28 Dec 2010

Inspiration often comes from nowhere...

I braved the post-Christmas sales yesterday. Quel horreur!  The general pushy, rude, consumerist behaviour going on all around me was really quite shocking. I was shoved out of the way/to the ground (!) by several women steamrollering their way along the racks, desperate to grab everything and anything before anyone else.  People were getting hysterical. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or not. It was quite pathetic really. The "I don't want it or need it but I don't want you to have it" attitude really makes me despair of modern society at times. People seem so selfish. As I was sat having a coffee to escape the hordes, at the table next to me the woman was detailing her £200 worth of purchases to a friend. I couldn't quite fathom why she had bought more than half of the "bargains" with which she seemed so delighted.

Anyway, before I go on a rant about the moral downfall of western civilisation, let's get back to the point. As I was walking round several shops a few things struck me:

1. This place looks worse than the most chaotic jumble sale in history. Even if I wanted to elbow people out of the way, I wouldn't know where to start to find what I want in this mess.
2. This is all the left-overs, rubbish that no-one wanted before Christmas, that everyone is now ready to commit GBH to get their hands on.
3. None of these clothes are particularly nice, or well-made for that matter.
4. There's probably a sweat-shop of children somewhere in the world that will never see even a fraction of the profits from the clothes they toiled over.

With this in mind, and as I got a beautiful, shiny PINK sewing machine for my birthday (my very own sewing machine!) I have decided to attempt making my own clothes. I made myself a (very simple) cotton shopping bag last week to carry all my books around in. So simple to do, yet buying one similar would cost £10+ in the shops! All I needed was some scrap material and thread! Next on the list - a skirt. Shall post photos and keep you updated with my latest projects soon!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all! xxx

18 Oct 2010

There isn't very much to do in such a small town, is there?

The title of this blog is a question I am often asked on open days by prospective students, or, more usually, their parents. Yes, with a population of approximately 17,000, you can be forgiven for thinking that not a lot really goes on in our quaint little seaside home. So why then has it taken me a good six weeks to get around to posting another entry on my blog? When university staff and students make up more than a third of the town's overall population, and with everyone keen and eager to get involved and make the most of their time at university, you really are spoiled for choice for things to do in St Andrews! The university has over 100 societies and sports clubs to get involved in, all putting on events, socials, plays, trips and much more every week. Even if you were never to attend a lecture, I doubt anyone would find time to do all of the extra-curricular activities on offer here. And that's without even delving into the myriad of exciting things St Andrews as a town has to offer, outwith the university. So, we may be a small town in Fife, we may not have nightclubs, large shopping centres or a railway station of our own, but that doesn't mean that St Andrews is boring! (And anyone who insinuates such on an open day is likely to suffer my tirade to the contrary!)

So, what have I been doing of late? The answer to that is simple. I've been in the library. Studying. A degree at St Andrews is split into 2 sections, Sub-Honours and Honours. The first 2 years at Sub-Honours are quite easy. The marks don't count towards your overall degree classification, you get a basic grounding in the subject area(s) you have chosen and you have plenty of time for societies, coffee breaks with friends and sleeping 'till noon. Then in third year you progress to Honours (unless like me you take a year off and go swanning around abroad) and the panic sets in. Everything suddenly counts and your workload triples, you spend hours in the library pouring over medieval texts and feverishly awaiting your turn with the short loan (3-hour loan) books and you spend your time in hall telling everyone on your corridor  to be quiet because you need to study/sleep. Woe betide any first or second year who complains about their workload to an Honours student, they are likely to be met with comments of "Oh, just you wait 'till 3rd/4th year!" or a swift clip round the ear depending on the stress levels of said Honours student!

It's not all doom and gloom though. I seem to be on top of my workload (for now at least!) and I am still finding time to go ice skating every week, work as a university ambassador, mentor school children in the local area and participate actively in a couple of societies, as well as seeing my friends, albeit slightly less than I would like! I am quite enjoying my modules this semester as well. On top of the core language components of my degree, I'm doing Medieval German Literature and German Science Fiction. I really enjoy both of these, although I sometimes wonder what use is my degree to the world, and if it is worth the thousands in fees, when I spend entire mornings reading and discussing robots and the fundamentals of time travel! Then again, unlike most people nowadays, I don't see my degree as a vital tool to career progression, it isn't a commodity to be bought either. Yes, I need a degree to go into teaching but if all I wanted to do was teach, I could have done a degree in teaching straight off and not spent 5 years faffing around with medieval princesses and dragons. As it is, I came to university not because it was expected, not because of the current social status attached to having a degree, but because I love to study. I love my subject, I want to find out more about it, about everything I can, and university was the obvious choice. Yes, It will help my career down the line, but that's just a happy accident.

As it's now lunch time and I am still in my pyjamas (ah, the life of an arts student. Yes, I have work, but it can be done from my bed!) I should probably extricate some clean clothes from the mess on my floor and go and find some sustenance for this afternoon's class. Singular.

8 Sep 2010

Thank God for evolution and opposable thumbs

Summer is drawing to a close and my return to St Andrews is getting closer (excitement!). My last few weeks at works have come to rather an abrupt end as I am now sporting the latest in medical fashion - my right arm is in plaster! (Actually, if you squint it almost looks like the new fashion for elbow-long, fingerless gloves. You have to really squint though).

So, how did I acquire this latest injury you ask? Well, having taken up figure skating in a big way in Canada thanks to the free rink near my apartment, I decided to continue my new hobby on my return. I've been having lessons in Blackburn for a couple of weeks now and I absolutely love it. Don't expect me to be landing double axels any time soon, but it's impressive what a difference proper tuition can make. Of course, pride comes before a fall, and fall I did. Had I not stuck my arm out to stop myself (silly thing to do) I wouldn't have injured myself at all. As it was, my wrist bent backwards, all my weight went through it, and SNAP!

So, after X-rays and MRI scans, I'm all plastered up for a while, and it's making life somewhat difficult. In the grand scheme of things, the small everyday tasks I am no longer able to perform are little more than an inconvenience, put into perspective with starvation, floods, mass destruction, etc. etc. However, you don't realise just how much you use your thumb/wrist/right hand in general until you no longer can. Like anything I suppose, you don't realise what you've got until you lose it.

However, minor setbacks like a broken wrist haven't put me off skating. On the contrary, I've been carrying on with my lessons regardless! Some people just never learn, clearly. This week I learned backwards crossovers (for anyone that's interested, they look a bit like this: Backwards Crossovers on Youtube). I can't do them forwards yet, but I can do the more difficult backwards ones. Go figure!

2 Aug 2010

I'm ready for my close up

Today there was a baby bunny in our garden. Just sitting there, minding it's own business, nibbling on the lawn. By the time I had delved into the darkest recesses of my bedroom to find my DSLR, the rabbit had disappeared but as it was such a nice morning, I thought I'd play with my camera in the garden for a while. And these are the results (Honeybees especially for Granddad!)


Due to limitations of blogger.com, had to put all my pretty pictures in an album on flickr.
Flickr is a very good tool for sharing photos online, but looking at other people's photography doesn't half make me feel inadequate!

21 Jun 2010

Summer days, drifting away

Summer - a time for pub lunches, walks by the canal, strawberries and cream, Wimbledon. For everyone else that is, as yours truly has suddenly found herself, newly returned from overseas adventures, and gainfully employed as a waitress at the local pub. So while everyone else sups on their pints, tucks in to their fish and chips and enjoys our uncharacteristically warm British summertime, I am running around clearing the glasses, stacking the plates high and remembering that yes, the customer is always right. Even if the customer is clearly wrong, an utter moron, and downright rude to boot.

