I live in a rural community, a small village with no street lights.  It’s surrounded by fields which are sowed and ploughed each year, by one of the three farmers who own all the land as far as the eye can see.  We watch the fields change throughout the seasons; the tractors ploughing, watching new plants appear in spring wondering what’s coming this year.  It changes see, each year the fields are a different colour, I think it’s called crop rotation (but stop me if I’m getting too technical, ok). Some years, we have masses of bright red poppies in golden corn fields, or vivid yellow oil seed rape, another year it’s green stuff that’s a magnet for swans.  Then in the late summer the combine harvesters drone all night, bringing in both the harvest and a bout angry monster nightmares for the children.

We go out and watch the combines sometimes, it’s a messy old business, but it’s efficient.  Not like the weeks of back breaking labour it must have taken in the good-ole-days.  This mechanisation has caused a redundancy amongst in the relationship between farmer and village.  We don’t help him with his harvest, he doesn’t sell produce locally, I barely know the three who farm around my village.  There is no Cider With Rosie round here.  Gone are the days of kids with (hopefully blunt) scythes, gathering the hay into bales, snogging under the horse-drawn cart.    And this naturally begs the question; if they’re not off school for the whole summer to bring in the harvest/snogging under the cart; then why exactly are they off school for so long?  The only reasons I can think of are;

  1. Keeping Thomas Cook in business with ridiculously inflated prices during the holidays.
  1. Stopping women getting decent paid jobs because no-one on a normal wage can afford 70 days of childcare a year.

School’s-out-for-summer once meant that work experience began and the children contributed to the economy.  Ok, I’m not really saying you should put your children to work in the fields, or up a chimney, (although if they really want to do it and they’re seem naturally good at it, who am I to tell you to hold them back in life?).

combine

Not all children are ready to drive combine harvesters.

The issue of trying to fit in work around school holidays is one that has failed to be addressed by any political party.  The women I’ve spoken to about this, (in my research to find a way to work more than my sporadic self-employment) all seem to rely on a bit of childcare and a lot of family support.  But, this is not an option for all of us.  I, like many, don’t have family to ask and although I can ask friends, there are only so many times you can expect someone to happily have your three children all day.  I’ve been self employed for about 4 years now and with the recession my work has reduced considerably.  With my youngest now in school (phew), I could get a part time job, except covering the school holidays.  Childcare is a problem, the problem being that the cheapest childcare starts at £3.50 per kid, per hour.  I’ve got three of them, so I’m looking at spending £10.50 an hour to go to work.  Ok, there are tax credit incentives to help with this, but many single parents really do find that the more hours they work, the worse off they are.

The big issue here is that as an economical entity, can Britain afford to support the massive amount of single parents on benefits?  It doesn’t make sense to structure our country’s economy around school holidays for the sake of, well what?  Teaching unions?  The UK currently has 2 million single parent families, really, shouldn’t we be trying to address their return to work in a more practical way?  We often hear talk about part time work for mothers, but the issue is not part time, many of us can manage that on a daily basis.  The issue is finding a job with 70 days holiday a year.

School holidays are determined by the Local Education Authority (LEA) for Community and Community Funded schools and set by the school governors for Aided and Foundation schools.  Schools are required to teach a minimum 190 days per year, offering 2 sessions a day.  There are guidelines on the number of hours of teaching per week (21 to 24) depending on the age of the children.  But, interestingly, there is no maximum number of days they are allowed to teach, this is determined by the contracts between the schools and teachers.  Overseen by the big daddy, teaching unions.

The new kid on the block of hope with all this is Free Schools.  These school are a government initiative to support the setting up of independently managed state schools  They are run by charitable organisations and do not have to follow the National Curriculem, there are currently 79 of them open in the UK.  Many are faith based schools, such as the Avanti (hindu) school in Harrow, the largest of the free schools in the UK.  Many of them are also under-subscribed.  Currently, all of the free schools operate conventional holiday term dates.  But do these schools spell out some hope for a re-organisation of holidays for the struggling millions of parents trying to make a living?  Will they be the forerunners in a re-organisation of school holidays that will enable many single parents to return to workable hours on even a part time basis?  Possibly, but there are other things the Free Schools bring to UK education.  One of the more worrying aspects is The Department of Education (DoE) allowing them to employ unqualified teachers without an open application procedure. Their website says:

 

“Free schools do not have to employ teachers with Qualified Teacher Status (although certain specialist posts will still require QTS).  Instead, Free Schools have the freedom to appoint the people they believe are best equipped to deliver their unique educational vision, for example an experienced instructor or lecturer from a further education institution.  Ensuring the highest quality of teaching is paramount to the success of each school.”

