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We gathered just outside Parliament Square to welcome in the New Year. The square itself was fenced off, testament to the wary times we live in. All around were people from every corner of the globe, all excited to be in London for the dawn of a new decade.
On the stroke of midnight the sky filled with the explosive magnificence of £200,000 worth of pyrotechnic splendour emanating from the London Eye.
While walking home afterwards we paused in delight as a powdering of snow descended as if on cue from above, for this, our last New Year in London.
There are many for whom New Year is just another number on the calendar; an arbitrary division of time with little real significance beyond the shallow projections of those who makes bold resolutions only to break them a week or two later. I take a different view. With only a limited number of years on the planet I believe the passing of one and the advent of another is a cause for reflection and for celebration, and that to simply dismiss the event as contrived or meaningless is to surrender to a cynical view of life I choose to forego.
I always have mixed feelings about going back to work after Iíve had a couple of weeks off. I get into such a different head space when Iím away from it and from such a distance I find myself wondering how I manage to cope with it all when Iím there. There are times when I think it would be nice to not have to work but I know that Iíd soon be bored out of my brain. The truth is I enjoy the hustle and bustle of the work place and all the demands that are placed on me.
As first days back go itís been a good one. I had a full contingency of staff and everyone was in good spirits. Thereís a healthy camaraderie between us all which is both satisfying and energising and having had such a good rest I also find myself feeling upbeat about the coming school term. Knowing that I only have seven more months to work my magic there serves to focus my attention on the fact that once this time has passed I will look back on it with overwhelming fondness. Therefore, I might as well enjoy every minute of it.
Being one staff member down today I decided to cover the lessons myself. Iím so glad I did! I designed a unit of work around David Attenboroughís ĎLifeí series and was frankly astonished at how readily they lapped it up. Iíve shied away from teaching in recent months, choosing to focus more on the management side of the job. What Iíve realised today however is that there is a great deal of mileage to be gained from covering absent teachers myself. It puts me back in touch with the pleasure of teaching and strengthens my relationships with the kids themselves.
The snow arrived last night. Weíre in the grip of the coldest winter for a generation and while it didnít really settle in the city, in the suburbs and beyond the whole landscape was transformed into a winter wonderland. Only a handful of students made it in to school but we made sure that those who did had a good day. The trip home was somewhat precarious with traffic reduced to a crawl and bus routes cancelled due to the steepness of hills. I ended up walking some of the way in the snow and loving every minute of it.
Snow. I love the stuff. I love the way it transforms even the bleakest of landscapes and imbues it with qualities unimaginable under normal circumstances. Tired rows of nondescript houses become gleaming toy town installations floating between fields of white crisscrossed by footprints and tyre tracks. Footprints create an ever-evolving canvas of twisting patterns and shapes while the bare branches of trees assume the quality of Christmas cards as they sparkle and glisten against the bluest of mid-winter blues. While others bemoan the cold and the interruption to normal services I simply sit on the slow moving bus and smile.
As weeks go, this one has been very atypical. The snow has kept most of the students at home and while itís been good to catch up on all the paperwork I canít help feeling this is merely the lull before the storm. Still, thereís a lot to be said for lulls. Those of us who have managed to get into work have enjoyed the relaxed pace. I remember a colleague in Melbourne once telling me that she thought schools would run a lot more smoothly if it wasnít for all the kids.
Sometimes Iím inclined to agree with her.
Living as I do a mere ten minutes walk from the Tate Britain Gallery I decided to wander down and have a look at, amongst other things, Hockneyís enormous
Bigger Trees Near Warter
which consists of 50 canvas panels depicting a tree-studded landscape which in turn is graced by two full-scale reproductions of the same scene, the effect of which is quite extraordinary. The copies are all but identical in colour and hue to the original and the effect is one of tranquility and grace. Iíve not a great fan of Hockney but I have to concede I was impressed.
Who would have imagined that after all these years we would finally find each other? Not that I havenít tracked you down before; I have: but for reasons that no longer hold sway I was not at liberty to pursue the discovery.
Now, all that has changed. Now we are able to reconnect and begin the process of filling in the gaps of all those missing years. It will be a slow process and that is as it should be. Like a good book, some things in life are best not rushed but rather savoured, one chapter at a time.
