Saturday, 29 September 2012

Climbing with Kids

So I took 15 kids aged 11 - 14 for their first climbing session. It was meant to be archery but had to be changed at very short notice when the archery people pulled out. Lots of last minute phone calls, emails, risk assessments and begging for funding and RESULT! ... we are climbing at Awesome Walls in Stockport every Friday afternoon until Christmas.

This is part of the Duke of Edinburgh Award and the students taking part are all new it and so just starting out on their bronze award. As you have to be fourteen (or close to it) to take part in D of E the younger kids are working towards a special school award instead. We're hoping they'll still get lots out of it and it will whet their appetites for the real deal when they are old enough.

We were pretty disorganised yesterday as everything was so last minute - we weren't sure what to wear or where to get changed, whether or not there would be time to eat lunch, if we'd worked the timings out ok, and what exactly we were going to do once there. Luckily it all went well and like clockwork. We got there on time, were able to get changed and have a quick bite of our sandwiches before we started. Then there was time to finish lunch before going to get the bus back to school.

We had a short introductory talk and then a go at bouldering to warm up. Then it was on with harnesses and the first climb on a not very high wall. They all did well and so were able to spend the rest of the session tackling much higher walls. The students were divided into three groups of five, each with its own instructor. The instructor was great, explaining things, making sure the students were safe and knew what they were doing, but still giving them freedom to push themselves.

We had a couple of students who were worried about heights but still wanted to give it a go. They did brilliantly and felt like they'd really achieved something when they got up near the top of the high walls. One girl was quite shaky and feeling a little traumatised when she came down (we'd told her she only had to do what she was comfortable with, but she got up so fast I don't think she realised how high she'd gone until it was time to get down!), but within minutes she was wanting to have another go.

On the bus on the way home they were all buzzing and saying how much they'd enjoyed it and how they think it's much better than the archery would have been (some were quite disappointed when I first told them we would be doing climbing instead of archery). I was buzzing because they were buzzing. The teaching assistant who'd come with me had enjoyed it as well.

I didn't think I'd be able to have a go myself as it's costing rather a lot and I thought I would be pushing it to ask school to pay for me as well. The students were all keen to see me have a go though and so the instructor said I can try it out next week. I must remember my PE kit. (The video 'daft teacher stuck up a wall' that I'm sure will soon be appearing on Youtube will be even worse if it's 'daft teacher in business dress stuck up a wall'!)

The students will be working towards their level 1 and 2 NICAS qualifications (National Indoor Climbing Award Scheme) and will have log books for this. I thought I'd just be watching and picking up tips so that at some point I can come back and do it for myself as it is on my list of things to do. But if I can have even a bit of a go each week I'll get a lot further than I thought I would at this time and may be ticking this challenge off in the near future.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Climbing, archery and bad internet

So, what have I been up to? Quite a bit actually. Let's start with archery. 

The man at the archery club where I was going to take my Duke of Edinburgh students has let me down so I'm feeling rather miffed about it. I'd told him in my initial email before the summer holidays that it would be Friday afternoons from about 12.30. After several emails in which he's sounded as though it might happen at the last moment he told me they can only do courses on Tuesday evenings. Arrgh. 

After some frantic hunting for another activity I've come up with climbing. It all sounds very positive. The club can fit us in at the times we require. The students can gain their level 1 and 2 qualifications in indoor climbing and it costs slightly less than the archery. Only problem now is whether or not school will give me the funding for it. I don't see what the problem is as I only need the money I would have had anyway for archery, but for some reason no-one will confirm with me whether I can go ahead and book or not. 

Although I won't be doing the climbing myself I'm sure to pick up plenty of tips for when I do get round to trying this for myself. I've put it on my list of things to do as some of my friends are climbers and seem quite obsessed with it. I thought I should give it a go to see what's so exciting about it. Personally I've always preferred to walk and get from one place to another rather than hanging about (literally!) in the same place all day. But I know I shouldn't dismiss something without trying, hence it's on my list. 

I've also been looking into doing my level 3 Basic Expedition Leader Award as this will be useful both for when I'm working on the Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and for when I get around to doing my Walking Group Leaders' qualification. The course runs over four weekends and costs £325. As it's work related school would pay for this so of course I'm very keen to do it. The course runs twice a year, once in the autumn and once in the early spring. The autumn course would be best for me, but it's full. I've looked at the dates for the spring course and it looks as though I'll be unable to do two of the four weekends. I'll have to try to move things around a bit, but as some of them are holiday things and as working in a school I have to take my holidays at fixed times, it won't be that easy. 

