Sunday, 7 December 2008

Under Contract...

OK, I did sign the new contract which arrived through the post on Friday.
I'd had a phone message from the college telling me about the pay rise, a direct result of my letter, and saying that a new contract was on its way, with the hope that I would reconsider my position. It was from a woman - the name was unfamiliar, so I thought it might be the Art Department secretary. But when I went in to work on Friday the tutor wrinkled his face - 'name sounds familiar, not someone from our office though. Think she's from Finance?'
Oh. So still no recognition from the Art Department itself. The tutor seemed very happy that I was returning next term, and understood that a two-hour session was hardly worth my while, what with the travelling time and the petrol. He said he'd confer with another tutor to see if they could give me more hours together.
The work that session was dynamic - they had to draw a series of movements. The first was from curled up on the mattress to outstretched, still kneeling. It did get a bit repetitive after ten minutes, and my calves were starting to ache, strangely. The next was standing - a twist on one side, around the front with one arm going over my head to a twist on the other side. And the third series was walking towards a chair, sitting down, and getting up again facing another direction. Slowly, with pauses.
On returning home I phoned the number I'd been given. It was for the Head of Human Resources (there's a poem in that job title, I'm sure), so I asked her a few relevant questions, like when might I actually be paid, how much it would be per month, and was the Local Government Pension Plan transferable between jobs...
I also complained a bit about the lack of communication from the Art Department, and how I had no idea who my line manager was, if I was indeed supposed to have one. Maybe that will filter back through the system.
I've never had a contract before. I've certainly never paid into a pension plan. I'm wondering what's happening to me. Is this part of becoming a Real Adult? Of Taking Responsibility For My Financial Future?
Meanwhile my oldest daughter phoned to tell me about her latest likely promotion - from part-time manager in January to full-time manager two months later. On 34k a year. And she's 23.
I invested in my children, not in banks. And now I'm trying to follow in my daughter's footsteps, slowly, and many miles behind. In my own inimitable bohemian fashion, of course...

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Work is Cancelled Today

Hey great news! Work today is cancelled...
I was supposed to be doing six hours for Adult Learning and Leisure in a town about an hour away, leaving at 9am to get back around 5pm, and out again to teach the last session of my poetry course soon after 6pm - this is after being out from 11am-10pm yesterday. So I was relieved to take a call on my mobile yesterday lunchtime from the tutor, apologising for the late cancellation due to outbreaks of flu among participants.
All I need now is a call from the college begging me to stay at the higher rate - or a cheque from them for 60 hours at the higher rate, and thanks for my sterling efforts... or snow...
Everywhere else in England gets snow. We have more grey rain.
I spoke to one of the other models for the college last Thursday evening and he told me the rate had gone up to something over £9/hour. I went in to work the next morning and the tutor told me that was a direct result of my letter. But no-one's bothered to contact me yet, despite a request via the secretary for the Head of Art to phone me that afternoon. I'm still debating as to whether it's best for me to contact them and find out what's going on, but on a point of principle I'm not going to. Yes, dear Reader, I can be a stubborn cow when I'm in the mood.
The private school work ended last Thursday morning and I was paid for the month. Most of it went on paying the mobile mechanic for rescuing me with a new battery when the car wouldn't start last week, and on paying for my portion of the videoing we've done for our poetry set (to be on youtube or googlevideo soonish). The remainder I blew on some early (for me) xmas shopping.
I do have a booking for another private school next term - Friday afternoons at the very friendly Catholic boarding school. £20 per session cash in hand, personal contact and thanks.
I'm aware that I have to start cutting down on the amount of modelling I do, and increasing the amount of creative, academic and 'professional' work. Adjusting the balance. So I'm still not sure if I want to go back to the college. But I DO want to be paid for the work I've already done at the higher rate, of course!
Meanwhile hoping to hear of success in poetry and short story comps, and needing to send off more submissions. And write my essay, and think about my 'placement' for next year, etc.
OK, work's not really cancelled. I'm just doing different work, that's all.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Stuff the job!

