on Retiring Today…

I am bereft.

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Here we go …again!

It’s been a week and I’m still reeling at the General Election result. It’s not that I thought Labour would win rather that I thought – as did many others – that they would give the Tories a run for their money and be able to forge alliances with smaller parties. My worry was – and is – twofold: one, the Tories would see this majority, slender as it is, as a vindication of their five years in office and two, they would see it as a mandate for further, vicious policies.

You see, I’ve been here before. The Thatcher years. In her regime – and Major’s -, teachers seemed to be public enemy number 1 for reasons I never fully understood. It was the start of the over-regulation, the distrust and the visceral hatred with and of education and teachers that has run riot over the last five years.

Here were sown the seeds – Keith Joseph started curriculum reform and was the first SoS to sign off subject syllabuses, he planned to introduce tuition fees and started the reform of teachers’ pay and contracts. He was loathed and reviled at the time. Now he seems almost benign. Hot on these heels came Kenneth Baker, he of the National Curriculum – yards and yards of colour coded, highly prescriptive but often strangely vague curriculum requirements devised by subject boards who each thought they could fill all the available time. A king a week in history! It was here, in my view that the fear started – teachers believed they had to cover everything in the rainbow folders a completely impossible and soul destroying task. Not only that, he stripped away 5 days of holidays for training. He could, perhaps, had been forgiven for that if there was ever anything on offer worth a candle. And in Kenneth Clarke’s rule we were landed with the SATs which have come to tyrannise both students and teachers and lead directly to the data driven model of education we now endure.

As if that were not enough, we had to endure the sneering that seems to be the hallmark of the Tories. I offer John Patten’s assessment of the well-respected Tim Brighouse as:

“a madman … wandering the streets, frightening the children”. This from the SoS who presided over the implementation of Ofsted: the state’s bully boys.

And now, here is the flowering: It’s a straight line from these men to Michael Gove who gave us curriculum change after change – sometimes after the course and the term had started – who upped the ante with new inventions – the Ebacc introduced in order to have something to announce on a political show and named on a whim and who exerted total control over the syllabus of practically every subject. In his regime Ofsted became the military arm of the Government marching in like storm troopers rewarding and punishing on dubious criteria, making and, more often, breaking careers. Ofsted where all must bend the knee and tremble at the prospect. It was government by whim on a spectacular scale and no thought for the children in the middle and the teachers burning out trying to keep up.

It’s a straight line from Patten to Gove on the sneering front. Labelling all in education “The blob” and teachers as “lazy enemies of promise”.

And who knows what Nicky Morgan is really about.

I’ve dedicated my whole working life to education and seeking to make better lives for children, many of whom face challenges that would fell the likes of the sneering, over-enunciating Gove. I deserve better – we all deserve better – and I was hoping the general election might be the path to the start of something better.

I shudder to think what’s round the corner and I hope those teachers who voted Tory and those of all stripes who wanted to make a point or to teach Labour a lesson are well pleased with their night’s work. Labour may not be perfect. It may have struggled – in the face of a vicious right wing press and Tory scaremongering – to give an account of itself but with all its faults and failings it is still the better, the best and, for me, the only option.

struggled – in the face of a vicious right wing press and Tory scaremongering – to give an account of itself but with all its faults and failings it is still the better, the best and, for me, the only option.

#Twitterati Challenge My Top Five.

Gosh! I’ve been challenged by my lovely friend @mishwood1 who named me as one of her top 5 in the latest Twitter challenge. I am thrilled as I don’t think I’ve been in anyone’s top 5 (well maybe by definition the husband’s!) ever.

So, I must rise to the challenge and nominate my own top 5. Like @mishwood1, there are plenty of people I could choose but I’ve plumped for the 5 you will find below the rules because they represent a range of what I like about Twitter and what I derive from being part of that community. Be assured though that if I follow you on Twitter it’s because I value your contributions – even ( perhaps especially) when they get on my nerves or I don’t agree!!

So, here’s the boring bit – the rules:

There are only 3 rules:

  1. You cannot knowingly include someone you work with in real life.
  2. You cannot list somebody that has already been named if you are already made aware of them being listed on #TwitteratiChallenge.
  3. You will need to copy and paste the title of this blogpost and (the rules and what to do) information into your own blog post.

