Friday, 6 October 2017

Going to the gym - A lot like crawling around on the floor looking for a lost contact lens

I've started going to the gym recently in Leeds.  It was Joy's idea really, I started off just tagging along with her for a free session.

I've been a member of a gym before, but it wasn't too successful.  Although at that time I was allocated a personal trainer, I basically just had one session with him where he worked out a program for me and then after that, if I ever bothered to turn up at all, I would just go and do the workout he'd recommended minus all the boring bits or the bits I didn't like, and then go to the cafe next door and have a slice of cake and a latte with full fat milk, so it didn't really do much good at all.

The new gym I've joined is called Tribe, or at least I think it is.  It has a fancy logo TRIB3, which I think is supposed to spell Tribe, but it may indeed simply be TRIB3.  There is no actual gym there where you can just turn up and do your own thing.  There are only classes.  I've never really known what circuit training is, but I imagine that's what it that I've been doing for the last few weeks.

Generally we start on the treadmills for about 5 minutes and run till we're out of breath and till our heart rates reach their maximum, which is measured based on your weight and age by something you wear round your chest.  This information is relayed to screens all around the gym so you know how close you are all the time.  The ideal is to be in the Red Zone, which is above 90% of your target heart rate.

Then you go and pick up some dumb-bells for about 5 minutes and do various Resistance exercises with them.  It's pretty dark in there and there are 3 sets of dumb-bells; 5kg, 7.5kg and 10kg.  The first time I picked up two out of the dark I could barely lift them so I assumed they were the heavy ones but they were only 5kg.  I've never really attempted to do anything with my upper body.  I naturally have big thighs and a big backside and mostly over the years I've done running or cycling or sports like football and rugby but I was always a lot more interested in cardiovascular fitness than muscle definition or strength.  I've never been any good at stuff like press-ups and so lifting dumb-bells with my two floppy bits of celery that I have instead of arms was hard at first, although it seems to be getting easier.  And although I'm still flabby round the middle, it feels less so than when I started. Working with dumb-bells is very good at keeping me in the moment, because I constantly have to remind myself not to drop them on my foot or my face, and the higher in the air they are, and the more sweaty my hands get, the more afraid I am of doing that.

The third station is called Intensity.  It's very varied.  It can be running around in a little box drawn on the floor, or doing squats or starjumps or jumping about with no bodily coordination whatsoever as if you're a drunken disco dancer or touching hands fingers knees and toes to other body parts.  Or it can be lifting kettle bells or medicine balls and throwing them around (without letting go obviously) Whatever it is, it usually leaves me with legs of jelly.

In an average 45 minute session you usually go round each area 3 times.  Often I finish with Intensity and that means that I generally end each session crawling around on my hands and knees with jelly legs and sweat in my eyes as if I'm looking for a lost contact lens.

The sessions are quite expensive at £15 each, although so far I've had some free sessions and also they have multi-buy offers which make it a bit cheaper.  I don't know if I'll be able to afford it long-term but I've been enjoying it while it lasts.  Although the sessions are demanding, the trainers who run them are really supportive and unless I am a poor judge of character, they don't appear to be sadistic maniacs.  They are really friendly and happy to advise and correct mistakes and seem genuinely interested that we're getting something out of it.

I thought I might be more self-conscious in there because a lot of the time I lack the coordination or the flexibility to do the exercises properly but a) it's dark in there so no-one else can really see you and b) everyone else is in their own world of pain, so they're too busy for sight-seeing.

The changing rooms have free lockers and showers with shampoo and body wash and deodorants and moisturiser all provided, so there's no need to lug around a big bag of toiletries with you when you go.  Also, if you order it in advance you can get a recovery shake for when you finish.  These cost £4 each.  The sessions I've been to so far have generally been early on a Sunday morning, or last week I went to the 6.30 am session on a Wednesday.  Although I don't like the getting out of bed part, once I'm there I get to feel virtuous that I'm doing exercise while lots of people are still asleep.

For me, the main point of the gym is to help improve my fitness for running, and I think that's already happening.  My times are already improving on my regular runs and as well as that it doesn't take as long to get my breathing back to normal when I finish running now.

Overall, even though I just copied this idea off Joy and didn't think of it myself, it's been a good experience.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Linguistic Determinism and Japanese - Going back in time

I had my Japanese oral exam this week.  I took it in the Liberty Building at the University of Leeds. The Liberty Building was built on top of my old school swimming baths.  I never really liked swimming, it didn't seem like real exercise if you couldn't tell that you were sweating.  I went to Leeds Grammar School between 1979 and 1986, and at that time the school was on Moorland Road on the edge of Woodhouse Moor in Leeds.  It's moved now to a bigger site outside the city and they let girls in now, but when I went there that's where it was.  The buildings that the school used to occupy have been swallowed up by the University, and so I'm effectively back in the same place I was when I left school.

Just next to the Liberty Building used to be the old gymnasium where I took my A Level exams.  So in 31 years I've moved about 50 feet.

I'm studying Linguistics now at the University, and we've been reading about Linguistic Determinism, the idea that the language you know affects how and what you can think.  I've been taking Japanese as a Discovery Module, along with Spanish.

Taking Japanese has been a humbling experience.  I've always been quite good at languages, as long as I could read them.  The mixture of Kanji, Hiragana and Katakana that make up Japanese writing have left me at times feeling like I was 4 again, before I could read English. Certainly in the Japanese exam I took before Christmas I felt illiterate, because I could barely read or write anything.

Usually with languages, it's the speaking part I find the most difficult, but with Japanese it's the other way round, because at least with speaking I don't have to read anything.

As part of my exam last week, I had to do a mini presentation.  I was allowed to take in 3 photographs to help me.

Despite my struggles with Japanese, my teacher Sensei Manami has always been on hand with good advice.  When I told her before Christmas I was really struggling, I expected some sort of soft soap and sympathy approach, but her advice boiled down to just two words: work harder!  It was good advice.  Her advice before the oral exam last week was to realise that we only know a limited amount of Japanese, so the best thing is to construct sentences out of the Japanese we know, rather than trying to translate our English into Japanese.  We just don't know enough to do that.

I chose to do my mini presentation about my Lejog trip of 2014.  Constrained by lingustic determinism this is what I said.

Kore wa shashin san-mai desu.  Kono shashin ni wa watashi no jitensha desu.  Ni-sen ju-yo-nen ni nagai ryoko jitensha de ikimashita

Here are 3 pictures.  In this picture is my bike.  In 2014 I went on a long journey by bike.

Kono murasaki iro no gyo sen-mairu deshita.  sen roppyaku kirometeru.  mainichi hyaku kirometeru. muzakashikatta desu.  kantana dewa arimasen.

This purple line 1000 miles is.  1600 kilometres.  100 kilometres each day.  It was difficult. It was not easy.

Hitori ikimasen deshita.  Issho tomodachi to ikimashita.  Ju-hachi nin deshita.

