I surprised myself by running out of books last week. I’d been so busy being overwhelmed by the size of my To Read list that I hadn’t mentally ticked off each one as it was being read. So by the time we got to Drop Everything And Read at work, a project to promote reading, where every single person in the school reads for fifteen minutes twice week, I was reduced to reading Kindle samples on my computer screen. Amongst them I tried and liked The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, which the woman in room 109 is reading (we stick pictures of our books on our classroom/office doors), so have ordered that. I re-read the beginning of On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan and enjoyed how cool, precise and sensitive it was. I tried and failed to get on with Eimear McBride’s experimental A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing.
This prompted total book ordering meltdown when I got home and dug out the names of all those books I’d meant to order, but never got round to:
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
e: A Novel by Matt Beaumont
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell
The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets by Simon Singh
In addition to this, I have on order
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy from Lovely Daughter #1’s reading list. Wuthering Heights seems to me to be the book of choice amongst readers here as to the best book to read along side Romeo and Juliet. Part of me wonders whether her teacher is going to be faced with twenty-something essays on Wuthering Heights, all with the echo of someone’s mum going “You must read Wuthering Heights! It’s brilliant!” behind it. A bigger part of me wonders whether Lovely Daughter #1 is even going to be able to get past the first page. I’ve mentioned before that LD mysteriously manages to get top marks in English despite never voluntarily picking up a book. The idea of picking up old books is even more alien to her than picking up a contemporary one.
Also on Tuesday I went out to my friend Jane’s house and came back with a pile of books. I now have:
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
The Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
So I’m going to be busy for a while.
I’ve been generally busy this week, busier than usual. Apart from my day out in Croydon, and going round to Jane’s, last night I went out to the primary school for a school governors’ meeting, for which I’d done a few hours reading. I’ve been school governor busy reading up on data etc for the past few weeks anyway, as we are overdue an OFSTED inspection and I am the Chair so they will definitely want to see me. I feel a little bit OK about this, and a little bit Agggggh! However, the proportion of OK to Aggggh is generally well balanced, much more balanced than it was when I started doing this three years ago.
Three years ago there was a bit of turmoil in Lovely Daughter #1’s Year 6 and I ended up complaining, and withdrawing her from school until it blew over. But I’m not the sort of person to randomly moan on about stuff, and so when a parent governor position came up, I went for it. This was despite never having been to a proper meeting before in my life, or had any kind of job where you would have to get together in groups and discuss things. I spent at least the first three meetings actually sweating, I was so intimidated by the whole thing.
I spent the Christmas holiday on the Governors’ electronic training website and did a course every day and after that I felt a lot better, and must have looked visibly better too, because after a year, the governing body had to re-elect a chair and it turned out that nobody else wanted to do it so they asked me.
This was a steep learning curve! I was still overwhelmed by the sound of my own voice in a room full of people. I’d spent the last thirty years thinking that nobody would want to hear what I had to say. It was important to me, growing up in my family, to hide what I thought and keep it safe, so that nobody would be able to laugh, nobody would question what I had to say to pieces, nobody would want to stop me from doing what I wanted to do. I spent a lot of my life getting overemotional if it came down to having to put across a point of view that really mattered to me. I spent a lot of time worrying about me and how I came across. This view of me often got in the way of me seeing what I was actually doing.
Several of my early chaired meetings were total chaos as we rambled on directionlessly for a good two hours sometimes. I was self-conscious and panicky before every single meeting I had to chair. I knew what I was supposed to do, which was to keep to the topic, keep strategic and ensure fair distribution of “the floor” to the group, but hated interrupting people when they went off topic.
In the end, early preparation together with the Head helped a lot – really identifying when putting the agenda together what the aim of each item was. The other thing that helped was happening across Question Time one evening. I’d not watched it for ages and this time was transfixed by watching how David Dimbleby moved the discussion around, moved it on and how he handled the situation as people become inflamed or intense. After I’d seen this modelled, I took this new skill into meetings. It was like being a new driver – those days when I couldn’t even speak because I was concentrating so hard on the road. What was actually being said in meetings passed by in a vague dream as I totally focussed on moving the discussion around and keeping it in the right place.
After a while, I got the hang of it and I now I am in a place where I don’t even think about it. I can’t even find the post because it was such a long time ago, but Sherri and I discussed being so into something that you aren’t even aware that you are doing it. That’s how it’s become when I chair meetings now and I’ve totally surprised myself that I’ve been able to step away from being self-conscious and self-doubting, because the enjoyment of what I am doing is greater.
My other startle of the week was on the size of a walrus.
On Sunday, my friend James mentioned that he was going to see a stuffed walrus in the Horniman museum in South London. On Tuesday he posted the pictures and as you will see from my comment, I always thought a walrus was the size of a very small horse, so to discover that they weigh two tons and measure up to 3.6m long was a slight shock. I imagined it felt like turning round and discovering that your pet cat had grown to four times its usual size.
“Oh yes, a walrus is even bigger than an elephant seal, and an elephant seal is huge. Or is the elephant seal bigger? I can’t remember. They’re both very big. The females are not so big of course, only the males get that large,” said my co-worker yesterday morning as I bemoaned the fact that I’d only ever seen pictures of walruses against ice and other walruses, so that had never had anything to size them against.
So for thirty years, as well as not being able to speak, the whole world apart from me was already in on the fact that a walrus is enormous. But it’s all OK now because I’ve found my voice, and I know what a walrus looks like when it’s not against ice.