End of year concert for one of my schools today. There were about 60 children playing trumpets, cornets and baritones, and then about twenty fifes and flutes and about ten violins. This concert is always great fun and there is usually some barely averted disaster – this is the concert where someone was once sick in their baritone. The year before that I walked into the hall with the violin teacher to find a pupil peeling her bow, slowly pulling each horsehair from the top to the bottom of her bow. The violin teacher, usually very calm and softly spoken went a strange shade of red and snatched the bow from the child and said ‘Well you’ll just have to pluck instead now’. The worse thing that happened this year was that a child dropped their cornet and the bell folded in on itself.
After school I rushed back home to have my performance management meeting with my manager. This used to be something I dreaded every year – but now I feel a lot better about it. Maybe it is because I know I’m a good teacher now, and one bad lesson or observation doesn’t change that – it’s only taken me nine years to feel like that! Anyway it was a good meeting – I’ll be going back down to three days a week in September which is what I wanted but I’ll be taking on a new post as a Music Hub Liason Teacher which will be flexible hours and will involve working with schools to develop long term music education plans. I’m really excited about this because it’s something new and it is something I feel passionate about
After my meeting went straight to band and my manager observed me conducting. The band were brilliant. I am so proud of them I feel like my chest will burst. Maybe this is a little of what parents feel like. They were so well behaved. They were even shushing each other – which they don’t normally do. Am genuinely touched and humbled to work with such wonderful young people. It feels strange coming the week after the SATS – when I think of all the emphasis that is placed on those exams – it feels like the things that really matter in life are not measured at all, like the advanced players helping the younger ones in the band without being asked, like a child who used to cry every week when he first joined the band who then stood up and did a solo last week. How do you measure these things?
Today I have been teaching in 4 schools and then conducted my beginner band after school. In between I had some wonderful news which I’m not allowed to share yet. I finished work at 5 and had half an hour to sit down as private pupil has fractured arm so can’t have a lesson.
I set off for Grasmere at 5.45pm to go and see Angelica Freitas read and Thomas A Clark. The Jerwood Centre was absolutely packed which was lovely to see. Have realised the summer reading series at Grasmere is really the highlight of my year – I felt myself returning to my old self as Thomas A Clark read – i.e remembering how much I love poetry. Thomas A Clark reads with such care and attention, and is very expressive with his hands and arms although not in an annoying way. He reminded me a little of Jane Hirshfield and Kay Ryan. Angelica was great – complete contrast to Clark but very funny and dry. Met Sasha Dugdale at reading – the project to translate Burmese Women’s poetry is still on with plans for a reading in September so I need to get moving and finish off the two poems I was working on.
On the way back from Grasmere picked up a very exciting email – an invite to a major poetry festival next year. Have obviously said yes so will wait to hear details from the festival organiser.
Teaching all day today and then came home, got something to eat and went out for a run with Walney Wind Cheetahs. Am now running at the front of the group – this training session is 13 minutes running and 1 minute of walking so I try and push myself a bit rather than taking it easy, the first time I’ve been this far up at the front. I also wanted to go faster than usual because I suspect I won’t be doing as much when I’m in Ireland this weekend.
I limited myself to an hour and a half to plan the workshop that I’m running tomorrow. I’m running it for the Wordsworth Trust – 2 hours in Barrow Park with a group of children and their parents or grandparents – all from a local school. It is the first workshop I’ve done with children and adults – so it will be a bit of a challenge – especially as I don’t know the children. E from the Wordsworth Trust has been with them for the last couple of days up at Dove Cottage and says they are all very keen. I’m going to get the children to interview the adults about their memories of the park for the main exercise. The warm-up will be to tell outrageous lies about the park – like ‘On Sundays pink elephants march clockwise around the lake’.
The reason I limited myself to an hour and a half was to stop myself faffing and because there is a job that I want to apply for. I don’t want to say what job it is – except to say that it’s a short term project and would fit around my teaching hopefully and I want to do it enough to overcome my reluctance to ever do another interview again. Recently I completely messed up an interview for a job that would have meant a huge change in my life. In the interview I couldn’t answer the questions, even though they were the same questions I’d completed on the application form. I started stammering even though I’ve never had a stammer in my life before. Halfway through the interview I seriously thought about just asking if I could leave – luckily my natural obedience and habit of conforming to what was expected of me kept me there and I did get through it – although I didn’t get the job.
I’m still gutted that I didn’t get the job. At the same time – it means I still have my teaching job which I enjoy. It means I’m not skint – but it also means that at 10pm at night I’m planning a workshop after already doing eight hours of teaching and then I’ll go to bed and I won’t have opened a poetry book or written a line of a poem.
