Plus ça change? Getting closer to myself?

I’ve just published three posts written in the summer of 2014. Why, you may well ask? For two reasons. They reminded me of the pleasure of just writing for its own sake – not for a person or a purpose – but also reminded me how easy it is to be distracted from activity that is purely of intrinsic value. I can’t remember why I stopped my daily updates as we travelled onwards across the Pyrenees. I suspect the enjoyment of the activity itself, the slightly longer distances travelled and the larger amounts of wine consumed may have had something to do with it. A fair swop you may say – and yet now I’m looking back, I wish I had continued to write. I guess it’s a little like taking photos of a live event. Does the focus on photography detract from the perception of the event? Not for the photographer, but maybe so for the amateur snapper.

Any reader of my blog will know that I write here in fits and starts, I’m particularly bad at articulating my thoughts in publishable form unless there is an associated purpose – usually. Especially as a blog started with a more academic bent to it has become more prone to reflective ramblings that anything that might benefit the wider readership. But then the breadth of my concerns, interests and enthusiasms has grown in the intervening eons (seems like eons anyway).

So what did 2014 and 2015 bring. Bereavements, relocation, changes in employment (OH), changes in support for my autistic son, writing a book chapter with dear friends and colleagues, conference papers and restarting as a student (yes, again). Oh and new friendships too! And how has that made me feel? Every emotion from desperation to ecstasy, from guilt to freedom, from deep deep sadness to absolute joy. But I’m not sure I have a clue who I am just now. It’s time for yet another evolution. This one is freer though, and even woollier than the last, and that’s less worrying than maybe it should be; maybe it’s closer to myself? And maybe that’s the point.

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St Jean Pied de Port [29th – 30th July] – another draft found today

Today we travelled to St jean Pied de Port. Well, that’s the simple version anyway.

Last night the rain thundered down on the roof of the motorhome, required an emergency dash to shut the forward skylight in the early hours and resulted in very soggy early morning cycling preparations (at least for OH and D). My exit from the campsite was rather more straightforward than I had anticipated – clearly reversing the motorhome onto our ‘compact’ pitch was the more difficult of the two manoeuvres – and I sailed out of the site with unaffected glee, little realising the delights that Googlemaps navigation had in store. I had planned to take the D918 all the way (pretty much anyway) from St Jean de Luz to St Jean Pied de Port. The Googlemaps app on my iPhone had different ideas, wanting me to take the D307 as a helpful shortcut, thus avoiding the town centre traffic. This seemed entirely reasonable … though I reckoned without the shortcut that took me to the start of the D307 itself, a smaller road known as Avenue Georges Clemenceau, in itself perfectly navigable with a 7.5m motorhome – though this didn’t seem to be the case at the time. From thence onwards the route was really straightforward and I revelled in being able to see rather more of the Pyrenean countryside that had been the case before we had exchanged our caravan for the motorhome. Moving every night or so is really bringing a new dimension to our holiday – and we are only just getting started.

I arrived at the Camping Municipal in St Jean Pied de Port with more than a little trepidation. The road down to the site entrance is narrow and there was no guaranteed that I would find an emplacement when I arrived – this could have ended up in a long and uncomfortable reversing exercise. This was not to be. There was plenty of space and the gerant was friendly and helpful, charging me about €13 for one nights stop for OH and myself, including electricity. I was able to pick my pitch and reversed in with considerably greater ease than had been the case at Plage Erromardie. One if the things I do love about camping municipal sites is the way the site fills up through the day – many interesting arrivals. Coincidentally our neighbours are touring cyclists, and arrived about an hour ahead of OH and D.

St Jean Pied de Port is very much a tourist town. It focuses on pèlerins or pilgrims, visiting the Citadelle on their way to Southern Spain. Such was the focus on tourism that finding a place to buy milk in the town centre was challenging – there is a Carrefour just outside the town but my need for the white stuff did not extend to a further 800m walk, despite the caffeine required to support the journal article I’m trying to finish during my campsite sojourns.

