January 2009

What if I just walk around it?

Did you know that a substantial proportion of the secondary sector teachers are at the moment taking industrial action.  Not many people do.  Basically, the NASUWT is at the moment taking action to ensure parity with England and Wales.  The action involves not covering any lessons outside our timetabled time (cover for absent teachers) and not doing a list of administration tasks that our colleagues in England and Wales don’t have to do.  Like collecting money or chasing up absences (unless you are a year head).  Our union visitor said to us that if we did not get trained to do it at university then we should not be doing it!

The pay parity is an interesting and confusing point.  As far as I can tell, most teachers get exactly the same as the teachers in England and Wales.  There does seem to be a difference with management points.  However, the INTO (a union taking no action) makes an interesting comment on the NASUWT’s claim here.

So, what’s the harm in action that no-one seems to know about?  A lot.  It appears to me that a lot of money is being wasted when teachers are not doing any cover lessons.  It means that schools cannot make efficient use of cover teachers.  A cover teacher has to now be brought in for every absent teacher even if we only need them to cover classes a portion of the day.   Also, teachers are often allowed to take trips or sports games and their colleagues covered for them.  When teachers don’t do cover this is somewhat limited.

I do think that we should be treated the same as other teachers.  As I see it, we in Northern Ireland have a history of being paid less than other teachers in England and Wales.  It always seemed to me that the department of educations always dragged there heals 1 year behind in our annual pay increases.


  • It seems to me that, at the moment, parity is closer than it has ever been.
  • The action we are currently taking is hurting our schools, students and limiting the teachers themselves.
  • In the current climate I am glad to have a job.
  • I think teachers get paid really well.
  • I think the conditions are very good.
  • As far as only doing what I was trained to do at university – I am a professional and I love every aspect of my job*

A majority of NASUWT members in Northern Ireland voted in favour of this action but I really don’t agree with it.  It’s the wrong type of action at the wrong time.  So is it OK for me to walk around the picket line?  Is it OK for me to leave and join another union?

*Apart from marking.  I hate marking.

And tidying my classroom.

Fog this morning.  Beautiful fog.

I love the closeness of a foggy winter morning, the sounds and the look of trees.  The only time I did not like to see fog was when there was a crazy junction on the way to school.  On really foggy mornings it felt like a risky game turning right onto a busy main road.  Now there is a roundabout.

During staff briefing today I was leaning against a wall full of leaflets and notices.  As I intently listened to the notices my eyes drifted to a little magazine beside me;  A booklet explaining all the different types of tarmac and asphalt used on the roads or Northern Ireland.  Life is random sometimes.

It does not feel like a proper weekend as I was in school for open day.  The most strange aspect of it was that it still felt like a Saturday to some degree.  We still lounged about and read the papers in a cafe.  I even had time to wander about a bit and call into a book shop.  Queen’s University book shop.  It is always guaranteed to have a very large selection, truly something for everyone.  One book I picked up and have so far found very interesting is Five minutes to midnight  Hickey.


The book I was actually looking for is one called The Night of The Big Wind.  They did not have it and I may have to try the publishers themselves.


These sites make quite interesting reading about it:

here and here

These books on non-fiction I find easy to read.  They are like junk food, or sweets.  What I find hard is fiction, I need to be in the right frame of mind for it.  So tonight I felt I was ready to try a little fiction – The Big Snow by David Park.  It still has the book mark telling me how far I got the last time (not far).  From chapter 1 it is charged with moving emotions.


So far, so good.

Tidying, marking, tidying, marking, climbing.

The lovely Sharon is sick at the moment.  I make sure to give her little hugs and tell her she is a brave girl.  I think its called sympathy although I can’t  be certain*.

It feels like a busy time of year at the moment, internal exams are just over and open day is a stone throw away.   My classroom is a perpetual mess and the students tell me they remember seeing a teacher’s desk a few years ago, under the paper and books.  At the moment I keep thinking about the idea of drilling tiny little holes in my ceiling.  I could put little LEDs in the holes, so small that they cannot be seen.  Then when switched on they would form the constellations across the whole ceiling.  A little project to think about.

*What I really do is:  Ring or text  every hour  or so, to check progress.  I rush home from school and buy lucazade and grapes to cheer her up.  I keep the fire topped up to warm her shivering body. And most importantly of all, I microwave “hug me better” bear.


Hug me better bear has microwavable beans.  You need to add a little water to him before you put him in the microwave.  I recall one time when I was sick and the lovely sharon failed to dampen his beans.  I lay in bed feeling sorry for myself and wondering why the forgetful lovely sharon was making me popcorn.


I stumbled upon another rare gem on Friday; Between the Mountains and the Gantries by Will Morrison.  I had actually spied it some time ago and I am glad I caved in.  The language is light and refreshing and the subject is fascinating.  I have only begun to read it and so far it is a memoir of life in Northern Ireland, mainly Belfast, during and just after the 2nd world war.  It is a book that I imagine might be a rarity in a few years.

