Sunday, 28 June 2009

Vive Espania

Off to spain on fieldtrip in about 10 mins. Trying to suppress anxiety. Packed preds and co-dydramol (codiene based painkiller - in case of arthritis attack!). Taken one co-dydramol too as these can cause constipation, a preferable state of affairs when flying. Will try to blog there if a machine is available.

"We're off to sunny spain..."

Friday, 26 June 2009

Nervous breakdown

A challenging UC week gone, and a challenging UC week to come.

This week has combined coursework deadline day with an interview with the Head to progress up the final rung of the classroom teachers pay ladder. Yep, after 11 years, I am never going to earn more than this (bar inflationary [haha, or below-inflationary as they are at the moment] or incremental pay rises), unless I move into middle management. Which would mean more stress. And, therefore I will not being doing that, but that does bring nicely back round to the theme of this post: stress.

I read somewhere recently, I think perhaps the NACC website, that current research has suggested that stress does not play a significant role in UC or its symptoms. Well, I'm no scientist, but I can categorically state that in my case that is a total load of poop. Stressful situations can definately precipitate or worsen UC symptoms.

The GCSE coursework is based on data collected during fieldwork conducted at the end of March. Therefore the kids have had approximately 3 months in which to complete the analysis and write-up. 3 months that are monitored carefully with numerous clinics and catch-ups and opportunities to seek help, guidance and advice. But, you can take a horse to water... And so this week always entails hectic tracking down, running around, after school desperation, phonecalls home, entreating kids, shouting at kids, cursing the numerous unsupportive parents, prising kids into IT rooms, patroling the gates to keep 'em in after school... all while teaching your usual number of lessons. In other words stress. I think, naturally, I am of the philosophy that they should be left to their own devices: don't put the effort in, get the mark you deserve. But, unfortunately the grades they get are used to measure our competence. In fact if they don't reach inflated target grades we have to justify ourselves. Because, of course, I can't be professional enough to work hard to get the best GCSE's I can for these kids without someone standing over me waiting to beat me with the results stick. So, that's a gradual build-up of stress across the week.

So, to the meeting with the Head. I'm a pretty self-confident chap. I know I'm a good teacher, and I would always say so, perhaps couched in slightly modest tones. However when it comes to interviews I'm as feebly wracked with nerves as the next man. Assuming the next man is a cowardy custard. Nervous stress for me never manifests itself in a way others can see it; from outside appearances I appear calm, composed and considered... But in my trembling, yellow bowel the real truth emerges. At regular intervals, into the toilet.

And, so it was that after several weeks of feeling pretty damn UC-free, Thursday fed doubt into my mind via several dribbly trips to the loo.

As for next week: week long residential fieldtrip in Spain with 25ish students. I know a week in Spain is really hard to moan about, but I don't want to go. A combination of being responsible for/managing 25 15 year-olds for 6 days and my usual UC-travel paranoia is making it a very unappealing prospect.

Stress? Fear? UC?

Right, I'm off to the toilet...

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Curved Air

Since the end of winter term I have had to modify my feelings toward the staff toilet at school. The school is very large: one long narrow (slightly wiggly) building that can house 1750 students and the requisite staff. I'm told it is the longest building in Sussex, but I have absolutely no evidence for this whatsoever. I have worked there now for 7 years, and in that time have not been able to find more than 3 male staff toilets. Essentially they're arranged one at either end and one in the middle where the staffroom is. My classroom is located in the eastern end of the building, therefore the west-end toilet is out of the question. I tend to avoid the staff room toilet as a)I tend to avoid the staffroom: too many teachers, and b)It has one of those formica walled, gap-at-top-and-bottom cubicle type affairs that encourage avoidance due to the inability to discreetly emit noise and smell... Which leaves the toilet in the east. Incidently that makes grand total of 3 proper sit-down loo's for all the male staff on the school, which, frankly, is poo.

So, over the last 7 years the eastern toilet and I have forged a little bond. It is very close to my classroom and has been my saviour and sanctuary. It also proved close enough for me to reach (but sadly not use) when the worst of all things happened to me in school. I will never forget its wonderfully secure brick-built floor-to-ceiling walls on that fateful day, as they hid me and my shame...

But last term 'they' (Damn the 'man') knocked it down, and replaced it, because the schools disabled toilet provision was found wanting. This in itself took an unholy amount of time, but that's another story. It was replaced with a new male loo and the aforementioned disabled loo. Now, the old toilet and cubicle were truly grimy, and many were pleased to see it replaced with something new, but they never knew the sanctity of the claustrophic little shithole as I did. They never knew the safety of thick brick walls over plasterboard, they never felt the safety of a cubicle 2 doors, and one larger toilet-room away from the students, as I did. Yes, the new toilet is not a place of sanctury for me. I cannot sit in quiet (or, indeed, noisy) contemplation or security in the new loo. I have drawn two very basic plans to try to illustrate the difference. I am sure any UC sufferer will appreciate the distinction:

The old 'safe' toilet is above, the evil new one below...
So, now I am seperated from all and sundry by a mere door. And I don't like it. I have sat in there fearfully since January (not literally). And then, this week, just as I have been beginning to relax a little, a silly little incident occurs to ramp up the insecurity again...

