Wednesday, 17 August 2011

The meaning of Tez

My daughter is studying Spanish over the next two years and it has prompted occasional thoughts and discussions about my language learning when we worked in Tajikistan.

Tez is a fun word. Tajik for fast; also for sharp; and for hot.

Goal 69: To tidy the garden and grow vegetables in it in 2010

That was a very specific goal, time restrained goal and now 2010 is gone I can only reflect on how I did. I seem to recall my wife planting carrots and garlic and a few other vegetables. The more I think about it, I'm sure I remember enjoying eating some of the harvest. I'm not at all sure I did much to help. Once I started work on the Open University (OU) module Systems Thinking (T306), many of these goals got neglected.

Although the original goal was for 2010, I intended and hoped growing vegetables would become a regular activity. I didn't manage to even lift a shovel this year, let alone plant anything in our garden.

But, I did buy a packet of seeds: Unwins Pepper (Chilli) Demon Red. 'This chilli may be small but it has a powerful taste.'

Since I knew I was studying the OU module Creative Writing till June I thought a window sill plant might be something I could still manage.

I planted six seeds and of those, 2 sprouted. I cut up two plastic soft drinks bottles and put in compost and the seedlings and then watered and waited.

As the seedlings gradually grew, our garden also produced a lot... of green... weeds. I found this disheartening but was resigned to letting it be until my studies were over. Then, a few weeks ago I remembered a little talked about instruction in the Bible: 'But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards' (Leviticus chapter 25 verse 4)

I suspect for many people, the word sabbath has almost been forgotten. If remembered at all, simply a reminder of a supposedly non-relevant religion. Yet, if we understand sabbath to mean regular rest - none of us want to completely reject the idea.

We treasure our weekends. We expect that if we have to work on Sundays that we should be paid more for the loss we have incurred. We even insist in our laws that animals be given time off to rest and there are many who still stand up to defend the right of all creatures: man and animal to have regular rest.

Crop rotation was something I learned about at school, a way of both acknowledging the need for land to be given a rest from continually growing the same crops but ensuring that we were always producing food to survive on. I find the idea of crop rotation saddening - when reading about the Sabbath from God's point of view, He intended us to trust Him to provide for us. The Sabbath was to be the celebration of a miracle. God would ensure a bumper harvest on the sixth year providing enough for three years and so allowing those who worked the land to rest for the seventh year.

Can you imagine being given a whole year off and being effectively paid for the privelege? That was the plan for a sabbath year.

Well, I lost out on the bumper crop last year but have, inadvertently, given our garden a sabbath year. The idea of a sabbath year requires a huge amount of faith and I'm not sure whether it was ever truly practised in earnest. I am now curious to explore what will happen if I work towards another sabbath year in seven years time...

The seeds were planted in February and the first flowers appeared on the plants in June. As these really should have been transplanted outdoors I then had to pretend to be a bee, fertilising as many flowers as I could with a cotton bud. I was doubtful it would work but in July I started to see little green lumps extending from dying flowers. These gradually grew to around an inch long.

We left the plants with friends while away and by the time we got back, several of the chilli's had turned red.

I harvested my first three chillis on 14 August!

Do you remember that word of Tajik I shared with you earlier? Fast. Sharp. Hot. Tez - a wonderfully descriptive word that brings to my mind memories of running full pelt; cutting myself inadvertently with a knife; and the utter and absolute agony my tongue was in - a couple of minutes after sampling one of my hard won chillis!

If you would truly like to know what Tez means, let me know and if I have any left, I'll send you one of my chillis ;)

Monday, 15 August 2011

Life goal achieved - I have a degree!

Back in 2003 when I signed up for York College's HNC in Computing course, I was solely focused on the quickest route to getting a qualification that would make it easier to find a decent job.

Back then, I was struggling to get an interview for any job paying more than £6 an hour. I had finally realised, having turned thirty, that my kids needs were increasing and if I wanted us as a family to consider things like college or university or even moving into a bigger house, I was going to have to find myself a career.

I quickly found that I enjoyed higher education far more than I had ever enjoyed school as a teenager. I was expected to get on and figure things out for myself. I was given projects to tackle rather than being given facts to learn by rote. Tutors were there to answer questions, not just tell us what to do.

I had believed until then that I was at best of average intelligence. That academically I would never excel. That ended when I received my first distinction for an assignment.

There was something about the practicality of the HNC that I just gelled with. I understood what was expected and if I didn't, I had the tutors explain until I got it.

After a few months, one of the tutors asked if any of us would be interested in progressing onto a degree course after the HNC ended. York College was considering signing up for the Foundation Degree program at the time. I began to wonder, could I actually get a degree? Something that had seemed impossible after a fairly disastrous fifth year at school.

By the time I had completed the HNC I had also completed my first two IT contracts, one of which doubled my previous hourly rate! An experience which transformed how I view education in relation to work. We moved immediately afterwards to Central Scotland, chasing a belief that there were more job opportunities, cheaper housing and better schools. I worked away from home for six months and although I began considering 'what next...' in terms of studying, two years of night classes and countless weekends spent studying had left me cautious about tackling a longer qualification.

I think it was early 2007 when several thoughts and dreams coalesced into a definable plan for my future. I've been somewhat haunted by a minister who mentored me in the early nineties. He used to ask me what I wanted to be doing in five and ten years time. He advised me to consider the future and plan towards it. At the time, I didn't believe I was capable of making such a plan. I had little confidence in my ability to choose a direction and stick to it. Certainly, the first fifteen years of my working life were a succession of widely differing roles. I had a lot of fun and was able to travel, to gain experiences that I still value but there was little consistency and after each different job, the next interview became that little bit harder as I tried to explain why I had moved on.

Since I was a child, I have wanted to write and wanted to complete a novel. I now added to that dream the goal of achieving a degree and also to earn the seemingly unattainable salary of £40,000 in a year. These became my three life goals and I secretly set myself the task of achieving all of these by the age of forty. I signed up for my first OU module in 2007.

Receiving distinctions for the bulk of my HNC modules I was disapointed to be unable to do the same for my first two OU modules. I set Goal 55: To get the highest grade pass for the next Open University course I am taking - as I firmly believe that we get our best results if we aim as high as we can. I never did achieve a distinction in an exam or end of year project and although I received distinctions in a few assignments, it just wasn't enough to achieve this goal.

On the second of August 2011 I received my results for the last module I needed to complete a degree with the Open University. For A215 Creative Writing I received a grade 2 pass. This finally gave me the 300 credits I needed for a degree:
  • 120 credits transferred in from the HNC saving me at least two years of level one study
  • 60 credits at level 2 Java modules (M255 and M256)
  • 60 credits at level 3 for T306 Managing complexity: a systems approach
  • and 60 credits at level 2 for A215!
I received an email from the university a couple of days later explaining I could now accept a degree. Sounds very posh... I have to accept the degree ;)

I did!

The weeks since have been somewhat anticlimactic. I find myself whispering to myself every now and then - I have a degree. I do. It has been a long hard slog. Very satisfying at times but at the cost of many evenings and weekends away from my wife and children who have been incredibly patient.

I now have a Bachelor of Science Open degree. I hope to attend a ceremony early next year, wear a funny hat and smile broadly as I receive a scroll while being applauded.

It has been worth it. I am sure that each interview has gone that little bit easier as I have said I am studying towards a degree. Employers do value people who put effort into increasing their knowledge and skills and I have done both.

I have also made some good friends - though this has been harder while taking OU modules. The distance learning aspect works against this benefit.

Goal 34: To finish and complete my degree - Done!

Mark Smith BSc