Goodbye and thank you

To my regular and occasional readers, thank you for your support on my redundancy journey. I’ve formally moved on to my new blog Rocking in the Freelance World so I hope you’ll join me there on that journey too. I’ve enjoyed the debate, meeting new friends and reading your blogs too.

 

Thank you and good luck,

 

Citizen R x

Goodbye 2011

This year I…

  • Finished my job on March 31st and unintentionally told the council’s most senior officers what I thought.
  • Sobbed into a dinner lady’s ample chest.
  • Went on the Million Voices for Public Services march on March 26th and the pensions march on November 30th.
  • Registered at HMRC as self-employed online with an ex-colleague because we were too chicken to do it alone. We pressed the submit button on our laptops at the same time.
  • Set up an educational consultancy business with a friend.
  • Didn’t hear back from several high street banks re our business banking account so thought stuff them, walked into the only one we hadn’t tried and asked to see the small business manager (oh the jokes). It was the only day of the week she was in that branch. She set up our account there and then. Sometimes fate intervenes…
  • Designed our own website and discovered what File Transfer Protocol is. Eventually.
  • Discovered that working from home is actually quite fun unless it’s very cold.
  • Learnt how to network and attended lots of networking meetings making new friends and learning loads of new skills.
  • Sang at Wembley Arena (Hello Wembeeeey!) and the Royal Albert Hall.
  • Stood in the pouring rain to watch a recording of the X Factor and froze; watched the recording of Got To Dance and boiled in the September heatwave (watch out for my very red face in the background of the semi-finals). The advantages- some would say- of having flexible working arrangements.
  • Bumped into the prime minister and shouted, ‘Oy Cameron giver me my job back!’ Saw Boris Johnson a couple of times and met Ed Miliband at a Q&A. Managed not to shout at either of them.
  • Did some training and consultancy in schools and discovered that I can be very adaptable when it comes to what I offer.
  • Wrote lesson plans for a major high street supermarket that will be used in schools across the UK.
  • Was interviewed for The Guardian and told it like it was.
  • Got a job.
  • Found out that the world doesn’t collapse just because I lost my job.
Good luck and a happy and prosperous 2012 to everyone.

Happy Jobmas!

This time last year I indulged in the memories of public sector Christmas past- the celebratory meal at the local Italian that did a lunchtime special for less than a fiver; the Michelin star quality of the canteen Christmas dinner (‘she wants vegetarian gravy!’) and the jolly office Christmas card.

Another jolly public sector party

I was also panicking about my future post 31st March and not sure what I’d be doing with the twenty three hours a day that Homes under the Hammer wasn’t on telly. Post redundancy like the infinity of space was hard to imagine without collapsing another synapse.

It’s not, however, been as doom-laded as I imagined. Since April I’ve set up a business with a colleague and recruited lots of schools. Phrases like ‘tax deductible,’ ‘e marketing’ and ‘business networking’ are part of my working vocabulary and I’ve retired public sector favourites like ‘stakeholder engagement,’ ‘best practice’ and ‘benchmarking.’

I’ve had some work as an independent trainer, have worked for a consultancy and have written for a well-known supermarket chain. I’ve continued my blog and been interviewed for a Guardian article without having to be anonymous.  I’ve also networkedlike a fiend and met some amazing business people.

Worth being made redundant for.

I had been told by a lot of people that being self-employed is a lonely option but I’ve not been lonely at all. I’ve met up with colleagues for coffee on a regular basis and in setting up our business my business partner and I have had to meet a lot, our favourite office being a branch of a well-known coffee chain. We make phone calls, send emails, sign cheques, check out eBay, plan training and design learning resources in our ‘office.’ NB: one of those items is not strictly work related.

It was after one of our meetings that I checked my phone for email and found and interesting message from a local head teacher. It said something along the lines of (and I may be paraphrasing here):

You know how you said you’d rather chew your own leg off rather than go back into school? You’d better sharpen your teeth and break out the salt and pepper because I’d like to offer you a job.

She went on to offer me the acting deputy headship at her school while her deputy is on maternity leave. Perhaps I’d like to meet her for a coffee in the ‘office’ and talk about it.

