Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Accidentally awesome

Last week was half term. My small person decided that she would love to "help" mommy in the lab on Valentine's day. It was the one day in my week that was relatively quiet, so I agreed. We packed a bag full of books, games, and snacks and set off for the station. I decided that it would be better to take an hour later train than normal, so that she didn't have to be bundled out of the house in the dark. When we arrived at the station, all of the electronic departure boards were on the blink. We had a hot cocoa while we waited and then made our way to the platform indicated by the man at the information desk.

When we got to the platform, the conductor was motioning for us to run, even though we still had 4 minutes until departure. I commented about it to him and he just said that my watch must be wrong. A few minutes later, he checked my season ticket and we settled in to read some Dr Seuss books and the Velveteen Rabbit.

About an hour later, as we were approaching the halfway point in our journey, I looked up and realised that we were not in the right city. Instead of Manchester, we were in Nottingham. Turns out that the info guy had told us the right train, but the WRONG direction. The conductor had failed to notice that I was obviously talking about a different train and that my season ticket was not actually valid in this direction. And me, well I'm just an idiot.

Since it would have been 1pm by the time we got to the right city and we needed to leave at 4:30 just to be home for bedtime, we decided to make the best of it. There are far worse places for two adventurous ladies to be than Nottingham. We walked along the canals and to Nottingham castle. Midget's knowledge of the Robin Hood story is purely from the Disney cartoon with the fox and the bear, but it was enough. The museum was rather less than I had hoped for, but the surroundings were great. We dropped approximately £4 million in the gift shop, but it was worth it. She was not interested in the Maid Marion lady costumes, and instead asked for a Robin Hood hat that was the same green as her trainers and a plastic horse wearing chain mail. I was happy to oblige, and convinced her that the perfect way to accessorise the hat was with a bow and arrow set. She was dubious, until we went into the castle grounds and started firing. We weren't bad, but I knew we could do better.

I asked the old man at the ticket window in the castle walls if there were any knights about that would give a fair maiden archery lessons, and he looked at me as though he was certain that I was insane. We had a fit of giggles and then set off exploring the city. We ran across another of the merry men, who was slightly older than my Robin Hood. He appeared to be about 7 and had several more arrows in his quiver. He was gracious enough to give us a lesson, and the two kids fired suction cup arrows into the walls of a medieval pedestrian alleyway for about 10 minutes, gaining coos from passersby about how cute they were.

After some more exploring, we stopped for a late lunch. Midget's stuffed chicken was given a Robin Hood hat made from a napkin, and he had exciting adventures with the knight's horse. We whiled away the rest of the afternoon by making our way slowly back to our home city, with Robin protecting me the whole way. We may have also consumed most of a bag of chocolate hearts, making it the best accidentally awesome Valentine's day ever.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Empathy overload

This post has no place here. I usually refrain from posting about things that are unrelated to my commute, but today just seemed like a day in which I felt I needed to write for therapeutic purposes, and I can't be arsed to start another blog.

It may not have been mentioned before, but my job is in academia. By description, I'm supposed to lecture a bit and research a bit for a total of 37.5 contracted hours per week. I recently got a "promotion" which added the additional description of curriculum content for the degree programme and recruitment activities. What this actually looks like in reality is a 50-60 hour week during term time, with 90% of my contracted hours devoted to teaching, prep, or grading. The rest of the time is spent in pointless meetings, generating paperwork and reports mandated from bureaucrats that have never met (and probably never were) students, and putting out fires. We have a shortage of technicians, which are apparently surplus to requirements in a science faculty; we do all of our own administration. A new multi-million universal computer system that should solve all of our problems is installed and scrapped at least once a year, so that no useful information can ever be accessed from it, even if you can figure out the user interface that has clearly been designed by an ESL monkey with an IT qualification. During non-term time, there are incessant meetings to discuss more useless policies and mess up anything that might actually be working. There is also an expectation of attending conferences and networking with other institutions and researchers in my field to stay abreast of new research and to contribute to it. Sometimes the fees and travel are covered by work, but society memberships are not. Mine this year were about £500.  In my "spare" time, I'm apparently supposed to be doing groundbreaking research and publishing it. But groundbreaking research isn't valued by the Research Exercise Framework because it hasn't been cited by hundreds of other people yet. Also, bringing in grant money via applications that take several months to write and have about 5% success rate is expected. Oh yeah, and I also have a young family and rather enjoy life, so I've got to squeeze that in there somewhere.