If today has been anything to go by I fear Iím seriously at risk of becoming allergic to teenagers, which is not a condition that bodes well for someone in my profession. Perhaps itís simply a symptom of having had such an easy week last week. I hope so. In this line of work you need to be able to call on reserves of understanding and patience that most people can only imagine being capable of. Lose that and you might as well pack up and go home.
Which isnít going to be an option for a few months yet.
One of my staff got punched in the face today. Weíd stepped in to separate a couple of lads when one lashed out and the other one ducked. My poor colleague copped it squarely on the cheek. She was badly shaken but fortunately nothing was broken. The lad in question was mortified when he realised what heíd done but it serves to remind me that we are constantly putting ourselves in harmís way with these kids. Itís not something that is uppermost in our minds but when it does happen I canít help but question my commitment to the job.
Just as is seemed to be thawing away we were blanketed with a fresh layer of snow today. Gazing out from the bus window this afternoon it occurred to me that this is the longest period of snow Iíve known in my adult life. There was the big freeze of 1963 but I was so young then that I only have snippets of memory to fall back on. And whereas just about everyone I know has had enough of it I myself am still enjoying its magical transformative quality as it serves to brighten an otherwise cold and bleak season.
The rain arrived today and washed most of the snow away but that didnít prevent a group of our lads pelting a driving instructorís car with snowballs leading to an ugly altercation. When he climbed out to confront them they then pelted him. When we went out to stop them they pelted us and when our resident police constable turned up they then pelted him with a verbal barrage worthy of the rowdiest of pubs. Itís this kind of pack mentality that is beginning to wear me down and will ultimately persuade me to forego my work with these kids.
I'm having one of those days where Iím sitting staring at the computer screen waiting for the muse to come.
And guess what? Itís just not happening.
Sure, I can ramble on about any number of things Ė my trip to see the urologist today, my recent encounter with kidney stones, the ongoing chill of winter Ė but if itís inspiration Iím looking for, today is not the day. There will be no poetic or profound insights into my life in London today.
So I might as well just prattle on and at least have the satisfaction of completing the task at hand.
I went to my first party in ages last night. Admittedly the invitation was extended as a courtesy by the neighbours upstairs who in the past have had me knocking on their door at three in the morning pleading for them to keep the noise down. As parties go it was pleasant enough. I met some interesting people and engaged in some increasingly inebriated conversations. I also got to know the neighbours a whole lot better too, which begs the question, how is it we can be neighbours for so long and not realise we have so much in common?
I really donít want to go to work tomorrow. The thought of having to deal with all that emotional and behavioural baggage is tiring enough in itself. Iím beginning to question my commitment to working with disaffected students. Itís like walking into a lionís den on a daily basis. It gets tiring, demoralising even, and to what ultimate end? Do we really make such a difference? Are we really that influential? I suspect not. Iím told on a daily basis that I command respect where respect is due but to be perfectly honest, Iím not convinced about it of late.
I used to believe it was possible to make a difference in the lives of children. Iíve not entirely surrendered that notion but I am seriously questioning the limits to such influence. In my line of work itís not difficult to have a short term positive impact upon the lives of troubled kids but I think I would be kidding myself if I thought I would be able to make any lasting difference in my current position. The political constraints are too great and collective will too demoralised. Consequently, all the wishful thinking in the world canít really change things.
The older I become the less certain I am of anything. I question whether all we take for granted is simply part of some giant human construct that ultimately has little or nothing to do with anything other than our own collective dreams and illusions about what constitutes what we commonly refer to as reality. We live in a time of such horror and wonder that I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile the two. Meaning evaporates and in its place is a foreboding sense of its absence; a dark place where once the sun was shining, but no more.
Iíd like to get back into mainstream education when we return to Melbourne. I miss the creative buzz and the intellectual rigour of working with young people who genuinely want to paint and draw and express themselves in as many ways as are available to the young art student of today. Iím sick of trying to motivate where the very notion of engaging in anything other than passive, numbed out apathy is an alien concept. Social responsibility and a desire to positively impact upon peopleís lives is all very well but not when itís reduced to pearls among the swine.
One month past the winter equinox and Iím hungering for the longer days. The snow provided a welcome reprieve from the traditional winter blues but with that distraction now well behind us the ongoing grey skies and long cold nights are beginning to take their toll. A succession of tragic events for a disproportionate number colleagues at work has left many people wallowing beneath a cloud of collective gloom which is proving difficult to dispel. A little Australian optimism and sunshine certainly wouldnít go astray right now. Ah well, I just need to keep reminding myself:
this time next year . . .
