REPORT A PROBLEM
I thought it had been three months but in fact it was four: all the more reason to celebrate getting back into the habit. In truth, one of the main reasons I stopped was because of the public nature of committing my thoughts to print. Itís a two edged process. On the one hand there is the tendency to write, however privately, with some kind of audience in mind. On the other, there are times when the idea of someone elseís attention can act as a disincentive; a hindrance to writing down what would otherwise resides unseen in the mind.
With the changing of the season comes the warming of the air and with the warming of the air the constant delight of the changing landscape. Trees burst into leaf, sporting their most delicious shades of green of the whole year; flowers emerge in the most unexpected places; whole streetscapes are transformed as bare branches becomes leafy canopies and people themselves emerge and venture outdoors in their running shoes and take to the streets with iPods strapped to their ears. Here in Melbourne we get the full four seasons and itís one of the reasons we choose to live here.
Iíve adjusted to having the house to myself and I like it. I get to be selfish for a while. If I donít want the TV on it doesnít go on. If I want to play loud music I can. If pizza seems like a better option than salad I donít have to try and justify it to anyone other than myself. I can stretch out and fill up the whole bed or leave the dishes till the morning. All this selfish pleasure has a shelf like of course but Iím certainly going to lap it up while it lasts.
I love Fridays. After a busy week thereís nothing better than arriving home and knowing you have the next two days to do whatever you like. Not that Iím going to have such a luxury this weekend. Itís report writing time and although they donít all have to be completed by Monday, thatís the goal nonetheless. And with the whole place to myself I intend to crank up the music and make the most of it. While itís not the most thrilling part of my job I can still make the task much less burdensome that it needs to be.
I joined some friends and family members for a Spring Carnival pre-races champagne breakfast this morning. With the sun shining and a warm, spring breeze to wash over us it was a great way to start the day. Afterwards, given I myself wasnít going to the races, I wandered through the park, stopping to buy a few things at the Prahran Market. I chatted to a man about the best growing conditions for olives and enjoyed a cup of good Colombian coffee, while gearing up for the mammoth report writing session Iíve promised myself for the rest of the weekend.
People often claim that we teachers have it easy with so many school holidays, and to some extend theyíre right. What they generally fail to consider however are the many extra hours spent each day with preparation and assessment and then, like today, report writing. With 258 to complete, if I spend just six minutes on each one I could only write ten an hour. Do the maths! Thereís no such thing as overtime pay in teaching but to do the job effectively I spend a minimum two extra hours a day beyond my prescribed eight.
Again, do the maths.
Thereís a certain kind of satisfaction to be gained from being ahead of the game. Over the past few weeks I feel like Iíve taken charge of things in a way Iíve not done for ages. Having so many less pressures vis-ŗ-vis the new build has certainly helped. For all that our elusive builder is proving difficult to get hold of our architect assures us that all is on track. This in turn frees me to focus my mind of other things, no least of which is the imminent arrival of my 18 year old godson from his travels abroad.
A nervous group of six year old girls take to the stage sporting as assortment of stringed instruments. Some of them are little bigger than the instruments themselves. They fidget and fumble, getting themselves ready for the performance. Then the teacher taps the music stand, raises her baton and out of their little hands and bodies emerge the sound of musical notes that harmonise and please and which, despite the odd bum one, fill me with wonder and awe that such beautiful music can emerge from these precious creatures whoíve barely been on the planet for more than five minutes.
Neither of us knew quite what to expect: you on the final leg of your overseas adventure, me in the thick of report writing and desperately trying to clear the decks of work before you arrived. Iíve known you all my life and made sure the link between us was always open and ongoing. I neednít have been concerned. Your arrival has been both pleasurable and mutually appreciated. Iíve waited years for an evening like this. I never doubted it would come. Itís the night we came to know each other anew, not merely as relatives but as adult friends.
Where to begin with so few words? I discovered today our builder has terminated our contract and left us high and dry. A very black day indeed. This evening however, I chose to focus my attention on other things, spending the time with my godson, sharing my back catalogue of photos and videos taken of him during my annual visits home from London over the last ten years. The pleasure in doing so and the pleasure of the evening itself helped blunt the shock and anger of the dayís earlier news. Nonetheless I find myself gripped with confusion and panic.