My return from Canada was somewhat blighted by health concerns (now all resolved) and travel chaos galore, with Eyjafjallajökull chewing up my travel plans and spewing them out along with mile-wide clouds of ash. After 2 weeks of delays and with the BA hold music still ringing in my ears, I finally touched down on British soil and started the negotiations with 3 huge suitcases and the UK rail network. I have a knack of bumping into some real characters on trains, and this journey was no exception. My train companion on this particular stretch of rail was a lovely 84 year old lady with one ambition in life: to have every blank stretch of wall in the world covered with pictures of handsome young men! She had a particular fondness for Clark Gable and she thoroughly brightened my day.  Thank you little old lady!

Since my return, I have been up and down the country on various errands and visits, but the best one of all had to be my 24 hours in St Andrews, as only a few people knew I was returning, and everyone's reactions at seeing me were priceless. My darling Sophs was rendered utterly speechless for a good few minutes, I thought she might actually faint, she looked as though she had seen a ghost. And for the next 24 hours she persisted in poking me at intervals to make sure I was actually real!

In between the wanderings, I spend my time doing shifts at the pub, chatting to the customers and having a surprising amount of fun for minimum wage and long hours. But in this economic climate, a job is a job. I'm lucky to have one at all, let alone one I enjoy. As with every summer, the plan is work, work, work to pay the university, only occasionally broken with things like next week's canal boat holiday around the Cheshire Ring. A whole week with nothing to do but drink tea and read books - heaven!

14 Mar 2010

Spring Break and other North American institutions

Spring Break: a North American holiday typically associated with students partying and drinking, often in warmer countries with more relaxed alcohol laws than the U.S.

So, what did I do for my Spring break? Well, I like to challenge stereotypes - I went skiing for a week at Mont Tremblant, QC with 5 friends. Warmer? No. Excessive partying? Too tired from skiing all day! Alcohol? Only a glass or two of red with the filet mignon, darling!

We started the week off on Saturday morning, when we hired a car and drove the 3 hours from Quebec to Montreal, stopping only for the worlds largest poutine on the highway. We arrived in Montreal to find that it was the "nuit blanche", a night when most of Montreal's museums and galleries remain open all night, they have live performances and fireworks -  a real festival atmosphere!


So we had dinner in the most stereotypical Italian restaurant we could find (and were even serenaded by Italians with violins!) then headed out to enjoy the festival.

The next day, we hit the mean streets of Montreal in search of bargains. My bank balance still hasn't forgiven me. We also went to the cinema, and saw a generic girly film I've forgotten the name of already.  Then we packed up the car and headed north to Mont Tremblant. We, somewhat foolishly, decided to let Nick navigate, with the result that we arrived nearly 2 hours late so when we eventually arrived at our hotel, they told us they had no rooms left! They had rebooked us in a nearby hotel instead, so we drove round the corner to the new hotel, which was much nicer, thinking we had struck gold. Nick went in to check us in and 2 minutes later he reappeared with the news that this hotel had no space and we had been rebooked elsewhere. It was getting a bit ridiculous at this point, but when we arrived at the third hotel, it was all worth it. We had been given a suite at the best hotel in the resort (The Westin Resort and Spa) at no extra cost! The valet took our bags and parked our car, as we attempted to walk through the hotel without looking completely out of place (we failed!).

The weather was gorgeous all week, clear blue skies and sunshine, we were up most mornings and on the mountain for 8.30 to make the most of our days and after skiing we went either for the traditional après-ski in one of the pubs or to use the sauna and Jacuzzi  at the hotel. I picked up skiing fairly well, so much so I am considering buying skis and continuing it when I come home, although I did fall over a fair bit as well! The best moment was when I forgot to stand up and ski off the chair lift when we came to the top, with the hilarious consequence that I had to jump from the chair before it took me back down the mountain again! If you have seen the film "Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason" it was an exact replica of the scene where she jumps from the chair lift! I think I amused a few Canadians anyway, and I didn't hurt myself too badly!

After an altogether fabulous week, we were all very sad to leave and head back home (albeit with another slight diversion as we got lost in Montreal for an hour or so).  However, one day back at school and I was in stitches again, wondering why I ever wanted to stay at Mont Tremblant. I love my job and all the kids too much! It's going to be a nightmare leaving them all at the end of May!

9 Feb 2010

Learning medical French vocabulary - the hard way!

Just a quick update, as I am currently in my bed, taking it easy after an exciting 13 hours in a Quebec hospital!

Only recently, I posted that I wasn't going to waste the hospital's time going in for a stomach ache, and that I would eventually get to see a doctor at the clinic, rude receptionist or not. Luckily my friends made me go to A&E on Sunday evening, as it turns out my simple stomach ache is not, as the first doctor suggested 3 weeks ago, constipation, but is in fact kidney stones! How exciting.

Going to the hospital for non-serious injuries and illnesses is much more acceptable here (culture of entitlement I guess). Most of the people in the waiting room on Sunday evening didn't seem all that sick to me. I suppose the human kebabs of my last post were probably brought in by ambulance and not made to sit in a waiting room.

I spent 7 hours in A&E on Sunday evening (I eventually left at 3.30 am) having various tests. I now have some very exciting bruises to show for a simple blood test - it took both arms and the back of my hand to get enough blood to fill a wee test tube or two. I suppose I'll be grateful for slow moving blood if I ever sever an artery! Every cloud has a silver lining, eh? I was also x-rayed, poked and prodded but to no avail. It wasn't my gall bladder, uterus, stomach, liver... almost every organ had been checked off the list when the doctor sent me home at 3.30 and told me to come back the next day for more tests.

So, after 2 hours nap, I presented myself to the receptionist again at 8 am the next morning. At which point I was presented with a cup and pointed towards the water fountain.  My instructions? The literal translation was "drink until your eyes turn yellow" which I translated as drink until you think your bladder is about to burst. So, following orders, and much to everyone in the waiting room's amusement, I proceeded to drink about 3 litres of water in an exceedingly short space of time. Then I was whisked off to another waiting room upstairs to have an ultrasound. But not until I had sat there for at least half an hour, my legs crossed, grimacing and squirming uncontrollably from all the water. The ultrasound revealed I have an inflamed right kidney, probably caused by kidney stones.

So, I was prescribed lots of tasty tablets to aid the removal of said stone and I have to go back in 2 weeks to see if it has gone. If not? Well, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.  I feel much better now I know what the problem is and I have some medicine which seems to be doing the trick.

I've had the day off school today, catching up on sleep and having some much needed rest and relaxation before going back to school tomorrow (I am nothing if not dedicated to my kids - they will improve, come hell or high water!) Although when I say relaxing, I have actually been planning lessons all day - the poor little things are going to get some culture in the form of Shakespeare. Even the film version of Romeo and Juliet has got to be better than nothing!

5 Feb 2010

God bless the NHS... and may he help all those who find themselves ill in North America!

Warning: This post contains a rant which some readers may find offensive. Or funny.

The NHS is chronically under-funded, overstretched and full of senior managers who wouldn't know their arse from their elbow but boy, do I miss it over here! I'm sure you've all heard about Obama's healthcare reforms and his struggle to push through policy which would seemingly bring nothing but benefits to the country's poorest. And, somewhat predictably perhaps, the very people the reforms are set out to help are violently opposed to any such (communist/hippy/left-wing/socialist etc. etc.) plans. Now, general consensus from abroad is that the American health care system is a nightmare, with vast swathes of the population unable to afford even the most basic of medical care, or falling into financial ruin whilst struggling to pay for extortionate medical bills. But my main point for today's blog is this: how does the system north of the border in Canada compare?

Well, I have been lucky enough to have been a victim of the Canadian health care system. Or I should say, the Quebec health care system, as it is not standard across all the provinces. After having had a stomach ache for 5 days, I went to the walk-in clinic. It sounds so simple on paper, doesn't it? Walk in, see doctor, leave. No. On my first visit, I spent 3 hours at the clinic. I went in, presented myself to the receptionist, was given a ticket with a number (like at the deli counter) and told to sit in the waiting room. When my number was called, I had to go back to the desk, fill in forms with my entire life history, answer lots of questions about why I wasn't Canadian, then was sent back to the waiting room.