Duke of Edinburgh issues aside, I've also been starting to think seriously about my own business. Ultimately I want to own my own hostel and I have very specific ideas about what I want. But now isn't a good time economically to start that type of business and also it would need a lot of financial input upfront. As I don't have any track record in running my own business I'd find it difficult to get backing for something like that. So I need to start with something that is cheaper, easier to make a turnover in the beginning and ideally is something I already know quite a bit about.  I'm thinking sandwich shops / coffee shops. Having worked in this kind of business for years when I was travelling and a student it's the thing I know best. I'm starting to look around at businesses for sale to get an idea of prices and locations. I'm not in a position to do anything about it at the moment, but at least I've made a start. 

I've downloaded a few books on coffee shops, sandwich shops and small business start-ups on to my Kindle. My knowledge is out-of-date and legislation and so on does change so I thought I'd better read up. By downloading the books I'll also use my Kindle more effectively as I can use the tools for highlighting and annotating and so on, rather than just reading. This means I'll be getting to know how to use one of my new pieces of technology and working towards achieving one of my 2012 twelve targets at the same time as reading up on businesses. 

Another of my 2012 targets that I'm working on at the moment is reading 10 of the books from the BBC Big Read list. At the beginning of the year I set myself the target of reading ten books from the list thinking this would be easily achievable, but we're now three quarters of the way into the year and I haven't read any. I realise I need to get a move on if I still want to achieve this goal and so I've started reading Arthur Ransome's Swallow and Amazons.

I've also been working on my book database. I've catalogued my books up to the letter 'C' and already have almost 1100 entries on my database. I knew this would be a mammoth task when I started it, so I'm not setting myself a deadline. It does feel good to be getting on with it though.

The other thing that's taking my time at the moment is trying to get all my write-ups from over the summer transferred onto my blog. I found using my tablet whilst I was in the Hebrides a good way to get every typed up straight away, rather than hand writing and then typing up later, but I struggled to find internet access. In Shetland there's lots of free wi-fi and I was expecting it to be the same in the Outer Hebrides. So I have all these posts that I wrote at the time but was unable to publish. I have lots of photos to upload too and really it should be quite straightforward and quick, but my internet keeps playing up and stopping and because I have a rubbish internet company I'm struggling to get it fixed. This means that often when I do have the time and motivation to sit down and starting getting things updated the internet lets me down. As I do manage to upload my posts I'm backdating them to when I originally wrote them otherwise it'll just be too confusing for me when I look back over them.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Arabic books

The other day when I was feeling all enthused about learning Arabic I got online and ordered a couple of books from Amazon just to get me started. I don't have time to do a course at the moment so I thought books would be a good way for me to at least begin familiarising myself with the language. Today they arrived.

The first one is a child's book - 'The Usborne First Thousand Words in Arabic' by Heather Amery and Stephen Cartwright. The slim volume is slightly bigger than A4 sized and consists of a series of double-page, full-colour pictorial spreads, each on a different theme e.g. the kitchen or the hospital. The main picture shows a large array of items in situ, whilst around the border there is a selection of the items which can be found in the main picture. These each have the relevant word written in Roman and Arabic scripts. At the back of the book is a dictionary with each of the words from the books written alongside the English equivalent. This seems to be a good book for me to leave lying around so I can keep dipping into it.

The second book is 'The Arabic Alphabet: How to Read and Write it' by Nicholas Awde and Putros Samano. This A5 sized slim volume has an introductory chapter on the language and then goes into detail about each letter and how to write the different versions of it. There don't seem to be any exercises in it, but the letters are laid out in such a way that I can easily copy them to practise my writing.

I read a lot of reviews of different books before choosing these two. They both had plenty of positive reviews and they seem to fit my needs at the moment. When I improve, and when I have more time, I'll look for a book which includes grammar and sentence structure and has exercises I can work on.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

