Finally Finding a Job in the UK: 30 March – 10 April 2009

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St Pauls Cathedral

Monday 30 March

Carmen and I thought that we would pay a visit to the famous Chappells of Bond Street and decided to meet in Central London at Bond Street tube station: this seemingly being the most logical choice. On arrival, we found Oxford Street facing us and no Bond Street in sight. Undeterred, I went into a Vodafone shop and started the process of getting a Sim-Only contract. After taking an age and a half, I was then informed that I had failed my credit check and Vodafone thought me too much of a risk to keep me as a client. I have been a Vodacom customer since 2000 and, being very happy with Voda’ up to that moment, I had taken a Vodafone pay-as-you-go sim once arriving in London. Now, I had just been informed that they did not want or require my patronage. Feeling a bit guttered and deeply insulted, I left the shop with Carmen and sought out this Chappells of Bond Street.

Anyone who knows or has been to Chappells will have already realised that Chappells is not on Bond Street. It is possible that it may have once been there during its illustrious history, but it graces that street no longer. Firstly, Carmen and I could not even find Bond Street. We could not even read a map. We were useless. Even with the help of some intensely eccentric English woman with an A-Z London map book, we were no wiser. Eventually, we returned to the place we had begun and retraced our beginning steps. With a strange sense of deja vu shadowing our steps, we discovered that New Bond Street becomes Old Bond Street. Well, I guess that makes sense! I think the heat must have been getting to us. It was quite nice to just walk around in short sleeves for a change.

Now, we traipsed all down that long street and found no Chappells. I even went into some of the shops and they had no idea of what I was talking about. A music shop called Chappells of Bond Street? No, they could not recollect any such shop in the vicinity. Eventually, finding ourselves running out of street and facing Piccadilly, Carmen called her husband and asked him to find out where this stupid shop was. We were tired, thirsty and hungry: a really bad combination. Within moments, Rob discovered where this illusive shop was situated… Soho! And we would find it all the way back on Wardour Street.

We walked to Piccadilly Circus and had a lovely pub lunch at my favourite, and fast-becoming-regular, pub called ‘The Crown,’ before setting off once again in search of the shop. On the way there, this man was walking in our direction down the street. All of a sudden, he sniffed and then blew a boogie out of his nose into the gutter. We quickly walked away from the offending man, while alternatively laughing and retching. It was a revolting, vulgar example of some of what London has to offer.

Finally, we found Chappells music of ‘Bond Street.’ Not in Bond Street after all, but in Soho and near Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant: a place so expensive, that the menu doesn’t even have prices listed next to the dishes.

Something else that interested me in London was that a lot of people ride bicycles. All over London, you see bikes chained up to fences and standing in rows outside tube stations. People even have ones that fold up and can be packed away into a bag. It’s really quite fascinating to watch. Sometimes, while riding on buses, you see all the bits of bicycles chained up to the fences. Any part of the bike that could be dismantled is taken. All the chained parts – such as wheels or the frame – are left still chained to the fences, safe from the vultures. I wonder if people come back to their bikes, see what’s left of them, curse and just walk away, seeking a shop in which to buy another one?

After getting home, I got ready and made my way to the latest of my interviews. On my way, I saw a group of police and their cars blocking the road. I had to walk passed them in order to get to my bus. They were arresting a man and putting him into one of their cars, while others were taking statements from other hostile-looking people. Everyone at the bus stop was looking on in concern and curiosity. This is the third person I’ve seen arrested since getting here.

The interview was at a Montessori primary school quite close to me. It sounds very interesting. I was asked by the head-mistress – a really nice woman who is, herself, a musician – if I could come on a later date to be assessed in the nursery school. I arranged a date and left, feeling so much more positive than I have felt up to that day.

Tuesday 31 March

I met with another agent today: Based in Brent. They were so nice, but it took ages to find the school in which they’re based. I had to travel along the Victoria line to Green Park and then change lines and do a big ‘V’ up along another line to get to Nesdean. From there, I had to walk. I kept missing the turnings and what should have taken 25 minutes to walk, in fact, took me 45. Once in the vicinity of the school, I could not find it. I kept asking and phoning and I kept walking past where it should have been situated. Finally, someone pointed out the sign. I had been walking backwards and forwards past the sign, thinking it was a construction site sign.