I was nipping down to the photocopier with a couple of maps for a lesson on thursday afternoon. I passed the loo, so took the opportunity to pop in and poop. It is a ridiculously small cubicle/room, with little in the way of anything bar a sink, the loo and a hand drier. I opted to balance the maps (the arctic circle, and the entire world) on the hand drier, and sat to contemplate, as it were. Whilst sat, just out of reach of the drier, I noticed the maps slowly slipping forward. I glanced at the floor, mmmm quite damp, small puddles of water... dammit, maps may get ruined. Looked back at the drier, maps about to fall... nothing I can do... and then... Unbelievably the maps fell and, as they fell, curled under the drier passing through the infra-red (or whatever) ignition beam, thus turning the drier on. The blast of air sent them shooting to the floor and then skimming forward and... out under the door!

Now, no-one may have noticed for all I know, I didn't hang around upon exit to find out, but suffice to say for any kids congregating in that area at the time (believe me when I say that this is a popular congregation point) what they just witnessed was Mr rich entering the toilet and then a minute or two later, flicking maps out under the door... Wierdo. Would never have happenied in the old loo I tell you.

Incidently I have been on 10mgs of pred a day for two weeks now.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


This weekend I have enjoyed a family camping trip. We did not go far, just to the Witterings, south of Chichester, where we stayed at a campsite called Stubcroft Farm (I recommend it). Here we met up with my brother and his family and in the fortuitously lovely sunshine relaxed while the kids ran round and round and nuseum - except for Boy1 who mainly mooched in a moody adolescent stylee. We also enjoyed the almost mediterranean delights of West Wittering beach. That'd be mediterranean in the sandy and covered with pink-to-red brits sense of course.
The only consternation in a very pleasent weekend was caused upon the discovery of the toilets. This was a campsite with a 'sustainable' bent, and thus sported composting ecoloos. I reproduce pictures and a description below:

Composting Ecoloos
We have six environmentally friendly "ecoloos" on the campsite field, which save between 1000 and 2000 gallons of water on a busy summer holiday weekend. Over a season this amounts to many hundreds of thousands of gallons of water saved. It is estimated that water depletion due to abstraction, has caused lowering of UK water tables and over 7000 rivers and streams to dry up in the UK over the past 75 years. As well as saving water, they do not generate any sewage to pollute the environment. It is estimated in the UK that we generate 7 billion gallons of sewage a day. Most of this is discharged into rivers and the sea after treatment, but the effluent still contains much that contributes to pollution of our rivers and coastal areas. The ecoloos are completely self contained and the final compost is used to grow trees & hedges, producing a long term carbon sink. The ecoloos are built from renewable wood and also lit by solar power so are completely self contained.

A very noble toilet facility I'm sure you'll agree. Except that for my lovely wife (who is not a hardened camper), and my brother's girlfriend, the idea of sitting on, essentially, a glorified plank over a MASSIVE pile of other people's poop was not entirely welcome. However, their consternation paled into insignificance when compared to Boy 1 who was utterly horrified and literally moaned about it for at least 2 hours, as though I had personally nipped down earlier and erected them myself purely for the purpose of torturing his sensitive teenage inhibitions. I wouldn't mind, but he's no friend to hygiene anyway... As for the youngsters, well, it was more a case of trying to keep them out of there; why is it younger children have some compulsive fascination with public lavatories, regardless of their odour or cleanliness - oh, to be that carefree. (My brothers eldest son, 8, later walked round another public loo in bare feet, which practically had my OCD crippled body writhing in disbelief...)
And my trusty bottom? Shut up shop for the entire weekend, so I never had the opportunity to sample delights of pooing in a composting ecoloo... never mind.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Causing a Commotion

At school this week there has ensued a furore. A hullabaloo. A brouhaha, if you will. Concerning toilets. It all began in 'briefing' on monday morning. Briefing is a full staff meeting at the start of the week before registration (between 8.05 and 8.25) in which our deeply uninspiring Head tells what happened in school last week and what s going to happen in school this week.

(As an aside, I must add here that a secondary school Head gets paid in the region of £80,000 - £100, 000, which arguably is fair enough, though I wouldn't want to do it, no responsibilities outside of the classroom for me thanks... I would have thought that for that amount of money a person should be expected [amongst numerous other requirements] to be able to orate at least adequately to a crowd, lets say at least in meetings with their own staff. Unfortunately our current Head has all the charisma of a boiled potato. Not only that but she regularly fluffs her lines, gets so tongue-tied she makes no sense, miserably fails to produce powerpoint presentations of point or appropriate use (she reads 'em to us!), and has even been known to bottle meetings and leave her minions to deliver bad news to us. However, she never fails to turn up to your lesson, grade it according to her 3 page 'tick sheet' and then deliver a verdict on how good you are at teaching [judged on whatever the latest 'buzz-standards' are]. Naturally, as someone who battles internally a far greater foe, when she criticised me I told her what I thought... she just replied "righto, i'll come and observe you again next week." Curses.)