2012 Twelve August Review

I've done a few relevant things this month, but still nowhere near enough to be confident of ticking everything off by the end of the year.
  1. Floating in a floatation tank (I'm hoping to do this in London during the February half term)
  2. Reading at least 10 books from the BBC Big Read list (if I read 10 a year, I'll have the whole 200 knocked off in the next 12-13 years!) - still haven't done anything about this one.
  3. Taking at least one photo every day of the year (this will improve my photography skills, be a photo-diary of 'year in my life', and help me to learn to use my new camera) - As I've been on holiday all month I've taken loads of photos and had not problem taking photos each day until right at the end of the month when I came home. Then I forgot all about it.
  4. Coming up with a fitness plan and sticking to it (the start of my training for Kilimanjaro, though I may not actually climb it for several years yet) - I've done lots of walking over the past month in the Outer Hebrides. Nothing too strenuous, but at least I've been getting exercise.
  5. Leading at least 4 of my own walks (good practice for my walking group leader's qualification) - I've still not led any walks, but at least I've done lots of walking.
  6. Buying another house (need to get my finances in order first) - nothing done towards this yet.
  7. Learning to use at least 3 new pieces of technology or computer programmes (not counting my new camera) - I've been getting to grips with using my new tablet. It's very different to my laptop and Office so it's taken a lot of trial and error, but I'm getting there.
  8. Doing a writing course (depends on the length of the course whether I'd complete it in the year or not) - I took lesson 1 of my writing course to the Outer Hebrides with me but did nothing on it.  
  9. Getting at least one piece of writing published (paid or unpaid, as long as someone else makes the decision to publish it and it's not self-published)
  10. Making a start on sorting out my photos (putting the prints that are currently still stuffed in packets into albums and getting all my photos scanned into the computer - no way will this be completed in a year, but I'll feel good even if I get started on it) - Haven't been home to do anything about this.
  11. Buying a car/van that I can sleep in (and doing any necessary conversions/adaptations) - I've lived in my van for the past month, sleeping in it every night. I love it. I feel I've got the feel of it now and I'm ready to get it converted. I know exactly what I want, I just have to find someone to do it for me.
  12. Getting into cycling (even if it's just short cycle rides along decent paths) - I didn't get to do anything about this, though when my brother arrived from Germany at the end of the month, he brought me the panniers I'd bought when I was over there at Easter. So I'm getting all the equipment together, now I just have to get out and cycle!

Duke of Edinburgh and other stuff

I'm officially on the Duke of Edinburgh team at school. This is something I've been wanting to be involved with for a while, but it's never worked out before. I'd like to get some experience on it as I think it will be interesting and fun to do, but also very useful for what I want to do in the future. I never got the opportunity to take part in it when I was younger, so now I'll take part vicariously through my students. It was a bit touch and go for a while as to whether I could be part of the team or not - it all depended on student numbers. But as we have at least 80 students signed up we're actually under rather than over staffed.

I need to offer a couple of activities I can work on with the students, so I'm looking at doing web design and archery. I haven't done anything about getting my own website since I finished the web design course over a year ago, so if I have to start teaching the basics of it, this will get me back into it.

As for the archery, it's something I've been keen to learn how to do ever since I had a go more than 10 years ago whilst on holiday in Ireland. A few times I've emailed a local archery club but never had a response. Whilst researching this for the D of E I found another club that isn't too far away. It took them a while, but they have got back to me. The course they're offering might be a bit too expensive but I have been given a few options. Hopefully we'll be able to go ahead with it and then not only will my students get to take part in an activity and learn a skill they probably wouldn't otherwise get a chance to do, but I'll get to it for free and in work time - how's that for a cunning plan?!

At the meeting after school this afternoon, it was mentioned that it would be a good idea for someone to do a course for D of E expedition leaders. I seem to be the most likely candidate for this. The course, which I know nothing about yet, is apparently one step down from the walking group leader's qualification so this would be VERY useful for me.

Because I'm also teaching humanities this year (someone must have slipped up when they put my timetable together - this is getting me precariously close to teaching the subject I'm actually qualified to teach rather than a range of random subjects I know nothing about), I'll probably get to go on a lot of the trips. This is also something I want to get more experience in as I feel it will be relevant and useful in the future.

All of sudden, I feel much more positive about this year!

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Back to school

I can't believe school starts again tomorrow. The summer holidays have just flown by and I still have so much to do. I know I shouldn't complain as I have much longer holidays than non-teacher people and if I felt like I could still do lots of non-work things during term time then I wouldn't complain at all. But if the new academic year is anything like the last few years then I'll be working stupid hours and feeling like my life is on hold except during the school holidays. To try to make myself feel a bit better about the new school year I've told myself not to work more than 50 hours a week. If I work 8am till 6pm each day I'll have time to go to the gym in the evenings and do other things at the weekend. At the back of my mind I know this probably won't happen, but I have to try. Next September I'd like to be in a different job and preferably working for myself. That won't happen if I don't have time or energy to put things in place over the next few months. As lists seem to work for me (I'd probably not have done any of the challenges on my 60 things list if I hadn't written the list and created the blog to keep it in the forefront of my mind) I've made a list of how my job can work for me over the next year; what I can achieve or gain experience in to help me in the future; and what I need to do to achieve my goal of doing something different for next September. Now I just have to remember to refer to my list and hope it works!