I think about this all the time – should I be continuing to write in the edges of my life, fitting it around other things or should I be dedicating my whole life to it? And never mind about should – what do I want? Would I write differently if I had all day to read? Would my writing get better?
Anyway this job I’m applying for means I don’t have to answer any of these questions – if I got it I could fit it in – it would be hard work but I think I could do it.
I went to my first school to do half an hour of teaching and somebody reversed into the side of my parked car. Luckily they left a note with their details on the windscreen so at least there is that. The receptionist at the school kindly gave me a lift home to pick my stuff up for the poetry workshop and then another lift to the park for my workshop. The workshop was great and the exercises went down well – particularly the telling lies one. It was really cold though – afterwards I stomped home – it’s only a fifteen minute walk. Then I sat on hold to the insurance company for hours which put me in an excessively bad mood. When I’m sitting on the phone listening to that awful piped music I feel my life slowly draining away.
I went to vote today – polling station is at the church round the corner from our house. Then spent two and a half hours planning the two workshops I’ll be running in Ireland – one was about journeys in poetry and the other one was a free for all. I didn’t start packing till 11.30 – getting the 4.30am train to Ireland tomorrow…
P picked me up from the airport in Cork – he is a very talented artist and musician as well as a poet. This is my third time in Fermoy in as many years and it is becoming a tradition that I go to P’s house and say hello to his dog and the budgie and have a look at his paintings – he is doing a series of paintings of musicians from Fermoy. Will probably go over on Sunday. P took me to Ita’s house who I’ve stayed with every time I’ve been in Fermoy. Ita has always been incredibly kind to me – although she is retired and a lot older than me, we get on great and never run out of things to talk about. Ita had made the most amazing beef stew with onions and leeks and potatoes and carrots which I was very happy about seeing as I had skipped breakfast so I could sleep. In the evening we went to a local talent show which Ita’s granddaughter was performing in – lots of dancing and singing – it was interesting and much better than staying in and watching Britain’s Got Talent.
And then we went down to Elbow Lane, which is the pub that I’ve read in for the last two years to see Billy Murphy, the landlord. Ita said we would go ‘just for one’. Well, that never really happens in Elbow Lane. I think we got back at about 1am.
Slept in till nearly 11am today! I think the late nights I’ve been keeping for the last month have started to catch up on me. I went for a run on my own after breakfast – didn’t realise Ita lives at the bottom of a rather large hill – did about three miles.
We went down to Elbow Lane to get ready for the workshop which was due to start at 3pm. Nothing starts on time in Fermoy but was quite impressed that we eventually started at 3.20 – in previous years it’s not been unheard of for things to start an hour late or more. There were about 14 people at the workshop and they were all really keen – all wanted to read out what they had written – everyone very supportive of each other so it was good fun. I even got paid in cash straight after the workshop which is a lovely feeling – I have got used to waiting for months for payment.
Great reading in the evening – lots of open mic slots from the local poets and the lovely Matthew Sweeney turned up and read some of his work from a new limited edition pamphlet. Matthew has always been very supportive of the Market Place Poetry group who organised the workshop and reading and has connections in the local area. I read with Matthew in the first year I went to Ireland but was too star struck to talk to him – this time I did manage to hold up my end of the conversation.
On the train on my way back from Manchester Airport. Last night I was reading in Cork at O’Bheals – I did a thirty minute reading all in one go – first time I’ve done a longer set than 15/20 minutes but I enjoyed it. O’Bheals starts off with a five word challenge – the audience shout out five minutes then everybody has fifteen minutes to write a poem containing those words. I didn’t have a go – mostly because I was brain-dead from running workshops and drinking too much red wine but the atmosphere was lovely as everyone settled down to write. Then everyone who has had a go gets up and reads it on the open mic. After that there was a break then I did my set and then another break and then the open mic. I don’t know what time it finished but they are a lot more relaxed about timings over here – I think they would all be shocked in England with our poetry readings that finish promptly at 9.30. So even though the B & B was lovely – I barely saw it – met up with two friends who I met at two different festivals last year – one at Torbay Poetry Festival and one at Fermoy Poetry Festival – reminded me again of how the friends I’ve made through poetry are some of my favourite people. I also got paid in cash again on the night – is this an Irish thing?
