Sunday, 26 December 2021

Nice November

November hurtled onwards towards the Advent season. My one and a half days became 4 or 5, as I stepped in for various colleagues. Our French teacher, Barbara (who is Italian and wonderfully multilingual) had rushed to Italy, where her father had been taken ill; another colleague was ill with a chest infection; and my former year group partner, now teaching Maths and sport, tested positive for Covid-19.

It was, initially, quite a lot of fun and I certainly felt incredibly useful as I knew the routines and all the children in the various classes I covered, so it was relatively easy for everyone concerned. However, the third week – when I was also due to help invigilate the entrance assessment into Year 7, taken by all Year 6 children – was quite chaotic as I had no timetable given me, so just wandered from one lesson to another, picking up the reins as I went.

 I still managed to fit in a few extra duties as well, to help relieve the pressure, as mid-November we were inspected by ISI.

The inspection had been a long time coming and preparation had been intense, with countless new initiatives introduced and reams of paperwork completed. Somewhat galling to discover, after hours days of planning, that Ofsted itself (which inspects ISI, the independent schools’ inspectorate) no longer requires planning, preferring to look at what the children actually learn rather than what is taught. Yes, there can be a difference!

As a part-time teacher, I had more time than most to prepare and was quite relaxed. Nevertheless, I was observed twice in both of the departments I work in. Not unexpected, as I teach so much of the R.E. and I was assuming that the inspectors would look at least one lesson, if not more. All seemed to go well... the report will be out in December.

The other project which took up quite a chunk of emotional energy was that of finishing up the hard-standing Richard was preparing for the motorhome. It had taken quite a bit of organisation: booking a cement mixer to deliver and pour a load of ready-mixed concrete; hiring tools to help spread and smooth the cement as it poured into the slab; and organising friends to come and help, particularly Martyn who is highly expert at All Things Building.

But it was not easy. Richard caught the worst cold he had had in years and had to cancel; the second week, the lorry broke down, so yet more cancellations all round; but, finally, it was all done.

This in spite of Covid, with numbers of those infected increasing rapidly. Nevertheless, the proportion of those double vaccinated testing positive only amounted to 2%, as compared to approximately 15% of those unvaccinated. We started to find several friends suddenly testing positive and I was contact traced several times as children at school came down with it.

Nature in November was nice. Not many wet and gloomy days: in fact, on one of the aborted ‘cement’ days we sat outside the front door, drinking coffee with friends, for several hours. There were some stunning sunrises and sunsets, and so many sightings of buzzards, harriers and kestrels that we lost count. The garden  shone with luminescent nerines, their pink trumpets almost seeming to glow in the dark, while several shrubs produced an abundance of red berries, which the blackbirds slowly and methodically stripped off the branches. The potato flower, meanwhile, continued to rampage, almost drowning the oil tank and climbing up to the top of the prunus rusticana which shades our patio.

And then, the last weekend brought the beginning of Advent: but that is next month's story....


Thursday, 4 November 2021

Outstanding October

October began with a delightful day of supply, teaching 5 year olds. (It should have been 6 year olds, but I was glad for the switch over – they were good fun.) It was surprisingly satisfying and I enjoyed meeting younger siblings of older children in the other department of the school, who I see once a week for R.E.

The weather was true Indian summer, continuing almost unbroken from September. There were a couple of unpleasant days, but otherwise it was absolutely beautiful. Sarah and I spent many afternoons sitting at the top of Petit Bot beach, drinking tea after a refreshing swim in the crystal clear waters between the cliffs. We could have been on a tropical island.

Almost every day was a cycle ride, whether to school, the beach for a swim or just ‘for fun’. The Nerines – the Guernsey lily – exploded in the garden and the flowering shrubs yielded a good crop of berries for the birds.

As for the ‘unpleasant’ days: well, one was just a day of rain and winds lashing the windows. A friend called round and we enjoyed coffee, conversation and good catch-up for a couple of hours, snug inside. It was almost unbelievable: the previous day had been sunny, warm and so calm that the silence was almost unnerving. Strolling in the garden in the evening, the expected rain seemed unreal.