I want to speak Arabic

This evening I took the various family members who are staying with me at the moment to the Curry Mile for an Indian meal. Once there, we had a change of plan and went to a Lebanese restaurant called 'Beirut' instead. The food was wonderful and we spent several hours eating from the buffet and the menu. We had desserts and soft drinks as well as mint tea and the whole thing came to less than £10 a head.

The staff were really friendly and helpful and extra nice to the children. They were all speaking Arabic to each other; a language I love hearing and would love to be able to speak. They sometimes didn't quite understand what we were saying and it was so frustrating not to be able to just say it in Arabic to them. Usually this wouldn't bother me too much, but because this is a language I've been wanting to learn for years, it frustrates me I think because it makes me aware that I haven't done anything about it yet.

I don't think it would be overly difficult too learn because I've learnt Hebrew in the past and the roots of many words are the same in both languages. Whenever I've looked at the alphabet I can see how some of the letters relate to the Hebrew letters and have obviously come from the same source even though they are very different now.

I've got learning Arabic on my list of 60 things, but didn't plan to do anything about it for next few years as I know I really don't have the time. But after this evening I'm wondering if I should really try to make the time and start now.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

St Kilda in a Day

When I first thought about going to St Kilda I didn't think about a day trip. In the absence of having my own yacht and not having the kayaking abilities to paddle my way out there (yes, some people do) I'd decided the only way to get to St Kilda would be to join a National Trust for Scotland working party and go for a week or two. However, in spite of these being quite expensive, they are still allegedly very popular and hence difficult to get on to. What makes it almost impossible for me though, is the time of year. The working parties are pretty much finished by the time English schools break up for the summer holidays.

Not wanting to let a simple thing like fixed holiday times get in the way of my ambitions I looked around for alternatives and after meeting someone in Unst last year who'd been for a day, decided that maybe a day trip wouldn't be such a bad idea after all.

During my time in the Hebrides I've been trying to get myself booked onto a tour with one particular company. It's always a bit touch and go whether the trips go ahead or not, because they are very weather dependent. If one trip is cancelled the people booked on to it get taken out the next day meaning no free spaces for other people. A spate of windy weather seemed determined to prevent me from going. But then another company said they had room and the chances of actually going were pretty good on the day they were offering me.

The night before I drove out to the small pier at Miavaig in the Uig area of Lewis. I set up camp beside the office which conveniently had a toilet and wash basin round the back. I got everything ready for the next morning and settled down to sleep. I'd not been asleep long when I woke feeling a bit headachey and queasy. Not the best feeling at any time, and certainly not before such a big day.

By morning the headache had gone but I still felt a bit sickly. Hmm, what to do for the best when feeling a bit sick? Stay in bed, rest and relax? Or get on a little boat and spend 4hrs being tossed and churned as you crash your way across the Atlantic? Of course the only choice I really had was the latter. If I didn't go today, I wouldn't be going at all. 

Before it got rough

The other passengers arrived, about a dozen of us in all, and after re-arranging cars on the pier we boarded The Lochlann. I strapped myself into a seat and prepared for the worst. Once out at sea the roller-coaster started in earnest. The boat felt as though it was being plucked up high and then being dropped from said great height. Each time this happened the 'BANG' as the boat hit the sea and the reverberations through my body lifted me out of my seat. If it wasn't for the seat belt I'd have repeatedly hit my head on the roof. I tried to sit with my eyes closed willing the horrible feeling in my stomach to go away. No chance. I've never been sea-sick before and I have been on some tiny boats on some pretty rough water. But then again, I've not got onto a tiny boat on pretty rough water whilst already feeling sick.

My guts had no chance of recovering and at one point I had to stagger to the deck to lean over and throw up. I wanted to rush, but it's a bit hard when you're getting thrown from side to side and have to plan each move to ensure at least 3 limbs are firmly planted at all times. If I didn't have sympathy for people who suffer with sea-sickness before, I certainly do now.