I read recently that Waterstones is laying off about 200 or so of its staff.  They are changing the way that they order and deliver books to their stores.  As I understood it, the current system relies on a person in the store ordering books directly from the publishers, the old fashioned way.  The new system does not require this person.  Instead the books are delivered to the store from a central waterstones distribution system.  I worry that this system might mean that less books like the one above get represented.  The book is a local book from a local publisher; Appletree Press.  I hope I am wrong and that the stores can still retain their individuality.

Another book I am leafing randomly through at the moment is:


Mushrooms by John Wright – VERY INTERESTING and amusingly written.  It makes me more confident about the fact that I REALLY DON’T want to pick my own mushrooms (when reading the non edible section).  One strange mushroom is both edible and poisonous! You can eat it safely as long as you not not consume even a small smidgen of alcohol for at least 72 hours.  Weird.

Marking papers and being distracted by the weather forecast.

Metcheck shows this progression for tonight and tomorrow:


Twigs and branches all over the road.

Walking down the street sideways.

The air roars as it strains through trees.

The house moans a little.

The light fades through grey and strange oranges.

It’s windy out there, time to light the fire.




Just heard that a search has been launched in the Mourne Mountains.  I hope he is ok.

marking day



a day of rain running down the window

First session for the school climbing team today. It involved a bit of bouldering and a bit of climbing down at the local climbing wall. It surprised me how little fear they showed, next to none. They had bucket loads of enthusiasm which really shone through and drove them to really push themselves.

I find it very enjoyable to be involved in extracurricular activities. The pupils get to relax a bit and you can see them in a different light. You also get a chance to meet parents and have a chat about anything and everything.


More important than any of that sort of thing was that it gave me a chance to wear my new climbing t-shirt.

Batton down the hatches, this is what the met office are telling us is Sunday night and Monday morning.  Those nights of clear and still air have left us for now.



The Book of the Bivvy by Ronald Turnbull

A very strange little gem that does not fit into any category.  It is short, instructional and witty.  The advise cannot be found in many hiking or mountaineering books I have ever come across.  the writer loves the bivvy experience but is quite level headed and sensible about it.  Inspirational.

I am trying something different; adding books I read into the main posts instead of three little thumbnails to the right.


The Stargazers Guide by  Emily Winterburn

I saw this one in the shops from the start of December and was nearly tempted a few times.  Then a fried of mine got it with the intention of expanding his mythology knowledge a little bit more.  Initially he was not impressed with the book.  This put me off.  However, I looked at a couple of more times in the bookshop and was happy with the style of the short bits I skim read.  I bought it and have not been disappointed.

It only took a short time before I got into the style of it.  It is similar to a lot of other popular science books;  instructional, historical, anecdotal and easy to read.  I find it nearly impossibly to remember most of the mythological stories but little bits are sinking in.  It is a must that it be read with regular pausing and drinking in the night sky.  Fortunately I have read most of the book during a period of high pressure weather, perfect clear night skies.  Unfortunately our regular and familiar system of low after low has taken back its place above our heads.

Saturday is all about chilling out a bit.  The itinerary so far has been:

Check Thomas’ progress (we got him from santa).


Porridge with blueberry jam.

Check the post (very geeky delivery).


Hug a cup of warming coffee as I stare at the trees bending across the fields.

I guess I might be a little spoilt by the services of amazon but I can’t help but compare and judge. So I am not overly impressed with the performance of waterstones online:

2nd January – Ordered 2 books, both usually dispatched within 24 hours ,2-3 day delivery.
5 – Books dispatched
7 – No books

8 – EDIT – still no books

9 – ANOTHER EDIT – still no books

10 – YET ANOTHER EDIT – they arrived!  8 days….not what it said on the tin (24h dispatch, 2-3 day delivery)

Not too bad so far considering that 3rd and 4th was the weekend. I might get them tomorrow.

However, this experience is poor….

29th December – Ordered 2 books (usually dispatched within 7-10 days) Used gift card.
Received notice that both books not in stock and are now on order from publisher.
Noticed one of the books was in stock in Ballymena and bought it. Rang waterstones to cancel one book. Cannot cancel one, have to cancel both. ***sigh***
30 – Cannot re-order book order or another book as gift card not refunded. Rang to find out it should have been refunded within 24 hours. Apparently Christmas break should not affect this as it is computerised.
31 – Gift Card still not Refunded.
1 – Gift card still not refunded. Email sent.
2 – Phone call made. Card refunded. Book reordered and another book ordered.
3 – Received notice that both books not in stock and are now on order from publisher. Estimated dispatch 2-3 weeks
7 – Still no reply to email.
8 – UPDATE – Cancelled the order!  I can get one of the books faster and cheaper somewhere else and I really don’t think they can get the other book.  I wonder how long it will take to get my gift card refunded?
26 – Estimated time it takes for Waterstones to contact me (based on 2-3 week delivery) and tell me one of the books cannot be obtained. We shall see. I am expecting one of these books to not be found as both amazon and bookdepository can’t get it and only abe has it. Maybe I will be surprised?