Friday night and I feel like Iíve collapsed over the finishing line of a long, arduous marathon. For three whole evenings and two whole days I can relinquish my responsibilities to the workplace and focus my attention on other things. At the end of the working week one of lifeís great pleasures in to chill out with a glass of wine in front of the box and soak up whatever programming is on offer. And to be fair, Friday night TV in Britain is an irreverent mix of comedy and satire guaranteed to release the stresses of the working week.
There are times when I can become overwhelmed by how little sense the world makes; days when life in all its glory feels like a driverless runaway train. For those facing towards the rear the view is of what has already passed whereas for these facing towards the front the uncertain spectacle of the world now rushing towards us alternates uncomfortably between the exhilarating and the downright terrifying. There used to be a time when I imagined it was all leading up towards something. These days such notions seem sadly naÔve. And that can be unsettling to say the least.
When I first started writing 100 words a day it never occurred to me that by doing so I would be building bridges between myself and others, yet that is what has been achieved. Things I wrote years ago are being discovered anew by family and friends I never imagined would ever read them. Such is the power of the written word. Iíve finally relinquished any notion of becoming a published writer but in some ways the knowledge that what I have written has illuminated the lives of just a few people close to me is motivation and satisfaction enough.
Iíve never seen anything like it. He shows up today for a trial day and within minutes I can see he is good. Within an hour I can see heís very good. By the time we reach morning break Iím in the office of my line manager telling her weíd be fools to let him slip through our fingers. Needless to say weíve offered him the job. Itís so refreshing to find someone who genuinely like working with challenging kids and who so clearly has what it takes to do so. Words like rare and hens teeth come to mind.
Stepping wearily out from Westminster tube station at 5:14pm this evening my spirits were lifted by the sight of Westminster Abbey silhouetted against a cloudless pink sky which in turn was latticed by the bare branches of the trees in Parliament Square. Everywhere the air was imbued with that gentle blue light which at this time of year hints at the lighter months to come. Thus heartened, I chose to wander through St. Jamesís Park, drinking in the early evening stillness while all around me the city hummed quietly in the distance. Itís moments such as these Iíll cherish forever.
I arrived at work to discover that a group of our lads were intercepted by the police tooled up with knives and clubs heading towards a rival group of lads from a similar provision to ours nearby. Four were detained and arrested while the rest scattered like a starburst. They are ironically the same lads who participated so eagerly in yesterdayís discussion about knife crime, prompted by so many of them have witnessed the aftermath of an horrific attack in Woolwich the day before. They all think theyíre so immune to it all and yet theyíre all so incredibly vulnerable.
Iím can't help but wonder how Iím going to last the distance. The kids at work are becoming increasingly more feral while some members of the staff are becoming increasingly dispirited. Thatís not to suggest that good things arenít happening; they are. We have an excellent team of dedicated professionals who achieve some amazing things and to be fair we do have some brilliant days. Itís just that with so many new students heading our way and so little room to spread out there is the inevitable risk of things getting out of hand. Am I really up for it?
Thereís no question that Friday is my favourite day of the week. It doesnít matter what the world throws at me I can cope with it. I think itís the fact that for so many years I used to work weekends that Friday has assumed such a prominent place in the week. It was many years before I had the luxury of being able to say, Thank God itís Friday! Itís knowing that I have three whole evenings and two whole days ahead to do whatever I please without the need to be responsible for others. Hallelujah! Bring it on!
One month in and Iím already preparing myself for the changes to come. Itís a gradual but inevitable process of disassociation from my life here in London and a refocusing of my attention back on Melbourne. Itís a mindset thing and it perhaps explains in part my growing sense of dissatisfaction at work; however itís a process I need to manage rather than allow, otherwise thereís a risk of swinging too far too soon. By allowing the disaffection to fester I could be making a rod for my own back. Still, the colourless month of January is now behind me.
We had the pleasure of spending this evening with the architect who has designed our new house in Melbourne. Heís in London for a few days before heading across to Paris. Until now weíve only communicated with him online. Discussing the ins and outs of the project has served to focus my attention on what is to come, which in turn has helped put everything else, including work, back into perspective.
And as the month draws to a close, I realise itís simply a matter of time before all my concerns about my job over here become a distant memory.
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