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Thursday, 28 August 2014

How I will change this year...

I started teacher training this week. It's been a mentally exhausting week so far, but I've really enjoyed being back in an environment in which I'm learning again (yes, I'm a nerd.)

One of the things we've been advised to do as trainees is tell people a bit about what it's going to be like this year. Luckily, I am blessed in that my friends and family, if not directly connected to the education system, at least appreciate and sympathise with the rigours and difficulties of it. So thank you all, to begin with.

I suppose what I really need to say is that I'm not going to be around as much this year. If you ask me to do something midweek that is a) not Forte b) not Thursday dinners with my Community then I'm probably going to say 'no'. I'm really sorry. I would probably love to take advantage of cheap ticket Tuesday (the sad thing is that even though I'm a student again so can save money on the cinema, I'm so rarely going to have the chance to use it), and I probably would love to come round and eat all your food. But I won't, because I'll be swimming in lesson plans or Masters Assignments.

What about weekends, I hear you ask? Oh, weekends. I will miss thee. I am going to be extremely disciplined in having a day off (other trainees and NQTs will either produce shocked or pitying expressions at the thought of having even a day off a week) and on that day I will most likely be relaxing with John (the husband) or having introvert time. Again, I'm sorry, but as an introvert my energies will be sucked dry anyway and I will desperately need that day off to recharge. And as for holidays, if I'm not working, I will most likely be with my family (both Rossers and Finlaysons) as they are most excellent people for me to relax around.

Having said all of this, if you're a person I haven't seen for weeks when I would normally see you much more often, I give you permission to literally drag me out of my house on a day off. Tempt me out with the promise of tea or Avengers Assemble or anything that Jennifer Lawrence/Emma Stone/Joseph-Gordon Levitt is in. And food. Above all, food.

I will definitely appreciate the support that you lovely people will be giving me over the next year, and if I don't thank you enough for that, I apologise. I do not want to neglect my friends and family this coming year, but there are only twenty four hours in a day and I do not have a Time-Turner.

Teaching is something that I have entered into willingly, I know that, so I am going to try my best not to complain (above the usual amount people complain about their jobs, anyway. I won't be able to stay sane without a good rant now and again). No one is forcing me to train. I want to, and I embrace the challenges that come with it. I would just appreciate your sympathy in that, and your not being offended when I say that I can't do something. Because, believe me, I'd probably rather be with you than marking.

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #36 - Hideous Creatures by S. E. Lister

This really is a truly remarkable novel, which I truly hope begins snowballing in terms of how widely it is read.

Arthur Hallingham, the youngest son of an English earl, is on the run from his former life in England, though we do not find out for a long time as to why that is. He meets a mysterious man named Shelo, whom Arthur felt call to him from across the ocean. Together they set out to change the world, though Arthur is reliant on only breadcrumbs of information that Shelo chooses to share with him.

This is historical fiction with dark, fantastical twists. The writing coaxes you along, gently, offering you threads of information, neatly weaving them into a great, big tapestry you don't see clearly until the very end. The descriptions are elegant and lyrical, with almost throwaway phrases that don't seem to matter at first glance, but unawares they create vivid backdrop of the world the reader is drawn into.

When the story does reach its stunning, dramatic conclusion you wonder how you didn't figure it out before, because it makes so much sense, though it is painful and heart wrenching.

If you haven't read this amazing book, do. It's hard to believe that this is only a debut novel - it reads like the work of a much more experienced author. I can't wait for her next book, "The Immortals".

Empty Shelf/Mad Reviewer #34 and #35 - Academ's Fury and Cursor's Fury

Books 2 and 3 of the excellent "Furies of Calderon" series by Jim Butcher.

Academ's Fury is set two years after the end of Furies of Calderon. Tavi has been at the Academy in Alera Imperia, and page to the First Lord, Gaius, who is suffering from sleepless nights and personal torment, though no one really knows why. Tavi still has not come into his furies but has made some excellent friends at the Academy, including Max and Ehren.

Meanwhile, Alera is set to face a much greater threat than ever before. The Marat tell Bernard and Amara of the vord, deadly creatures that can reproduce at terrifying rates, and destroy whole communities at alarming speed, both from outward physical destruction and possessing humans. Bernard, Amara and co set out to find the nearest vord nest, most particularly to eliminate the queen, without whom the vord cannot continue. The problem is, nests can spread and numerous queens can emerge. The vord are a dire threat indeed.

I really enjoyed getting more into the politics of Alera that Tavi's being in the city enabled the reader to experience, as well as still having the perspective of what was going on outside the main city. Butcher has constructed a world plausible and authentic down to the last detail, the bitter words spoken by two ambitious enemies. Minus the added element of the furies, you could be reading dramatisation of actual history. The politics and the intrigue make this series as entertaining and gripping as the supernatural and fantasy elements.

Cursor's Fury is set another two years after Academ's Fury has closed. This time, Tavi is fully-qualified Cursor, though still fury-less, and sets out on his first project. This is to a legion made up of men from all over the empire, never intended to see battle and one which made of the High Lords use to their full espionage advantage. However, reports come in of a mass invasion of the Canim, and the legion is sent to defend the borders. When the Captain gets severely wounded, Tavi has to take his place.