Well, dear reader, I resigned.
Or rather, I decided not to sign the contract they finally managed to send me from the college. Same thing really.
You may remember we've been waiting all term for our shiny new contracts with a number of hours to be filled during the academic year, and a monthly salary, and - we were led to believe - an hourly pay rise. For the last few years I've been working there the tutors have actually told us to claim for more hours than we're doing, because the pay is so abysmal. That was one of the major reasons for sorting it all out and going on contract instead of monthly claim forms. At least I thought it was.
I got home from a full day yesterday to find a large envelope from the college. It contained yet another police Disclosure form to fill in, a pair of forms relating to the pension scheme and how to opt out of it, and two copies of our contract to be signed. I would be expected to do 105 hours over the year (I've already done 60 of those this term) - at exactly the same rate as before, £7.34 an hour.
I was dismayed.
I considered how much I have paid out in petrol already this term - £4-5 per round trip depending on pump price, often twice a week. I revisited the work I've turned down at £10/hr, and even £12/hr, because I have been prioritising this one as my 'main job'. I wondered whether it was appropriate to feel angry and let down, rehearsing arguments until 2am. Even Adult Learning and Leisure pay over £8/hr, PLUS travel costs, and they're considered stingy...
And I crawled out of bed this morning, showered, left at 8.20 am to get there by 9am for an hour and a half session, thinking 'I'll be home by 11.15 if I'm lucky, charge them for 2 hours, that's still under £15, petrol costs of £4 - is this worth it? I think not.'
Went to see the Head of Department straight from work. He's not in until the afternoon. So wrote him a letter and left it with all their forms returned. I said I'd honour the bookings already made unless they can find anyone else to cover them - I like to be professional even if it's against my interests - but will not be signing the contract or returning next term.
So there.
It's hard work valuing myself, but I'm getting there, gradually.
I was in tears on the way home.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Ah, more relaxed thank you...

...due to a (free) shiatsu session lasting over an hour, from a friend who's in training and needs people to practice on. She comes to my poetry course on Tuesdays.
This week was more manageable, but I still had to lie down for a long time yesterday, after four hours working at the private school, two hours choir and another two hours in town catching up with an old friend and going to the preview of an Art exhibition. It reminded me of how Chronic Fatigue felt, and I don't want to go there again.
I did have to go in for periods 1&2 this morning, but I've found a friend (from choir) who should be able to do Friday mornings for them now. I'll be back working at the college from next week anyway.
The first double period on a Thursday morning is with a different tutor, teaching BTech Art rather than A level. She's enthusiastic, friendly, dynamic and inspiring, and had them drawing lots of quick poses and even a moving series (I was walking around the big table, slowly) right from the start. The second week was a 'measuring' intensive with longer poses, and all the students said Thank You to me again at the end. The main tutor (Head of Art) always refers to me as 'the model', not by name, and talks about 'the hips, the breasts' etc. I feel dehumanised, somehow, and it's hard to connect with the students in his classes. Maybe that's the idea. Can't have impressionable young things from moneyed backgrounds fraternising with the model now, can we?
Anyway, the Adult Learning classes are a delight in comparison. I mean, exposing my 48 year old body to other mature adults (especially the retired gentlemen) is considerably more flattering than the unspoken but unmistakable Yuk reaction of teens who probably equate me with their mothers... in fact I have two children older than them myself. The Adult classes are chatty, we have a laugh, and everyone apologises for how they've depicted me (it really doesn't bother me, I can't draw for toffee myself so anything they do is better than my own attempt would be). This week the tutor had a 'crib sheet' printed out on cardboard which they were all supposed to attach to the tops of their easels. As she went through it I mimed the things she told them to watch out for (angles of rib cage and hips, negative shapes, weight on one foot, overall shape of pose on the paper etc) and by the second class I added the aircraft gestures for emergency exits; we made a passable comedy double act. Unfortunately I won't see them again as she's booked other models for the remaining three weeks. The upside is that I can send my monthly claim sheets in today and might even get paid by the end of the month, that would be very useful. (Don't mention the C word, please).
My shiatsu therapist told me she's doing some modelling in a couple of weeks, for a private Friday morning group in a village hall which I've done before. She asked for some tips, as she's new to this. I told her to think of it as yoga, count breaths, relax every muscle which doesn't have to be used, and don't do a pose with arms above the head for longer than ten minutes. Most of it is a matter of experience, learning what artists want and like, and how your body feels comfortable for long periods. I forgot to tell her to stretch lots in-between, but I'm sure she'll work that out for herself. I'm waiting to compare notes with my choir friend after her first session at the private school too.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Time to slow down

