Farewell, Fleabag

Before we begin, I want to re-iterate that this isn’t a Phoebe Waller-Bridge fansite (although it probably looks like it). I want to talk about Fleabag and that ending.

(SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.)

Admittedly, I came to Fleabag later than most as part of my research into Phoebe Waller Bridge’s work. I was hooked and watched the whole first series in one afternoon. It was sharp, witty and the heroine was like most of my friends- slightly messed up carrying a tote bag in place of the handbag we’d have been expected to have twenty years ago (I’m convinced that those of us in our 30s today are ‘younger’ than our parents were twenty years ago.) She had an emotionally frigid family and seemed determined to pinball her way around London and a host of men who were the very epitome of ‘meh’, screwing up but doing it fabulously, Nancy Mitford for the 21st Century. Honestly, I have a whole Twitter thread on how Waller Bridge is the reincarnation of Mitford.

It was funny and weird and voiced those thoughts we have in our heads that we think no-one else thinks and she’s voicing them directly to us as she breaks the fourth wall. The fact that Fleabag is nameless, along with many of the other characters, means that we can project ourselves onto her and those around her. This is a common transference we make whenever we watch TV/read books, but it’s unusual to be so included in the process, invited into a character’s life in such a blatant way.

And whereas Series 1 one is about a character (and her family) who can not and will not communicate properly with those around her, the finale finally allows them to admit how they feel, albeit obviously in a very British, middle-class reserved way. The seeds are initially sown during a squirmy counselling session foisted on her by her father early on, but the process is there throughout Series 2, culminating in her father’s wedding when everything that has been so contained finally spills forth. Her sister Claire, the very epitome of a Type-A personality, admits her feelings for both her husband and Finnish Klare, as well as admitting that she loves her sister; closure is achieved with her father as he dithers over marrying her divinely vile stepmother; and, after two series, we finally see Fleabag as properly emotionally vulnerable. We’ve seen flashes, but it takes her realising that the priest will never be available to her in the way she wishes for her to allow her to show us emotion. It’s at this point that she walks away and does not allow us to follow- we’ve seen her having sex, her best friend’s death, but this is a step too far for us to go any further- because she has finally achieved a calm that has eluded her until this point.

To me, the acceptance of the priest’s semi-rejection (he loves her, but of course he loves God more) it feels like she has achieved a maturity and moved away from the class clown persona she’s sometimes cultivated. It’s raw and hard won, a fitting end to something that has gripped so many people. It feels like it was always going to have to end this way- we knew, deep down that the priest would never leave God for her and I think she does, too. So she has to change and to change, she has to leave us- her co-conspirators- behind.

And, because we feel like her friend, we let her go.

Stuff I learnt in floristry class

Hello!

If you follow me on social media, you’ll know that I’ve been going to a beginner’s floristry class since January. I’m not very good at it, but I don’t even care because I really enjoy it. I’ve even made my peace with the fact that my nemesis is florists’ foam (also known as oasis, which does make me think of the Gallaghers.)

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I do, however, enjoy putting bunches of flowers together (although I think I’m not allowed to call them ‘bunches’ now that I’m *sort of* trained. I think I’m meant to refer to them as bouquets…) I’ve learnt some great tips about choosing flowers and putting them together, which I would have liked to have known before I started putting stuff together.

  1. Bleach your vases and change your water

28235344_10155296869792267_8276381645575148795_oEvery time you have an empty vase, fill it with water and put a few drops of bleach in it and leave it overnight (although I forget and sometimes leave it a few days…) Empty it and rinse it out. This will kill any bacteria and means that you’re starting with a clean, germ-free vase. It’ll mean that your flowers last longer from the get-go. In a similar vein, make sure you change your water every couple of days.

Some people swear blind that a drop of bleach in the water works to keep flowers looking fresh, although I would only do that for roses; for anything else I use a teaspoon of sugar or, if I have it, the packets of flower food you get with supermarket flowers.

2. There’s nothing wrong with supermarket flowers! 

27021216_10155227044562267_3429879072351896780_oI do love going to the florist, but it is expensive. There’s nowt wrong with supermarket flowers- I use them quite a bit for class, and a florist recently recommended I buy focal flowers (i.e. the main flowers in an arrangement) from a florist, the secondary flowers from a supermarket and the greenery from a garden. To be honest, it depends on time/money as to whether I have time to do all of that. But you can definitely gussy up a couple of bunches of Aldi’s finest- arrange them in a symmetrical pattern, twisting the stalks if you can, any foliage on the outside, and tying off with string. Chop the bottoms of the stalks off evenly- et voila! A tied bouquet! The only thing I would say is that supermarket flowers do not tend to last as long as florist bought flowers, but when they’re cheap as chips, who cares?

