Choir family

choir 1

It is often said that being in a Gaelic choir is like being part of a family. But to me that doesn’t cover it – being in a Gaelic isn’t like being a family it is a family.

I have been immensely fortunate to have been part of this world since I was 16 and no matter where I have lived across the country there has always been a new branch of this amazing family to get to know. A plethora of aunties, cousins, big sisters and brothers, uncles and even grandparents from every corner of Scotland have made me feel welcome no matter what.

There is nothing quite like walking down the street at a Mod and meeting people that you haven’t seen for ages and joining together in our shared love of music. Anyone who has ever been part of the massed choir or impromptu singing in the pub (MacDonald Arms in Tobermory springs to mind) can recognise that truly uplifting feeling of belonging to this amazing world.

We celebrate each others successes in life and music and console each other in our dark times. When we lose a member of this great family their loss is felt across the country and the messages come from far and wide not just from individuals but from whole communities.

To see a choir take to the stage after a loss of a member or a traumatic event which has shaken them to the core is a truly emotional experience both to witness and be part of and like any branch of a family we take comfort from each other and our wider family and knowing that we are all there for each other and that the music lives on.


Mairidh an gaol is an ceòl gu bràth



Rock Challenge

During the course of the year I was involved in Rock Challenge in my school. It was the first time that our school had taken part and it was a great thing to do. For those who don’t know Rock Challenge is an annual inter-school dance competition that takes place all over the country. Highland region is very new to this but it is well established in other areas. Schools pick a theme or story and then tell it in an 8 minute performance with marks awarded for choreography, costume, lighting, set design and use, make up and many other areas. Back stage and lighting are just as important as the performers and the group have to fund raise everything themselves.

Being a staff member on this project was exciting but also a huge commitment and I wasn’t even the lead teacher. For the school as a whole it was a bit of a baptism of fire but we learned a lot of valuable lessons. Here are the main things I learned that hopefully we can put into practice next year:

  1. Get as many staff members involved as possible – we probably didn’t have enough
  2. Techi department staff are your new best friends – props and set are a must
  3. Choose your theme and concept as early as possible – we took a bit long to get started
  4. Have one lead admin teacher – there is a lot of admin involved.
  5. Decide on costumes / make up early
  6. Fundraise, fundraise, fundraise
  7. Be really strict about attendance at rehersels
  8. Set / back stage crew need to practice with the dancers
  9. Make sure people in the school know about it
  10. You’ll never believe what the performance day involves till you are actually there! – it is a crazy, tiring, full on day.

Time off in lieu in teaching? Don’t make me laugh

In my previous life before teaching I took full advantage of my employer’s time off in lieu policy and was encouraged to do so. It is a great system in most jobs – when you put in extra time over your contracted hours you get it back as holiday. Simples. This, however, would be impossible in teaching. Working time agreements and contracted hours are all very well but I don’t know a single teacher who works those hours.

With marking, preparation, cpd, tidying and organising, extra curricular activities and trips, meetings and those 100s of other little things that just crop up – teachers, according to the bbc, work an average of 55 – 59 hrs a week.

There is no quicker way to annoy a teacher by saying how jammy they are with all the holidays they get and that they don’t work at weekends. But a significant proportion of teachers are putting in hours at the weekends and during there holidays. Over the course of the summer I’ll have probably spent about 15hrs actually preparing things but a lot more thinking about things to do and jotting down ideas. That is a fraction of what others do and I’m sure I’ll feel it when I’m back at the coal face next week.

How would all this work with time off in lieu? With teachers contracted for 35 hr weeks that would be 20hrs a week per teacher! Impossible to allow but if teachers didn’t put in all the extra hours the education system and all the opportunities that children are afforded would collapse.

Teachers know what we signed up for and how many hours that we put in above and beyond. I hope that others will realise that too.

Radio silence over

radio-silenceApologies for the radio silence over the last 3 months – due to moving house and the incapability of internet provider to re-connect a phone line for 8 weeks followed by the summer holidays.

However, I am back to my blogging ways with a veritable avalanche of blog posts coming over the next few days about my thoughts, observations and tips from the summer term and my latest book reviews.

