My vocation?

I love my job. I tell my colleagues and other people this quite often, but it was not what I initially wanted to do.

Years ago  I was desperate to work in the voluntary sector but couldn’t get a job, I knew that I couldn’t afford to learn to drive but most jobs in the sector called for a driving licence.  After many kickbacks, and a list of unpaid jobs which were supposed to give me access to the unofficial networks, I desperately needed to make myself more attractive to employers.  As an alternative I decided to get a training qualification as many voluntary sector jobs seemed to value that qualification.

I applied at college and discovered that I should have started in September – it was now almost Christmas.  I was accepted on the proviso that I caught up with the work, partly because the person who interviewed me knew me as a former mature student before I went to university.  I was a bit dubious because it meant that I had to find some teaching practice and I didn’t really want to teach just get a bit of training experience, but she suggested a colleague who might offer me some extra-numary slots.

I found myself getting quite interested and was almost looking forward to it, but then found that my very first teaching session ever would also be the one that was to be observed, due to the lateness of my start date.  I was petrified that I would not be able to start the lesson and rehearsed the introduction over and over again .  I knew my subject, my lesson was planned to the minute, I had audiovisual material, and I checked the video for quality.  The class entered, my observer sat in the back,  and I started to teach.  I flew.  I loved it.  The sound on the video failed, so I had an extra half hour to fill and still I coped.  My observer found one or two things to comment on, but then asked how my other sessions had gone and was amazed that it was my very first session.

I never looked back. I realised that I wanted to teach, just that.  I would do it for free if I couldn’t do it for pay.  I found a string of temporary teaching jobs.

The problem was that the classroom experience is not the be all and end all of teaching adults.  The politics, the lack of funding, occasional workplace bullying and insecurity caused me to question what I was doing, but I knew that I just had to keep on sharing my knowledge.  Teaching is vital to me.  I think I am good at it.

Now I work in the NHS as an IT trainer.  Some people might say that training isn’t teaching.  Technically they are right, but I know that I still have that commitment and I think that I use very similar skills.  There is no explicit pre course assessment, our training needs analysis is perfunctory at best, but I am now pretty good at assessing the needs of my learners before even a one hour course. I use different training methods, I paraphrase, I plan, I evaluate, I reflect and consider my courses very carefully.  Even when I have trained the same course hundreds of times, I still do it with freshness and enthusiasm (in many ways more so).

The tutor who once interviewed me for the teaching course eventually became a colleague, and she once said that you are only as good as your last teaching session  – she was very right. Most days I feel that I have done a worthwhile job, reasonably well.  Some days I am filled with happiness, though occasionally I get very down if a session is not up to the standard I feel capable of.

Tonight I got the chance to train people who are new to computers and I enjoyed it immensely.  At the end of the session I  used a technique that I sometimes do when the subject matter is very theoretical.  I asked each of the learners what they felt they had learned (one example each) and one thing that they did not understand, given that  many people find the subject quite difficult.  I was pleased to iron out all the misunderstandings and fogs.  Yet again I felt the joy of job satisfaction.  I felt very lucky that this is my job, that I get paid a decent wage for doing something that I love so much, and feel is so worthwhile.

I pondered whether this is really a vocation?  Is it only teaching of children that is a vocation?  If I improve the lives of people, give them confidence, enable them to function better in the modern world, am I not adding quality to their lives?  I try to take the love and  the values from my life as a Friend into my job.   I try to do the job to the best of my abilities, because I think it is right to do so.  I understand that the word vocation to mean the career one feels called to.  I feel that I am called to do this, and I feel blessed to that calling.

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I am Autumn, hear me roar!

Autumn is always a favourite time of year for me  – I believe it is partly because I was an autumn baby.  Most of the most significant things in my life have happened in Autumn, and though meeting my beloved happened in spring, we married in Autumn.  I lost my beloved father, too, in autumn. (I will mourn for him again soon).

“through autumn’s golden gown,
we used to kick our way.
You always loved this time of year”
‘Forever Autumn’ from ‘War of the Worlds’

I love the colours; the smells; the fierceness of autumn gales which remind me to respect Nature.  I most dearly want to be in my allotment in autumn, when the hurly-burly business of spring and summer calm to the gentle out-breath of the year or the wilds of nature having one last blast of energy before the cold, quietness of winter dark sets in.  Spring is sweet as sugar, but I prefer the cinnamon taste of Autumn.