I did not go alone.  Together with friends I went.  18 people there were.

Kochira wa Erwan san.  Watashi no tomodachi desu.  Mareishia-jin desu.  Isha desu.  Byoin no Sukoterandu de shigoto o shimasu.

Here is Erwan.  My friend.  He is from Malaysia.  He is a doctor.  Works in hospital in Scotland.

Nimotsu wa basu de ikimashita.  Kochira wa untenshu deshita.  Namae wa Chris desu.

Luggage went by bus.  Here is the driver.  Name is Chris.

Ju-nana yobi deshita.  Tenki subarashikatta desu.  Hitobito subarashikatta desu.  Totemo tanoshikatta desu.

17 days it was.  Weather was wonderful.  People were wonderful.  It was a lot of fun.

I was pleased with what I managed to say.  It didn't come anywhere close to describing the experience in full.  For that you can look here   I used my mother tongue for that, and it contains a lot more detail.  Chris was so much more than a driver, for example.  But limited as it was by Linguistic Determinism, it did at least contain some fundamental truths.

I may not have moved very far in 31 years.  On Thursday I was sat doing an exam just next door to where I've taken lots of other exams before.  From my entrance exam in 1979 to my final A Level exam in 1986.  You might say that although in Time I'm going in a straight line, in Space I'm going round in circles.  But at least I'm still learning.  And I'm still trying to describe the world as best I can through the languages I know.

Friday, 4 November 2016

Reasons to love English - Part One

I started a degree in Linguistics a few weeks ago, 30 years later than I originally intended to go to University.  I just couldn't get rid of this nagging feeling of having missed out on my education, so I thought I'd better go now, rather than add to that 30 years of regret.  I keep being told that University is about more than just an education, so amongst other things, I've involved myself in running a language group for some overseas students, who are all from either China, Japan or Korea.  Partly to welcome them to Leeds, and partly to try and explain some of the peculiarities of English to them.

What's written below is something that started out as a lesson plan for this week's session, but then it morphed into more of newsletter type thing.  I'm putting it on here in case anyone else finds it interesting.  Particularly people who I've already struggled to explain things to and who know me through English Steps might enjoy it.  Anyone else, please feel free to skim through it or not read it at all.

Compound nouns are the Cat’s Pyjamas!


If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. I think Albert Einstein said that, and I agree with him. Even though I’m a native English speaker, I sometimes find it hard to explain English to others in a way that they can understand. Here is my latest attempt.

A bit about me

My name is Jonathan. I grew up in Leeds in the 1970s. It wasn’t easy; all the carpets and curtains had terrible patterns on them and I had to wear a tie for the whole decade. Also, I mostly wore really itchy cardigans made of wool that was the colour of mustard. My mum had bought a massive ball of the stuff and she wouldn’t stop knitting me clothes made out of it. 

To add insult to injury, I was never allowed a haircut until it was at least 3 months overdue, and even then it would be a bad one. 
See above picture for evidence.

In the 70s there were only 3 channels on TV and apart from the news, it was mostly westerns and re-runs of Laurel and Hardy. There was nothing much to do in my spare time except run around and play football. That was great fun and it also helped me not to get overweight. Another plus about running a lot was that it helped me to keep warm. We had no central heating, only a gas fire and for six months of the year our house was freezing. Just to be able to go to bed on a night I needed hot water bottles and electric blankets. If you don’t know what they are, maybe I’ll explain that another time.

In those days, even reading involved exercise, because if I wanted a book, I had to go to the library to get one. And there was no internet, so if you wanted to know something you had to a) ask someone who knew the answer b) look in an encyclopaedia or c) remain ignorant.

But hey, I survived and here I am in good old 2016! And what am I doing now? Well, I’ve just started a degree in Linguistics at Leeds University and for a bit of extra fun I decided to run a language group with the intention of helping some foreign students with their English, and hopefully to make them feel welcome in my hometown of Leeds.

But just to be clear: I’m not an expert... on English or anything else. I’m at the very beginning of University life. The campus is full of people with giant brains who are experts on all sorts of things, so if you need an expert, go find one! But what I am is English. I’ve lived in England for a really long time, and some of that time has been spent ‘noticing things’. Anything you find written in this document is just a result of my observations of my own life. I haven’t fact-checked it with any boffins on high.

What are my aims for this language group?

This language group is only 1 hour a week for 5 weeks, so let’s be realistic. Even if I was a really good teacher, I couldn’t teach anyone the whole of English in 5 hours. But at the very least, and as the title of this newsletter suggests, I want to try and find some ‘Reasons to love English’. I love English myself, and I would just like to try and point out some of the reasons why. 
Is English easy or is English hard?

I would say it’s about 50/50.  Lots of things are easy about English. There’s only one article (‘a’ and ‘the’) and no complicated verb endings to learn (only -s for third person singular). But some things are very hard, for example the non-existent link between spelling and pronunciation, word order, stress, prepositions, tenses, phrasal verbs etc.

Some of the difficulty I think is that we have so many little words. For example, we use lots of little multi-word verbs (phrasal verbs) instead of using big words. Like instead of ‘disappoint’ we say ‘let down’ and instead of argue we say ‘fall out’. Knowing the individual meanings of the two separate words doesn’t help, because put them together and they mean something else entirely. And we use lots of prepositions, and we put them all over the place, even using them to end sentences with. Like I just did!

We had an interesting discussion in today’s group about whether academic English or social English is easiest to become competent at. Academic English being a challenge in that it’s quite technical but then it’s also focused in a particular range of vocabulary whereas social situations could demand a very wide range of topics being discussed.

Are English people friendly or unfriendly?

It’s hard to make generalisations, but from my own point of view English people are quite a friendly bunch, and I think Leeds in particular is a friendly place to live. But I’m a local so maybe I’m biased. Leeds is also very cosmopolitan, with a really wide mix of cultures and nationalities. I like to think of it as a smaller, friendlier version of London. However, there were mixed views in the group. Generally, the staff at the university were perceived as being very helpful but in the wider community it was a bit hit and miss.

Nobody calls me chicken!

During today’s language session I warned the students not to worry if they get called things like sweetheart, love, honey, darling, dear, pet, chicken, duck, mate or pal. Although it might seem odd to be called by names that are more appropriate for your partner, or for an animal, I assured them that it’s quite an affectionate thing. I’m glad I explained that because in China especially it would be quite insulting to be called chicken or duck. I promised them that in England no offence is intended!

Here in England, you’ll often be addressed that way by complete strangers in shops and people in the street! But don’t be alarmed! It’s generally meant in an affectionate way. Often these things will be said by older people to younger ones, but it could be anyone to anyone, so watch out!

Is English a boring language or is it fantastically creative and flexible?