3. Don’t be afraid to experiment

IMG_20180214_083541_236I think one of the reasons I’m not terribly good at the lessons is that I’m not very keen on the formality of what we’re being shown. This is just my thing and no judgement on the teacher (who I love) or the whole world of floristry. It’s just me being an awkward sod. I tend to prefer smaller arrangements that suit a more vintage taste, which have a country garden look to them. This is what I will continue to make once I finish my course, and what I enjoy making. As one of Brighton’s top florists told me, ‘It’s not rocket science and there are no hard and fast rules.’ (He was quite dismissive of a lot of the formal structure of floristry- and seeing as he did my wedding bouquet, I tend to trust him!) One thing I would say: supermarket flowers tend not to smell much. If you want that, consider buying some broom or something like stocks from a florist- even one stem of these will lift your bunch of flowers into something a bit more special.

4. A few tweaks can make a bouquet look way more expensive

IMG_20180311_131728_492Around Valentines and Mother’s Day, flowers will be at their most expensive. If you wanted to make something flowery in the run up to those, I would heartily recommend you buy supermarket flowers for the bulk of it (especially if you want roses or tulips) and then go to a florist for a few finishing touches. The bouquet about was commissioned by Benn for his mum and I did go to a florist where I know I will get a good deal (and a discount for being a student, hurrah!) This is more my style- I love stuff that looks like I could just pluck it from my garden on a sunny June day and it’s nicely balanced, I think. Anyway, there are a few things I’ve noticed when you put together a bouquet:

  1. If you want roses, but not the expense, you could try lisianthus (the deep purple flowers above) or ranunculas, which are pretty in a similar way but often without such a steep price tag (although they will never be as cheap as daffodils or carnations!)
  2. Eucalyptus is having a moment. You can get the traditional varieties, with large silver leaves, or the smaller leafed variety, which is in the arrangement above. The good thing about eucalyptus, especially the bigger type, is that it will literally make any bunch of flowers look more expensive. Probably because it is quite expensive, but it would be a price I would consider paying for something special. To be honest, though, I’d just have vases full of it round the house I love it so much. If you want nice foliage, consider pistachio leaf, which is nice and half the price. Foliage is super important and I almost never have enough.
  3. If you want to make something look vintage, go with wax flowers. These tiny pink or white flowers are a bit of a discovery for me and also seem to be having a bit of a ‘moment’. Oh my god, I love them. They look like something from a Victorian wedding and they last an AGE. They aren’t hugely cheap, but they are cheerful and really add something to the flower arrangements I make. These would go in my vases with the eucalyptus.

5. Use Pinterest and Instagram for inspiration

I have a Pinterest board where I keep all things floristry- I love looking at flower combos, as well as different colours and presentation options. I’m also obsessed with the language of flowers and what different flowers meant in Victorian times. I then use this as a starting point for ideas. There are also some really great Instagram accounts run by florists, with different styles and specialities. Have a hunt around and find your style. Then, go and have a go. It’s really, honestly, not that hard. Seriously- look at some of the mistakes I’ve made!

If there’s anything you’d like to know, but I may have missed, let me know either in the comments or on Twitter. Enjoy your flowers!

How I left my job and changed career

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A year ago today, I resigned from my ten-year teaching career. I remember it well, mainly because it was the day of Trump’s inauguration and I’d had no sleep the night before. I’d been planning on resigning later in the term (Benn and I had talked about me resigning the year before and agreed that the best time would be when D started school- no more nursery fees), but for some reason I found myself pouring out my thoughts to my line manager, who was amazingly supportive. I wrote my letter there and then, although I decided I would stay til the end of the year: this would give me time to sort myself out, but also I wanted to see my students through the year.

I then began to plan. I saved as much money (read: not much) as I could every month and joined agencies specialising in helping parents find work (spoiler: they were crap.) I spoke to people who could help me- one friend gave me really good advice about CVs. I researched, planned and saved. I’m not ashamed to admit that I was pretty terrified- I was leaving a job I’d done since I was 23, with relatively good money for the days I was in work (but not those I was working outside of school hours) and school holidays guaranteed. I had never looked for a job as a parent. Hell, I hadn’t seriously looked for a new job in eight years.