OK, I've been doing too much and I have to cut down.
It was really hard to get up this morning (Sunday) to be at my friend's for 9.30 am to do some video of us performing poetry - they all said 'Are you all right?'
So now I know that 6 different jobs in a week is too much, especially when added to a day for my Diploma course, teaching my own course Tues eve, a gym session, a 2-hour choir rehearsal and a poets meeting. Oh, and the usual mothering stuff of course. Plus going to visit a dear friend for 24 hours because she's in pain and can't get out much.
The first 2 jobs were fine, Adult Learning classes, I like the tutor (she plays music in the sessions) and it was the same format for both. The 2nd was in a new town and venue, just a little bit too far for me to travel though. Thursday was a very long day, 4 hours at the private school with an early start, then another 2 1/2 that evening for an untutored group of artists. They booked me months ago, and it was cash in hand, but again a longish drive and I wasn't back home until 10.15 pm.
Friday morning was supposed to be my slow morning, but the private school secretary had phoned in a panic on Thursday afternoon saying their other model had let them down, and could I possibly do periods 1 & 2 for them? Reluctantly, I dragged myself over there to start work before 9am, heading straight off afterwards to do 5 hours for the degree students at the college. At least they were kind to me! It was my last session for them, and I asked the tutor what was happening about my monthly salary, because I still have no idea when I'm getting paid, or how much, and I'm really out of pocket now with all the money I keep spending on petrol...
'It's all in hand,' he assured me.
So pretty grumpy today. I need time off and I need some money. Unfortunately the two rarely go together.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

A bloody nuisance

If you're male, or particularly squeamish, you may not want to read this post. It gets a bit bloody.
It's half term for most of us, but not for the prestigious private school a mere few miles away, who had booked me for Thurs and Fri morning this week from 8.45-12.30. 'There'll be breaks,' she said, 'and we'll pay you for four hours.' They have someone else for the other Fridays which I can't do because of my college work, but I'll be doing Thurs mornings for them until the end of term. Cash work, ie it goes into my self-employed accounts with invoices, greatly appreciated.
Two days before starting the Arts secretary phoned me again and said I didn't need to come in until 11.00 on the first day 'but we'll pay you the four hours, as agreed.' OK, no complaints my end.
As it happened, it was just as well I didn't have to be there early. I woke up to find my period had just started, unexpectedly and without warning. And I'd run out of tampons. So at least I had time to call in a supermarket on the way and stock up.
The class were Lower Sixth and it was their first time with a life model. The Secretary flapped around worrying that it was too cold in the room for me - the sudden cold snap had caught them on the hop, heating repairs or something - so I assured her that I'd worked in colder situations before and that I'd cope with the fan heater.
The room has changed since the last time I worked there, some years back. They now have a large roughly oval table-cum-bench in the centre of the room, with lots of drawers beneath it, and the easels set up all around. 'I've got you a duvet,' she said proudly, 'and some clean sheets from Housekeeping.' (It's a boarding school with local day pupils too). I changed in the girls toilets and sat on the edge of the table in my dressing gown, watching the students file in and waiting for the tutor to arrive.
He's very 'old school'. And the whole focus of the class and his teaching is on pleasing the A-level examiners. So no friendly chat, no introducing the model by name, everyone called him Sir and they were straight into a whole double session of ten minute poses, outline only, no details, using pencil on A3 or A2 paper. The girls seem to be terribly thin and the boys have bizarrely-gelled 'windswept' hairstyles. I don't really enjoy this particular job, but there is a lot of good art-work to look at, and from my vantage point on the tables I can see the tops of some glorious Autumnal trees (oak and beech I think), and a Scots pine. I concentrated on staring out of the window and let the students get used to seeing and drawing a naked woman their mothers' age. It's always a shock to start with.
By the end of the session I was indeed freezing, it took me the rest of the day to warm up again, and the news was full of the freak hailstorm and floods in a Devon village not 100 miles from here. My oldest daughter was trying to get home by train and kept texting me to apologise for further delays, cancellations and re-routings.
That night I was bleeding heavily and had to keep getting up for loo visits. On Friday I was in the Arts office all changed and ready to work before 9am, but just as the tutor came to collect me I felt a drip on my leg - it was bright red. Panic stations. I told him I'd just nip to the loo on my way over, and hastily stuffed a second tampon in over the first - not recommended, girls, but needs must in this case.
I spent the whole double period (no pun intended) hoping I wouldn't leak onto their nice clean sheets, while doing exactly the same ten-minute poses as the day before but for a different class. This time I asked for an extension lead and put the fan heater on the table with me. Much warmer.
Back to the Arts office to make myself coffee, and the Secretary agreed to pay me monthly by invoice, asking the tutor to sign a chitty so she could go and get the cash. I thought I might have a whole hour's break before the next class, if it was indeed going to run, but no. Suddenly the tutor re-appeared and said, 'Right, the Upper Sixth have decided they do need some more life drawings in their portfolios.' And off I went to fill in the second half of their single period with yet more ten minute poses.
Then it was the real break - but I could go home now they said. 'Sorry we're still working out the sessions...' said the tutor. 'Take the money and run,' advised the secretary.
I pocketed the eighty quid and lounged around the Art Exhibition downstairs instead - figure drawings, some from local artists I know. Great stuff.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Busiest Week Part 2