After a restless night and a slow start to the day I finally hit my stride around 11am. Three colleagues provide three new leads for builders and by the time I call the architect at 5pm all three were expressing a strong interest and I've forwarded all necessary documentation. As with everything in life we have choices and I've chosen positive action. I've spoken to enough people now to shift into a more proactive headspace. Shit happens. Weíll get beyond it. In the meantime life goes on and letís be real: there are many people out there with worse problems.
I'm over the initial shock now. Having my godson here has been a blessing, providing a welcome distraction from this renewed sense of anxiety and uncertainty. Now that heís gone my thoughts turn to how to break the news to my partner when he flies back into Melbourne tomorrow. He'll be devastated. I know I've managed to turn the ship around somewhat since Thursday but there are many uncertainties and unanswered questions ahead which remain a cause for concern. We deal with these sorts of things in very different ways.
I donít relish being the bearer of such bad news.
I'm not looking forward to this. He'll be excited to be home, exhausted from the long flight and looking forward to a decent sleep before gathering his wits in preparation to face work tomorrow. This is the very last thing he'll want to hear. It took me a good 24 hours to get over the shock and I know he finds it much harder to get over things than I do. Do I tell him on the bus? Do I wait till we get home? Should I let him have a sleep first, or maybe a shower?
I hate this.
Iím surprised at how well heís taken the news. There was shock, yes, and definitely anger but beyond this his rebound time was a lot shorter than mine. In some respects heís relieved, having never liked the builder weíd chosen, trusting me to make the final decision against his better judgement. Thankfully heís resisted the temptation to lay blame, although he couldnít resist a half-hearted ďI told you soĒ, not that I can begrudge him that. The truth is, when the chips are down thereís no love lost with the builder. Weíve faced and triumphed over bigger challenges than this.
After an early morning meeting with the architect weíre back on track and going out to tender on Thursday. With any luck we can have a new builder on board before Christmas and commence work early in the New Year.
Meanwhile, the pressure is mounting at work as we head towards the end of the school year. If nothing else it provides a welcome distraction from all the other things swirling around in my head at the moment. I keep saying to myself, maybe itís been a blessing in disguise.
Easy to say, not so easy to believe.
Iíve spent the last couple of weeks getting every girl who was taught by my predecessor to write her favourite memory about the woman on a piece of coloured paper. These memories are then folded tightly and placed in a large brandy shaped bowl. The head of Junior School, herself at a loss about what to give someone who has faithfully served the school community for 30 years, was delighted with the idea. Come this Friday, we will present her with a bowl full containing hundreds of such colourful memories at a special assembly to be held in her honour.
Itís been just under a week since we got the news but as of tonight all the tender documents have gone out to the prospective builders. What the response will be and how close weíll get to our original budget has yet to be determined but at least weíve not been idle. Yes thereís an element of anxiety and certainly a degree of anger about the whole situation but, true to our nature, weíve looked adversity squarely in the face and stared it down, and who knows, with any luck weíll end up finding a better builder for the job.
Last week we got dumped by our builder; today we got dumped by the production team that had been filming our project for television. That in turn has cost us tens of thousands of dollars in sponsorship. We now find ourselves with no builder and no story. Iíd assumed this was precisely the kind of drama they would want for the program. Apparently not. We canít meet the production deadline for season 3 and thereís no guaranteed season 4. Even if there is they have an alternative story lined up.
If these things are sent to test us, itís working.
They say what doesnít kill you makes you stronger. Itís a truism that we have both proven to be true both literally and historically and itís against this backdrop that weíre finding the wherewithal to come to grips with the events of the last few days. This isnít to downplay the seriousness of having demolished a perfectly good house and now having to deal with the possibility that we may not be in a financial position to build a new one. Rather, itís a recognition of the fact that together weíve stared far worse things in the face and won.
For all my efforts to rationalize the situation and put things into perspective I still feel pissed off and anxious about where we go from here. As we head towards the festive season the prospect of another whole year of uncertainty does little to warm the spirit. Not that it will necessarily take a whole year to resolve all of this mess but a few months at best and certainly a year or so to complete the project. Iím so sick of thinking about it, talking about it, writing about it. I just want to get beyond all of this.
