Friday, 23 April 2010

National Lampoon’s Animal Road Trip

On Tuesday I returned to school for day 2 of my new career.. I think that the head teacher was a bit dubious of my claim to having received the okay to start, but I was there, the coach was there, the children were all there. It was zoo time.

I remember the days of black and white television, when the likes of Desmond Morris and Johnny Morris (no relation) had a weekly programme all about zoo animals. I think that it was called “Zoo Time”.

When we actually visited a zoo, it was a novelty to discover that many animals were not actually black and white, but that indeed, many animals, fish and birds were brightly coloured. I remember visiting London Zoo and Dudley Zoos as a child, and later on, Edinburgh Zoo.

The zoo that we were visiting turned out to be a 2 hour drive away, but despite the fact that the children on the bus ranged in age from 3 to 6 and a half years of age, they were far better behaved than my old CM2 class, who had only travelled one mile in a coach a week or so earlier.

I am not at all sure that the driver knew the route, as we ended up in a housing estate which had narrow roads and many mini roundabouts. I suspect that several of the latter are now slightly the worse for wear after our passing.

We arrived at the zoo and went down the wrong road. A tricky 3 point turn was carried out and we then turned left down the road that said Zoo entrance, but which also had lots of road works and No Entry signs dotted about.

We got to the car park and it was time for a pee-pee stop for those who could not wait any longer.

Our coach nicely blocked the entrance road to the drive through Wildlife Safari part of the zoo for the next 15 minutes.

We then set off again. The children looked out of the coach windows as we passed ostriches, zebras and other animals which were on my printed list, but the names were all in French and Latin. There was a lion and a lioness too. They appeared to be marooned on a small island. There was electric fencing all over the place.

We found ourselves back in the car park ready for phase two, the walk through zoo. We made our way to the sea lion pool, where a show “spectacle” was in progress. Four big sea lions one smallish pool. We joined other school children in the mini amphitheatre while a keeper put the sea lions through their paces to the accompaniment of very loud music and a hidden woman’s live commentary on the show.

After the show ended, we split into two groups. I was with the maternelle group with one teacher 21 teenies and 5 or 6 parents.

We made our way round animal cages, but most of the animals were hiding away. The chimpanzees were hiding their heads.

Enclosures were rather on the small side.

It was soon time for lunch and we made our way to the picnic tables. I had 6 teenies at my table and helped them open their food boxes, drink cartons etc.

The promised sun, failed to materialise and there was a biting wind. Hoods were put up and we continued to eat and drink, trying to stop food wrappers from flying away.

There were a few tears during the day, but the children were remarkably well behaved. They toddled round the enclosures on their little legs, not able to see much due to their small stature and the fact that the animals were flattened shapes on the ground.

One of the teachers had phoned the zoo earlier in the morning to check that the spectacle with the birds of prey would be taking place at 2.30pm. She was, assured that it would, so here are the children all sitting on the ground waiting for the show to start. 2.30 comes and goes. A teacher is dispatched to find out if the show is happening. She returns with the news that there is no 2.30 show, but that there will be one at 4.30, which is too late for us.
While they sit and wait, they sing a couple of French songs. If this were Britain, the songs would be "We shall not be moved", followed by chanting "What do we want? Birds of prey! When do we want it? Now!
We had another pause in the car park before setting off back to the school. I think that this was mainly because the coach driver had locked up the vehicle except for the side storage where all the rucksacks were, and was nowhere to be found.

The children sat in two big circles on the dusty ground and ate whatever food they had left until he eventually reappeared.
We took a different route back, leaving the side streets and mini roundabouts in peace, arriving back at 5.20pm. A long day for the little’uns.

Here is a clip all about a trip to the zoo

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Harry who?

On Friday I had lots of things to get done in town, including going to Polemploi to tell them that I was starting proper work and to find out what steps I needed to take to come off the unemployed register. I also meant to return a French novel that Madame S, from the establishment where I had been “learning ” French for much of the previous year, had loaned me.

However it poured with rain all day without any let up, and I stayed indoors.

It’s just as well that I did as the College phoned me to say that the contract had been received from Polemploi (????!!!) and that I could therefore start at school on Tuesday. (Monday was a national holiday).

I contacted the school to let them know the news and to confirm that I would be able to go to the zoo, and to ask if I should take a picnic.

The weather forecast for the Tuesday suggested warm, sunny weather with a top temperature of 20 degrees. The Wednesday would see a return to cold, rainy weather and a high of 9 degrees.