Definitely the second one. To me, it’s an amazing source of creative ideas. For example, I love compounding, or word combining. Words like brainstorm, brainchild (one of my all-time favourites) weather bomb, bullshit, wallflower, superstar, feelgood, freestanding, heartbreak, sweetheart, tea bag, sleeping policeman, sugarcoat, speed bump, speed freak, nutcase, nutjob, weatherbeaten, swimming baths, idiot-proof, birthday suit, highlight, lowdown, suitcase, nutcase, headcase, nightmare, meltdown. Just reading that list gives me a warm glow of happiness inside. Those words alone should be enough to make you love English. We had a lot of fun with brainchild, birthday suit and idiot proof in particular in the group.

What I did on Saturday

On Saturday I went out for a meal to an Indian Restaurant in Headingley called the Cat’s Pyjamas. Which got me thinking... And I didn’t stop thinking for quite some time…
I started thinking about animal based idioms and phrases. For example.

He’s the cat’s pyjamas, he’s the bee’s knees.
You’ve made a right dog’s breakfast of that. See also pig’s ear.
Why can’t you sit still? Have you got ants in your pants?
Mum’s not speaking to me. I’m in the dog house.

I think English is brilliant at this sort of creativity. But I have a theory that this creativity is partly a substitute for being direct. English people are often hesitant about saying unpleasant or uncomfortable things plainly and straightforwardly. We shy away from talking about death for example, so we say that someone has ‘kicked the bucket’, ‘shuffled off’ or ‘passed away’ instead of just simply ‘died’.

Similarly, many English people don’t like to openly get annoyed, or ‘make a fuss’. We’d rather sit and eat cold soup in a restaurant than speak up and send it back, but then we’ll go home and say to each other ‘Well, I won’t be going back there again’.

Some of this is to do with childhood conditioning. If I ever complained or got angry as a child, I was made fun of and told off by my mum who would say things like ‘Stop whining’ and ‘Ooh, temper, temper!’. So much so that I find it hard to be openly annoyed to this day.

We discussed in the group, the fact that this desire to be polite and say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’ and to avoid confrontation isn’t necessarily compatible with being direct about our wants and needs. Even asking someone to pass the salt in England when you’re eating a meal with them can turn into a pantomime of ‘Would you mind awfully, if it isn’t too much trouble, passing me the salt?’ In the right tone of voice, it’s perfectly fine to say ‘Pass the salt, please’ but we don’t seem to realise this.

It’s one thing that I find refreshing about mixing with non-natives, they do tend to be quite direct and it’s good to hold a mirror up to my Englishness and realise that I find that same directness quite difficult. But, if we’re not careful, by not being clear and stating our real feelings we can easily end up being a bit ‘two-faced’ as we’re eager not to give offence when speaking to someone, but then we might go and have a moan in private afterwards.

Topical news - Halloween and Bonfire Night

On Halloween in Britain (31st October) children (mostly children, some adults too) hollow out pumpkins and put lights inside them and dress up as witches and skeletons and go round knocking on people’s doors saying ‘Trick or treat’ and usually adults give them sweets or money. By the way, trick or treat basically means ‘give me something nice (a treat) or I’ll do something nasty to you (a trick)’. Mostly in England people are tolerant and give out treats and so it rarely gets to the trick stage.

Apparently, this tradition stems from an old Irish folk tale. There once was a man named Stingy Jack (stingy is a word that means mean and ungenerous with money and it’s nothing to do with ‘sting’ like a bee sting). Jack was a pretty horrible person, and one time he played a trick on the Devil. Along with some other very bad behaviour, this eventually resulted in him not being allowed into either Heaven or Hell. As a result, he had to wander for all eternity in the darkness. But the Devil at least threw Jack a burning coal out of hell and so Jack hollowed out a turnip and put the burning coal inside and used it for a light. Over the years, partly I imagine because turnips are almost impossible to carve, and because the legend spread to America where pumpkins were more common than turnips, people started using pumpkins instead.

The story of Bonfire Night however, is based on real historical events from the year 1605. That year, some Catholics tried to plant explosives (gunpowder) underneath the Houses of Parliament in London. They were plotting to kill the Protestant king in an explosion so that they could put a Catholic King back on the throne. This was known as the ‘Gunpowder Plot’.

On November 5th the plot was discovered and the plotters were arrested. The man who was going to set off the explosion was called Guy Fawkes. He was charged with the crime of treason and thrown into prison. He was scheduled to be executed in a pretty horrible way so he jumped out of a window and killed himself instead.

Each year in Britain people go to Bonfires (originally this word comes from the words bone and fire as people used to burn animal bones to keep evil spirits away) and set off fireworks. It doesn’t seem to be as common as when I was a child, but people also often make replica ‘Guys’ by stuffing straw and newspaper into old clothes and these guys are thrown on top of the bonfires before they are set alight. Groups of children often make a ‘guy’ together and in the run up to Bonfire Night they take this round asking for a ‘Penny for the Guy’. A bit like ‘Trick or Treat’ people generally give them some money for their efforts.

Because these are traditions that I grew up with, I never really questioned them too much, but I did wonder this week whether they might appear strange to a non-native who encounters them for the first time.

The magic of word stress

English is a stress timed language, and altering the stress on different words in a sentence can change the meaning, even without changing any of the words. For example. Would you like a cup of tea? If you stress different words, it can imply very different things.
Would you like a cup of tea? making it clear which one of a group you’re addressing.
Would you like a cup of tea? Are you even bothered?
Would you like a cup of tea? Or would you prefer a pot?
Would you like a cup of tea? Or would you rather have coffee?

It’s hard for this to make sense written down, but if you say them out loud, you’ll get an idea of the different stresses and what they mean.

Well, that’s the end of week one. Thank you to all the group members for joining in so well and so enthusiastically. Without you it would have been a very dull hour! More exciting stuff next week, I hope.  I may even try some jokes!  Oh no!

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Leeds Half Marathon - Am I a runner yet?

I did my first half marathon on Sunday.  I've run plenty of 10Ks in preparation, so I told myself it's just two 10Ks back to back and then a bit more.  But it really wasn't.  

Normally I run in the early mornings when it's about 5 degrees if I'm lucky, but on Sunday it was hot enough to prepare a cooked breakfast on my own head on the way round.  

I don't like forced jollity, so listening to the DJs from Radio Aire (or it might have been Radio Leeds, they're all the same) being super jolly for 45 minutes before the start put me in a bad mood.  I suppose they were only trying to do their jobs and whip up some enthusiasm, and they were good enough to remind us about every 20 seconds that it was hot and to remember to drink loads, but then they handed over to some aerobics instructor who tried to get us all to wave and pretend to ski in unison, and I thought 'Bollocks to that, I'm here to run, not to do the Birdie Song'.  

Been there, done that, got the T-shirt
As I was standing round at the beginning, I saw some people being interviewed and I imagined that someone was interviewing me and saying 'So, Jonathan, why are you running the Leeds Half Marathon?'.  And I thought about what I'd say.  

