Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Christmas Lurgy

It’s been dubbed “The Christmas Lurgy” – at least by Facebook users anyway, and as lurgies go, it’s a good one! Not quite flu – but more than a cold. So much more. Starting with incessant sneezing, a totally congested head rendering logical thought impossible, it morphs into a constant hacking cough that keeps the sufferer and everyone in the local vicinity awake all night. People keep telling me it’s flu – but I’ve heard so many people say they’ve had a flu jab but still had it. Whatever it is, I’m well into week three now – and it’s certainly taken the shine of Christmas.

Three weeks ago I wouldn’t have thought that possible. An early Christmas present arrived - my course result for AA310 (Film and TV History). Not spectacular in itself, but it was my last course towards my BA (Hons) in Humanities with English Language. I then had a lovely (pre-lurgy) week with a flurry of activity – booking the degree ceremony, receiving lots of congratulations cards and messages, and I did something I promised myself I’d do when I finally achieved my goal – I ordered an OU scarf. I was hoping it would make me look intelligent. Somehow it would have super powers so that when I looked at myself in the mirror I wouldn’t see the rebellious disruptive schoolgirl expelled, more years ago that I care to reveal, after a vodka incident.

The scarf is certainly warm – great for those trips to the chemist for tissues, lemon drinks and cough medicine. It did strike me the other day however, as the medicine shelves were almost empty (although not as empty as Woolworths shelves) – that Boots, Superdrug, Lloyds and all the other chemists must be doing very well out of this. The cynic in me wonders if these viruses are released into the wild on purpose, perhaps by the chemists to keep themselves in business – or by the government to keep our minds off the credit crunch.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Things rarely go to plan – that’s when I bother to make plans. I much prefer spontaneity. Sometimes though, plans are a necessity. Christmas is quite possibly my busiest time at work. It’s very tense there at the moment. Everyone is running round like headless chickens. There was a massive argument over some purple soap. The staff room is full of bin-sacks of toys and books and Tombola drums, and you can’t move for tinsel. I’ve spent most of this week making calendars, painting a giant mixing bowl, making an online advent calendar, and creating an old-fashioned sign that says “The Bethlehem Inn”. All typical pre-Christmas primary school stuff, and the stresses that come from organising a Christmas fair and nativity plays at the same time as some virus takes out the angels and shepherds one by one.

Knowing the deadline for my End of Course Assessment came right in the middle of all this, I thought I’d get on top of it and get it sent off early. I finally whittled my photographs down to the required 10 chosen ones (no doubt rejecting any that were any good in the process). I had just started on the written work when my son rang me up to tell me he is joining the army. This was a bit unexpected to say the least, and quite distracting. No sooner had I got over that shock, and my twins had the type of argument you only usually witness on Tricia or Jeremy Kyle, or sometimes at weddings. Suddenly I was living in a war zone – but one where I couldn’t take sides. In the middle of that, my daughter’s puppy decided to remove his harness by chewing through it. I then had to go and buy a new harness.

Eventually though, somehow the End of Course Assessment got written and sent off, and I now find myself in ‘course limbo’ where I am wandering around looking for something to do. I am really going to have to find another course after Christmas. If not, I might have to tackle the ironing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


If patience is a virtue, clearly then, I am not very virtuous. That’s fine with me – virtuous does sound like it might be a bit boring. Impatience, however, is perhaps a curse. Birthdays, Christmas Day, and of course results day, bring out the worst in me. It all boils down to the fact that I hate surprises. I like to know what presents are before I open them. I am the person who sits by the Christmas tree, constantly rearranging presents, poking and feeling them, and if I had an X-ray machine I would be using it. Quite often I will simply put myself out of my mystery by sneakily opening the present and re-wrapping, happy then to know there will be no shocks on Christmas morning when I might accidentally do the wrong face when I open it. Silly really, because if there is a present I really hate, then the person really won’t know – and maybe they will carry on buying me stuff I don’t like. But I would rather that than people think that I am ungrateful. Usually though, ignoring the cardigan I had a couple of years ago which was so immense my son and daughter-in-law could both fit into it at the same time with room to spare, the presents people buy me are lovely. Especially now my husband has got over his novelty clock obsession.

But this time of year is torture for me. Not only am I crossing the days off till Christmas and my Birthday which is in January, it’s results week. The message has been up on my student home page for weeks now. 12th December. Or rather “by 12th December”. That could mean 11th. What it definitely means is that for the last week I have been checking on the hour every hour in the day time. I haven’t yet resorted to getting up in the middle of the night. Yet.

I know I could wait till Friday and log-on then, but it’s just like the oddly shaped present I’ve had from my mother-in-law that feels like it might be chocolate, but smells a bit like soap. I need to KNOW now. If the result is a nasty shock rather than a lovely surprise, I need to be able to adopt the stoic face that suggests I knew all along I made a pig’s ear of the exam, and anyway, I’d just love the chance to re-sit the exam and spend another couple of months revising. Sadly though, the reality is, I am not THAT good an actress.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Support (1)

When I was first contemplating doing a course, I read all the stuff about support at home – and I laughed. I knew then that it would never be forthcoming. The husband would not be interested, but I thought he’d just let me get on with it. What I didn’t expect was the ‘anti-support’ and just how obstructive he would be. The way he waits until I am deeply engrossed in reading or writing something, then he will find something totally trivial and pointless to say. He distracts me so that I have to stop what I am doing – but once he’s distracted me and has my full attention, he shuts up. I wait a while, expecting another inane comment, I start writing – and off he goes again. Last week he felt compelled to tell me he’d bought 100 teabags for £1. Little things like that annoy me, plus his need for constant background noise which conflicts with my need for total silence. He has to have the television on if he is in, even when not watching it – then he will flick through every channel watching 5 minutes of each programme he finds. If he just stuck to one programme and the noise was constant, I would eventually be able to block it out. But not channel hopping. There is no escape either. If I give up and go upstairs, he seems to turn the TV up much louder – so that I don’t miss anything. Eventually I do have to admit defeat. I realise he is perhaps lonely, or feeling neglected, so I go down to try and engage him in conversation. Then, of course, I get the silent treatment. I can’t win.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Getting ahead...