I discussed the proposition with Mr R who was very supportive. I then phoned my mother who said, ‘excuse while I faint,’ and then fell about laughing. Thanks mum.

I met with the head teacher and we worked out a deal: I’d take the job for three days a week so I can continue with my other projects and will remain self-employed to make the tax/national insurance/pensions thing my responsibility and so as not to confused HMRC. A few days after I accepted the post, the head teacher found someone to fill the post the remaining two days.  I’ll be very busy but it’s not class based and I’m very much looking forward to it. I like to think that maybe the universe has come good after a crappy start to 2011.

So my 2012 is set to be busy, challenging and exciting. Just don’t ask me what I do for a living if I bump into you at a party.

Happy festive season and a happy new year to my readers. Thank you for your support over the last fifteen months and I’ll see you next year.

N30 day of action for pensions justice

I made it to about midday yesterday and had to do something. I called Mr R at work.

‘I can’t sit here doing nothing,’ I said, ‘I may not be a public sector worker any more but I need to be there supporting them.’ Mr R sounded utterly  unsurprised.

‘Text me when you’re on your way home,’ he sighed. ‘Oh and try not to get kettled.’ 

I packed water, my camera and a warm hat and was up at Charing Cross within the half hour. I joined the march at The Strand and zipped open my jacket to reveal my lime green Unison t-shirt, a relic from March 26th.

We wandered down to Victoria Embankment where representatives from various unions gave speeches. It was good hearing from ordinary representatives of various professions: the nurse, the probation officer and the doctor proudly in their uniforms. London Mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone popped up for a chat.

Speeches over, we politely filed off back down the road, banners neatly propped against trees. The majority of the marchers headed straight for the pubs for some post rally cheer and the rest of us wandered back to the tube. So much for the notices advising demonstrators to use tubes stations further afield to avoid a crush- I was the only marcher in my tube carriage all the way home.

There was a huge police presence and Trafalgar Square was closed up tighter than  George

Osborne’s purse. I loved seeing hordes of bored police officers climbing into their riot vehicles, McDonald’s bags clutched tightly in their hands.

Like my experience of the March 26th march, this was a polite but angry gathering of ordinary people fed up at having their careers mucked about. And I’m sorry Jeremy Clarkson if think that we should be shot for that. Yes I know you were trying to be ‘funny’ but you were wide of the mark. Oh and that ‘damp squib’ of a strike as the prime minister arrogantly called it saw over 2 million people striking and 50,000 alone on the demonstration in London. The only damp thing about yesterday was the weather. Wake up Mr. C and listen to the people.

So comrades come rally

Today millions of public sector workers are striking over pensions.

In the borough where I used to work every school bar one is closing completely or has part closures. These include faith school, academies and special schools. I know some of these head teachers would ensure their schools remained open through snow or illness and would rather snog Michael Gove than close their schools. Today however the schools are closed and the teachers striking over pension changes.

Today public sector workers are marching, rallying and picketing. Many of them will have never been on strike before but this time it feels necessary. Like those head teacher in my ex borough they want to demonstrate their anger and dissatisfaction at the pension changes. It’s indisputable that public sector pensions have to change but the changes are going too far too fast. We Love Local Government explains this far better than I.

Apart from changes to pensions I think the public sector also just wants to make its voice heard. Since the coalition government came into power they’ve constantly criticised the public sector and have branded them feckless and lazy;  greedy pension grabbers that shirk the real world of hard work for a cushy time being babysat by the state.

The government response to this day of action has been one of that teacher who says, ‘you’ve let yourself down, you’ve let the government down but most of all you’ve let the public down.’ If I were them I’d be a bit worried at the anger that has provoked such a massive walk out rather than threatening to withdraw their offer over reforms. But I guess that’s why I’m not in politics. My ego is sadly just not vast enough.

I’ve mentioned before that when I went into the public sector it wasn’t for the pensions or the perks or even the holidays. I wanted to be a teacher and make a difference in children’s lives. I felt I could best do this in the state sector.  As a new teacher of 22 I didn’t care about a pension because it felt like retirement was a million years away (it still is now that the age of retirement is getting higher and higher) and took a big chunk of my wage each month that might be better spent on having fun.

