Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Rape and Alcohol

Over the last few weeks, I've been fortunate enough to speak to several fantastic bloggers and journalists, who have been writing about victim blaming and violence. Most of this has been related to a the posters at occupational health (which have now been taken down), though I was asked to comment on a different issue today.

Judge Mowat, who is thankfully retiring, publicly stated that rape convictions will not fall until women stop getting drunk. She effectively told women that if they are drinking, their cases will be dismissed and they might as well not prosecute.This attitude is worrying, coming from anyone. But when it comes from someone as highly regarded, it is dangerous. 

The statement I gave to the journalist is as follows:

"These statements, by a respected and trusted figure, are extremely worrying. Rape is the result of the perpetrators actions, and it is these that need to be examined, not the victim's. The archaic attitudes and stereotypes, combined with the taboo of sexual violence, mean that many women feel unable to seek the justice that they deserve or the support that they need. Rape happens to women of all ages, from all backgrounds, of all appearances and in all communities, and outdated, blinkered views of an 'acceptable victim'  need to be challenged."

There's far more that I could have said "officially", but people better qualified than me had already covered these issues, including Rape Crisis England and Wales, and Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre. 

Yet again, it shows how desperately we need to open a dialogue on the concept of consent. If respected judges and juries are telling women that women are at fault if they are so drunk they can't remember, and talk of whether they consented or not, it really brings into question their own knowledge of the law. After all, the perpetrator must reasonably believe that the woman had consented, and if the woman cannot remember because she had been so inebriated (which was claimed by Judge Mowat), then she evidently lacked capacity to consent.

Comments on the Mail Online's article include such gems as:

"Being so drunk you can't remember names makes you vulnerable, that's not blaming it's stating a fact", "Blame the ladette culture"
"Obviously people who are out drinking are easy targets"
"Women have to learn their limits"
"You wouldn't leave your front door open when you go on holiday"
"Women should fight like fury if they ever find themselves in such a situation"
"It wasn't your fault - well, it is if you get too drunk!"
"Men will learn not to rape when we all get into paradise."

But what do you expect from the average Daily Mail reader, eh?

Thing is, these comments show several of the key problems with the general public's perception of rape. Time and time again, people were writing about being out, being alone and vulnerable... but only one third of reported cases involve alcohol, not the vast majority as seems to be implied. And most callers to rape crisis helplines knew their attacker. That's not to negate the impact on those who are raped by strangers, but statistically speaking, the image put forward by these readers is the tiny minority.

As for fighting like fury and talking about injury and DNA samples as evidence, it again shows a lack of understanding. It is not as simple as fighting. There is fight or flight, but there is a third reflex as well - freeze. Both times that I was raped, I became incredibly still and passive. Maybe it was self-preservation, trying to stop any further physical harm, but it certainly didn't mean I consented in any way.

If women were to be responsible for reducing the risk to themselves and do this effectively, the actual list of advice would be rather different. It would include such gems as don't date, don't marry, don't make any friends (particularly male ones). Don't smile at anyone, don't leave your house, and live as a hermit in complete isolation.

Basically, it's completely and utterly impossible to protect oneself from rape, because it is the perpetrator's decision and fault. The victim cannot be expected to change her actions, her clothing or anything else, especially when that doesn't actually have any correlation to the incident (but even if it did...!)

People have preconceived ideas as to what a rape victim is. They don't see the reality of the situation, to the extent that I received a good and proper trolling on Twitter a few weeks ago, where I was told that no-one would ever want to rape a "land-whale" like me. Yet again, rape is reduced to a sexual act, rather than one of control and power.

What seems to be positive is that the dialogue is starting. Even publications like the Daily Mail, which have a historically poor reputation with regards to women's rights issues, are reporting positively about victim-blaming. Maybe the readers are still reluctant, but change takes time.

If you are interested in reading the Daily Mail article, it can be found here.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

New Uniform

Whenever something changes, there is always resistance. Watching the launch of the new Guide uniform has been fascinating, as it has been one of the first major changes in recent times where I have been on the outside looking in. I mean, I'm still a member, just not leading. So I don't have that same "on the ground" experience anymore.

It all kicked off last night when leaders were warned of today's press release. This is just how it should be. If we expect leaders to be professional and prepared, they need to be informed so that they can deal with queries. I remember a time when this was not the case and I was getting asked questions by parents and the public but had no idea what was happening! The fact that Girlguiding have taken this step forward is brilliant - I just wish that some of my sister Guides would honour the confidentiality!

Within an hour, over 500 complaints had been made regarding the new uniform. This is nothing unexpected. Whenever there is change in Guiding, there is contention. Actually, that's not unique to Guiding. Human beings crave stability. Even those who have wanderlust or enjoy new experiences have a secure base to work from. 

What did surprise me was my own reaction to the new uniform. Because I really, really didn't like it. At first. Then I took a second glance and thought, "what if it was that t-shirt with jeans?" Ok, that is sort of passable. I can't see any kids I know particularly liking it, but it wasn't too awful. And, in reality, girls will put their own spin on it. They won't trot into a meeting trussed up like the Guiding Essentials catalogue. Well, maybe for the first term.

Then I realised that all the detractors, including myself, had forgotten something in this. Ok, the kids we have spoken to might hate it at the moment. But it has novelty value. "I'd be the first to wear new uniform," a friend's daughter commented. That is a powerful force. It is new, it is different and certain aspects of it are on trend. It kind of looks like a Commonwealth Games outfit.

So... We'll have no problems getting this first generation into the uniform. But what about next year, when the novelty of the design has worn off? Realistically, 2015 will be the hardest year for this uniform. Novelty will have worn off, the blocky colours may have gone out of fashion and there is still the option of the old uniform. But if their friends in the year above have the new stuff, that might swing it.

Why does it get easier after that? Two reasons. Firstly, it will be the only option from 2016 onwards. Secondly, at least half the unit will be in the new uniform, so they will be the odd ones out by not wearing it. I say at least half, because the 2014 and 2015 intake will be wearing it, plus any older girls who have outgrown their previous stuff. But in addition to that, most of the girls won't know any different. That's the uniform, that's just what you wear to Guides.

A lot of the complaints are just resistance to change and projecting our own views onto the girls. The rest are because it is a genuinely confusing mix of clothing (which doesn't even match the new colour scheme of the Guide blanket!). For most of the girls, a t-shirt won't put them off at age 10. And as long as the core values and a healthy, balanced and girl-led programme is there, it probably won't drive off any more than usual at age 13.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Posters and Tweets

The last week has been an eye opener for me, and reminded me of the kindness, resilience and passion of the women out there, regardless of whether I know them or not.

Due to a series of strange migraines which leave me unable to move or speak (they present themselves a bit like strokes), I've been off work for two weeks. And, somehow, my consent forms and other details went missing from occupational health, prompting my boss to suggest I deliver them by hand.

