Fifty Shades of Fabulous

22 10 2012

Like every other red blooded woman on the planet, this summer I read “that book”.

Fifty Shades of Grey”, for those of you who haven’t read it (i.e. men), is the story of 21 year old Anastasia Steel who is seduced by wealthy CEO Christian Grey and drawn into a world of BDSM (Bondage, Dominance, Sadism, Masochism).

As a married woman over the age of 30, I fit the perceived demographic perfectly. However despite being dubbed “Mummy Porn”(and I should mention that I am ABSOLUTELY NOT a Mommy),  this book seems to have a much wider appeal than anticipated and has become the fastest selling paperback of all time. It is known for its explicit erotic scenes and despite its success it has received extremely mixed reviews.

There seem to be three main reasons for the widespread criticism of Fifty Shades:

1/ It is badly written.

2/ Some people find the erotic content to be in poor taste.

3/ It started as a piece of fan fiction based on characters from the Twilight series.

In my opinion – it is badly written. The friend who recommended that I read the series claimed that she had found dozens of typos and spelling mistakes; although I did suggest that she may not have been reading it right!

The storyline is a fairly standard format. It is basically a Cinderella story. A young virgin falls for a damaged millionaire who changes her life. Thematically there is nothing new here. The plot is fairly weak and the characters are stereotypical, the attempts to develop an emotional subtext are clumsy and predictable. Christian Grey has been emotionally scarred in his early childhood. But this does exploit a desire many women, appear to have to “fix” the men in their lives. We all want to bring something of value to the important relationships in our lives (romantic or not). Anastasia softens the character of Christian and helps him to trust her and gradually give up his need to control. However, the relationship between the two main characters develops too quickly and given the extreme nature of Christian Grey’s sexual demands of the virgin, Ana, it is difficult for a reader to suspend belief.

I have heard many comments about how tragic it is that this book has been so successful in comparison to more critically acclaimed works of fiction available. Personally I am an advocate of ANY material that encourages people to develop a love of reading, irrespective of genre.

The erotic content on the other hand is written extremely well. Critics argue that the sex is given higher priority than the storyline. A strange argument in this genre – in erotic fiction, isn’t the sexual content always prioritised over the development of plot and character? The sexual preferences are also far from conventional. So do the sales figures suggest that we all secretly yearning for a BDSM relationship of our own in which we either relinquish or assume all control, or is it simply harmless escapism?

It would appear that Fifty Shades has enhanced the sex lives of many ordinary women and due to the media hype it has certainly prompted much discussion about the politics surrounding sex and sexuality.  I have read some claims that the underlying message invalidates feminism. Surely feminism is the pursuit of equal opportunity in all aspects of life. Women and men alike have sexual desires and preferences that vary. Sexual acts between two consenting adults in the privacy of their own bedroom (or ‘red room of pain’ if that is to your taste), is not the sum total of a relationship, and a little fantasy role play can be perfectly healthy and not impact on other aspects of the relationship.

In the books, Mr Grey does attempt to dominate all aspects of Ana’s life; but she does ultimately assert her independence and sets her own limits that she finds acceptable and she often tells him when he has crossed the line. This seems to be a win for the feminists. My understanding of BDSM relationships is that the submissive partner retains control and can make use of ‘safe words’ when needed. Perhaps this is in some ways healthier and more open than ‘traditional’ relationships, as at least terms are agreed upon by both partners in advance.

The main reason that I can find for the widespread criticism of Fifty Shades is that it started as a piece of fan fiction and there is a degree of snobbishness from the bibliophiles amongst us. Let’s not forget that the plot of Fifty Shades has moved a world away from the characters and plot on which it was originally based and that modern technology has enabled us to be much better connected with the rest of the world and share our ideas in an immediate and public way it was inevitable that works of fiction that would otherwise pass under the radar have the opportunity to eventually reach mainstream audiences and what a massive compliment to established writers that their work should inspire other emerging writers. This is one of the amazing things about the World Wide Web. Getting a publishing house to embrace your work can be hard so reaching an audience in this way is a great opportunity for aspiring writers.

Many women I have spoken to have thoroughly enjoyed reading “Fifty Shades of Grey” though none have claimed to think that it is a literary masterpiece. I certainly enjoyed the series and have read other similar books since as it has provided me with a much needed escape route from the day to day mundane aspects of life.

I understand that Universal Pictures secured the rights to the trilogy in March this year – I for one will be in the front – or maybe the back row – depending on whether I can convince my husband to join me in the cinema an hope that literary masterpiece or not ‘Fifty Shakes of Grey’ can continue to titillate women the world over

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Lottery Win

21 10 2012

Over the summer I started to play the lottery online. I figured that it is not a huge amount of money to play, and someone has to win – the only way to be in with a chance is to buy a ticket.