My French family have been following my dealings with polemploi and my various work experiences with interest. Here is an extract from an email received back then. In which I am compared to Don Quixote tilting at windmills, only in my case tilting at the national education system, Alice in Wonderland and even as a successor to Harry Potter!!

« Avant il y avait Don Quichote contre les moulins à vent, maintenant il y a Rigsby contre l'éducation nationale!

Il faut positiver en disant que cela peut faire la trame d'un futur best seller "Rigsby au pays des Kafkonautes" pourrait être un bon titre.

J'attends avec impatience les récits des nouvelles aventures de "Rigsby au pays des Arignaquois"

Harry Potter aura bientôt un successeur!”

I suspect that the French think that I am a bit of a nutter, but as those of my readers who actually know me will attest, I am as sane as the next man. (also, fortunately none of them know how to leave comments).

Friday, 16 April 2010

A false start and something fishy

The first of April was day one of my new job as an admin assistant. The recent putting forward of the clocks by one hour, means that it is still quite dark at 7am.

I loaded up my “school bag” with things that I thought that I might need. Big French / English dictionary, tea bags, coffee, notebook, pencil case. I really did not know what to pack.
I drove through the “rush hour” town traffic. This involves a stretch of road in the centre of town around 700 metres long, but there are two lanes in each direction, and drivers do like to swap lanes at the last minute, pedestrians walk out into the road, come out of a side road in front of you etc.

I found the school again and parked in the car park which is a few hundred yards away.

I was a bit early so I stayed in the car and waited for the school traffic to arrive.

There are out of hours care staff on site from 8.20am, to look after children dropped off early before the official school starts at 9am.

The children began to arrive, some with rucksack bags almost as big as themselves on their backs, others pulling bags, like brightly coloured small shopping bags or suitcases on wheels.
I entered the school grounds and the head teacher spotted me.

As we stood in the playground, I noticed that children were sneaking up behind people and sticking bits of paper onto peoples’ backs. I felt a bump on my back and reaching round, discovered a small fish sellotaped to my coat. Then it dawned on me that it was 1st April the U.Ks April fools day, or Poisson d’avril (april fish day) as it is called in France.

The fish sticking on went on all day when the children were not in class, and the fish got bigger and more colourful as the day progressed. The children were having a great time and thought that it was the funniest thing ever.

She showed me to a very small office which had room for a photocopier, a tiny work bench, and a row of 3 computers. An even smaller room led off this one and this was the head teacher’s office.

The head teacher teaches her class on Tuesday, (school is closed Wednesday) Thursday and Friday. Monday is her admin day, and a teacher comes in to take her class on that day.
I was introduced to a VS (vie scolaire) assistant, who also works at the school, but who helps the teacher in the classroom. She would show me what to do for the day.
I ended up doing a bit of typing. The task was to make name tags for 54 pupils who were going on a trip. “Where are they going?” I asked. “Auzaux, next Tuesday”, came the reply. I would be going on the trip too. At this point I did not realise that the destination was actually the Zoo (pronounced zoh) in French...... so we were going au zoo.

The one computer.which seems to work in the office, uses Open Office, which I have never used. Of course the programme is the French version, the keyboard has a slightly different layout for some of the letters and of course there are all the French accent keys too.

Once the badge templates were ready, complete with school details, teacher’s names and mobile numbers etc, photocopy the template onto thin card, then I had to write the kid’s names on the badges. Then came the laminating of the badges, then the punching of holes, the cutting of wool to thread through the holes so that the badges could be hung round the correct necks on the big day.

At lunch time I joined the teachers in a classroom for the meal. I had been expecting great things, but it was not very exciting at all.

The head teacher informed me that there was a problem. I asked what the problem was, and was told that I could not start in my job yet, as the contract had not yet been finalised.

I told her that two days previously I had phoned the College to check that it was still okay to start on 1st April, and that the lady that I had spoken to had not said not to start.

The problem was the insurances. If anything happened to me driving to or from work or I had an accident at work etc, I would not be covered until the contract was completed. This would mean that it was unlikely that I would be able to start until after the Easter school holidays i.e for another 3 weeks. Anyway, I said that I might as well stay at school for the rest of the day and that was that.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Warm fish and four candles

On Sunday we had our first choir practice with the children’s choir. This event took place in the Espace multicultural of a nearby town.