I am autumn at the moment.  This year really feels like the autumn of my life: anything but calm though, with similar bouts of frenetic, sudden storms of the soul.  I hit fifty this year, and it feels like autumn:  the  bright beauty of knowingness coupled with the sudden shock of having part of me broken (oh, it was a back injury that made me feel like I am suddenly gone from the full vigour of summer to near winter in a moment.)

My temper, almost the undoing of me as a child, is returning and I don’t know why I am so irritable.  In the summer of my life, my forties, I gained the calm, sunny nature of summer (It was an English summer, prone to the usual clouds of worry) but now I am trying to ride a tiger of emotions, and frankly, it scares me.    I feel the rise to the summit of excitement  and the gut-wrenching acceleration to the depths of despair – it is like riding a roller-coaster.  One day I am bright as golden leaves: the next I am a gale of amazing ferocity, scared to open my mouth in case I turn everything bitter as I could be.  I don’t want to be angry, so I swallow it down, but it comes back to haunt me as worry at night.  The bit in QF&P about ‘breaking down’ is so close to me at the moment – I am truly worried by my mood swings, I am scared of enjoying myself too much for the terrible ‘come down’ afterwards.  I am so scared that I will break down, I hear the brittleness of myself in my voice and I lie awake – unusually for me –  worried that I am losing that which is part of me.

Damn it all – even my hair, my lovely, long, lustrous hair (my only vanity and pride) is now turning dull and grey and falling out,  and yet…. and yet… I feel that I have never been so filled with Spirit, I am learning in leaps and bounds and coming closer, much closer.

When I am close, I am so close, so amazingly close.  Then, suddenly there is such a distance between me and the Spirit, that I feel lost and alone.
Ah, Harvest – don’t you love it?

Why do I bother?

I have had an argument with my boss and I am pretty fed up about it.

Some time ago I had my car park pass revoked and told I had to use the hospital’s ‘Park and Ride’ scheme.  I wasn’t pleased, mainly because it adds at least half an hour and sometimes much more to every day,but also because I have to carry all my documents much further.  I asked at the time if I could have a wheeled briefcase for the job and was told to get one and produce a receipt, but then it was suggested that we could probably find one in the stationery supplier’s catalogue.

Months passed.  I hurt my back and was off ill and when I got back it still hadn’t been ordered.  In the meantime a colleague ordered a rather nice leather briefcase and my boss didn’t check the order and signed for it.  He was furious that someone had ‘put one over on him’ and now he has a budget deficit and has decided that my request is to be denied.

When I went to Occupational Health, I was told specifically not to lift or carry, so I felt completely justified to be angry, and I contacted my boss to explain that this was a request for a necessary item not a request for something extravagant.  The cost of the bag was £12.

My boss has a tendency to be bull headed about such things.  He decides something and whether he is right or wrong he sticks to it, regardless of how rational the decision proves to be.  My immediate reaction is to be disgusted with his pettiness and also disappointed that he feels that my conscientiousness and hard work, my flexibility is reasonably rewarded by such pettiness.  I started to ask myself, “why do I bother?” .

I rang my supervisor and told her how I feel and she thinks that he is wrong, but feels that I am fighting a losing battle.  She is right, of course.  She is going to contact OH to see if there is a way to insist I get the bag, or find a pot of money that will fund it.

I had decided that I should try and put it behind me, and buy a new bag myself, after all it is only £12, hardly worth getting steamed up about.  Perhaps, though, I might not bend over backwards quite so much, because I feel really unappreciated. I came home past the sea and it was lovely;  the sun was still not setting, though it was pretty low in the sky.

When I walked in my beloved was sat playing games, my son was reading: an oasis of calm.  My beloved made me a cuppa,  and it looks like we are having meatballs and chips for tea. I am not sure that my hubby is too keen on cooking on his day off.

My son has had some bad news at work and had a pretty shitty day.

Neither have asked how my day went.

The Big Bang

Today was my first day back to work: my own personal big bang.