The time went REALLY fast. I took the summer off and started looking for work the week after D started school. I wrote a skills-based CV, which showed what I could do (and is easier to adapt for the skills required by each job description.) I also narrowed down the sort of places I wanted to work- charities, public sector- and signed up for job alerts. I scoured job boards for the NHS, the council, universities and the civil service. I applied for three jobs and was offered interviews for them all (I accepted the second job and got excellent feedback from the first. I didn’t attend the third interview.) I bought a basic black dress in the summer sales, which I wore with a plain cardigan (I felt like a younger Miss Marple, tbh), but it looked smart and presentable.

I was lucky in that I got a temp job for a few weeks, which brought in a bit of money, but I budgeted HARD. I cut all non-essential costs and used the library. During times when I wasn’t working, I kept myself busy: looking after the sheep, learning French, going to a free weekly knitting group.

I started my job in the public sector in December and it’s very different. I’m also working five days a week until the end of next month, which has brought a temporary boost in money but headaches with childcare. I’ll be a lot less well-off once I go down to three days, but better in terms of health. I sleep better, I’m happier and Benn and D have noticed a huge difference.

I have had to deal with an odd side-effect though: losing a sense of identity that was tied up with my job. It’s liberating and less scary now, but it’s definitely taken a while.

For anyone looking to change lanes, I will tell you it’s potentially hard- I was lucky that Benn was happy to pick up the slack, even if it means a change in lifestyle for us for a while- but the rewards can be utterly worth it.

September, September

I love September. I love the change in the air as we hurtle towards October; I’ve already started wearing handknitted socks and my new uniform is cord/denim skirts over leggings, paired with men’s jumpers that I’ve had for years. What’s different, of course, is that although I have the ‘back to school’ feeling- especially as D has started school now- for the first time in a decade I haven’t actually gone back. Although it’s weird, I’m not missing it so much. It’s lovely to still be in bed at the time I would usually be walking to meet my lift.

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Hibernating is cool.

I am sort of at a loss, though. I have six hours a day with nothing much to do. As a teacher, every part of my day, from 6.50am to at least 5pm was accounted for and busy, so this has been a bit weird. I am a rubbish housewife, although I DID manage to clean the bathroom the other day, so…

So what have I been doing? Well, I started applying for jobs properly this week and got an interview for the first job I applied for- although it turned out that the hours were never going to work around childcare for D. However, I got some excellent feedback about my interview and CV (which, FYI, I’m using a skills-based template for, which is much better when you’ve been in a job for a long time. You tailor it according to the job spec/skills they’re looking for, which is much more useful for showing employers what you can do. It is more time-consuming than a traditional CV though…) I’m hopeful that something will come along soon, but I was very pleased that I managed to score an interview so soon into my search. It’s just a matter of perservering.

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I am not this happy when I am job hunting.

I have also been exercising more, which I might write about in a future post, and working hard to get my skin into a happy place- it turns out that I have inherited my mum’s tendency to get acne as an adult. I’ll also probably be blogging a bit more, if only to make myself LOOK busier than I actually feel.

But until then…. roll on autumn!

Bronte Project: Visiting the Parsonage

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The Parsonage (and a a rare photo of Benn!)

I’ve been to the Parsonage so many times (it’s one of the things that happens when you grow up in a bookish family in West Yorkshire…) but I never get bored. I was especially interested in the Bronte 200 celebrations, which aim to mark the 200th anniversaries of the births of Charlotte (2016), Branwell (this year), Mr Bronte arriving in Haworth (2018) and the birth of Anne (2019). I was especially keen to visit after we found Anne Bronte’s grave last year.

Of course, when you’re in Yorkshire, you should really start off your lunch with rhubarb gin…

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One thing that was really exciting was that the Parsonage now has the ACTUAL table that the sisters wrote at. It was acquired in 2015 and it was the first time I’d seen it. Imagine- the ACTUAL table that Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall were written on. This was the table the sisters paced round as they discussed their projects. There’s even an E carved into the wood.

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I am aware that this is a rubbish photo. It is actually quite impressive in real life.

Throughout the house, there are costumes from To Walk Invisible, the Sally Wainwright drama that was shown over Christmas. The attention to detal was so amazing- it’s a shame my photography couldn’t do it justice.

This year is all about Branwell, the tragic Bronte brother, who should have been a great success but instead fell from grace. There are dedicated exhibitions: one is a recreation of his bedroom during the last years of his life, which was surprisingy melancholic. Branwell has been painted as a ne’er-do-well, but he was also a bit of an unfortunate soul and the bedroom really reflects this.