Eventually the children began to appear. The original dream of our musical director (and author of this years main project) had envisioned 2 separate childrens choirs. Unfortunately the music teachers in the local schools were not too keen. Only one music teacher stepped on the plate. He would be able to supply a choir of 15 children.
This figure has now shrunk to 10....

What fun we had, standing for most of the 4 hours. The children were only with us for the first 2 hours.
The room that we were rehearsing in had a stage and facing the stage, steeply banked cinema seating. This is also the local cinema, so the stage backdrop was also the cinema screen.

It was very hot in the room but after 2 hours we were allowed out into the buildings main entrance corridor, where tables with food and drink had been set up for our rest break. Not a chair in sight to sit down on though.

We are so far behind with our preparations for the piece that I am not looking forward to the performances.
We have to dress completely in black with no sparkly items. Only our faces and hands will be visible.

There have been workshops to build the scenery that will be used during the performances and last Friday there was a costume making afternoon, with 6 sewing machines in use. The children will presumably be fisherfolk or fish or something like that. There will be a fishermans wife, a fisherman and the fish (who is really a prince who has had a spell cast on him). There will be adult soloists too, but we have yet to meet them.
Can’t you just feel the tension and excitement building?.....

for those of you who don't know the story, here is Rik Mayall telling the tale of the fisherman and his wife.

 My younger sister used to love him in "The young ones", in fact I think that she thought she was him, as she practiced his facial expressions and phrases from this and his other TV shows.
Here is a clip of Rik in angry young poet mode

After the practice, I returned home and got ready to have an evening meal with Madame, my tenant. She had invited a couple of her friends who want to go on holiday to Scotland, and wanted information about distillery visits etc

So it was an evening of 5 courses, listening to people speaking fast French in the local accent.
By the time it was over, I knew that I was in for an night of dreaming in perfect French ; if the music whizzing round my head let me enter the land of nod.
But before you go, here is the famous "four candles" sketch from the Two Ronnies.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Have you heard the news?

On Monday I saw the head teacher of the first school again. I gave her a copy of the letter that I had written (edited by M from my French family), that I had emailed to the Inspection Academique, quitting my job as a teacher of English in primary schools.

She told me that she had phoned someone who had told her that it was possible for me to hold the two jobs at the same time. I explained that as my working day started at 9am it would be physically impossible for me to fit the hours into the week. (The primary schools are closed all day Wednesday).

The next Headmistress was not happy at all. Being a bit sensitive, a bit psychic I pick up on such things.

That and the fact that she was turning crimson and shouting “But what am I going to do!, what am I going to do?”

She decided that she was going to telephone Someone. She wanted me to take the class right now (10 minutes early).

CM2 were as wearyingly, strength-sappingly misbehaved as per usual. I struggled onwards. This would be their last lesson with me. Yes!

Ten minutes after the official end of the class, the headmistress re-appeared.

She stomped off to the back of the class and sat down looking furious.

I finished off what I was trying to do, and the children soon forgot she was there and carried on as per usual.

I finished up. The head teacher remained seated and barked out “So this is your last English lesson here”

“Yes” I replied, keeping all trace of glee out of my voice and looking mournful.

“But if you stop teaching, I will not be able to cover for the teacher who teaches Spanish, so there will not be any Spanish lessons either” “What is going to happen?”

There are some conversations which it is redundant to get involved in. A younger me would probably have crumbled and found some way of continuing, but as the lessons had been legalised teacher abuse I had no incentive so to do.

The fact that she should have been in the classroom with me throughout the lessons was another issue, especially as they are such a difficult class to manage.

I said “Goodbye” to the children and headed off to teach my 7 year olds for the 25 minutes that remained of their lesson time.

As I walked off down the corridor, I could hear the head teacher screaming (yet again) at the class regarding their abominable behaviour.

My last lesson at the other school was the following morning. The children seemed to enjoy themselves and we ended up with Simon Says. Then the lunchtime bell rang. The teacher explained that this was their last lesson with me, because I was going to work at another school.

Some of the boys came up to me and solemnly shook my hand. Two of the girls put their arms round my legs.

Then it was time to hit the road. Ouch! Now what did I do that for?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

No, yes, maybe Friday 26th March

I had still not heard anything confirming that I could start my admin assistant job on 1st April.

Instep had phoned me a week or so earlier to update them on my progress in finding a job, so I walked into town to visit them at their new location.

The secretary said that she did this type of contract all the time and that it would not be legal for me to do the two jobs.