What to do?

Apparently, there are 5 to dos you must use if you would like to nominate your own list of colleagues. I have to confess that I’ve failed this bit so my contribution may be disqualified! I can’t be making video clips and stuff – I’m not up to it! I’d be pouring a cup of tea or a glass of Prosecco – depending on time of day – as my favourite drink. Cheers!

1.Within 7 days of being nominated by somebody else, you need to identify colleagues that you rely regularly go-to for support and challenge. They have now been challenged and must act and must act as participants of the #TwitteratiChallenge.

2 .If you’ve been nominated, you must write your own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost within 7 days. If you do not have your own blog, try @staffrm.

3.The educator nominated, that means you reading this must either: a) record a video of themselves (using Periscope) in continuous footage and announce their acceptance of the challenge, followed by a pouring of your (chose) drink over a glass of ice.

4. Then the drink is to be lifted with a ‘cheers’ before the participant nominates their 5 other educators to participate in the challenge.

5.The educator that is now (newly) nominated, has 7 days to compose their own #TwitteratiChallenge blogpost and identify who their top 5 go-to educators are.

So, here goes – two for the price of one!

 Tom Sherrington @headguruteacher

Headteacher Highbury Grove School. Teacher. Blogger. Member of @HeadsRoundtable. Trustee National Baccalaureate Trust.

John Tomsett @johntomsett

Headteacher in York, England. All views are my own. York, England

I love these two and look forward to all their posts. They write with great wisdom and eloquence and unfailingly tackle the questions that are vexing us all. More than that, they are generous in sharing their thoughts and ideas and ways of working, inviting questions, suggestions and, I guess, criticism. They do all this in calm and unflappable style. They seem to me to embody all that is good about leadership. How I envy the people who work with them.

Nancy @nancygedge

mother, writer, teacher, #downsyndrome #sen #education #motherhood

all opinions are mine

notsoordinarydiary.wordpress.com

Who could fail to love Nancy’s posts? She writes with insight and understanding and totally without censure. She helps me – maybe all of us – to see things from a different angle. I always enjoy Nancy’s posts – she seems to be a natural writer, always finding a way in to what she wants to address that is interesting and thoughtful. If the world were full of Nancy’s it would be a better place.

Emma Kell @thosethatcan

SLT/Teaching/Learning. Parent, doctoral researcher. Blog here: http://wp.me/4cnTz . Views personal and don’t reflect employer. RTs not nec. endorsements.

Herts

familyholidayassociation.org.uk/singlePage.php…

Over the two years I have been on Twitter I feel I have come to know Emma and would dearly love to meet her one day. Her posts are always thought provoking and often full of angst and anxiety. I can almost feel her craving to be the best she can and do the best she can, while being a mother, wife, daughter, sister and heaven knows what all else, peeling itself off the paper. She approaches everything with enthusiasm and a positive glow yet asks us to think about the times when things don’t go well, aren’t as you expect, or turn out to be a crushing disappointment.

Tom Starkey @tstarkey1212

Full-time teacher. Shakes pen for coin. Ed tech columnist for the @tes and teaching columnist for @teachsecondary. Read my blog.

And finally as they say… I just had to include Tom. He writes good stuff and I always enjoy reading it but more than that, he makes me laugh. Out loud sometimes. He’s witty and irreverent and almost always right. He never fails to make my day and one of these days, if he stops arranging Starkeyfests for days when I can’t make it, I might just get to meet him in person.

So there you have it – challenge completed. I hope I’ve fulfilled it correctly – I often get these things wrong and wander off on my own little tangent. Enjoy – or not. It’s up to you.

The Kindness of Strangers – well engineers, anyway!

Family is a good thing, right? We all bang on about the importance of family. Politicians tell us how important family is. And I get it. I would cut off my right arm for my sons and stepsons their other halves and my lovely grandchildren. I live near all of them and have a close and loving relationship with them. That’s how it should be, isn’t it? Of course. If only it really worked like that.

