Saturday, 21 February 2015

Gap Year 4

Tales from a weary traveller...
I've spent the week traipsing around England seeing some remarkable sights and sites.

First stop: Cambridge

Colleges, churches, markets, bridges and bookshops just about sums up my weekend in Cambridge. The buildings are magnificent and the museums are excellent (I was a bit excited to get to see the recently discovered bronze statues that are being attributed to Michelangelo).

I have a theory that I've become invisible: you see, I think I look and act enough like a local that the tourists think I am a local (therefore I keep getting asked for directions-which is dangerous as my sense of direction is notorious!), but to the locals, I look like a tourist (I think the camera is a dead giveaway whenever I pull it out!). The upside of this is that I don't get hassled by the tour companies who try to get you to go on their tours or purchase their over-priced souvenirs...the downside is that I don't fit into either group, so therefore just drift on my own.

Following Cambridge, I went up to York on the train and got a bit of a thrill at seeing station signs for places like Ripon and Thirsk (both mentioned in Downton Abbey!)-even though Downton Abbey was filmed here in the south of England, it is set near York, so lots of the places mentioned are around that area. The layers of history in York are very evident, with Ancient Roman ruins, Viking settlements, Medieval and Renaissance castles and churches and then Georgian/Regency period houses all mixed in with a modern city. You never know what you are going to find when you walk down a lane or street! To top it all off, I kept finding lovely quaint teashops that I just had to try!

From York I went to Stratford-Upon-Avon, because, as an English teacher, I could no longer take myself seriously until I’d paid homage to Shakespeare at his birthplace. Again, the teashops abounded (my favourite was called ‘The Fourteas’ as it had a ‘40s theme). Although Stratford is quite ‘touristy’, I was quite thrilled to be visiting places I’d only read about and taught about, so now I have my own collection of photos to use when I teach Shakespeare.
The absolute highlight of Stratford was the performances I saw. The Royal Shakespeare Company paired ‘Love’s Labours Lost’ (a play I’ve not read, so knew nothing about) with ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ (which they re-titled ‘Love’s Labours Won’) and set one just before WW1 and the other just after it. Although the plays aren’t actually connected, there are links in the stories and it was fascinating seeing them performed on the same day (I saw one as a matinee and the other that night). The actors were incredible, but the standout for me was the sets-they were so detailed and to change scenes, the entire stage would slide back and another section would either slide out to replace it, or rise up from below to fill the space. It’s hard to explain…I was mesmerised from beginning to end and am now looking forward to seeing more!

And now, I've wasted enough of your precious time with my ramblings so I'll end here. It's back to work on Monday (however, my sincere thanks go to whomever it was that invented the half-term break idea!).

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Life Lessons and Resolutions

Tuesday was a long students were difficult, I was tired and the week seemed so daunting. As I was leaving for the day I off-handedly commented to a colleague that 'at least after tomorrow we're on the downhill run to the weekend.' Her response stopped me in my tracks and has challenged my mindset.

She responded with 'I try not to wish my life away by thinking like that.' Well...that got me thinking: it's the little comments that reveal how we are living our lives, and I don't want to be wishing my life away either! I want to live each day to the full and make the most of every moment.

So, I know it's February, but I'm going to make a resolution:
I hereby resolve to not look forward to the weekend, the holidays, or the next big thing that will detract from my joy today. I will love and live each day to the full. I resolve to not wish my life away on the days that are difficult, but to find the cliche silver lining and accept the rough diamonds in with the sparkly ones. I won't regret yesterday and I won't try to hasten tomorrow, but rather I will celebrate today in all its forms.

"Some days are diamond, some days are stone"...but they are all days, each one fresh with new possibilities.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Gap Year 3

I long walk in the fresh air and sunshine have done wonders for my constitution and state of mind. I woke up this morning feeling rather sad and sorry for myself as I am developing a head-cold, but my walk today has done much to improve my mood (if not my health). Let me take you on my walk along the Thames today (get your walking shoes on! It's 8 km to the next village, and that's how far we're going).

We begin in Henley, with meadows to one side, and the river on the other. The river is busy with rowing teams practicing-with their coaches shouting at them from the river bank-and casual rowers paddling closer to the edges.

We approach Temple Island, which is the official start line for the Henley Regatta. I'm not sure what the 'temple' is for, but I do know that it's over 200 years old!

I tried to get a bit creative and take photos through the arm of a bench seat:

Geese, swans, ducks and other waterfowl are also enjoying a day out on the river

And then we come to a clear section of the river, where people who are not living on a teacher's salary have gorgeous houses which were reflecting into the river, making it even more picturesque.

I also stopped to play with taking photos of other things reflecting on the water:

I don't think these seagulls understand the concept of 'danger'!

And now I feel as though I'm a time-traveller, gone back to centuries past:

Our path diverges away from the river, past some farms, with these friendly characters (yes, a peacock in with the chickens! and isn't this the sweetest scarecrow you've every seen!)

And, finally, doesn't this look like it could be a house out of a BBC Period Drama?! Complete with the deer park that surrounds it, and the view out over the Thames, I feel like if I looked through the hedge, I'd see one of Jane Austen's characters walking arm in arm with a confidant.

Wasn't that worth the walk? Now you can rest...I had to walk all the way back again! But I ended up in a lovely little cafe, with a steaming bowl of soup and a cup of tea at the end of it, so I'm not complaining. Where shall we go next?

Friday, 6 February 2015

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Oz anymore!

This morning as my Year 7 class were lining up to enter the classroom, a student tried to give me a mini-snowman she had just assembled! I can't say I ever had a student do that in the Sunshine State! Nor have I ever walked to school in the snow before. It's very pretty as it flutters to the ground.
The cold weather certainly is an incentive for students to behave themselves as they line up to enter the classroom-the students are all desperate to get inside the warm room!
One of the buses was late to school today because of the snow, and we all dream of and hope for a snow day every time a flurry of snowflakes falls, and then we are bitterly disappointed when it melts.
I've learned the value of warm gloves, and a scarf is not just an accessory, but an essential part of my daily attire...I think I'm adapting quite well to this northern hemisphere winter life.

Gap Year 2

School is slowly settling into a routine, although it's all still quite overwhelming: I feel like I'm a beginning teacher again, but I'm learning a lot.

I've been here long enough now to have a 'favourite' cafe in the town where they serve a nice range of teas and a different vegetarian soup every weekend. I'm getting better at dressing for the cold weather and am mastering the art of layering up to keep warm. I've needed it this week as we've had snow fall on 3 days this week, with temperatures staying quite low.

Students have been recognising me in the town on weekends, which, although can be a bit awkward, is nice in feeling that I'm known! The people at the corner shop also recognise me and I'm becoming quite a regular at the local laundromat.

I went up to Windsor on the train last weekend and did a tour of the castle, went shopping and found a lovely teashop for lunch. It was a freezing cold day, with a sharp wind blowing so it was quite miserable outside, but it was worth staying outside to watch the changing of the guard. I love a bit of pomp and ceremony, and the bonus was a brass band playing during the changing of the guard. Although, the choice of songs was a bit odd (they played 'Just Haven't Met You Yet' by Michael Buble-not quite what you expect to hear within the walls of Windsor Castle!).

Here are a few photos of my snowy walks and Windsor Castle.