One of the advantages of working in a school is half-term week. It means – if the time is used wisely – you can get a week ahead of your course work, and allow yourself to feel a little smug. Well, that’s what I do anyway. Of course, when the weather is horrible, then it’s really no loss to sit inside reading twice as much as a normal week. Of course, one of the dis-advantages of working in a school is that you pick up all the horrible snotty colds, and vomiting things that spread like wildfire. This, of course, leaves you unable to do anything for a week. The two kind of cancel each other out. So after a week of smugness I now find myself in “thank goodness I got a week ahead when I could” mode – I won’t go into details! The rubbish weather has been a bit challenging on a photography course. Invariably the blue skies have appeared when I haven’t been able to get out and about with my camera, so I have been having to amuse myself by taking photos indoors. This week I have been taking close up photos of Belgian chocolates. That wasn’t one of the assignments, by the way – it’s one I invented myself. It’s all about making the most of opportunities. In the last couple of weeks of this course, I intend to see just what I can get away with buying on the pretence of “needing” it for a photo shoot. I’ve always fancied an eternity ring…

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Tutor Marked Assignments

New courses – it doesn’t matter how experienced you are – have one dreadful hurdle. That first TMA. You can expect them to get progressively harder throughout the course, but there is so much at stake with that first one. For a start, it’s a new tutor – you perhaps haven’t met them yet, and you haven’t got to know their likes and dislikes. And most of all, you want to create the impression you are intelligent. I agonise over each TMA01. Trouble is, when I am in agonising mode, the brain turns to mush and I write gibberish. No doubt the rest of the agonising is done by the poor tutor who has to mark it. At least after that first one is out of the way, you can act on the feedback and try to tailor them to the tutor's whims and desires. Perhaps that’s one of the things that attracted me to T189 (Digital photography: creating and sharing better images). No TMAs – and no tutor. True, there was a CMA – a computer marked assignment, but I was much more relaxed about that. I even submitted it two weeks early. That’s how laid back I was. I don’t mind if a computer marks it. I am happy for a computer to think I am thick. I am quite sure most of them do anyway. My various computers and I have come to an understanding over the years – if they do what they are supposed to do (or what I expect them to do) then I won’t hit them with a hammer. Perhaps I should have a similar arrangement with the husband?

The other advantage of T189 was the cost. I’ve just had an expensive couple of years with three 60 point courses. A ten pointer was a mere drop in the ocean by comparison. At least it would have been had I not been compelled to blow all my back-pay on a DSLR camera. I’ve never spent so much on myself for no reason other than I wanted it – there was no special occasion or event. Well I say no special occasion… last year was a ‘special’ anniversary – but did I get a silver present? Did I, in fact, get any present? I'm guessing you can tell the answer is 'No'. This year was a special birthday – and the husband gave me a tenner to go and buy myself a book. So perhaps I might be forgiven for indulging myself. I think I’ve earned it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Exam v. End of Course Assessment

There are, apparently, people who thrive in exam situations. While I am sure these people exist, I have never actually met one, or if I have, they certainly haven’t said: “Ooh, an exam – I can’t wait!” In fact, judging by the faces of all the people who were waiting with me when I took my last exam, no one was looking forward to it. No one could speak. Most had the expression of someone about to face a firing squad. Most were doing last minute revision. I have come to the conclusion that this is probably a good idea. It must be better to have something other than everyone else’s terrified face to focus on in those last few minutes.

I’ve done three exams now – and they all reduced me to a gibbering wreck. I get obsessed about revision. From the minute the last TMA is sent off, it starts. All my waking hours and, if my dreams are anything to go by, much of my sleeping ones too, are filled with frantic (and largely futile) fact-cramming. I really envy those blessed with a photographic memory. In photography terms my memory is like one of those sepia photos of your great-grandma looking faded and scratched.

In my first exam I tried to be too clever and revised selectively. I realised as I read the exam paper through that by doing that I was leaving an awful lot down to luck – and I was particularly unlucky that day with not one question that I felt I could answer properly. I learnt by my mistake, and in my second exam I revised everything comprehensively. I made fact sheets, mind-maps, study cards (I even laminated them and made them into a small book to carry everywhere). I thought this had paid off when I read the exam paper – there were several I felt I could do. I have no idea why, then, I actually got a lower mark than in my first exam. Third time lucky perhaps – I did some selective revision, but did it much more thoroughly. I did find three questions that kept me fully occupied for the three hours, but I know deep down I could have done better. My sieve mind just cannot retain facts. As I enter the exam room all my knowledge goes down the plughole and I am left with a pan of mushy overcooked cauliflower.

So I would much rather do an End of Course Assessment (ECA). I like being able to do them when I am in the mood, at my own pace, producing something I am much happier with – and perhaps more to the point – getting much better marks. To do that I need thinking time and a comfortable chair. Not sitting there feeling too embarrassed to ask to go to the loo. I enjoy the simple things like being able to not only rattle my sweet papers, but to nip round to the shop to get a big bar of chocolate mid-paragraph. Humming to myself. An endless supply of coffee. Not having to suffer the humiliation of having my passport photo examined. And – oh the absolute bliss of not having to use a pen.