Little_Mavis' rants and musings


When I were a lass

After my Infant School post I was going to move straight on to Junior School but I thought some background context might be useful.

This isn’t going to be a carefully structured, well-thought-out post, more random musings as I remember things.

I grew up in a small market town in South Yorkshire that was surrounded by pits. Back


This is the pit where both my grandfathers worked

then, it was reasonably prosperous as such places go. (When I went back last year it was dingy and run down. I already knew that all the places I played as a child had been built on but there wasn’t really anything left. Every school I had attended had been demolished. But that’s all beside the point)

The vast majority (of men) were employed and it was normal for women to leave work after they had children. The jobs were mainly in mining, both my grandfathers and one of my uncles were miners, and there was a large locomotive loco (railway locomotive maintenance and stabling depot), though this closed in the mid sixties. My dad was a railway fireman. He started as a cleaner at 17 or so after leaving the local technical college and ended up, before he retired in the early 90s driving InterCity 125s. My mum went back to work in some kind of factory after I was born and I was looked after by my grandma. She gave up work after my brother was born four years later. For the first three or four years we lived with my grandma (My granddad died when I was 2 or so) in a council house but then bought a small terraced house.

The house we moved into was a terrace with three bedrooms a front room and a living kitchen. No bathroom (It had been built in 1924) and no heating apart from coal fires. I’m not sure if there were fireplaces in the bedrooms. For cooking, we had a built in coal oven in an enamelled range (rather than the cast iron ones that were still in some houses) ovenThe nearest I can find to what it looked like was this. We also had a 2 ring gas burner and a geyser for hot water. There was only a cold tap. Over time (don’t ask me when) we had a bath installed in the kitchen in the alcove next to the chimney. And a back boiler installed to heat water. My dad boxed it in with a lid to cover it when it wasn’t in use and when we had a bath we used a clothes horse covered in a blackout curtain to screen us off from the rest of the family.

There was an outside toilet, not too far from the back door rather than across a yard. We kept a paraffin lamp in there to heat the pipes in winter.

Again, over time a bathroom was added, with some sort of government grant, and eventually central heating, though that may not have been until after I left home. We had no phone (hardly anyone did. If we needed to we used the phone box at the bottom of the street), no fridge and the TV had 2 channels.

We played out a lot. You had to be careful where you played and often be careful how much noise you made as there were always people on night shift. As well as in the street, where it was reasonably safe to play because there were very few people in the street with cars, there was plenty of waste ground to play on. Having looked at old maps these tended to be places that had previously been used as quarries or clay pits though there was a big park nearby with hawthorn bushes along the side to make dens.

Kids tended to play out together in mixed age groups. The older ones looked after the smaller ones. Any adults around kept half an eye on everybody. Disagreements sometimes ended in physical fights without any serious harm done.

We walked to school from quite an early age, but there was far less traffic then. Lots of corner shops, in fact they were on pretty much every corner. Within easy walking distance of our house I can remember a couple of grocers, a post office, an off-licence (beer-off), a butchers, a newsagents a chip shop, 2 cobblers, a Co-op which was a big grocers where you could buy sugar or “best” butter by the pound.

We also had a “potato man” come round every Friday delivering vegetables with one side of his van open & laid out like a market stall. The milk was delivered by a woman pulling a sort of electric handcart.

I spent a lot of time at the library in town and had pretty much read my way through the children’s library by about 11, not difficult if you’re getting through a book a day. You encyclopediaweren’t allowed to have an adult ticket until you were 14 so my dad let me use one of his tickets. You weren’t allowed to join until 5 (I think?) but although I was too young I proved I could read so they let me. I did have books of my own and I got a lot of information from Arthur Mees’s Children’s’ Encyclopaedia which was in 10 large volumes (most of Volume 10 was the Index) which I think had been published in 1920 something. At first I was only allowed Volume 1 but that got so tatty from my reading it my parents eventually relented and let me have the rest.

buntyI also was given comics by the boy who lived next door to my Grandma so I was well versed in boys’ comics such as Hotspur, Valiant and (possibly) Rover which was mostly text stories. At home I got Bunty (best bit was Bunty’s Cut Out wardrobe on the back page)

I went to Brownies at St George’s Church Hall. After the meeting we used to go to the nearby shop & buy a bag of crisps. When you bought them they had a small screw of blue paper with salt. I remember getting excited when you could first but cheese & onion crisps as well as plain. Other sweets Spangles, Penny Arrows (I liked the banana split ones), Kayli (sp?) A summer treat was frozen Jubbly.

