Life is One Closely Complicated Tangle

Yesterday I was back at the JobCentre for my first fortnightly appointment. The guy I saw this time was much more inclined to actually listen to what I was saying – he made some changes to what had been put onto my file on Monday (for example, the type of work and number of hours I was actually looking for) and recorded some of the jobs I’d applied to. There wasn’t a whole lot I needed to discuss with him and he was quite happy to sign off that I’d been actively seeking work.

It wasn’t until I was back in the car and we were half way out of town that John reminded me I was meant to hand in some paperwork to prove I wasn’t at uni or receiving loans. There wasn’t an option of going back another day so we turned round and drove straight back.

I went in with the letter from the doctor recommending that I leave uni for the year, and the letter from the loans company stating they were reclaiming £120 overpayment (it didn’t explain why, but the reason is that I didn’t complete the term they had already paid a grant for). They were the only things I had which might have been suitable… but they weren’t. The man at the front desk took copies anyway, and gave me his fax number so that I could get college to fax a letter stating I had left to him. He also gave me the number of the JobCentre processing office so I could find out what they needed from the loans company.

After more than two hours in town, mostly in the job centre but also dropping off another job application, I got home and started making phone calls. For the entire day. Ringing college was easy – the domestic bursar is always very helpful and she immediately said that she would write a letter containing all the very specific details needed and fax it directly to the Centre. One down, several to go.

Then I rang the number I’d been given for the processing office – or rather I rang the landline equivalent I’d found on because I object to being ripped off. Sadly they were one step ahead and the landline number didn’t actually work, so I had to ring the number I’d been given (after ringing another JobCentre office to find out why the processing office was claiming to be closed. They just gave me another non-standard rate number). I did eventually manage to get through after only a couple of minutes of tinny hold music and several “press any button to continue”s. The boy on the phone, who sounded like he was being paid minimum wage to work in a call centre answering questions he didn’t care a fig about, told me I wasn’t eligible to claim because I was a full-time student and therefore not available to work.

Uh, what? The one thing I am is available to work. I am up to my neck in availability. I’m drowning in free time. So I rang my own office again and they reassured me that if I got a letter from the college and one from the loans company, it should be fine.

Student Finance England seem to have made it their main goal to be as unhelpfully cooperative as possible. After sitting on hold for ten minutes, being periodically told that I could go on their website to find the information I was looking for (which I’ve never found to be true), I got through to a lady who asked me every single detail of my entire life, including my shoe size and eye colour, before listening to my request, putting me on hold to “consult my supervisor” and then coming back to tell me a letter had been posted to my address stating that I was no longer receiving student finance.

I explained to her that I had wanted to ask her to put my NI number on it (to which her answer was “we don’t have your NI number”… well no, I was going to give you that) and then ask her to fax it to the JobCentre. She told me that they couldn’t possibly send private information such as that to anyone other than me, by any other method that the entirely reliable and utterly safe Royal Mail. Even with my permission. Even if I begged. Even though there was no way on earth that a letter would arrive in time for me to send it on to the JobCentre by Friday morning. Even though both the JobCentre and Student Finance England are divisions of the same government. Sorry, no. There’s a procedure, donchaknow.

So I rang the JobCentre again, to explain that their colleagues over in Glasgow (and why, incidentally, is Student Finance England based in Scotland?) were so suspicious of anyone potentially stealing the state secret that I’m not receiving finance that I probably wouldn’t be able to get the proof to them in time, and could they please please please not cancel my claim and make me start all over again? They promised to put a note on my file – my file must be almost entirely notes by this point – and said that it probably wouldn’t be cancelled. But no assurances.

I guess that’s as good as I can expect to get from a government department. At least I got to speak to actual human beings, albeit a different one every time, who on the whole listened to what I was saying before launching into a pre-prepared speech that didn’t completely relate to my problem. Other than the boy in the processing office, who I don’t think ever completely understood what I was trying to tell him, they were all keen to help, but they all expressed the implied message that despite my completely understandable situation there was no guarantee that the mechanisms of the law would allow any flexibility at all and it really depends on the mood of whichever shadowy figure has the final say.

It was all very frustrating, but it also felt like quite an achievement when I put the phone down for the last time and knew I’d done all I could. If it hadn’t taken me seven hours – if a single phone call to each person would have been enough – then I wouldn’t have appreciated the satisfaction of finishing quite as much. And I did make a lot of new friends.