The wonderful organiser of O’Bheals, Paul Casey wouldn’t hear of me wandering around Cork on my own till my plane left in the evening and arranged to pick me up at 12pm. Paul and his partner Rosie took me to the University of Cork to see the Great Book of Ireland – the project of poet Theo Durgan who gathered poets and artists and musicians together, got them to write/paint on pieces of vellum and then stitched it together. When he was telling me about it, I must admit, I wasn’t excited about it. I thought it would be nice to see it but I wasn’t excited. Anyway, it is in a large gallery. There are listening stations where you can listen to the poets included in the book reading their work. There are poetry books by the poets near the listening station as well. There are beautiful paintings everywhere – including a painting of a stag on a black cover which I think was the cover of one of Maurice Riordan’s books. There are digitised versions of the book so you can flick through the pages. There are photos of Seamus Heaney writing his poem out in the book. And then there is the book in a glass case, which is perhaps the most beautiful thing I’ve seen. If I lived in or near Cork, I would be spending every rainy day I had free in the gallery listening to the work, looking through the book. You need a whole day to do it justice really. It was definitely the highlight of the trip.
It feels like I’ve been on this train for hours and I’m too tired to read now and I can’t find my headphones to listen to my book. A man asks an elderly Asian man in a suit how he gets to Penrith and the Asian man doesn’t understand him. The Asian man gets up and gets off the train. Under his breath the white man says ‘Learn to speak f***ing English’ and looks at me as if I will appreciate this. I tut loudly and give him a scathing look. I keep thinking about the European Elections and the government and Gove and how my job, a music teacher is not valuable – keep thinking about the first observation I had when I was newly qualified and the inspector asked me what the children had learnt after we’d just played a 12 bar blues on xylophones and percussion and made our own words up.
This poem below came out just as it is – of course it’s not true – I didn’t do any music teaching today. I can’t imagine writing about music-teaching on the same day as actually doing it. It feels really weird making this public now – before I’ve had time to edit or think about it – but it would feel dishonest if I kept it back.
Dear Mr Gove
dear mr gove today I taught the children not to sit like bags of small potatoes in their chairs I taught them how to breath with their belly like babies do when they are sleeping we pretended we were balloons of different colours filling up with air dear mr gove we played long note beat that we looked up who holds the world record for the longest note it was a clarinet player who managed to play a sustained pitch for 1 minute and 13 seconds on the clarinet we held long notes as if we were monks singing a drone in a cathedral where the roof rises like a giant wing against the sky mr gove some of us know what crotchets and minims are and we will know this all our lives but some of us still call them black and white notes we played hot cross buns as a class today mr gove we talked about the great height of the note E we held thin blue straws between our lips to form an embouchure and some of us went on to play an E and some of us fell towards a low A with its ledger line piled above it and another piercing its poor head mr gove we are brilliant at trying we make up sayings to help us read music like Elephants Go Bananas Doing Flips like Electric Green Brains Dance Forever we play the riff to Eye of the Tiger and sing along in the voices of tigers if they had voices like ours and we remembered to pick our instruments up in time today the class teacher forgot how to play a D and a child told her which valves to press I do not know how to measure this mr gove please send help and there is also the problem of Michael who cannot read or write too well but who can play mary had a little lamb with perfect pitch there is the problem of his smile afterwards and how we write this down send help mr gove send tape measures and weighing scales and anything else you’ve got today we watched the muppets singing bohemian rhapsody for no good reason other than that it was fun and while I am confessing small transgressions last week we watched mr bean play an invisible drum kit for the same reason the children have been playing an invisible drum kit in the playground mr gove I did not stop them today we talked about the lip and how fast it heals and we talked about the muscles in the lip and tongue we did not know we had control of so many muscles we tried to look like musicians mr gove please help us
For more information about the Logbook, please read our interview with Kim.
Dear Kim, make sure they listen to Mozart, Beethoven and particularly Elgar and Vaughan Williams. Forget pretend drum kits, I suspect the children are not taking their music seriously. Ref National Curriculum Music schemes of work for more ideas. If you want to play, do it in the holidays.
I loved your blog. That Gove person is an arse.
I want to be in one of your music classes, they sound wonderful – just what teaching and learning should be. As you say, it is a great privilege to work with children and young people and to find out together new ways to learn, to make knowledge ‘stick’. Your students are so lucky to have you for their teacher.
Hi Rachel – thanks very much 🙂
I enjoyed this (letter to Mr Gove) very much. So vivid a picture I could have been there and lovely surprises like
‘some of us fell towards a low A with its ledger line piled above it and another piercing its poor head’.
Think if I had had you teaching in my childhood I may not have failed on five instruments. But I still sing.
Hi @lindagoulden thanks very much! Am glad you enjoyed – and glad you still sing as well! I had a choir teacher who told me I couldn’t sing when I was ten and I believed her till I was twenty one…
Hi Hilary – thanks very much for lovely feedback 🙂
Just to balance out – today I had to put my wooden hammer that I use to fix valves on the top shelf because I was thinking of using it to fix something other than a sticky valve…have lost patience already and it is only the first week of half term…