I openned my email this morning to discover that there was ‘exciting news about my ticket‘.

It took aproximately 1min for me to log onto my account to see what I had won – the actual amount turned out to be £10.00 which has been transfered into my bank account. Whilst it is not a large enough amount to enable my early retirement and to establish my status as a lady who lunches; it will certainly be put to good use, probably towards a few drinks for a cozy night in with my hubby.

The anticipation, every time I enjoy a small win, brings out the day-dreamer in me I fantasise about what I would do if I won a large sum of money, who I would tell first, whether I would turn up to work on Monday,which exotic destination I would fly out to and how soon I could buy my dream house (which is the number one item on my to do list).

The reality is that I am highly unlikely to actually win a life changing sum of money but I enjoy the fantasy and I think its good for the soul to have a bit of a day dream from time to time.

I was reminded of a BBC Drama that explored how a big win affected the lives of 5 shop workers in a Syndicate:

But no plans currently to fly to Hawaii, quit my job, or crack open the champaigne this weekend. I will settle for a bottle of red wine and some Fosters from the ‘Bottle and Basket’.





Spoke too soon…

18 10 2012

A few days ago I blogged about the reasons that I love my job.

Evidently my Senior Leadership Team are monitoring my blog and are determined to ensure that I do not become compalacent, heaven fobid that I should forget what a tortorous job Teaching can be on occassion.

As I pressed send on my work email on Tuesday – submitting the Department Self Evaluation Form that has stolen my life for the last month – I heard the familiar ping of a new email arriving in my inbox.

MOCK INSPECTION starting…Wednesday.

For those of you unfamiliar with the rigorous checks and balances endured by teachers on a daily basis and the box ticking exercises we must pay lip service to, simply to justify our existance, I should inform you that any mention of OFSTED will cause the colour to drain from the most seasoned professional’s face. I should mention that SLT were empathetic that this was not a mock Ofsed the impact on classroom teachers during the process was identical to an Ofsed Inspection.

It is a process in which schools are visited by inspectors and make judgements about the quality of teaching and learning based on a series of (usually) 20 minute observations of lessons, intense interiews of senior staff and consultations with governors and parents. I would challenge anyone to be ready to submit their best work under such pressurised conditions when they dont know when and indeed if they will be observed and when you cannot determine which ‘difficult’ students, determined to sabotage your best efforts, will be in attendance that day.

What if you are teaching a bottom set following a wet break and are delivering a Drama lesson in the school canteen with tomatos strewn all over the floor? My teaching practice on these occassions would be seriously hampered by the difficult circumstances and while I believe that I deal with these situations well and get the most out of every lesson, it would hardly be fair to judge my performance in this scenario on an equal level to a lesson on a mild day, period 2, in a dedicated and purposeful teaching environment. However, as it is the quality of teaching and learning that is under scrutiny rather than my planning or ability to deal with adverse circumstances, so it really is a bit of a lottery.

When Ofsted last observed me, I was a trainee and the inspector remained in my lesson for 50mins! It was one of the most stressful situations I have ever experienced and the atmosphere was incredibly tense and very negative. At the time, I remember questioning the impact this must have had on the quality if teaching and learning in the build up to the inspection and immediately after it was over. With staff running round like headless chickens planning the ‘Perfect Ofsted’ lesson and making sure all their data all available and up to date, they must surely not have been focused on their non observed classes,  and when the inspecters left there were probably a few days of everyone breathing a huge sigh of relief and taking a more relaxed approach knowing they had 4 years to wait before enduring it all over again.

The idea of volunteering ourselves for a ‘practice run’ of this process is machochistic to say the least.

My biggest issue is that inspectors attempt to make judgements about someones entire professional practice based on a 20minute extract from one lesson. Its not like taking an exam where you know the criteria and can revise topics that you struggle with in advance, because kids dont come with an instruction book, there are too many variables and even the best planning and preparation can go out the window should there be an unexpected issue.

I recognise the need for checks and balances in every profession, and would not dream of suggesting that teachers should be exempt from observations. Nor are teachers unique in their loathing of management implimenting what can only be described as ‘santimonious twaddle’; and the provision of ongoing ‘professional development’ and ‘training opportunities’ that cause much rolling of eyes and grinding of teeth, (the nations optitions and dentists can sleep well in the knowledge that their jobs are safe): but it is fair to say that we get a lot of grief.

The ‘Not Mock Ofsted’ went very well for me but I know there will be a lot of demoralised staff over the next few days. Lets hope that any actual visits from Ofsted are far in the future.





Seasons of Sums

17 10 2012

I have been most upset by a recent decision at work by the School Senior Management Team.