I spent about an hour with the agent, talking and filling out copious documents and so forth. Then they told me to go to another school near Kingsbury. My face just fell! I had to find another school? Couldn’t they have both met up with me at the same school? I was already hot and bothered and looking forward to a shower. But, seeing my distress, they laughed and called a taxi, paid for the ride and sent me on my way.

At this other meeting, I met up with the music coordinator for that borough’s music teaching organisation. It’s quite interesting how things are done here. The schools often use music specialists employed by these organisations that are in charge of finding music teachers. The government pays each borough a certain amount to promote music. So, a music specialist is sent in one or two days a week to teach all these children some music. Class teachers use this music-teaching-time to have meetings, prepare for upcoming lessons and to have a time out. Every teacher, by law, has to use ten percent of their school day for preparation.

Wednesday 1 April

Today, I met up with Carmen and went to watch a showcase of MA theatre students. Some of them were really good and I was highly impressed. There were some really nice songs inserted and I kept a programme to give me some ideas for future occasions.

When the show was over, we congratulated Carmen’s friend – and he was really good. On leaving the theatre, we discovered a casual sushi restaurant. I am in no position to be buy sushi, but I said I would get some things from the street market for supper and Carmen said she would pay for sushi. It was quite interesting. The Californian rolls were rolled in fish eggs that squirted and crunched as you ate them. We finished the meal by crushing the eggs left on the plates and seeing who could squirt them the furthest. We only finished this diverting exercise when I managed to squirt Carmen in the eye. I miss Cape Town sushi. It’s not the same here. The texture and taste is completely different. (Note to self: go have sushi on arriving in Cape Town next year!)

Rob joined Carmen and me at my place and we had some turkey, – something that I’d never really had before seeing as my mother does not like it. We enjoyed it with olives, cheese and fresh bread: all of which we had found at the market.

Carmen and Rob decided to buy some wine at the local wine shop. We must have stood for about thirty minutes deciding on what wine to choose. Each of us had bottles in our hands and could not decide which would be best. Finally, we asked the man at the till to help us and eventually decided upon the cherry-coloured Spanish wine. I’m getting quite experienced in all the wines found here.

The G-20 is being held in London at the moment. And with this, comes the riots. Today, a Bank of Scotland branch was destroyed by demonstrators. People are throwing stones and helicopters are hovering over that part of London. We can see the helicopters from my kitchen window. I’ve decided to stay out of Central London it is over and the demonstrators move on to the NATO meetings in Europe.

Thursday 2 April

I began my day by making my way to a Montessori nursery school and was assessed to see how I interacted with children. It was fun and I got a good look at how the system works. The classroom is divided into sections: food, games, toys, colouring, writing and so forth. Each child determines for his/herself what he/ she wants to do and does it with the teacher acting more as a guide than as a teacher. I was a bit dubious on how this could work off the paper, but it did. I found the children – ages ranging from 2-4 – more emotionally secure and decisive than many I have come across in older classes. It amazed me. These children could hold their own in a conversation and took great delight in showing me all their favourite games. One boy even read from a book for me. He must have been about 4 years old and he had no problem sounding out the words in his head first and saying them. But he does have a photographic memory and, though he could remember a word’s formation (eg: ‘are’), he could not remember in much detail the story that he had just read. As I was being assessed, I was asked to assess the boy. It was a fascinating encounter.

Later that day, I left for another interview with another teaching agency. Martin of Education Group is really good. I found him professional and helpful. He specialises in placing music teachers in actual primary music teaching posts. I left the interview with a job for the next day and was very happy.

With very little time to prepare and with no idea of how the system works in the UK, I spent the evening coming up with some lesson plans. Sarah was so helpful in suggesting some musical games and songs. She’s been working at two primary schools here for a number of months and is certainly an expert when it comes to the UK music specialist teaching system and her advice was invaluable.

Friday 3 April

The experience at this school in Hackney was, in short, terrible! I arrived at the school just in time. However, after killing myself to get there punctually, I ended up spending a fair amount of time waiting for someone to tell me what to do. Then, the music coordinator arrived and took me to her class and handed me a revised schedule for the day. She informed me that they would move the piano in the ‘hall’ for me to play in the assemblies. I was aghast! Play in assemblies?! What the … blazers?! I said I had nothing with me to do such a thing and I was nowhere near prepared to lead a singing assembly. It was like talking to an antagonistic wall. I was made to feel an inch tall for not having come prepared for something I was not told to prepare for. Any resources I may have had would not be found in this hemisphere.