My father was one of thirteen children, eleven of whom survived childhood, so his childhood was chaotic and by the time the last children were born the first were off and away but they maintained contact to a greater or lesser degree. He died last November suddenly and unexpectedly – certainly for him since he neglected to make any sort of arrangements or to put his affairs in order – and died intestate. More than that, he died in another country and the powers that be didn’t actually know his whereabouts. Add to that his rather peripatetic life – it turns out – and a trail of havoc in his wake across three countries, including America and you can see a recipe for the stuff of nightmares. And it fell to me to try and sort it all out.

I managed to gather a lot of stuff together and fill out interminable paperwork but my first attempt to gain probate in the country of his birth was rejected. No, I don’t know why and they don’t tell you. After a bit of head scratching I decided I needed legal help. So, I got some. It was all going so well: there’s a form the solicitor could fill out, I would swear to the truth of the contents, the form would be filed, someone would give it a big, gorgeous, OFFICIAL stamp and I would be able to sort out the whole damn mess.

If only. It was going so well until we got to the bit on the form about marital status. He was divorced. No problem – had I got a copy of the decree. Which one? Blank looks. The thing is he had been married three times and each time in a different country. I headed home to check on paperwork and managed to find two out of the three. (I know, I’m good!) It was just my luck that the missing one was held in America! No problem: I have relatives there – my father’s brother and sister (2 of the last 5) and their families live there in exactly the right area – right where the vital bit of paper could be found. I don’t know them and they’ve never taken any interest in my sister and I but hey, family is family, blood is thicker and all that. I would ask them to track down the missing court papers.

Three weeks after making the request and with time ticking away the plastic family (as I now think of them) decided they were too busy to do this despite one of them having a friend in the law. By now I was fed up, afraid I would never get the paperwork sorted and crushed that family could behave like that. What to do? Then, the husband had a tentative brainwave. He spends many hours on engineering forums and there are many Americans on the sites. Perhaps one of them might be able to advise me or help in some way.

I’ll be honest – I’ve been slightly mocking about his love of these sites. He spends hours giving advice to Americans who are hobby engineers because their dads were real ones. They buy big machines and then don’t know what to do with them. And they love him. He is a favoured, five star general who’s experience and know-how is much valued. Working on the principle that by this time anything was worth a try, I got him to put a shout out on his sites and didn’t hold my breath.

Oh me of little faith! Within twenty four hours we got about ten replies: a couple made suggestions that would potentially get me in trouble, a couple got distracted on irrelevant issues, some made suggestions and one said, “I’ll have a go at getting it for you.”

So he did. A man I have never met and about whom I know nothing more than his name was willing to help me. He checked a few details with me, mooched around the internet, found the case and made enquiries about getting the file. He might, he thought, have to drive to the court house to get it in person– a journey of about five hours each way – but no big deal. No big deal??? That’s a day of a job and I am nothing to him. All I could offer was money for petrol and compensation for his time. In the end – and in less than a week – he got the file, scanned it and sent it to me. He wants no money for his trouble and told me he was glad to do it and feels good about it.

You may think I am making much of this but I was worried about how I could ever get this whole probate thing sorted – there’s a time limit for claiming and I was fast running up against it. Without his help I was facing an uphill task and one with the potential to cost me a lot of money employing lawyers in America. So here in all its glory is the golden goodness, the positive, philanthropic power of social media. It’s not just for tosh and frivolity – although those are important, welcome elements – it is also for connecting and finding the common humanity in all of us. It’s about no boundaries or borders but people who can speak to people.

It has humbled and overwhelmed me. So, Rick, this is for you.

Thank you.

Updating my #teacher5aday

Martyn – our great #teacher5aday leader -wants us all to update our original blogs. I don’t have a lot to say but I do want to continue to support Martyn in this valuable project so here goes.

#Connect

This was about working hard for the staff I lead in my last two terms of teaching – well, it’s one now! I think I’m doing well with this as I work to ensure that the new Headteacher knows about all the good work they do *creeps*!