Anyway. To finish, because I don’t really know how to finish. Things change. You don’t notice them all that much while it’s happening. I grew up,  went to university (family first), discovered a whole other world. Looking back I realised this way of growing up was similar for many, many years. The war may have speeded up development of some things but may have slowed down others. Going back now, I can hardly recognise the place. It has changed, both in the way places change over time and in a wholly different way because I think the heart has been ripped out of towns like that. It’s changed from a busy bustling town with a purpose to a collection of houses and run down shops with no direction. Apparently the HS2 line is scheduled to go right through a new housing estate there. That’s pretty awful for the people living there but I think the real damage was done years ago.

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What is bullying?

I have been thinking about this a lot about this recently after being accused of bullying on Twitter after a one off tweet. I’m not going to go into this, I’d only get cross all over again, and people don’t like me when I’m cross.

However, it did remind me of the way the word is now used for all kinds of behaviour that, while they may not be kind, aren’t really bullying.

First of all a disclaimer.

A few years ago I was effectively bullied out of a career in teaching. It was the same scenario that has happened to many. An overly ambitious manager making excessive demands and blaming staff for anything that they perceive as holding them back in their upward trajectory. If you were following me on Twitter back then, you’ll know how much this affected my health. Before that I’d thought I was too strong a person to be bullied, I was wrong. It’s left me with scars. It can have long lasting and far reaching effects on people.

Maybe this is why I don’t like to see the word applied when what is actually happening is someone making an off the cuff remark or showing a dislike of someone. This may be unpleasant, but it isn’t bullying.

So. What is bullying then? I looked up some definitions. My own instinct is that for it to really be bullying, there has to be persistence of some kind rather than a one off instance and there has to be some measure of power differential. This, of course, could take many forms. The obvious one is physical, but it could also be intellectual, emotional or to do with power. In the latter case the obvious ones are senior employees bullying more junior ones but there are others such as relatively low ranked employees who have established a power base over time among peers or have relationships with those further up the tree. Knowing the right people counts for a lot. The other form this can take is in sheer numbers, which is what happens when a Twitter mob forms. I have noticed that this can happen without the encouragement of the original tweeter. This can also happen in a work setting when someone is newly appointed and is given a difficult time by existing staff, but the power differential is still there, numbers instead of hierarchy or possibly social advantage.
The actual nature of the bullying can take many forms. It can be overt or subtle. It can be disguised as help or support. It can take the form of undermining, in the case of teachers this is sometimes with students as well as with other staff. I suspect when this happens there is no way back.

Next question. What isn’t bullying. One off comments, rudeness and simply disliking someone. I think we should be allowed to not like others. And while it may not be pleasant to be rude, it isn’t bullying and if we label this kind of behaviour as such it belittles the problems of those who have really been bullied. My own experience has had a lasting effect on me. My confidence in my own judgement is still shot, I second guess myself all the time or avoid making decisions completely. I have a tendency to see criticism where none is implied. I often assume that perfectly neutral comments are critical and I find it hard to trust people, especially those in authority.

Bullying is not only unpleasant, it is destructive. Let’s use the term properly.


Things I don’t understand #1

I’m beginning to think I must be far more intellectually limited than I previously realised. There is so much I  just don’t understand.

The first issue that puzzles me at the moment is the “economic crisis”. I realise that there are more people around than (say) 10 years ago, although we have coped quite successfully with population increase in the past. I also realise (unlike many) that natural resources are ultimately diminishing, but again, that doesn’t seem to be where the problem lies. So let me work through this.

We still have the same amount of money (slightly more since we seem to have printed more) We have a few more people, but suddenly the country can’t afford stuff, and as a consequence lots of us can’t afford stuff.