OK, so the last post covered up to Thursday lunchtime - but the day was far from over. In fact I managed to spend one whole hour at home between 8.20 am and 10.15 pm...
From the college I go straight to choir practice, two hours every Thursday afternoon with our (alternative) community choir. I then had an extra sing-through of an old number we want to revive, just to make sure those of us who've been in it from the year dot (1993 I think) could remember our parts. And a rush over to the venue where I run my poetry courses to pay some rent money. And off to the secondary school to catch my youngest in her first ever hockey team game. I'm not a standing-on-sidelines mum, as a rule. Fortunately it was sunny and not too cold, and I could give encouraging feedback on her goalkeeping even though they'd lost quite dramatically to the other school.
So my hour at home was between 5.10 and 6.10, during which time of course I had to feed her and bundle the games kit into the washing machine. And off to work again...
7.00-9.30 in a delightful village hall near the A303. Getting there was a bit of a pain. My chosen route takes me along a very narrow lane to reach an underpass, the most direct route to the village concerned. And for the first time ever I met a vehicle coming the other way. It was dark. The headlights dazzled me. I'd just come round a bend and down a slope, so assumed the other driver would back into the nearest passing-point. We both waited. No-one moved.
Eventually I decided to try reversing. Well, someone had to or we'd be there all night. Did I mention my clutch is at the end of its adjustment and will need replacing fairly soon? So reversing uphill and back round a bend involved stalling at least twice and a fair amount of cursing. When I finally managed to pull into a gateway I noted that the other driver was a woman (I'm afraid) - in a 4x4. And she could have backed into the farmyard just past where we met, really easily. Nuff said.
This particular group of artists are unfailingly charming and proud of their little hall with its community breakfasts once a month. This week there were only two of them, which made me worry a little for their future - but I did hear the Treasurer mentioning the £140 in their bank account so no immediate likelihood of credit collapse. For such charming people, they seem to require quite difficult poses, slightly longer than I'd normally like to hold them. I've learnt this now and argue back - no, I'm not bending forward like that for fifteen minutes, no matter how much you want to imagine me bathing... After the tea-break with its chance for general chat, we did two longer poses of 'general abandonment' on a table dressed to resemble a bed. They were very pleased at how abandoned I could look.
Friday was another whole day at the college. One of those evocative Autumn mornings with the mist rising like steam from the river as I crossed it, and dew so thick it was almost frost. A heron stood sentinel by a rhyne, large and grey and hunched in the morning's chill. Reaching the town I drove past an easy parking space, then couldn't find another one and was stuck in the traffic queues for ten minutes until I could turn round and take it from the opposite direction. The room was cold for the first session, two poses. Charcoal and chalk on brown paper, followed by a close-up of one body section using cardboard 'viewfinders' - a rectangular hole to look through while held at arm's length. They're really coming on, this class. Some good results.
Off to the other campus and again, plenty of time sitting around reading my book and drinking coffee before the students wandered in from their break. They were all knackered after a day in London traipsing round galleries the day before. I was feeling similar so we agreed not to push ourselves too hard.
The tutor kept dropping in with promises of marks to come soon - she and their other tutor were in the staff room upstairs discussing their progress. Otherwise we were pretty much left to our own devices. They complained a little at the lack of tutorial content (the idea was that they should be self-directed by now), so in the end I took over a bit, suggesting poses and times and even towards the end, telling them to get out their sketch pads and work hard and fast with a few short poses. I've picked up a lot of tips over the years it seems. They finally got their previous assignment back as I changed ready to leave.
And so to the weekend, which should have been relaxing but was in fact spent in a state of high anxiety over the 'practice session'I had to lead for my Diploma course on Monday.
As this is now Tuesday, I can tell you that all the obsessive sleepless thinking paid off. But it was most uncomfortable at the time.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