But now after a whole career spent in the public sector I’ve been left high and dry. I don’t pay into a government pension any more because that jo has gone and I have no job to strike from today. But the public sector is where my heart lies so I’m with everyone who strikes today. Good luck and maybe just maybe the government will listen for once.

‘Arise, ye workers from your slumber,
Arise, ye prisoners of want.
For reason in revolt now thunders,
and at last ends the age of cant!
Away with all your superstitions,
Servile masses, arise, arise!
We’ll change henceforth the old tradition,
And spurn the dust to win the prize!
So comrades, come rally,
And the last fight let us face.
The Internationale,
Unites the human race.’

The Internacionale

Academies on a (sausage) roll

It’s strange to think that only a few years ago most school meals were pitifully unbalanced, unhealthy and unappetising. As a new local authority Healthy Schools adviser I did my best to persuade the contract managers and the providers to up their game but to no avail. I was told constantly that schools were happy with meals. They weren’t.  They were very unhappy with meals but because there was no comprehensive complaint system their complaints went unaddressed and the meals remained poor. Parents and children voted with their taste buds and chose packed lunches. Children on free school meals weren’t so lucky. 

Then Jamie Oliver came along and added his voice to the debate. Because it was Jamie, people started listening and agreeing that the food in our schools was not good enough. In the borough where I worked this call was taken up by parents who demanded that the local authority ensure their children had better food. To cut a long story short, a huge battle ensued with demonstrations, confrontations and demands but the parents were right. Their children should have nutritional, tasty food in school that sets them up for learning. Standards in school food should apply for breakfast, lunch and snacks. Coupled with the then government’s commitment to extended services, children in wraparound care would be fed well and healthily. Because of parent power, we were one of the initial authorities to improve the menus and reinstate well-equipped school kitchens at huge cost. Unfortunately many schools don’t have adequate cooking kitchens because following the privatisation of school meals contracts in the 1980s they only needed warming cupboards or serving hatches.

The government eventually listened to Jamie and the parents. They set up the School Food Trust to regulate food and offer support and training to staff. I remember going to one of the huge dinner lady training sessions at Lord’s cricket ground. It was amazing seeing all those women committed to cooking better food all in one huge session watching celebrity chefs demonstrate cooking techniques and chattering excitedly about recipes on the tube home. These are the ladies that went from opening a pack of frozen fishy feet (yup, really) and bunging them in the oven to preparing freshly cooked meals brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables.

When the School Food Trust brought in nutrient standards, every recipe had to be nutritionally analysed to ensure the correct number of vitamins and mineral went into every balanced meal.

It’s not been an easy path to healthy eating in schools. Schools meal take up went down initially and schools have had to work really hard to persuade students to give the food a go. Schools put on taster sessions, healthy eating, workshops, award prizes and hold theme days. Unfortunately newspapers pounce gleefully onto the school meals aren’t working bandwagon and regular bring up the story of the Rotherham mums pushing burgers through the school fence. Shame they don’t ever mention the hundreds of parents who happily pay for good school meals that their children enjoy.

As part of my job I used to visit schools to see how well they were doing in terms of health and wellbeing. On these visits I observed mealtimes and checked menus. Luckily I had a nutritionist colleague who checked menus for compliance and supported school meal staff with their promotion of healthy food and understanding of cooking.  He was made redundant earlier this year at the same time as me.

I’m really disappointed to hear today that some academies are asking the government if they can reintroduce junk food items.  The government are keen for many more schools to become academies and it would be a massive step backwards to admit that healthy food isn’t really necessary for students at these academies.

The School Food Trust has released a statement urging anyone to tell them if they know of any academies returning to crisps and fizzy drinks.

You may think that we tree-hugging do-gooders need to step back and let the academies get on with it. After all, a can of Red Bull and a bag of Monster Munch are hardly going to harm a kid’s education are they? It’s a discussion I’ve had with countless teachers, head teachers and other professionals. We don’t know what the kids are eating- or not eating- at home. When a child is in school we are in loco parentis and it’s is our duty to ensure that they are safe, protected and supported in their learning. If we allow them to be stuffed full of e numbers, sugar and salt then we are failing in that duty, just as much as if we allow poor teaching to go on in schools.

