The Sea


I love some of Pablo Neruda’s poems. Below is an excerpt from one of my favourites.

Pablo Neruda, On the Blue Shore of Silence

“I need the sea because it teaches me,
I don’t know if I learn music or awareness,
if it’s a single wave or its vast existence,
or only its harsh voice or its shining
suggestion of fishes and ships.
The fact is that until I fall asleep,
in some magnetic way I move in
the university of the waves.”

I have a very special relationship with the beach.  Basically I love it, and I can’t get enough of it.   As a very young child I spent hot British summers (!!?) with my cousins on the East Coast where the sea was brown and the breakwaters were covered with a carpet of slippery soft moss.   We spent hours building sandcastles, digging trenches and shrieking with delight as my Grandpa pulled us along in a rubber dinghy securely tied around his toned waist.

As I grew older I became braver and more courageous in the sea. We moved to Pembrokeshire with my dad’s work and after school mum would take me and my older brother down to the beach. We’d strip off and somehow what began as an innocent paddle would inevitably end up as a very long swim. Often the water was freezing and I ignored the fact that my lips were blue and my toes numb.   The waves were huge, far taller than me, but I mastered the art of diving under a wave if it looked like it was going to take me with it. Mum never complained about us staying in the water for what must have seemed like forever.

Nowadays I’m more reluctant to swim in British waters.  I’m  not so keen on the brownish murky colour where you can’t see what lurks beneath! I’ve spent too many holidays on the stunning coasts of the Mediterranean and been totally spoiled by the transparent turquoise waters of the Ionian and Red Sea. IMG_1799

When I walk along the Norfolk coast I lose myself in another world far away past the windfarms and oil tankers in the distance.  The waves repeat their rhythm of build up, breathing in and then collapsing effortlessly onto the sand only to return again seconds later.

I love the solitude of an empty beach.  Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry and many times I sing, mainly because no one can hear me. I escape to the sea, just to be, not to be and to forget. “I need the sea because it teaches me.”  It’s the place where I feel at home, I rest and I am happy.

To be continued…..





Think,think,think. ( A.A Milne)


According to the Oxford English Dictionary a blog is a “regularly updated website or web page.”  My blog is regularly updated, but it appears to be annually rather than monthly or weekly. Sorry about that. You are forgiven if you forgot, like I did, that I even have a blog lurking somewhere in cyber space that I am in fact paying for.

By 9.00 am this morning I’d knocked back an ‘intensivo’ double espresso, turned up at the dentist on the wrong day and got drenched in the torrential rain. I’m listening to “Amor ti vieta” ( Umberto Giordano) at full volume instead of Ken Bruce, so I sense something is not quite normal about this day.

There is definitely something about turning 50. Let’s write about that to begin with. Apparently I am now a proud quinquagenarian which sounds like a type of rare bird.  Last year I vowed I’d spend my 50th year doing lots of small adventurous and exciting things. the sheepInstead I’ve spent exactly a year pretty poorly with burn out. I’m still recovering, but that was my 50th year, and one I will never forget. However, I can honestly say that it’s probably been the best year I’ve ever had for feeling loved, cared for and valued (even more than before!) by my Heavenly Father, my amazing friends, colleagues and family.

I also feel that, despite finding even the distant bleating sheep excruciatingly painful to my ears, being inactive and staring at the ceiling, I have grown and been changed.  I’m not a new me. Just different. I think differently.  Maybe it wasn’t such a bad 50th year after all. It could even turn out to be a game changer.

One of my problems, which can be an asset at times, although I’m not sure when, is over thinking. I’ve had so much time to think. I’ve tried really hard to turn off the thinking button in my brain. I have even been thinking when I wasn’t aware I was thinking. My dad says he can think about nothing. When I asked him if he’d teach me how to do that, he says he just doesn’t think.

I’m considering taking up fishing because I don’t believe that requires a great amount of thinking does it? Just waiting. My waiting skills, or rather patience, have improved gradually during this past year. I’ve had little choice to be honest.  I’d therefore surely make a great fisher-woman, not on the open sea but somewhere like the breathtakingly beautiful River Tyne.  Never been, but Mr Google says it’s the best place for salmon in the spring.


Recently when I was in the Lake District I had a massage. (Recommended by the Dr of course!?) Catherine, the masseur was so lovely and obviously knew her stuff. She had a prized photo hanging on the wall of  when she’d met Prince Charles at a well-being event in Bristol, not on the massage table!  At the end of our session she almost reluctantly said to me, “I think you need to fall in love again with what makes you happy.”

Over 20 years ago I used to do a lot of drawing and painting. I decided to search out redundant pads and half used acrylics that I have kept in the spare room and attempt to draw and paint again. I have since discovered it slows me down and lifts me up.