So, from bad to worse. The teachers were unhelpful and seemed to take delight in my humiliation. At lunch, they did not even offer me coffee. I sat all alone on a couch, close to tears and read a book. Everyone ignored me, while they ate lunch and drank their coffee. I ended up just helping myself to a disposable cup and filled it with water.

Finally the day ended and I was out of there and never wanting to return. With hands shaking, heart fluttering and tears ready to spill over, I made my way to Sarah and Andrew’s side of London where I poured out my pain, despair and hope that I would never have to suffer like that again. I think, what made it so terrible, was that I failed hopelessly. It wasn’t even a knock to the shin, get up and go. It was a complete annihilation. It was like being tossed into a furnace. It was the old adage: ‘baptism by fire.‘ I left with no confidence left in my abilities as a teacher and very little will to try again. I seriously began considering a change in careers.

Zoë joined me that evening and we went to a local pub called the Alwyn. It’s really nice. I would certainly enjoy going there again. It’s maybe not as vibey as The Crown, but it’s not bad as pubs go. Zoë is officially finished with lectures. So, I was celebrating with her while she was commiserating with me. Both of us felt really good after a few drinks in our system. She slept over on my sleeper couch.

Saturday 4 April

Zoë and I watched the Colour of Magic. I took out a membership with Lovefilms.com and I’m really happy with their service. Online, I made a list of movies and series that I want to see and they post me one DVD at a time. I could ask for two to be sent, but that costs more money. I can get an unlimited number of single DVDs sent in the post. The mailing system is really good here. So, it only takes a couple of days for them to process my DVD and for a new one to arrive. When I’m done watching it, I post it back and they process the next one. I watch a lot of DVDs, so this is perfect!

Tuesday 7 April

I got a job today! It’s at the Montessori Primary school very close to me. I actually turned it down when it was offered. I was concerned about how much money I’ll make and about the limited number of hours I’ll have to work. But I was called again and they asked me to please come in anyway for a second interview so I could discuss my concerns.

Martin also found another and better job for me in Westminster, but there is no guarantee I’ll have the job. I’d have to be assessed first. The money would be great, but there is no guarantee that they will like me nor me them.

At the Montessori interview I expressed my income concerns and we chatted about how to make the job worthwhile. There are some jobs coming up at the beginning of the new school year in September and they have me in mind for one of those. However, I have no experience in the UK nor in a Montessori systems. This way, they can work with me and get me up to the right standard.

In the mornings, I shall work with a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome. Then, I’ll be helping teachers with the other children or filling in as a supply teacher if a teacher is sick. This is like being a teacher’s assistant, but it is training and what better way to be trained than to be an assistant? Finally, I’ll also help with the after school activities: like choir and musical theatre, where they put on a show.

I think I can learn a lot from this school. It’s maybe not the most practical and monetary option, but it gives me new skills and invaluable UK experience. It’s something I’ve not done before and I would really enjoy the experience. I have to give them my answer by tomorrow.

So, while deciding between the Montessori job or the possible Westminster one, I went over to Carmen and Rob’s where they had spread out the wine, cheeses and olives that they had brought back with them from their weekend in Bruges. It was a lovely evening but I did not get much sleep that night. My choices were buzzing about my head.

Wednesday 8 April

I chose the Montessori job. It may not be everything I hope it to be, but it could be worse. It could the school in Hackney. When making decisions, I refuse to allow myself to regret. Regret just makes you bitter. I have no right to be bitter about a decision I consciously make. But, I think there will be less reason to feel tempted to regret this job. I celebrated by going to see Zoë in Twickenham.

Thursday 9 April

Today, the man in charge of preventing terrorism in the UK was caught on camera with a top secret document in his hands showing the forthcoming police raids in Manchester and Liverpool of terrorist cells. The document was facing the cameras as he got out of his car. He’s resigned now. It interests me that here, they resign in shame. But, back in South Africa, they go on as if nothing happened. But I’ll stay clear of politics. It never does much for one’s health to rant over politicians.

Friday 10 April

This evening, I went to watch the Messiah at Carmen and Rob’s church in Oakwood. Carmen was playing percussion. I was so impressed. Here was me, thinking I would see an amateur-sounding production with shrill violins and off-key singers. Instead, I was blown away by the standard of the performance. Everything, from the diction to the musicality, was impeccable. The soloists were young singers and have much potential.

We finished the night off with pizza and Peroni.

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