It’s been a long hard slog to get to where we are in term soft school health. The government have withdrawn funding for Healthy Schools, school sports and extended services. I’m not prepared to let Gove, Cameron et al erode children’s health even further.

************************************************************************************************************

for further reading about the road to better school food, have a look at the Merton Parents for better Food in Schools website.  

Autumn austerity

In spring this year our winter gas bill arrived and was ridiculously high. We’re pretty sensible about the heating, keeping it fairly low and of course switching it off at night (I’m always surprised by how many of my friends keep their heating blasting all night long) but prices had gone up and last winter was pretty cold.

 Last winter Mr R and I were both at work all day so the heating was only on in the morning for a short while, off all day and on again in the evening. This autumn/ winter however, my office is the kitchen table and given my financial situation we need to economise on the high heating costs. We’re bravely holding out on heating until the end of October which might be fine for Mr R who is from the wilds of West Yorkshire where the wind always howls and people stare and point at the sun in wonder on the one day in summer it deigns to shine up there but I’m a softy Southerner. I’m so pathetic that when we visit Mr R’s parents, my mother in law always says, ‘I put radiator on in t’spare room for you three days ago,’ but I still shiver under three duvets. One Christmas up there I spent the whole day huddled on the floor by the radiator. They’re nails those Yorkshire folk.

Being profligate with the heating is not worth the ridiculous amounts of money we have to pay for it though. I’ve ordered a little heater from Argos and will use this if I’m working at home for as long as I can handle it like some modern day Bob Cratchit. Meanwhile this is what I know about keeping warm:

  1. Wear a hat. My old guide leader gave me this piece of invaluable information the first time I went camping. I was eleven years old, thrilled to be away from home for a few days and didn’t brush my teeth once. It rained so hard and our equipment and clothes got so wet that we all spent a memorable day in the only dry place for miles, an old hut, trying to dry our sleeping bags. If you’ve ever been on guide camp you might remember that when it starts to rain you have to change out of you cosy jeans and into shorts as these are easier to dry than denim. So we went around in our shorts and t shirts in freezing temperatures and pouring rain for a week but I wore my hat. And was warm. The hat hair is a small price to pay.
  2. If you’re chilly, do some housework. I’m not a housework fan but it’s great for working up a glow. Today I climbed onto a chair and cleaned the windows in the living room. I’m warm, the windows are sparkling and the kids from the secondary school on their way to buy chips for lunch had a laugh at the mad woman cleaning windows with pages from The Guardian. Result.
  3. Wear more clothes. ‘Obvious!’ you might think but we’re so used to being warm that we’ve forgotten how to dress cosily. I was listening to a radio phone during the snow spell at the beginning of the year. A Norwegian guy phoned in and called us Brits a bunch of whingeing wimps. Our idea of a warm outfit is not the same as countries that have proper cold weather so we need to consider vests, long johns  and socks more seriously. It’s not sexy but neither are chilblains. I went to Russia a couple of years ago at the end of their winter. It was very cold but everyone is bundled up and warm and they really do wear those fur hats with the earflaps (ushanka) . Mind you, every building we went into including the hotel blasted out plenty of efficient Soviet era heat so you spend half the day just dressing and undressing. It’s exhausting.

    Sean Connery knowsh how to keep coshy in hish ushanka

  4. Shut the doors. No, not the front door. Obviously that’s shut but we’re trying to remember to shut all the internal doors so what heat there is doesn’t spend its time warming the bathroom floor or the bedroom wardrobe.
  5. Slankets and blankets. My name is Citizen R and I own a slanket. Whatever. Top tip: don’t put on your slanket and think you can walk around in it. You can’t. You will trip on the hem and end up in a heap of synthetic fabric and static on the floor.

Right time for a nice warm cup of tea and a spot of warming vacuuming.

I wonder if Mr. Cameron is wearing an extra sweater and worrying about how he’ll pay his gas bill this year.

If any readers have any more ideas on how to keep warm please add them!

 

 

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