In the evening we visited the Cafe de la Paix: great food, good service and NO EVICTION! Just a really relaxed and friendly environment. To be recommended. We parted from D with the stern admonishment not to disturb the peace and tranquility of the motorhome before 09.00 and he headed back to Hotel des Remparts and left OH and myself to our evening stroll.

Our after dinner walk took us up to the Citadelle and beyond – from here we could look down on the Aire Camping Cars (don’t I just get the best views). Much to my surprise, it looked to be half empty – reviews had suggested that this was a crowded Aire in high season; clearly not the case just now. I would still recommend the campsite over the Aire, but at least the choice was there. Walking back down the hill, we were treated to the amazing tones of a Basque male voice choir, a seemingly appropriate backdrop to the groups of scouts and monks walking down toward she town as they continued their pilgrimages.

As I write this post, I am serenaded my the gentle snoring of a thoroughly exercised (or exorcised?) cyclist and the echoing barks of dogs somewhere up on the hillside. There are cycling socks decorating the van like bunting, the kettle quietly cooling when the would-be-tea-maker crashed out and a cool whisper of a breeze from the forward skylight. It’s untidy, vaguely disorganised, and thoroughly new – and I’m loving it. Bring on tomorrow!

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St Jean de Luz [27th July – 29th July] – found today!

Sunday evening
We arrived at Camping Ferme Erromardie after a very long and hot, but incident free, road trip from Lyon – where we had been spending a couple of days with OH’s sister and her family. Having fretted about the red line that Google maps presented every time we checked out the route around Bordeaux, we were pleasantly surprised to find the ring road fluide and the A63 towards Spain (red on the map) no worse than the M25 in rush hour. Thus we have concluded that a red line merely informs the population of France (and assorted tourists) that they can’t speed along that autoroute with their customary haste and carefree abandon but might have to apply brakes from time to time.

The campsite itself is just across the road from a lovely beach. To fall asleep to the sound of the waves was marvellous. Slightly less marvellous was the slightly cosy pitch size and lack of access to a motorhome service point – nothing that a little teamwork, some careful manoeuvring and a couple of 15 litre buckets couldn’t put right. Oh, and a chilled beer [OH] or a glass of wine [me] followed by a leisurely paddle in the surprisingly warm waters of the Atlantic.

This morning, my natural curiosity and mild sense of indignation lead me to check out the other sections of the campsite (which is in three separately barricaded sections) for the motorhome service point. And, YES, there it was … in section 3 – carefully disguised as a small tap behind an officious looking but otherwise apparently useless lump of concrete (I think) and a very small drain, the size of a dinner plate. The prospect of trying to access this dubious resource made me thankful for the OH-with-bucket solution and, indeed, has strengthened our resolve to acquire a funnel! (Getting water from the bucket into the water tank – under the bench seat – could have been the starting point for a Monty Python sketch.)

Being suitably charged with croissants and chocolatines from the local Alimentation we decided to take the picturesque route to St Jean de Luz via the coast path, enjoying a deviation through a fitness-trail (looked much the same as the rest of the path to me, but still) and emerging above the very scenic port. The path took us past amazing sea views and rock formations that looked a little like the stratifications inherent to a slice of Vienetta. Our photos don’t do this justice so I will try and find some library pics and link them to this post when we get wifi.

St Jean de Luz has a long and very French beach, with deckchair rentals, kids clubs or garderie , lifeguards and seafront bars aplenty. Having walked along the not inconsiderable length of the beach, we turned our attention to the Aire Camping Cars. I had read much about this Aire on various other blogs and forums too and they suggested that access was difficult and parking a little close – so being ever curious (ok, nosy) it just had to be checked out. The reviews were right. The Aire sits between a rail track and a town centre dual carriageway and has enough spaces for about 15 motorhomes – preferably of the less than 7m variety. There seemed to be about a foot either side of each vehicle – not a position to be in after a large pasta meal or similar! We watched with great admiration as a Chausson ‘Best of 10’ took the last space, manoeuvring into an awkward and narrow space with far greater nerve and dexterity than I would ever presume to have.

