it to a minimum. Obviously I wouldn’t recommend isolating yourself for any long stretch of time but just work out what is manageable.
  7. It’s OK though because you can spend LOADS of times with your new best friends: tea and coffee.
  8. Focus on why you are in teaching. Focus on the children that rely on you every day and really enjoy your time with them. This is what it is all about.
So there you have it – rules for the next few weeks. Are they fun?  Not really. Neither are they sustainable long term but for the next 3 and a half weeks they will hopefully keep me happy and healthy. If not – maybe it’s time to become a banker.

Dear Job…

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Dear Job.

I like you a lot. You challenge me, motivate me and reward me. We’ve been together 6 years now and have shared some very special times. Because of you I’ve taught children to read, write, count and think. I have boxes upon boxes of thank you cards. Some from parents with beautifully written messages inside but most are drawings of me with three eyes and blue hair – I love them all.

Job you’ve made me a better person. I’m more patient, harder working and stronger than I was when we first got together. You’ve made me resilient. I can now sit in meetings about unspeakably horrible cases of child abuse and not even wince, let alone cry.

Without you Job, I would never have met so many of my closest friends or my future husband. You introduced me to politics and made me realise it was too important to be ambivalent about. It was because of you I went on my first rally.

I’ve learnt to speak publically, sung dozens of songs, ran clubs, written plays, stories and poems, dressed as a fish, dressed as a bear and baked a lot. I’ve learnt how to plot linear equations, play tag rugby and use a semi-colon. Job – all of these were opportunities you gave me. I am so grateful.

I’ve been the cause and the cure for tears. I’ve had thousands of children sing happy birthday to me. I’ve had the pleasure of watching 30 children see a baby chick hatch from an egg. I’ve watched light bulb moments and seen the frustration when a child just doesn’t “get it.”

Job at this point I also want to say thank you for the holidays.

However Job, there are some things you do that I don’t like. I don’t like that we spend 12 hours a day together and I really don’t like that you follow me home. I don’t like that you leave me with just 4 waking hours each day to spend time with my husband-to-be or to see my lovely friends and family. I don’t like that you constantly make me doubt myself and question whether I’m doing enough. I hate that no matter how hard I work the lives of the children I teach don’t seem to get any better. I resent that I spend most of the year grey and exhausted. If I’m honest Job – you’re becoming impossible.

I eagerly await your response.

 

 

 

How To Talk To Children About Terrorism

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In 2013 the EDL set fire to an Islamic Centre in Barnet. Later that year I found myself teaching a child who had attended classes at the centre. “They burnt it down because the English don’t want Muslims here,” he told me one day in the middle of a maths lesson. We talked about what he meant and I explained who the EDL were and how they are a tiny group that are in no way representative of all British people. I reminded him that most of his teachers are British and they all wanted him here and that the wonderful thing about living in Britain is it so diverse.

That conversation was the first time I understood how uncomfortable some Muslims are made to feel living in Britain at the moment. Equally it is an example of how fear can build prejudice  “English people don’t want Muslims here” stems from the same ignorance and fear as, “well – how many of these migrants are terrorists?”

I’m a writing this on Saturday morning whilst details of the events in Paris pour in. At this point there is nothing new to say about what’s happened. It was cruel, horrific and tragic. I don’t know what the response should be or how we resolve this. So instead my thoughts have turned to Monday: when 30 6-year-olds walk through my classroom door. How much will they have heard? What will their parents have explained? Will they have spoken to them about it at all?

It’s my assembly first thing so I think I’ll take the opportunity to talk bout tolerance rather than focus entirely on Paris. I wonder how many of them will ask me about it. I am a huge believer in you should always try and answer children’s questions no matter how uncomfortable they are. (That said, I did draw the line at “how can you have sex with three people at once?”) So I will talk the children about what has happened in Paris if they bring it up.

  1. I’ll be clear on the difference between Muslims and ISIS

For my class this is very straightforward: Muslims are their friends, families, neighbours, teachers and ISIS are evil people doing horrible things. The two are very separate because the Muslim community they live in is peace loving, friendly and supportive. I won’t need to explain to (most) of them that most Muslims are not terrorists and these acts are condemned by the Muslim community. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January I told my class: “there is a group of people that want people to believe the same things as them. They want it so much they will actually kill people who believe different things. Most people don’t think like this.”

2. I’ll try and explain how unlikely these things are to happen

This one is tricky because my children have very small world and quite limited experiences but I need to make it clear how rare these events are. I don’t want them living in fear of an attack. When I learnt about WW2 in Primary school I became convinced there was going to be another huge war and I would have to be evacuated. When people live in fear terrorism wins.

3. I’ll focus on how lucky we are to have such a diverse and tolerant community

Out of my 29 children – 21 are Muslim, 5 are Hindu, 1 Jewish and 1 Christian and 1 has “no religion”. The children I teach that are from Muslim families are incredibly proud of their religion and love nothing more than educating me on their beliefs and practises and teaching me Arabic. Most of them go to school for 6 hours a day and then do 2 hours of Mosque school in the evening. They find my lack of knowledge bemusing and tease me about it. I in return teach them about other belief systems and help them understand that as they grow up they will meet people that believe very different things to them and that is ok. I will remind them this is why we spend so much time talking about resolving conflict and tolerating others – they are the values we want them to have as adults.

4. I’ll remind them of the support they have around them

Something I often find myself saying to parents is: as an adult when you see something you have experiences and points of reference to draw on to help you to piece together the picture. Children are still developing those and this means they aren’t always sure what they have seen. This is why it is so important we keep talking to them and unpacking ideas for them. I will remind them of all the people that care about them and work hard to keep them safe.

It’s not easy to explain something I don’t fully understand myself but if we don’t at least try we risk leaving children scared and uninformed which, sadly, often manifests as hate.