Blogs

To degree or not degree? That is the question.

I have been thinking about starting a degree for a few years now.  It’s one of those things that niggles at me, sometimes my feelings are strong, and other times I forget about it entirely, but of late, I’m getting those urges again.  I can while away countless hours looking at options and working out if it’s financially viable (it’s not). 

Taking a step back to my time at school.  Family life was normal I would say.  My Dad was the main breadwinner, my Mum worked part time so that she could take me and my brother to and from school.  In fact, that’s not 100% true, I remember Mum working 2 jobs, she’d work 9:30-2:30pm around school hours and at one point she also worked in a local chip shop, so she was full time working.  We weren’t exactly rich, I know Mum needed to work 2 jobs to allow us to have the odd treat.  All my friends would have birthday parties at McDonalds in the Boat (who remembers that?), but I would have friends round for a tea party, it was fine, and I never expected more.  I didn’t have branded clothes, most of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my cousins.  I loved getting a big bag of their clothes, I’d keep everything and to say my style was ‘funky’ is an understatement.  I remember my Mum buying me a new school cardigan, I was so proud and happy to have it, and very grateful.  It felt like such a treat.  Primary school came and went, and I have fond memories of it.  I don’t remember excelling at anything, but I enjoyed being there. 

When it was time to choose a high school, I only had one option.  I was destined to follow in the footsteps of my brother and attend the local high school, the one that everybody chose as a last resort if I’m being honest, back in 1995-1999 this school didn’t have a good reputation locally, but it was Ok, and most of my primary school friends were going.  As we all know, as children reach puberty they start to be far more conscious of themselves, and that extends beyond their bodies, it’s goes for their clothes too.  I remember a friend offering me some of her old school shoes when she got new ones.  I was very proud of these shoes.  They were ‘Pods’, they were all the rage, along with ‘Kickers’, I was so desperate to own these shoes and wear them, that I squeezed my feet into them despite my feet being too big, I didn’t care, I looked cool.

By the time I got to Year 10, I had a part time job working at the local market on a Saturday.  It was a fresh, and cooked meats stall.  I worked there for around a year, earning £20 each Saturday.  I’d spend my money wisely, usually on clothes…  When the time came to go on work experience at school, I was sent to a trainer shop in town, to work as a retail assistant for 2 weeks.  It was fun, and they paid me (pitifully in comparison to a normal wage)!  I was able to buy my first pair of branded trainers (Reebok Classics), it was such an important thing for me back then, I felt fantastic.

So as you can see, money was important to me, and this was because we didn’t have a lot of it.

I did ok at school, just about average.  I didn’t have any close family members that had attended college or university, I never spoke to my mum or dad about my aspirations for the future, and honestly, it felt like we couldn’t afford for me to go to college.  Looking back, I think we would have made it work, but just getting money for bus fares for school was a struggle, and I didn’t want to make Mum feel the pressure of scrimping it together for me, I know she struggled, it was obvious.

When I finished school I applied for jobs that involved admin work, and after 6 weeks or so I found a job at a paint company.  I stayed there for about 18 months, my time there was good.  I got on well with everybody.  I would walk to and from work each day and got a huge sense of pride when I got paid.  I asked for a pay rise after I was established, and was met with a firm ‘No’, I was an admin assistant, they could get another whenever they wanted, is what I was told.  Charming! I felt that I had earned it, but I realise now that the turnover of admin assistants there was high, and it was never going to happen.  So, I left. 

My next job was a trade counter assistant at an electronics distribution company, I started there when I was 18, after simply asking the counter manager for a job, and starting a few days later.  If you don’t ask, you don’t get!  This company was to be my employer for over 17 years.  I meandered through different departments and enjoyed each one.  I was always looking for the next challenge, and that’s when I set my sights on the Buying department.  I felt out of my depth, but I just went for it.  My manager Alison was fierce, she was not a lady to be messed with.  She stood up for our team and I spent 8 years in that department.  Sadly, Alison passed away 2 years ago to Cancer. 

I ended my time at this company as a Business Development Manager and a Product Manager.  It was a unique role, and something that hadn’t been done before. 

Working for the same company for so long meant that I was always promoted from within, and the experience was worth more than a qualification, and I suppose that’s true as we get older generally. 

