Friday, 16 November 2012

Fifty Shades of Boredom...

There’s the type of boredom when you’re a bit jaded with life and are in a rut, then there’s the boredom of waiting in for a delivery which you were told could arrive anytime between 8am and 5pm (and it’s now 4.30pm), and there there’s the utterly mind-numbing, hair-tearing boredom of being a poll clerk at the first ever Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

Now, as a poll clerk in political elections I’ve experienced tedium before. By 9am you’ve learnt the life histories of everyone else in the room, told every knock-knock joke you’ve ever heard and have now started to repeat yourself, however, at least with political elections there’s a chance that the general public will pop in every now and again vote for their favourite local politician, but this was boredom on an entirely new level.

The current Government, in all its misplaced wisdom, had decided that the general public ought to be allowed to choose who should oversee local police forces, without spotting the bleedin’ obvious in that nobody actually gives a monkey’s who’s in charge of policing matters as long as they can see more bobbies on the beat, get more criminals behind bars and can get an officer to attend when they need one!

To be brutally honest, even though the local council were paying me to work as a poll clerk that day, and had given me the obligatory 30 minute powerpoint presentation as ‘training’, I really was none the wiser as to the duties of the PCC and I didn’t even care enough to google it. Yes, I know I ought to care and it’s important that I have a democratic right to be able to vote for the person I deem to be the best for the task, and if I lived in other countries I’d be only too glad to be given a vote, blah, blah, blah…. but, with 4 of the local candidates being members of political parties, wouldn’t it just be a re-run of the local elections in May, with people simply selecting their political favourites, regardless of whether or not the individual knows anything about being a PCC? Who knows…

The general public were reluctant to come out to polling stations in early May, when it was spring, so I couldn’t see how the government expected to get anyone motivated enough to bother coming out of their homes in mid-November when it was always likely to be seriously cold and potentially wet. I must admit, I was having second thoughts myself during the training when we were told to wrap up warm and plan ahead in the case of severe flooding or snowfall!

After getting up at a ridiculously early 5.30am on the day, and slurping a cup of PG Tips (no stomach for breakfast at that hour), I made my way in the dark, cold, fog to the local Community Centre to begin my extremely long shift.

The Centre should have been opened by the caretaker before 6.30am so that we could begin setting up, however, two grumpy presiding officers and four p*ssed off poll clerks were left outside in the dark for the next 20 minutes until he finally arrived with a set of keys! Not the best start to the day, which only went downhill after that.

The reason that every local council now has to fork out to employ twice the necessary amount of clerks and officers at polling stations these days is apparently something to do with  the fact that during the last general election, a few people had to queue outside their polling stations and ended up missing out on their chance to vote because they failed to enter their polling station before 10pm (even though they’d had from 7am on the same day to do so or they could easily have applied for a postal vote beforehand to save themselves the bother of having to turn up, or if they’d known it’d be difficult for them to get there on the day they could’ve asked for a proxy vote).

We did get our first voter in at 7am on the dot, but it was another 40 minutes before the second one arrived. This set the tone for the rest of the day in which our table saw just 42 voters while the other table scored slightly higher with 64, a task which just one clerk and one officer could’ve handled with ease. It’s a good job we’d brought books, magazines and other distractions with us because we had ridiculously long periods of time in which we didn’t see a single soul. In fact in the final two hours not one person bothered to turn up, and the fact that there were no tellers on the doors and a conspicuous absence of anyone with a vaguely ‘vested interest’ simply added to the evidence of the pointlessness of the whole exercise.

Predictably, many of those who came in were clueless as to what it was about and who to vote for due to the complete absence of any flyers being posted through anyone’s doors beforehand and the lack of any real information generally available (especially to those without internet access or anyone who didn’t happen to purchase a local newspaper in the preceding few days), but all we were allowed do was explain about the actual voting process and that they should simply put a cross in the first column for their first choice and another cross in the second column if they wanted to select a second choice, and even this seemed to stump a few of them.

Inside our polling station at least there’s a café so that there’s a remote chance of members of the public who regularly come in for a coffee after the school run, or pop by for a hot bacon sarnie, walking through to the back hall in order to vote; I can’t imagine how hideous it must’ve been for those poor clerks and officers stuck in mud huts on village greens in the middle of nowhere.

Fortunately, we’d started to pack most of the gear up by 9.30pm so by 10pm it was simply a matter of taking down the final voting booth, removing the posters from the walls and helping the presiding officer with the last of the form-filling so thankfully we were out of the building by 10.10pm. On my walk home, in the cold, dark damp of a typical November night, I wondered how long it’d take for those counting the votes to complete their task. My guess would be that they’d be safely tucked up in their beds by midnight

Saturday, 5 May 2012

The Poll Clerk...

When you’re a self-employed, part-time clerical worker, ad-hoc paid employment can be hard to come by, so when I discovered that there were opportunities of earning some extra cash doing ‘election work’ for the local council I duly applied. For the General election of 2010 I was offered several hours work opening postal votes prior to the event as well as the important-sounding job of ‘Poll Clerk’ for the day itself. Poll Clerk training consisted of reading a glossy brochure and attending a presentation for a couple of hours, neither of which was particularly taxing. The envelopes thing was a breeze but the criminally early start and subsequent 16 hour shift endured by poll clerks (and presiding officers) was a challenge that I wasn’t keen to repeat. After the first time I swore I’d never do it again….but a year later the memories of wrist-slitting boredom had faded and I was skint enough to sign on the dotted line once again. Unfortunately, although I’d been lucky enough to undertake a few hours paid employment stuffing postal votes into envelopes a few weeks earlier, fate intervened and a hideous and possibly highly contagious tummy bug the night before Election Day rendered me incapable. When the letter from the local council arrived early 2012 I wasn’t sure whether or not to accept the poll clerk position again, but I figured that if they had faith in my abilities then I should, at least, take the chance of some much-needed funds, and once again sign on the dotted line.