So, last Friday, I did exactly that. I printed and completed another consent form, phoned the occupational health people to warn them that I was coming, and hopped in my car. I was a little hesitant and determined to put on the "calm, put together" facade, because they obviously know about my past and I didn't want them to decide I was hysterical and incapable of working. Not that it was likely, but I do tend to over-think these things, and I had poor experiences with people wielding power (whose preconceived ideas about sexual assault caused big problems) last year.

I arrived at the building and rang the doorbell. The lady I spoke to on the phone asked me to come in and take a seat, as the nurse wanted to speak to me personally. Personally? I was a little concerned about this, but sat anyway.

That's when I saw it. After all, it could hardly be missed. On a blue board about alcohol abuse, where most posters were white and featuring individual drinks, there was a "featured" one in the centre. This most prominent poster was black, showing a woman and stated, "1 in 3 reported rapes happens when the victim has been drinking. Know Your Limits."

I felt sick. After all the campaigning, after everything that is being done, council-run centres are still displaying posters like this. Not that they should be anywhere, but the EVB Campaign was founded here in Nottinghamshire and that, somehow, made it worse. Then, of course, there was the fact that an establishment like this, that would be judging me, had these archaic views. I might as well pack my bags...

I surreptitiously took a photo, and managed to sit down just before the nurse came to collect me and talk me through the process. It left me with more answers than questions (seeing as everyone seems to be contradicting each other), but my mind was elsewhere. That poster.

A few hours later, I tweeted the photo. In the days since, it has been retweeted 53 times, and @manderlay1940's retweet with additional comment was tweeted 74 times. And various other modifications have also done the rounds.

I was taken aback by the interest shown. I knew the poster was awful, but I had initially thought that I was being oversensitive. I never thought that so many people would be outraged. A lovely lady on Twitter asked to phone and interview me for her blog, and she has recently told me that a petition to get these posters removed has begun.

I found out today that this petition has over 5000 signatures, that the NUS has also waded in and commented on it and The Drum is also running an article. Part of it seems a little crazy, that this little "Yuck, look what I saw!" has taken off.

But then I'm really, really glad.

You see, even now, I don't have the courage to do anything myself. I'm happy to speak in public about violence against women and girls (like at Nine Worlds), I'm happy to teach about gender equality or sexual violence or even do very personal performances about it (like at the Silence the Violence event in Nottingham). But for me to ask them to remove this poster, that was making it too personal. That felt like I was trying to remove something that was uncomfortable for me, for my own personal gain rather than for the greater good, and I was scared of the impact that could have on my career. After all, occupational health hold my life in their hands right now.

This isn't about just my feelings, though. And it doesn't matter how old this poster is (apparently, it was released in 2006). By displaying that poster, which is endorsed by both the Home Office and the NHS, it effectively tells you that those organisations will look at your culpability first, as the victim, and also that the organisation displaying it will do the same. These are organisations in positions of power and trust, ones that are supposed to be supporting people.

If, on a pre-employment form, you declare that you have suffered anxiety attacks, flashbacks, depression or any other lasting effects of assault, the chances are you will be called in for an interview. Imagine sitting in that waiting room, as a woman who has experienced rape, and seeing that this establishment thinks it's your fault. Imagine what that does, on top of the nerves and worry that you already have.

So I'm glad that other women have taken this cause and run with it. I'm glad that so many people are outraged, because it shows how our outlook as a society is beginning to change, how people are willing to act for change and how we can stand in solidarity to support each other and say, "no, this isn't just you feeling this way." 

Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish I had been brave enough to do it myself. To step up and say, "this isn't right, we need to change it". But then, I know that the reassurance and support, and the knowledge that I'm not alone in this, is what I needed this time. That was my discovery to make.

For those wondering, I have been told that the county council received complaints, and that the poster has been removed. I will be checking this when I go in for my next appointment in a few weeks.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Ohio: The Importance of Choice

If you want to read Neil Lyndon's article, please consider using this link. It uses a service that stops the Telegraph from profiting from disgusting journalism such as this.

It has been announced in the past few days that Ohio has tabled a bill regarding abortion and men's rights in agreeing to termination. It is a horrific piece of legislation that would be a worrying step backwards in human rights if passed.
But whilst the bill itself is shocking, just as appalling is the reaction of male journalists and campaigners who seem to have missed the point entirely.
I pride myself on being inclusive in feminism, in wanting to involve people of all ages, backgrounds and genders in our fight for equality. I am far from a separatist, despite what my history might lead people to think. I believe feminism can be women-centred and women-led without being women-only. And I truly believe that female equality benefits men long-term too.
However, when I read articles such as that by Neil Lyndon in the Telegraph, I am suddenly led to feel a great surge of empathy for my separatist sisters.
First, let's talk about pregnancy. There's the obvious, terrifying realisation that you're going to be a parent. Even if you really want it and you're excited, there's still fear and trepidation. Yes, that's something that men feel too, I will allow that. But do they put on enormous amounts of weight, some of which they might never shift? Sounds fine, but what about when society -yes, YOUR patriarchal, misogynistic crap - insists that we stay perfect, beautiful, skinny and flawless forever? 
And how about our whole relationship with the world changing? I wish that was an exaggeration. I went down to the hotel bar to see a friend and ended up choking back the vomit. "What IS that stuff you're drinking?" It was just red wine, but a pregnant woman's sense of smell changes so drastically that it alters her perception. Shopping at the supermarket became the strangest experience, smells I'd never noticed before suddenly becoming overwhelming. I was more sensitive to sound, to taste. I had extraordinary cravings taking over my body. Quite simply, my body was not my own.
And then, at the end of nine months of intermittent sickness, pain and aches, sleepless nights (because you just can't sleep comfortably), weight gain, swollen ankles and other parts, comes the grand finale - forcing a fully grown baby out of a hole so small that its skull bones have to overlap to get through. And whilst much safer today than it once was, childbirth is still risky. In fact, there were a staggering 343,000 deaths during childbirth in 2008.
Have you got the picture yet? Pregnancy... Childbirth... it's scary stuff.
And whilst men may be expected to contribute to prospective offspring, and may still feel the same levels of fear and trepidation about parental commitments or the well-being of their partners, they don't have to go through the physical changes, the hormones or face a potentially life-threatening situation at the end of it. It isn't your body to control. As I said before, it was barely my own!

 “Since fathers will have legal responsibilities for child support, they should have rights regarding the birth or destruction of the foetus."

There is so much wrong with this quote from Lyndon's article. If there is a child resulting from the pregnancy AND they are required to contribute financially, then perhaps it can be discussed further. At that point. But with regard to the pregnancy and birth, that affects the mother and decisions should be her domain.

So women, according to Lyndon's piece, would have to provide a list of possible fathers. There would be paternity tests so that the individual could give "permission" for a termination. Seriously? There's a one night stand and no interest in children, but she needs to ask for permission to get rid of an unwanted foetus that could risk HER LIFE, physical and emotional well-being and did I mention HER LIFE?!