Interesting, isn’t it?  Free Schools’ teachers operate on the self-belief of their capability in teaching, rather than specific qualifications.  I wonder if this system that will in time be a precedent to the other struggling government departments (other than MPs, where it already openly operates).  Will we have Free Hospitals, where people who believe  they can operate perform surgery on brain tumours?  Or, perhaps we’ll have self appointed Free RAF pilots who, having done karaoke to R. Kelly a few too many times, believe they can fly.  Sort of like an employment based X-factor, but without tedious auditions.

Another aspect of education they’re allowed to take less literally, is with staff contracts, again the D.o.E website explains:

“One of the additional freedoms enjoyed by Academies and Free Schools is the ability to set their own terms and conditions for staff. The Free School’s Academy Trust will be responsible for employer and employee pension contributions, and for administrative matters relating to pension provision for all staff employed by the Free School.”

If that isn’t a direct hit in the eye against Teaching Unions, then I don’t know what is.

Despite the many short comings of the Free School system, the fact remains that we have arranged our economy around un-workable term dates and this means we perpetuate the benefit-dependent, single parent population.  It’s not true that single parents don’t want to work; people who say this have probably never raised children alone – so they have no idea how appealing it sounds to spend all day with adults.  Probably, in the same way, staying home with children, sounds really homey and loving (instead of shouty and tantrumy).  Few people prefer to raise their children on the poverty line, when additional earned income might offer them so much more.

There are no immediate or easy solutions to this, but it’s interesting that those expensively equipped educational buildings, our state funded schools, sit idle and empty for 175 days per annum, almost half a year.  Surely, there must be something we can do with them?

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Crazy Sexy Gym

31 January, 2011

I have found the ultimate gym experience.  Before you ask, no, it’s not on YouTube or anything remote where you don’t actually have to move your body.  It’s a real life, get off your arse and move around gym.

Ok, it’s not a gym, but nearly.  There are a few little differences,  my Crazy Sexy Gym beats a traditional gym hands down on all the differences.

The first thing about Crazy Sexy Gym is it’s not called IRON BOLLOCKS, it’s actually called “Curves”.  You know, curves, like on a real body that goes in and out.  I’m just beginning to work on the “in” bits, but I’ve got all the “outs” nicely sorted, so I’m halfway to the perfect body already, which is why I’m not even going to call it “Curves”, but Crazy Sexy Gym.

Crazy Sexy Gym has a circuit of exercise machines, about ten of them, with some aerobic (sprung) boards in between them.  The idea is that you work your way round this circuit  Curves workout circuit three times.  You carry a little electronic tag which you plug into each machine.  This tag sets the machines to your individual resistance and off you go, a full body work out takes 30 minutes.  The really brilliant thing about this is that every time I think to myself, “I hate this, I totally hate this and I can’t carry on,” a recorded voice says “change stations now”, indicating that my full 30 seconds on that machine is over and it’s time to do 30 seconds on the next machine.  Cool isn’t it?

The ambience of Crazy Sexy Gym is unlike your normal sweaty, pushy, gym.  As you work your way around the circuit you will converse with the other women there.  (Did I mention it was women only?)  The discussions are about holidays, shopping, puddings, the amazing sale on at Evans etc.  This goes on for the entire duration of your workout, you will be breathless by the end, but you’ll know everything that’s happened in Corrie and EastEnders (but not Holyoaks).  One of the reasons I joined Crazy Sexy Gym was that when I did my trial workout, everyone else in there was at least 25 years older than me.  As I jogged heavily on the sprung boards for 30 seconds, they made comments to each other like “Oh, it’s wearing me out just looking at her” and “It’s alright when you’re young.”  I felt like I was on a Cindy Crawford exercise DVD or on in a wet Baywatch swimsuit.  I hadn’t felt that fit in years; that’s a pretty good start I thought, so I joined.

Compare that to last time I was in a proper gym (I mean exercising, not using the loos).  I was ambling power walking on the treadmill when some 26 yr old, size 8 pentathlete started sprinting right next to me.  I was trying to watch 60 Minute Makeover on the flat screen at the time.  (Have you seen it?  It’s where a load of people ransack your house in the name of home improvement.  But, they only spend 60 minutes doing all the renovations.  So literally like 30 people charge in, paint the rooms, refit your carpets, replace major appliances and install a new kitchen.  Then when the buzzer goes, indicating they have fulfilled their 60 minutes of unskilled destruction, they stop and leave it exactly as it is.  Personally, I can see a few problems with this methodology, but they’ve never shown the owners crying and the house falling down, so it must all be ok).  Where was I ?  Watching daytime TV as a skinny, fit, thin bird sprinted a quick marathon next to me.  Now, one thing I know about a lot of these “perfect” body types is that they are actually desperately insecure about how they look and genuinely think they’re fat and ugly.   I considered sweetly saying; “Excuse me, I don’t mean to be rude, but do you realise your fat legs are thumping your feet so hard on the treadmill that I can’t hear this show?”  But she wouldn’t have heard me as she had some cool music on her iPod frying her Crazy Empty Head.  So instead, I decided to leave.  I stopped walking and next thing I knew I was lying on the floor behind the treadmill.