Now, I’m sure a lot of people might think ‘Why does not having a degree bother her, she has a job that she loves, and she is getting on in life just fine’, which I am, but I have these niggles, and I know why.  They stem from me thinking that I didn’t have the option of further education when I was younger, it was more important for me to be earning money, but now it’s much more than that.  It’s wanting to lead by example for my children, I need my children to make their own decisions on whether they go to university, but if it’s talked about openly, and they see it as a path to take without any obstacles (which it should be for everybody), then I’m really hoping they’ll take it.  Plus, I really want to get a degree before my children, I’m competitive like that.

Further education should be an option for all young adults, I was lucky that I found a place of work where I was able to grow and gain experience, but I do feel my communication and thinking skills are not as effective as my peers, and I would really like to brush up on those.  A degree takes time and a lot of hard work, so it requires some serious thought.  Do I need one? No.  Do I want that sense of fulfilment, and do I want to set that example for my children? Yes!  Decisions, Decisions.

2020

2020 – A strange one

I’m not going into the details of COVID and what it meant for the world.  It saddens me that so many people have lost their lives and how many families have been deeply affected by it.  The message is quite simple.  Stay at home and wash your hands regularly.  If you do have to go out, wear a mask, and wash your hands!  Even the most unintelligent buffoons found it hard to ignore that message, yet still, they walk among us ignoring the advice. 

Back in March 2020 , when the news of a lockdown first seemed likely I was at Mums, dropping off a Mothers Day gift.  Not knowing that things were about to change for everybody!  I didn’t see my Mum in person after that until June.  March-June was weird, upsetting and very stressful! Home schooling, reams and reams of paper being printed for schoolwork, nobody knew what they were doing, but we were doing it.  The main portion of the UK were staying at home, gardening, and generally coping, and let us be honest whilst the panic buying was extremely annoying… it was a bit exciting, trying to make a meal out of whatever you could find.  I certainly cut down on the old ‘carbs’ (there wasn’t any pasta or bread around).  People walked more, found themselves exploring the streets around where they live, stopping and talking to the local community ‘Hello, how are you?’ ‘Oh, hello again, lovely day for it’ ‘I’m just glad that we’re not in Winter, it would be 10x worse wouldn’t it’.  Worry of people losing their jobs was high, and the word Furlough emerged. A word that is so common now, but completely unheard of before.

June brought with it hope, hope of a normal Summer, meeting with friends outdoors and the school summer holidays upon us! No more home schooling, surely!?  Everybody trudged on, and even started to plan things.  On a personal note, I fell out with my Dad in June, he’s a difficult man, and that’s a whole new blog post.  One that I will write soon. 

The Summer holidays came and went and even though most people didn’t travel far for a break, I’d say it was a success.  Trying to keep our spirits up for ourselves, our children, parents and our friends was testing, but I think most people remained hopeful.  I (as well as most parents) was nervous about what September might look like for my children, and whether schools would be open.

You could hear the relief resonating through the messages off friends ‘So glad the children can go to school’ ‘Teachers are my heroes, they have my full sympathy’ ‘Thank God they are going back’. I must admit, I was relieved too, my Son and Daughter had been cooped up with me since March, and other than a few occasions, we only had each other for company.  It was the start of high school for my Son, he and I were understandably nervous, but with the staggered start, and the year/class bubbles, it meant the fear of being the younger one wasn’t really there, the new Year 7’s have been lucky in that respect.  So, both children back in school, and luck was on our side as there wasn’t any  covid cases in their classes, so they managed to hang on by their fingernails till Xmas.  I even managed to get some work done!  I have to say, my employer is fantastic and supportive.  I’m so grateful to be working with them.

I’ll skip past Xmas, because honestly it was a bit sad, I still wasn’t talking to my Dad, which meant, despite my parents being in my support bubble, and us seeing my Mum every week, all of us sitting together around the kitchen table was not going to happen.  Still, I think the children had a nice time, and that’s all that matters to me.

So a new year, 2021.  I haven’t heard many people say that they have a news years resolution this time, there are no gyms open to join.  Dry January seemed pointless to most, but I did it.  I feel great when I take part and I also stop eating meat in January too, so it feels like a detox, and a great way to start the year. 

In January when schools were due to reopen, we were told that Secondary Schools in England would need 2 weeks to prepare for Lateral Flow testing on site, and that meant my Son would only go back on the 18th.  This wasn’t so bad.  One child at home is easier than 2 when working full time, especially when they have live lessons.  My Daughter wasn’t too happy knowing that she would be in school whilst her brother was at home, but it was only for 2 weeks… Wrong, it was for 1 day.  After just one day in school, it was announced that all schools would be closing, and moving to remote learning.  No time to prepare anything.  It was hard on parents, and teachers.  Here we are, still home schooling, still coping.  We’re a resilient bunch, aren’t we?