As is the norm when I need to be up early, I couldn’t sleep a wink the night before, so when I got up at 5.30am for breakfast I had serious doubts as to whether or not I’d manage to stay awake until 10pm. I shoved half a cup of tea down my throat but ended up binning my Weetabix as I simply couldn’t face food at that ungodly hour. I then packed my bag with enough snacks and bottled water to sustain me throughout the day and I staggered, bleary eyed, out of the front door at 6.15am. It was raining.

My polling station is just 10 minutes walk away and when I arrived my colleagues were already there, putting up the voting booths and sticking posters on the walls with copious amounts of blu-tac. I tried to force a smile as I put my things on the floor and attempted to be helpful by tying string to the pencils and re-acquainting myself with the voters register. By 7am we were ready for our first ‘customers’, however, by now it was absolutely pouring down outside and it was fifteen long minutes before anyone arrived. This was an ominous sign of things to come…

The only ‘entertainment’ we had all day was when the ‘characters’ appeared. The bloke that was seemingly off his face who staggered towards the booth shouting out “Who do I vote for?!” was mildly amusing. We then had the over-excitable teen who’d just celebrated his 18th birthday and wanted the world to know that he was now old enough to vote. The OAP done up to the nines in fake fur and gold sandals really had made an effort this year! If you happen to be working close to where you live, there’s always the chance that a familiar face will appear. This is, indeed, a very welcome distraction and can boost your morale enormously.

Some people just don’t understand the system and believe that simply living in the general vicinity of a polling station gives them an automatic right to vote – even if they haven’t bothered to register, and then there’s those who haven’t checked their polling card properly and have arrived at the wrong place, and then moan when they’re told they can’t vote there. There are the inevitable clerical errors where people have been missed off the list or told the wrong information on the phone, and they get quite miffed when you have to break the bad news to them that they won’t be allowed to vote today. Rather glad that the Presiding Officer gets to do all of the difficult stuff. Some voters feel the need to rant about the government but we have to remain impartial and therefore simply indicate to them where the booths are and politely hand them their voting slip.

You generally get through the first couple of hours by getting to know your workmates, or if you already know them, catching up on all their news and by eating most of the snacks you brought along with you. I’ve been very lucky indeed to have been placed with extremely personable co-workers, which has made the task far more bearable than if I’d been lumbered with Norman (or Norma) No-mates for the duration. Unfortunately, by about 10am you’re struggling to find anything new or interesting to say and, to be frankly honest, you’re just too tired to force yourself to be sociable (it’s hard enough putting on a cheery face for the voters). The thought that you have another 12 hours of much-the-same begins to sink in as you now remember why it was you said “Never again”.

The plastic chair you’ve been sitting on makes your backside go numb but the only place to walk to is the lavatory – which you end up doing so often that everyone thinks you have a bladder issue. Having said that, if you have a kettle nearby you consume so much coffee in order to stay awake that you really do need to keep on ‘popping out’. You get flying visits from candidates and their representatives, as well as from a gentleman (or lady) whose job it is to inspect all the polling stations to make sure all is as it should be and that the correct posters have been displayed etc. A community support officer might pop by, but with it tipping it down outside there was never going to be any crowd control issues.

Noon seems to be a landmark time on the painfully slow-moving clock as you’ve now completed the morning, but there’s still another 10 hours before you can finally close the front doors on the general public. You’ve read all of the newspapers you brought with you and your eyes are now struggling to focus on the register. Your colleagues are playing with ipods and iphones but are equally as bored.

Even though you know how annoying it is you can’t help yourself and you simply HAVE to announce (on the hour) how long there is left. “Nine hours to go” sounds daunting when you’ve already been there 6 and a half hours. At 2pm you hit a brick wall (metaphorically) and you find yourself feeling a tad surreal. You are mind-numbingly bored, you’ve eaten so many sweets you feel sick and you’re shattered. You try to do the crossword in the paper but your brain doesn’t want to play, so you give up.

Little things can ease the situation, such as a group of 4 all coming in to vote at once giving you something to do for a whole two minutes. You go and sharpen the pencils even if they’re already sharp. By 6pm you’ve got to the over-tired stage and are now rambling on boring your colleagues with tales of all your past holidays. They’re just as bored and politely respond with tales of their own.

The final hour should, in theory, be the light at the end of the tunnel, but in reality it feels as if the clock has broken and time drags now like no other hour. You pace up and down (with wobbly legs due to the plastic chairs cutting off your circulation at the knees for the past 3 hours), itching to pack up, but you have to wait until exactly 10pm before you can at last remove all the posters and take down the booths. You try not to trap your fingers as you fold down the tables and stack up the chairs while the presiding officer completes their highly important paperwork….and finally you hear the words you’ve been waiting to hear since 6.30am… “Thank you for all your help today, you are now free to go!”

The rain had stopped as I staggered home in the dark enjoying the cool air on my face and the sweet taste of ‘freedom’. I’d been inside for 16 hours and yet it felt like a lifetime (I have no idea why anyone who’s been in prison would ever want to break the law again). Under my breath I was muttering “Never again” but I just know that once I’ve caught up on some much-needed sleep and had some physiotherapy for my excruciating back pain, if, next year, I’m offered the opportunity to receive a cheque in return for one day’s worth of boredom, I’m more than likely going to sign on the dotted line once again..…

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Change...