Another interesting thing about Crazy Sexy Gym is the changing rooms.  Apparently, they let the members decide what facilities they wanted.  The members opted for a kitchen rather than showers, which says a lot really doesn’t it?  Personal hygiene is taken seriously though and there is a free supply of wet wipes and deoderants for everyone to use.  Believe it or not, no one nicks them either.  The changing rooms are carpeted not tiled so  there’s no danger of a fall.  Instead of ugly metal lockers, they have nice little pine cubby holes, each one filled with a pair of very white trainers.  There’s a pair with big labels in the soles saying “Susan Whitingale”, I’ve found they fit me the best.

Changing rooms at Curves

Typical changing room at Curves.

So, now for the science.  They weigh and measure you once a month.  I worked out there twice a week for the first month, half an hour each time.  Then I had a month off with Xmas and heavy snow.    When they finally measured me, I’d lost 4 inches over my body.  That’s including an inch of my stomach, half an inch of each thigh and one off my boobs (but you’d never know it).  And I hadn’t even been for a month.  Pretty amazing I think.

You know what they say, you can’t argue with success.
Can’t recommend it higher than that.  Cost is £34 a month, give Crazy Sexy Gym a go.

Byeeeeee x

She stood in front of me, her loud voice threatening me.  I focused on her bright pink lipstick, contrasted against her unnaturally dark hair.  I have to say she was quite attractive, very slim, but incredibly muscular – I knew these weren’t empty threats.  She had a gang of various sizes behind her, but she was their alpha.  They followed her every move.

I was totally new to all this.  An innocent out a Monday morning, caught in the crossfire of abuse.  I’ve always wondered where aggressive behaviour was learnt.  Now I know, first hand.  The leader of the pack was about my age.  Here she was, in broad daylight, shouting and threatening like some crazed maniac.  Thank god my kids weren’t with me at the time, (two in school and one in nursery).  I hoped that she’d leave me alone and just move along to someone else, but she stayed right opposite me, for what seemed like an eternity.  Eventually she turned her threatening glance to others in the crowd.

Now, in any normal confrontation, I’m the first one to speak up for justice and accidently get my partner into a fight.  But as I’m single, I have to be a bit more careful.  This time, I just kept quiet.  (I’ll repeat that for those of you who know me well),  I said:

I just kept quiet.

I watched her expertly move round the crowd, attacking with either her glare or her voice – talk about working it.  I just avoided eye contact, hoping she wouldn’t single me out.   Happily, she showed-off how to knee someone in the face – as if that were normal.  Lucky for us, she didn’t pick out a volunteer.  Then she shouted at us to follow her lead.  Most of the people there, like me, hesitated.  It’s just not something I feel a great desire to practise, let alone use – well, except perhaps on her.

“Do it NOW” She screeched.

“Pretend you’re grabbing a head, pulling it down and kneeing someone really hard in the face.” We did it first towards one knee, then on the other, then alternating sides. I found a surprisingly natural rhythm ensued, once I got started.  I have say, that the energy in the room seemed to increase noticeably during those sets.

Finally she left, shouting at us over her shoulder,  “See you all same time, next week”.  I breathed a sigh of relief and sat down, (slumped to the floor hyperventilating).   My first “Legs, Bums and Tums” class was over.

“Wow”, I panted from the floor,  “that was amazing” I lied.  Then I chatted to some mummy who was doing cooling down stretches, hopefully disguising my inability to get up.  Eventually, I staggered back to the car at half my normal sedentary speed – due to my wobbly legs.  In the Leisure Centre car park, I passed the Yummies from the class, eagerly unlocking their bikes.

“Maybe I’ll bring my bike next week”, I thought to myself.

I drove home, crawled up the stairs, and found myself back in bed by eleven am.

Result.

Legs, Bums and Beds


Oh my bed I really love you,

Exercise I hate.

But now I’m fat – my bed is empty.

The choices that we make.

I run, I walk and cycle too,

True it can be quite fun.

But I’d rather have a bar of chocolate,

And just sit on my bum.

Legs bums and tums, I promise weakly,

For fitness and for pace.

But if she screeches one more time,

I’ll knee her in the face.