#Exercise

This one was about maintaining my new found ability to run for 30 minutes three times a week and to fit in some swimming. Well, I’m doing alright with the running – I’m very pleased with it, in fact and now have The Race for Life 5k in my sights. Foolishly, I’ve signed up to do it as part of a school group which includes students – who will certainly put me to shame…and so they should. I’m still working on the swimming, though. Running has proved to be quick and easy to do as I literally step outside my front door on to the common and I’m off: swimming requires a ten minute drive. *sighs*

#Notice

This one was about noticing when others need support. I’ve done well with this as I like to try and help where I can. I’ve been through most of the things that ail people and I know how hard it can be. Friends and colleagues do ask for support and accept what I offer.

#Learn

This one was about improving my Spanish and learning front crawl. The Spanish is going well thanks to my young friend and neighbour in the village where I now own a holiday apartment – who’d ever have thought it! I can hold quite long conversations with him and exchange texts on an almost daily basis – all with only a little help from Google Translate. The front crawl is proving trickier – see above – so I think this might be one for when the R word has begun. *whispers – retirement*

#Volunteer

This was about helping friends once the R word has happened so it’s really a future one. I do turn up and help where I can at school. I am a Director of my local rugby league team and do the P.A on match days and I’m still a Governor at a primary school where I now have the exciting prospect of being involved in appointing the next headteacher. Scary but exciting and interesting.

So, there we are. I feel a little bit of a fraud as it is easier for me than most to take care on my #teacher5aday precisely because I am in the last weeks of my career and can afford to ease off a little. That said, I think I would still find ways to ensure that work/life balance because without it everything is almost impossible.

A Top Tip for Solving the Funding Crisis in the NHS.

I love “Call the Midwife”. There are many reasons for this, chief amongst them is that it evokes what my early childhood must have been like as I grew up in that early post-war world. I can remember visits to the doctor which took place at his home – including one out of hours when I gashed my knee open (I have the scar to this day) – when we simply dashed to his house and knocked at the door. I had no idea that the ability to do this without having to pay for it on the spot – or do without -was a brave, bright, new thing. “Call the Midwife” captures this brilliant gift perfectly, chucks in a couple of love stories, some kind midwives and a clutch of photogenic nuns. What’s not to like?

Fast forward and that gift is under severe strain and the prospect of losing this gem, this treasure in our national life is scarily real. I don’t want to lose our NHS – if we lose it we will never get it back!

So I have an idea for how it can save money: it involves using free email and streamlining admin. Wait. I mean creating an admin system for booking appointments that actually works. The money saved could be used for research, state of the art equipment, doctors, nurses and, if I had my way, bossy matrons! Consider this little case study and the implications of it scaled up across the whole of the NHS.

For several years now the husband has suffered from a non-life threatening but miserable condition for which he regularly sees a specialist. We recently returned from a short holiday at Easter to find 8 envelopes from the NHS as follows:

27th March: a copy of the report sent to the GP following consultation – 2 sheets of A4 paper with the second containing only our address

27th March: a follow up appointment for the specialist has been made on 25th September

31st March: a letter regretting the need to cancel an appointment with the specialist on 7th July due to circumstances beyond their control. They are unable to arrange a new appointment but one will be sent soon – see above!

31st March: a report on a blood test and a commitment to seeing him three months hence sent in a separate envelope

1st April: a letter regretting the need to cancel an appointment with the specialist on 25th September (see above from 4 days previously!). They are unable to arrange a new appointment but one will be sent soon.

1st April: an appointment for the specialist has been made for 16th June (see above!).

2nd April: an appointment for the specialist has been made for 7th April

9th April: a letter regretting the need to cancel an appointment with the consultant on 16th June (see above from 8 days previously!). They are unable to arrange a new appointment but one will be sent soon.

Then – number 9:

22nd April: following feedback from patients they are introducing a new system for making appointments so they have had to cancel the appointment for 14th July (where did that one come from?). They will be in touch with him soon and are really sorry.

I know…you need a moment to absorb this!!

So, the first thing that occurs is the sheer amount of admin work needed to keep organising and re-organising appointments that never happen. The cost must be huge when scaled up to the number of patients with out-patient appointments every day. For the sake of argument, let’s say it costs a conservative £5 per letter – cost of materials, labour and postage. On this basis, husband’s letters alone cost £45 at the end of which he still didn’t have a valid appointment!