In similarly government-related news, my CRB check from the hospital finally arrived yesterday, so I can start volunteering at the hospice. I emailed the lady and she said I could come in on Friday morning to get started. I’m really looking forwards to it, it’s so much more worthwhile than sitting round surfing the internet and wishing I had something to do.

Then of course it’s choir in the evening. This morning I got a phone call saying that there was a place available on the junior choir’s week-long cathedral choir course in August, and did I want to take it? The church is able to pay a large percentage of the cost, so I didn’t hesitate to say yes, even though it means I’m now taking three weeks’ holiday in the three months I’m available to work. But since no one has actually offered me a job yet, it seems daft to turn such a great chance down on the offchance that it might be a problem to an employer I don’t yet have. If the worst comes to the worst, I will just have to bail on the second holiday in August, which is stewarding at a festival – I haven’t paid anything, and there’s a waiting list for stewards so they’d be able to replace me easily.

So that’s yesterday and this morning. There were actually a few more phone calls than that – I rang the number I’d got from a job advert and a computerised system asked me to give my name and address so they could send me an application pack. Considering that I live in the world’s most Welsh-named English village, I’m not convinced it will ever arrive, but it’s only an 8-hours-a-week job anyway. I also got at least three phone calls from the JobCentre (one of which I missed because they suddenly decided to ring my mobile, even though we’d been using the landline all day) and I rang a new coffee bar/wine bar/children’s play area/ice rink monstrosity to see if they had any jobs. They don’t. They also don’t have any actual ice, it’s that plastic stuff that pretends to be ice, but I’ll probably still go there because I’m hopelessly addicted to skating.

I’m actually feeling rather bereft today. I’ve exhausted the supply of jobs to apply for. I’ve got no one to ring and wrangle with over paperwork – I even managed to complete my application for next year’s student finance last night, so that’s all sorted. A friend from France has solved the money-stuck-in-French-bank-account conundrum (she has a French and an English account and no charges for transferring between them, so she’s going to be an intermediary for me). It feels rather odd having nothing to worry about. Maybe I’ll go and bake some cookies.


Job Hunting is a Full Time Job

I can’t remember where I read it but someone said that if you are looking for full-time work, you should spend full-time hours searching, applying and interviewing for jobs.

At the time I scoffed. There aren’t enough jobs to spend 40 hours a week looking for them! How long does it take to print out a CV? How can it possibly take all day to apply for the two or three new jobs you’ve managed to track down?

Well, now I know the answer to that last question. Firstly, you attend an interview in a remote town that requires to you leave the house at 7.55 in order to arrive at the interview for 10am. Then you try to get back from the interview and discover that the train you thought you’d catch simply hasn’t turned up. Next you tramp round the entire town again, to check if there are any new “Apply Within” signs up (and find three – one at the cafe who treated you so abysmally last time you applied to work there that even starvation wouldn’t tempt you to try again). Then, and this is the key one, you go to the JobCentre for a preliminary interview.

I’ve always made it a policy not to trust companies who can’t punctuate their own names, and once again I was proven right. The advisor I saw was almost comically inept, and the forms which I’d filled in online had somehow recorded me as male. There’s no way I accidentally put I was male – I had to review the application before sending it in, and then reviewed it again over the phone before I made an appointment, and anyway I was recorded as female on some of the forms and just not others. It reminded me that the Inland Revenue sent me a tax rebate cheque addressed to Mr Surname (obviously they didn’t address it to Mr Surname, but I’m not going to tell you my surname if you don’t already know it!) so maybe the government just can’t understand that I’m female? It seems ridiculous. I have one of the most female names in existence.

Anyway. We managed to correct that after about fifteen minutes. Then there was a long discussion about whether or not I was a student, which resulted in my having to find and produce proof that I didn’t receive Student Loans by Wednesday. Hmm. How do you prove that something doesn’t happen?

Just when it seemed like we were nearing the end of the forms, via a lot of “oh no, that isn’t the right form” and “oops, just got to go and check something with someone” and “oh dear, that wasn’t right”, I stupidly mentioned something about paperwork getting muddled in my move back from France. The advisor’s head slowly descended until it hit the desk. I hastily reassured him that I would find it – but that wasn’t the problem.