Tomasz Schafernaker, meteorologist for BBC Weather, says you should draw something every day to develop your skills. Look him up on Instagram. Why he’s painting the nation a daily weather picture and not the town red with his incredible creations beats me. His work is stunning. @Schafernaker

Admittedly, some of my drawings have been ‘better’ than others. Some look like a 2 year old could easily have done them. Who cares. I put on my favourite Opera and stop thinking.     You can look up my current journey with art at Instagram @jotbirksart or FB Jo Birks Art



Space for Jesus


London is actually full right now. Squeeze in everyone.

Every year, without fail, Christmas turns up. Some bits we love, others we hate. Love buying gifts, hate the queues. Love eating the chocolates, hate standing on the scales. Love visiting family, hate the M6 traffic.  Delia (Smith) made Christmas cuisine highly sophisticated. Her biggest selling book,  The Winter Collection sold 2 million copies in 1995. We now have pigs in blankets, devils on horseback, Gluten free extremely fruity Christmas pudding, mini mince pies, butter free mince pies, traditional, easy, tricky and generally all pies and any old mince, mince and pies.

I wrote this poem a long time ago. It’s basically about us being so concerned to get Christmas right that we forget to celebrate Jesus or we just give him a token mention. Jesus, begotten, not created, didn’t remain a baby, he ate, danced, cried, fished, prayed and talked late into the night with his friends. Jesus lived, and died 33 years later, that we might have life in all its fullness. (John 10 V 10) Don’t just reserve Him a space at the table, invite Him  to host your Christmas.

Space for Jesus?

It’s my specialist subject, “the festive season”

Ask me anything and I’ll give you the reason

From where we get the Christmas tree

And all the lyrics in “Holly and the Ivy”

I know all there is about stuffing the bird

And which is the carol that’s most preferred

Of course you can ask me the schedule on tv

What time The Sound of Music is to be?

I’m really bright on this Christmas theme

Especially the culinary area it would seem

How to feed the pud as desired

The exact quantity of brandy required

I start fairly early so I’m prepared well in advance

Scout the shops in August, or July if there’s a chance

I buy the ‘in’ colours plus a replantable tree

An organic Christmas, environmentally friendly

Dangling angles, flying deers

Santa’s stockings, plenty of beers

Mistletoe, mince pies, crackers, bells and dates

Walnuts hazelnuts, decorated plates


Champagne, cranberry, celebration chocs

Tonnes of gifts from M and S, and mustn’t forget dad’s socks

Tinsel around the window, family full of cheer

I´m great at doing Christmas -in fact I´m better every year

Agh – someone mentioned Jesus – now that’s a tricky one

What time will he be turning up?

Is he vegetarian?

I’ve counted all the seats out now, and he’s not reserved a place

I’m sorry to say we’re full tonight, we just haven’t got the space.


I’m four going on fourteen

I chuckled this morning as I read an article in The Guardian about Lucy Kellaway, columnist and associate editor of the Financial Times who is going to become a maths teacher in a “challenging” London school. Don’t panic FT readers, she will still write for the paper because “there are long school holidays”. Good luck with that. After 25 years in the profession I know of no teacher who successfully holds down a demanding sideline  keeping them occupied during the school holidays, or wants to. Perhaps I should send her a rubber ring and a snorkel – she doesn’t know what she’s missing.

Holkham Beach – Norfolk


I couldn’t wait for my long Christmas holiday to update my blog – it’s already 3 months late – due to work commitments. My holiday snaps are safely filed away on Facebook as I stare out to the brownish sea of the north Norfolk coast. In my head it’s really Ionian blue.



Is anyone else baffled by children of today, or is it just me?  How is it that young children (boys and girls!) flawlessly recite ALL the lyrics from Frozen and yet I struggle to understand them when they talk to me. When I ask a simple question, a reply in a full sentence is a novelty. I can only assume they don’t understand me either. Reception colleagues in my cluster agree that Communication and Language is increasingly poorer each year.  How is it that a four year old can manipulate a key pad and mouse competently but struggle to dress and undress independently? Buttons? Far too difficult. Laces? They no longer exist thanks to (noisy) Velcro. Ties now have handy elastic, which doubles up as an effective flicking weapon.

Five years ago, and that’s being generous, the average four year old could generally draw a person with arms and legs. These days I’m given lines and squiggles and a confident look that says, “It’s abstract”. Ask them to hold their pencil correctly they glare at me as if I’ve completely lost it. Maybe I have.

Are we in danger of cultivating a generation who without a device attached to their face will not be able to converse well with their neighbour, colleague or family.  Read a book, write a postcard, go outside, learn the kazoo. Model something that shows children it’s also cool to detach your face from your phone – and look happy about it!?