"If the father cannot be identified, the woman would not be allowed to terminate her pregnancy."

Because, obviously, a woman cannot make autonomous decisions. If the father is so elusive that he cannot be identified, how does he have any rights at all in these circumstances?

"Where the woman says that the pregnancy is the result of rape, she would have to provide a police report as evidence before she could have the abortion."

So, let me get this straight. A woman has been sexually assaulted, had all of her rights stripped away from her in the worst possible way. She's, quite possibly, struggling to admit what happened to herself, let alone anyone else. She's just found out that not only was her body treated as a plaything by someone else on that night, but her body has just been taken over by a parasite for the next nine months (ok, eight, once she finds out) and her body's still not her own. I keep coming back to this, but the issue of propriety is actually quite significant when all ownership has been stripped away.

She's gone through all of this, and now you're not going to let her have an abortion unless she provides a police report? So she's got to report and relive that whole experience, and that's if the police decide to take it seriously in the first place. A law like this is only going to encourage police forces to dismiss rape cases on the grounds that she's "just trying to get an abortion". Why make a difficult situation harder?

I look back on my experience in Germany and wonder where I would have been. I was laughed at by the police, because I was an English girl. I've been laughed at by others because I'm ugly and should be grateful for the attention. I'm not alone; there are thousands of women experiencing the same victim shaming that I went through, and refusal to acknowledge the trauma.

Reporting to the police, just like abortion, needs to be a choice. Choice is everything in cases of violence, and all those choices need to be independent and exclusive.

Is it in the interests of taxpayers that 150,000+ abortions should be performed every year? Is it in the interests of the wider society that those lives - more or less equal to the annual figure for net migration in the UK - should be stilled?"

These were the final questions asked in the article. The short answer is that yes, these abortions are definitely in the interest of the taxpayer. The longer answer is that we often is the surgical cost of termination without considering the wider implications.

Imagine a woman who has been forced into having her child. Think of the counselling and therapy costs that she would undoubtedly need at some point. Think of the economic cost due to someone potentially unable to work as effectively due to the emotional or physical repercussions. If you want to look at cold, hard facts, then an abortion costs around £400 as opposed to upwards of £700 for childbirth (and that's without all the scans and all the rest of it). Then there's the cost of education, healthcare and everything else. If you want cold, hard "interests of taxpayers", then that woman's doing you a hell of a favour.

In reality, nothing is ever so black and white. Every woman's story is different and the reasons for abortion are also varied. To reduce women to the cost of their healthcare, abortion or birth, or to reduce children to the cost of their education is over-simplification at best, but rather callous and insulting.

Women deserve a choice over something that will permanently change their lives. There is no shame in involving the father in the decision process, but there is also no obligation. If men are so concerned with how they are being treated in these cases, then perhaps it's time to take a look at the bigger picture and the way our patriarchal society is treating women as a whole. Perhaps then, they may start to understand.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Support vs Pressure

Last year, I met a woman who was completely aghast at my openness. She asked me how I would feel if my headteacher knew about my past, about the fact I'd been raped, about my pregnancies and miscarriages. She obviously thought that I'd be terrified by the idea of anyone knowing, especially my headteacher. I wasn't, particularly. Though I wouldn't have gone out of my way to share this blog or my experience, I wasn't ashamed of it, much to this woman's surprise.

You see, this woman thought that being raped is something I should hide. She told me that by speaking openly about it, I'm bringing the organisations I work with into disrepute, that I was unfit to be working with young people. She told me that groups didn't need the stigma of people like me, that sort of woman, like it was my fault, like I had attracted trouble and I should feel guilty.

I don't blame this woman for her views, any more than I blame the organisation that she represents. She is, unfortunately, a victim herself - a victim of societal misconceptions about gender inequality and abuse. She has spent so long believing myths of culpability that violence has become something that her truth has become warped. Views like this need to be challenged, and I still feel a sense of disgust that it has taken me so long to address it, but they also need to be tackled in a way that is respectful of the framework and experiences that have shaped the viewpoint in the first place. We are trying to change minds, not destroy people.

But this post isn't about that incident or that woman, not directly. It's to do with what she said.

As I've said in a previous post, I'm lucky enough to be working in a school that I love, and I've been there since January. This half term, my induction reports from my first two terms finally arrived from my previous authority, and I was asked into the headteacher's office.

"But these are not at all reflective of what we've seen here," she commented on the reports, quoting choice sections that made me cringe. "What's changed? Why did you struggle so much?"

I don't quite know what made me be so honest, but I was. I sat there and told her that I should never have trained when I did, that I was fighting back against what happened to me, that I've had counselling since and started building up that relationship with myself again.

She asked questions - lots of questions - and I answered every one of them, fully and honestly. By the end of the meeting, I was broken and shaking, but she knew the whole situation. She thanked me for sharing and told me that it really helped her - it meant that she understood and she had enough context that she could support me and fight my corner if it was needed.

When I was interviewed for a proper contract (rather than the supply I'm currently doing), I was also open about what I do, that I blog about gender inequality, violence against women, that I have run workshops on the subject, that I write articles, go on marches and other bits. I never for a moment thought that I would be judged.

I have been discussing what we can do to support those who have experienced VAWG, both staff members and children. My experience, my past, it's all valued rather than dismissed or swept under the carpet. It's not something that comes up every day or something that is at the forefront, but it is acknowledged when appropriate. I'm free to be myself and not just a sanitised facade that threatens to crack over time.

If we accept the experiences of others and support them, we can lift them up and help them reach their full potential. By forcing them to hide their true selves or aspects of that, we are putting pressure on them and forcing them down until they break. 

Sadly, I know that I am in the minority, being in an environment that does support and embrace me for who I am. But we need to take this model and encourage it. Not so that every woman has to share their experience, but so no woman has to live in fear of it "coming out".

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Languages 2014

As a teacher trained in secondary languages, I often find myself blustering through the primary curriculum followed by a trail of self-doubt and insecurity. I might be able to blag my way through English and humanities, but what on Earth gives me the right to teach maths or P.E.?

Most of the time, I remind myself that teaching skills are transferable. Yes, you need to adapt, but the fundamentals are the same; good progress, pupil talk, higher order thinking skills, VAK approach. I'm constantly learning (or deepening my knowledge), particularly in specific curriculum areas, and have made a lot of progress in the time I've been working with my lovely Y3 class, but I'm still in awe of the skills demonstrated by my primary trained colleagues.

However, in various staffroom discussions, I began to realise that the way I feel about primary teaching is how most of my co-workers feel about teaching languages. Many of them currently avoid it, using excuses like, "we couldn't fit it in" (in fairness, we do have abnormally short afternoons which are taken up with so many other subjects) amongst other things, and consoling themselves with the knowledge that my MFL club constitutes access to language learning.

But September 2014 is coming, and with it comes the new curriculum.