The problem was that anyone who had left the UK, for any length of time, for any reason other than simple holiday-making, had to fill out another form. I never managed to find out why this was: something about people trying to make a new life for themselves in Spain, a bit about the island of Montserrat and something vague about immigration (I’m not convinced he knew either, which speaks volumes about the government’s attitude towards their employees and “customers”. I won’t even start on the use of the word “customers”).

His main concern was that the form was very new and no one had used it yet, so he wasn’t sure how it worked. The answer turned out to be: badly. Not only did it require the poor man to fill out every single detail over again (date of birth, gender(!), address, NI number, phone number etc), it also asked questions such as “Did the customer bring any money back with them from the country?”. My answer of “no, it’s actually still sitting in a French bank account” didn’t suffice because – I kid you not – I must have had a few coins in my purse and that counted. We decided I was carrying £10 (it took five or six attempts to make the form accept that figure) and moved onto the wonderful questions “Why did the customer leave the country?”: “To return to the UK”; “Why did the customer return to the UK?”: “To live here”. I didn’t provide those answers, by the way, but I couldn’t think of any better ones. Why does anyone leave a country? Because they would rather be in a different one? Then there was the question “Does the customer have any links with anyone in the country?” which to me sounds like the kind of question you answer with a definitive NO if you want to convince the government that you aren’t a flight risk, but I was told that if I had made any friends during my time in Paris, that counted as a link. I find it hard to picture any scenario at all where someone might spend more than 13 weeks in a country and not meet someone who lives there, but hey. Why miss an opportunity to add another section to another form?

After more than an hour, we moved on to the Job Seeker’s Agreement. I agreed to look for jobs in three newspapers, to search online twice a week (that’s a joke – I search online at least twice a day) and to “ask friends and family” once a week. Really? Asking friends and family counts as job hunting?

Then again, I guess they don’t need to require particularly strenuous job hunting. It’s bad enough trying to get through all the paperwork. And the worst of it is that I have to go back on Wednesday in order to book another appointment to see a Personal Advisor, who will go through the entire application in more detail and then my claim will be assessed. We couldn’t make the appointment there and then, because the booking system was misbehaving – it would only offer an appointment in mid-July, which is well past the ten day target for dealing with claims. It’s not credible that there are no other appointments available; there must have been three dozen appointment desks dotted pleasingly around the room, at least a dozen staff members and maybe six “customers” in the whole time I was there.

Sigh. If it weren’t for the possibility of receiving £53 a week in Job Seekers’ Allowance (or as the JobCentre would put it, JobSeekers Allowance), I would give up on the whole thing. After all, their jobs database is available online to anyone, and I’m having far more success just applying for jobs in person than I am in filling out the forms which are supposed to be helping me find work!

On the positive side, I did find two more jobs to apply for today (neither of which were anything to do with the JobCentre). I also applied to volunteer at a local community centre – the world’s least forthcoming receptionist gave me a form to fill in and told me there were “all sorts” of types of opportunities. Illuminating. It’s been that sort of day, really.

Another setback, and another possibility

This morning I went off to see the children’s hospice which I’ll be volunteering at, just as soon as my CRB check finally comes back completed – that is, once the hospital’s CRB check comes back I can start, but the hospice still has to send off, and pay for, their own check. Does that make any sense to anyone? It doesn’t to me.

Anyway, I went there to look round, meet some of the staff and fill out the paperwork. I didn’t really have any expectations; although it is extremely well known in the area, I had never actually heard it described by anyone and I’ve never visited a hospice before. I suppose if I had thought about it, I would have imagined a hospital crossed with the Dumping Ground off Tracey Beaker on CBBC, but I didn’t really think about it.

Once I arrived I was really impressed. It’s a very well planned, carefully designed and beautifully maintained building. Everywhere is bright and cheerful, and very clean without being clinical or smelling of disinfectant like some hospitals do. The lady I met showed me an aerial photograph of the buildings and pointed out that it looks rather like a tortoise – the head, the tail and the curve of the shell contain the rooms for families to stay in, which are like particularly nice hotel rooms with a little garden for each one, and then the legs and stomach are the main offices and the children’s rooms. Only the children’s rooms contained any obvious signs of their real function: winches, special beds, oxygen cannisters and a host of other medical equipment all in easy reach.