One highlight of the otherwise dismal trip was seeing a shoal of tuna leaping and swimming in front of the boat. Even I stood up to get a look and watch them for a while. The tuna were dolphin sized, and look nothing like they do in a tin. Having seen them, I can understand how the nets used to catch tuna also manage to snag dolphins. I don't understand how the dolphin friendly tuna nets work though - how do they manage to keep the dolphins out? As a veggie I don't buy tuna anyway, but have wondered why next to the 'dolphin friendly' label that can be seen on some tins of tuna, there isn't another label next to it saying 'tuna unfriendly'? Apparently it's quite unusual to see tuna so close like this so we were very lucky.

St Kilda slowly came into sight and we could make out people sitting around on the jetty. These turned out to be students who were on some kind of placement on the island. We decanted ourselves into a dinghy and travelled the last tiny bit to the pier. Once we were all on dry land we were met by the warden who gave us a chat about dos and don'ts and told us about what there was to do on the island.

This would have been someone's living room
I set off for a wander, still feeling queasy. I had hoped to walk up to at least one side of the cliffs but didn't really feel up to it. Instead I wandered round the derelict village, poking in and out of the old houses. They were mostly laid out in one main street and in between the derelict building were a few restored ones which were used for accommodation and a museum. I spent a while in the museum finding the exhibits and the information provided quite fascinating. 

The MOD, as part of a long-running arrangement, have workers based on the island and their accommodation and offices are in green painted buildings near the pier. Maybe these could be said to be an eyesore and spoil the antiquity and isolation of the island, but the MOD have played such an important role on the island I'd like to think that in future years these buildings and their role will be seen as just as relevant to the history of the island as the remains from the St Kildans are.


A helicopter landed and took off whilst I watched. The unique St Kildan sheep roamed around, birds flew or skittered across the ground, the sun shone, a perfect day. If only I could have enjoyed it more.

We had a stay of a few hours on the island and this was plenty of time to have a really good look round the village and museum and would also have given me time to go for a bit of a walk had I felt so inclined. Just before the boat was due to leave, the warden opened the shop which sells souvenirs of St Kilda as well as a range of books. Next to the shop is the restored school (one classroom) and church and I had time to have a look round them. 

The Museum

The Church
The School

Once back on the boat we circled the island and went out to a couple of the stacks to look at the birds before heading back for Lewis. It was much later that evening before I started to feel alright again. 

I managed to enjoy my day on St Kilda even if I wasn't feeling great. It's such a special place and felt like such an achievement to get there, that even an upset stomach couldn't put too much of a dampner on things. I doubt I'll ever get back, so I'm glad I didn't decide to give it a miss, as I now have memories that will last me a life time. 

The Details

Company I travelled with: Seatrek
Cost: £180
Depart: 7.30am
Arrive back: 8pm
Time on Hirta: approx. 3.5hrs.

Here's a copy of the press release Seatrek issued regarding the tuna we saw. I've copied it in rather than just linking to it, in case it later disappears off their website.

Shoal of Tuna off Lewis
Press Release 30th Aug, Seatrek
Tuna Sighting West of Lewis

On one of our regular day trips to St Kilda on the 24th of August 2012, our Seatrek vessel, the  motor cruiser Lochlann, sighted an unusually large and concentrated flock of diving gannets.
We decided to go over and investigate, fully expecting to find the usual dolphins feeding on a shoal of herring.  We told the passengers to get their cameras ready for the spectacle of diving birds and jumping dolphins and possibly minke whales. We very often see diving gannets in a feeding frenzy as they can spot the fish from a great height. The gannets are helped by dolphins, which herd the fish to the surface.

The leading edge of the diving gannets was unusually fast moving at 5 knots, and as we closed in we could see the fast moving splashes among them. We were amazed to see the characteristic upright, thin forked tails of tuna darting through the water.
Some were coming to within 10m of us and you could see they were about 6/7 ft long, maybe more. The sight was amazing. The furiously diving gannets were accompanied by fulmars, skuas, manx shearwaters, sooty shearwaters, black backed gulls and herring gulls, all looking for a piece of the action.
We watched them enthralled for some time and thought they were possibly Bluefin Tuna;  such an unusual wildlife sighting we had never experienced before so close at hand.

The next shoal was moving much faster, say 10 knots to the SW and zigzagging with birds showing their whereabouts when near the surface. The tuna were about the same size.
Earlier in the day we had seen a handful of smaller Bonito type, 2ft long, just East of Gallan Head, Uig, Lewis. These were fast moving along the surface just beside the boat but were unaccompanied by birds.

The rare sighting of tuna so far north of their normal habitat was a memorable experience. Unusual also was the distinctive spectacle of the exceptionally large number of gannets that were following the shoal of fish. We have never seen such a large flock in such a small area; they could be seen from many miles away.