I know why I can’t. I left a reasonably well-paid job and have taken a far less stressful but worse paid one. I know why other people who are in poorly paid jobs can’t. They have had reductions in the benefits which they used to top up income from even more poorly paid jobs. There are also the people who have been made redundant, either through public sector job cuts or through reduction in profits of private companies because all the rest of us can’t afford to buy things now.

What I really want to know is WHERE HAS ALL THE MONEY GONE? It was there before; it doesn’t seem to have been destroyed. Where is it?

I don’t believe it’s all being drunk, smoked and gambled by the poor. Admittedly, I have some (diminishing) savings that were put away for my old age, and although it now looks as if I may need that more than ever, there may not actually be much left by then but that’s not enough to explain the current crisis. So people WHO HAS IT? And why can’t we get it back?

I know I’m over-simplifying, it’s one of my vices but the question is still out there.

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Updated post on hard work & its value

I wrote this post just over a year ago, and thanks to the unthinking outpourings of yet more Tory MPs, it seems relevant again

I do not believe that hard work is not in & of itself especially admirable

I have always worked hard at my job, I have testimonials from previous employers that say this. If you pay me to do a job I will do that job to the best of my ability. I will spend whatever time it takes to do the work properly to my standards. However my work has never been my life. I have never lived to work I have worked to live. This doesn’t mean anyone has been short changed.

I am unhappy if someone tells me I am not working hard enough.  It’s only happened the once.  The combination of working my socks off and being told that actually made me quite ill.

Since I left the job I have heard so much from the government (and others) about the importance of working hard & not having a sense of entitlement that it’s starting to get quite depressing

Yes, do a decent day’s work for a decent day’s pay. I have always encouraged my girls to work hard

Work is generally good. It  means you can get a sense of achievement & you earn money to do other stuff. But it shouldn’t be the be-all & end-all of life. There seems to me no point at all in working your socks off so that you can buy lots of consumer goods that you won’t have time to enjoy because you are working such long hours. Slow down & smell the roses people.

Do not expect me to think it admirable simply because you work long hours. Especially if your sole intention is to become wealthy. I won’t condemn you for it either but it isn’t going to impress me. And don’t assume that people who do not have that level of ambition to earn lots of money aren’t prepared to do an equally good job. And don’t assume that if people haven’t “made it” to the same extent that you have that it’s because they are incapable or lazy. Maybe they haven’t had the opportunities or breaks, maybe they didn’t know the right people, or maybe their priorities are elsewhere. (As a brief aside don’t expect me to admire you at all if you got where you are by cheating or trampling on people – though I’m sure anyone I follow on Twitter wouldn’t do that)

Basically, there really doesn’t seem much point in life if all we do is work hard to make more money to buy stuff to save time so that we can work more……etc.  Professor Sharon Beder discusses it here”

One of the things I have struggled most with about the current government is their ability to contradict themselves and expect no-one to notice (as in Michael Gove’s insistence that he wishes to free schools to make their own decisions on what and how to teach while dictating what primary schools should teach right down to the list of words children should be able to spell at certain ages) . The sentence that struck me here is

We must stop bailing out the reckless, avoiding all risk, and rewarding laziness.”

Where exactly do you draw the line between reckless & avoiding all risk? Who decides where this line falls?

Overall this attack on working people seems gratuitous and poorly thought out. I am far from convinced that much of it is true. We are about half-way up the working hours list, as for retirement age, again we seem fairly average

Another well made point is that working hard & long hours is all very well when you have an interesting, rewarding, well-paid job (such as MPs, consultants, board members etc), it isn’t quite as enticing when you have to work 12 hour shifts on factory lines, driving lorries or street cleaning. As a friend on Twitter said when reading that most people prefer a lie-in to hard work “well who wouldn’t)

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But does “Arbeit Macht Frei”?

Right. This has been retweeted into my Twitter timeline several times today (Twitter has the custom of doing screenshots to Daily Mail articles to avoid giving their website more hits than we need to, especially since most of the links are commenting on how awful the articles are)

I have a few thoughts. When I worked in FE (Up until last year) a yearly assembly was held in which we stressed to our sixth-formers the importance of obtaining A levels and going on to obtain a degree. I, by the way, had no input into what was said in these assemblies and I sometimes gave a more down-to-earth assessment back in tutor group sessions. We based this on the monetary value added by obtaining additional qualifications. A table was shown which worked out how much extra someone could earn with A levels instead of a degree and a degree instead of A levels.