I thought I might say 'I'm doing it for lots of reasons, but I'm also doing it for no reason at all.  I'm not doing it in memory of anyone, or to raise money for anything.  I'm only doing it for myself, to see if I can.  I did a lot of cycling for 10 years, until I got sick of it, and so I decided to run instead, because it's simpler and you need less equipment'.

Until recently I wasn't a proper runner.  Despite 60 odd Parkruns over 2 years, I haven't quite adapted yet.  I've still been wearing cycling shorts and carrying a bike computer, as if I was only pretending.  But for my birthday Joy bought me a proper runner's Garmin that goes on my wrist, and then on Saturday I finally got rid of my falling to bits 11 year old cycling shorts.  And also on Saturday, I went and bought a runner's bumbag so that I wouldn't have to have an inhaler and a phone and keys digging into my legs through the pockets of my flimsy new running shorts during the run.  And Joy also lent me a hat, to keep the sun off.  I've never been so close to being a runner.

If I was in a DJ induced bad mood before the start of the run, I was transformed during the first couple of miles by seeing all the well wishers at the roadside who'd come out of their houses to cheer on the 8000 plus runners. Some were kind enough to set their garden hoses on us (hopefully they're not on a water meter), and many had prepared bowls full of jelly babies and Haribo and oranges and an old lady was holding out some grapes towards me, but I was too tired to reach them.

A couple of the residential homes along the way had brought some of their residents out in wheelchairs to wave at us. There's nothing makes me feel so grateful for running as seeing people who don't have the option.  And there was a Sikh man playing a big trumpet (fairly badly it seemed) and a steel band. 

There were lots of kids on the route too, stood in lines trying to high five as many runners as possible.  If they were close enough to reach I was happy to oblige.

It may have been nerves, but even though I went for a pee just before the run started, I was desperate for another one as soon as we got going.  I really didn't want to lose any time by stopping to use a toilet, and I did toy with the idea of just peeing myself deliberately at one point, but then I saw some bushes alongside Meanwood Road, and so I ran in there and things were much better after that.  

I knew that the route was uphill a lot in the first half, and in theory I thought it would be easier in the second half, but that's not how it turned out.  I did the first 10K in 58 minutes which is the same time as I ran the Abbey Dash in November. At the halfway point I was still optimistic (for about two minutes) that I could do the whole thing in under 2 hours, but then between the 8 and 9 mile point I could feel my legs just fading away.    

I don't normally drink when I run, but because it was such a hot day I took on water whenever possible.  A lot of it I tipped over my head.  There's an old film called the Games with Michael Crawford in that I saw about 30 years ago where he's trying to run the Marathon in less than 2 hours in the heat, but he goes a bit mad in the attempt and starts stumbling around in the road falling into spectators and I tried not to end up like him.  When I realised I couldn't do it in 2 hours I decided to try and run it in around 2 hours 3.  I was inspired watching the serenity and fluency of Eliud Kipchoge in the London Marathon a couple of weeks ago, and I thought it would be nice to run half as far as him in the same time, even if it was with a lot less style.  But even that became too much.  

I got some nipple chafing from 10 miles, and the last 3 miles were really hard and very stop / start.  I heard some people around me saying 'Never again!', but even though I was suffering I just kept thinking 'Yes, I'll do it again, but hopefully on a flatter route and in the cold and I might then be able to break 2 hours.  

If the stats aren't recorded, it didn't happen
As it was I did 2 hours 6 minutes which was pretty good in the circumstances. Because I was very tired, I didn't fully appreciate all the good stuff that was happening at the roadside as I was running, and although I thanked the ones who gave me sweets and used hosepipes on me, I wasn't able to thank everyone, even though I wanted to.

It was lovely that so many people turned out to make it a really good event, and it made me feel pretty good about the City of Leeds.  The last half mile or so was probably the best, because there were so many people cheering us home.  And thankfully Joy came to meet me, and drive me home, and that was lovely too, not just because it stopped me from having to walk too far or look at bus timetables. 

At the end, when I was slumped on the ground drinking Powerade a man said to me that it was the hardest half marathon he'd ever done, and I asked him how many was that out of and he said a hundred, and so I didn't feel so bad for finding it hard, when it was my first time. But hopefully not the last.

They gave me a T-shirt and a medal at the end, and the medal was so big it nearly smashed the screen on my mobile phone, and it says something like 'I finished the journey' on it.  I think in some ways it would be better if it said 'I survived the journey'.  And unlike people on reality TV who say they've been on a journey even when they've never left the studio, it was nice to have actually been on one.  

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Parkrun - There's a clue in the name but it's more than just a run in the park

Although I grew up in Leeds, I didn't live here for 24 years between 1990 and 2014.  I came back here in April 2014 to offer some support to my mum, because she was seriously ill.

To enable me to come back, I gave up my job and moved away from my circle of friends.  I'd built a network of friends on Teesside, which largely grew out of St Francis Church Ingleby Barwick. People I'd been on holiday with, and on crazy cycling expeditions, and spent Christmas at their houses, and had countless Sunday dinners with (and Saturday mornings and Friday and Saturday nights).

When you go somewhere new, it's hard to replace those kind of connections overnight.  But you have to start somewhere.  Going to places where other people are is a start.  Especially when you live on your own.

Apart from the mum-helping part, I felt a bit lacking in purpose in Leeds.  I can't remember now why I looked up Temple Newsam on the internet, maybe I was trying to reconnect with familiar places. Anyway, I noticed this thing called Parkrun.

I hadn't run for over 12 years.  The last time I remember running was around 2002, after entering the Great North Run.  I started training for it, but found it really hard to improve, and so I gave up.  Later that year I started getting swollen feet after walking my dog, which turned out to be Rheumatoid Arthritis.  At first my symptoms were really bad, and even walking downstairs was painful.  Running was out of the question.  Just getting out off the bath, unscrewing the lids off jars, and tipping water out of a saucepan were challenges enough.  The hospital did put me on some drugs and that improved things a lot, but I still never considered I'd be able to run again.  I just thought the impact would be too much.

Anyway, from about 2009 I started taking some bigger and better drugs (Methotrexate) and the pain in my joints wasn't so bad after that.  But I still hadn't considered running again, until I moved to Leeds.

The first Parkrun I did was over the first May Bank Holiday in 2014.  I thought about training for it, but I only got my Parkrun barcode printed at the very last minute, and so I never got round to it.  I was amazed that I managed to run (I say run, that may be false advertising) the whole 5K without stopping.  My time was 35 minutes and 46 seconds.  It was a hot day, and on the finishing straight a girl called Sarah shouted to me 'Try doing it without a jumper next time'.  Good advice, I thought.  I went for a coffee afterwards at the Park cafe, and I got chatting to Sarah.  It turned out she lived in the same place as me, and she offered me a lift home.  She was training for a marathon, and subsequently she gave me some good advice about local routes to get some practice in.