There’s also a dedicated area to Branwell’s written work, with new poetry by Simon Armitage. The best bit is seeing stuff in ‘the flesh’ that you’ve only ever seen in books- one of these was the famous Branwell sketch ‘A Parody’, which he drew in a fit of self-pity whilst ill. It was genuinely a bit of a thrill for a Bronte nerd.

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One of the things I was desperate to do was to participate in an art project by artist Clare Twomey, in which visitors to the Parsonage are invited to write a line from Wuthering Heights into a new manuscript. This is because the original, handwritten by Emily Bronte, has been lost. Each participant is asked to write a line from the novel with a pencil (you get to keep the pencil at the end, to encourage you to continue writing.) I was given a line from chapter 27, in which Linton begs Catherine not to leave, or else he’ll die.I was a bit miffed I got a horrible character, but hey ho, that’s the luck of the draw. I wrote VERY carefully, so that a) my writing was legible and b) I didn’t make a mistake. Anyway, I managed it and I’m quite chuffed that my name is in something that’s sort of historical.

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Part of my Haworth tradition is making a pilgrimage to the church where the family are buried (without Anne, who is buried in Scarborough.) Although the Brontes would not have recognised the church as it is now- it was remodelled after Mr Bronte’s death- there is a sense of tranquility and history.

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Note the vase of heather from the moors

It was a lovely day- and to mark it, I HAD to buy something that combined two of my favourite things (there should be more book-based tea blends, IMHO):

21248346_10154868783112267_1111194524416760488_o I’ll report back on the tea ASAP.

I’m leaving teaching

In just over two weeks, I will be stepping away from a career that has come to define my life- ten years, my identity, hours and hours of work just… gone.

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There are lots of reasons why, some much bigger than me and others that are more personal. You’ll know of the biggies: the workload (and a curriculum that I feel is deeply, deeply flawed and unfair), the pay and pension issues, the funding issues that mean we can’t do everything we need to do in order to make sure that those in our care are happy and healthy individuals who can think independently and creatively in a world that is becoming ever more challenging. Teaching has changed so, so much in the ten years that I’ve been doing it that I honestly can’t understand why people still want to train- and that those who have trained in the last couple of years seem to be told that it’s normal to be overworked, underpaid and to strive for constantly outstanding lessons, otherwise you’re a crap teacher. (I promise you, that last one cannot be done all the time if you want to have anything that resembles a work/life balance.)

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“A work/life balance, you say?”

On a personal level, I’m tired of the commute. I’m lucky enough to get a lift, so I’m not at the mercy of the railways, but it’s still exhausting. I’m tired of having to work when I get home; it’s not cool to be sat on the sofa when your 4 year old gets home and his face drops because you’re marking again and probably will be when he goes to bed. I’m often exhausted (and/or working) on the two days I week I have at home with him. Teaching is a job that never stops. For example, today I’m finding it very hard to not check my email. We are always contactable in a way that I never experienced early in my career. I have to mentally shut myself off from this if I am to get any work/life balance, otherwise I could drive myself mad- and I have done. I am pretty sure that most of the anxiety attacks I have experienced in the last few years have been as a direct result of work. I’m a good, conscientious worker; I hate letting down my colleagues and, most importantly, my students. I also want to be around to take D to school- leaving at 6.50am everyday isn’t the best thing for this.

So I’m going. I resigned in January (on the day of Trump’s inauguration, as it happens.) I’d had a tearful discussion with one of my bosses about it, (although I’d decided the previous May with Benn, in a Pizza Express on our anniversary, as he had picked up that I wasn’t happy and hadn’t been for a while. He asked me what I needed and said that he would support it.) I knew that I needed at least a break, if not something more permanent, otherwise I would be at risk of becoming one of those horrid, bitter and jaded teachers we all remember having. I genuinely adore most of my students and I didn’t want to inflict that on them. I mean, I’m a tired teacher, but I’m not a horrible one. I also knew that moving to a different school wasn’t an option. I just need to be out of a classroom.