I am by no means an expert, and definitely not in Spanish (the chosen foreign language of my school). I was a French and German specialist, but I have a vague idea of what Ofsted are looking for in a language classroom, thanks to the constant threat of HMI in previous schools.

So, the standard 80:20 pupil:teacher talk ratio, rapid progess, at least 50% target language (including pupil talk), normal classroom commands and questions done in target language, learner autonomy in communication, application of grammatical concepts...

How do you create learner autonomy and promote language use in a classroom where the teacher is not confident or willing in using target language themselves? There are only two teachers in the school (myself not included) who speak some rusty Spanish and they only teach it under protest.

The first task, evidently, is to raise confidence in staff. Yes, you could employ a native speaker or language specialist to get the job done, but if you are going to integrate the principles of language learning throughout the curriculum (as suggested), then the rest of the staff need to get confident too. 

Schools simply don't have the money, resources or time to spend on sending every member of staff on a course. What needs to be done is ready to go lesson plans, with target language included, for every member of staff. Linked with that needs to be target language sheets for pupils so that they can ask to go to the toilet, if they can borrow a rubber, if they can get a drink (rather like most secondary schools already do).

Yes, it's time consuming, but it's worth it. You simply cannot get the required percentage of target language without the right scaffolding, support and confidence on both sides. It's not enough to have enthusiastic learners, or just enthusiastic teachers, you need both. And you need to give them the tools.

As for 80:20, why is it that primary teachers go into a blind panic about this? They are amazing at planning literacy lessons or numeracy lessons that are pupil centred. But ask most of them to do the same thing in a foreign language, and they lose the ability to think straight. That treasure hunt that you did for science? Yeah, that works for French too. And the Tarsia activity you did in history? Perfect for German! You know how you use chunking grids for practising with different connectives? Use that too!

For me, the area it gets really tricky is rapid progress. I've seen so many lessons at primary level focused on greetings, with no progression over the half term, just repetition. It's fine for playing with language and getting used to some of the sounds, but for the new curriculum, it will need a complete overhaul.

In my class, I have girl whose mother is a native speaker. I have been given all sorts of advice from my colleagues, such as "She'll enjoy the games, leave her to it" and "Use her as a translator, it shows progress in a different skill", but I'm not convinced by any of these.

If I leave this girl to the games, she shows no progress at all (except, perhaps, in her enjoyment of language). If I use her as a translator, then how do I prove her progress in Spanish? How is her skill measurable in interpreting single words and short exchanges for her peers?

On the other hand, this girl has not done much written work in Spanish. She currently tries to write things phonetically, using English rules (which works sometimes, but not with ll, y or v) and she rarely uses connectives. She gets her tenses mixed up too when writing, which shows a whole area where we could differentiate appropriately, stretch her and show good progress.

But how many members of staff in primary schools have the skills and ability to do this? I'm currently struggling, and get by through my knowledge of language teaching and my networks that I've developed over the years. Ideally, schools would be able to access this sort of expertise through their local secondary schools, but in cases where the primary curriculum is in a different language to that taught at KS3, this is not necessarily going to work either.

The new curriculum for language teaching has the potential to work. But only if the curriculum is directed by someone with the time and skills to support everyone appropriately, and if there are suitable links in place. Teachers need to stop seeing foreign language as a scary, unteachable concept, and realise that they already have most of the skills in place. Above all, for this to work, we need to co-operate, network and be a little more confident.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Right School

"Wow, it's been four months since I first interviewed you... It's just flown by!" my boss (who isn't really my boss and it's complicated, but I still call him my boss because he's awesome) told me.

This was a staff night out on the last day of term. Quite sedate really, but the first staff night out I've been on since I lived in Dunstable (and those were merely after-school pub sessions or nights in the school hall), because I've never been counted as one of the staff before, no matter how long I've worked at a school.

In some ways, he's right. This term has flown by quickly, before I even realised it was happening. But, on the other hand, it feels like I've been at that school for years, like I'm as much part of the furniture as everyone else. I love it so much and it's been such an integral part of my healing process and personal journey.

Before starting at that place, I'd all but given up hope with teaching. I felt like I was useless, had nothing to offer, and like the detractors who blamed me for my experience of violence (and accused me of being unfit to work with young people) were probably right. I had no self-esteem, no confidence in my abilities.

Mr Boss Man once asked why I was so worried about a lesson observation, when I had been so chilled at interview... The truth was that I never expected to get a job. I couldn't for one second believe that anyone would actually want me, so I wasn't overly worried about rejection when I expected it anyway.

Being at this school has taught me so much. Firstly, that I do have the organisational skills to cope with this job, though it does take an awful lot more effort for me to keep on top of things than for some people! And that I'm not the messiest / most disorganised person in the school. It's a close run thing, but knowing that scatty people can get far in this profession keeps me sane!

It's taught me that I do have strengths in this job. I am good at languages and music (obviously), but my language work has given me a head start in teaching English. I've discovered that I adapt quickly, that I learn from training and work to meet my targets. I've also learnt where I can give extra to the school, in terms of clubs and things. I've found that I'm good at scaffolding and differentiation. It's not something I thought I was very good at, but it seems to come easily, as do pupil-led lessons.

I've learnt that I'm stronger than I think I am. With so many children from difficult backgrounds, I was bound to come into contact with stories similar to mine. I didn't think I'd cope with that, but I did, I am, I can. It's really empowering to know that my experience gives me perspective, strength and empathy, rather than the weakness and hindrance that I thought it would.

And, most importantly (possibly), is that I've found out how to love a job and commit to it - throw myself in entirely - without sacrificing myself and my emotions. Too often, in the past, the only time I would really work as hard as I could was to escape the pain and flashbacks. Now, I throw myself in because I want the children to learn and have fun, I want to do my best for them and for the school.

I've still got a long way to go. Observations seem to cause severe allergic reactions (well, nervous breakdowns) and I need to get the hang of this work-life balance thing... but I've discovered how much I can do with the support and input of the right school.

And, for the first time in forever, I feel truly happy.

This didn't really fit in anywhere above, but I wanted to say it anyway... the people I work with are amazing and supportive. The school is the wonderful, nurturing environment that it is because of the fantastic men and women working in there are so compassionate. I have wonderful TAs in my classroom, reassuring me constantly, a beautiful colleague in the other Year 3 class who has coped so well with a newbie, a brilliant senior leadership team and, just generally, the best colleagues a girl could ask for. The school wouldn't be what it is without them, and I wouldn't be who I am without them either!

Friday, 28 March 2014


"Hello," the man greeted, as I trotted down the corridor. "Is there a big event on this weekend?"

I turned to face him and felt it. "It" was a strange combination of emotion and physical reaction that caught me completely off-guard; the stomach lurch, the sudden urge to vomit as my gag reflex kicked in, dizziness and itchy feet. I don't know if you've ever had real itchy feet (not just the metaphorical "it's time for a holiday" type) - the urge to run for the hills that is so overwhelming that you can't physically stand still...