It’s a place that felt a little tinged with sadness, which is unsurprising: it’s where children go if they aren’t going to grow up. But I was so impressed at how cheerful everyone was, and how thoughtfully everything had been arranged. There’s a special room for teenagers – who, I was told, are often boys suffering from muscular dystrophy, who grow up completely aware of what is in store for them – with games consoles, the biggest TV I have ever seen, the biggest bean bag I have ever seen, and all kinds of games and videos. There is also an amazing kitchen, which looks like the big brother of a domestic kitchen, but with health and safety compliant chopping boards and warning posters and so forth. The hospice aim to make it feel like home, so that when children and their families visit for respite care or for support as they enter the terminal phase of the child’s ilness they aren’t also struggling with an alien, unwelcoming environment, and I think they’ve done a fantastic job.

It feels like an incredibly important thing to be allowed to help with, even though as a housekeeping volunteer I’ll mostly be involved with the laundry, the cleaning and maybe some kitchen duties and not really coming into contact with the families at all. I will hopefully be getting a paid job with a cleaning agency, which will be basically the same duties, but cleaning for private households doesn’t feel like service in quite the same way as cleaning for a children’s hospice.

So that is something I will be starting quite soon, with the possibility that I might get a paid position when they shuffle things around in the near future.

But I found out this afternoon that the recruitment agency I had registered with over a fortnight ago, who advertised several jobs I wanted to apply for on their website (but only let you have the details if you’ve registered with them) are closing, which explains why they hadn’t contacted me in any way since I sent off the form. When I rang up yesterday to chase it, they said I’d be interviewed soon, but John was coincidentally speaking to the agency’s accountant in a pub at lunch time and he was told that the company has folded in the last 24 hours.

Well. I could take this as a sign that God just doesn’t want me to work! I’m choosing not to do that, because the thought of being unemployed and aimless for another four months makes me want to bang my head against a wall. I even found myself looking speculatively at the escort ads in the paper – not that I’ve got the bottle for that even if I was desperate enough. Which I’m not, in case anyone is worrying!

Today has been unusually nice, though. Getting up and going somewhere in the morning gave me some sense of purpose that’s been lacking since I gave up at the hospital (did I mention that they laid off all the bank staff at the end of last week, with no prospect of taking anyone back on until at least August? Another dead end, it seems.) and then I walked from the hospice into town to meet John and pick up some supplies for dinner tonight – I’m taking the opportunity to make myself burritos as mum is out for dinner with work and John has gone out for a cooked lunch. He dropped me home and I spent the afternoon singing at a volume only acceptable in an empty house, took the dog for a walk and now am considering going downstairs to watch Midsomer Murders on ITV+1 while I fry onions for my faux-Mexican meal. Don’t tell me about living life to the full.

Oh and if anyone can explain why updating to Firefox v4 has stopped the scroll function on my laptop from working, I’d love to know.

Lost the Gloss

Well, unsurprisingly the novelty of working at the hospital has worn off and now I’m getting frustrated at not having a paying job. There are a lot of changes at the hospital at the moment, and all the secretarial staff (which of course doesn’t include me) were summoned to a meeting at which, amongst other things, they were told that there wouldn’t be any more work for bank staff until at least July. I’m supposed to be on the bank staff, once my CRB check finally gets done – it’s still sitting in HR with another problem apparently, I was told to come back next week and sort it – but that’s no use if they can’t give me any work for another two months.

So I’m job hunting and applying for basically anything I could do, which isn’t really much considering I’ve got no useful qualifications, no transport and experience only in supermarket work (supermarkets aren’t hiring), child care (but no qualifications) and admin work (but again no qualifications). I’m sure I’ll find something in the end but it is very frustrating.

On a more positive note I’m enjoying being in the choir. Everyone is really friendly, even the kids – it’s probably rather pathetic but I’m more nervous of being disliked by school kids than I am of adults, because kids can be so vicious. But they’re all pleasant and fun, and the adults all chat to me on an equal level. They’re mostly retirement age, apart from one guy in his thirties, so I’m between the two age groups. In June we’re singing at a choir festival which sounds quite fun, we’re going by coach and taking picnic lunches. Rather like a school trip, except no essays to write when we get back.