For most women, the thought of being relieved from the monthly ‘curse’ is something to look forward to; a time in your life when your body finally allows you the freedom to do as you please without the regular mood swings and excruciating stomach cramps. Indeed, many women of a certain age sail through this transition with little or no negative side effects whatsoever.

However, for some of us, when we reach that mature era when our children have grown up and have finally flown the nest, instead of experiencing a sense of freedom and a renewed enthusiasm for careers, foreign holidays, hobbies and so forth, our hormones decide that now would be an excellent time to turn our lives upside down and throw us headlong into menopausal chaos.

For some women, this will happen naturally over a period of time, easing them gently through the whole experience, but for others (myself included), surgical intervention will plunge them without warning into a phase in their lives which will leave them proclaiming that in their next life they will come back as a man!

Hot flushes really ought to be renamed the more appropriate volcanic eruptions. The term ‘hot’ doesn't do it justice, while ‘flush’ suggests a temporary warm glow, whereas in reality your entire insides are at melting point for what feels like an eternity, with no warning whatsoever. The odd thing about menopausal heat is that you look absolutely normal to those around you. Often there are no obvious signs such as crimson faces, and for many women they don’t even perspire, which can lead to people wondering whether you are greatly exaggerating your suffering in order to gain unwarranted sympathy. Your skin feels tepid, even cool, to touch and a thermometer under the tongue will usually show the results as frustratingly ‘normal’. There’s no actual ‘evidence’ that there’s anything untoward happening to your body, and this can lead you to you wonder whether you’re actually imagining it!

Night time episodes are often far worse than during the day, leading me to wonder whether spontaneous human combustion was simply an extreme side effect of menopause. Sleep is interrupted every half an hour or so by the immediate need to stick your head in the fridge for light relief. By morning, you’re lucky if you've managed a whole hour in the land of nod, which will almost certainly result in varying degrees of ‘irritability’, from mildly grumpy through to psychotic. Of course, your hormones are all over the place, just to add to the entire experience. One minute you can calmly talk to a friend over a coffee, and the next your tear ducts explode and you find yourself sobbing on the shoulder of a minor acquaintance in front of a bus full of intrigued and bemused passengers.

Anything can set you off; a cheery “Hi, how are you” is enough to push you over the edge on a particularly bad day. You thought that PMS was bad, well that’s nothing compared to the schizophrenic head case you've now turned into. Prior to ‘the change’ you could deal with any amount of minor irritations with delicacy and diplomacy, but now you’ve become the incredible Hulk overnight and even grown men are terrified of you.

For no obvious reason, although it may be partly due to tiredness, a perfectly intelligent and lucid woman can succumb to ‘menopause brain’ and be rendered incapable of answering the simplest of questions or even finishing a sentence. This is not (usually) the onset of Alzheimer’s but simply hormonal.

Friends and loved ones tactfully suggest various herbal or alternative remedies to help ease your apparent discomfort, but what you really want is the strongest drugs that the NHS can give you to ensure your hormones are immediately re-balanced, and you want them NOW! Then there’s the three S’s… Screaming, Sobbing and Sleeping, and at any one point during the day or night you will likely to be doing one or more of them.

You make an appointment to see your GP to discuss your options, but the only outcome you’re even vaguely interested in is a prescription for HRT. Unfortunately, due to legal reasons, the doctor is duty bound to waffle on about your medical history, take your blood pressure (which is sky high due to menopausal-induced stress) and then ritually humiliate you by weighing you. You bite your tongue while they bang on about all the potential hazards of embarking on hormone replacement therapy, oblivious to the fact that you've spent the last fortnight googling the word ‘menopause’ and could probably tell THEM all the possible side effects.

After what seems like an eternity they finally hand over that little green form, and you hear yourself agreeing to all sorts of follow-up appointments just so you can rush out of the door and down to the nearest chemist for your new magic pills.

HRT however, is no immediate miracle cure, and many of us lose sight of that fact in our eagerness to be able to finally get some much-needed sleep without feeling like we’re being cremated. There are many different types and a wide variety of potential nasty side effects to consider. While for some lucky ladies, HRT will give them the quality of life they've been looking for; with renewed vigour, glowing skin and a sense of joy at simply being alive; for others it may prove to be ineffective, or even make their lives worse with weight gain, headaches or even serous medical woes. Some women may have to try out many different sorts of HRT before they find the right one for them, while others never do get along with it. On the whole, although it may alleviate one or two symptoms, HRT is not magical – it can’t turn back the clock to give you your long lost youth, your ability to party all night long and still be at work for 9am or your pre-children size ten figure.

In my next life, I'm definitely coming back as a man!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

College - Week 13...(Final Week)

Counselling was a bittersweet occasion for me personally. The closing session of what’s been a rather stressful course felt like a millstone had been lifted from around my neck, but the day was also the last class for a couple of people who’ve become close friends during this short period of time together, and I’ll miss them.

My counselling tutors have shown great tolerance in times of worry, confusion and sheer bloody-mindedness on my part, and for that I’m hugely grateful. What grades I receive for the three written assignments remain to be seen, but I’ll endeavour to give it my best shot.

A wander over to J22 rewarded me with an A4 sheet of dayglow yellow paper which has thankfully managed to unravel the mysteries of social policy for me. I had a rough idea in my mind that it was something remotely sociological, but I now have the facts, and look forward to starting my new subject in January.

