I have been self employed or freelance for over 30 years and have generally worked on my own under my own supervision! The other day I went to my new college campus for an induction day. I hadn’t met any of the other students prior to this and we look like a motley crew. There were 12 on the day and we were told there would be 15 starting on the course next week. I am probably the oldest but I was pleasantly surprised that it is mostly “mature” students. A gender balance slightly in favour of men and a smattering of foreign students, well the names sounded foreign, I’m guessing at least 1 French, possibly Belgium and a couple of Eastern European, I’m guessing Polish.
We got given our timetable and book list and touched on the topics we would be studying including Soil Science, Plant Identification, Propagation and some other topics including Communications and Computer studies. Michael our teacher explained that it is mainly a practical course and that the polytunnel would be our main place of work rather than the classroom. He took us on a tour of the campus and identified a number of the trees, shrubs and plants around the place before taking us to the polytunnel.
I am not naturally a tidy person in the home but I definitely am when it comes to the garden. I was amazed at how overgrown and disorganised this polytunnel looked. However Michael explained that he had let all the plants go to seed and we would be spending a good part of our first day identifying and collecting seed. There is a great variety of plants in the tunnel including all the regular veg as well as American land cress, chicory, grains like wheat and oats and a whole load of other stuff that I am sure we will have to identify.
We also talked about organising work experience for one day a week and Michael gave us a few options. The college is about 25 miles or so from where I live so not too far but I am going to try and find some work experience around here. I am hoping to try and use it as an opportunity to see a number of different sides to horticulture and I got in touch with a lady in a nearby village that supplies veg to a few businesses including the café where my wife works. Everyone says she always has nice stuff and it is all organic, so that seems like a good place to start. I rang her yesterday and I am going over on Sunday for a chat. She hasn’t had anyone doing work experience before so it will be a new experience for both of us.
College starts properly next week and I am really quite excited about it.
This time of year adjusting everything while the kids go back to school is always a bit hectic as well as expensive, making sure they have all the right books, working out travel and after school activities, adjusting timetables and even finding socks and packing lunches. There is always so much to do! I have four kids at school, 3 at secondary and one in her last year of primary.
They all went to the same primary school, they call them National Schools here in Ireland. When I moved here, long before we had kids, I noticed this small school at the end of my road. It looked like an archetypal country school, surrounded by grass and with amazing views over Barleycove Beach. I thought at the time that it was just the type of school I would want my kids to go to, they could cycle or even walk to school in the mornings and they would get to know all their neighbours from the farms spread out across the peninsular. Lissagriffin means the “field of foxes” in Irish, so I am told and it is the most south-westerly school in Ireland and consequently in Europe. An outpost as far away from city life and all those complications you can get.
My kids have all thrived there. I have been on the Board of Management and I have got to know the principal Master Lanin and the more I have got to know him the more I have liked him and the respect my kids have for him even years after leaving is the best indication of his ability I can think of. On the academic side of things I have never had to worry about their grades, I do think the responsibility of education lies between both the school and the parent. Some feel it should all be down to the school but I think that is just passing the buck, the school supplies the software but the parent has to sort out the hardware.
We found ourselves with a major dilemma this year. The number of pupils has steadily declined since my eldest first attended and this year we are down to the final two. It is my daughter’s last year and we asked her how she felt about staying or moving to a new school, the option being a school not too far away with around 20 in each class room. She is a strong and intelligent child and made it very clear to us that she wanted to stay, partly out of loyalty and partly because she thought it would be a great experience. My wife and I were concerned about the lack of company and we discussed it and the more we looked at it the more we became convinced that actually this was a wonderful opportunity.
We couldn’t afford a personal tutor of the calibre of Master Lanin and here we were with the opportunity to have almost one to one education. I have many friends all over the world and most of them seem to be concerned over the class sizes being too big and their kids not getting the attention they need, disruptive students, over worked teachers and poor facilities. Here we are with a fabulous school right on our doorstep with all the facilities you could ever wish for and all the personal attention you could hope for. We will obviously work on the social side of things but we already do, organising various clubs and activities outside of school.
So the proof of the pudding is in the eating and she has been back at school for over a week. She gets on great with the other kid, who is a bit younger, but as the youngest in our family I think she looks on him almost as a younger brother and we get on really well with his parents. She says she loves it and they have been getting up to lots of things which they would probably not have been able to do in any other school.
So is there any down side?
Well this has been the biggest surprise, the down side has been all the ah isn’t that a shamers. When people hear that she is in a school with only two kids there appears to be a formula reaction. Firstly I haven’t been going round telling everyone that there are only two kids in the school, it is people actually coming up to me and asking me if there are only two in the school and then offering me their sympathy. When I tell them that actually we are happy with the situation and isn’t it great that she is loving school so much and doing so well I get the second response, “sure, isn’t it a waste of money, it could be spent on something like hospitals etc.” So were they actually offering their sympathy or were they thinking all along that I am responsible for wasting money that could be used for better things? So are they really trying to tell me that I should feel guilty about making the best of the situation? You really can’t win!
I’m not really much of a complainer even though I think there is a lot wrong with the system. I have never claimed social welfare and I have been self employed for over 30 years and pay my taxes. I don’t get grants or funding for farming, I do get a bit annoyed with the amount that politicians get paid and I am stunned by the level of expenses demanded by some people, oh and the bankers get bail outs and everybody seems to be happy enough to get as much as they can out of the system and “play the game.” But here we are trying to do the best we can for our kids and turn round what some would consider to be a disaster into a positive experience for one of our kids and in some people’s eyes we are wasting “their” money.
It’s a funny old world. I’ll let you know how she gets on.
I feel quite proud of myself as I set up am Instagram account today for my blog, a few extra photos as I potter around. As my kids are always telling me “you really need to try and get with it dad.” So I’m taking some extra photos all over West Cork and you can follow my further adventures on Instagram @soditblog