There might be times when we struggle, there might be times when we think we can’t cope.  We are all suffering in one way or another.  It’s tough, really tough.

There are still unintelligent buffoons, preaching about conspiracy theories, having friends’ round, going to parties and raves.  Just stop it.  You are endangering us all.

We just need to stay strong and hopeful, better times are on their way.    

Check out the hair!

Webinars

As with most things at the moment, COVID 19 is having an impact on our daily lives, and it’s making us think about how we carry out our day to day activities.  I normally spend a considerable chunk of my time travelling for work.  Mainly visiting education trade shows and conferences as well as customers, and the occasional celebratory event.  When WHO (World Health Organisation) declared a global pandemic, all things ‘travel’ stopped for me.  What are we going to do!?  It’s not a common occurrence.  We didn’t have a back up plan. 

I’ll admit that I was worried.  Worried that the health of my children and family would be affected, worried that friends would become ill, worried that work would no longer need me, worried that people weren’t taking it seriously!!

Word came that all non-essential travel had been stopped, shows/conferences and the like started to get cancelled.  This was a huge relief for me.  I was faced with the prospect of home schooling my two children and I didn’t know how that was going to work.  Nobody did.

A few weeks in, and with a very supportive workplace it meant that I was starting to get a handle on what the new norm looks like in our house.  We had a rota.  PE with Joe, schoolwork, walk the dog, lunch, schoolwork, finish.  I’d squeeze in as much work as I could.  Probably half of what I’d normally do, but it was a start.  Rather inconveniently… we had a half term after 2 weeks of us being at home which was badly timed really, as we’d just gotten into a good habit and then it felt like we had to start all over again.

‘Unprecedented’ and ‘Pivot’ became the new buzz words.  At work the Education team produced some activities name ‘home learning series’ and my colleague (but also a good friend) Katie and I were asked if we’d be interested in running a webinar series to compliment the new resources.  We didn’t need to think about it for long, we’d obviously love to do this!  Most of our time prior to Covid was spent talking to educators and customers, this was a new way to reach them.  We had to do it.

It took us a few weeks to work through a plan, and we also needed to upgrade our Zoom plan so we could host a webinar.  100 people max, with the intention of live streaming to YouTube.  It’s amazing the amount of time and effort it takes to host a 30-minute webinar.  Getting up to speed with the registration process, communication channels, live streaming and the format for the session itself was fun.  It’s good to learn new things, and Katie and I make a great team.

We decided on a slow and steady start, so we didn’t advertise too much, and we didn’t live stream to start.  We needed to build confidence in ourselves, and this was the best approach.  The first webinar came ‘My Micro:bit’, it was soo much fun! We had a format that we’d talked through several times, we stuck to that, and it worked.  Katie and I were feeling great, so we immediately planned the following weeks.

As we went through the webinars we started uploading content to YouTube, then we started the live streaming.  Our numbers have been increasing each week, and we’re reaching new people.  This is exactly what we’d hoped to achieve.  We had a good flow.  Katie and I talked about who would show each project on the webinar, and by choosing the ones that excited us the most we covered them all.  Great teamwork!

Here we are, preparing for the last webinar in the Home Learning Series which goes live next week. 

I had been saying for a while that 2020 was the year to do more stuff that makes me feel scared.  I want to get better at speaking in public.  These webinars have given me more confidence, and now I’m writing a blog… It’s no coincidence!

Sometimes you have to dive in, keep your eyes closed if you have too…. but try to keep them open.  It’s a beautiful and scary world out there and experiencing that with friends makes the journey better.

Football – My volunteering history

Back in 2013 when my Son had just started school, I found myself looking for activities for him to take part in, and clubs for him to join.  I think all parents are pretty much the same here… They start off with intentions of their child have one or two hobbies, they’ll meet new friends, it’ll be lovely!  In reality… you overcommit, you wind up having a ridiculous schedule of pick ups and drop offs, washing uniforms/kits and being coaxed into volunteering along the way.  It’s okay, it’s just the start of a 12-year commitment to your kids.  It’ll be over soon, I promise.