After an hours wait, my name was finally called (twice, because the poor woman hadn't a clue how to pronounce it and I didn't realise she was calling me at first) and I went in to see... a triage nurse. I spent 10 minutes explaining to the nurse what was wrong, what medication I was on (half of which isn't legal in North America apparently) before being sent back out to the waiting room. Another half hour later, and I was called to see the doctor. The doctor didn't even look at the file the nurse had written, and asked me exactly the same questions all over again (begs the question why they bother with the nurse really), prodded my stomach, then prescribed me some tablets and sent me on my merry way. 

Then it was off to the Pharmacy to get my tablets. A simple task, I thought. Not so. I arrived at the Pharmacy, handed over my prescription and my state health insurance card and then the questioning began.

Was I registered with them or somewhere else? (You have to register with a Pharmacy? Really?)
I explained I was from England and hadn't registered anywhere.

How did I get a health insurance card if I was foreign?
(How is that any of their business. As long as I have one, what does it matter?)

Do you usually pay for your prescriptions?
Not a clue, love. In England, yes, they're £7.40 a time.

Eventually the Spanish Inquisition stopped, I paid my $5 and was on my way again. They even printed the label for me in English, despite the fact that at no point had I spoken anything other than French with the woman. Sigh.

This morning when I woke up, the stomach pain was back, and to top it off I had an asthma attack, which took more than the prescribed 2 puffs of my inhaler to calm down. So I rang school, apologised and said I wouldn't be in, and that I had to go to the doctors.

What happened next was so completely ridiculous, I still can't quite believe it. I'm hoping I lost something in translation somewhere along the line!

In the clinic.

Stereotypically rude French receptionist: Can I help you?
Me: Yes, I'm here for the clinic.
Receptionist: We close at four o'clock, I'm sorry. You'll have to come back on Monday.
Me: But it's only twenty past one? (The clinic only opened at one o'clock.)
R: Well, we're closed now. Come back on Monday.
Me: Alright. Is it possible to make an appointment to see a doctor and not come to the walk-in clinic? 
R: You need to be registered with a doctor first.
Me: OK, well can I register with one now then?
R: Where are you from? 
Me: England (Thoroughly bemused by this point)
R: Well you need to be a resident to register with a doctor.
Me: I am a resident. I have an address, a job, bank account, social security number, health insurance and a work permit.
R: But you aren't Canadian. You could go to the hospital, to Accident and Emergency.
Me: Sigh. I'll come back on Monday. (Exit, stage right)

So that was that. I refuse to go to accident and emergency for a simple stomach ache, unless said ache was cause by having fallen on a metal spike and turning myself into a giant human kebab. This does however mean that I have wasted school's time, not to mention my own, only to have to repeat the whole process again on Monday, and have even more classes to make up the time with afterwards.

I miss being able to ring my GP and be told to come in at 10.30 the same day. I miss the out-of-hours doctors, the fact that you can take your prescription wherever you like and not face a Spanish inquisition about it and I especially like the fact that all of this is provided free of charge.

So, my earth shattering point for today: everyone should have access to quality, free medical care whenever and wherever  they need it. No exceptions. And for that reason, I am extremely grateful we have the NHS, despite its many shortcomings, and I will defend it to the last.

On to more general news and views.

My friends and I booked our skiing holiday for spring break. A weeks skiing and chalet at Mont Tremblant just outside Montreal. It should be fantastic, although I still have never skied in my life. But really, how hard can it be? Surely I have gravity on my side at least?

School days still tick over quite nicely. I finally had a good lesson with my Sec. 5 (Lower 6th) class on Monday, only for it to be ruined on Thursday by having to send one of them out for bad language. The boy's excuse? "But it's song lyrics, miss!" Well, I don't care if you are quoting the Pope, you know full well you aren't allowed to use language like that in school. With my next group one of them was complaining about being bored. To which my reply was "Maybe you are, but going to PASS is more boring" (PASS being the isolation detention during school) and he shut up and got on with the work.

As much as Sec. 5 drive me round the bend, my younger classes more than make up for it. I had a breakthrough with 3 of my worst kids in Sec. 3 this week, not only were they behaving but they were speaking more English than I thought they even knew! We'll see how long it lasts anyway! I even taught my Sec. 1 class some proper British slang, although one poor boy got a bit confused when someone told him to put a sock in it, he screwed up his paper and put it in his mouth, then looked expectantly at me. Never have I wanted to laugh so much in my life!

Just to finish off, I have another food to add to my list of bizzare things eaten: beaver tail.
Before any animal rights activists out there start jumping up and down, I should explain that it's not really beaver. There isn't a farm for rehabilitating beavers who have had their tails cut off to feed the hungry Quebec masses. It is actually just deep-fried pastry in the shape of a beaver tail, smothered in hot maple syrup and nuts. Yum yum.

A bientôt!

18 Jan 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words

Christmas card photos! (Eibhlin, Rachael, Jennie, Laura)

New house in the snow

Petit Champlain (in October), view of the horrendously steep climb to Haute Ville and Chateau Frontenac

Tom and I ice skating at Place d'Youville

17 Jan 2010

New year, new adventures...

... same old weather. It seems I can't escape snow in any country at the moment! For anyone that has been living in outer space for the last month or so, Europe is currently experiencing a phenomenon often referred to as "winter". This means that temperatures drop, often below zero, and that sometimes it might even snow. For anyone worried by said phenomenon, it is probably not the next ice age, climate change or punishment from God. So have a cup of tea and calm down.

Anyway, sarcasm aside, the cold spell didn't prevent me from returning home to the loving arms of my family for Christmas. In fact, I was extraordinarily lucky that on the day I was travelling, I managed to get on the only plane to Manchester that wasn't cancelled and made it home a mere 20 minutes late. Quite a feat when others were stranded for days on end, eating airport food, sleeping across plastic chairs of pain and using those chewable toothbrushes from the vending machines.

I had a very relaxing 2 weeks in my new house, lots of time spent with family, in front of the fire and watching the snow and of course - eating far too much. 'Tis the season after all! The new house is wonderfully warm and cosy and very quiet. It was good to see the family again, I hadn't realised just how much I had missed them. So I was quite sad when my 2 weeks were up and I had to pack up again and fly back to Canada.

However, I was given a stay of execution of sorts, when my trip back to Quebec went less than smoothly (that damned "winter" thing causing problems again). Tom and I were supposed to be travelling back to Quebec, via Paris, on a morning flight on Tuesday (5th). We set off at 5am, ample time  to get to the airport, check in and spend obscene amounts in the duty free shop. However, it was clearly not meant to be. It had snowed overnight and of course, the roads hadn't been ploughed, accidents ensued and it took four hours on the motorway to do the usual one hour journey to Manchester airport. In an ironic fashion, it was quite lucky that the airport was closed and all flights were cancelled, because had they not been, we would most certainly have missed ours due to snow delays on the road and had to pay through the nose for new tickets. As it was, we eventually arrived at the airport and were herded into a queue for another 4 hours to rebook our flights. As the next available flight was not for 2 days, we headed back home.

Thursday came and went, and by the end of the day we had made it as far as Paris. It seems Manchester airport only have one plane de-icer for the whole airport. Of course our plane was last in the queue, we missed our connection and ended up stranded in Paris. Luckily Airfrance put us up for the night in a hotel (dinner and breakfast included). After a night in the most bog-standard of hotels, we navigated the chaos that is Charles-de-Gaulle airport (no logical layout, no facilities, lots of overpriced handbag shops) and finally, 4 days later, made it onto a plane to Montreal. The flight itself was great - only on a French airline would you be presented with smoked salmon, camembert and as much good red wine as you can drink!