It wasn't the first time I had seen him over the weekend. When I arrived last Friday night, he was on his way out of the gym. But it had been nice and easy that time - I kept my head down and scurried on by as he left. This was a little different.

Who was he? He was the man who raped me last year. I knew there was a chance that he would be around. Though it was a hotel, he was a gym member and it did make sense that he'd be around at some point. But I had rationalised that the probability of encountering him was low; I would have to be passing that same part of the corridor at the same moment. Unless I decided to chill out in the gym, it was highly unlikely. I didn't think I'd see him multiple times.

Part of me wanted to run as fast as I could. Perhaps I would have done, but I was wearing my crew badge on my lanyard, and I knew I was representing the company. So I forced myself to stop, take a breath and smiled back at him.

I'm kinda good at that now, the composing myself to look like I'm comfortable. Between meetings with male colleagues, kids' dads and other things, I'm fairly used to being alone with men (though still dislike it), and have developed a series of barriers that allow me to fake it - big smile, straight back, confident, professional attitude and an awareness of my potential escape route. And breathing. Breathing's quite important, as is holding my hands in front of me so no-one can see them shake. It's become so automatic, that I barely have to think about it on a day to day basis.

But I did last Saturday...

"Yes," I told him, my hands gripped tightly together. I told him the name of the company and explained, "It's a signing event."

He nodded. "I've heard of that one before. Are you staff or just here for fun?"

I explained that I was crew and answered his questions patiently and politely, whilst silently praying for him to leave me the hell alone.

Afterwards, it took me a while to verbalise what upset me about the encounter. "Of course you were upset - he raped you" doesn't actually cover the whole reaction and range of feelings. It was more than that. It was more than fear of him, or sorrow at what I went through, or anger at what he did or a sense of isolation....

It was absolute rage and indignation. Because not only did he turn my world upside down last summer, just when I thought I was finding my feet, but he had the gall to talk to me like I was just another person.  And that's when I realised that - to him - I was just another person.

He changed my life, had a great impact on it. But I had no impact on his. I was nothing more than a body to him and I never would be. He didn't feel any remorse or guilt or anything, because he couldn't remember me or my face, even though he spent all that time hurting me in the most vile, intimate and personal manner. He will never remember my face, but I will never forget his.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

I am NOT a statistic

91% of rapes are committed by people known to the victim.
'Only' 9% of rapes are committed by strangers.

One of the weirdest concepts for me is that I am on both sides of this statistic that Nottingham Rape Crisis Centre tweets quite frequently. And, possibly odder than that, both make me bristle equally.

91%? Are we not outraged by this figure, that so many men in our lives are taking advantage and abusing us in the most horrific way imaginable? 91%, so my case is nothing unusual, nothing special, I'm just another woman, another number, another nameless, faceless victim?

I hate that 91% statistic, because it trivialises what I've experienced, what hundreds and thousands of women have experienced, and it reduces us all to a "one size fits all". Organisations like NRCC spend so much time and money trying to educate people that we are all different, that our reactions and stories are unique, that this universal statement feels like it's undermining that.

On the other hand is the 9% comment. Because it's aiming to dispel the myths that all rapes are committed by strangers, aiming to reassure those women who think "I must be over-reacting; it's just rough sex", but it does far more than that. It takes an already isolating situation, where a woman can feel like no-one could possibly understand, and reinforces that. Been raped by a stranger? Then you're a freak, you're alone.

There's also the "97% of callers to our helpline knew their attacker" tweet, which is even more uncomfortable than the previous one. I think I was so distressed that I laughed and jeered, "Well, aren't I ******* special, then?!" at my computer screen.

And despite this, I applaud NRCC's work to raise awareness of the truth behind rape. I love that they're breaking taboos, talking about difficult subjects and getting discussions going. I just wish there was a way to do it that didn't dehumanise the brave and passionate women that they work with.

Occasionally, I get a little embarrassed that these tweets elicit such an emotional reaction. After all, I'm quite capable of switching off, removing myself from attachment from the statistics, of working alongside people on difficult topics and advocating. 

Then I remember that my emotions are what make me human. Yes, they're all over the place, unpredictable and sometimes a little disproportional, but they're mine. MINE.

And where does that leave me? Because now I feel a little guilty about my feelings, and unable to raise the questions or challenge the wording, but then I'm pleased that I reacted because it's a reminder that I'm human (and proves that these tweets actually have an impact!) and still indignant that people are being swept under the carpet.

Actually, it leaves me silent. I've been watching this for several months now, not quite sure how to phrase my discomfort, until I saw a brave woman stand up and challenge today. And I'm grateful for it. Incredibly so.

I think what I'm trying to say is that rape makes me angry. It makes me absolutely furious. I don't care whether it's a stranger, husband, friend, someone I met in the pub... because it is a man who has committed a completely unforgivable act of sexual and psychological violence. 

Yes, we need to know the statistics and strong, emotional reactions to them mean that they are taking effect, but for every statistic, can we look at the human impact? For every number, can we have a reminder that every single woman is unique, important and loved? And can we please, please get rid of "only" and language that reduces us to some sort of caged animal, a curiosity in the corner?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Back To Nine

I still remember my first visit to Nottingham Women's Centre. I was surprised by how bright, warm and friendly the welcome area was, and how everyone else seemed...normal.

I sat down nervously on one of the sofas, not quite sure if I was supposed to make my own way up to the Rape Crisis Centre, or if someone would come down to fetch me. Or if people would make assumptions if I asked the way. I wasn't quite ready to acknowledge that out loud.

There was a blonde woman in the kitchen area, who looked up and asked if I needed help. Without any sort of judgement, she asked if I was going up to NRCC and told me to follow her. As we walked, she explained how she had been for counselling there, how it does get better, that life becomes bearable and how that place gets under your skin... you don't just walk away from the women's centre.

I didn't believe her back then. I couldn't see a way that I could live without the hurt, or that other things could be at the centre of my life out of choice and happiness rather than forcing them into the spotlight in order to hide from the horrors I was avoiding. I couldn't quite grasp how I could move on without forgetting, deal with what I remembered, be happy...

And if I didn't believe her then, I believed her even less as counselling continued. As we explored feelings and delved into the problems that I faced, everything seemed more hopeless than ever. How was I supposed to heal from something that was ripped open every time we spoke?

I began to go camping again, do the things that I loved. It gave me confidence that other things could take priority in my life, and that I was still the girl that I was before all this, even though I had changed a bit. I took opportunities and did things that pushed me, such as Roverway in Finland and the Stop The Violence seminar in Belgium. I began to learn that I had a voice. Not just any voice, but a powerful, authentic voice.

Progress isn't measured in perfection, but in the little victories. Camping in the wilderness of Evo, speaking at a feminist event, going back to the scene of the violence. It's measured in the nights without nightmares, going out without panicking, working every day with children the same age as my daughter would have been. Progress is a journey.

