Tuesday, 31 December 2013

New Year, New Me?

The ultimate question. If you could be a completely different person tomorrow, who would you be? You can be absolutely anyone, alive, dead, fictional... But once it's done, it's a done deal, you are that person forever. Or you can stay as you.
2013 has been a very strange year for me. I have had some absolutely incredible experiences, taken part in some brilliant events, met new people, tried new things. But some of the worst things have taken place this year. I've lost people I loved, some by choice, others left me and I've had a crisis of confidence in more ways than one.
I have discovered several things about myself this year, my morals and the way I view the world is shifting. I believe I have become more understanding of other peoples' beliefs and my mind is opening to new experiences. I always wished to be more spontaneous and to face my fears and I have definitely accomplished some of these things.
So next year, I am going to continue to be me. I am going to be more confident (which I believe I have already started to do), I am going to dress the way I want, do what I want to do, not follow the crowd. I am going to try new things (I had my first driving lesson today in ages), speak my mind, make myself heard and make a difference. During 2013, at my lowest point I often wondered if I would be missed if I were no longer here. But then one of my residents told me how much I mean to them, how much I made a difference to their life. Mrs Livingstone, the teacher of Pine Class told me how much the children love to see me and how many request to come and read with me. When I was unwell, my choir kids surrounded me with love and hugs despite me protesting due to being contagious. My Nan constantly tells me how stunning I am, even when she can't see me and I look tired and scruffy. Several friends have told me they wish they had my confidence and wish they were as strong as I am. I must be doing something right but how come I can't see it?
So yes, next year I will continue to be the new me. The new me with tattoos and piercings, the new me who challenges what I don't agree with. I am looking forward to more performances at The Attfield and the fantastic summer production with The OD Project. I miss my kids at school (both readers and choir) and it's only been two weeks! I look forward to (hopefully) a holiday with a friend, good times with those I love and fond memories of those who are now gone. This year I have discovered life is too short to waste time on people that don't care. I should spend more time with those who do. I can only continue to grow as a person (hopefully not in height) and I am looking to the future with excitement of all the things yet to happen, not worrying about all the uncertainty. Yes, life is about a journey, but it's also about those who come on the journey with you, not those who want to delay the train.

This post was inspired by...http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/31/prompt-new-you/

Monday, 30 December 2013

The Accidental Idea

Today's prompt was 'brainwaves'. I'm supposed to tell you all about the best idea I've ever had, how it worked out and why it was so amazing. The problem was, I couldn't think of one. I've had some great ideas over the years, either in class, with my friends or moments of genius where it felt like someone had possessed me briefly. But none were 'Eureka!' moments, none really solved a problem (some even caused more problems), and some ideas haven't even began, let alone finished.
So I chose to tell you about my accidental idea. During Christmas 2012 I helped Weston Rhyn Primary School with their nativity play. I love putting on a play and I love working with the class as whole (not just the three boys I see) so I had a great time. As the nativity play drew to a close Mr Hines (the brilliant Head Teacher) thanked me for being involved and giving up my time for free. I then uttered a sentence that would change the next year (and more) or my life. 'Does the school have a choir?' A brief image flashed in my mind of a Glee-like scenario, costumes, performances, big smiles on kids faces. Mr Hines replied with: 'You're welcome to run it if you like!' I felt my cheeks flush, mumbled that I'd think about it and went on home, eighties rock songs playing through my mind, top hats, air guitar! Maybe I could do this! Maybe I could run a school choir! There were several issues. I couldn't read music (at least, not to the standard normally required), I was very shy when it came to performing, I had no teaching experience whatsoever and I saw one child at a time, not 10, or more, as I hoped there might be. But my imagination was taking over, I could see song and dance numbers and young minds I could influence with my love of The Eagles, Disco and 80s Electro-Pop. So I went back to Mr Hines, and said yes.
The first year of choir was not necessarily a success, not in the performing sense. At one point I had a group of 18, all with different opinions, all fighting to be heard. More than that, they didn't want to know any of my suggestions and were only interested in singing Taylor Swift (who I admire for writing her own songs and having the ability to play an instrument, but still) and Adele, an incredible singer but very hard to sing as an ensemble. I tried several options of songs, 'Price Tag' by Jessie J, which sounded great until the solos came up and 'We're Not Going To Take It/We Built This City' by Twisted Sister/Starship which was brilliant in the end, but took a LOT of persuading.
But I persisted. By the Summer of 2013 I was very proud of my group and sad to see the majority of them leave, but knew that in the Autumn I would get a new group of children and a fresh start. This time there were less children, only 8, all girls. I struggled controlling 18 children, so this was much nicer and I already knew 6 of them well, knew their tastes, what they would like to sing. We were invited by St John's Church in Weston Rhyn to sing at their Carol Service. It was a great opportunity for the children to perform in front of an audience, but it was pressured. We only had four weeks to get our songs and performance ready. It wasn't Glee standard, but I was very happy with how it all turned out. We had plenty of positive feedback from the church goers and parents and one particular girl conquered her fear. I am immensely proud of her!
Now that Christmas is over we are moving on to Musicals, and I can't wait to get stuck back in. I can't wait to hear what the kids have been learning over Christmas (I have set them homework on various music legends) and I can't wait to start our new song 'Do-Rae-Mi' from The Sound of Music. Not only are the kids growing and learning every day they are becoming part of a team, working hard to achieve a collective goal and coming out of their shells. It's also helping me become more confident at performing, even if it is just in front of 8 children.
So for an accidental idea, I think it's going really, rather well!