Since coming back to Quebec I have been extraordinarily busy, although I have only actually been into  school for 3 days in the last 2 weeks, I've had one class and even that was team teaching, so required very little effort on my part! So what have I been up to, you ask? Well, I have moved house, from the charming (but ultimately lifeless) village of Beaupré to Quebec city, buzzing capital metropolis! I am now sharing a quirky and thoroughly impractical little flat in Vieux Quebec with Nick, another underworked and over-partied language assistant. It's been an interesting first week in my new place, as on the second day our toilet blocked, overflowed and all the water came gushing through the kitchen ceiling! The landlord, a charming French man (is there such a thing?), has refused to do anything about this, so for the last week we have had to resort to using friends houses, petrol stations and restaurants! I will never take a working toilet for granted again! It's been such a pain to have to plan everything we do around where might have toilet facilities! But anyway, I don't want to go into too much detail about that, and I'm sure you don't want to hear it either! After lots of phone calls, angry emails and enough plunging to tire the muscles of a professional bodybuilder, we should (touch wood) have a plumber coming round this week to fix it.

As if that wasn't enough, the kitchen cooker is a beautiful specimen of 1950's technology and it has an annoying habit of smoking for no apparent reason, which sets off the fire alarms. This in itself is a nuisance, but even more so since the fire alarms are connected to the city fire brigade. So if one of us burns some toast, or the cooker smokes when we try and make a cup of tea (old fashioned kettle!) 20 burly firemen are liable to burst in and shower us all in foam and water at any moment!

As well as running around with buckets and desperately wafting smoke as the flat falls down around our ears, we have somehow found the time to have a bit of fun as well. Last Saturday I decided I want to run away and join the circus. We went to see a matinée performance of Alegria - Cirque du Soleil, which was mind-blowingly and utterly incredible. I was mesmerised from start to finish.


If you ever get a chance to see Cirque du Soleil perform, I highly recommend you do. It's an experience not to be missed!

Now, if all else fails, I have my backup plan. I can join the circus, probably as a clown and tour the world. I'm not bendy or bouncy enough for the acrobatics or contortion! On second thoughts, why have that as a backup plan? That's much more fun than being a teacher!

One thing I've been doing a lot of recently is ice skating. Canada, obviously, is big on its winter sports and there is a free outdoor ice rink 5 minutes walk from my flat. I bought myself a cheap (but beautiful) pair of second-hand white figure skates and I've been skating almost every day since then! Now I'm never going to be the next Jane Torville, but I can at least hold my own on a rink with Canadian children, most of whom have been skating since before they could walk. At least I knew how to skate before I came here. Skiing, in which I am having my first lesson next week, is going to be a whole different kettle of fish. Nick, my flatmate extraordinaire and seasoned skier is taking Laura and I to the mountain next weekend for our first lesson. Watch this space for the broken bone count! Assuming I don't get caught in an avalanche and have to be rescued by mounties first!

A bientôt!

1 Dec 2009

Simply having a wonderful chalet time!

I've been getting reports from across the pond that people are becoming concerned about my well-being due to the fact that I haven't posted in a while. So, just to reassure you, I am still alive and well. I've just been monumentally busy recently, November has gone by in a flash!

School has kept me more than busy recently, in the run up to Christmas all the children seem to have gone insane and good behaviour has gone out of the window (again). But it's been a lot of fun too. One of the more mischievous boys in Sec.3 made my week this week with the comment "you is the best English teacher we is having, Miss". I'm not sure this isn't somewhat of a contradiction in itself, but it is nice to know I've got through to at least one of them!

On to more general musings. Several more things have struck me recently about the culture here - firstly the obsession with disinfecting anything and everything is starting to get on my nerves somewhat. It's no wonder half the children at school have serious allergies when they have never been exposed to anything less than a sterile environment. They have no chance to build up their immune systems to fight off even a little sniffle! And the H1N1 Pandemic and scare-mongering is not helping matters much. While I'm on the subject of swine 'flu, the majority of students are being bussed to Quebec City tomorrow, an hour away, to have the H1N1 vaccine. There are, in my opinion, several things wrong with this situation. Not with having the vaccine itself, but the fact that the children are being bussed to Quebec city to start with. When all is needed is for a couple of nurses to come out to the school with the equipment, the organisation involved in tens of school buses transporting hundreds of children to the capital seems a tad excessive. It's not as if the school is any less clean than a hospital or medical centre would be (see previous rant about disinfecting).

I'm starting to feel like such an old woman, harping on about how things were "in my day". But in all seriousness, when I was at school, you lined up in the assembly hall, the school nurse swabbed your arm then stuck you with the needle. 5 minutes later and you were back in class and getting on with the lesson at hand. As far as I'm concerned, people are making mountains out of molehills about everything these days. The parents of the children have even been allowed to attend the vaccination, clearly in case a quick prod with a needle forever scars the child emotionally. Compensation culture I suppose, couldn't run the risk of someone suing ten years down the line. I could understand if I were teaching at a primary school, the support of a parent in many cases would probably be invaluable. However, children aged 12-17 should really be able to cope for 5 minutes without their "helicopter parents" hovering nearby all the livelong day!

Whilst I'm in full on rant mode, I might as well have a general rant about modern western culture when it comes to children. Some children these days clearly spend far too much time in front of an "electronic babysitter", be it television, internet or games console. As a consequence, teachers are left despairing of the fact that some children in their classes have no curiosity, no imagination and have never learnt to think for themselves. I constantly find myself in an uphill struggle with students unused to imagining different scenarios, putting themselves in the place of others or generally having an independent thought! It's very difficult to get children to practice vocabulary, for instance ordering something in a restaurant, if their first reaction is to say "but I'm not in a restaurant!" It can be very tempting to give up entirely, but I won't!

Something else I find interesting is the difference in the standards of discipline between here and the UK. Obviously it will vary enormously between schools, and comparing a Grammar School in England to a Public High School here is hardly a fair comparison. But, since when was life ever fair? (as I keep having to remind the students when they don't want to do things - you can't always have what you want. Life isn't fair. Get over it!) Having students wander into your class when they feel like it, a mass exodus when the bell rings regardless of whether the teacher has finished speaking, or complaining that learning English is "against their human rights" is a far cry from the world of LGGS where you stand up when the teacher enters the room and say good morning, and wait to be dismissed at the end of the lesson! As a teacher, I know which I would prefer! That's not to say either way is better, just different. It takes some getting used to though.

Anyway, enough musings. What else have I been up to, I hear you cry? Well, last weekend 80 language assistants, from Britain, Ireland, Canada, Germany, Mexico and some random hangers-on all descended on my wee village. We rented a chalet in the hopes of being able to spend a weekend skiing at Mont Ste-Anne, but fate decided otherwise. This November has been one of the warmest on record, with average temperatures of 10˚c, as opposed to the usual -4˚c. A severe lack of snow has meant the ski resort opening has been pushed back by almost a month. However, we didn't let the heat spoil our weekend fun. We climbed a mountain, some people went to a spa, and there were lots of games of Scrabble as well as more food than the human body can handle. We did a Secret Santa present exchange as well and had a sing-along. It was a lot of fun and laughter, it really did feel almost like Christmas. Special mention to Andy Henton, from whom I stole the title for this post, and for organising the whole weekend and working tirelessly to make it a success.

The snow has now arrived, a day after everyone left the chalet (typical) and there are a good few inches covering the ground. It looks quite magical now, with all the Christmas lights decorating the houses and gardens (another cultural difference - here it is not considered tacky to use more electricity for decorations than some countries use in a year) and the snow settled on the ground. Unfortunately, I haven't quite got the knack of walking on the snow and ice yet (several falls and many bruises) but I've got to get some winter boots tomorrow, so I think I'll be getting ones with metal spikes on the soles to literally fix myself to the ground!

For now, I think I'm done with this marathon post. In 3 weeks I will be back home in England for Christmas and I can't wait! Until then, all that really remains is to wish you all a Joyeux Noel and a Merry Christmas, no matter where in the world you are!