Here's me almost beating a young girl at running.  These days I can't catch her anymore, she's really improved...
So far so good, except for at least 3 days after that first Parkrun, I couldn't move.  My muscles and joints felt like they'd been smashed to pieces.

However, because I'd opted for the cunning plan of doing a really slow time on my first attempt, once I started putting in a bit of midweek training, I found that I could beat my PB each week by about 30 seconds.  So my first 9 Parkruns at Temple Newsam were all PBs.  That's the kind of statistic that has to plateau eventually...

One week in July 2014, Temple Newsam wasn't on, and so I looked for the next closest run.  It was at Woodhouse Moor in Leeds, a place I'm familiar with because I went to school right next door to it for 7 years (when Leeds Grammar School was still in central Leeds).

Leeds Grammar School Under 16 Rugby Team - 1983-1984.  Graham Tyler (front row, third from left is now my Parkrun nemesis)
I have lots of memories associated with Woodhouse Moor from those schooldays.  Most of them involve balls and violence.  I once went Crown Green Bowling there with George Yap in 1979, before he emigrated to Toronto.  We couldn't be bothered with any of that using the magnets on the side of the balls to curve them in to their targets, we just preferred to thrown them as hard as we could, and try and knock the jack completely off the green.

I also once got kicked really hard in the unmentionables by Rakesh Anand during a game of British Bulldog on Woodhouse Moor, but more satisfyingly, I also hit Duncan Owen in the back of the head with the perfect snowball there too.  Life is full of ups and downs.  In my sixth form years, I used to meet girls from Leeds Girls' High School there at lunchtime, (or rather I used to go there with people who were meeting girls and try to somehow get noticed in my own right.  With limited success).

I left school in 1986, and until that July Parkrun I hadn't been back since.  Coming back to Woodhouse Moor after all those years, it felt like coming home.  Anne and Sam and the other Parkrun organisers give it such a welcoming feel, that it always cheers me up being there.  It also has the massive plus that it's a flat course.  Temple Newsam has the so-called Hill of Boom, which you have to run up twice, and it's a killer.

Another plus about Woodhouse Moor Parkrun is the involvement of Wrangthorn Church (St Augustine's), which borders the park.  They put on free teas and coffees (real coffee too, you know like in cafetieres, not just instant) and cake on the first Saturday of each month, and this has turned out to mean much more to me than just a hot drink and a sitdown after the run.

Garmin - Never leave home without it!
The first time I went there was in July and as well as talking to the Vicar Joanna Seabourne for about 5 minutes, which would prove important months later, I also got chatting to a Polish girl called Marta.  She'd only just moved to Leeds, so I offered to show her round, to help her settle in.  We met up quite a lot over the summer, and at one point she even did a small amount of housesitting for me while I was away at Youth Camp.  The only thing that changed over time was my perspective.  I realised I was probably the one who was most in need of the friendship, and the help settling in, even though I was the one in my own country and home town.

In November 2014 my mum died, very late at night one Thursday.  Although still in shock I still went to Parkrun as usual on the Saturday, and I remember it being a beautiful day, and I felt so glad to be not just alive, but able to run.  Over coffee afterwards I chatted to Anne and Roy and Daisy, who was in an advanced state of pregnancy, and again Parkrun did its magic, and I realised that life goes on.

During the week that followed I was trying to arrange my mum's funeral.  Because she wasn't part of any religious faith my brother and I thought it would be appropriate to hire a humanist minister to do the funeral.  We couldn't have been more wrong.  We told him what we wanted, and he went away and he must have copied out the verses from about 100 Helen Steiner Rice greetings cards, and cut and pasted them all into this ridiculous order of service which bore no relation to the mum we remembered (the only saving grace was that he sent us the draft for approval).  We were separately appalled, and with less than 48 hours to go before the funeral, we decided unanimously to sack him, whatever the consequences.  We said we'd rather just do it ourselves if it came to it.

I know lots of priests, but I didn't know any in the Leeds area.  Oh, except for one.  Joanna Seabourne, who I'd met after Parkrun 4 months earlier, for 5 minutes.  At Wrangthorn.  5 minutes was long enough to know that I'd trust her with the funeral.  By some fluke (or possibly miracle), she had a vacant slot at just the time we needed her, and she gave us exactly the funeral we'd wanted all along.

I've now done 51 Parkruns.  There was a double header on New Year's Day, where I managed to do numbers 49 and 50 back to back, and I did my 50th back at Temple Newsam, where it all started, which pleased me no end, since I'm such a fan of symmetry when it comes to numbers.  29 of them have been at Woodhouse Moor, 11 at Temple Newsam, 9 at Wakefield, including a Valentine's Day run with Joy, and 1 each at Huddersfield and Roundhay Park.  

For quite a while, I got obsessed with how fast I was at Parkrun, and from that initial limp-a-round that I did in nearly 36 minutes, I did get my time down to under 25.  It has gone up again recently, but these days I'm happy to go around in 27.  It might be two minutes longer, but I save the time I used to spend being doubled up at the end.

I recently completed a 10K (The Leeds Abbey Dash).  For a long while, I held out the hope that I could run it as fast as the 10K I did in 1986 (around 47 minutes) but in the end I was satisfied with 57.  I didn't think 10 minutes longer was bad considering I've added 30 years to my age.

I'm not as fast as I used to be.... But then I'm not as slow as I used to be either
I sometimes think I'm too driven, and too single minded about Parkrun, but then I'm so wishy washy in so many areas of life, that it's nice to have something I'm so certain about wanting.  I got properly obsessed with getting to 50 and as a result I've done every one available since early September. Some weeks between then and now have been properly rubbish for me, to the point where I've had whole weeks where the only half an hour that made any sense to me was the Parkrun half an hour.

Although it's coming up for 2 years since I moved back to this area, my life still lacks direction, and I'm still finding it hard to put down solid foundations.  But Parkrun is one of the few things that gives me a purpose and some stability in my life here.

I've moved around a lot since 2013, and struggled to find anywhere that really feels like home.  A few weeks ago I thought about going back to Teesside, and trying to pick up parts of that life I left behind, but I don't want to give up on Leeds just yet.  It takes a really long time to build up a network of friends and contacts in a new place, and to put down roots, but that square of green at Woodhouse Moor, next to where I spent so much time between ages 11 and 18, and where I now run round and round at almost the right age to book a Saga Holiday feels as much like home as anywhere these days.

Despite my inability to settle down in other ways in life, when I'm running in the Park I always feel like I belong there, and that I'm part of something bigger than myself.  And it stops me navel gazing for a while, and keeps me looking at the bigger picture.

This Christmas Day I walked to the Park on a beautiful clear but cold winter morning, did the run, then I stood around chatting with a hundred people in Santa hats and dressed as elves, who like me were drinking coffee and eating chocolates that had been brought by volunteers and set up on a makeshift table in the middle of the Park.  And at that moment, I felt that I was in the best place in the world.