In their infinite wisdom they have decided that a series of inspections should take place at extremely short notice over the next few days.

I will write about the depth of my feeling on this issue tomorrow night but for those of you unfamiliar with the process of school inspections – they are a total pain in the backside. While this is being put forward as a learning opportunity – not to be confused with a ‘mock Ofsed Inspection’ – to the average classroom it is a dstinction without a difference.

Rather than post my thoughts without some time for reflection I have decided to express myself through the use of song.

An old friend of mine who has made a great impact on my life recently starred in a production of Rent and I saw a clip of her in performance singing Seasons of Love. The repetition of the numbers in this song has always appealed to me. I love the sentiment behind it, of the impossibility of measuring quality of life simply by counting up the number of minutes one has left to live. It occured to me that  in many ways this is similiar to my predicament of being judged professionally not by the quality of my work or the achievements of the young people I work with but on a box ticking exercise.

I have decided therefore to start rewritting the lyrics to reflect my own frustrations.

Its not finished but the lyrics are below and if you feel so inclined you can attempt to sing along using a karoke version of this song I found, ENJOY! (and if you come up with any good lyric to use for the second half I would be very grateful if you would share them with me 🙂

SEASONS OF LOVE KAROKE VERSION

SEASONS OF LOVE – REVISED

ALL TEACHING STAFF
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six observations;
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Targets, oh dear!
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six, damn inspectors;
How many drop in’s should you have in a year?

HEADTEACHER
Your teaching, and practice, are up for
Evaluation.

TEACHER 1

Performance Reviews are the bane of my life.

STAFF
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six hundred children

Who need the guidance that

Will guide them in life

ALL

But it’s all about sums………………………………………..
Data and sums……………………………………………..
Numbers and sums………………………………………

Spreadsheets and sums (repeat)

NQT
Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six teaching standards!
4S will find a reason
that I should fail.

HOD’s

Five hundred twenty-five thousand
Six evening meetings
How do you find time for the
Lessons you plan?





Chuck

16 10 2012

My husband recently introduced me to Chuck, an NBC show in the comedy/spy genre.

I have really enjoyed it. As I wrestle with GCSE and A-Level Drama texts on a daily basis I find I need something to help my brain switch off in the evening – this is a habit my husband does not find particularly endearing as my viewing choices usually involve a large number of Soap Operas. The benefit of this type of TV is that it requires minimal focus from me as it lacks complexity on any and every level and you can miss years of Eastenders and still feel fully caught up on all the salient plot points in under 5minutes.

The downside is that it has resulted in a Living Room/Computer room split between my husband and I with each of us assuming custody of our own space in the evening leaving little opportunity for us to share our evenings.

Chuck has been a fantastic antidote for this issue as it is fairly easy viewing, humorous and somewhat addictive – so the good news is that my other half and I, are spending our evenings in the same room.

Zachary Levi plays the lovable but unlikely hero whose life is thrown into disarray when state secrets are uploaded into his brain and he becomes a living computer. He needs to balance his secret life as a spy for the CSI with his existing and less glamorous job in a Buy More Store as a computer service expert as well as finding time to attend to family and friends.

Things are further complicated when he falls for his handler CIA Agent Sarah Walker.

I love the juxtaposition of the ‘real life’ problems Chuck experiences in contrast to the world of espionage. The ‘nerds’ working at Chucks store treat the mundane, ordinary and everyday trials and tribulations as if they were issues of national security and play act the lifestyle that Chuck himself is experiencing in an all too real way.

Adam Baldwin’s inarticulate grunts and snarls in response to Chuck’s quirky personality are a highlight in every episode and Chucks best friend Morgan has some great one liners.

Chuck is a warm and witty program and it certainly brightens up my evenings.





Murder and Moonlighting

14 10 2012

I spend many of my weekends lying in awkward positions in hotel function rooms while paying customers applaud, cheer and take my photograph.

No…get your mind out of the gutter, I work p/t for a Murder Mystery Company.

I have a low boredom threshold and limited funds in my bank account so this is a great way of keeping me entertained over the weekend and earning a little money to add to the “buy myself a house” fund.

I am booked for events throughout the year and each is hosted by about 6 actors who perform a mixture of rehearsed scenes, improvised dialogue with other cast members & interaction with audience members. The audience are usually members of the general public who want to try something a little different for a night out with their partner, birthday or hen party,  or simply an evening with their close friends; there are also some private events.

There are a large number of plots in circulation and the context and settings are as varied as weddings, Sci-Fi Concenvtions, boy band reunions, auditions for a new TV game show and even an anniversary event for a dating agency. The audience know this in advance and are given a rough brief about their role. They choose on the evening how much or how little they want to get involved.