I keep meaning to get back in touch with the friends who used to live around here. I know some of them must still be here – three didn’t go to uni and one went and dropped out, but I’ve no idea what they’re doing now. I keep telling myself I’ll get in touch once I know what I’m doing but it’s looking increasingly as though I already do know, and the answer is nothing at all. Perhaps somewhere subconciously I’m feeling a little embarassed; after all, the last time I saw them I was off to Cambridge and the local newspaper was writing articles about me. Now I’m sitting around moping about my lack of prospects.

Plan of action: I will pull myself together, stop moping, apply for more jobs, be patient, and email my friends.

Getting out of the House

As I’d predicted, things have been getting more interesting as time goes on. On Friday night I went to try out at the local church choir and they took me on as an alto – I was very surprised to hear them say that I could have been taken as a soprano, except that they restrict the soprano line to the junior trebles and I’m too old to join them. But it’s nice to be told that my range is larger than I had realised!

The choir seem great, very friendly and tackling some nice music. Some of the juniors have amazing voices, particularly one of the older girls who will be a fantastic contralto when she’s older. They’re all girls, which I think is unusual for choristers, and they work really hard: five rehearsals a week, plus individual lessons for choral awards, and the two Sunday services, and any extra services that are on. I think I’m glad I joined the adult section! We only have three rehearsals, two of which are immediately before the Sunday services.

On Saturday my mum’s mum and stepdad arrived to stay for the weekend, and we spent the afternoon at home with them. Sunday morning I went off to choir (very exciting! It’s been years since I last wore a surplice) and my grandparents came to the service. Then the big Sunday lunch and a trip to a garden – the women in my mum’s family are all mad on gardening; at least it wasn’t a garden centre I suppose. And I found a cat asleep in a box so it wasn’t all dull.

On Monday we went to Attingham Park, which is the nicest National Trust property I’ve ever visited. They’ve obviously made an effort to be family-friendly because in the gardens there were little watering cans for kids to water the flowers with, and a shed where you could plant a pea to take home with you, or pick up a packet of seeds. I was very tempted to plant a pea myself but then I pictured carrying it around the house on the afternoon tour and thought again. Pity.

The tour was interesting too, mostly focusing on the conservation and restoration project they’re running (do you know the difference? I didn’t conservation is stopping things getting any worse, restoration is making them look new again by creating replicas) and the techniques they use. I’d love to have had more time to look round by myself, I could easily have spent all day wandering round the rooms and not seen everything. Mum and I are thinking of going back, although heaven knows when we will.

Today the grandparents went home and mum went off to work, but I decided not to go in because I have a huge list of little jobs to catch up on. I’ve rung Student Finance, which was less painful than usual (but the hold music has got even worse), filled out a form for a recruitment agency, updated my CV, gone into town to change my library books, picked up the picture I sent to be framed, moved some money around my bank accounts and ordered a new debit card (my previous one has disappeared somewhere since I got back from Paris and I’ve given up hope of ever finding it again), and discovered that the recruitment agency has closed its branch in town and I’ll have to go to Wales for the interview. Hmm. Not very impressed but at least it wasn’t a wasted trip into town! I go so rarely that I have to get everything done when I do.

Tomorrow I’ll go into the hospital, I suppose. I’m not feeling as keen as I was last week, partly because I’m getting frustrated at not being paid, and partly because I feel awkward in the department – I don’t quite have the same niche as someone who actually works there, because I’m just volunteering, so I don’t have set work to do and I spend a lot of time hanging round waiting for my supervisor to get off the phone and tell me what to do next. I hope a job opens up somewhere in the hospital, or maybe I find something at the recruitment agency, because apart from anything else I’m getting worried about money!

Anyway, that’s enough whining about jobs, something will turn up. In the meantime it’s nice to have some freedom to take a day off to do jobs, whilst still having something to do on the other days.

In the Stacks

At the hospital there are two big rooms (they’re called the Sheds because they have corrugated iron roofs and no windows) where all the files are kept, or at least all the files which are not strewn around the floors and desks of the hospital offices. Every patient who has been seen at the hospital in the last thirty years has at least one file and many have more. I was staggered to hear that despite all the notes being typed and saved onto a central database, we’re still required to print them out in duplicate and file them. At a conservative estimate there are probably three million files.

Anyway, wanton waste of resources is not my point. This afternoon I went to help my mum with her filing backlog. The previous receptionist in her department never bothered filing the forms which arrived on her desk in their dozens each day, so there is four years’ worth of filing to be done. Between us we managed to get through the papers for people whose surnames begin with B. She estimates it will probably take between one and two years for her to get it all done.