The second day was in fact a night: strong winds arrived by evening, Force 7, expected to gust to Force 8. But by 11pm it was evident that the wind was much stronger. A north-westerly, the bedroom window received the full brunt of it, so much so that the decorative metal heart which hangs against the glass started to rattle and soon the wooden bower – which was screwed to the wall to stop it banging – also made its presence felt.

The next morning revealed that many trees had come down, blocking roads across the island. I foolishly tried to cycle through the lanes on my way home from school and found myself having to turn around and find an alternative route a total of three times. How I managed to get to school safely, only needing to negotiate the debris of leaves and twigs, is a mystery and it was only afterwards, reading the Guernsey Press, that I realised how difficult the morning commute had been for many people.

Then there were countless bird sightings. First, a grey wagtail, unmistakeable with its long tail, grey upperparts and yellow vent at the base of the tail, hopping around the edge of the motorhome hard-standing. A pair of silver pheasants, strolling through the grounds of one of Guernsey’s many wonderful farmhouses, just a mile or so away. Many other pheasants clucked in the neighbouring fields or delighted with their wonderfully colourful plumage: some of the cock pheasants in particular seemed incredibly tame.

And buzzards. Seven one day: one after an early morning swim, calling above the hill as I cycled up; five circling over the house; and a final buzzard near the airport on a cycle ride. Coming home from school, I glimpsed one sitting on a fence post: as I drew near, it rose lazily into the air, the underside of its wings unusually white. We have seen this one before, around its usual hunting grounds near the riding club which is on my commute to school down ‘Chemin du Roi’ – the Road of the King – which goes past Forest parish cemetery.

As for the greenfinches: a ‘charm’ of finches. They swarmed the hedges, in particular in the field below the ‘lookout’ at Le Grantez mill in Castel. The site, with a ruined mill which was demolished by the Nazis so that their bunker would have an uninterrupted viewpoint, overlooks Vazon. The base of the Victorian mill, which fell into disuse at the beginning of the last century, has recently been rebuilt by prisoners, who have done a marvellous job.

October. Outstanding.

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Superb September

 June - to September? What happened to July and August?, of course!

And so, yes, to September.

Well, we had hoped for an Indian summer on our return to Guernsey, after a wettish, albeit mild Scottish summer: and we got it, in spades.

(In retrospect, hearing about the cold wind here which had prevailed during the month of August, we think we actually had rather a good summer – meteorological records even showing that Scotland experienced warmer and sunnier weather than is normal!)

We got back into the house at the beginning of the month and were grateful for such a long spell of hot, sunny weather that it made washing the laundry, accumulated while we had been away, relatively painless. I even did a couple of loads a day at one point, as the sheets dried in just a couple of hours.

So the month, although it saw my return to work on a couple of days in the week, was full of sea swimming, beach picnics, cliff walks and blackberry picking, not to mention some brilliant cycle rides. The ‘inside’ jobs (of which there are many) were consigned to the Wet Weather List. It was really an attitude which echoed Mole’s “Hang spring-cleaning!” Absolutely.

There were also lots of opportunities to reconnect with friends as we started inviting people round or going out for breakfast, coffee, teas and supper. Marvellous.

Slowly, the house was put back in order, refilling cupboards, emptying cardboard boxes, carefully storing away towels and bedlinens for next year. This is still a lot of de-cluttering, though, that needs to take place. Later, in winter.

Bird sightings: lots of buzzards, occasionally flying low over the hedges as we cycled past but always calling distinctively. A bike ride seemed incomplete without a buzzard encounter. Kestrels, too, swooping above and below the cliff edge.

And rabbits. Too, too many rabbits. We had seen several sick ones – myxomatosis taking its toll – while we were camping at Fauxquets Valley – but the garden rabbits were in altogether very rude health. The warren has a couple of LARGE holes exiting into various spots in the garden and we were treated, one morning, to two large rabbits having a lovely long game of hide and seek right in front of our window. Hmmm.

A couple of sightings of rats, too: far too familiar. Pickle does her best, jumping around in the bushes and flushing them out, but they scamper to safety in a very leisurely manner.

So, back at home after one of the best safaris we have had. It was good to be able to talk, inconsequentially, to all kinds of people in our own language; to meet fellow-wanderers, hearing about amazing places; and to learn all kinds of new things historical, geographical, scientific and just plain awesome. So grateful to have this opportunity...