Now that my beloved Bryn is no longer a house husband, we both left the house together at the same time today.  The daft thing is that I drive past his workplace but I finish a good four hours before him, it makes no sense me driving him to work and then going and collecting him – it would save nothing.  I am glad I didn’t because it meant he was able to give a colleague a lift that took him  five minutes out of his way but saved her a full hour.  Since I used to use buses myself only seven years ago I can remember waiting for night buses to take me home.

I knew that I would arrive at the ‘park and ride’ just around about the time that the Hadron accelerator got turned on and was determined to hear what happened.    The press have gone mad – building this up to a huge story and people were running up and down like headless chickens.  A colleague told me that her child had not slept properly because a sibling had told her that we were all about to die, and several colleagues have had to reassure their children that it would be alright.

I listened to the radio on the way to work, eager to hear how the big event would go.  I waited until I had heard the champagne corks popping before I climbed onto the minibus.  My back got jolted a little on the bus, and the walk into work did not help, so I was beginning to ache when I arrived at work, but I sat down and, one someone had reset my password, I began to work.  I had more than 280 emails in my in-box, of which around 20 were reminders that my in-box was getting full.  There were a dozen or so funnies, which I will look through tomorrow.  The rest had all to be read and about 30 actioned. I am working my way down them.  I have meetings all tomorrow morning and then start teaching again on Friday.  My calendar looks very empty.

I feel a little lost really.  I admitted to Colleague W that I did have a slight worry that he would have taken over radiology and that I would have less of a role.  He just laughed and said, “and then you woke up to the real world!”  He has been far too busy and was not all that keen to take up the mantle.

I really enjoyed being back at work – it was good to see my colleagues, good to feel useful again, good to have a purpose and a role.  I love my job, as I often say.

The distances I walked though today have worn me out and I am having a bit of a problem with pain tonight.  I expected to.  I pushed myself, perhaps too far, but I need to know that I am not being lazy.

Back to work – or perhaps not.

I have been given a sick note revoking the last one  which allows me to go back to work part time.  This is the worst of all worlds.  I lose my full pay sick pay and only work part time so only get part time pay.

I feel absolutely gutted.

Tried ringing HR to check my facts and they are permanently engaged- either that or they have the phone off the hook.  They cannot be on the phone for half an hour.

Have spoken to my supervisor – she says it is all or nothing, the big boss doesn’t want me back until I am ready to go back full time.  I can’t do with this at all.

The only way round it, if HR tell me I can only go back part time, is to take two days holiday for the next two weeks.

Scams, frauds and deception.

People in the media often talk about boiler room scams as if they are today’s biggest fraud problem.

Apparently it is usually offshore companies who cold-call well-heeled people with an ‘opportunity’ to buy shares that turn out to be worthless, or worth far less than claimed.  I can understand that this is worrying and that people are being conned out of large amounts of money.

Yet I have never yet heard anyone on the media talk about a particular con that hits people on very low incomes.  I don’t think it has a name, certainly not a media-friendly name like boiler-room scam has.  Perhaps it is not interesting because it hits people who already have had a debt problem.  Perhaps the media think it is not a scam at all, perhaps these people who claim it is a scam are not telling the truth?  Well it is the truth and I know because it has happened to me.

My house was repossessed after I became (through no fault of my own) unemployed.  I co-operated as best I could but I was given less on benefits per month than my mortgage payment had been.  After the repossession, which I did not dispute, I was told by CAB that they had received notification that I owed nothing on the house, and that strangely the house had realised exactly, down to the last penny, exactly what I owed.  I asked for this information to be faxed to me and kept it, and I am glad I did.

I will tell you how the scam works,

Unscrupulous people set up a ‘company’ and then get hold of details of people whose houses have been repossessed, or have had another debt go through court.  I don’t know how they do it, but they get hold of these details somehow. (In my case they found the details of the account number and the name of the company with which the account was held.)

Then they search for the person and find their address (if you have had your home repossessed then you will have changed address) and even I know of various methods of finding an individual’s address.

They then send a letter claiming to be the agent for the company with whom they had the debt.  The individual panics.  Surely the repossession cleared the debt?  Having been thought that experience no-one would want to go to court again.