I.T. was a flurry of completing unfinished work and playing around with Word Art. I’ve never spent much time using this particular feature of Word before, so it was nice to be able to allow my creative juices to flow into what eventually turned out to be a Happy New Year poster. I resisted the temptation to create a certificate proclaiming myself The World's Greatest something-or-other.

I appeared to have left my brains at home during numeracy, and I struggled with even the basic concepts of using my funky scientific calculator. It must be an end-of-term thing, but with support and assistance from my self-sacrificing classmates, I eventually completed my homework….. along with the corrections from last weeks worksheet….. before lunchtime.

Due to the fact that I’m slowly but surely becoming sick of the sight of jacket n beans, I treated myself to jacket n cheese n beans instead.

'Coffee & Chocolate Group' assembled in study skills for the grand handing over of the group project, after a few minor but vital alterations. This has been a very long and tedious task, which will not be fully over and done with until after the timed written essay in January, but at least, for now, I can forget all about on-screen violence, and concentrate on my counselling and sociology assignments.

Sociology, again, was greeted with building work going on nearby, so banging and drilling punctuated the entire lecture. Added to this irritation, was the discomfort of the central heating system. At one point I felt as if the menopause had hit me with a rather hefty hot flush. I tried, mostly in vain, to grasp political perspectives, but lethargy got the better of me, and I’ll have to read my notes several times before I finally learn my left from right wing.
After a quick 'healthy option' salad sandwich, I made my way upstairs to 'the den' for the inaugural meeting of the Mature Students Network. Eight of us in all attended, and the main topic of discussion was the desperate need of a place for mature students to chill out, without having to encounter hip-hop at 100 decibels or the fever pitched squeals of hormonally challenged teens.

Various options were discussed, and the idea of using a key system for making access to the den a privilege seemed to be the easiest and most cost effective method. Exclusion (or “non-inclusion”) seemed to be a bit of a grey area. We’ve agreed to keep in touch via e-mail and to schedule another meeting for the new term.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

College - Week 12...

Counselling was previously billed as a 'fun session' this week, but Family Therapy is about as much fun as a visit to the dentist in my opinion. Six volunteers were required to take on roles within a close-knit family, who were all attending a wedding, suffering from a recent bereavement (of course!).

I deliberately stayed quiet when the performing roles were offered, and for my silence I ended up as observer and therapist instead. It was amusing watching your female classmates take on the male roles, and I was suitably impressed with their acting abilities under the difficult circumstances.

After forgoing our usual mid-morning break, we ended our first session earlier than usual, and gained an hour and a half long lunch. Luckily, we’re all good friends, and made full use of the time by gossiping.

After jacket 'n' beans we returned to class to discuss our three important assignments. This gave us the opportunity to grill our tutors as to the exact nature of the essay, and how to approach the skills assignment and the personal statement that’ll have to be completed during the festive season.

I.T. saw a change of venue, due to exams taking place in our usual locale. This meant that the luxury of taking the lift was not an option, and a pair of sturdy hiking boots became the order of the day. I arrived clutching my chest and wheezing like a 90-year-old asthmatic with a 60-a-day smoking habit.

Creating a posh front page for our assignments was a fun exercise. Once I’d put my brain into gear, and finally figured out how to highlight my border and insert a text box, there was no stopping me, and I merrily created matching front pages for all my subjects.

Following the essential hot chocolate break was numeracy, and the promised session on how to use our posh scientific calculators. This exercise sounded far easier that it actually was in practice, although it was, indeed, a welcome break from lengthy, mind-numbing calculations on large, lined sheets of A4.

Jacket 'n' beans was even more hurried than usual, due to a frantic attempt at completing most of the numeracy worksheet in class, leaving just 20 minutes left before study skills.

As luck would have it, our study skills project group members all bumped into each other for a spot of mutual indigestion in B Block refectory, and as we had no need to actually attend the class due to research we remained in the dinner hall and pondered over the fact that we only have 10 days in which to complete this task.

Two of the group then vanished into the library on yet another book-gathering session, whilst the remaining group member, and myself, hurried off to The Learning Link to nab a computer.

A gloomy cloud’s hung over my head these past few weeks between 3pm and 4pm on Tuesdays, but today I was ecstatic to learn that I’d obtained my level 3 for writing skills. Hooray.

Some mention was made regarding another test to be taken at some point, but I am afraid to say that the information went in one ear and out of the other; such was the joy of relishing the fact that I’ll be able to get a much earlier bus home on Tuesdays from now on.

A pneumatic drill mid-morning rather rudely interrupted Thursday's sociology lecture. It became almost farcical at one point, as the tutor valiantly attempted to instruct us as to the finer points of conjugal roles, whilst battling 100 decibels of sheer din just a few feet away.

After a comforting hot chocolate drink to steady the nerves, I was relieved to discover that I’d gained my second level 3 credit for the theories and methods module, thus gaining two level 3 credits overall.

It’s been said, on several occasions, that this term is by far the hardest due to the length of it……along with the fact that most of us are still finding our feet in regards to further education.

There are germs-a-plenty flying about, and a large proportion of the access students have some coughing or sneezing ailment or other. I feel that we’re rapidly becoming the lockets and lemsip brigade.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

College - Week 11...

Counselling this week bore witness to my less-than Oscar winning performance of a counsellor in session. I felt that I gave it my best shot though, and under the circumstances….those being that I’m not exactly crazy about the course…. I didn’t do too badly, all told.