When I wasn’t filing in the library-stacks style shed, I was typing up clinic notes from a hand clinic two weeks ago. Everywhere in the hospital is chronically understaffed but it seems as though the hand department is one of the worst so I volunteered to go in and help them out a bit. In the end I took the files back to the spines department because I have a desk and a computer there, and someone to keep an eye on me since I’m not allowed to be left alone with confidential information. I guess receiving a pay slip makes you suddenly trustworthy or something.

I learnt lots of new words: Tinel’s and Phanel’s tests, ulnar nerve, duodenal ulcer, and many more which I had to write down and can’t remember any more. It’s given me fresh respect for medical students, because there are so many words. Law has lots of words too but they are words like “theft” and “assault”. They are not words like interphalangal articulations.

I had ten patients’ notes to type up from dictation and by the end I had discovered the correct spellings of lots of words which I had got wrong in the first ones, so I had to go back and correct them. Then I checked them all at least three times and filled in the blanks where I hadn’t heard properly, and then had to go back and change the signatories because I had misunderstood who was dictating, and then I had to go through them all with my manager and print them out. There was a lot of flicking through medical dictionaries, rewinding over and over again, turning the speed dial right down so the doctor sounded like a cartoon bulldog, guessing wildly and falling onto the desk in despair. In total it took about five hours. I can see why they’re falling behind – they have twenty-five clinics a day.

Tomorrow I’ll finish up printing all the copies out – one for the patient, one for the file, one for the GP and quite often one for the specialist, along with a referral letter. Then I’ll put them all into envelopes, which involves intricate folding to ensure that the address is visible through the window but confidential information is not, and take the whole lot back to the hand clinic. At which point they’ll give me another batch and the whole thing will start all over again.

At the weekend my mum’s mum and stepdad are coming to visit, so I think we’re going off to local visitors’ attractions like a field of particularly woolly sheep, or a hill with lots of grass (there aren’t many visitors’ attractions round here). On Friday night I’m trying out for the local church choir and hopefully on Sunday I’ll be singing in it.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, my CRB check came back. That is, the forms came back. They had a problem with my “Previous Addresses” section: the address in Paris was missing an answer in the box labelled “UK Postcode”.

Sometimes I despair.

The Final Rabbit Installment, probably

Today, Daughter One’s male rabbit got the snip. Providing we get rid of the babies before they reach puberty, that ought to be the end of the rabbit farm in the back garden.

I got an email today from my college’s lovely Halls officer, who I had contacted when I found out by chance that I was not on this year’s room ballot. For those of you not familiar with this concept, the room ballot is the way rooms are assigned for the next academic year. Second years entering third year choose first (that is my year, although I am no longer in it so I wasn’t sure if I’d be in this ballot), in the reverse of the order they picked in last year. First years entering second year choose next, having been randomly placed into an order. Then new students entering first year are assigned rooms.

When I was in first year, I chose my room for this year very carefully after a lot of thought and a lot of room hunting. I got what for me was the perfect room – a bit small, but with a big windowseat overlooking the library courtyard, a fridge, a sink, and a nice shape to the room. It was right next to the kitchen, not far from the main entrance, close to the library, quiet, near some nice showers, and had a really nice girl who cleaned the corridor (lucky bonus, I didn’t know this in advance).

Since I only got about four weeks in this room, I was hoping to get it again next year. It seemed probable, since no one else would have moved into the room and therefore be squatting (you can choose not to change rooms, which was what I was going to do), and no one would be able to view it anyway since I wouldn’t be in it to let them in.

Turns out that because I left college this year, I have been bumped off the ballot entirely. After the whole of my old year, and the whole of my new year, have chosen their rooms, the housekeeping department will bung me in with the incoming first years and randomly assign me a room.

It might be in the hideous 1960s block which I am very thankful I avoided in my first year – plenty of people like it but I want to live somewhere OLD. It might be in the building furthest away from everything, which I lived in during first year. It is likely to be without sink, and almost certainly will be without fridge. I won’t have any choice in the matter at all.

So I am moving out. I’ve been looking at flats in the area and thanks to the ridiculous rents which all the university colleges seem to charge, it is actually cheaper to move out anyway. I have lots of my own furniture in storage, and I have been itching to live independently for years, so this may even be a blessing in disguise. I’ll have to wait until June or thereabouts to see what is available then.