And that's how I felt the other 50 times too.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

I amsterdam - or at least I wish I was

I went to Amsterdam this week, with Joy.  And it was very good.  Excellent even.

I first became aware of the Netherlands during the World Cup of 1978.  They were nearly undone by Archie Gemmill's wonder goal for Scotland in the group stage, but then, after that scare, they managed to get all the way to the final.  Despite their ability to play the so-called Total Football, they mostly seemed to win their games in 78 by smashing the ball into the net from absolutely miles out.  Some of their shots seemed to originate in space.  This was especially necessary against the ultra-defensive Italians.  It was the only way, as they couldn't get anywhere near the goal.  like this..

Although the Dutch lost in the final to Argentina, they became my second favourite team from then on (actually considering England were my number one team, they were pretty much my first favourite team).

In the year 2000 I read the book Brilliant Orange by David Winner, and if I didn't like the Dutch before, I did then.  His literally brilliant book interweaves the story of Dutch football with the story of the Dutch themselves, and it's wonderful.

I have to admit, I did sort of go off the Dutch in 2010 when their football team got to the World Cup Final again, only to try and win the thing by forgetting they were Dutch, and kicking lumps out of Spain in a mostly forgettable kung fu fighting yellow-card-a-thon, which was a million miles from 1978.  But then in 2014 there was Robin van Persie's header, and all was well again.

The College Hotel, Amsterdam
Anyway, my love for the Netherlands came flooding back to as soon as I arrived on Sunday in Amsterdam.  All the signs are in English, the taxi driver wore a tie and was very polite, the hotel was a beautiful converted College full of eager trainee hospitality staff, and there are bikes everywhere.  But not bikes full of middle-aged men in lycra, bulging out everywhere.  They're full of stylishly dressed Dutch people, making it all look effortless and relaxed.

Look out!  It's rush hour...
I know the English have a reputation for not learning languages, but nowhere is as easy to get away with this as the Netherlands.  If the locals speak Dutch to you and you clearly don't understand, they effortlessly switch to perfect English.  If you don't understand the Dutch menu, just turn it over and there's English on the other side!

Sunday evening, shortly after checking in, we went for a meal to a place called Bouf, just a short walk from the hotel.  The lighting was so subdued I couldn't read the menu.  This contributed somewhat to both of us deciding to have the 4 course 'Chef's Choice', which was just whatever he felt like bringing us.  This began with an amuse-bouche, or appetiser of a small piece of meat on a piece of slate.  This panicked me as I worried it might be one of the four courses but it wasn't, and it was followed by a veggie risotto course, a fish soup, a meat course and a pudding.  None of the courses were very big, and I didn't really stop being hungry all night, but I liked the surprise aspect.

The restaurant is on a bend in the cycle path, so while you're sat there, you see a never ending stream of cyclists riding directly towards you, but then veering off at the last minute.  And mopeds.  For some reason mopeds are allowed on the cycle path.  They even have some really tiny two seater cars, that are a bit like mobility scooters, and you can ride them on their too.  Who'd have thought it?

Museumplein Amsterdam
The guidebook says Amsterdam is pretty small, so you can walk all around it quite easily in about 45 minutes, but a bit like Tony Blair and the deployment of those non-existent WMD, this estimate didn't turn out to be quite true.  Despite that, after breakfast on Monday (at Wildschut) we tried to do just that. It probably helps if you walk in a straight line, instead of around in circles, but hey ho!

At the Vondelpark on Monday
The weather was beautiful on Monday and so is the Museum District with its big open green spaces, and as well as going there, we also found the Vondelpark, and walked round there too.  After we'd walked ourselves almost to a standstill we stopped off for some Bitterballen (veggie goo in batter) and chips with mayonnaise, and then carried on towards the City Centre.  The queue for Anne Frank house was massive, so it was just as well we didn't really want to go there anyway.

Also, there were millions of boat tours going on, but they all had rooves on, and the boats looked like mobile greenhouses except for instead of tomatoes they seemed to be growing old people, and it was too sunny to be under a roof, so we hired a pedalo and explored the canals that way instead.  An excellent decision.

After pedalling round for an hour, we got back on dry land and stopped at another cafe.  The service was very slow, and it took most of the day to get our order.  I had a Dutch sausage toastie with tabasco and cheese, and Joy had a BLT.  We were in there so long, we gave up on trying to find the red light district that day, and decided to head back to the hotel.  Due to the foot knack we were now suffering from, we had to make one more stop on the way back to rest our feet and eat some giant pancakes.  It was nearly 5 by the time we'd had those, so it kind of ruined our appetite for a big dinner.  As a result we popped in to a deli on the way back and bought wine, cooked meat and some crackers and had that for tea instead of going out again.

Tuesday we were up early to go the Rijksmuseum.  It was another beautiful sunny day, and we stopped at a bakery for a breakfast of coffee and pastries, where again the lady who served us spoke immaculate English, and then we went to look at some art.

Here I am somewhere near the Night Watch by Rembrandt
I've sometimes found art galleries boring, especially when they're full of 200 identical portraits in gold frames, but some of the stuff in the Rijksmuseum is really good.  They've even got really famous stuff I've seen in books or on TV, and even though a lot of the paintings are worth billions, you can go right up to them and lean in with your face and look at the brush strokes.  And a lot of them are 400 years old, but they look new, like they were just painted yesterday.  They're not at all dusty.

There was a self-portrait by Van Gogh and the Milk Maid by Vermeer, and the Night Watch by Rembrandt, but my favourite was a village scene from the 1600s.  In the days before photos and Facebook, where people now feel the need to do a status update just because they've eaten an orange, all those people would have lived and died their whole lives unseen and unknown by history, and the only record would be paintings.  I know nothing about art but what I noticed was how real and 3d many of the images appeared, and also how fine details like velvet and the pages of books were rendered with an almost photographic quality by the artists.  Speaking as someone who can't draw at all, I found it all pretty impressive.

After the museum, we had a waffle each (I had mine with cherries and whipped cream) and then we caught a tram into the city to find the red light district.  We could tell we were getting close when it started to look a lot like Blackpool sea front, and when the smell of weed was in the air.  At first it was just shops selling sex toys and bondage gear, but then I saw what I assumed at first glance to be the most lifelike tailor's dummy I'd ever seen.  When she started moving around, I realised of course it was a prostitute in the window.  There were quite a few more in the windows next door, and although I didn't like to make eye contact, they mostly were on their phones looking pretty bored.  There seemed to be one street in particular where the windows were mostly full of large black women.  A lot of the windows were empty or had curtains drawn, so I guess they were either on a break or had customers.