Ordinary teachers, like me, commented privately on the fact that the amount of money that could be earned at the top of the teaching main-scale (currently £31,111 after 6 increments and a max of £36,279 with all 3 performance related payments which may be awarded at 2 yearly intervals) was referred to as “only” and it was indicated to students that they should aspire to more than this.

Students have also been encouraged to take on very large student loans on the basis that the additional money they will earn by having a degree will make this worthwhile.

Should we therefore be surprised that graduates are unwilling to take jobs which pay the minimum wage (currently £6.08/hour which works out at £11,856 for a 37.5 hour week) If you had started on minimum wage at 16 you would have earned roughly £43,485.00 by the time you would have left university.

Even worse is expecting them to take on unskilled jobs with (by all accounts) no useful training for your unemployment benefit. Would the author of this article do that job for that money? If not why expect someone else to?  She also says that

“When you have 72 direct competitors, all offering a similar degree, an identical number of starred A-level grades and more or less the same clutch of Saturday jobs, sports awards and extra-curricular embellishments, you really have got to think outside the box, to make your own CV stand out successfully from that huge pile”

Well, here’s the thing. Not everyone can stand out, that is the definition of outstanding. I realise this may come as a surprise to Gove, Ofsted and some school Senior Management Teams but you can’t change that fact.

Cait Reilly, when she objected to working in Poundland wasn’t sitting around waiting for the perfect job to fall into her lap, she was already working, as a volunteer, in a place that actually would enhance her CV and help her towards the job she had trained for.

The government, and sniping right wing journalists want to make their mind up what they think education is for. Either it is to prepare people for work, in which case they cannot object to graduates expecting to do the work they have prepared for once they graduate, or it is for the sake of education itself, to enhance knowledge and make them onto better people, in which case they need to stop criticising qualifications as being “useless”.

If our graduates are expecting too much, it is because we have led them to do exactly that. We sell education as a path to making more money. Their real mistake is in believing us.

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Giving Myself a Break

(Introduction) This isn’t in any way a moan, more of a consideration of perspective. I think sometimes we are actually too hard on ourselves. We see all our frailties and failings, well, some of us do, and we overlook out successes and achievements.

(Get-out clause) If you don’t want to read rubbish about me and my introspection, it’s probably best not to read on.

(Inspiration) The other day, creakily moving around after doing some reasonably physical task (possibly ironing) I found myself bemoaning getting older and wishing I’d appreciated my physical well being (you know the energy and lack of aches and pains that you take for granted when you are young). Then I realised that the window when I was adult and physically fit was actually quite small. Today I read a blog from someone with ulcerative colitis and found myself being grateful that I was as well as I am now.

(Background) I have Crohn’s Disease. You can read about it here if you are so inclined. To summarise it’s an inflammatory disease of the gut, with a fair amount of pain and lots of other unpleasant effects. It first developed in (I think) when I was 25. I had just got married. My GP initially treated me for irritable bowel and sent me to A&E several times for them to check for appendicitis. Finally, he got sick of my whinging (after I lost well over a stone in weight in a couple of months) and got me an outpatient appointment. The doctor who saw me there has my undying gratitude. He examined me and told me he didn’t know what was wrong with me but he could see that I was very ill and he was admitting me for tests. To cut a long story short, after ruling out conditions like typhoid (yes, I know, I had never even considered that), I had a diagnosis and treatment.

(Information) The main effects of Crohn’s is abdominal pain (cramps like extremely bad period pains or the first stage of labour), tiredness, because you aren’t absorbing nutrients well, and a need to know where the nearest loo is at all times. Other effects include joint pain, osteoporosis and reduced fertility. Some people are very, very ill with it. I am one of the lucky ones.