It just annoys me that I seem to be under assault from all sides. I did not choose to get so ill that I had to leave! It wasn’t my fault! Why am I being punished for it? I still haven’t had it confirmed that I don’t have to pay this year’s tuition out of my own pocket, I’m still wrestling with college over fines and bills, I can’t even say for sure that they’ll let me go back at all.

Anyway. If I can make this moving-out thing work, I’ll have far less hassle with college. And I can put up my own sodding pictures without getting charged £1 for every piece of blutak! I can have my own furniture! I can have A TABLE IN MY ROOM instead of having to eat dinner sitting on the bed! It will be amazing.

Tugged back

Next week, I would be half way through my degree.

In reality I will be in Brittany, making Nutella crepes and rinsing sand out of the hair of toddlers. And I wouldn’t change it, I truly wouldn’t, but it made me feel unexpectedly sad to get the email about Halfway Hall. I’ll still get to celebrate it, but it won’t be with my Matriculation class.

My current mood is incongruous because today has been quite nice albeit not particularly note-worthy, but the evening has been odd. For a start the paint damage fine from last year has returned AGAIN and I just can’t face getting into the battle all over again (for those of you who weren’t subjected to this stupidity last time, the housekeeping department are trying to fine me £30 for paint damage which existed when I moved into the room), but I am not prepared to pay it and it’s become a point of honour now.

It’s really distressing me to have to fight with the head of housekeeping on the issue, because I can tell she thinks I am a dishonest complaining bitch and having to keep emailing her to say that she is wrong isn’t exactly helping matters – but I am determined not to be cowed into paying the fine. It would be like accepting a police caution for something I didn’t feel was wrong (like the woman I read about in the news who was given a caution for leaving her 14 year old son in charge of the 3 year old for 40 minutes while she went to the shops -she has now lost her job and may never work again, and what she did is not actually illegal).

Then a few other things happened that made me reminisce, which I’ve been doing a lot lately, and now the halfway hall email. Basically I suppose I am just brushing against the shadow of an alternative world in which I didn’t leave uni, and another one where I never even went. It feels strange.

I think also the fact that I’ve just finished doing my French homework has contributed to this mood! I had forgotten how much I hated copying out inane sentences in another language until I started doing this course – sadly textbooks for adults are no less patronising than those for children, but ours has the added advantage of being so old that it refers to “la bonne” (the maid) answering the door to the visitors coming to dinner, and the policemen blowing their whistles and waving their white batons. Actually they do still do this, it’s really bizarre to be crossing a busy road and see half a dozen police officers directing traffic without taking any notice of the traffic lights. It probably does a lot to minimise rush-hour traffic jams, come to think of it.

I wonder what it is going to feel like when I go back to university next year. I expect it’s going to be a bit like starting first year was, because basically I’ll have to make a whole set of new friends. I am friendly with most of the first year lawyers but don’t know many of them particularly well, and everyone will have been happily chugging along without me for almost a year. The fact that so few people have kept in touch makes it fairly clear that there is no May-shaped gap in their lives 😦 And it will be weird going back up to that pace. Maybe I won’t; I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to live at that speed again actually.

Now that I’ve successfully depressed myself, I’m going to go and listen to some slightly more cheerful music and go to bed. If anyone is actually reading this (other than my father and three faithful friends who I know about!), it would be nice to hear from you.

A New Rhythm

Yesterday, just before I was about to head out to fetch Daughters Two and Three (and therefore set the entire evening off on its four-hour child-care team marathon), their Mother and I sat down and sorted through exactly when she wanted me to work, and what she wanted me to do. I had been sort of hoping this would happen but she is so busy that I hadn’t wanted to ask, so I’m very glad it came from her.

My hours have changed quite radically – I now only work two mornings (thank goodness for that, I hated getting up at 7am and now I can stay up til half eleven to chat to people in the UK without any qualms about having less than 8 hours’ sleep) and have no definite hours on weekends. If I am needed on a Saturday those hours will be extra, and actually I have gained an hour already so I will be being paid more than we had initially agreed.