Five months have flown by and I have no plans. This is a deliberate choice, for now. I wanted to keep giving my focus to the kids in my classes without worrying about other stuff. I also have the holidays to sort out my CV and interview skills (teaching interviews are unlike any others I have ever had. My last non-teaching interview was in 2005.) I also need some time to unwind and sort my head out; my identity has been so intertwined with my job that it’s going to take some time to sort myself out. I have been asked if I want to do supply/private tuition, to which my initial reaction is:

tumblr_ml2rlfaQC71s5ipdco1_400.gif At least for now. I need to focus on my own kid and getting him settled in school. Also, I really need a break on correcting people’s spelling. Never say never and all that, and I will miss my students, but for now I’m quite happy to leave teaching to other people.

People find it really hard when I tell them I have no plans. I mean, I’m not going to live off Benn (I managed to save a bit- so if you’ve invited me out recently and I’ve said I’m skint, you now know why…), but I am going to take some time to find something new. I have no idea what, yet, but I’m sure something will come up. And yes, I won’t have the holidays, but I will have my evenings and weekends back- 90% of parents cope with holidays, I’m sure we will too. It also means that if Benn’s office does finally get its long threatened move to Croydon, I’ll be around for D. We’ll just be reversing our roles a bit and I’m OK with that. I probably won’t have the same sort of wage, either, but you cut your coat according to your cloth and I’ve coped before- I’ll cope again. Right now, I’m looking forward to reading, writing, listening to music, all without a deadline.

But if you do see any jobs in Brighton, give me a shout, yeah?

Excuse the Politics

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Well, this is nice, isn’t it? The world all over the place politically, everyone either angry or disengaged; yelling at each other about Brexit or Jeremy Corbyn or whatever. And now Theresa May is saying she wants to bring back fox hunting- like grammar schools, it’s a puff piece to distract from the barrage of warnings about Brexit. Hurrah for Macron etc.

But I do want to say something about voting. It is so important. Especially now.

I teach. I am definitely feeling the effects of this government in my job. Belts are being tightened, people aren’t being replaced, resources are running low. You might think that, because you don’t have kids, it doesn’t affect you- but it does. Because those kids might be the doctors who treat you when you’re older, or the scientists who find a breakthrough that you might rely on, or the journalist who uncovers corruption- every one of those kids has potential to be something amazing and they are potentially being robbed of this by this government’s policies. The ministers peddle the same lines about more money than ever- but there is a lot of money going into free schools and local authorities are not allowed to open new schools any more to meet demand. Grammar schools are a smoke and mirrors exercise. Academies are being run as businesses. Education should not be for profit.

They’re also scared by Brexit (disclosure: I am married to a Leave voter)- a lot of their parents work in and around a large national airport. They’re worried that their parents might be sent home, that they might be separated from families. I’ve had some hard, hard conversations with kids in the last year about things that are way too grown up for them.

The NHS is in trouble. You only have to look at the utter shambles going on across the pond to see how precious the health service is here. Yes, it could be better and it needs more investment- but I am unsure how, when the government is going to be tying itself in knots over the EU, it will be able to keep its eye on the NHS too. Hospital staff are using food banks and leaving to get jobs in supermarkets to make ends meet. This is not right in the world’s seventh economy, especially when there are people who have got rich from the post-referendum chaos.

If you don’t need the NHS now, great! But don’t forget, you’ll probably need it down the road: a filling, your kid’s broken toe, your nan’s dementia care. If there’s no money, there’s no healthcare. Health should not be a for-profit business.

I have been so blessed by the NHS- my mum is a type 1 diabetic. She wouldn’t have made it past childhood without the NHS. I have experienced excellent audiology care, dental care, mental health care. My son was treated in a matter of months last year and now has perfect hearing. I couldn’t have afforded that.

I’m not telling you how to vote, but I want you to vote and consider who you vote for- and to consider how precious it is that you live in a democracy.

You might not want to vote for Corbyn’s Labour and that’s your choice- but consider the alternative if you vote Tory. No party is going to be perfect; if only! Think about what your vote means for you and for those around you- and it does mean something. Please don’t think that your vote is worthless. Don’t just think that nothing is going to change- you can vote and maybe you can bring change about.

REGISTER TO VOTE. You don’t have a voice if you don’t register

Live in a safe party seat? Find out who came second last time and read their manifesto. If you’re still not keen, check out vote swapping. If you’re passionate about a party or a candidate, offer your time to help them.

Think past the idea that this election is about the leaders. It’s not just about that (although Theresa May wants you to think that this is a her vs Jeremy Corbyn contest. It’s not. Well, not entirely)- it’s about the MP in your area, about the cuts to your council services, about who will stand up for you. Don’t be blinded by the headlines about personalities.

Educate yourself. Vote. Please.