(More background and more information) My symptoms were bad for about eight or nine years, pretty much until I became pregnant in fact. Getting pregnant is not always easy with Crohn’s. There is a possibility of reduced fertility due to inflammation and scarring of the fallopian tubes, and the incidence of pain, reduces somewhat the …..erm…. opportunities to conceive. However, having become pregnant I started to feel better than I had for years. The improvement has persisted since and my primary symptoms of pain (and yes, weight loss) have mostly remained dormant. I am being treated for osteoporosis and I do have regular problems with back pain. This is, I believe, due to inflammation of ligaments and so is mostly where my pelvis and shoulders are attached to my spine.

(Conclusion) So, in short, those wonderful days when I was adult, solvent, fit and healthy didn’t really last all that long, though I did enjoy them.

(Admission) I sometimes feel down when I consider my professional life. I never seem to have progressed much above the bottom rung of any ladder I have started on, I have changed career at three times so far and have now abandoned teaching as well. On more than one occasion, my reason for leaving has been that I have no respect for the person I am reporting to. I look around and see people who I know are no more able or hard-working than I am who are rising through the ranks and I feel I have failed.

(Warning, sob story bit now) But, though much of this is down to poor decisions on my part, I also think some is because I was ill at the time people are usually making the most progress in their career, following which I was working part time bringing up two children.

(Bigging myself up) What I have done is hold down a decent job pretty much since I graduated and managed to bring up two children to adulthood. I am still (reasonably) healthy if ever more creaky and (more or less) sane, though that was questionable last year. I’ve had very little time off work sick before my problem with stress (about a week over the ten years I was employed there).

(The dénouement) In case you hadn’t guessed, I’m writing this mostly to convince myself I can still find a rewarding responsible job, that won’t bore me stupid and will pay the bills, in spite of the best efforts of the current government.


Procrastination and Perfectionism

I set up this blog ages ago, but then ignored it. I regularly find things I want to share my opinion on (being a very opinionated sort of person) but have not had the oomph to do so. I wondered what I should write about. Should I make it about politics ( something I am an expert on ( or try to be funny ( ? I the end I realised that I should just be me and start, I will find out what direction it takes as I go along. I’m sure you will all tell me if it’s boring.

A Twitter friend (Snowgirl) announced she had just registered a blog and it pricked my conscience. I have no excuse for not using this. I fear my main reason for not doing so is my innate perfectionism. I think this may have caused problems throughout my life. I don’t really want to post this until it is “just right” and that may take ages. I don’t mind constructive criticism but I am easily upset by criticism for something I feel is one of my strengths.

I like to think I write reasonably well, I take time to select the correct words to say exactly what I want to say, so if I post this, no, make that when I post this, I will post it warts and all without taking hours to check through and make sure there isn’t a misplaced apostrophe or a mixture of “&” and “and”. Yes, I know there are those of you who will pounce on such shortcomings but I’m doing this partly as therapy so I don’t care. 

So, how has perfectionism hindered me? Well, one of the main problems I had with my teaching job was simply finding the time to do everything I needed to do. I will try to post on this later (without too much whining) to explain why this is a real problem but for now, do me a favour and take it as read.

I found making handouts for students was taking me ages.

  • I made sure it was in a font that was easy to read for all students (even dyslexics – Tahoma is good)
  • I didn’t put too much text to read (these were students who had done poorly at school before they had come to college and were completing courses that were the equivalent of the more successful children do in year 9)
  • I included suitable images to make the handout seem friendlier
  • I included all important information on one page (they got bored if they had to read more)

That was for the students, I also needed  to do some things for me.

  • Consistent layout
  • Standardised names
  • Stored in sensible places

This all took time. Especially as I was creating new resources for stuff I hadn’t taught before and I was the only one teaching this so there was no-one to share the workload. I was told I wasted too much time on this, other teachers seemed happy with handouts that were old, but approximately right, had errors and frankly, to me, looked a bit of a mess. I’m beginning to realise that this was a necessary survival mechanism, but I can’t do that. I can’t start on tidying the shelves on the landing because the storage boxes are the wrong colour and don’t match.

Perfectionism can be an asset, and wanting things to be done right must be a good thing, but not if it stops you coping or even doing anything at all.

I’m going to have to learn (even at my advanced age) to learn to make do and accept things that are OK rather than right (well, sometimes anyway)

This is my first step. Once I have run this through the spellchecker it is going to be posted, warts and all. Please don’t point out errors; you may set me back weeks.