I think I am pretty happy with the new hours, with the expected disappointment that I still can’t go to the Thursday night choir practices. The Mother has made very generous allowances for my French lessons and done her best to give me as much time off in the day as possible – and really finishing at 8.30pm isn’t that bad now that I don’t always have to get up before dawn the next day. I can go to the cinema for a 9pm film, I can go out for dinner, etc.

So that’s probably all for the good. We’ll see how it works but it’s definitely helpful to know when I’m needed. I haven’t been “on duty” during weekday afternoons before; it will mean that I will be in primary charge of Baby Girl sometimes! I’m pretty excited about this because it is approaching what I had hoped au pairing would be about – walks in the park, playing with interesting baby toys, applying some of my baby development theories and hopefully bonding with Baby Girl in a way that I haven’t had a chance to do yet.

We also talked about some points we were a little unhappy with, and at some point in the next day or so we need to discuss them again with some conclusions. I won’t go into details about the issues because really they’re fairly predictable in this sort of situation – first time as an au pair, first time having an au pair – but once we’ve ironed them out I’m fairly sure things will be fine.

It is such a comfort to me to know that the Mother and I are able to sit down and discuss things honestly and reach a mutually acceptable compromise or solution. On some issues she can be a little unmoving, which I suppose is fairly natural when she has five children with active and hectic lives and a busy life of her own, but she is always willing to try and sort out problems and so far neither of us have offended or upset the other (to my knowledge – and I’m fairly sure she would have told me if I had done so to her). I know it’s quite a basic thing but if I had found that I couldn’t bring up an issue and know that it wouldn’t cause bad feeling, then I would have just gone home because that sort of thing isn’t workable over six months. Minor niggles grow and become major resentments which just get in the way of any effective communication.

Well, that was all fairly overwritten and messy but I hope it makes sense! I just wanted to pour out some thoughts.

Today I start at 1.30 so I slept in gloriously late, read through my regular blogs, sent some emails, put on a load of laundry, listening to music and still have over an hour to work on my French homework for my class tomorrow. I will be trying to get up earlier most days otherwise I’ll just totally miss the opportunity to go out and see Paris but it was great to have a relaxed day.

It was also important because I woke up with a fairly sore throat and I’m coughing up bloody mucus again, which is a sure sign that I’m a bit worn down and need to be careful to avoid another bout of tonsillitis. Sort of like an early-warning system!

One last thing before I end this long long post. I got an email from the college tutorial office yesterday to say that I had received permission to degrade. Well, that’s reassuring! If they for some reason hadn’t granted it I would probably have been kicked out anyway since I’ve missed almost a term’s worth of supervisions by now. I thought that was quite funny.

Snow storm!

So, it’s the final day before I go to Paris and what am I doing? Am I packing the last few items? Am I looking at maps to make sure I know the train journey I’m taking? Am I reading a French dictionary?

No. I am getting angry.

I just got an email from college saying that I would have to pay this term’s tuition fees myself because Student Loans won’t pay if you leave before December 1st. I spent several days ringing Student Loans to make absolutely sure that this wasn’t the case and was assured that if you leave for medical reasons then they will pay. I wouldn’t have been able to degrade if this wasn’t the case. And suddenly now they are telling the college that this isn’t true? Time to sit on hold for three hours again.

Also it snowed in the night, and in less than ten hours we have several centimetres of snow, maybe several inches. I really hope the trains aren’t messed up – so glad I’m not flying this time because I have a feeling flights will have been cancelled again.

Grrrr. How am I going to sort out the loans thing from France? And I don’t even have enough money to pay that fee.

Later: Phew. Just rang Student Finance and actually they hadn’t even realised I wasn’t at uni (despite the fact that I rang them twice and college said they would contact them too), and are still paying the entire year’s fees. So college just need to contact them and let them know how much they need. Only three months late.

Even later: The college bill has just arrived and it includes the £30 paintwork fine I fought and had revoked last term. It is also being sorted out, but it is further evidence that the finance office just don’t communicate with other relevant people about what they’re charging us – so yes, they do just pick a number.

Grr. Also just had an odd phone call with LoveFilm’s Indian call centre, where the man I spoke to was like a sort of robot; he responded to what I said in perfect English but it was like he had a list of outcome speeches which he had to choose from. I guess he probably did. Anyway the upshot of it is that I’ve paid for three months of subscription I can’t use, because trying to cancel early and get a refund would be far too complicated. Ah well, I expect my mother can watch the complete Narnia series for me.