And what flows from this is to wonder why this correspondence can’t be dealt with via email. This is the 21st century and there is barely a government activity that does not require the use of the internet and/or email. (The only exception I’ve found is the form you need to challenge benefits sanction but that’s another story!) So why is snail mail being used rather than free email? It can’t be the old saws of confidentiality and data protection because in this day and age there are plenty of ways to overcome these concerns. The saving on postage alone would probably solve the NHS funding gap.

There it is then, my good idea for saving the NHS: use email and sort out an effective appointment system – that is one that results in appointments that can be attended actually being made. It can’t be that hard, dentists manage it, hairdressers manage it, hotels manage to book rooms months in advance – how hard can it be?

thing. “Call the Midwife” captures this brilliant gift perfectly, chucks in a couple of love stories, some kind midwives and a clutch of photogenic nuns. What’s not to like?

Fast forward and that gift is under severe strain and the prospect of losing this gem, this treasure in our national life is scarily real. I don’t want to lose our NHS – if we lose it we will never get it back!

So I have an idea for how it can save money: it involves using free email and streamlining admin. Wait. I mean creating an admin system for booking appointments that actually works. The money saved could be used for research, state of the art equipment, doctors, nurses and, if I had my way, bossy matrons! Consider this little case study and the implications of it scaled up across the whole of the NHS.

For several years now the husband has suffered from a non-life threatening but miserable condition for which he regularly sees a specialist. We recently returned from a short holiday at Easter to find 8 envelopes from the NHS as follows:

27th March: a copy of the report sent to the GP following consultation – 2 sheets of A4 paper with the second containing only our address

27th March: a follow up appointment for the specialist has been made on 25th September

31st March: a letter regretting the need to cancel an appointment with the specialist on 7th July due to circumstances beyond their control. They are unable to arrange a new appointment but one will be sent soon – see above!

31st March: a report on a blood test and a commitment to seeing him three months hence sent in a separate envelope

1st April: a letter regretting the need to cancel an appointment with the specialist on 25th September (see above from 4 days previously!). They are unable to arrange a new appointment but one will be sent soon.

1st April: an appointment for the specialist has been made for 16th June (see above!).

2nd April: an appointment for the specialist has been made for 7th April

9th April: a letter regretting the need to cancel an appointment with the consultant on 16th June (see above from 8 days previously!). They are unable to arrange a new appointment but one will be sent soon.

Then – number 9:

22nd April: following feedback from patients they are introducing a new system for making appointments so they have had to cancel the appointment for 14th July (where did that one come from?). They will be in touch with him soon and are really sorry.

I know…you need a moment to absorb this!!

So, the first thing that occurs is the sheer amount of admin work needed to keep organising and re-organising the appointments that never happen. The cost must be huge when scaled up to the number of patients with out-patient appointments every day. For the sake of argument, let’s say it costs a conservative £5 per letter – cost of materials, labour and postage. On this basis, husband’s letters alone cost £45 at the end of which he still didn’t have a valid appointment!

And the next thing that flows from this is to wonder why this correspondence can’t be dealt with via email. This is the 21st century and there is barely a government activity that does not require the use of the internet and/or email. The only exception I’ve found is the form you need to challenge benefits sanction but that’s another story! So why is snail mail being used rather than free email? It can’t be the old saws of confidentiality and data protection because in this day and age there are plenty of ways to overcome these concerns. The saving on postage alone would probably solve the NHS funding gap.

There it is then, my good idea for saving the NHS: use email. My subsidiary idea is to sort out the appointment system. It can’t be that hard, dentists manage it, hairdressers manage it, hotels manage to book rooms months in advance – how hard can it be?

A Song for Me

@Cazzwebbo threw down the gauntlet of writing a song based on the questions below and I vowed to make it my half term job. It took me back down a lot of pathways! Here goes:

How did you used to get to school?

When I was at primary school in Gillingham I guess I must have walked – probably with my mum and younger sister but I have no memory of it. I think that occasionally my dad would pick us up in the car – a novelty at the time. In Monifieth I walked to the primary school and once ran home at break because I thought it was lunch time. I was very flustered! When I transferred to high school in Broughty Ferry we used to get the train. This was a good wheeze because most days we managed to not pay our fair and had money for the sweetie shop. In Barnsley it was a combination of bus and walk and in Liverpool it was the bus – except when they went on strike and we all had to walk everywhere. That went on for ages but I really enjoyed as we had to walk across Sefton Park. As you can see, it was a bit varied and unconventional!

