New Year’s Day! The first day of 2004! What a challenging, exciting, educational year it would be.
We wasted no time continuing our exploration. Driving around the local area we viewed the sailing club at Chasewater. The dam was built for the purpose of controlling the flow of water to the nearby canals. On a wet, cold and windy day the thought of setting sail in a dinghy on the chilly waves was not appealing. Across the dam wall in Chasewater Park there were hundreds of birds, Canada geese, swans and ducks.
The nearest big town is Lichfield so we drove there, leaving the warmth of the car to admire the Georgian architecture, finally finding shelter in Lichfield Cathedral which is 750 years old and costs an absolute fortune to heat. Its history was fascinating. During the Civil War it was used as a garrison for both Loyalists and Roundheads, lost part of its roof and one of its three spires to cannon fire and more recently has been carefully restored to its current glorious state.
We were fascinated and horrified to read about the last man to be burnt at the stake in England, in 1612. Edward Wightman’s religious views varied considerably from the established church, including the desire to ban baptism of children and the belief that Jesus was a mere mortal and not the son of God. As he felt the heat of the flames he recanted and was given a reprieve from the fire. However he must have regained his courage, persevered with his views and was again sentenced to death by burning. This time he was given no reprieve.
Famous names such as Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) and Elias Ashmole (1617-1692) helped make Lichfield a major centre for scientific advancement, music, literature and culture within Europe. It was exciting to be in the midst of so much history so close to where we were living.
Real life issues saw us driving to Cannock the next day to pick up a cheque book and credit cards. It was an attractive town with a series of malls and squares making it largely a pedestrianised area. As we left the warmth of the car we put on our overcoats, hats, scarves and gloves and headed to the bank. I found I had left one glove at home so consequently one hand was frozen, even though I put it in my pocket. In the bank they were trying to plug in a fan heater because the central heating wasn’t coping. They also informed me they had lost our credit cards somewhere between Bradford and Cannock. As a result they cancelled the cards and ordered new ones which they promised to send to us. We left with our cheque books and the knowledge that six thousand pounds from our Australian bank had been deposited so we were now able to buy a car.
The next attraction was a used car yard, where we negotiated to take a Vauxhall Astra Diesel for a test drive. It was £6,000 with 79,000 miles on the clock. John didn’t want to commit as he felt it was overpriced. Instead he bought himself a used car magazine which he studied with great diligence.
Using our phone card we rang John’s father and our son Cameron, relieved they were both doing well. Cameron was living in a motel in Canberra with a number of other graduates until he could find permanent accommodation. He would be given a generous moving allowance and was looking at rental houses to share with a couple of others.
Buying food may not seem very exciting but it was all new to us. We had been given some options, Tescos at Brownhills, Safeway in Chasetown and Sainsburies in Great Wyrley. We chose Tescos where we looked askance at the price of meat and wine. However we departed with lamb chops, some groceries and a bottle of red. The icecream stayed frozen in the boot. No need for an esky.
That meant we could keep exploring so we came upon the historic town of Tamworth. Although there were some unattractive high rise buildings spoiling the skyline we admired the ancient castle on the edge of the town. There was an extensive market battling the cold in the High Street but we ducked into an indoor shopping centre instead. One of the highlights was the toilet in the park. Not only was it heated but it was scrupulouly clean with artificial flowers beside the washbasins.
We were settling into life in England but at the back of my mind was the terrifying thought of school starting next week. Would the children like me? Would I get along with the staff? What would the parents think? At home I would still be on summer holidays for another month. What had I let myself in for?
Light snow was falling as we approached The Barns in Huntington. The School Principal and her husband were taking us out for Sunday lunch with their two adult children. It was the day before school resumed and was a thoughtful way of making me feel more comfortable in my unfamiliar surroundings. A three-course meal and two bottles of Australian wine later we were driven home with a farewell and “I’ll see you tomorrow” from the Principal.
My neighbour M picked me up next morning at 8.00am. Soon I was meeting the support teacher and the other two year 3 teachers, J and S. They were so organised that I found my whole week was planned without having to lift a pen. Programming was going to be relatively easy as it was a co-operative effort but all written work had to be marked and everything was to be documented so one was expected to stay back late each day to keep up with the workload. Half term holidays were for catching up with paperwork which didn’t exactly match my plans but I was keeping quiet about that.
I volunteered to take a recorder group at lunchtime which entitled me to free school lunches. I soon noticed differences between schools. Whereas every classroom in my NSW school had an overhead projector there was only one in this school, requiring fetching and returning for every use. Saying that, they were trialling Smart Whiteboards in two classrooms. The Base Ten blocks which were the cornerstone of my Mathematics teaching and in every classroom at home, were rarely used, so I claimed a dusty box full for my own use.
At least I could play the game “Win a Flat” on my first day of teaching!