10 Nov 2009

O Canada! Ô Canada! Uu Kanata!

Does anyone else think learning Inuktitut might be a little bit ambitious?  Especially as the Inuit language is the one I'll most likely never need to speak in my entire life!

I don't intend to start learning any of the indigenous languages of Canada (just yet anyway!) I have enough to do with the 4 I've already committed myself to learning, but after seeing several fascinating museum exhibits about Amerindian culture in Ottawa, I got very interested and wanted to know more. So what did I do? As usual, I bought far too many books and I’m now ploughing my way through them all. I love books!

Anyway - the school trip to Ottawa. This was the first year the school had organised the trip, for the ELA group, and it all went amazingly well, everyone (and especially me) had a lot of fun and it was generally a great couple of days. I think the kids may have even learnt something! We set off bright and early on Thursday morning, before the sun had even risen, all piling into the yellow school bus that was to take us the 6 hour journey from Beaupré in Quebec to Ottawa in Ontario. Most of the kids slept on the journey, I however had no such luck. School buses are not built for comfort and long journeys - this one had hard seats and zero-suspension. And, this being Canada, the roads aren't always great. The only thing I can liken it to is spending 6 hours on a galloping horse. All my muscles now ache, I certainly took a beating! Still, we made it to Ottawa relatively unscathed and made it to the hostel to dump our stuff before heading out. The reaction when the kids saw where we were going to be staying was absolutely priceless. The hostel in Ottawa was in the old Jail-house building, and when they were designing the hostel they obviously took the jail theme and ran with it! Either that, or they didn't have the money to renovate properly! All of the rooms were the old cells, complete with bars instead of walls, and hardly enough room to swing a cat. Limited privacy too, and the noise at night from rooms without walls unbelievable. Luckily I’m a deep sleeper! It was definitely a fun experience, and one I would recommend, but if you are planning on staying in Ottawa for more than a couple of days, I suggest forking out for a real hotel!

On Thursday afternoon we went to the Musée des Beaux-Arts and then shopping in the Rideau Centre, followed by a dinner of Vietnamese soup. Then we set off for the Senators Hockey game. The hockey was great fun, there were about 17, 000 people in the stadium which made for a really good atmosphere. There was a lot of fighting on the ice (which we all know is the real purpose of hockey) as well, which was very exciting! Fighting aside, it was a really good match, with 2 goals disallowed and the winning goal scored in the last 30 seconds of overtime. A good proportion of the spectators were from the Canadian armed forces, as it was the annual forces appreciation game, to coincide with the 11th November Memorial Day. They had activities on the ice for some of the soldiers and their kids during the intervals and a lot of money was donated to veterans’ charities, from ticket sales and the sponsors of the arena itself. The way it was done was a bit "American" for lack of a better description – it was made into a big event, very gushing and perhaps somewhat overly emotional, but then again that is a cultural difference between the UK and North America - we are a lot more reserved. However, the sentiment, the recognition and appreciation of the work done by the armed forces was heartfelt, and something that I think we lack in Britain these days. Regardless of whether you agree with the politics, the forces do a very hard and worthwhile job in many places around the world, and this often gets overlooked and deserves more recognition than we give it nowadays.

On Friday we went to the Canadian Parliament, the highlight of the trip for me. We had a guided tour of the building and we were allowed into the House of Commons to hear a debate. The debate itself was interesting enough, but the thing that struck me most was that one of the MPs would stand up and make a point in English, only for someone else in the room to then get up and counter that point in fluent French. There appeared to be no translation going on, everyone was completely bilingual and everything was happening almost simultaneously in 2 languages. After the House of Commons, we climbed to the top of the Peace tower in the Parliament, the highest point in Ottawa. The views were impressive. As we were walking back from Parliament to the bus, I saw the thing I had been waiting to see since I arrived in Canada – Mounties! There were RCMP officers in cars outside the building. I had a huge grin on my face for the rest of the day!

In the afternoon we went to the Nature museum and to the cinema. A Serious Man is possibly one of the weirdest films I have seen in a while – it was very interesting but the kids did not understand it at all and they were so tired from the noise in the hostel most of them fell asleep! After the cinema we went to the pool, and while the kids all played in the wave pool, I sat on the side and read a book. Being almost drowned by huge fake waves didn’t appeal to me!

After another sleepless night in the jail, we went to one final museum, and in my opinion one of the best I have ever been to, the Civilisations Museum, then everyone piled back onto the bus and we drove back to Beaupré. I started to watch a film and promptly fell asleep 5 minutes in! It had been a long but amazing couple of days!

In other news, I have decided to keep track of the weird things I have eaten over here. So far, the list looks something like this:


But I intend to add many more bizarre foods to the list! I might as well have culinary adventures as well as the more “mundane” kind!

A bientôt!

29 Oct 2009

Free mushrooms? No? How about a fridge deodorant then?

Another couple of weeks in Canada, and yet another blog for your perusal. The last couple of weeks have brought with them some interesting challenges, new ideas and of course, a whole lot of fun! The oddest thing I've noticed recently though is the free gift at IGA if you spend more than a certain amount on your weekly shop, hence the title. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a fridge deodorant until now! I'm quite intrigued to find out what next week's present will be!

As for school, it seems that as the kids get to know me better, they are a lot less shy and a lot less willing to toe the line. Unluckily for them, I have no qualms in sending them out of class or giving them bad grades for unacceptable effort. The majority of them have learnt not to mess with me! I may not be much older than them, but I'm still the teacher! There have been many highlights over the last couple of weeks too, so I'll just mention some of the best. My Sec. 1 students (the youngest in the school at 12 years old) had me in stitches with their vivid imaginations. I had them all pretend to be shipwrecked on a desert island and make a poster about their adventures. Giant man-eating chickens and flying monkeys, electricity trees and cannibalism all featured, not to mention mermaids and flesh eating locusts. I also taught a couple of my groups to play "Wink Murder" (not really a language learning activity, but they all enjoyed it!) and they all had great fun pretending to die as dramatically as possible. My own oscar-worthy death scene left me with 2 bruised and swollen knees and a bump on the head!

I'm now almost certain I want to go into teaching as a career after university and I've been looking into all the training options etc. It's quite exciting knowing what you want to do with your life! I agreed to take a couple of whole classes this week instead of my usual groups of 10, for the experience more than anything. I certainly got that! 30 children make a disproportionate amount more noise than 10!
Some classes it's still like pulling teeth trying to get them to talk, these are my least favourite classes. Classes I like to refer to as "crowd control" are surprisingly more fun (although not good for my blood pressure!) Discipline is easy, actually motivating shy and/or apathetic teenagers less so!

Kids are entertaining and challenging enough, but dealing with their parents, oh boy. A whole different ball game, as it were. I was enlisted to help at the school board open day for prospective parents 2 weeks ago, and what an experience! The school system is very different here, choosing a secondary school for your child isn't a postcode lottery like in the UK. Here, you can just choose which state school you want your child to go to, and they have to accept them. The school board open day felt more like a cattle market than anything else, stalls for every different school, with teachers (and unwitting English assistants!) desperately trying to sell their school to the parents. It was 8 hours of handing out branded water bottles and bags with the school logo to kids, explaining the various strengths of the school and handing out paperwork to the parents. It was definitely an interesting insight to the school system and the culture as well as being an amazing opportunity to practice my French. Some of the parents actually mistook me for a quebecois student, which was flattering on more than one level! It was hard work but I really enjoyed the whole day.

In other news, as we've had snow again this week, I decided to bite the bullet and get myself properly kitted out for the Canadian winter. I may now be broke ($600!) but at least when it gets to minus 30 degrees, I'll still be able to go outside! And my coat is luminous blue, so there is little chance of me getting lost in a snow storm, or on the mountain when I'm skiing. I only live a short walk from the mountain, so I expect I'll be doing a fair bit of skiing this winter. I've never skied before but it should be good fun. And it gives me an excellent excuse to drink lots of hot chocolate to warm up afterwards!