Later this afternoon, having tracked down an errant bus stop for a less energetic return to our campsite should we run out of steam, we caught up with D – newly arrived in town via Stansted and Biarritz. Ignoring any hint of travel weariness on his part we set off in search of a restaurant suitable for a piscatarian [D]. There is a brilliant road in St Jean de Luz, called Rue Pierre-Louis Tourasse. It has a number of rather interesting looking fish restaurants. We spent a considerable time reading their menus, walking up and down, wondering whether they were open (no, not until 19.00), sauntering round the block and returning to lurk yet again – with a brief intermission sheltering from torrential rain yanks to a nearby bandstand!

We settled on the Bodega La Plancha and were suitably impressed by the way in which the popular restaurant promptly filled with happy customers, the speed of service and, to a greater extent – the food too (moules la Plancha wasn’t so great but the others had a great meal). But … a big BUT for us … we were evicted! Not exactly thrown out – more a ‘we need your table now so can you go’ moment. Clearly the probability of our returning to their restaurant was lower than the cost of losing potential business from the steady stream of tourists lurking, as we had, outside in the street. Fair enough? Well forewarned is forearmed and, should you find yourself in the vicinity, then at least you know you will be eating against the clock! Despite having a grumble here, the three of us found ourselves chortling about the situation as we headed for the seafront for a post prandial amble. Indeed the amble turned into a brisk walk as OH and I decided to wave goodbye to D until the morning, eschew the planned bus, and take the coast path back to our campsite – a brilliant finish to the day.

Tomorrow D will join us at 09.00, and he and OH will get on their bikes (literally) and head for St Jean Pied de port via Spain, whilst I take the motorhomes the same destination via a rather less lumpy route. I will be hoping to find a space in the Camping Municipal – with the Aire Camping Cars as plan B.

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The motorhome diaries of summer 2014 – notes just found today!

This summer is the first with our motorhome. Now that the children are either no longer children (so to speak) or reluctant to holiday with parents (and who can blame them) we have been given a couple of weeks to travel and adventure on our own. So what do we choose to do? We are doing a mini RAID. For those without cycling friends or associates, this can be loosely described as continuous travel from stop to stop on a bicycle, being ably aided and abetted by a domestique in a motorhome. This means (in our case) that the OH and his friend (D) will be cycling from St Jean de Luz to Bagneres de Luchon whilst I move the motorhome, find us a new camp for the night and generally suss out food and beverages. Some places we have booked, some we have not.

Anyway, the next few posts will follow our roadtrip and, if I get access to wifi, might even appear on the blog.

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Role identity: Change, more change and role conflicts

About a year ago I wrote my last post in this site. Shame on me! So much change has taken place and capturing the change as it happened would have interesting – for me at least. However as the pace of change ramps up, and following the nudge of a post by Steve Wheeler on identity, I know the time has come to put together some reflections.

This time last year … I was working on my PhD post-viva amendments, preparing for a QAA review at my place of work, supporting my son with his school work (or trying to) and starting to see the way forward for the time when I would be leaving my professional role and working as an independent researcher. The role identities (Stryker, 2008) remained clear and distinct. Whilst each role would overlap the others, the degree of porosity of each role identity (Davis, 2013) was minimised and each would receive attention according to the salience of the role at any given point in time.

Not now though!

Having completed my PhD, the formal student role has dissolved, leaving in its place a far more rhizomatic approach to learning (Cormier, 2014) and a woollier understanding of the associated role – maybe this will come in time but the lack of institutional and societal constructions of the freely lifelong learner result in a happily uncomfortable blurring and fuzziness. I’m learning so much at the moment but it’s absolutely unquantifiable!