I swiftly carried my 30 minutes of recorded fame to a little room located near the F Block foyer, and a rather helpful gentleman immediately set about creating a copy for me.

After jacket 'n' beans, was the inevitable theory element of person-centred counselling, and, with depressing predictability, we ended the day by looking into a suicidal scenario.

I.T. was pleasantly challenging this week. It’s been quite a while since I’d last created tables in Word, but it was a fun exercise …creating multi-coloured boxes and playing around with font formats.

After a comforting Suchard's hot chocolate drink from the vending machine, it was straight into numeracy, and those awful power numbers again.  I managed to make a start on my homework during class, but I suspect that I’ll be up half the night, yet again, attempting to divide and multiply numbers containing dozens of 0's.

Apparently, there’s to be 13 (unlucky for some) number worksheets. Next week we’ll apparently be learning about how to use our scientific calculators, which I’m looking forward to as I’m clueless in that department, and relish the opportunity to play with my new toy.

Jacket 'n' beans was a somewhat rushed affair, as is the Tuesday ritual, and I was somewhat surprised by the diminished number in attendance for study skills. The group project has been recently marred by apathy within my particular group….me being the main culprit…. but today proved a reasonably positive experience, and all is finally becoming clearer regarding exactly what is expected of us. The words "timed essay" were not at all welcomed, but forewarned is forearmed, as they say.

The joy of writing skills saw us vacating our usual room for the technical delights of The Learning Link. An online multi-choice questionnaire greeted us, which, in my case, was far, far preferable to the previous handwritten tasks inflicted upon us. I admit to rushing through the 40 questions in an attempt to catch an earlier bus back home, but 35 out of 40 was no real disgrace, as 26 was the required pass mark.

Wednesday I spent a very enlightening hour having some much-needed careers advice. Avenues opened up before my very eyes, and an overwhelming amount of information was made instantly available to me. I left there feeling as though I’d passed through a new door, one that led to new and exciting opportunities.

Thursday I was feeling distinctly below par. There’s been a lot of nasty bugs flying about, and I’d done well to avoid them so far.

The person sitting next to me, who’d brought a cup of rather strong smelling soup into the room, didn’t exactly aid my nausea. Their even stronger personal aroma, courtesy of B&H, practically finished me off. I soldiered on, however, and tried my best to absorb all the data aimed at us during sociology.

The word statistics made me physically shudder, but I soon got the hang of all the graphs and charts, and towards the end of the lesson I was actually quite enjoying it.

The class received a rather nasty surprise today regarding credits. I, along with many of my classmates, had assumed that for a double module… with two credits available, and where two separate assignments are set…..that each piece of work would carry a separate grade.

It now appears that a nice level three for part one can, and will, be downgraded to an over-all not-so-nice level two if the second assignment is marked at level two. 

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

College...Week 10

I began the week with the official handing in of my UCAS application. This was a momentous occasion indeed for someone still desperately trying to get to grips with the concept of further education, let alone higher education.

Counselling was the usual miserable experience that no amount of Prozac could assist me through. It was my turn to act out the client role, and for 30 arduous minutes I had to play the part of a 55-year-old woman with a desperately depressing life.

After the very welcome mid-morning break, I was much happier just sitting making notes as an observer during the second audio taped session. The afternoon consisted of being informed of exactly how much work will be involved in the three delightful assignments that will follow the course. It’s just as well that I have no plans for Christmas this year, as it looks very likely that I’ll be working on my transcriptions and reading up on empathy.

There comes a point at college, for all women of child-bearing age, when certain items need to be purchased from a dispenser situated within a ladies lavatory. Several of my classmates had previously commented on the lack of such a provision in the F Block toilets, so I took it upon myself to check out a few other bathrooms on campus.

I soon discovered that F Block was far from unique, and not a single such dispenser existed. …..I also noted the lack of condom dispensers, although one might assume there’d be a greater demand, or necessity, for the former rather than the latter.

I made a few enquiries into the matter, and was astonished to discover that they’d been removed after repeated bouts of vandalism. Surely one would have to have some seriously 'faulty wiring' to want to duff up a tampon machine?

During I.T. I managed to print out much-needed additional data for my study skills group project. The tutor then, very kindly, showed those of us taking sociology, how best to create boxes on a questionnaire. This is superb timing, as I’m currently constructing a social survey, which will look far more professional for having boxes added.

Numeracy was another heavy-going week as far as I was concerned. I just about managed to stay with the concept of power numbers for the first 20 minutes, but then an information overload rendered me completely incapable of even locating the square root button on my scientific calculator.

For the life of me, I can’t fathom how power numbers, root numbers, square roots and so forth will help me to live a fuller and more exciting life. Will it help me to save money at Tescos? Will it make me a better mother to my children? Will it help me to work out which bus I need to catch? I have a sneaking suspicion the answers will be that they will, in fact, not.

There was time at the end of the lesson to finish correcting previously marked work, which I obviously took advantage of, and I was delighted to find myself currently up-to-date with all my numeracy worksheets, and even more delighted to receive a shiny sticky red star for my efforts. I simply couldn’t contain my glee at this important achievement and merrily showed my sparkly symbol off to my long-suffering friends. I acknowledge that I’m easily pleased.

My study skills session was extraordinarily fruitful this week, in that I actually managed to get something written down onto a sheet of paper. It’ll probably make no sense at all when I read it back at a later date, but at least I didn’t wander around aimlessly this week. This is positive progress indeed.

Writing skills, for me, has been highly frustrating lately. It’s yet another test of my abilities, when I’m feeling tired after a long day in noisy classrooms.