Meanwhile, through Isana's perspective, we get to know more about Tavi and the mystery behind his fury-less nature. Through flashbacks, we learn of Isana's love affair with a man called Septimus, the late Princeps, and Fade, the branded slave who is not actually a slave but an extremely talented swordsman who has followed Isana and Tavi since the battle that killed Isana's lover.

In this book we get to see Tavi come into his own. He is very good at what he does, which is strategise, look after and inspire the men, and put to use all of his talents that have been emerging since Book 1. Though he still struggles with the shame - as he perceives it - of not having furies, he finally begins to accept it and be grateful for what he does have - which is extraordinary mental skills, strategy, and leadership.

Just when you're beginning to wonder where the vord got to though, never fear. The book ends with Tavi's fear as to why exactly the Canim decided to leave their homeland, and realises it could only be for one reason.

Another excellent edition to the brilliant series. I highly recommend.

Sunday, 10 August 2014


Not a day goes by where I don't think about my Dad, but recently it's been more frequent, more concentrated. Maybe because it's the holidays, so there's more head space from not concentrating on work, but more likely it's to do with the fact that I've had my first birthday with him not being around, coupled with big life changes coming up (my teacher training) and he's not around to gently and patiently talk me through things.

I was also reminded that some people who were not able to attend Dad's funeral would still like to be able to access the tribute that I wrote and read out (how I did that without dissolving into a puddle of tears is beyond me, but I'm so glad I got through it). So, I'm typing it up here. 

As I'm truly my father's daughter, I'm going to be splitting up my talk into three parts, in order to effectively show why my Dad was amazing. 

Firstly, he was truly a man of God. My family have received to the tune of nearly two hundred cards, or thereabouts, and almost all of them, whether the sender was a Christian or not, referred to Dad's faith. Dad was a rock; strong and sturdy and able to withstand most any storm because he had built his life on the true rock - that is to say, firm faith in God. He did have times of momentary complaints, particularly these last few months, but who wouldn't have in his condition? Yet even in those times he held to be true that God knew what He was doing, and at the end of the day, that was all dad needed. As a family we were able to cope with Dad being ill that much better because if Dad was at peace within himself, we could be as well.

Secondly, his personality showed him to be humorous, matter of fact, and a man of simple taste. Buying his birthday and Christmas presents was always a bit of a headache. Forget trying to buy for the man who has everything - try buying for the man who genuinely doesn't want anything. He was happy with a second-hand paperback - though we usually defied his wishes and got him new editions - notebooks in which to write his sermons, and a bag of jelly babies. While reading back through phone messages from him, it was funny and touching to read things like: "the smells of Nan's cooking are wafting up the stairs,", "Granddad's roast lamb today, sweetie, are you jealous?", or, most often, "just had some of Nan's homemade rice pudding. Cracking." One or two days before he passed, when Nan had changed his sheets, he looked at Nan and said, "This isn't Lenor." While it was terrible to see him in the condition he was, those three words broke the tension as we could still see Dad in there. Indeed regularly through his illness he made jokes about it, saying "if you can't have a laugh, what can you do?"

Thirdly Dad was a huge family man and, together with our wonderful mum, did everything he could to make sure us kids had a great upbringing. He always said he would do everything he could to make sure we'd never miss out on opportunities that came our way. From driving me to orchestra and steel pans gigs, to taking my siblings to work, football, friends' houses, or whatever else, to helping us the best he could with school without being pushy. Indeed he was a great believer in education, striving to achieve his very best and helping my siblings and me in whatever career path we chose. 

I used to take my experiences with Dad for granted. It wasn't until I started working in a secondary school, encountering vulnerable and often fatherless children, that I realised how lucky Dave, Matt, Esther and I were with regards to how much Dad loved and supported us. He was extremely proud of his children and family. My siblings and I have a video message from Dad which we recorded about a week before he passed. It's short but nonetheless precious. We were able to see Dad through to the very end. He passed into the Lord's presence while surrounded by his family in the comfort of his own bed. 

At this point I want to make it very clear how grateful the family is to the NHS for everything over the past few years. From the oncologists, doctors and nurses who oversaw Dad's treatments, to the district nurses and those from the hospice who went above and beyond, to the incredible staff at the Edward Jenner unit. In your hands Dad benefited from not only your knowledge but your care and compassion, which was so precious and valuable to him and to us. 

Thank you to everyone in Dad's life; to his friends and colleagues at Lakers, to this wonderful church family, and everyone else who knew and loved Dad. Thank you for your support and prayers throughout this difficult time.

We are devastated to no longer have Dad with us but we are so grateful for the time we had. We thank God and give glory to Him for watching over Dad and giving him the strength to carry on. We take immense comfort in knowing that Dad is in the presence of not just his God and Saviour, but other illustrious figures he looked forward to meeting; Moses, Paul, Elijah, Charles and John Wesley, and goodness knows who else.

We thank God that though this goodbye is difficult it is temporary, and we have a hope that cannot be shaken. One day we will meet Dad again, and we'll be in God's presence to boot. What a precious and sweet thought that is.