Who was your first crush?

I was always a bit star struck (I wanted to be an actress but recognised I would never manage it so went in to the branch of acting that is teaching!) so had celebrity crushes galore. My first was Richard Chamberlain in Doctor Kildare and Cliff Richard who, my mum assured me, was not married because he was waiting for me. Seems she was right!

I was pretty fond of Bobby Seith – son of a footballer – who was in my class but we were just mates. I didn’t really understand about boys until well in to my teens! Funnily enough, when I went to New Heys High in Liverpool I was very pally with John Gidman (once we had become co-ed) who went on to play football for Everton amongst others. We used to pretend to be brother and sister but I have no idea why! There was alas Greg who was the love of my life. I was devoted to him but alas, it was not to be. I often wonder where he is and how his life panned out.

Did either of you know about it?

Nobody much noticed me.

What was your first car like? Make? Model? Condition?

I think it was a Standard something or other. It was quite old but in good nick and I didn’t realise it was quite fast. I just knew I could leave everyone standing at the lights but had no idea why being a bit of a nitwit in these matters as I didn’t learn to drive until I was in my 30s.

How did you feel when your crush got into the car? If they never did, perhaps insert an imaginary dream scenario here about how you might have felt if that had ever happened.

It never happened dear reader but had Richard or Cliff ever got in the car I would have thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

Do you ever drive back through the place you grew up? What do you think about when you do? What does it remind you of?

As you can see from my first response, I had quite a peripatetic childhood. It’s one of the reasons I have stayed in the same town as an adult – I wanted my children to have stability and a belonging that I never had. I have never been back to my starting point in Kent amongst the Medway towns but have lovely memories of long summer days, lots of sunshine and freedom. I loved our house – and funnily enough live in a very similar style house now. We had apple trees in the garden and my sister and I had to pick up the fallen apples to earn pocket money. We had a cat called Panda which my sister used to dress up and wheel to the shop in my dolls’ pram. Going back is on my to-do list. I did go back to Monifieth some years ago with my husband and sons. It was nostalgic. The school is now council offices so I guess that the woman from the bread shop no longer brings hot rolls to the railings at break time to sell for two old pence each! Much of the little town is the same but it all seemed so much smaller. I took my dad back to Barnsley a few years ago. It was radically different in the town centre where we lived in a hotel for six weeks when we re-located from Scotland but not much changed in the suburb here we lived in a very nice bungalow.

I feel quite sad writing about it. I loved these places but my childhood was one long trail of being there, loving it and moving on. I have no childhood friends further back than Liverpool where I moved when I was fourteen and no place I feel I can call my own. I think that’s why I have no particular loyalty to a place – although I wish I did – and don’t understand intense attachment to places.

What songs on the radio take you back? What memories do those songs trigger?

Brown Sugar reminds me of college and the Saturday disco and is guaranteed to get my feet moving. I’m moved by beautiful music whenever I hear it and I cry easily. The worst is Christmas Carols! The first notes will have the tears flowing – especially In the Bleak Midwinter – and I have no idea why.

Do you wish you could go back in time to then? Why? Why not?

This is a difficult one, really. I have very happy memories from all those places even though times were not always happy. We fled in the night to Scotland following a crisis in my parents’ marriage. My mother hated Scotland and all things Scots mainly because she had developed a hatred of my father so that didn’t make for an easy time. I came in for some bullying because I was different and that was quite miserable. Barnsley was a brief stop-over and the end of my parents’ turbulent marriage. I mainly spent time alone or looking after younger children.

So, I guess not. What I would really like is to be from somewhere but I’m not.

What other memories do you have from just after you left school?

I was quite immature and had no idea about the world at all. One of my school chums gave birth before the end of the summer we left school and none of us knew she was pregnant! I’m not sure I even knew what caused babies! I spent the summer kicking around and working at Woolies while I waited to start college. I was still with Greg so I spent a lot of time with him and his baby sister.

What were the ups and downs?