That's it from me for now. I'm supposed to be at a training week in Quebec city with the other assistants at the moment, but as I currently have 'flu (again) I'm curled up in bed and taking lots of painkillers and sleeping instead. I just hope I'm better in time for the school trip to Ottawa next week!

A bientôt!

22 Oct 2009

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

A quick photo update as today was the first snowfall in Beaupré!

Yesterday, I was walking around wearing just a t-shirt, and now there is about half a foot of snow piled up. It hasn't stopped all day. Walking to school was fun - not being accustomed to walking in snow, I was very wobbly (the kids were entertained at any rate!) but, touch wood, I haven't fallen yet and I don't intend to.

I was very excited about the snow, everyone at school thought it was very cute. To them this is just pathetic autumn snow. It's barely even registered with some people. In the UK, everything would have ground to a halt by now. The sky is white, it shows no signs of slowing just yet. It's very pretty.

The only problem now is that someone somewhere must have had an accident and crashed into a power line, because we are currently without electricity. Thank goodness for the log fire!!!

(My classroom in school. Nice and warm and toasty!)

13 Oct 2009

I went to a fight and an ice hockey match broke out!

Yet another eventful week has passed here in QC. Time is simply flying by in fact. I'll be home for Christmas before you know it!

It was a particularly challlenging week for discipline at school last week - I'm beginning to think they put something in the water here, they can't all have ADHD! As much as I want them to speak in English, when the whole class does so at once, it causes quite a racket! At least the majority of them don't need motivating! Still, they are such good fun to work with. In a lesson about holidays, one of my sports boys told me exactly why he wanted to go to Amsterdam... Funny, but a little too much information! The highlight of my week, however, was when one of the English teachers came to me to tell me how the students are raving about my workshops. A nice little ego boost there! It's always nice to be appreciated, and let's face it, the kids don't usually tell teachers they are enjoying school!

So, after a long and tiring week at school, what did I do at the weekend? Rest, relax, put my feet up in front of the telly? Of course not. I headed off to Saint-Georges de Beauce with the other assistants for a Thanksgiving Feast and weekend of frivolity. I had my first ice hockey experience on Friday evening, it was so exciting and so violent! I can see why everyone here (and I mean EVERYONE) is nuts about the game. It's great fun to watch, even when the game descends into all-out warfare between the players and the puck lays forgotten. As the saying goes - I went to a fight and an ice hockey match broke out! This game wasn't too violent though, because it was a junior league, so the referees stepped in fairly swiftly when things started to get out of hand. Even so, there were a fair few punches thrown, players smashed into the barriers and some sneaky stick-tripping going on!

On Saturday morning I had what could quite possibly have been the world's largest breakfast. It came on a plate the size of a large roasting tin, and consisted of 4 pancakes and maple syrup, bacon, 2 eggs, sausages, ham, creton (mince pâté), mini potatoes, 4 slices of toast, a large fruit salad and free refills of coffee. Needless to say I didn't eat for the rest of the day! We went shopping in the afternoon for all the bits and pieces we needed for our "traditional" thanksgiving feast - co-ordinating 20 people and 2 trolleys was very entertaining, but we didn't forget a single ingredient! We had a quick dinner then threw on our gladrags and headed to Au Vieux, the best (only) club in St-Georges. It was so completely packed there was only room to dance vertically - jumping up and down and moving your arms in a similar fashion! After a late-night poutine, we headed home to bed.

Sunday brought with it a flurry of activity in the kitchen, as 20 people tried to cook different dishes simultaneously. I was assigned to washing up duty (oh the joys) so for the most part I kept out of the way of the chaos in the kitchen, only being called upon as and when we ran out of pans, spoons, plates etc. etc. When everything was ready and spread out on the floor, we had our Thanksgiving picnic of ham, roast and mashed potatoes, chickpeas, stuffing, various vegetables, couscous, banoffee pie and apple crumble. Not exactly the traditional turkey and cranberry, but equally delicious, and after all, it's not the food or the decorations that make the holiday, but the people you spend it with, and we had good fun! One of the highlights of the weekend, however, had to be "Chinterviews" - where you draw a face upside down on your chin and give an interview in a funny voice upside down. We had American tourists, Germans and British MPs, I don't think any of us have ever laughed so hard!

Now I'm back at home in Beaupré, sorting out everything for another week at school. The little angels tried to convince me I hadn't taught them before, so they could play games, this afternoon. Nice try kids! On a random note to finish, I'm making soup for my dinner, but it's gone a very funny colour... Cauliflower is purple in Canada. So too is my soup now. I'm making a purple stew, scooby do do...

A bientôt!

5 Oct 2009

Just how much can you fit in a people carrier?

Just a wee update for all my fans after an extremely eventful weekend here in Canada.

After having packed 5 people and enough food for 70 into a 6-seater car on Friday evening, we proceeded to drive the somewhat uncomfortable 120 miles from Quebec city to Tadoussac on the Côte Nord, each with an apple crumble precariously balanced on our respective knees. We stopped halfway for some light refreshment (MacDo) and discovered that in North America, a large portion is actually enough to feed a whole country, then continued on our way through the wilds to Tadoussac. On our arrival, we found that the Germans had got there first, and lovingly laid out their beach towels, ahem, bags, on all of the best beds in the house, leaving us Brits to the mattresses and leaking water beds on the floor in the living room. However, our stiff upper lips and mustn't grumble attitudes got us through the night (if I didn't have back problems before, I do now). Right on cue, 07.45 the next morning, and who should appear but the Germans, washed and dressed and setting a table for an orderly and punctual breakfast. We Brits went to the café for bacon and eggs (tiredness prevalent from the late night/ early morning party), cursing the Germans for waking us up.

Anyway, enough German bashing methinks. All of the German assistants here in Québec are lovely, and I am usually a great champion of German culture, except when rudely awoken by unnecessary but orderly voting over which type of Brötchen to have for breakfast. One of the Canadians even remarked "You're very organised, aren't you?" to which the Germans replied "Vell yes, we are German, ja" which had us all in stitches.

When everyone had managed to drag themselves out of bed, we all got wrapped up to go out on the St. Lawrence river and see if we could spot whales. Having been advised to layer up, I went out in 3 t-shirts, 2 jumpers, a coat, leggings and trousers, hat, scarf and gloves. We were then given waterproof trousers and fisherman's jackets on the boat - we were all wearing so many layers it made moving practically impossible, we all looked like the Michelin Man. It still wasn't enough. After 3 hours out on the water, my hands, feet and face were all numb and the rest of my body was heading the same way!

However, I would quite happily have come back with hypothermia and frostbite because seeing so many whales, and so close to the boat, was an experience I will never forget. We had booked a zodiac trip, so off we went in a large motorised rubber dinghy and within 10 minutes we were surrounded by beluga whales, bobbing around the boats, evidently curious. I never expected to see so many on one trip, everywhere you looked there were white backs rising from the water, it was incredible. We went a bit further out and ran into a pod of minke whales, who obligingly flicked their tails in the air for photos and came so close to our small boats you could have reached out and touched them. Even further out (we were all shivering by this point) and we came across a sleeping humpback whale. They sleep on the surface, bobbing along quite serenely but they are absolutely HUGE. Yes, I know, they are whales (duh) but until you see one you don't quite appreciate the scale.

We started to head back to the port, because we had gone quite far, and looking at the scenery and the cliffs, it was easy to imagine what it must have been like to be amongst the first Europeans to come to these shores, confronted by impenetrable forest and hostile wilderness looming from above. It made quite an impression! Even now, the forests and wilderness stretch for hundreds, if not thousands of miles with no human habitation. The scale of everything is so much bigger and more formidable out here than back at home.