I'd started to wonder if it was possible to get high from second hand smoke, since the stench of drugs was pretty overpowering, but decided to challenge my equilibrium further by having a beer.  I don't really like beer, but somehow it tastes nicer abroad.  Joy had one too, and then nearly walked under the wheels of a muttering woman on a bike.  After that, we were going to go into the Botanical Gardens, but didn't bother because of the entrance fee, and we also went to the outside of Rembrandt's house and didn't go in there either, but I had a Rembrandt burger from just round the corner, and we shared another beer.

It was sunny and warm and it was great to be able to sit outside with a drink at the end of October while it's raining at home.  We got another series of trams back to the hotel by about 5, and feeling knackered we didn't want to go out for a meal, so had one in the hotel instead, although it turned out to be very small.  It was all very nicely presented and tasty, but sometimes what you really want is just a big plate of stodge.

I felt very sad that night and the next morning that our short time in Amsterdam was over.  I knew I'd miss the mood of the place and the lifestyle and the little bakeries and the people and the works of art, and the weather and the sitting outside with a beer.  The hotel staff asked me on checkout how many I'd give the hotel out of 10 and, without thinking about it too much, I said 8.  I never like to give anyone a 10 because there's always room for improvement.  But then they made me justify the two marks I'd knocked off, so I ended up getting into a protracted discussion about what they could do to improve the place, but it was early and I just wanted to go really.  I had a plane to catch.

Having said that, the hotel was generally excellent, in fact one of the nicest hotels I've ever stayed in, although they didn't give us any complimentary coffees on the last day, and they gave us one pillow which had no filling and which was like sleeping on a pillow that didn't exist.  Oh, and also the room had the most confusing system of switching lights on and off I've ever seen.  It seemed to be only possible to switch lights on and off from the opposite side of the room to where the lights were.  But all these things are minor, first-world quibbles.  It's a lovely building, and the rooms are great, and the staff were all incredibly polite and helpful.

Coming back to England, it was of course raining in Manchester, and it was full of English people, and I missed the Dutch with their 'sit up and beg' bikes and their relaxed multi-lingual natures.  Going abroad is like holding a mirror up to your own country, and since I've been back, the parts of England I've been spending time in, just seem that little bit more bland after Amsterdam.

Monday, 27 July 2015

CELTA - Adventures assemble. Thinking outside the box, finding your inner Super-hero and starting to believe.

Last year I went on a crazy expedition, cycling from Land's End to John o' Groats, with a group of 18 strangers, many of them North Americans.  We journeyed the length of Britain following a continuous purple line, all in the name of conquering an acronym called LEJOG.  In total I cycled 1094 miles in 18 days and I almost destroyed my thighs in the process.

For this year's attempt at self-destruction, I didn't go anywhere.  I assembled a new group of 18 strangers but this time, my adventure took place in a basement in the centre of Leeds. and this time it wasn't my legs that got destroyed, it was my brain.

This year's five letter acronym of doom was called CELTA.  It's an intensive 4 week course designed to equip you to teach English anywhere in the world.  The course is 120 hours long over 20 days, containing 8 teaching practices (TPs) totalling 6 hours, as well as 4 written assignments, and lots and lots of homework.

I know some people who've done the CELTA before.  They told me it was really hard work, and not to expect any sleep, or any free time at weekends, and I took all this with a pinch of salt.  I thought it was like the legal warnings at the gates to the Monkey Enclosure at Longleat, which say things like 'Be warned!  If you stop, these monkeys will tear your car to pieces'  And you think 'Yeah right, they probably have to say that for the insurance'.  And then you go in and before you know it, they're making off into the trees with your windscreen wipers and your wing mirror and the handle off your sun roof.  With the benefit of hindsight, I'd have to say that, if anything, those people who warned me about CELTA, they played it down.....

Here is Green Group.  All except for Sunny (we couldn't find him).  Again North America was strongly represented...
I chose to do the CELTA at a place called Action English in Leeds, and I have to say, they were excellent throughout.  If you're contemplating this kind of madness yourself, you couldn't go to a better asylum.

My journey to the CELTA course every day over the last 4 weeks has reminded me very much of my schooldays.  I went to school between 1979 and 1986 less than a mile from Action English.  My walk up from the city centre was the same in both cases.  My younger self used to walk to school from the centre of Leeds to save the 15p bus money each day, first of all for sweets and then latterly for beer. The daily walk reminded me what temporary creatures we are, as despite the passing of 30 years, much about the walk remains the same, even if my bones are a bit more creaky these days.  

Despite LEJOG and CELTA being very different activities, there were certain parallels.  Not only the acronyms and the number of participants, and the presence of some North Americans, also some of my routines were the same.  As on last year's trip, I got into the habit of eating the same things for lunch every day, to save a bit of thinking time.  This year's favourite was cheese and red onion.  Also, like last year, the evenings became something of an eating competition, although this year instead of 3 course hotel meals, I called in almost every night to Trinity Kitchen and tried almost every food they have on offer.  Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican, Middle Eastern etc,  Each day the tea-time blow out on a big takeaway was my reward for surviving the day.

CELTA is full of mountain top moments.  Either you're on top of the mountain, or the mountain is on top of you...
As for the course itself, it was full-on from the start.  The first input session on Day 1 was about classroom management.  It was made very clear that as teachers of English we are there to create an environment which facilitates learning, not to stand at the front imparting wisdom.  I wrote in my notebook during it. 'Take your ego and throw it out the window'  And I meant it in two ways:

1) You're not there to be a wise man or a sage, a clown, a show-off or a stand up comedian, You're there to help people learn.  If they're not learning, you're not doing your job properly.  

2) You're going to get plenty of feedback on your performance, and some of it might be bruising.  It's not personal, so don't take it as such.  Whatever they say to you, whether you like it or not, take it on the chin and keep going.

But before we taught any lessons ourselves, we had to see how the experts do it.

I've been working for a charity in Leeds called St Vincent's since last October.  Mostly being a teaching assistant but I've also done a bit of amateur teaching.  After a few months of volunteering I thought my knowledge of the English language was pretty good, but one observed lesson with an expert was enough to reveal whole chasms of missing knowledge. I knew nothing about phonemes and pronunciation and word stress and intonation.

Another thing that stuck with me was my first TP tutor saying that you can have fun in the classroom, but you have to earn the right.  I figured out that was mostly going to be by knowing things, and getting something of a handle on phonemes later in the course was one of the parts of the course I enjoyed the most.

Hasta la vista Phonemic chart!!
It was pretty clear from meeting all the tutors on the course, that they practise what they preach. Every input session was run along the same lines as we were meant to run our own lessons, and every minute was worth paying attention to.  I remember thinking by Day 4 that the tutors were all sadists who were enjoying our suffering, but that wore off pretty soon.  It was undoubtedly just the tiredness talking.  I realised the course is hard for them too, and I know they felt our pain, but they had to be hard on us to get us through. Even in our darker moments and when it was necessary to give us difficult feedback, I always felt that knew and understood what we were going through.  