Some good book sites

Amazon.co.uk – brilliant

Amazon.com – also brilliant and includes faster delivery for many american titles

Amazon.ca – has some titles that you will not find anywhere else; mountain journals, cold weather forest storys and some Farley Mowat.

bookdepository.co.uk – Try here before amazon as bookdepository has free delivery and very fast delivery

abebooks.co.uk – if you cannot find your book here then you will be hard pressed to get it anywhere. Abe is a network of secondhand bookshops. Of the many books I have got from abe, they have all been as described and excellently wrapped. Most of the people on abe love their books.

Lunch duty today in the bitter cold.  Puddles were still frozen and it felt like winter, a real winter.  The huddle instinct takes over and few people seemed to be playing football.  A huddle of pupils would arrive, chat for a bit then move on.  Another huddle would arrive later and stay, the teachers and teaching assistants.  We chatted about football (not my favourite subject) and about how we remembered winters in the past (much more civilised conversation).

While chatting the footballs would occasionally drift towards us and we would kick or throw them back towards the games, over the short hedge between “them” and “us”.  On one occasion I kicked the ball back, or attempted to kick, the ball back.  It did not have sufficient lift and got stuck in the hedge.  Instant laughter.  An uproar of ridicule.  But not from the pupils, it was the teachers and teaching assistants.  The pupils simply shouted thanks, picked the ball up and then played on giving a momentary puzzled glance to the teachers and teaching assistants who where doubled over.

I am bullied.

Winter walk in the temperature of -5 according to my mercury thermometer.

We took our binoculars with us looked for the patterns in the stars.  The big bear, the little bear, cassiopia, draco the dragon, the pleiades, taurus the bull, orion the hunter (fighting the bull) and the magestic dog star sirius nipping at the hunter’s heals.

Stellarium helps.

Here is Aldebaran in Tauras and then Aldebaran as the Inuit imagined it.



In reverse order….

It’s back to school tomorrow and the Christmas decorations are still not completely squared away.  We are not busying ourselves to get it all sorted, instead we are taking it at a leisurely pace.  So much so that I have had the time to finish a book I bought yesterday:


It’s an excellent short read about a very cold winter and an extremelly bad irish famine.

“On the last day of 1739, Ireland awoke to find itself in the grip of a mini Ice Age.

Rivers froze, mills seized up, and houses could not be heated above freezing point. Some people were enchanted by the novelty of it all. Carnivals, dances and sheep-roastings were held on the ice.

But the euphoria proved fleeting. In its wake came an almost biblical ordeal by drought, flood, fire, famine and plague, that has few parallels in the recorded history of the island.”

I love discovering little gems like this that you would rarely see in normal book shops.  This one was discovered in the gift shop at Castle Espie.  The lovely Sharon and I decided to take a day bird watching.  Years ago she tried to get me interested in birds as she was brought up on a staple diet of twitching and is very good at telling her Brents from her Barnacles.  I never got into it and did not really understand or take joy in it.  I simply saw birds; and where she saw amazing beauty I simply saw coloured birds.  Recently that has changed, so much so that I requested, and got, binoculars from Santa.

The thing that was my hook was the crows.  I love crows.  They are a group of birds that humans have always felt some sort of a connection to whether it be as messengers (like Hugin and Mugin), as bringers of light, as good omens, as bad omens or as the wise wolf birds.  In recent times we have discovered them to be the most intelligent of birds, more so than even the owls or parrots that can talk.  So now with my  interest in birds ignited I do see beauty in the colourful ones like the Mandarin ducks at Castle Espie (not my photo):


However, I see even more beauty behind the eyes, and in the behaviour of, the ravens.  I love hearing the Ravens in the Mournes break the silent mountains with their kronks in the mist.


(not my photo either)

New years was spent with family at Portrush.  We enjoyed oven cooked M&S nibbles and frosty walks along the beach.  Two events stand out in my memories; one was spotting two chubby sanderlings as the ran along the lapping tide and being able to tell the lovely Sharon(the supposed pro) what they where.  My bird book hidden in my pocket helped.  The other event was the sad heartbreak when my nephew was told it was time to go home.  He had got confused and thought he was staying 3 nights instead of 2.  The night before heading home he excitedly told the lovely Sharon that he was here for 3 sleeps and he has only had 1 already.  Moments like these echo back to childhood, the adventure and excitement of going on a holiday.  Of no school and no work for parents.  Of spending all day just doing whatever with your family.

One visit to the mountains was not enough for one holiday so I met up with a few friends and we went for a dander


We saw where kerb stones grow.



We saw what grows there.


We saw climbers spending all day with a brush and hammer cleaning potential new routes.



And we made a go at scrambling up the Great Gully only to find a tiny little patch of  it far too slime covered to attempt without climbing gear.