Safely back on dry land, and a hot drink was an essential not a luxury! Then we headed back to the Maison to help make dinner for 70. 3 million sandwiches and chopped vegetables later, and we had a pretty impressive buffet set up and a great evening in store. It's great to meet up with the other assistants from time to time, Brits, Irish, Canadians, Mexicans, Chinese and Germans and just chat about our experiences, about anything and nothing. Particularly for people who are on their own in their towns, its nice to know there are others in the same boat! It's not like in Europe where you can just get a train or bus (or even these days a cheap flight) quickly and easily - here the distances are so vast and public transport so non-existant, you can feel completely cut off, particularly if, comme moi, you live in a village that doesn't even have a grocery shop!

After a hefty meal of traditional British sandwiches (soggy cheese and tomato) we all made our way into the village to go to the bar at the youth hostel. We got into an interesting debate with some less-than-sober Parisians who were expounding the many virtues of metropolitan French, and complaining bitterly about their inability to make head or tail of Québecois. At which point I felt quite smug, as my French, although much improved, is still nowhere near the standard of a native speaker, but I find I have few difficulties now in understanding the Québecois accent and expressions. Yay for me!

The one downside to the whole weekend - I appear to have caught a cold from 3+ hours on a freezing river/ocean. Still, it gives me a chance to go to the Pharmacy tomorrow and attempt to explain and obtain the québecois equivalent of a Lemsip. Ever the optimist!

27 Sep 2009

I didn't know they had Kangaroos in Canada...

Well, I’ve been in Québec exactly one month today. Only 8 more to go! Not that I’m wishing the time away exactly, but I’ve been feeling homesick for St Andrews and all my friends because I know it was fresher’s week last week and I wasn’t there to join in. Having the Moulin Rouge soundtrack on repeat isn’t exactly helping. But then I remember I’m in Canada, it’s autumn and all the trees are blazing red and orange, I can have home-made maple syrup on my Weetabix and in a few weeks I’ll be waist-deep in snow. Life really is good.
(I just worked out how to add photos. Yay. This is where I live).

I’m getting into a routine now, going to school, teaching classes, sitting in the staffroom and wishing I understood what the conversations were about, or if I understand, wishing I could speak enough French to actually join in! School finishes at 4.20pm, then I come home, maybe go for a walk around the village, along one of the trails or down to the beach, cook something bordering on edible for dinner (I do miss my brother’s cooking!) and because it gets dark about 6pm now, I tend to spend my evenings in the house – I discovered some wonderfully trashy Québécois Chick-Lit on my last venture into a bookshop, so I’m ploughing my way through that with a French-English dictionary AND a French-Québécois dictionary. I do also watch a lot of TV, and with the exception of Coronation Street, which we get over here (Canadians must have such a warped view of Britain) it is all in French, so I can claim it’s educational! I think my French is improving, slowly. I understand a lot more, even if my speaking is still shockingly slow and laboured. I do quite a bit of lesson planning in the evenings too, with 27 classes every 9-day cycle, there’s a fair amount to do! I’m really getting the teaching bug though, it’s great when a class enjoys a lesson and really learns something from it. This coming from the girl who vowed she’d never go into teaching! I accompanied the year 10 English-specialism class on a school trip on Friday, which was really fun. We went to the Bodies Exhibit in Québec city, which was interesting, if slightly gross - all the models were real human specimens! In the afternoon (after a customary stop Chez Ashton for a lunchtime poutine, bien sûr!) we did a scavenger hunt around Vieux-Québec, so I got to know a bit more of the random bits of history of the city, which was nice. By far the best part of the day for me, though, was the journey to and from Québec on the yellow school bus. It was like being in a film, I loved it. And the kids thought it was funny that I enjoyed the bus more than the trip!

Some evenings are more eventful though, like the Friday before last, when we had a Fiesta Mexicana in the staffroom (because my school is officially amazing) and they opened up our bar. The head teacher bought all the staff the first round, and we had tortilla chips and salsa and a pretty cool party. The teaching profession is becoming ever more appealing for some reason! What with free beer and free trips across Canada and to the USA, (for educational purposes of course!) I think I can safely say I've landed on my feet!

The weekends are when I venture out of Beaupré to the city or further afield. This weekend I had brunch in the city with friends, and I experienced my first game of American "football". It was great fun, although I understood none of the rules and it poured down with rain the whole time. I even got a "Université Laval Rouge et Or" (the team) hoodie to add to my ever expanding collection.
I also took temporary leave of my senses and decided to climb Mont-Sainte-Anne this weekend.

Rachael 1 - Canadian Mountains 0. (Although after 2 asthma attacks, I was ready to let the mountain claim the victory). It was worth it for the view from the top though, I took some good pictures. I could see from Québec city across the Île d'Orléans and up the coast out to sea, as well as inland across to the West of Canada over the mountains.

And because it's autumn here (for now - winter ETA in 2 weeks) all the trees were red and gold and it was beautiful. The altitude may have played havoc with my brain, however, because after we came down the mountain, I could have sworn I had
climbed down to Australia. Ostrich and Kangaroo no less were on the menu for dinner. I tried both, although I think I can be forgiven for saying I'll stick with run-of-the-mill chicken from now on! That said, I am going further north next weekend, to go whale watching, so who knows what I'll end up eating next!

One final thing before I finish and go to try and plan lessons able to convince year 10 they really do want to learn English (blood, stone. ‘Nuff said). I discovered Lea and Perrin’s in the supermarket in Ste-Anne de Beaupré. So I introduced my landlord to cheese on toast with Worcestershire sauce, with great success. British food goes down well here because the alternative is usually bland and chemical-ridden American junk (not that I think all American food is bad, by the way. Just all the stuff I’ve come across so far). If you ever get the chance, get a francophone to try and pronounce Worcestershire sauce – it’s possibly one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard.

A bientôt!

16 Sep 2009

Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach.

Whoever came up with that particular saying had clearly never taught. Particularly teenagers - they are a handful! However, the majority of them are so keen and eager to speak English (and try and trick me into speaking French) that classes are great fun. There is such a range of abilities, even within the same class, that I am constantly challenged to find something where they will all be able to join in. One thing is for sure - I'll never get bored at work!

Their curiosity about me and about Britain is extremely endearing as well. I've had questions ranging from the normal (Where do you live) to fantastical (Are you friends with the Queen) to borderline offensive (Why don't you have children - do I look that old???) but I love the fact that they are so eager to learn anything and everything I tell them. I was playing a game about Britain with Sec 3 students (Year 10) this morning and I had a hard time convincing them that the Channel Tunnel really exists, or that we really do eat yorkshire pudding with roast beef! I found myself singing "Englishman in New York" after class, because I really think the kids believe I've come from another planet! I am indeed a legal alien here!

In other, non-Canadian news, I now have 3 new baby cousins. Congratulations to Stephen and Elaine, and Richard and Lindsey - I can't wait to meet Daniel, Hope and Clark!

Crossing the 3000 miles back to this side of the atlantic, and there is more going on in ma vie besides starting teaching. This weekend, there was a mass gathering of assistants in Quebec city for Nick's 21st birthday and much fun and laughter was had by all. I also realised I am developing an addiction to Poutine that is far from healthy. When you start having chips, squeaky cheese and gravy for breakfast, you know you have a problem! I can justify it though - it is Quebec's national dish, I'm merely immersing myself fully in the culture! On Saturday evening we all met up to go to the Moulin à Images, a huge light show on the docks in Vieux Québec depicting 400 years of the province's history. It was absolutely amazing how huge it was, and just how many people had squeezed onto the piers and roads to watch it. We spent the rest of the evening in various pubs and dancing at an extremely cheesy discotheque, where we ended up having a breakdancing dance-off, followed by the customary late-night poutine at 3.30am when the club closed. Sunday was a very relaxed and quiet day in comparison, lots of hanging around in coffee shops and attracting curious glances from the locals as we were all speaking English but ordering more coffee in perfect (ahem) French.