Wednesday, 7 July 2021

Just. June.

 June flew by, yet was packed with both challenges and delights.

The first delight was Roseanne and Chris’s wedding, in Scotland, by Zoom. Rosie is Renee Cowan’s delightful granddaughter: very clever, highly capable, high achiever – a CEO of several prestigious companies and charities before she was 40 – and an absolutely sweet, wonderful person. We celebrated with friends, dressing up and enjoying afternoon tea with bubbles.

My time at school entailed much clearing up and clearing out, as I prepared to vacate my classroom and gather planning and resources for the coming year: a day and a half of teaching R.E. (It had also been referred to as a ‘weekly activity’ rather than a part-time position!) Still, it was very satisfying cleaning out cupboards and drawers, and taking cards and posters off the wall around my desk. I photographed most of the little messages which I had kept from the children over the years...I suspect I will find more squirreled away at home, once I embark on The Great Big Tidy Up in September....

Lots of little admin jobs, too: I won’t miss THAT aspect of class teaching. I even had to organise the hoodie order, where the children were each given a hoodie at the end of their time in Year 6. Hardly comes into the realm of teaching responsibilities...

June also saw us spend a LOT of time in the garden. Quite challenging to keep up with all the growth – plants seemed to explode. I’d barely cut one hedge before it sprouted up, inconsiderately, all over again.  While Richard was busy heaving 35kg concrete blocks around to create hardstanding for the motorhome, I took over lawn trimming and hedge cutting... or perhaps lawn cutting and hedge trimming. In any event, the cables for the power tools have survived so far: I think I might have cut the hedge trimmer cable about four times in the last few years. At least Richard had the foresight to install RCD sockets outside.

Found in the bush I chopped down. We replaced the bush with a jasmine: went to buy a Clematis montana only to find there were none to be had! Still, a jasmine has proved to be a welcome addition to the patio...

Hedges which border the road in Guernsey have to be cut, by law, between June 1st and June 15th. We were comfortably within that but there was still much frantic activity in the days just before and after the final date, landowners relying on the inability of the constables to get round the lanes quickly enough to catch them out. One afternoon, my journey home was completely blocked by a tractor busily cutting, but more than compensated by the sight of swallows swooping and diving over the hedge, intent on insects, while a large dragon fly escorted me down the lane.

I always think that hedge cutting, though necessary for safety (cycling down some lanes has been rather like entering an underwater tunnel, and quite scary at times as there is no knowing when a vehicle might suddenly appear from the opposite direction), is rather a shame: the profusion of wild flowers is quite incredible. Wild daisies cover the banks with white, replacing the yellow brassicas which have shouted from the field borders over the last couple of months. Pink campion is everywhere; valerian shoots dark pink blossoms from the most unlikely of crevices; and the St PeterPort daisies bloom profusely.

That is just the wildflowers: this year, osteospernum and mesembryanthemum almost hurt the eyes with their brightness, particularly the luminous quality of mesembryanthemum.

Meanwhile, we were busy at home preparing to go away next month and leave the house for guests: quite a mammoth undertaking. It’s a great chance to declutter and springclean, requiring quite a lot of organisation. This year, I was very proud of my ‘changeover’ system, leaving linen, towel, etc particularly neatly organised in boxes, stacked high, for Beth to put out.

Richard was particularly busy, preparing the motorhome and repairing a toilet which had gone out of order. The latter took a great deal of hard work and several days... but at least the hardstanding will take a break until we return in September and there is less pressure to get it finished quickly. All really, really hard work.

Meanwhile: term accelerated to a close. We caught bad colds/sore throats., which meant ringing the Covid helpline, having a PCR test and then waiting for the results. The end of the month. I crawled back into school on July 1st...

Monday, 31 May 2021

Meandering through May

May seemed to be a long month. Marked with four family birthdays, it began with Richard’s, then, after a brief hiatus, nephew Henry, sister Isabel and daughter-in-love Adele followed on consecutive days.

I couldn’t help reminiscing, with heartfelt longing, remembering Adele’s birthday with us last year. Tea on the patio...scones...beautiful daisies, her favourite flower. (She had a reprise in far away Tanzania this year, also remembering...)