As an actor it is a definitely a great way of working, although it is challenging. The main challenge is the amount of improvisation involved and the necessity to know the back story of the character we are playing and the relationship between each of the characters. As audience members can question us about absolutely anything there will usually be some irrelevant discrepany between the answers provided by cast members that can fixate an audience. On the weekends that my character meets some untimely end I can be waiting some time to be ‘discovered’ and can only hope its one of our audience members who finds me and not some poor unsuspecting cleaner. I have had audience members rummage hopefully through the contexts on my handbag looking in vain for ‘clues’ and even been followed to my room where a hopeful guest waited patiently outside hoping to learn something new. There can also be complications when other events are scheduled at the same time, such as a childs birthday party or wedding in the next room. I attended one event where a building was actually on fire over the road from the hotel.

I love participating in these events and working with the fantastic actors who make up the company. It is a fantastic ‘paid hobby’ and I often get to enjoy fantastic food during the course of the evening as well as the opportunity to stay at some really beautiful hotels. I have just completed my third consecutive weekend event and am feeling a little sleepy but its such fun when I am there. I have one more weekend to go and then I must give myself a bit of a break for a few weeks at least .

If you have never tried this sort of event – I would highly recommend it, just be very careful who you sit next to…





Why I love TEACHING

13 10 2012

I LOVE my job!

As a Drama teacher in a secondary school – no day is ever dull. There are three main reasons that I love my job:

  • My passion for my subject specialism.
  • Working with young people.
  • Having the best colleagues that anyone could ever hope for.

I have always had a passion for Drama and Theatre. I have myself studied a wide variety of genres, although I specialise in the classics and have an enduring love of voice work and the power of language. To this day I continue to study my subject area and it gives me great pleasure to do so. I have always been inspired by the way in which the stage provides a forum for the exploration of the human condition. In a society that is morally and spiritually bankrupt there is a need for a context to analyse the themes and issues that arise in modern life and highlight the truth. This is, for me, a compelling reason to study theatre.

Despite setting the same tasks with lower school classes every academic year, I am always amazed by the creativity of my student’s responses and find myself both laughing & crying on a daily basis when they find new ways of surprising me with a new spin on an old idea. With exam classes (age 14+) at the beginning of the academic year I challenge them to reinterpret a classic text but to make it relevant to a modern day audience – it is amazing that even students violently opposed to the very idea of studying Shakespeare can access the texts when it is presented in the right way. I have the privilage of working with the most inspiring group of young people who will shape the future of this country one day – for better or for worse. I am reminded daily of my duty to inspire their young minds and ensure that they are prepared for whatever the future may hold for them.

Unfortunately, I am also tasked with babysitting some total dipsticks.

I have been blessed with fantastic exam classes – students who have gone above and beyond and created work of a standard that exceeds all expectations who have huge potential in the future should they continue to pursue this subject. It is of course frustrating that some of my most talented students move on to pursue and develop other skills; such as sports or more traditional ‘academic’ subject areas, (although I would argue that every subject has its own theory, history, specialist language and skill set and that each is in its own way ‘academic’).

I know that many people do not value my subject area – that is OK. It is a challenging subject and lets face it, there may be a glut in the market for people who have the skills and expertise to depict realistic ‘trees’ as oddly there appears to be little demand for such skills in the workplace.

However the life skills covered in Drama lessons are transferable and apply to many different job roles. For example we can all benefit if we have the ability to express ourselves in a clear but non-confrontational way as this can determine success in getting what you want – from conflict resolution in your social life to compromising with a romantic partner or convincing Senior Management at work to embrace your ideas and act on them.

In situations involving conflict or differences of opinion, the ability to read the facial expressions and body language of others is crucial if you are to find areas of compromise and means of resolving difficut issues. It is equally valuable to know how you come across to other people. I.e. if your facial expression, body language and mannerisms, that you perceive to project your confidence; are misinterpreted as arrogance or contempt, this can be a major barrier to success.

Whether or not you believe that Drama as a discreet subject has a place within our education system, I have seen first hand the impact on students who study Drama and the sense of achievement they get by taking risks on stage and experimenting with new ideas. One of the highlights of my career was handing out exam certificates to 13 year old students who had agonised all summer waiting for their results. The reaction of the students was heart warming and due to the high attainment levels of the cohort, I had the great pleasure of watching every student in a class of 45 realise that their hard work and dedication had been worth the effort. The benefit to their self esteem was priceless.

I also have the two most amazing colleagues. I like many people I work with, but my own department is small (three of us) and I cannot imagine what my job would look like without the two fantastic women I work with on a daily basis. I thank God every day that they have become some an intrical part of my life.

It is easy to complain about work and I do so regularly but I would be hard pressed to find a more rewarding job role that challenged and inspired me as much as teaching.