This post was inspired by... http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/30/daily-prompt-brainwave/

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Pirate School (The Three Aaaarghs!)

Last time I was in The Salvation Army Shop in town I somehow managed to get into a debate with the person behind the counter and an elderly lady behind me.
The man behind the counter wanted to teach in Primary School, but with his speciality being History, he was struggling. The elderly woman was firmly convinced that subjects like History shouldn't be taught in Primary School when children were behind on their reading, writing and arithmetic (the 3 Rs).
I volunteer with the charity Beanstalk, which encourages and develops children's reading skills. I do it because of my passion for books and remembering what it's like to be lost in my own imagination, in incredible worlds with exciting characters on wondrous adventures. I see first-hand the children that are struggling with their reading and writing. They're often struggling with every aspect of education as well as socially and crave the one-on-one attention that I give them. I see three out of a class of thirty, I could see many more and children often request to come and read with me. It's brilliant that they want to read with me, but I also wonder how many of the children would actually benefit from the time I spend with them.
As well as reading with each child twice a week I am involved in the class, with the teachers. If there is a school trip, or a nativity play I am asked to assist and do so willingly. It makes a pleasant change for me and the children. The most recent trip was to the Grosvenor Museum in Chester. They've been learning about Romans for the past few months, everything from Roman Baths to Gladiators. The Grosvenor Museum put on a brilliant itinerary. The children learnt about archaeology, heating systems, armour, food (and cooking processes), including a marching exercise with a real-life Roman Soldier (not really, but he had a rather lovely pair of legs!). Most of it was hands on, practical, combining learning with fun. The following day they wrote a report on the museum, what they saw, what they enjoyed. They spent the day learning and THEN they wrote about it.
This was my argument in The Salvation Army Shop. Yes, children are behind, some drastically so, but in order to get better at writing, reading and arithmetic, they need things to write about, to read about and to work out. Practising the same sentence over and over again is boring, and definitely not inspiring, writing a story about a Roman Soldier is exciting, it's an adventure! Before they know it, they're learning without really knowing it.
If I was to redesign school, from the ground up I would include more or less what is included now, Art, History, Geography, all those subjects that inspire. Children can be inspired by all kinds of things. I would promote the arts, anything creative as I believe the imagination is one of the most powerful tools each of us has. Dance, Drama and Music would also feature heavily as I believe all of these subjects are overlooked in Primary School. Drama promotes confidence which a lot of children lack. One of the children that I read with loves Drama and I write mini-plays for us to act out during our sessions. He's reading without even realising it and he often wants to write his own after, which develops his writing skills. In fact, the only subject I would remove from Primary Schools is a foreign language. Although I believe learning French or German is important in learning new skills and developing an understanding of culture, I think the English Language should be mastered first. Foreign Language should be left for Secondary School.
The only other thing that should be included in school is manners. I run my local school choir, something I enjoy which is a lot of fun, the youngest child in 6, the oldest 11. Last year, I discovered that despite all their musical ability the one thing they lacked more than anything was respect for each other and their opinions. Manners are something I would have thought parents would have taught their children but it was definitely an issue and I wasn't the only one to discover this. I take pride in my patience but the only time I lost my temper was on this subject. Maybe manners and good behaviour should be taught in schools too.

This post was inspired by... http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/prompt-new-school/

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Book Review: Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Dexter #1) by Jeff Lindsay

Darkly Dreaming Dexter (Dexter, #1)Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had watched the Dexter TV series before I read any of the books, so I went in with a preconceived notion of the characters, and I already knew the ending. It didn't stop me from enjoying Jeff Lindsay's writing.
For those unfamiliar, Dexter Dreaming Darkly follows the murderous blood splatter analyst as he dishes out his own punishment to those that have slipped through the cracks. Seeing the world through Dexter's eyes is brilliant. If Dexter was a real person he would certainly have some kind of psychological or behavioural condition but thankfully the author doesn't play on this, he is just Dexter and everything he does seems unfathomably reasonable.
All of the characters were interesting and unique. I particularly liked his foul-mouthed sister Deb. I also think it should be mentioned that the people who cast the TV show did a great job, especially with Dexter's colleague Vince and his boss LaGuerta.
I also liked the way Lindsay described Miami, almost like it was a character. He brought the city alive in full vivid technicolour!
Overall a brilliant twist on the murder mystery that zipped along nicely. I can't wait to read the next one!