I was first raped on 26th February 2005. Every year, I avoid the world in any way possible on that date. Whether it is pretending to be ill or booking a day off work, I barely ever leave the house, choosing instead to curl up in a nest of cuddly toys and watch a film. The only real exception was in 2011, when I was forced to attend a first aid training day and did so whilst suffering panic attacks and flashbacks the whole time.

Last year, I was very aware of the date. I didn't work, but also never panicked or cried. I said at counselling that night that it felt like any other day. I'm not sure it did, to be honest. Not looking back on that now.

This Wednesday was the 26th February. I got up, headed to work, ate my porridge and did my preparations. I taught my first couple of sessions, got my morning hugs from the usual suspects in year three, made a few lewd jokes with my boss. I went for a meeting in his office - just me and him - to discuss a couple of issues, then headed back. And I wrote the date on the board...

"Oh..." I stopped and clutched my head, just for a second. I'd seen it and felt dizzy. Just for a second, because it had caught me completely unaware. The 26th February really was just like any other day, and all of a sudden it caught up with me; how I was stood in that place, teaching, meeting with male colleagues, acting like anyone else.

I suddenly realised exactly what that woman had meant. I hadn't forgotten what happened to me, I hadn't forgotten what day it happened on or anything else, but somehow it was manageable. Somehow, I was able to get up, go to work and just do my normal thing.

After that brief moment, I continued for the rest of the day. And when I got home, remembering the date, I put all my cuddly toys on my bed, and did my annual tradition of nesting with a Disney film. Not because I needed it, not because I was hiding, but because it's part of me - I love my Disney and I deserve it after a tough day.

My past is always going to be a part of me. In some ways, because of the writing that I do and the campaigns I'm involved in, it will be quite an integral part of me and something that I'm not necessarily willing to cast aside. But it's something that I work with, giving myself time to heal, grieve, celebrate and love, as I need it.

These days, I find that I'm the woman talking of experience and how we can heal. I'm the woman that praises the women's centre and NRCC and the amazing work they do with women of all backgrounds. I'm the one that's never really left, still doing things and feeling like the women at the centre are extended family. And I find myself thanking those women from that very first visit for welcoming into their community.

In This Place

In this place,
I feel the ghosts of my past
flickering in and out of existence.
I feel what was and what could have been
drowning out the present, colliding.

In this place,
I can  see my journey around me;
the panic ridden start and the call to action.
I see the women whose lives I touched
and the ones I never will.

In this place,
the emotions clamour to be heard;
wanting acknowledgement
and yet now - just as months ago -
I feel myself holding back the tide.

In this place,
I witness the growth;
the blossoming of awareness and my relationship with myself.
I witness the areas of need
and hold myself accountable to self-care.

In this place,
I promise myself truth -
just as I did back then.
I promise myself love and patience,
to allow myself to grieve.

This was written as part of Nottingham Women's Centre's "Writing For Healing" session, which I stumbled upon. It will be performed at their Silence The Violence event later in March.

News Headlines

This article was written as part of the Special Contributions Team for the EVB Campaign. For more information, please visit their website.

Every day, we are faced with a myriad of victim-blaming stories. A brief visit to three of the major news outlets uncovered no fewer than twelve inappropriate headlines or by-lines. From placing emphasis on a victim’s alcohol consumption to casting their abuse into doubt through misplaced quotation marks, each tells a stark tale of the media’s attitude towards those experiencing violence.
“Ethopian teenager who says she was raped by seven men…”
“155% rise in children groomed by sex gangs.”
“A beautician was left scarred for life after a fellow clubber glassed her when she refused to dance with him, it is claimed…”
“The woman was attacked while drunk…”
“Left demands answers from senior Labour trio over links to child sex group”
“Drama teacher charged with having sex with schoolboy she met while directing production of hit musical”
Though the last refers to the female abuse of a male, it is still an important example of how sub-editors choose to represent the sexual assault and violence towards children, young people and minors who are legally unable to consent to sexual activity.
In fact, victim blaming happens so often in today’s media that many people are increasingly immune to it. In creating a hierarchy of “worst examples”, are the ones at the top of the list those that shock, or the ones so subtle that they infiltrate the public consciousness at an unnoticed level? In fact, is it healthy to create a hierarchy at all, or should we challenge each and every instance?
Every single article, headline or comment that involves victim blaming is important. Each and every instance damages confidence in society, encourages self-doubt and self-blame. Each case reinforces society’s belief that male perpetrators and their reputations should be protected. There is a tendency to assume “innocent until proven guilty” which neglects to respect the needs of the victim.
In a society where over 90% of sexual assaults are thought to go unreported, it is imperative that women are believed and treated with the dignity that they deserve, so that they feel valued as members of the community and so that they have the confidence to work with authorities in the knowledge that they will be supported if or when they feel that they want to take further action.
Why does so much victim blaming exist in the media, particularly with regard to sexual assault and court cases? It is largely, as we know, both a symptom and cause of the gender inequality that exists, and created by the personal contexts of the journalists and editors. But more than that, the culture of legal action in which we live, where the press is held accountable for every comment and by-line printed about public figures, it is understandable that they would be wary about false accusations and anything that could cost the company. Unfortunately – and wrongly, of course – many editors find it far easier to side with the well-known personality, than to go with an anonymous member of the public who has little method of recourse.
However, there are ways to avoid litigation without blaming the victims of abuse and without holding them accountable for their own experience. There is language that can be used to report cries and allegations that allow women to retain confidence in the system.
Many instances of victim-blaming in recent headlines have been linked to three areas. But it is essential that sub-editors and journalists are not just challenged, but offered alternatives.
Firstly, all reports concerning children and minors who have been victims need to be referred to as instances of rape or sexual abuse. It is not sex, they are not having relationships with their abusers. If a young person is under the age of consent, then they cannot consent. Lack of consent is called rape.
If a person is in a position of responsibility, they are the ones who should ensure that any infatuation, signs of sexualised behaviour towards them (which can in itself be a warning sign of other abuse) or other unusual activity is referred up the chain, to the designated child protection officer. All persons working with young people receive extensive safeguarding training, from those involved in youth organisations such as Girlguiding or The Scout Association, to those working in schools. People in positions of care must not be mitigated by apparent flirtation – they are the abusers when acting in these cases, not the young person.
In cases purporting to allegations of sexual assault, it is imperative that the language used validates the information given by the victim whilst maintaining the legal boundaries. For example, terms such as ‘claims’, in addition to quantifiers such as ‘apparent’ and various quotation marks that lay doubt on the case should be replaced by neutral terms such as reports, allegations and – most preferably in a legal situation – charges. It is too easy for a journalist’s need for synonyms to open up connotations about the plausibility of the case.
Thirdly, a better understanding of this country’s legal system needs to be conveyed in writing. Not guilty does not mean innocent. A perpetrator can only be convicted if the crime can be proven beyond reasonable doubt which, in cases where the crimes may have been twenty or thirty years in the past, can be extremely difficult. Even more so when the people to be convinced are a jury made up of those exposed to victim-blaming on a daily basis.
Inconclusive evidence does not make someone innocent, and it certainly doesn’t make their allegations a “flight of fancy”, as they have been referred to in some parts of the media. Not guilty simply means that the jury wasn’t absolutely, 100% certain of the crime.
Subeditors need to be cautious when using the word innocent, or commenting on the victims in these cases of male violence against women. They must be accurate – speak of guilty or not guilty, or even not proven, but the word innocent is not an alternative for this, nor is the assumption that the victims in these cases have been “inventing” the trauma that they have experienced.
Headlines and by-lines needn’t be less “sensational”. They needn’t abandon the principles of snappy sound-bites and high sales. They needn’t be wordier nor must they risk legal action for reporting unsubstantiated or unproven claims. But editors, sub-editors and journalists must respect the basic human rights and dignity of victims and adopt a stance of neutrality that ensures those experiencing abuse feel supported rather than distrusted.
[This piece was written prior to the media reports about a 14yo child charged with rape of his mother and so the associated headlines are not included in this analysis.]