A full-on week, part 1

What a busy week I've had. So pleased to reach the weekend in one piece - but now I should be working on the session plans for next Monday and Tuesday. Oh well. Blog time instead.
On Tuesday this week I did six hours for an Adult Learning day-school. The tutor still wasn't sure if it was running until the day before, as only six people had signed up, but they decided it was silly to keep cancelling them or no-one would even bother to enrol any more, so it went ahead in the end. It was held in a new room in the adult learning centre, as the college were moving rooms around in the main building and the one allocated to 'us' was currently full of furniture. I've worked for this tutor many times before and we have an easy rapport. I was impressed at how much she managed to fit in during the day - short poses initially to assess their standard and needs, then a variety of techniques and media to stretch them and teach new methods of working. Drawing with pens on newspaper was a new one on me, too!
I spent my time during the longer poses musing on the sessions I have to teach - the poetry course, and a practice session with the whole group on my diploma course. Modelling is an excellent part-time job for poets! Not much time when I got home before I had to go out again to run the poetry course, then a short soak in the bath and I fell into bed.
Wednesday was gym day, as I couldn't do it on Tuesday due to the aforementioned work. I was also due to pick up a second-hand bed for my youngest, which meant co-ordinating a friend to arrive with his van after we'd dismantled it in another friend's teenager's bedroom. At least it made me feel better about the state of my own almost-teenager's bedroom... and then in the evening (with my hall full of metal bed frame and other parts of it littering various nooks downstairs)I was off to Morris Dance practice! Lots of leaping and cavorting aerobically, trying to fit the stick moves with the not-quite-mastered steps while following the required figures, oh, and there were words too. And we have to make our own costumes. And it's in two week's time. But it WILL be lots of fun. I know it will.
On Thursday and Friday I woke increasingly stiff and tired, but dragged myself off to the college both days for more modelling. In Thursday's session they were working with white and black ink over pencil sketches initially, although chalk, charcoal and coloured pastels were also available. They were studying Giacometti, a sculptor best known for his elongated figures, but they were supposed to emulate his oil sketches, especially of people, and of those set in his studio. Small figures, strong use of line, set in large spaces, with minimal use of colour, very muted. I read the book about him in the break and discovered that Sartre wrote an essay on his work, about how he paints fullness and emptiness.
The students struggled. Two poses in the first half, two more in the second half, this time focussing on head and shoulders, then a longish standing pose. The tutor left the room for a while, during which time my mobile went off in my jeans pocket in my bag. They giggled at the theme tune from the Pink Panther.
As I left to drive to choir practice two men were planting pansies in a raised bed, blocks of yellow, white and purple against the rich tawny of newly-turned compost. Driving home in sunshine I marvelled at the Autumn colours again, the tawny of the earth reflected in leaves, the deep purple of elderberries, the scarlet of rosehips and crimson of haws, the pale blue sky with silver-grey clouds, the first ploughed fields.
I decided that if I had another three lives I'd be an artist, a musician and a biologist/naturalist. I love these moments of intense happiness at just being me, here, now...

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Matisse and Morris - no, not William

Thursday evening. I could, if I'd tried really, really hard, have made it to a poetry event at the Brewhouse (Taunton) for National Poetry Day. Instead I marked it by chatting to our local peripatetic poet and current Chaired Bard, who was attempting to sell his poetry scrolls on the High Street - oh, and signing up to an internet dating site... as in, actually subscribing rather than hovering on the sidelines as I've been doing for about a month now. Not expecting much, but you never know.
I won't bore you with yet more accounts of golden sunshine and thick white duvets of mist on my way to work today - it was a glorious morning though, and Ella Fitzgerald agreed. Although on my return I was feeling so bouncy I changed to Manu Chao.
I have to admit I was feeling decidedly stiff this morning, not only from a hard gym work-out on Tuesday but also - last night I went along to see what the local Crow Morris team was about, and ended up with a fierce aerobic workout while learning the very weird steps and the more conventional sets/changes of their repertoire. This is for an event in three week's time so I doubt I'll be up to scratch by then, we'll have to see how desperate they are to make up another eight (danced in teams of eight, in black rags with feathers and sticks).
The tutor (the quirky painterly one) apologised for the coldness of the room, and suggested that I might prefer to start off clothed, at which chance I jumped (gr.) especially as I'm currently experiencing one of my increasingly rare periods. (Before you ask, tampons. And last June.)
They were studying Matisse this week, and he spent quite a while trying to explain what he wanted - a 'flat, 2D graphic approach' like his later work, so an 'interesting, challenging' pose for me. He told me it was for the first part of the session, and they'd change after the tea-break, but I knew it wouldn't; he's said that before and I always end up having to hold it for the whole three hours. As was, indeed, the case again. So perched on a green-covered chair in my black trainers, blue jeans and olive-green jumper, one foot bent beneath me, a knee in front of my face and an elbow on it, head in hand, I prepared to while away the session by musing on my recent Poetry for Personal Growth session, the first in a course I've devised and am running in my home town.
In the break, the tutor told me that the plans for our contracts were coming along. And I told him that he wouldn't have me for Thursday mornings after half term because I've agreed to work at a local private school - four hours at ten pounds an hour every week being too good to miss, at least until Christmas.
I think the students were quite relieved to see me clothed this week, and it did help with the project too. Flat areas of colour, licence to move things around if they wanted to, or change colours from the original (one gave me a fetching plum sweater), and the results were laid out on the floor at the end for my perusal. Not bad at all.
Driving home, the clouds could have been painted by Utrillo.
(Think that's who I mean).