I feel that I’d proved my abilities in this area during the planning period way back in January, where I obtained three level 3 credits… one of which was for my academic writing skills.

I feel that I’d also proved my abilities in this subject with my level 3 credit for précis. And I feel that I’d also proved my abilities in this area with the level 3 credit that I received for my sociology essay.

I passed my National Certificate in Adult Literacy in July with a score of 39 out of 40 …only a moment of insanity with a spelling question prevented me from obtaining 100%... and I have the paperwork to prove it. 

I’m a woman, a mother, and a lone parent, and within these roles I constantly have to prove my abilities to somebody or other. I therefore find it highly irritating that I am expected to constantly prove myself during writing skills, when I’ve already shown significant evidence of my abilities.

Far from an accurate test of my abilities, these last three weeks have simply tested my patience. This, incidentally, has completely run out. During the planning period we were told, on more than one occasion, that Access students never have to sit exams, unless they’re taking a GCSE subject. I beg to differ!

Thursday I was back into the calm and reassuring realm of sociology. Families and households has become this weeks 'comfort blanket', and previous tantrums made way for highly entertaining and enlightening discussions regarding sperm donors, pregnant men, cloning and the contraceptive pill.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

College - Week 9...

This Monday saw the beginning of the audio taping of our counselling role-play sessions. I was hugely thankful that I’d opted to be the last person going through the anxiety of playing counsellor, and I’m rather hoping that the sessions that I’m currently observing will help me to function when I take centre stage.

By way of a change from the usual jacket and beans, my vegetarian banquet today was rice with a selection of vegetables. This went down rather well, but my subsequently bloated stomach made me wish I‘d chosen slightly slacker jeans.

Bereavement was never going to be an easy topic to cover, and the afternoon session drained me both emotionally and physically. Watching your friends burst into tears, while you’ve already got a lump in your throat the size of an apple, is hugely unsettling.

A stressful day of counselling followed by all four core studies in one day. What a joy….

I.T. required just a basic knowledge of e-mail, which meant that most of this particular lesson was dedicated to much-needed compassionate conversations with my co-counsellors. The opportunity to play is always a welcome distraction, and silly messages went flying electronically back and forth throughout the lesson.

Numeracy was thrust upon us at a surprisingly frantic pace, and it was all I could do to keep up. Percentages is something that I personally would rather have taken a little more time over during class, mostly due to the fact that I’m now burdened with an entire worksheet to complete at home without the luxury of having the methodology fresh in my mind, or a tutor on hand for those awful 'stuck' bits.

The theory behind this brain-busting class, was to enable us to end our numeracy classes two weeks ahead of schedule, but the idea of spending two consecutive Tuesdays, in late December, twiddling my thumbs from the end of I.T. at 11am until the beginning of study skills at 1pm, is not, in my opinion, something that I shall necessarily look forward to.

I was still feeling distinctly below par during lunch, probably being weighed down by the misery of the impending study skills group project, followed by part two of the hideous writing skills assignment.

Another afternoon was wasted, mooching around the library, staring blankly at the spines of books for some sign of inspiration. It didn’t appear, so I cut my losses and comforted myself with a coffee and some shortbread biscuits instead. This didn’t particularly assist me with my research into screen violence, but at least I did feel slightly better afterwards.

On campus there’s a distinct lack of anywhere nice for mature students to escape to in order to wallow in self-pity, away from hormonally challenged teenagers. Today, I felt that I could really have benefited from a quiet place to hide, where I could be amongst fellow core-studies-sufferers.

It seems very unfair that rent-a-yob has somewhere hip and funky to gather, and yet we more civilised creatures are condemned to wandering the cold, dark corridors of the college.

Wednesday at 9.15am I arrived for my previously well-documented hair appointment. I felt it only fair to warn my tentative trainee that my hair is substantially thicker than it first appears.

The first of the brightly coloured foils made an appearance at 10.20am, and by 12.20pm there seemed to be a light at the end of the tunnel. By this point, my head looked as if I was wearing the contents of a tin of Quality Street, and I was praying that the fire alarm wouldn’t sound.

Two cups of tea later, and my foils were out, hair washed and my student was merrily slicing off an inch or two of split ends. Hunger pangs had started to appear by now, and my rear end had been quite numb for several hours, but vanity is never without a price.

By 3pm the blow-drying was finally complete…but there was a slight problem. Of course there was!  One small, but painfully obvious, section of my locks had turned a nasty shade of orange, for reasons unknown, and there was no alternative than to have another single foil put in place with a strong dose of colour smothering it.

The next 30 minutes seemed to last a lifetime as I waited for the new colour to take a hold. My poor student looked worse for wear, having been on her feet since I arrived with not so much as a sip of water inside her.

The correction thankfully worked, and I walked out of the door at 3.45pm precisely. Hopefully, the next appointment will only require my roots coloured, which will allegedly take just a fraction of the time.

Thursday saw a repeat of the brolly and bus sketch. Families and households was welcome light relief from screen violence and bereavements, and even our new assignment of compiling a questionnaire didn’t appear to intimidate me. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

College - Week 8...

I‘d completely misjudged the weather this morning, and I arrived at college rather soggier than I‘d wished. As a pedestrian, I'm occasionally unjustly dismissive of student car-parking woes, but today I rather felt that they were wearing the Mr Smug badges, as I dripped along the corridor of F Block. 