My ex-Instep advisor appeared, she thought that it would not be legal, but that it was injuste The secretary phoned a friend, who said that it would be possible to do both jobs at the same time.

A Dutch lady appeared, who speaks numerous languages, and who teaches English in primary schools as well as working for Instep. She was having lunch with 3 senior staff from Polemploi who would definitely know. She took my email address and said that she would let me know the definitive answer. (A week later and no email received from her).

I went home for a bite to eat and phoned my new school. Luckily the head mistress answered. She could see me at 5pm. How many hours would I be working per week?....

I drove to the village which is about 16 minutes from home. The school is on the lowest level, but the village sprawls up the hillside. I can see a clock tower on a hill, with a crucifix monument in front of it, and a church tower.

I was early so I rambled up the road leading to the church. There seems to be one small café, but it might also be a small shop. It appears to be closed.

Back down the hill, the pupils are spilling out of the school to be met by parents or grandparents, on foot or by car.

I introduce myself to the headmistress and we have a chat in her classroom.

My work timetable is decided upon. On dear! I will be starting at 9am. This means 4 full days and 2 hours on the Friday, so it will not be possible for me to do the teaching job as well.....

She seems friendly, as do the other teachers who pop in and out whilst we are chatting.

I have opted to take the school dinners three days per week at a cost of 2.80 euros per day. We don’t eat with the children, I will eat with the teachers in one of the classrooms. Sitting on tiny chairs at tiny tables.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Sophie’s Choice ..... not!

I spoke to the head mistress of the other school and she was not happy either. She was sure that I would be able to do the two jobs, and that I could do teaching 2 afternoons a week. I said that I would have to see what hours the new school wanted me to work.

Thursday I didn’t have to teach English. I was to accompany the children to the local theatre to see a “Spectacle”. The whole school was going and coaches rolled up outside the school to transport us to the Espace Multiculturel which was about a mile away.

I decided to accompany CM2 (I know I must be completely mad). Everyone lined up in twos. Interestingly, Each of the CM2 class has to hold the hand of a child from a younger class. This did not please some of the boys, who ended up having to escort a little girl.

My lot trooped onto the coach. A teacher had got on first and I thought that I would get on last, with the CM2 teacher. However, one of the boys was acting stupid, so the teacher started screaming at him, she had already warned him once and now he was going to have to stay at school and miss the show.

She hauled him off towards the school, and I got on to the bus.

As I walked up the aisle, telling the kids to fasten their seatbelts, the coach set off.

We arrived at our destination. Where was CM2’s teacher, asked the other teacher. I explained that when last seen she was dragging Antoine back to school. She thought this was incroyable. The coach driver had counted 2 adults and had therefore set off, assuming a full complement of teachers.

We waited in twos for the rest of the school to arrive. Well, that was the theory. CM2 were running on pure adrenaline and kung fu seemed to be the order of the day.

Eventually the other coaches arrived with CM2’s teacher and Antoine on board.

We trooped in to the auditorium and the teachers engineered it so that the teenies were at the front of the stage, and the oldest kids were at the rear.

We sat, and we sat. Well I sat and the children revolved in their seats and made other manoeuvres.

The rumour went round that another school was supposed to have arrived and that we would have to wait for them.

Whether this was true or not, I don’t know, because about ten minutes later the “show began”.

Now I have been to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival many times and have seen performances of varying quality. The show that I had to endure was the worst and most boring piece of theatre that I have ever had to sit through.

After 2 minutes I was wondering how I could make it to the exit without anyone noticing me.

On the stage was a desk with drawers, a stuffed fox, some old trunks, and a mirror with lights round it.

A man dressed in a suit entered the auditorium and wandered down the side aisle whilst music played. He took his sodding time, but eventually made it onto the stage. He walked about some more, pulled one coloured net handkerchief out of a pocket and threw it into the air, then another, then another. He picked them up and threw them into the air, keeping all three aloft.

Next he started babbling on. He rolled up his left trouser leg. He sound a red, high-heeled shoe in a box and put it on. He minced about the stage a bit. Next he found an old fashioned, girl’s style dress, which he put on over his suit. He then minced about some more.

He opened various boxes during the performance. The things that stood out for me?

There was a bowl of live goldfish on his desk. From time to time he would whizz his hand round and round in the bowl, in sequence he took 3 fish out of the bowl (I expect he had some fish shaped bits of carrot in the base of the bowl).