Anyhoo, this week during briefing I was awakened from my usual dead-eyed trance on vaguely hearing the word "toilets". It seemed that on tuesday (that'd be today) the local water company would be doing some work on the local mains which would require turning off the schools supply of water mid-afternoon. This news (unlike all else, which is met by uninterested silence) was greeted by a rubarby rumble of discontent...

'What about the toilets?' someone cried
'Oh, we'll put buckets in there for flushing' (I kid you not)
'What about having water available in case of chemical accidents in the labs?' chimed a canny science teacher
'What about drinking water for the kids at break?' enquired an english teacher (famed for being a thorn in the side of the old head)
'Oh yes, we'll, er, have bottled water in for them'
'Well, how big is the header-tank?' calls the maddest maths teacher on the planet
Cue end of meeting.

On my way back to my classroom, I happened upon one of the deputies. "You know, the school should be closed really" I suggested (just for mischief), and was treated to the most insincere sincerity I have faced for a long time: "Ah, yes. People. Like. You. With medical conditions... good point... phone that across to the head would you." Did he seriously expected me to phone the Head and suggest either a) the school be closed because of my UC, or b) I should get the day off while everyone else soldiered on, or c) ask for a 'Shitbox' for my classroom? I use the word insincere here because, despite outward appearances, this guy is not actually interested in your interests. It is his modus operandi: he's a blagger. But, he only blags himself. He thinks we all think he's a 'great guy'. So wrong. He asks me every day when he passes me 'So, how are things?' It was when he asked me again passing him the other way that it really twigged. It wouldn't matter if I said 'well, my family were massacred last night, so I've been better', because his answer would still be a smoothly ejaculated "Good, goooooooooooooood..."

The resolution of all this? Well, within half an hour there was an email from her headship, the school would be shutting early tuesday after all. Somebody must have pointed out to her that keeping open a building with nearly 2000 people in it (1750 kids, 150+ staff) with no running water or toilet function was not really a good idea...

Thursday, 4 June 2009

This Wicked Tongue

Every day millions of people check their horscopes. They determine their day by someone else's interpretation of the alignment of the stars. They read those little paragraphs and bend the events of their life to fit accordingly. How can all of us be covered by twelve signs? There must be a helluva lot of people all wandering round doing the same things: "putting off an important choice until I'm quite sure I've got all the facts", or "drawing somebody out on the 3rd to discover what I need to know, but not going too far too fast, or saying too much too soon", and indeed "chasing the dream I hold that is now so nearly in my grasp....". Yep, I've got a busy, if enigmatic month ahead.

For others it the mystery of the tea-leaves - Tasseography. Here you stare at the portentous sedimentry contents of your empty tea cup (or indeed coffee cup. Or rather thrillingly: wine glass) and marvel at what the future holds. If you fancy having a go here are some instructions:

After a cup of tea has been poured, without using a tea strainer, the tea is drunk or poured away. The cup should then be shaken well and any remaining liquid drained off in the saucer. The diviner now looks at the pattern of tea leaves in the cup and allows the imagination to play around the shapes suggested by them. They might look like a letter, a heart shape, or a ring. These shapes are then interpreted intuitively or by means of a fairly standard system of symbolism, such as: snake (enmity or falsehood), spade (good fortune through industry), mountain (journey of hindrance), or house (change, success).

Courtesy of: The Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology, Fifth Edition, Vol. 2 edited by J. Gordon Melton (via wikipedia)

Simple enough. I don't know why we don't all do it. I remember Mrs Mangle did it quite regularly.

Failing that, you could try seaweed (my Grandad swore by it's weather forcasting properties "just nail a bit to your shed...". And yet he was still watching Michael Fish that fateful October with the rest of us, rather than battening down the hatches.), or the colour of the sky: red sky at night, shepards delight, red sky in the morning shepards warning, minced meat and mashed potatoes shepards pie... hoho.

But for me it's none of these portents of doom or delight. Nope, I spend my life trying to read tongue ulcers. Now, I know these things are related to the UC and/or crohns. There are two patterns to mine: a) always on tongue, never on roof or sides of mouth b) I'm sure they date well beyond my first troubles with UC. I don't know what either of these things mean, but it doesn't matter because the occurence of a new ulcer will now and forever cause the following reaction: a continuing spiral of brain-activity mulling whether the appearance of the ulcer augurs a new episode of bowel fun... ad infinitum, until the bloody thing goes. Aswell as this annoying state of mind, those bobbly-little-bastards are truly the most irritating things on the planet. OK, maybe I exaggerate, but mine are always like little inflammed bobbles (like a bigger version of those little bobbly fella's your tongue is covered with) - well thats how they look in the mirror... Of course, in your mouth it feels like you have a blinkin tennis ball stapled to your tongue. I end up continually poking my tongue out and rubbing it absent mindedly like some kind of tongue-lolling deviant. Still, what could go wrong in a school...?

Anyway, I've been plagued by three of them this week. I haven't had one for a while. Does this mean it's all about to kick-off? I tried to take a picture for the blog, but they were super-blurry and rather disconcerting. So, I tried google-image searching. That was truly disgusting... particularly when I stumbled upon the condition: 'scrotal tongue'.