The month breezed on by. Bright sunshine, cold days. A couple of days of heavy rain, greening up the grass once more. Often warm in a sheltered spot, but not really until the second half of the month did it warm up....

School took over my life. Reports, planning, monitoring of work... it seemed endless. The pressure is on to prepare documents before inspection in six months’ time. Yet I got my reports written, relatively easily, by the middle of the month. We managed to see friends; I hosted the regular ladies’ breakfast and the ladies evening group I started in January. Inbetween, I pottered in the garden, Richard worked on a project to create hardstanding for the motorhome, and we planted pots and hanging baskets, ready for the summer. Beginning to get ready....

...and becoming weary. Finally, the head came up with a suggestion for my part-time hours. One day teaching R.E. and humanities at the top of the school ...half a day teaching R.E. at the bottom of the school. The latter is a small class, so perhaps I will...

I find myself marking last milestones, as the end of term is only a few weeks away. Last final reports!  I've always enjoyed writing them, marking and appreciating the children's progress as the year has gone on. I have started to tidy out my cupboard, throwing away old files, worksheets...decluttering, always satisfying. We even managed to take the children on our annual trip, driving round Guernsey to investigate the legacy of the German Occupation from 1940 - 1945, always fascinating.

And my colleague is also moving out of the classroom. He is just over half my age, but we have got on well and worked creatively together. New beginnings for both of us...

Halfway through the month, I was able to take part in the online Leadership Conference organised by Alpha and HTB. Such incredible stories and testimonies: so encouraging. What a privilege! Our little ladies study group perseveres, moving on slowly as members tend to come rather sporadically. 

But May was full of sorrow as well. A dear colleague's 14 year old son had a serious head injury. A week later, despite all efforts to save him, he lost his fight to survive. I taught him 4 years ago, a delightfully polite, kind and fun-loving boy. His mother is a particularly lovely colleague, popular among the staff and working in the next room to me. His grandmother is a good friend from church. We are all devastated: I cannot begin to imagine their grief. 

In the middle of that were catch-ups with friends, some having moved into a house just a couple of hundred metres away. Good to have connection.

And the weather... well, by the end of the month, and unusually for a bank holiday, the sun shone with unexpected warmth. Summer arrived... over the bank holiday weekend, at least. Guernsey is at its best this time of year, the hedgerows and banks exploding with colour, birds nesting, the butterflies and bees in profusion.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Amazing (and amazingly cold) April

April began in the most marvellous way with an unexpected card and long letter from Cat’s parents-in-law, Allan and Sue Dow. What a wonderful treat to sit down and read, like having a long chat. These are truly precious people who God has blessed Cat with. I marvel, often, that we are so so blessed with our daughter and son’s in-laws, who have become family to us. I really have no words to express the wonderful gift they are and the great part they play in our children’s lives. As for ‘labels’ – as well as 'really lovely lovely friends' - what DO you call your children’s parents-in-law?! 

Last month, after being inspired by the proximity to their kitchen window of a friend’s bird feeder, I decided to move our little feeding tray as close to the house as I could get it. Partially hidden in a particularly prickly bush, it was an instant hit, especially when I discovered that garden birds absolutely adore porridge oats.

That was the beginning of a welcome distraction. I discovered the binoculars for those all-important close-ups. I pulled the camera out permanently once I remembered that we had a tripod, which now sits proudly on the kitchen worktop. Every opportunity, I gazed out of the window, mesmerised.

The birds came. The robins, aggressively guarding the bird table: often four of them at one time. One would wait on the feeder, staring accusingly at the kitchen window, waiting for emerge. Initially, the bird would fly off and then wait for me to retreat into the house but very quickly the robin would become so familiar that I would barely have closed the door and then, eventually, I would stand outside a couple of metres away while the birds would wait on a nearby twig, scowling at me while they waited for me to go in.

Two agreed to feed together while the others waited their turn, perched strategically on nearby bushes or the birdbath. There would be aggressive flybys or even competitive invasions.  However, it was not all antagonism.  One morning,  I found one robin feeding another, putting scraps of oatmeal into its beak.

A wren hopped in and out of the bushes, but preferred to peck at the lawn, in company with a pair of chaffinches. Sparrows were shy, hiding in the cotoneaster before darting fleetingly onto the feeder, grabbing a scrap and then flying off.

