Thursday, May 27, 2010

Visiting Tutor

Well, that's the peculiar job title for the work that I do at a boarding house for teenage children of British military personnel. The visiting part of the title might refer to the fact that I don't reside there, just stay overnight when I am on duty. The tutoring bit involves neither teaching nor tutoring as such, since I basically supervise the boarders, in particular the boys. (As a male member of staff I am not allowed in the girls' wing at all.)

There are clear rules about the most important issue, which is their "Health and Safety". Every time they leave the building they have to sign out in a book by the entrance, both time and destination, and then sign back in again on their return. Staff must at all times have a record of every boarder's whereabouts. That's our responsibility.

Then there are meal times, roll call, prep (two hours' homework) and bedtime to adhere to. We all eat the same food, although some boarders tend to buy and eat rubbish from the nearby supermarket. On weekend mornings it is possible to order one's own full English breakfast, which I only eat in the boarding house. At roll call after dinner there is also the daily opportunity to share information. I think I still hold the record for the fastest roll call, reading out roughly 60 names and getting answers.

Then comes one of the, sometimes, stressful periods, prep. For two hours boarders are expected to stay in their individual rooms and study, unless they have signed up to use the computer room. You can easily imagine that some of them come up with all sorts of reasons to leave their room; toilet visit, asking a friend about something, borrow something from somebody, get help from somebody, to print something off in the computer room, which all has to go through me as a VT. They should always ask permission before they go anywhere else. Since I have two floors to keep an eye on, the really "good boys" find me first. Mostly I am stationed on the lower floor where the younger ones are (14-15 yr old), since some of them are among "the more mobile" ones. As soon as they stick their heads out, I am there with a face saying "And where are you going?" But I have to admit that I am a sucker for a clever answer. As long as they sound believable I like to give them the benefit of the doubt, until the day they let me down that is. My idea is to teach them to be open, honest and truthful.

Bedtime is the other somewhat stressful and energy-sapping event, which tests your patience and composure. Any parent will understand easily, just multiply by 35! No, not all of them are tricky to usher into their own rooms, but you have to develop your own style and set your tolerance levels. As any good teacher will know, it never works shouting at them, because that's a sure sign you have lost. Some kids like to wind you up as well, so don't fall into that trap, that's all I can say.

Before they can settle they need to have some bedtime entertainment, no not me reading a bedtime story, but they watch videos, films, listen to music, play video games on their expensive little machines (some still actually read books!). So there is a heck of a lot of swapping, borrowing and negotiating regarding these items before calm is restored. Imagine having 35 of those dog leads that are extendable. One by one you have to pull them in.

The younger ones obviously go to bed first, so the whole procedure has its own repetitive nature, but in the end you get them there, into their own rooms. More than once (every night really) have boarders hidden in another boarder's room, behind the desk, in the wardrobe etc. Normally you gently talk them out, but if they are really silly and stupid they will be gated the following night.

I mentioned "Health and Safety" earlier and that is something I, as a Visiting Tutor, need to keep in mind always. I must for instance keep the door open at all times when I need to speak to a boarder, I cannot close the door behind me and be on my own with a single boy. I never close the door even if there is more than one boarder in the room. I always leave a dragging foot to prop the door open, which otherwise would shut automatically. It is about my safety as well, not leaving myself vulnerable to any kind of suspicion. Even though I have worked in this boarding house for six years, I still have to be vetted and checked upon for criminal activities on a regular basis. I am subject the the most rigorous checks available. And so it should be.

When it comes to the girls I am even more conscious of the demand for absolutely correct behaviour on my part, in particular since some of the older girls really are young women.

I realise that what I have written so far possibly might sound as if the work was not enjoyable, but it often is. As always when you work with young people, and in this case in a role somewhere between a parent, a teacher and an adult friend, you have all those positive moments when you are just another person to whom they can connect. You can share a joke, have an interesting conversation and sometimes give them some of your "collected wisdom", just be there.

So, after a long duty it is time even for the VT to go to bed, something which one boarder thought I never did because I was always there when he popped out of his room, but I have never ever slept particularly well in that room. It could depend upon the fact that I am on duty while asleep, but it just might have something to do with the sad old military bed that I have to sleep in. Good night!

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Monday, May 24, 2010

My Garden

I will try, despite my previous post, to write about animal life in the garden. Thanks to some encouraging comments I have decided to blog about all the topics I mentioned, and I take the easiest option to begin with.

I never thought that I would turn into somebody being teased by his wife for observing and learning about the birds and other animals who visit our garden. Since we moved here over six years ago and I started feeding the birds, I have spotted approximately 30 different species. There have been everything from one-offs like a sparrow hawk to the ever-present greenfinches. Since our garden backs onto a copse, once part of a large mixed forest, we get a great variety of birds.

Before we moved here I had never knowingly seen a greenfinch, but I know them very well by now. One immediately noticeable characteristic is the aggression they show, in particular towards each other. I have blogged about this before, but they never cease to fascinate me.