Role-playing doesn’t appear to be getting any easier with practice, and we had rather a lot of practice this morning. The gap between fiction and reality is ever narrowing, and I often now find myself asking classmates sympathetic questions about their delicate relationships ….only to be reminded that, in fact, their relationships are doing just fine, and it is their role-play pretend relationships that are actually in tatters.

I cut short my customary jacket and beans in order to race about the corridors and staircases during the lunch break, undertaking minor chores.

I nipped up to the Student Union office to renew my outdated Student Union Card, with the ulterior motive of using a slightly more photogenic image of myself. I really shouldn’t be quite so vain.

I then decided to use the staircase rather than wait for the lift, and clambered up to the hairdressing department to make a long overdue appointment to get my mane seen to. When I arrived, I read the note on the wall stating that the hair and beauty reception is actually located downstairs… so back down I went.

The lady at the counter didn’t appear to fully understand my requirements, and she rang through to the hairdressing department so that I could speak to them in person. Of course, had I actually gone through the salon doors 5 minutes earlier….. instead of coming all the way back downstairs….. I could’ve saved myself an awful lot of time and effort.

My final task, before the afternoon counselling session, was to visit the student finances department for a quick chat. During the morning, a particularly 'helpful' student had informed me that once I go to University I won’t eligible for my state benefits, and I’ll have to go out to work to put food on the table and pay my bills because my student grant won’t be enough to cover it!

Fortunately, the very kind and understanding lady in the student finance department, assured me that there’d be no need to sell my first born, and although there would be an awful lot of paperwork to complete, there was no need for panic.

I consider that I have a reasonable grasp of time management, but the thought of looking after a house, being a responsible parent, studying for a degree AND working at tescos stacking shelves at night would have meant an introduction of the 30 hour day.

A number 64 bus and a tartan umbrella ensured that I didn’t repeat the soggy scenario on Tuesday morning. I.T. was the usual cheerful occasion, as I discovered that we’d be learning all about the internet. As I’m seldom off the internet, my brain enjoyed welcome break before numeracy. I managed to learn a new trick with the control key, and will undoubtedly be repeating this manoeuvre until RSI sets in. 

Due to unavoidable circumstances, we were without a tutor for the first hour of numeracy. In an astonishing display of anarchy, the first fifteen minutes were dedicated to verbal mayhem and merriment. Eventually, high spirits made way for the completion of last weeks homework, and making a start on delightful decimals.

Our tutor finally arrived, and she was reasonably impressed at the somewhat tranquil scene that greeted her appearance. I’m rather relieved that CCTV cameras hadn’t been in operation 45 minutes earlier.

Lunch was, as ever, an uncivilised festival of food shovelling.

A glance at the F Block notice boards confirmed a change of venue for study skills, and a trek to the committee room ensued. I was horrified at this tiny and inadequately equipped room, with not a single computer in sight… but moderately impressed at the water dispenser.

All is not well in our particular study skills group, and the task of creating a feasibility study has stretched us to the very limits of our imagination. After a brief discussion with our tutor to clarify some of the finer aspects of what a project about screen violence should focus on, we made our way to the library to locate a book … there's a novelty!

Once there, we attempted to locate one particular volume on the subject of media effects via the library computer system, but after four failed attempts it was decided that we should ask for assistance instead.

Up on the next level, we managed to find the help desk, which turned out to be of no help at all, as the notice thereon suggested that we try the helpdesk downstairs. With time ticking by, and patience wearing thin, we took the somewhat original approach of looking on the shelves ourselves, and more by luck than judgement, managed to find books regarding the media. As we each stood there holding a book in our sweaty little palms, there was a slight pause before we simultaneously asked "What EXACTLY are we looking for?"

Plan B was now a priority, and as we huddled around a computer in the student resource centre, the vague idea of feasibility was briefly discussed and typed up. We were all feeling particularly confused, bored and deflated by the end, and are crossing our fingers, and toes, that our efforts will be adequate enough to scrape through without having to waste any more time on it.

The true horror of the writing skills test was revealed in all its glory at 3.05 precisely. Three mind-numbing A4 pages of equal opportunities bumf had to be read, digested and analysed within the following 60 minutes.

I was tired, and already feeling pretty miserable after the study skills sketch, so when I was faced with this particular chore I was on the verge of tears. The last time I’d sat in a classroom to undertake a timed, handwritten piece of academic work was in 1978, and to my memory, nothing at all on the planning period prepared me for this particular scenario.

For the first ten minutes the words may as well have been written in Greek. I struggled through it, but I’m certain that I’ll score a particularly low mark for this assignment. I was unable to string a logical sentence together for the most part, and my pages are a mass of hastily scribbled notes in no particular order, and a few bullet points. An extra 15 minutes allowance for rewriting would’ve meant that my scrawl could have at least been tidied into legible and rational paragraphs……but no extra time was given.

I’m fully aware that it needs to be at level three, and I’m also painfully aware that it’s far from that. As I left the classroom I was hit by a sudden overwhelming feeling of failure and deep disappointment. I was always aware that there’d be days like these during my time at college, but that knowledge can never prepare you for when it actually happens. The onset of self-doubt completely shatters your confidence, and you’re left completely numb by the whole experience.

Thursday I dragged my fragile ego into college, still slightly anaesthetized after Tuesday's nightmare. I’d been dreading the return of my first ever sociology essay, but fortunately my fears were unfounded. The phrase "Level 3" could easily have also been "Congratulations, you have won…………….." and I suddenly felt that a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders. The relief of knowing that I’m not really 'thick' was almost overwhelming, and the very positive comments made on my cover sheet seemed to reawaken my enthusiasm for study.