He placed the “fish” on the desk and squished them hard with his hand, then he took the sharp carving knife that he had been parading about with and cut up the “fish”. The older children near me were getting upset because they thought he was killing the goldfish.

He started throwing rock salt into the air, some of which must have landed in the bowl with the live fish, ditto garden compost.

He put on a blonde wig. He found a blonde doll which he plonked in a tin bath and covered with talcum powder.

He took a pair of scissors and started cutting off bits of his wig. He plonked the wig on the dolls head and continued chopping away at the wig, and then cut off the dolls hair.

He picked up the doll and dangled it by its legs, jerking it up and down to let the talc cascade onto the floor.

I think you get the gist. A performance well suited for 6 – 12 year old children.

I was speechless, as was the other assistant who comes from Ireland.

I did not get a chance to discuss the show with the French teachers.

Can you imagine all the dead fish and bald babies that would probably have been the result of such a show in the UK? The Royal Society for prevention of cruelty to animals and the RSPCC (cruelty to children) picketing outside the theatre.

The “actor” answered questions from the audience, yes they were real fish, yes it was real compost etc etc. I think he said that the piece was based on a children’s book.

In France Arteests are highly regarded. It doesn’t matter how crap they.

I have done a bit of further research and found that the play is based on a famous children’s book “Les malheurs de Sophie” by the Comptesse de Ségur in 1859

We trooped out into the daylight to wait for the coaches. The usual suspects misbehaving.

Here is some futher info about the theatre company for anyone interested. It is in French, though. Then a bit that appeared in the local paper. I had forgotten all aboout the cutting up of the earthworms.. A story that helped to put the sic into classics.

Google's translation: .THE JOYS OF SOPHIE or experience of the world. then the original French article.LES BONHEURS DE SOPHIE ou l’expérience du monde«Les bonheurs de Sophie» par la Compagnie les 198 os est un spectacle offert par la municipalité aux scolaires jeudi 25 mars à 14h 30 à la salle du jeu du mail.

"The happiness of Sophie" by the Company of the 198 bones is a show hosted by the municipality at the school Thursday, March 25 to 14h 30 to the mail room of the game.
The story: Sophie is a child who does not disaster will experience disasters but in experiences.
Driven by his curiosity to experience new sensations, she cuts earthworms, pluck the wings of a fly, cut his hair and eats up gluttony indigestion ... we guess a little history.
She is one of the great classics of children's writing, it is revisited as Fifi blade of steel.

L’histoire: Sophie est une enfant qui ne va pas de catastrophes en catastrophes mais va d’expériences en expériences.
Portée par sa curiosité à connaître de nouvelles sensations, elle découpe des vers de terre, arrache les ailes d’une mouche, se coupe les cheveux et mange par gourmandise jusqu’à l’indigestion… on devine un peu l’histoire.
Elle fait partie des grands classiques de l’écriture enfantine, elle est revisitée façon Fifi brin d’acier.

Friday, 2 April 2010

We don’t need no education?

C agreed that it seemed as though they were offering me a job, but not as a disability assistant, but as an admin assistant in a school. No other details such as number of hours etc

I said that I would maybe trot along to see the lady on Tuesday next week, but C said that the school staff would be on duty until 5pm, so I could go along now to find out what was what. “Otherwise you will be wondering all weekend” she said.

Reluctantly I went home, changed my clothes and walked to the Lycee about 20 minutes away.

I was given directions to the office of Vie Scolaire (School life).

I ended up in the office of the lady who had phoned me and she completed some kind of application form on my behalf, me supplying the information.

Did I have a RIB (bank details slip) and my carte d’identite?

I said that I hadn’t, but that I could email copies to her.

I then signed 3 copies of a contract “lu et approuve”

I now have to wait until I hear from her that the paperwork is all in order and has been completed before I do anything. I can phone the head teacher of the primary school, located about 15km away from home, to let him know that I have been appointed. (I’m sure that he will be delighted to had an Englishman for his / her admin assistant).

The post is for 6 months, renewable in blocks of 6 months up to a total of 2 years. It starts on the 1st April and is for 20 hours per week. This means that I should get the social/ medical cover that I am lacking at the moment. Holidays are unpaid and it is probably minimum wage at 8 .?? euros per hour, “but it’s a paycheck Jack”

The problem is that I don’t know my timetable and it may not be possible to continue teaching my 3 current primary classes nor the student nurses.

So some people are not going to be happy with me at all.....