If only I'd had the mental capacity to take it all in.  I was writing so fast every day I nearly set fire to my notepad. My brain was so overwhelmed most of the time, the hamster in the wheel of my brain hadn't just died, he'd set on fire and his charred corpse was going round and round the wheel and setting fire to the bedding in the bottom of the cage, which then was becoming a wider fire hazard, which had the potential to burn the whole house down.  

How do I get myself into these scrapes?
My first real crisis came on the morning of Day 4, before my second Teaching Practice (TP2).  At 6 am that morning I was ready to quit the course.  I'd been awake between 10 pm and 2 am writing my lesson plan for the following day but then I was so tired I'd closed the file without saving the changes and so when I woke up again at 5 am all those changes were lost.  Despite the calamity, I talked myself into going in anyway, and the lesson went okay in the end, even if the lesson plan was a bit ropey.

During my volunteering at St Vincent's, even when I've had to take classes myself, I've never felt like a teacher.  I always felt like an impostor, someone pretending to be a teacher, but during my TP3, I had a period of around 15 minutes where I actually felt like a teacher.  It was like the Matrix subway fight between Neo and Mr Smith.  I knew I couldn't beat him yet, but I knew I was good enough to have a go.  I was starting to believe....

However, progress can have its ups and downs.  My TP4 on Day 10 wasn't such a success.  I was so tired by then.  I'd been following a sleep pattern advocated by Leonardo da Vinci, which involved going to bed for really short periods of sleep and then getting up again about 3 times a night.

Here is our basement classroom.  Escape routes via both door and window are possible....
It was a sunny day.  Our classroom was in the basement, but it had steps from outside the window leading back out into the real world, and partway through this TP, I really wanted to climb out the window and run away.  That hour was like an eternity.  It was definitely Crisis Number 2.  My intro to the lesson was too obtuse and abstract, and nobody understood it except me, and the lack of clarity knocked all the timings for the lesson to pot.

However, the feedback I got after it was my favourite of the whole course.  It was that you can't think outside the box, if you haven't built the box.   I've been told before many times that I have a tendency to go off at creative tangents and I often have trouble keeping this in check, but sometimes it's necessary to hold myself back. And so the rest of the course and TPs 5-8 were all about building the box. 

Also when I start talking it can easily become mangled into gobbledigook, so I realised the safest thing to do was to get the students to talk instead of me, and luckily that's what we're supposed to do anyway, so problem solved!

Despite the emotional ups and downs on the course, I always tried to keep a sense of perspective, and remember that although it was a course I really, really wanted to pass, it was still only a course.  I remembered reading about a female athlete in the Olympics who'd trained for years to perform in a race lasting minutes, and just before her race she calmed herself down by thinking 'It's only the Olympics'.  It helped her not to freeze on the day.  At times early in the course when I thought I might fail, I reassured myself that even if I fail, the experience wouldn't be wasted.  It's only CELTA!

Something else that helped me keep a sense of perspective was thinking about my mum, who died last year.  Again, this reminded me that it was only a course, and not life or death.  My mum left me a small amount of money when she died, and I spent some of it on doing the course, so even if I'd failed, it would have been her money I was wasting, not my own.  It was probably just as well she wasn't around during the course though, she would have only worried that I was running myself into the ground and kept pestering me to eat better and get more sleep.

It's a strange and artificial thing to teach a class with a tutor and 5 of your peers observing (the 18 trainees were split up into 3 tutor groups of 6 trainees each), but I tried to always remember that this wasn't a gameshow or a simulation, these students were real people, with real lives and real learning needs, and ultimately the least stressful way to deal with the whole course was to remember that it was all about them.  The times during my TP when I felt most at ease were when I tuned into a difficulty they were having and a lightbulb went on, and I thought 'Hey I can solve this'.  By a fortunate coincidence, one of the main emphases of the teaching was to tell us to take the focus away from the teacher and put it on the students so doing that actually worked in my favour.  Also, it helped me to stay calm and feel less of a rabbit in the headlights.

Mutual support.  Sometimes it's the only thing that stops your brain melting...
Mutual support from my peer group was another great help on the course.  It's sometimes difficult for experts in a subject to really understand the problems that novices face, but we had the support of each other, and we knew exactly what each other were going through. It's a good system (and another similarity with the Lejog I did).

The last week of the course I decided to scrap the Leonardo sleep pattern, and go to bed around 10 pm, but get up again at 4 am, and do 2 hours finishing off before the day ahead.  I was definitely more productive early morning than late on.  Thankfully TPs 5-8 showed a steady improvement and in each of them I tried to build on the successes and iron out the failure of the ones that had gone before.

There were a couple of 'A-ha' penny drop moments in my last few lessons where I knew that learning was taking place. And it's a wonderful feeling.  I had spent what seemed like 14 hours preparing for each 1 hour lesson, and getting a few of those moments made it all worthwhile.

Here's a drawing I did during my buddy Zahra's last TP, to try and encourage her to find her inner Super-Hero.  I really tried hard to find mine during the course.
The tutors on the course would often compare CELTA to taking your driving test.  All those lessons and maneouvres and 3 point turns and reversing around corners and stuff, but it's only to get a permission to drive.  The real learning takes place after.  

I've said before that during really intense experiences, we don't have whole happy and unhappy days. We only have moments, and the swing from elation to despair can happen in an instant.  Well, I had enough moments of elation on the CELTA to know I want more.

The first weekend of the course, and to celebrate finishing my first assignment I'd been to see the new Terminator movie, and it was Arnie who saved my last lesson too.  I'd given the students some famous people to talk about and to one group I gave Arnie and also the Dalai Lama.  They had to decide as a group who they looked up to most and he would go through to the final.

Sadly, Arnie lost out and the last 2 minutes of that lesson were taken up with my tutor laughing uncontrollably at my muttered disappointment at his demise.  Just as well as by then I had nothing left to pad out the lesson.  The laughter that you have to earn, maybe I deserved it by then.  I'd worked as hard as I possibly could.  I doubt I could have given any more.

For some reason I often see parallels between scenes from my own life and scenes from Action Movies.  As well as Arnie, I felt a lot like Neo from the Matrix during CELTA.  Grappling to understood this crazy code he's been given to deal with.  In my case it was English I was trying to deal with, not the mathematical code of the Matrix, but by the end, I was starting to be able to read the code. Not just the overall language anymore, but I could see the building blocks too.  Stative verbs, phonemes, collocations, superlatives, lexical sets, modifiers, tenses.  I was starting to see them all.

Come over here and use a stative verb in a continuous tense (if you think you're hard enough)...
I'm not sure what the future holds now I've passed the course,  Initially, and now that I'm properly equipped, I'd like to go back to St Vincent's, and take my own classes, and put everything I learned on the course into practice.

But whatever I do in life, I now know that for a few hours at least I was an English Teacher.  And a proper one at that.  Not a pretend one or an impostor any more.  And that knowledge is in itself worth a lot.  It's nice to have started to believe....