Hope you continue to enjoy my blog.


Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood


When the bold writing on the cover exclaims ‘winner of the man booker prize’ there is a certain amount of expectation in opening a book. This was the case with Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood, a book which I have seen on Waterstone’s shelves and tables constantly for nearly 15 years. However, with high expectations there can also come disappointment and I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I had hoped.

Having the narrative in the first person is one of the most common styles in historical fiction worked very well in this context. I felt that the letters were a good device and helped to break up the story and show different sides to some of the minor characters in particular.

In terms of plot the premise is good but it took me a while to get into it and I didn’t like the way it jumped back and forth between the past and the present. This settled down about half way through when the recollections fitted more solidly into the narrative of Grace’s interviews with the doctor.The encounter between the doctor and his landlady is seedy and gratuitous and I didn’t think it added anything. The ending was also a bit of a disappointment as the whole story is focused on whether Grace committed murder or was merely an accessory. The book just ended on a damp and unremarkable note.

It is clear therefore that just because a book wins awards it does not make it a good read for everyone. I was disappointed but others have evidently not been and my one lone voice and negative review contrasts with the many who have given Alias Grace overwhelmingly positive praise.

Revelation by C J Sansom


The fourth book in C J Sansom’s series of novels is probably the most thrilling yet. Matthew Shardlake is this time on the trail of a serial killer in the precarious period of Henry VIII’s latter years. As with all his works Sansom succeeds in keeping the reader in constant suspense till the final pages of this 600 page rollercoaster. Every chapter ended with a hook that reeled you into the next. I’ll admit I became a bit antisocial while reading this book such what the enthralling nature of the prose.


Sansom portrays the fear and anxiety in the aftermath of the dissolution of the abbeys and monasteries and the fall of Thomas Cromwell superbly. Henry VIII was leaning more towards the traditional Catholic traditions of his youth and the factions of conservatism and reformers were pitted against each other in the court and in communities throughout England. This is a period that, I believe, had been largely ignored by historians (excepting Diarmaid McCulloch in his seminal work Reformation) and the impact that these rapid changes in religious adherence had on  normal people has really been take into consideration as part of the narrative.


The impressive thing about this series of books is that each one exists independently as a novel in its own right. I have obviously read them in order and I would recommend do so but if you just want a good one off novel this one would be the one I would choose.


There are, thank goodness, a further two Shardlake novels Heartstone and Lamentation which I look forward to acquiring and devouring in the near future.

From meltdown March to accomplished April

As the new term starts and the days lengthen and become brighter, secondary teachers move from the mad meltdown of March with its assessment deadlines and stress levels through the roof to having a bit more time to sort things out with the advent of study leave in April.


As last term progressed my classroom became progressively more cluttered and the thought of doing filing and organising courses for new incoming classes seemed like a pipe dream. However, now that I am on the other side of the tunnel and survived it I know that there is no point in trying to do any extra sorting etc in March. March is not the time for that sort of thing it is the time for finishing, nagging, final deadlines, threats and relief that you survived the term without falling into a stress induced coma. I was definitely the bottom fish in the picture above. April however, and being the first fish is a much more accomplished and satisfying prospect. Getting all the jobs done that you’ve been unable to do since the new year

Here are my top tips for an accomplished April:

1. Make lists – I love lists. Make sure you have 2 – 1 for current classes and ongoing timetable and 1 for things that you need to get done in the background.

2. One job at a time – don’t try and do it all at once. You’ll just end up with more mess than you started with.

3. Make it manageable – split up the big jobs. Organise Higher Course is the overall aim but that has a lot of elements to it. Also you’ll be able to tick things off the list more quickly which will make you feel like you have achieved.

4. Timing – how long have you got on each day. Use it effectively.

5. Focus – there is a temptation to relax a bit too much when you have less timetabled classes.

And finally

Don’t forget the please takes! -You will still get these as there are a lot of trips that start to go away at this time and other departments will have timetabled dedicated study classes. Don’t be under the impression that your time is all yours!