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The Right Victim

“I know it wasn’t my fault,” I told my counsellor last summer. “It was his; he was the one who did it… At least it was only me he got.”

This was my reaction to being raped a second time. At least it was only me.

I couldn’t quite understand why she was so upset by this, not at the time. After all, surely it was better that I was the victim than someone else? I was already damaged goods, I’d already been through it once before, and I was getting the right support so didn’t have to experience the ordeal of finding it again. If he was going to attack someone – and statistics would imply that it was premeditated to some degree – then I was grateful it was me and not another woman.

I thought that I was being rational and mature about a terrible situation, that my presence that evening had somehow saved this nameless, faceless victim. To some extent, a lot of women do this, try to put a positive spin on it. I know I’m not alone, and protective strategies such as this have their place. We need ways to carry on.

But as time went on, I started to realise something awful. Because by assuming that responsibility, or accepting myself as the “right person”, I was becoming complicit in the victim-blaming culture that had developed around me.

No, I wasn’t suggesting it was my fault because I had been alone in the sauna, or that I had made myself vulnerable in the clothing that I had worn. However, by adopting a position as the “best” target, I had created a hierarchy of merit.

No-one deserves to be raped. No-one is asking for it or putting themselves in the wrong position or to blame in any way. It is only ever the perpetrator’s fault. End of.

A single woman shouldn’t feel “grateful for the attention”, nor should anyone feel that it’s “harmless fun”, and someone who has been there before shouldn’t feel any less important or any more deserving because of their past.

The End Victim Blaming Campaign asks us to think about our own frame of reference, how we respond to stories and why we respond in that way. Sometimes it’s also useful to think about how we would respond if it was another person reacting that way too, allowing us some perspective and a chance to review without feeling that the self-care is self-ish.

I know that if a friend or colleague told me that they were relieved it was them, that they didn’t matter and they weren’t important because they were damaged, I would be appalled. Because we all matter; we are all worthy of love, care and respect.

As a teacher, I’ve worked alongside children who have been victims and witnesses of male violence against women and children. It never fails to shock me how many so-called professionals will say, “At least it’s only ----‘s family, it’s not like they had much promise anyway.” No. Just no.

You see, there are even further reaching implications than hierarchies compounding victim-blaming. The idea that some people are more deserving of assault than others is in direct opposition to equality. If we believe in equal rights for any group, we need to believe in equality for all. How can I support feminism and the idea that all humans are equal if I don’t consider that child to be just as deserving of safety and love as every other child in my school? How can I support equal rights for all people if I won’t even afford myself the same dignity as I afford others?

Challenging others starts with challenging ourselves. How do we respond to others and how do we respond to our own situations? Do we allow ourselves healing time? Do we allow ourselves to care? Because believing in our own rights and equality, believing in our own right to safety and compassion, is an important step in challenging the hierarchy and victim-blaming culture.

There is no “right victim”, not even me.

The Right Victim was written as a submission for EVB Campaign's website, which they are posting on 20th February 2014.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Stay Safe

I was quite happily drunk texting my boss and browsing Facebook, when I stumbled upon one of those posts that made me simultaneously rub my hands in glee and groan internally.

The post was a link to the Nottinghamshire Police website, about three women who had been "assaulted". My contact had written underneath it, "stay safe". A chance to open a dialogue on language, victim-blaming, responsibility and so much more... fantastic! Another article telling us women to behave nicely and be good little girls...? Not so much.

So we started talking. Talking about why it's important to remember that the male perpetrators of violence are at fault, why women shouldn't be told to stay sober, stay in herds, stay properly dressed... Talking about how society has conditioned us into these subconscious implications that women are to blame for the violence against them.

Then I read the article.

Instantly, I was horrified. Actually, I think I've been trained to be horrified by anything written by Nottinghamshire Police - they don't have the best record with male violence towards women (Christmas campaign, anyone?). And after yesterday's ridiculous Question Time with George Galloway (who seems oblivious to the technicalities of the legal system), I was already on high alert.

Walk in well-lit areas. Keep handbags buckled. Walk with other people. The article barely stopped short of warning against short skirts and red wine.

It was pointed out to me that all the advice offered was gender-neutral, important safety advice for all people. Yet it was handbags prioritised, not rucksacks. And when was the last time that men were advised not to walk alone? I don't accept this idea that it was aimed at everyone - far more likely that we've been conditioned to roll over. But that could be the drink talking.

Yes, there is some advice that is basic crime prevention - keep valuables out of sight and be aware of your surroundings. But we do need to consider the message being spread, particularly when the police are asking for women to share the message to "stay safe".

What are your views on safety messages?

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

New Year, New Job

So I've been quiet recently. Really quiet. It's been a difficult few months between the rollercoaster events of last summer, the decision to take a break from unit Guiding and many other things. I fully intended to blog more this new year, but every year brings fresh challenges and 2014's is in the shape of a new job.

I'm now the proud teacher of a Year 3 class. For those in the know, Year 3 is for children aged 7-8 and is the third year (obviously) of compulsory education here in the UK. It's a bit of a culture shock for me, being secondary trained. I have had primary experience before, but mainly with years 4-6, not year 3.

Not only have I already had to deal with planning for so many different subjects, get to know twenty four new people, but I've had to deal with an exclusion, several internal exclusions, interventions, provision maps and all sorts of weird and wonderful things that I've not had to sort before. I've written a scheme of work for gymnastics (yes, me!), set up a languages club that has got TWENTY TWO participants... and that's only from the lower school! It's an eye-opener.

My class is brilliant. I'd say that I've got a couple of characters, but they all are... in their own way. I have the little girl who never speaks (except to crack the most amazing sarcastic joke once a week!), the boy who strangles girls in the playground, the girl whose prized possession is a rock her uncle gave her as a gift... she's been told it's a dinosaur egg! I've got a boy who never speaks, smiles and often refuses to come into the classroom who came up to me this morning, sat down and asked me if he could do show and tell, and I've got a little boy who greets me every day with a hug, holds my hand and tells me that I belong to class one and they all love me.