Anyway, that's enough from me for now, I have a class of English specialism year nines waiting for me.

A bientôt!

11 Sep 2009

I will never complain about British public transport again.

Rural Quebec makes the most isolated parts of Britain look positively urban. Today I walked an hour and a half to get the the nearest bus stop. Then waited an hour for the bus. It's hardly surprising everyone drives over here when it's nigh on impossible to get anywhere by any other means. Especially when being a pedestrian means taking your life in your hands going head to head with the monster trucks that pass for cars. But still, I made it to the city, got me some free internet, and here I am, updating the chronicles of my life au Canada. It's been a pretty eventful week so far and the weekend is only just starting!

We had a long weekend here last weekend because of the Labo(u)r Day holiday on Monday, so on Saturday I went shopping in a real mall! Although lack of a Canadian bank account and not having been paid limited my spending somewhat. Boo hoo. Then on Sunday my landlord took me with his family up to their chalet in the mountains, to get everything ready for hunting season, or if we're going to be all franglais about it, la chasse. I got taught to fire a crossbow (in case of bears - they especially like to eat English people apparently) and drive the quad bike around the forest for a while, before we all headed back down to the village for a barbecue with yet more of my landlords extended family (they make up most of the population, so it seems). The barbecue was great, wasps and midges aside, we had home grown corn on the cob - freshly harvested and complete with complementary caterpillars, and hot dogs washed down with barrelfuls of beer. As it started to get cold the kids decided to see which items of rubbish would burn best on the campfire, with such success that we all had to stand back several feet to prevent serious burns!

The rest of the week has passed without much worthy of note, I met some more classes at school, worked out where the photocopiers were and how to use them (exciting, I know) and I walked round the village a lot to get my bearings. It didn't take long! One thing worthy of a mention perhaps is my initiation into Canadian society (and no, not just eating poutine, although this is a right of passage in itself). I got my social insurance number and opened a bank account on Thursday. And I managed the whole process in French, so I left the bank feeling pretty proud of myself and my prowess at languages. Only to be brought back down to earth when someone asked me for the time and I hadn't a clue what he wanted. I blame the accent, not my undeniable mastery of the French language.

Now I'm taking advantage of the free Wifi in the youth hostel in Old Quebec, before heading out to meet up with the other assistants. In times of celebration, we all converge on the capital for much banter and swap experiences of our respective outposts. Somewhat ironic (or perhaps inappropriate) as this weekend the Quebecers are "celebrating" the anniversary of the defeat of the city (and consequently, the whole of Canada) by the British. A strange thing for French Canadians to celebrate? We'll see. I'll let you know soon!

A bientôt!

29 Aug 2009

La vie est simple. Manger. Dormir. Parler français.

The adventure continues – did our heroine make it to Quebec?

Well, the simple answer to that is yes, I did. The visa arrived, albeit 2 days after I was supposed to fly out. I ended up missing the first 2 days of the meeting in Montreal, and all the important information about getting a national insurance number so I can get paid (an ongoing saga even now, a week into working) and registering for local medical services etc. I arrived just in time to be bussed out from Montreal to Quebec city on Friday and picked up by my responsable, Martin, who I stayed with for the first few days before moving to Beaupré. Martin’s wife, Sarah, is from Ontario and speaks English, and their 3 children (adorable, even after the 100th rendition of High School Musical!) are all bilingual, so for the first 3 days I spoke next to no French whatsoever, but had a fantastic time, and made some interesting discoveries about the place I’m going to call home for the next 10 months.

My first breakfast brought with it the realisation (and the terrible quotations will continue for the next 10 months by the way!) that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Having poured myself a nice big bowl of yummy looking cereal, I looked around for the milk. Now, I wasn’t expecting it in a nice glass bottle like at home, I’ve travelled enough to know that the cheery morning whistle of the milkman is something almost unique to Britain these days, but I wasn’t expecting to be presented with milk in a PLASTIC BAG. A bit like the intravenous fluids in hospital, milk comes in litre bags here, but I imagine IV drips make less mess! It’s OK when the bag is less than half full, but it’s hardly practical. When I explained that we still had milk from the milkman, in glass bottles, Martin’s kids looked amazed, like I had stepped out of the pages of history.

I spent a very pleasant afternoon on the Saturday wandering around old Quebec, being touristy and attempting to practice my French. The quebecois accent certainly makes life entertaining! Even something as simple as Pas du tout! (You’re welcome/Don’t mention it) sounds like gibberish to the untrained ear – what you’ll most likely hear is Paaaan toooot! Once you get used to the fact that everyone here has their vocal cords in their nose, it’s not too bad. The extensive use of Franglais bothers me more than the grating accent. The Quebecois are, as a rule, very proud of their French heritage and particularly the more radical among them resist any English influences surrounding them from the US and the rest of Canada. When you’ve spent ages reading about the laws passed to make Quebec francophone, and the tensions surrounding the use of English, it’s somewhat disheartening to then be confronted with giant billboards advertising “The leader en nettoyage” or to find that EVERYTHING in the supermarket is labelled in both languages, despite English having no official status in the province. However, I can’t really complain as the majority of people in Beaupré, including most of the teachers at the school, speak only French, so I’m getting plenty of practice.

After I had been wandering around Quebec city for an hour or so, I began to realise that something wasn’t quite right with the cars (other than them being on the wrong side of the road, obviously) but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was different. Until I realised that it wasn’t possible for the entire population of Quebec to be driving illegal or new cars without number plates on the front. It’s often the small differences that seem to jump out at you the most in a new place. Whilst I’m on the subject of cars, I might just complain about the general driving ability of the population – they have none. The Canadian driving test might require controlled skids on black ice, but it seems lane discipline is considered less than essential. Right, left, straight up the middle, what does it matter so long as nothing is coming the other way – this seems to be something of a Quebecois driving motto. And even if something is coming the other way, Canadians have gone in for building their cars as tank-like and unmanoeuvrable as the Americans, so the other guy had better get out of the way!

Anyway, enough of my musings and back to the story at hand. I moved into the room I am renting on Monday, it’s only 5 mins walk from the school and I have TV, all my meals, a huge wardrobe (lots of space to buy new clothes!) and a bathroom, so I’m pretty much sorted. My landlord is pretty awesome too, and is always helping me with my French, which is good. I started my first official day at school on Tuesday. I have my own classroom, but it has sofas instead of desks and it’s bright purple. I also have a tiny little office off to the side of my classroom, but I prefer to sit on the sofas, they’re more comfortable. I don’t actually start teaching until the 15th, and the school timetable is organised in 2 alternating cycles of 9 days, so I only see each group once a month. It’s a shame I don’t get to see more of the students, but it does mean a lot less lesson planning, as I can use most of the material over and over again for all the different classes. I’m spending my first nine day cycle getting to know the school, getting lost looking for the staffroom (twice already), and introducing myself to the 20 different classes I have to teach. I’ve already started to get an idea of which groups are going to be the ones to watch out for! The langues-etudes students, the ones who specialise in foreign languages, are obviously much more motivated and eager to learn, and I know their lessons are going to be the most enjoyable, but if I can get the regular (and notoriously uninterested) groups to join in and learn (something, anything!), I think that will be more rewarding at the end of the day. I do like a challenge!

Beaupré itself is great. What it lacks in local amenities (like a bookshop, supermarket or public transport) it makes up for in beauty. The shadow of the mountain over the town has an almost protective air and the sound of the St Laurent river (which this far north is technically the sea, so I am told) mimics the peaceful rhythm of the town’s ebb and flow. The architecture is a bit bland, nothing to write home about, but I imagine the place comes into its own in autumn and winter, when the leaves blaze in a glory of colour before giving way to a dazzling white wonderland. I’m not a summer person, as most of my friends know, so I really can’t wait for the first snowfalls!

A bientôt!