When Matthew was in Reception class he came home with a flyer in his school bag advertising a local grassroots football club, we knew one or two others that had recently joined, so my Husband (ex) and I decided that we’d give it a go.  Saturday mornings in the Forest of Bowland would become our norm, we’d brave the weather (it was always horrid) and we’d drag our 3 year old with us.  Poor Erin, she’s a victim in all of this really.  Often cold, bored and invariably soaked to the skin due to the rain, but always fuelled with sweets.. so, you know, it was fine.

When the coach pulled me to one side to let me know the ‘rules’ I felt an immediate need to help.  The Rules – The coach for Year 1 is to coach new recruits currently in Reception, and when they move to playing league games in Year 2 they have to recruit a new coach for the team below.  This was the one that Matthew was currently in.  What happens if a new coach isn’t recruited?  The team folds and they can’t train.  It’s that simple.

I spent a fair bit of time talking to all the Mums and Dads, somebody needed to step up, but guess what? Nobody wanted to.  I don’t blame then really, it’s a big commitment.  A really big commitment… So, before I could stop myself, I’d stepped forward to save the team from folding and I approached the Committee at the club.  The Club were great, they paid for me to obtain my Level 1 FA coaching qualifications, as well as First Aid.  I’ll remember that training course forever.  It was Jan/Feb time, it was freezing! I turned up in my kit unable to feel my toes and spent many an hour trying out my newly gained skills.  I made lots of notes and turned up to the sessions with prompt cards, or drills that I wanted to practice.  I was the only woman.

Clutching my certificates, and just enough equipment to run a session I was the proud new coach for Year 1.  A few months passed and heading into playing actual games shortly… I did my duty and recruited a new coach for the reception children.  We were on our own, a new team, ready to start playing for a league!  We were a popular club, and naturally I had too many players wanting to join.  There wasn’t anything I could do really, so I started a second team.  Yes, I’m now running two teams!! Oh, I did I mention that I’m now the Club Secretary and I’ve split from my husband?  Indeed these were testing times.  Luckily my ex and I get on well, and he offered to obtain his licence to coach and take one of the teams. 

I’m not joking when I say that these were very stressful times.  2013-2017. Time passed, and I was able to get support from other parents, and eventually I was able to step down as coach and secretary.  It felt like a huge weight had been lifted!

Matthew now plays for 2 teams, at two totally different clubs, and I’ve been really enjoying cheering him on from the sidelines.  I always get to training and matches nice and early in case the coaches need any help, and Erin still gets dragged along, poor love.  One of the clubs more recently put a shout out for volunteers.. there are lots of positions that they’re trying to fill, from social media, web, schools liaison, to club welfare officer.  So here I am, looking at the plea for help and having spent a few years in a relatively relaxed state.  One evening I reply to the secretary offering to take on a small role (school liaison), I’m thanked, and the job is mine!  A few email exchanges and I’m starting to really enjoy the feeling of being in a football family again… which leads me on to offering more support.  So, after a few weeks and an AGM to wait for… I’ve been appointed the Club Welfare Officer! A much bigger role than the one I originally took (here we go again).  I’m just waiting to see when the Lancashire FA can start with their courses again, as they’ve been impacted by COVID – 19.  Who knows where this is taking me, and how long I’ll be in this role, I guess we wait and see.

I think the important thing to note here is, It’s in my blood to volunteer.  I simply can’t help it!  I want to support children and young people, I want to support adults that give up their time to support my children.  I am grateful to them, and I’m grateful to Every. Single. Volunteer out there.  Thank you!

Blog #1 – My hair!

My first blog. Eek, that’s exciting (scary)!

 

I wasn’t sure what to write for my first blog, but figured I’d just start typing and see what happens!

Whilst looking through old photos I am reminded of all the things that I’ve done throughout my life. I thought that when I started my job at the micro:bit foundation I became this brave independent woman, travelling the world and becoming more confident with myself, but actually, I was already doing all of those things. It is funny how I dress down most of the great things that have happened throughout life, I almost disregard them, because who cares about what I’m doing or have done!

2020 has been a year of change for me personally.  Covid 19 reared its ugly head and stopped me in my tracks.  I usually travel a lot, and my mind would be racing at 100mph trying to organise my life, look after my children, the dog, the house, look out for friends and family, exercise,  and keep up with my volunteering roles.  All of that stopped and I found myself at home all the time with my 2 children (and the dog), trying to home school as well as work, not able to see or meet up with anybody. Crazy times!  I know it has been tough for most people during this global pandemic and we’re far from over it, but for me personally it’s allowed me to take a step back, reflect and take the time that I need recharge and grow.