Another week begins and again I welcome the distraction of work with open arms. As I walked to school this morning I couldnít help feeling grateful that at least I now have a permanent job. For so long the prospect of being able to remain permanently at this school dangled in front of me, forever eluding my grasp but now itís real. I can trust it and whatís more I can fully immerse myself in it.
Had all of the hassles of the last couple of weeks happened before I had permanency I donít know how I would have coped.
Weíve found another builder whom we believe fully fits the profile weíre looking for. He is articulate, communicative and sympathetic to our situation. Having seen his work, met his wife and daughter and shared some of our personal history with him it occurs to us that maybe, just maybe, something really good will come out of all of this. Weíve explained what our financial constraints are and he appears to be understanding. Itís early days yet but given the short time frame weíre working within early days are not necessarily so early. Time will tell but at least thereís hope.
If thereís one thing Iíve learned this year at work itís the need to have systems in place. As I keep joking to colleagues, Iíve learned so much about how not to do things next year. To be fair I didnít know until recently whether I was going to be staying on at the school and, given all the shortcomings, Iím in no doubt that Iíve had a very successful year. Itís just that now I know what to expect I can plan to make the day to day running of things a whole lot smoother and much more efficient.
With each passing day the anxiety lessens. In its place is a not entirely logical feeling that all will be well. To some extent it comes down to not stressing over things we have no control over and weíre both of us becoming old hands at that. What weíve come to realize and/or remember is that when we first embarked on this project there was no television show involved and no sponsorship to speak of. It was just the two of us deciding to pack up shop in London and embark on a whole new adventure back here in Melbourne.
Well, it finally happened. At around 11:00pm this evening after a day of abysmal weather our neighbours knocked on the door to say the rain had gotten into their side of the demolished building. Having just had the whole party wall fully protected two days ago we were devastated. I immediately called the roof repair guy whoíll have someone here first thing tomorrow morning but thatís little comfort to the neighbours right now. Amazingly they were incredibly forgiving and kept saying it was no major drama. The irony is itís happened after the protection works were completed and not before.
People often talk about mending fences with their neighbours. In this instance weíve been mending roofs. When we demolished our side of the house our then builder assured us he would attend to the protection of our neighbours. Despite a constant string of reminder calls he didnít, hence the current situation. As things have turned out weíve actually gotten to know our neighbours better and weíve invited them out for lunch next weekend. I shudder to think how much worse it might have all been. Itís good to know that in some instances good fortune is still smiling upon us.
I canít quite get my head around the fact that the end of the school year is almost upon us. With just nine teaching days to go there remains an extraordinary mountain of work to be done, not least of which is photographing a piece of artwork for each student to go into their portfolio. Again, given the number of girls I teach that is a huge undertaking, especially given that each image needs cropping and colour correcting in Photoshop. Iíve made some considerable headway already but trying to fit it into an already packed timetable will prove a challenge.
Iíve cancelled all lunchtime breaks for the next two weeks as I open the classrooms to the Year 6 girls who are desperately trying to complete their figurines for Presentation Night next week. This is a project I inherited from my predecessor in which the girl makes a replica of herself in school uniform. I tried to drop the project but faced with some opposition from parents and the girls themselves I modified it so that they could create a figurine of who they might be in ten years time. Either way, they are all far from finishing the task.
Iíve finally met the teacher I've replaced. Her name is Ellen and she's delightful. She showed me where she has electrodes implanted in her head and the spot in her neck where there is an embedded chip which she presses to provide relief from her otherwise never ending headaches. She tells me that while sheíll never be cured she generally has four good days out of five. It takes the edge of my having assumed her role at school. The thought that it was because she would be forever afflicted without any sense of relief didnít rest easy with me.
Despite the drama of the last few weeks I find myself ending the month on an even keel. With the prospect of six weeks holiday just around the corner Iím as preoccupied with all the things I want to do with my time off as I am with worrying about the house. It occurs to me I havenít painted a picture since we left London; nor have I gone for a swim at the Prahran Pool. I want to spend time doing yoga, going for walks, listening to music, watching films, reading books and basically having some quality Me time.
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