I was lucky to go to college because my mum had absolutely no money. She and my dad split when we went to Liverpool – I only found out two years ago that he just came home and found us all gone. It must be put on the record that my dad was hard work! My mum worked three jobs to keep my sister and me. We would be woken about six in the morning by the keys of the typewriter which was on a table in our bedroom, tap, tap, tapping away as she did correspondence for one of her jobs. She was a talented, clever woman scarred by her childhood, hating school and being evacuated with her sisters for the whole of the war. She left school at fourteen as was the custom then and went to secretarial college. She never thought she was capable of anything else after that and there was no-one to encourage her to think differently. It is for this reason I have always been vehemently against vocational courses for under 16s.

We had a lot of laughs my mum and sister and I. My mum loved dancing and used to take me to the dance halls of Liverpool – Reece’s and the Grafton – when I was only sixteen. It was both exhilarating and scary at the same time. I had mates, we had laughs and sweaty parties with a bit of groping going on. I had a job in Woolies. It could have been worse.

Do you remember falling in love? Who with?

I loved Greg with every fibre of my being.

Did you try smoking? Provide some detail about the experience. How long ago does it seem like now?

I have always had a visceral hatred of smoking. I lived in a household – mum, Nan, by this time, and sister – where I was the only non-smoker. I always thought it a dirty, disgusting habit and, in fact, have been slightly phobic about it. I cannot even hold a cigarette and have to work hard not to wash my hands when I have to handle matches. It’s crackers but has saved my health and a lot of money. My greatest sorrow is that, despite this good role modelling on my part, both my sons smoke – although not in front of me!

Thinking of the road you now look back on as the roughest one around, how did it seem to you at the time when growing up?

There wasn’t one. The roughest road was growing up!

When driving, do you ever turn your stereo up and roll your windows down? On what type of occasion?

No. I listen almost exclusively to Radio 4. I’m a bit boring, really. If I did it would be Brown Sugar by The Stones just because I felt like it.

In your late teens, what did you never imagine about your future that is the case now?

I never thought Greg and I wouldn’t love each other forever.

I never thought I would have a successful career and earn the professional respect of my colleagues – something I value a great deal.

I never thought I would be retiring.

I never thought I would be married more than once.

I never thought I would fail to give my sons the nuclear family I so wanted them to have.

I never thought I’d allow them to make so little of their education because I didn’t realise how much I needed to put into it.

I never thought I would have a son living at home in his thirties when my sole aim was to raise them to be independent and successful.

I never thought I’d have a fully paid for house or that it would take me the best part of forty years to manage it.

I never thought I’d have a second property in Spain or that I would have a good enough pension to enable me to do that.

What types of stuff from your late teens did you think could never end?

Love, sunshine, good times.

How has time taken over since then? What has changed? What can’t you fight?

There’s been a lot of time since then with very many ups and downs.

My love life has been fairly disastrous and caused a lot of pain and difficulty all round. I was lucky that John found me and brought strength and stability and encouragement and love with him. My family is hopeless. On my mum’s side they were all a bit feisty and there was never more than two people speaking to each other at any given time! It was female heavy and on the plus side it did teach me the importance of being independent and that women don’t need men. I had a brief flirtation with the whole stay-at –home-while-the-man-brings-home-the-bacon thing but got severely burnt by it. Since then I have never not earned my own living and paid my own bills. My dad’s lot were a big, Catholic family – 13, with 11 surviving past childhood. There are aunts and uncles I have never met and those I did were not interested in my sister and me. No-one attempted to have any contact with us once my parents were divorced. Come to think of it, they didn’t before that either!! My father died in November and only one of the last five has bothered to offer condolences.

My parents both died suddenly and unaccountably – you can’t fight that. You can’t fight your kids’ battles but I have tried really hard to do so.

I don’t want to fight – mostly it’s not worth it!

How do you feel about making it this far?

I have reached contentment. I have a lovely family, husband, sons, stepsons and grandchildren who give me a great deal of pleasure. I’ve even been in touch with my sister after eight years of radio silence. I have lots of friends and masses of things to do. It feels good.

I am loved and that’s all any of us need.

What reminds you of your first kiss? Tell us more…

I’d like to but I can’t remember it!