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Saturday, 14 December 2013

Book Review: James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

James and the Giant PeachJames and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At Weston Rhyn Primary School Roald Dahl is the current display in the library. Every time I go in there for volunteering a smile appears on my face and I try my best to persuade the children to let me read them a little bit of any of his books. But alas, I did not succeed, so I decided to read one myself and James and the Giant Peach was the one I picked.
I remember the film with fondness and as soon as I entered Dahl's incredible world the childlike feeling of glee rushed back to me.
The way James and his insect friends are described are vivid and each character is interesting and unique. I particularly liked the Centipede and his 42 pairs of boots. The book is also educational, informing children about the different characteristics of insects, while making them funny. I also enjoyed the different songs.
As a twenty-one year old, revisiting Roald Dahl was a joy and I aim to read more, hopefully to inspire the children next time.

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Thursday, 12 December 2013

Book Review: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy, #1)The Strain by Guillermo del Toro
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found out about The Strain a while ago and as a fan of Guillermo del Toro's directed works and a lover of all (Twilight and True Blood excluded) things vampire I thought it would be an interesting read.
For me, the best part of the book was probably the first third. I always knew where the book was going, but the tension and the mystery as Flight 753 lands at JFK airport and the events that follow, were exciting and thrilling at the same time.
The main protagonist is Dr. Ephraim Goodweather. For some reason, in my head I imagined him as Denzel Washington, this 'strong' character. He and his co-worked Nora Martinez work for the CDC and are the first inside the mysterious plane. They are both likeable, although I feel that Nora has less of a personality than Eph and later on in the book is made to stay behind and look after Zack, Eph's son, rather than go and fight, which I think is a little sexist. In fact, this book does not have strong female characters. Nora and Kelly (Eph's ex-wife) both play small parts and are subject to the decisions of the men around them.
The other lead is Abraham Setrakian, described as an aged Holocaust survivor. He is by far the more interesting character of the two, with a story and a personal vendetta against The Master, the head of all vampires.
It may seem that I am being negative but I did thoroughly enjoy this book. As I said, the initial discovery of the plane kept me on the edge of my seat and the study of the victim's as they attempted to work out what had happened was exciting. It's a different approach to the vampire story, they are a virus rather than a monster.
The vampires themselves are not your 'run of the mill' either. Their transformation is not pretty, neither is the end result. It's refreshing to read a different take on the genre, especially as it's been done to death lately for a primarily teenage and young adult audience.
For me, New York City was an integral part of the story. There was focus on the World Trade Centre (although events of 9/11 were not dwelled on) and the subway systems. I particularly enjoyed a section where the characters entered the subway system, del Toro certainly wracked the scary factor up there!
I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the books in this series, and watching the TV series that is soon to be our screens.

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Sunday, 1 December 2013

Book Review: Nineteen Eighty Three (Red Riding Quartet) by David Peace

Nineteen Eighty Three (Red Riding Quartet)Nineteen Eighty Three by David Peace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nineteen Eighty Three is the final book in the Red Riding Quartet and there's only one word to describe it. Sublime.
David Peace is a phenomenal writer. His writing style is quick, slick and draws you in. I find myself sucked into the hazy world of corrupt cops, earnest lawyers and journalists fighting for the truth.
The characters he writes are all flawed, there are no Hollywood heroes here, which makes more for the interesting read.
The narrative is led by three individuals, policeman Maurice Jobson, lawyer John Pigott and young prostitute BJ. All three of them are tangled up in the web of conspiracy and cover ups around the disappearances of young girls in the Yorkshire area.
Jobson is the lead investigator, but also the reluctant heir of Bill 'Badger' Molloy's scheme to get rich quick. Pigott is representing Michael Myshkin, who was arrested and charged for the murder of one of the girls and BJ is on the run from everyone and everything.
None of the Red Riding Quartet stands alone, they all form one large story told by different characters, but I think reading them one after the other would be too much, too intense. Having said that, I think it was too long since I read Nineteen Eighty and some of the details were a little dulled in my head. I'd seen the incredible Channel 4 adaptation (well worth a watch for any fan) and I think that helped certain characters cement into my mind. For me, Jobson was David Morrisey, Pigott was Mark Addy and BJ was Robert Sheehan. For me this was a help rather than a hindrance.
As the narrative changes between these three characters it can be initially confusing as to whose point of view it is with the start of each chapter. That's the only reason I marked it 4 stars instead of 5. Otherwise, it's a series like no other. If you can hold your stomach (it's certainly not pretty and described with graphic detail) and you can put up with the bad language then jump into this world. David Peace's heady world of violence and corruption is a world like no other and I can't wait to read more of his.

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