As for the pigeons... one particularly huge fat pigeon broke the bird feeder. Enough said.

The biggest delight, though, was discovering blackcaps for the first time. These sparrow-sized little grey birds have a distinctive black cap adorning the top of their heads – the female’s a beautiful chestnut brown. They didn’t come to the feeder, though, but to the Fatsia japonica , also known as the castor oil plant, the fig-leaf palm or – my favourite – the glossy-leaved paper plant.

The Fatsia seeds itself prolifically – there are tiny plants coming up all over the garden, growing in corners, under trees or through bushes. The seeds are striking, initially white, on a globular head and look wonderful in flower arrangements.

The blackcaps wait until the seeds turn black before methodically and intensively stripping them off the plant. I watched in amazement as, over a twelve hour period from dusk to dawn, one tree was completely denuded of seeds. Blackcaps, seemingly, are the locusts of Fatsia world.

This was all helped by the sun. April, true to form, was sunshine and showers, especially at the beginning of the month: one day, even, brilliant sunlight interspersed with snow showers – first grains, then, another time, actual flakes which melted as they kissed the ground.

Walks and cycle rides yielded glimpses of buzzards, although not as many nor as often as in March. The few that did appear over the cliffs were mercilessly mobbed by crows. (I do like crows, though: they are such characters and such aerobatic fliers.)

April wasn’t, of course, just birds. Easter. So much sorrow and joy within such a short space of time.

Breaking up for the holidays just before Good Friday gave time for reflection, the days after, time for catching up with friends. One weekend was so busy, with back-to-back social engagements (including a lovely ruby wedding celebratory tea), that we needed the next weekend just to catch up...

The break also gave the opportunity to catch up with jobs, already thinking ahead, completing school reports and beginning to ready the house for the summer when, hopefully, we will be able to travel and rent the house out again.

Back to school, and the weather turned cold. Bitter, some days. Temperatures as low as 5 degrees, rarely rising above the early teens. No rain: officially, by the end of the month, a meteorological drought. And fierce winds, cutting through. Still, we managed a lot of garden jobs: hedge trimming, planting out pots and hanging baskets, tidying up after the winter...

And, always, lovely photos and videos of Cara and Rosie, delighting with funny conversations and charming smiles....

But it was a dry month. A cold month. A back-to-wearing-winter-woollies month. And a month of bright, bright sunshine. 


Thursday, 1 April 2021

Mercurial March

March came in like a lamb... beautiful weather. Beach weather, even: Kareena and I met for a socially distanced walk at the beach and then ended up sitting by the wall, socially distanced metres apart, for our usual chat and pray.

Teaching online had become a joy, as we had devised a system which gave the children instant feedback on their work and cut down on the many hours of marking. I still worked long days, but was able to take breaks at lunchtime to sit in the sun and relax for a few minutes.

Back at school on 8th March, so we were up earlier for our morning cycle ride: mine to school, Richard’s to accompany me. One day, he spotted nine buzzards circling together in the air above. It was good to get back to a regular cycling routine.

It was strange to be back at school in our Covid ‘bubbles’ – out of our usual classroom, sitting apart, unable to share books or equipment, only able to use certain areas of the school at certain times. Still, the children were glad to see one another and it was good to reconnect with them after a 7 week break.

However, restrictions lasted for only two weeks until Guernsey reopened on March 22nd, with plans for further relaxing of border restrictions until later on in the summer. One of our colleagues burst into tears of relief at the news.

But spring has sprung. Daffodils, violets and primroses exploded everywhere, trees and bushes started to come into bud and birds arrived on patio. Robins – 4 at one point; dunnocks; great tits, blackbirds and thrushes; and even a pair of coal tits all visited the bird feeders regularly. A great joy to watch them from the kitchen window....

 ...and out like a lamb, after acting like a lion in the penultimate week. Several days of stormy weather: wind, rain, gales, hail... everything spring has in its wide repertoire was thrown at us. And then came beautiful balmy weather.. a warm wind with bright sunshine raised temperatures into the late teens and the front hallway thermometer registered 35 degrees. 

Sprimg sprang into action big time.