Tuesday, 7 October 2008


I thought I'd start the day with a little light blogging - over breakfast, and after an hour at the gym. I pushed myself this morning, adding extra time and effort to my cardio regime. Exercise is good for anxiety...
Why am I anxious? I have a tendency to do everything-at-once, or nothing-at-all, and I've entered an everything-at-once phase. I knew it was coming; I've been relaxing hard, preparing myself for it. And it began with my extra hours at the college.
So far this term I've been doing five hours a week there, three on Thursday mornings and two on Friday mornings. I now have a block booking for five weeks of five hours at the other campus with the Foundation degree group. On Friday, straight after the other one. Last Friday I left the house at 8.15 am (leaving the Youngest in bed as she had an Inset day - she probably stayed in bed all day, on her laptop chatting to friends on MSN or having babies on Sims2) with a banana and my dressing gown, and I returned at 5.00 pm after 7 hours straight modelling. To wash up, cook dinner and go out to cover the box office for an amateur play at our Arts Centre.
It wasn't as bad as I'd been expecting. The work that is, not the play. When the tutor phoned me to arrange this she'd said I could have half an hour for lunch and a short break in the afternoon too and I got the impression she was some sort of slave-driving dragon with a bunch of hyper-keen students who'd push me to the limits. Of course they were all very laid back.
I deliberately wore a loose two-piece skirt suit (green velvet, if you want to know) so I could do a quick change and sprint to the car to drive over to the other campus in time. But when I arrived (confusing the Receptionist, who'd thought I was a visiting tutor and tried to send me to pick up the registers for the day) they were all on their coffee break, and by the time the tutor had faffed around re-arranging the furniture and draping old ragged sheets to her satisfaction we were twenty minutes into the session anyway.
She seemed most concerned that it was cold in the room, and had two heaters pointed in my direction, although at the end of their flexes they were still several yards away. I assured her that I'd known that particular room much colder - for some reason the life drawing/art room is in the basement at the far end of the long two-level building, and the heating wasn't on for the winter yet. Institutional rules. Anyway after three or four shortish 'warm-up' standing and squatting poses she suggested that I drape my dressing gown over my shoulders for the longer sitting pose.
The students were all 'women of a certain age' (conversation over lunch was mainly about children leaving home), very friendly and a cohesive group in their second year of the course. One was in a wheelchair, but I only saw her for the morning session because she had a fall at the start of the lunchbreak and went home. It seems that in order to get to the disabled toilet, she has to go out of the back door (a fire exit), get into her car and drive round to the front of the building, on a higher level, because there was no lift. She'd slipped getting into her car. The afternoon session started late due to a heated discussion led by the tutor as to whether it was allowed to help her once she'd fallen. Health and Safety regulations stipulate that it was not the responsibility of staff or students, and that she was supposed to have a 'helper', who was still in the pipeline, having being caught up in red tape and bureaucratic fuddle.
Once it had started, the exercises turned out to be fun - for me to watch. The students had five minutes to start an 'interpretation' of me, then had to move anticlockwise with their materials (own choice of media here) and continue for four minutes on their neighbour's, then move again and work for three minutes... Mayhem, laughter, complaints. The complaints being largely that it was impossible to follow someone working with ink and wide brush when you're working with a fine-line pen, or charcoal, or cont'e, or whatever.
They discussed the results, then moved onto the next exercise - clockwise this time, and leaving the media with the picture so they had to get used to working with unfamiliar materials. Some very interesting results, but nothing you'd want to hang on your wall (although I was rather taken with the one which had me looking like a Borg from Deep Space Nine, with a distinct monocle). I look forward to further sessions with this group.
As to being paid for all this - it's still in the pipeline too. I phoned the Arts Administrator this week, who suggested I call back and speak to the Head of Art, who told me he was waiting for the year's assessment of hours from the tutors...
OK, back to the real work of the day - finalising my lesson plan for the first session of the poetry course I'm running - starting tonight. And printing out ten copies of the poems and quotes we'll be using. And reviewing yesterday's Diploma course session and journalling it and reading all the hand-outs and putting them in the right place in my files and... waiting for the rain to stop to go into town too.
At least the Children's Book Group event I'd organised at our local library on Saturday morning went well, as did the presentation I was involved in at my first meeting of a professional association on Saturday afternoon, in Bristol. And my first live interview on local radio was postponed until next week. By which time I'll be worrying about the session I have to lead for the Diploma course... Why do I do this to myself?