After class, I made a return visit to the hairdressing salon, only to be told that I had to go back downstairs to the hair and beauty reception, so that they could ring through for a hairdresser to come all the way downstairs to collect me, so that I could go back upstairs into the salon in which I was already standing!

Bemused doesn’t begin to cover it, but I obediently complied, accepting that 'rules are rules'. I now have a treat to look forward to next Wednesday morning, and my despair from earlier on in the week is slowly, but surely, disappearing somewhere behind me.

Friday, 17 June 2011

College - week 7...

What a pleasure it was to discover that the highly stressful role-playing counselling activity was to make way for sociology this morning. I tried, in vain I fear, not to appear overly confident, as I’m the only student present today in class actually taking sociology as a specialist subject.

B Block refectory seemed rather more crowded than usual during the lunch hour, so my two companions and I decided to explore the bistro in the chef's block, by way of a change.

This idea would’ve worked well, had the place actually been open for business. It suddenly dawned on us at that point as to why B Block refectory had seemed so busy earlier.

A trip to the student supplies shop was in order, for a little retail therapy, and after five minutes of gazing in wonderment at shiny holographic paper, and other fascinating arty objects such as multi-coloured pipe cleaners, I purchased a packet of four highlighter pens. I have a feeling that my coursework will probably be rather colourful from now on.

After lunch we contemplated cheerful topics such as mortality and suicide……as you do!

A hasty glance at the dimly lit notice board in F Block revealed a change of location for the Tuesday numeracy classes. Alarm bells rang out loud inside my head, as my eyes scanned unfamiliar words such as "boardroom" and "committee room", with no alphabetical and numerical combinations beside them to indicate where on campus such rooms may be located.

It was only after I’d found a pen and a scrap of paper for scribbling down these alterations, that I read the entire heading. It was, thankfully, referring to the Tuesday afternoon numeracy classes. Phew. Lucky old me. I have numeracy before lunch. 

I.T. is currently my most favourite subject on a Tuesday. Health and safety combined with file management didn’t appear to tax my brain excessively, and I had ample time left after my set tasks to make full use of the I.T. suite printers, churning out masses of paperwork regarding the study skills project that I’m currently working on.

Yet another week of fractions followed mid-morning break, much to my displeasure. The sheer volume and complexity of this week’s homework meant that I didn’t have the luxury of completing my homework during class, and will now have to face completing the task at home. Hmmmmm.

Lunch on Tuesdays is always somewhat of a 'smash 'n' grab' affair.

The study skills group project feasibility fiasco is proving somewhat more daunting than I suspect it ought. We now have a new member in our particular clan, and this has meant some re-negotiation was needed regarding the various roles within the group.

We very quickly discovered that the F6 printer was fully functioning, so we took advantage of the free paper and ink supplies, much to the bemusement of the other two groups…who clearly wished they’d thought of it first.

With one of the other groups researching the same topic, eavesdropping became a priority. This proved to be a fruitless exercise, which only goes to show that the grass is not always greener.

 By 3pm I’m never particularly enthusiastic, and this week proved to be no different to any other. Lengthy explanations of the two accredited assignments that’ll follow during the next fortnight was not something I particularly wished to hear.

The B&H Brigade, who tend to waft past at close range carrying an odour very familiar to that of a pre-smokeless pub after last orders, has regularly assaulted my nasal passages, and today it seemed worse than ever.

The offending addict, however, had attempted to mask her stench with copious amounts of a hideous cheap perfume, and in the process almost knocked me unconscious. I feel that a generous squirt of Febreeze would have served the purpose better than Impulse.

The handing over of my first ever sociology essay was a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, I was glad to finally see the back of it, but on the other, this had become my 'baby', and I had to finally break all maternal bonds with it.

The introduction of our new topic of 'families and households' was very welcome, as I, for one, can relate to the subject a lot easier than the mind-boggling sociological perspectives coursework that we have just completed.

However, I fully accept that no house can ever be built without firstly installing solid foundations, and I live in the hope that things will now begin to slot into place quite nicely.

Regarding the sociological surveys aspect of this terms work; I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ll soon lose all of my friends once I begin to harass them with endless questioning.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

College - week 6...

The ironically named 'reading week' is now upon us…. ironic in so far as I have been doing everything but reading.

My UCAS statement has been drafted, re-drafted, re-re-drafted on my trusty pc, until it now bears no resemblance whatsoever to the original.

My sociology essay has seen the light of day, with its grand appearance as printout number one. These once-pristine sheets now look as if a psychotic three year old has attacked them with a box of crayons, due to my enthusiastic corrections and readjustments.

I’ve pestered my fellow study skills group members, and tutors, with e-mails regarding screen violence, almost to the point of obsession.

I’ve used copious amounts of blue tack to stick various handouts from my counselling course onto my kitchen cupboard doors, in a desperate attempt to regain some enthusiasm towards the subject before the next session.

I now have a nice shiny new copy of the Essex University Prospectus, which, no doubt, will still be sitting on my table unopened until the day before the deadline for completion of the UCAS application forms. Which, incidentally, has been laboriously photocopied multiple times to ensure that by the time I fill out the original, I shall have at least a vague idea as to what I am actually doing.

The all too familiar displacement activities reared their ugly heads yet again in the form of manic hovering sessions and gardening in the rain.

Friends that only ever receive correspondence from me in the form of Christmas cards, will indeed be surprised to open their morning mail to discover the arrival of my life-story in minute detail.

Shame I was just too busy to get any reading done this week!