Having left my institutional role, I find the lack of formal affiliation challenging in the hierarchically charged HE sector. Whilst I have associate membership of my doctoral team at the University, my relationship with the University is tenuous. I have no virtual access to library or e-mail (though if I lived nearby I could access the library physically) and any mention of my associate status has to be indicated in full, to ensure that all realise I’m a either student nor faculty – a shame when I spent 5 years working towards my doctorate within the Centre (albeit as a distance learner). But I guess I’m not alone here. My role identity thus aligns with that of an independent researcher – another fuzzy ball of blurriness! I’m still working on that one too!

I recently made the decision to otherwise educate my autistic son from the end of this academic year, thus plunging him into the world of fuzzy, blurred, interesting end engaging world of rhizomatic learning. He needs to be de-schooled so that he can learn to love life and learning once more – and become the confident young man he so much deserves to be. Trying to fit with ‘the system’ has destroyed much of his confidence and led to high levels of anxiety. But … In doing this, I’m blurring my roles yet again. How will the mother role interact with the educator role? Are they the same? Should they be different? I’m not taking in the socially approved role of teacher (I used to be a teacher in school and college and am proud to have done so) but neither will I be in my usual role as ‘Mum’ – will I? How do I separate the mother role from the home educator role? And how do I separate this from my own activity as an independent researcher? This promises to be a challenge!

Sometimes I feel I’m drowning in uncertainty. Sometimes I revel in it – usually when I am on my own. I’m not even sure about my role as I write. I guess its a hybrid learner/researcher/educator mashup. Does any of thus sound familiar?

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A brief thought on roles and self-definition

As I near the end of my time in my current professional role, and move into a future of multiplicity and adventure (aka research, projects, consultancy etc), I’m finding myself or my-self rather unsettled.

If I contemplate my role identities in terms of Goffmans’s concept of framing and performativity, my present professional life is strongly mediated by my institutional role. My future not so. It’s an interesting place to be.

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What a year …

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted to this blog. Why? There have been changes both personal and professional that have seemed inappropriate to discuss online and yet change has snuck up on me and has started to give me new perspectives on my way forward.

The strange thing is that this time last year I was feeling that change was happening TO ME. Now I feel that change is happening with and FOR ME. Sorry for shouting, but the change of emphasis is of importance.

I have had the most amazing year as a PhD student/candidate. I have enjoyed incredible work with research participants who have trusted me with their narratives and provided incredibly rich data for my research. I have engaged enthusiastically with Barney Glaser’s principles for the grounded theory methodology and found this energising and exciting. I have been supported by two fantastic PhD communities, that of the #phdchat community and our own Lancaster TEL Cohort 1 learning community and my very good friend and fellow student Debbie.

My chronic health situation took a real nosedive through the summer and autumn (leading to a real sense of despair on my part – just thinking of my feelings then can bring tears to my eyes) but the support of my Rheumie nurse and her determination to turn things round for me and my decision to reduce my working hours have paid dividends. I’m financially poorer but so much richer in my life. Having reduced my working hours I can pace myself more effectively, give some time back to my very sweet autistic son and lovely husband, and look to develop my future identities.

Having spent years researching the issue of identity, it has been a revelation to understand the implications of my research on my own understandings and engagement with life. This may seem trite but until recently I had not considered fully the implications of life changing events on identity standards (Burke & Stets, 2009 I think) and identity salience (Stryker, 2008). It’s interesting to feel this, engage with its meaning, after hearing of the situation from my participants.

So … I’m sitting here, miles away from home and family, with the prospect of my doctoral viva before me. I am already feeling the adrenaline for the forthcoming exam and yet I am happier now than I have been for sometime. Opportunities are not what they were when I started this journey. They are more ethereal, more fluid and less certain. But they are opening new doors. I’m excited for change. I’m excited by change. And I have my family and friends to thank for supporting the change in me.

For me this is an important post and if encourages just one reader towards a change for the better then it has served it’s purpose.

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