Monday, 29 September 2008

Ladies who draw

It's Monday night and I've just come back from a rare village hall modelling job - something I used to do a fair amount of but nowadays it's mainly the college. I had a phone call late afternoon from one of the organisers checking that I was still going - and asking for a lift please as her van was out of action. Half an hour later she called me again to say it had been fixed. I was stuck behind slow traffic on the way there (between 6.00 and 6.30) so a little concerned that I'd be late, but on arriving there was only one Artist present, standing outside the locked hall, so I needn't have worried. Another Artist had gone to get the key, and the woman who'd phoned me didn't arrive until ten minutes into the session.
It was very laid-back and informal, untutored, and only four of them present this evening - three grey-haired ladies and one with hair as blonde as mine - and mine's been dyed for years. The first half was easy with 5, 10 and 15 minute poses, whatever I wanted to do, and there was an efficient fan heater blasting away at my back. Great. I'll have to write an assessment of the various heaters I've suffered under sometime.
They were very keen to demonstrate the lovely new kitchen that had been fitted at this hall since the last time I'd sat for them - lottery money we all reckoned. State-of-the-art oven, double hot cupboard, dishwasher, dinky little stainless steel hand sink as well as the main double sink - and look at this swish corner cupboard with moving parts! How long do you think that'll last before someone breaks it? (Shall we just play with it until it does...) We drank fruit teas and munched on chocolate rich tea biscuits and chatted about this and that, admiring photos of the new grandchildren. I had to purposefully lead them back into the main hall to get them started again.
'Let's have one long pose,' someone said, so the cushions were re-arranged and I lay down with one leg sort of crossed over the other from the hip, positioned the heater to my advantage and stared into space for about forty-five minutes. What was I thinking of this time? Friends to contact, snatches of songs from choir rehearsal, how lucky I am to be a poet, how my middle-age spread is spreading but I don't seem to care too much...
I phoned the Youngest as soon as I was dressed to see if she was still on her own - she was - and to reassure her that I was on my way home. Ella Fitzgerald on the stereo tonight and an easy drive.

Friday, 19 September 2008

England my England

A silver-grey morning. Driving to the college again, further signs of impending Autumn - the blush on a row of field maples, the odd yellow patch on oak trees. Why do different trees change into different colours, I wonder? That's one for the New Scientist Queries page. I glimpse two men on top of a haystack; a number of swans on the river half-hidden by hanging willows. What's the collective noun for swans? I'm sure we were taught that at Junior school (I think it's a parliament of owls, a convocation of crows...). Feels like it should be a pride of swans, or even a royalty of swans... anyway, that's the sort of aimless musing I like to fill my head with while driving.
Today the students were learning about shapes and curves. They had to draw me (in 'dynamic poses' lasting 3 minutes each) just by describing the curves, starting with the longest ones and working down to shorter ones, so maybe starting with out-stretched hand down to toe, then the gap between legs, all the way to kneecaps and (erm) tummy... OK. Maybe it was tummy then kneecaps. Five poses on one large sheet of paper.
The next demonstration was in making shapes on the page and joining or overlapping them to create the figure, with rounded scribbles to suggest the 3D effect. The tutor was not very good at it, and apologised. I noted that he carefully folded his effort later before dropping it in the bin. Despairing cries of 'I can't do this' came at regular intervals. But I have to say that after an hour and a half of intensive work - for me as well as them - most of them had improved dramatically. The last, longer, pose was to put together the measuring from last week with the curves and rounding out shapes of this week. Some of them were even recognisably me. I praised the tutor when they'd all gone, and he sounded very relieved that it had worked.
Driving home I kept noticing shapes, textures, forms and colours repeated in the hedgerows. The creamy fluffball shape of meadowsweet, the festoons of grey-white traveller's joy - or old man's beard as we used to called it - the flatish pinky-white flowers of yarrow, the big bold trumpets of bindweed, the spiky seed heads of teasel, the flatter ones of hedge-parsley. I love England. I love how we, the English, and whatever we called ourselves before we were English, have lived on this land, grown into and with this land, and shaped this land, over so many centuries. I belong here. It is familiar, and beautiful, as are the changing seasons.
There were three men on top of the haystack this time. I think I got stuck behind their feeder-tractor for miles, bumping along with its trailer gaily decorated with loose hay. That was after being stuck behind a member of the forty-club - you know, the ones who drive at forty miles an hour no matter what. Fortunately I was in no particular hurry. The sun was shining in all its September splendour and I was looking forward to an afternoon spent visiting artists' studios.
When I got home there was a message for me - someone from the college had been given my number and could I call them back about some work... It was for the foundation degree course taught at the other campus, an extra five hours on a Friday for five weeks. Yes. I can cope with that. I think. (I hope).