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They are also the only species who stay on the feeder peg and keep munching away at the seeds. Others, like the great tits, long-tailed tits, blue tits, crested tits, black caps, nuthatches and even robins, pick their seed and fly off to a nearby branch and start trying to crack the seed open.

Some other birds are happy to patrol the ground under the feeders to look for seeds discarded by other birds with a much more acquired taste. So there is room for everyone.

As soon as I see a new bird I try to photograph it and identify it using my European bird book. In doing so I have learnt a lot over the years, their names in both English and Swedish and also something about their habits.

I have in the past blogged about sunbathing birds (getting quite a few search hits), but since I have introduced water I have seen many birds both drinking and taking a refreshing bath.


I even saw a jackdaw clumsily landing to get a drink.


Then of course there are the red squirrels, very agile, quick like lightning and rather unafraid. I have posted many times before with squirrels in the leading parts. Sometimes you see them at their playful best, chasing each other up an down and round our big conifer trunk trying to outwit each other. The other week I managed to catch some of them in full flight across the lawn. Rather special don't you think?

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

I Have Nothing to Write About

Well, that's how it feels at least. I just can't get started. I find it difficult to focus on material for this blog. Self doubt has started to creep in.

I could write about the goings-on in the garden, the in-fighting greenfinches, the cheeky squirrels, the blackbird splashing in the bath, the new bird feeder stand in black metal and preying cats, but I don't.

I could write about the progress of the book I am trying to write (in Swedish), currently at around 100 A4 pages after a lot of editing (deleting mostly), how I struggle sometimes to write anything for long periods of time, the joy of actually achieving something, but I don't.

I could write about my part-time work at a boarding house where I sleep in an uncomfortable bed, supervise spotty teenagers and drink lots of tea, but I don't (partly because of confidentiality).

I could write about how I invigilate GCSE and A-level exams, but that would be plain boring, so I don't.

I could write about life as a civilian dependent in a NATO community in Germany, the imminent relocation of half of this community to the UK, the many second-hand cars in the main car park people are trying to sell before they leave, the anxiety of many colleagues because of an uncertain future, knowing the whole garrison will close in a few years' time, but I don't.

I could write about our own situation, where to move next, where to settle and eventually retire, Sweden (where only I have lived), France (where we only have a holiday home) or the UK (where both of us have lived), but I don't.

I could write about my health and the complication of doctors trying to establish which type of diabetes I have got, type 2 or 1.5 (LADA), but I don't.

I could write about the joy of still having my mother (87), my son and two grandchildren, other family and friends, but I don't.

Why don't I?

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Monday, May 10, 2010

Via Elections to Düsseldorf Medien Hafen (Media Harbour)

After having missed out on voting in the UK general elections due to the simple fact that we have not had our postal voting documents yet, we ran into other election preparations in Düsseldorf on Saturday. (I could use a never-ending string of foul language to describe how I and my better half feel about the missing documents, but I will abstain since the odd under-age reader might take offence.) As some of my readers know, we live in a British NATO community in Germany, and we are dependant on the military postal services. Efficient they ain't!

We had gone to the lively, pulsating and cosmopolitan Düsseldorf just down the motorway. As always we had strolled along the main shopping street into the old town and had our regular meal in Fischhaus, a very popular fish restaurant. To stretch our legs afterwards this time we continued walking along the river further than we usually do.

We had seen some political banners etcetera and quite some police presence, but we did not think much of it. But when we had just passed under a bridge across the Rhine the place was swarming with media people and we realised what was going on. We were in fact standing next to the North Rhine Westphalia parliament building (Landestag), the seat of power for Germany's most populous state, and on Sunday 9 May elections would be held. Angela Merkel's coalition was under threat from the red-green alliance. (Exit polls indicate her coalition parties have lost it.) So in the end we experienced some, almost, first-hand election excitement.

But it got better! We continued along the river walk towards some buildings we had seen from afar and knew might be interesting. And boy, they were! We had to walk past the Rheinturm, which I wrote about in a post in 2007, to get there. We had at last made our way to the old harbour, now transformed into a modern place to work and live. In Wikipedia you can find some more information.

There were some weird and wonderful buildings. Guided tours were everywhere, there were people with maps and brochures and cameras kept clicking. I had held back so far, but now I had to give in to my instincts and I pulled the camera out, delaying our walk by quite a few minutes. Many features from the old working harbour were kept to give some sort of balance to all the ultra-modern buildings. I know I need to go back there earlier in the day because the light was dying as I took these pictures, and it was also overcast. But it was a truly exciting place. This was the first, but not the last time. I'll be back!


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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

It Has Been a Looong Time

First there was the Easter Holiday, which had to be cut short because I had to go to Sweden for family reasons. Then other real life events have got in the way of blogging, so I will simply put up some photos until I can come up with some proper blog post material, maybe about the UK general election tomorrow and my missing ballot papers!

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