Backing up 12 months…

I’ve had a stressful year.  Lots of things have happened, and when in isolation I’m sure they’d have been quite easy to manage, and to be fair to me, I did cope with it all quite well until I started losing my hair.  The thought of losing all of my hair was all I could think about.  Day and night I would look at myself in the mirror, take pics of my hair, ask my kids to take them for me.. I’d go to bed every night worried that when I woke up, I’d have either no hair at all or very little.  I’d check my pillow, the plug holes, clothes, chairs, the car.  I would count the strands in every clump that fell out, I’d cry a lot and look up the styles and costs of getting a wig.  I’d tell anybody that would listen to me, often feeling like they didn’t really care (I know they did now), ‘it doesn’t look that bad’ was what I was always told.  I know that’s what you should say, you should be encouraging and positive, but I just knew how bad it was and I really wanted somebody to acknowledge how hideous the situation was.  So, feeling very alone in the world and not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel with the situation I decided that I needed to make an appointment with the doctor, maybe I needed some help with my mental situation.  I’ve never really struggled with anxiety or real stress, but I was definitely in a dark place.  As usual my local surgery only had an appointment 3 weeks away, so I begrudgingly accepted and decided that I would probably be bald by the time I got to see a doctor, and even then I wouldn’t get any treatment or support for weeks after that..

I decided to try some meditation, I have heard great things but have never done any myself, and I used to scoff at the idea that meditation could really help. I downloaded an Audible book called ‘Mindfulness’ by Dr Danny Penman and Prof Mark Williams, deciding to listen at night before bed.

I went all the way through the book listening to 30 mins a night before the actual meditations started, I had been getting a bit frustrated before then if I’m being totally honest.  ‘The Body Scan’ really helped me relax, I felt myself drifting off to sleep, the most relaxed I’d been in a long time.  From there I started to practice mindfulness daily for a few weeks, I even set up a mindfulness session for other friends at work who I thought might enjoy it.  We’d join a video call without video (or sound for everybody other than me) and I’d play the chapter.   It only took 15 mins max out of our day and we’d meet twice a week.  This was the start of my hair recovery. 

The doctor’s appointment came, and I cancelled a few days before because I felt like it was going to be a waste of the doctors and my time.  I must be on deaths door to take an appointment as there is bound to be somebody in more need than me. 

Practising meditation and cutting down on my alcohol intake did wonders for me, as did my hairdresser.  Now, when I say hairdresser, I mean my new hairdresser… I am not a regular at the hair salon and I’d say that I probably visited one maybe once a year.  They’d always be randomly chosen and I’d only go out of some loyalty to my hair.  I would expect wonders, and never get it.  I have always hated my hair so why would I look after it?  I met a lovely lady called Nelda, I told her about my situation, and she was so kind.  She had various suggestions for me including rubbing vodka on my scalp!  I didn’t do anything that she suggested as I was still losing clumps and I was worried, so so worried about causing the scalp more stress unnecessarily. After my first appointment where she acknowledged that I was shedding a lot of hair (but it was slowing), and that it did look a mess, and that it was going to take a good few months for it to grow back…I left feeling great actually.  I immediately made another appointment.  6 weeks later, after continuing my mindfulness, my reduced alcohol intake, and a general awareness of the need to be kinder to myself… I went to my next appointment.  Nelda confirmed that my hair was indeed starting to grow back.  I had little tufts of hair, measuring around 2cm.  I could feel it when running my fingers through my hair.  I would do this a lot.

A lot of things happened in 2019.  I split up with my boyfriend, that was really, really, hard.  I’m still hurting, and I don’t know when that’ll stop.  I had an operation, and I was crazy busy with work and travel.  My kids are my absolute world, and they helped me so much more than they’ll ever know. Always ready to give a cuddle, or make me a cup of tea :).

My hair is growing back now, and it’s not like it was before. It’s curly!  It’s going to take at least another year before I have a full head of hair, but I’m not stressed about that now.

Work is calmer, and I’m becoming more confident.  So, I’m actually loving it a lot more (if that’s even possible).  I’ve even started doing webinars with my good friend Katie.  Something I never thought I’d be doing.

I’m looking forward more.  I have a 10 year plan, and woe betide anybody that tries to get in my way.

Life is for living, and I plan on blogging all about it!!

Rach x

 

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New hair growth.