However, these are not the things that have ground me down so much that I no longer want to open my door. I'm responsible for about 130 students. In the last 3 months, I've not yet had a single day that hasn't involved a student crying in my office. If they were worried about deadlines or anything that I have control over, this wouldn't be an issue. Although I'm quite hard-nosed in the classroom, as a person I've always been the type that people confide in. This is a trait that I value about myself, but recently it's been more of a curse. They also hate to disappoint me by not doing their best in my classes, so often decide to explain why. I've had a string of students coming to me with severe medical problems, severe mental and emotional problems, caring responsibilities for disabled or terminally ill parents, partners in prison, rape, molestation, domestic abuse, and a host of other things. I'm not old enough to be their mothers (yet), so they seem to regard me as a non-judgmental big sister/authority figure. Most of the time, they do not want professional counselling or anything more than someone to care. The problem is that I do care. A lot. But I don't have the time to process all of these horror stories in between all of the other things that I'm expected to do. Most of the last two years has been utterly exhausting, and it's not because I average 6 hours of sleep per night, it's because I'm emotionally drained, then feel guilty because I seem to be numb and have no room left for listening to my friends and family. By the time I get home, I'm a soulless, selfish robot.

So, to those of you that read this blog for my (sometimes) witty and pointless train musings, apologies for this post. And to those of you that I love and care for but have felt like I haven't been listening in the way that I normally do, even more apologies. I can only promise that when this term is over and the new adventure begins, that I will do my best to be back in my normal sarcastic-but-ultimately-caring role as your friend.

PS- The writing of this post was interrupted by another student whose life is a wreck. At least she didn't cry. I distracted her with research stats and chocolate. 

Oh baby, it's simply appalling

Seriously. HOW. MANY. HOURS can these silly Office Workers From Hell spend discussing maternity leave, pregnancy, and colleagues' reproductive issues? Every damned day for the last year, they have had the same conversation for at least an hour. It's as though they have yet to figure out that women have been having babies and still getting on with their lives for millennia. One of them actually asked the other where statutory maternity pay comes from. Every time she spawns, it has always just magically appeared in her bank account, I guess. They reached a mutual state of being genuinely appalled that after 9 months (yes, 9 months!), money stops coming in. After a year, they have to leave their cushy middle class lives to go back to a cushy middle class job that has been held for them for a year, where they bitch about their coworkers and buy designer handbags. Aren't you appalled? I mean really, it's appalling. Something should be done about this.
I'm sure that their cleaners, manicurists, and personal shoppers and other non-salaried people that make their lives easier would be equally appalled. Never mind that most women in the world do not get paid by the state to stay home and take care of their babies for a year with a guarantee that they will still have a job to go back to when they are ready.
Yesterday was Groundhog's Day. Apparently so is today. And tomorrow...and the next day.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Poor Train Buddy 2.0

This morning, TB2 had a ton of work and an imminent deadline. In order to ensure that I didn't distract him, I sat at the other end of the carriage and had a lovely chat with The Profs.
About 40 minutes in, TB2 staggered down the aisle looking shellshocked. The poor man had found himself surrounded by the Office Workers From Hell. Their inane chatter is impossible to tune out. Even the most committed reader will find their horribleness seeping into his brain. Poor, poor man. Hopefully, he will make his 1pm submission cutoff and the OWFH will get stuck in a lift.