Each and every child in my class is different, and I love getting to know them little by little. But I also love the little reflections of myself that I see in them and their behaviour. Not because they've picked it up from me (they've not had me long enough for that) but because their reactions challenge me and my own. 

Last week, I had one child really unsettled on the carpet. This particular child sits with his back to the door and is constantly glancing behind him at the door. Knowing my own discomfort at sitting with my back to a door, I moved him where he could see it, and now he sits there with absolutely no problem.

This morning, we did an activity where each person had a sheet of paper and it was passed round the circle so everyone could write something nice about them (they had to write something positive about themselves too!). Once people got their own paper back, we discussed how it made them feel to read the comments. Many of them said that they were happy or proud, some even said "relieved". One told us that he felt loved. But two girls said they were embarrassed and one boy said he was uncomfortable. We explored those feelings a little later, but it made me think about my paper too. I was quick to be dismissive and say that they only wrote because they had to... but that's not what the exercise was about!

Yesterday, I had an observation. It didn't go brilliantly, mainly due to the behaviour in my lower ability group. They were excited and engaged, but a little too excited and engaged (they wouldn't listen to me once they got going!). We did spend a lesson today going over behaviour and presentation, and there was a big improvement. Understandably, I was really upset by this yesterday. Whilst I was sobbing at lunch, my TA came over, gave me a hug and told me to stop being so hard on myself and that there were great things about the lesson. Of course, I wouldn't accept it. Actually, I wouldn't even accept the praise from the head, who insisted that there was no way that observation was going to meet the criteria, really...

But the thing that made it funny was the reaction of a little girl in my class. She's a superstar and one of our gifted and talented children. But if she gets anything wrong (or not exactly perfect!), she bursts into tears. I've chatted to her about high expectations and believing in herself and all these other things... Yesterday, she looked at me and solemnly said, "Miss H, you're as bad as I am. You set yourself expectations that you can never live up to. No-one can." Out of the mouths of babes...!

I love working at this school. It's supportive, fun, challenging. The staff are all welcoming and wonderful. The head is constantly providing advice, reading material, backing me up on various decisions. I have colleagues who make me cups of tea, check I'm eating, text me in the evening and at weekends to say thanks for a great day or just to say they're thinking of me after a rough one. It's nurturing and wonderful.

And whilst noting the nurturing environment and challenging myself, the changes I'm seeing in myself are incredible too. Yes, I was terrified yesterday, but I never had a panic attack. I'm alone in the office with the (male) head on a daily basis - tonight we were the only two left in the building. I get hugs and cuddles and hand-holding constantly, whether it's from my colleagues or from my children. I still don't like it if someone gets me from behind (my TA learnt this the hard way!) but I'm taking the physical contact without panicking or even flinching.

Now we just have to get that work-life balance stuff sorted!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Raindrops on Roses...

This is a really fluffy, trivial post, really. I was out shopping with some friends today and we were talking about things we collect and pretty possessions, so I thought I'd just post a few from some of my collections - favourite things, stories, stuff.

Most people know how much I love my camp blanket (and there are plenty of pictures on here) and my instruments (no pictures). Also, I mentioned Henrietta, my beautiful rag doll from D that she gave me in our last session, but never put up a picture. D also made a badge for my camp blanket - double win! Yes, those (along with my Speak Out trophy) are probably my most prized things, but I thought I'd share some of my other bits and pieces and treasures.

Precious Things

Most of my most precious things live in one of three boxes. The My Little Pony is the San Diego Comic Con 2008 exclusive. She lives in my "geek box" and is incredibly special as some very good fandom friends paid for me to go to SDCC that year. 

The box in the second picture is my memory box, which includes a DVD of my baptism, souvenirs bought by school friends, special cards and letters, my first gifts from pupils and much more. On the top is a card from the Millennium Dome when I was a Young Leader!

The charm bracelet was a gift from Colette, the head of contingent for Roverway. We each got a passport, a hand (to help us with our work), a teddy bear (the contingent had teddy mascots), a trefoil, a key and a little button painted as a Finnish flag. Some of us got extra little things and mine was a wine glass. When all the blue paint came off my button, I replaced it with a little charm and a Moomin charm. I wear the bracelet whenever I need reassurance - I managed two weeks in Finland when scared of woodland, I can manage ANYTHING!

Henrietta... what can I say? She was handmade by the lovely D for me, and is the first thing I see when I get up each morning and the last thing before I go to bed. She's one "person" I don't ever mind giving a hug and is a little bit of D that I get to keep.

The key ring says "change your thoughts and you will change the world) and is something I bought in Belgium in 2012. The trophy was for the Speak Out competition and both remind me that I have a voice and need to use it, whatever the cost.


I collect film props and have all sorts of things from the Tybalt scene from Shakespeare in Love to gloves from James Bond and Wonka bars! But the things here are some of my favourites - a plate from Titanic, prop money from Doctor Who's Runaway Bride, a programme for the art exhibition in Love Actually, a letter from Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone, a donation receipt from Evita, a letter from PS I Love You and some coins from Pirates of the Carribean.


I have a family bible that dates back to the early 1800s, but that is tucked away. This, however, was a secret Santa gift and is from the London Illustrated Times. Absolutely beautiful.


 This is what we were talking about today, books. I love them and have some really random things that people might laugh at. I have Kevin J Anderson's Hellhole, for example, because he was a favourite author when I was about thirteen. I also have a couple of signed books by China Mieville (but can't find my book addressed to Dolphin Girl, which annoys me!).

Other than the Grimmerie, most of the books are self explanatory. The Grimmerie is signed by the principle original London cast, including Idina Menzel. I never got Katie Rowley Jones or Nigel Planer as they always used different exits, but one day I will!

The J K Rowling book isn't signed, but was a limited edition of The Tales of Beedle The Bard and is stunning. The book pictured below it was bought when I took the Rangers to an evening with David Almond (which they loved!).

More Treasures from the Geek Box

There are two bits of the Noble Harry Potter collection. They did some beautiful pieces and replicas. These were on sale at a time when I had very little money and were special objects for me! The Continuum premiere invite is gorgeous too, and precious for a different reason. When my friends paid for me to go to San Diego, we were lucky enough to see the premiere and it was amazing!

When I see these things here, I have split emotions. Each item has a wealth of memories and stories, which I haven't necessarily gone into detail about, but seeing the things listed makes me feel a bit guilty and materialistic. Other than a recent splurge on two new books, most of my collection is several years old. I stopped collecting pretty things so that I could go to Finland and Belgium, do things for charity and make sure I had a car. And as much as I feel I should give up these things and store my treasure in the things that really matter, the memories are just as precious as the items themselves!