Thursday, 18 September 2008

September sunshine

I do so love driving to work early on a September morning when there's a white haze across the Levels and the sun's shining through, making the cobwebs all showy like a field full of lacy handkerchiefs. There's something amazing about this time of year, the low sun yellow but the leaves not yet turning - apart from the horse chestnut which is now half tawny. A friend at the poetry group last night described it as the 'fifth season', apparently a Chinese phrase. I drove past maize fields too, spiky red tops in ranks, almost harvest time. And into a village swathed in mist, the lollipop lady standing out in her Hi-vis jacket to shepherd infants across the road.
I'm so lucky that I enjoy driving to work. Changed the CD too, it's been laid-back jazz for a couple of weeks but I switched to dub/beat today, Dreadzone.
The other tutor at college, and a new class of teenagers. They seem older than the AS-level group on Fridays, but they're not. Eleven of them in jeans, and one with funky 3/4-length trousers. They have personalities. They talk back to the tutor.
Today he had them working with compressed charcoal and white emulsion and water, showing them how to wet the charcoal (it only works with the compressed variety) and how this particular emulsion is rich in chalk so they blend well. Messy stuff. He loves making these prissy well-dressed teens all messy. Suspect he spent the early 80's as an anarchist punk.
So I took a sitting pose on an upholstered chair (both legs curled up beneath me, one arm nonchalantly drooping off the chair-back) for half an hour. Which extended to the whole of the first half. Fortunately I'd chosen a pose that was quite comfortable for me.
In the break we booked up a couple more dates and he mentioned, again, that we were going on contract - once they'd worked out how many hours were needed and divided them between the 3 of us. There are other models looking for work, he said, but it's easier to stick with 3, except for the odd times which we can't cover. I, for example, can't do Mondays or Thurs afternoons.
So it looks like I'll be doing about 5 hours a week, Thurs and Fri mornings - unless the part-time Foundation starts up (some problem with numbers and whether it will actually run) in which case I get Tues mornings too, at least some of the time. At the moment I go to the gym on Tuesdays, a much-needed return to routine after about a year of being a slacker.
So, the the second half. Same pose, they haven't all finished, in fact all of them would benefit from continuing this painting... Ow. What is comfortable for an hour really starts to hurt after two. I filled my musing time usefully by more planning for my 'poetry for personal growth' course, starting October. Looking forward to it.

Friday, 12 September 2008

I'm back, and so's the college.

Hey, long time no post. I decided this morning to re-start this blog, just to keep me writing really. And you never know, I might make new friends or catch up with old ones again.
So, a lovely September morning and I'm driving back to work at the college after a long break, enjoying the low yellow sun shining silver on wet grass, the red of hips and haws (I've always wanted to use 'hips and haws' as the title of a book or story - or maybe poem - nicely ambiguous when spoken!) and the browny-orange of the first leaves to turn - horse chestnuts.
Another new class of teenagers who've never seen a naked adult in the flesh (only on film I expect, and I don't resemble a movie star). Fortunately the tutor and I are very comfortable with each other. He's primed them with lots of diagrams and tips on measuring, so for the first pose I just stand in the middle of the room for them.
'Standing like a mountain' is the yoga pose I was aiming for, straight spine, shoulders back, tummy and bum tucked in, feet slightly apart, head resting gently on lengthened spine. Half an hour was quite manageable. This was a short class, all over by 10.30 so I only had chance for one other standing pose, facing a different way and with a slight twist and tilt - nothing too challenging. As usual, I examined the students as much as they examined me - only 2 lads in this class and lots of girls. Fashion statements vied with slouchy comfort, hairstyles varied from expertly cut and coloured in layers, through the common short-and-gelled, to I-didn't-bother-brushing-it-this-week.
I know I've put on some weight over this year. I've started my gym routine again after many months without, so aiming to get back in trim, plus I was wondering if my flushes would be obvious... as I was looking straight ahead I couldn't check if my whole body flushed pink, but I did feel it, and the resultant sheen of sweat...
He's now booked me for every Friday class until Christmas, as the other 2 models they use can't do that particular slot. Next week I'm doing a session for the other tutor too and I'm hoping he will tell me that I'm now on a contract - a regular wage will really help with my Housing Benefit nightmares.
Driving home the sky was fading to greyish-white with less blue, and now here comes the rain - heavy as usual but hopefully just a short sharp shower. No chance to mow the lawns again. Better get on with editing poetry then - I had some ideas while driving of how to improve yesterday's Villanelle.
Oh, and this evening I'm off to a private view, one of 'my' artists is exhibiting in Somerset Art Weeks. I might even be tempted to buy something... though probably not a rendition of myself.