The letters come on  letter-headed paper, and in my case the address does not tally with the postmark.  I could do a letterhead easily enough.  The threats get more and more worrying.  The latest, which came today, includes a direct debit form and a threat of court action.  It also contains a veiled threat, “if I don’t want to have contact with them” that I will  fill in the direct debit form.  Contact?  Does that mean they will come round here threatening me physically?

I have written to them and told them that I do not owe the money, but still they write, telling me that if it goes to court I will have to take time off work.

This scam has happened to many people, but they are people at the bottom of the heap when it comes to money and power and so the media are not interested.

Yet last week a ‘pensioner’ was scammed out of £35,000 of his money on a ‘get rich quick’ scam and it is headline news in the local paper.  Basically he gambled with money he had sat in a bank account, and though I am sympathetic because he was conned, lied to and told that his money was safe, my sympathy has its limits, because he gambled.  At the other end of society people are being threatened into making payments of several thousands of pounds which they don’t owe, but are too scared of the consequences of not paying up.

It is a protection racket that no-one seems to do anything about, and the media are not interested in.

Housing Market

The latest Government initiatives to revive the housing market, and that is the way that the press are reporting them, worry me.  The initiatives are:

  1. a Stamp Duty holiday
  2. a scheme to give people an interest free loan deposit of 30% to buy ‘hard to sell’ city flats
  3. a new mortgage rescue scheme
  4. decreasing the time that those on benefits have to wait before getting help with mortgage interest.

Obviously only the first two actually help the housing market.  I don’t have a lot of time for ‘the housing market’ or to be precise, one particular mortgage company, and when they hit problems a few months back I found it very difficult to be sympathetic  (in fact I found it hard not to laugh).  I am not in favour of encouraging people to buy houses; especially in times of possible recession.  “Here, buy a house, don’t worry if you get made redundant, your marriage breaks down or you have an accident or a baby and are unable to work”.

The second measure seems even more flawed.  If the reasoning is that people will flock to buy the hard to sell flats, which are falling in value anyway, then I wonder who will lend on them anyway.

What is this obsession with ‘owning property’, anyway?  I keep getting told that it a mortgage is less than rent and gives you something to sell at the end.  Except that for many who were mis-sold mortgages that would pay a lump sum at the end too, they ended up with a debt at the end.  Or you discover that the house you bought has a serious defect, which was not picked up on the survey.  Or you end up losing it through a change in personal circumstances and are treated like low life, as if you were some kind of criminal.  To add insult to injury they send you a mortgage arrears advisor, who doesn’t advise you at all, they are actually employed to help the company decide if you are just refusing to pay or if you are likely to find a job or whatever.  Then they charge you a week and a half’s benefit for the pleasure.

Call me bitter if you like but I have been through the experience of having my house repossessed; and it is no joke.  I tried everything from contacting people how would buy the property and rent it back, but they were not interested, and the local housing office but they said come back when you are homeless (not their fault – they do what they can). Going to court was a nightmare;  the day of the repossession was one of the bleakest days of my life.  It was like a death in the family, and the repercussions of that experience are still with me.

I am very pleased therefore about the measures to help those on benefits – it would have stopped me losing my home, and it is estimated that it will stop that awful, gut-wrenching experience for 10,000 people.  I never realised that I was one of so many.  That so many of our citizens suffer this is appalling!  I might argue that it doesn’t go far enough, two months arrears will still have to be paid.  Still it has to be better than the current system where you are left without any help for 9 months.

Apparently there will also be the option of selling a share to your local council which will mean that you can pay the arrears.

I think, though, that we are going the wrong way about this. We should be increasing properties to rent.  Renting is good.  If the central heating breaks down – not your problem.  These days you enter a contract with your landlord, and you know where you stand and the deposit system has been tightened up to stop those rogue landlords who keep your deposit regardless of the state you left the place in. You pay your rent by direct debit and everything is hunky dory.  Then if you want to move it is much easier – no dependence on the housing market.

I understand (tried to substantiate it but can’t find figures) that Britain has a higher than normal proportion of owner occupiers.  I seems that people feel that renting is only for the chavs.  Well, there is no virtue in having a mortgage, you know!