(I’m not implying that you should be 14 before you go to school by the way. That would be silly)

 I’m four going on fourteen

 My shoes are shiny and my shirt is clean

I’m ready for school, I’m four going on fourteen

I don’t need my mum, she just cries at the gate

She clings to me tightly and she’s making me late,

I barely turn ‘round as I wave her goodbye

My teacher looks trendy she wears Super Dry

I like my new classroom, it’s not a bad place

It’s just like mum’s office, I’m impressed by this space


I hang up my coat, put my book bag away

Clock in on the white board, I’ll stay for the day

I’ve ordered my lunch from the menu provided

Vegetarian curry, a healthy option I’ve decided


Heading straight to the lap top I log in with my name

I see Minecraft is replaced by some kids phonics game

There’s no Nether on here, Ocelots or sword

What’s going on, I’m already bored

We all cross our legs, sit in rows nice and neat

It’s really uncomfortable, I’d much rather a seat,

I’m on the back row, it’s the cool place to be

But I’m that far away, I can’t really see,


There are 41 dinosaurs beginning with A

But I’m learning about digraphs in phonics today

I wonder how many are thinking the same

That school’s interrupting their Minecraft game

“When is it home time?”  I’ve been here a while,

The teacher studies her watch and replies with a smile

“It’s only half ten, and we’ve still lots to do.

Like reading and writing and number work too!”


She shows me a pencil, I must look bemused

What am I to do, I can’t possibly refuse,

I take it from her as I shudder and sigh

“Just write your name on top of the line.”

This starting school is not as I thought,

I liked the idea and the rucksack dad bought

My shoes are shiny and my shirt is still clean

I’m not ready for this, I’m four not fourteen.


End of term. They think it’s all over. It is now.

“Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.” Hamlet

Walk down any High Street over the next couple of weeks and without doubt you’ll be able to distinguish between a teacher and parent. Tricky, because although both resemble zombies, it is for very different reasons. Teachers are crashing carelessly into shop windows, knocking down shelves and walking up the down escalator, not for fun. Parents, on the other hand, perfectly blend in with The White Company soft cuddly dressing gowns and appear to have covered their faces with Johnson’s baby powder. Protruding eyes and in a trance, parents are petrified. The teachers are acutely aware that their Teacher Superpowers which enable them to educate, and occasionally entertain, 30 children for 6 hrs a day disappears on July 20th and they will return to being plain Jo Bloggs (or Birks) Relief. Some parents are traumatized by the prospect of spending the next 5 weeks with their delightful offspring, the teachers are dizzy with joy. Despite what you read teachers don’t sleep at school, and yes they do go shopping.

Having said all that, this blog, though long overdue, was not intended to be about the highs and lows of the end of term for both parties, typically I’ve been distracted, and my diagnosis is inevitably “end of term exhaustion.”

A Reception parent once said to me “My daughter says you’re her favourite teacher, and I just reminded her you’re the only one she’s had” Thanks for that. So this poem is dedicated to all the favourite teachers. For one year only.

You are my favourite teacher
I’m sad the end is near
We’ve spent so much time together
I’m fighting back a tear
You made my learning easy
I’m told I progressed a lot
I can discuss the importance of #Brexit
But the rest I just forgot
I never understood subordinate clause
And the maths was just so weird
With all that chunking and gridding
My sanity disappeared
I survived the tests, oh what a week
A waste and such a chore
Our stress was reported in the news
The results came out so poor
I’ll probably get you a candle
And I’ll definitely make you a card
Then you’ll remember me in the summer
And how I worked so hard
Perhaps you’d prefer a mug
I know teachers like their tea
Every time you drink from it
You’ll have to think of me
You were my favourite teacher
In September I’ll have someone new
And I’ll write another poem
Because she’s my favourite too


Alas, what if you’re a parent and a teacher? You probably need therapy and a 5 star package holiday where there is an “outstanding” kids club and free flowing gin. If you’re married to a teacher and have children, well, it’s only 168 days 01 hours and 35 mins until Christmas at time of going to press. Sorry. Must head to the beach…



I want to be a teacher

We all have memories of our teachers, some good, some not so good. It’s funny the things I remember about my teachers, their clothes, their smell and probably most of all the things they said to me, or about me.  In primary school I wasn’t allowed to make the tea because I wasn’t very good (have I mentioned that before?! A deep wound!)  and I was told I couldn’t colour in the bar chart for the Olympics medals Britain won because I couldn’t colour in the lines. Thanks for that. I’m still not great at making tea, but thankfully I’ve learned to colour in the lines. Phew. Relief. I so need that skill to impress my new friends.

Education regularly makes the news. If it’s not testing and SATS it’s Academies and pay.  This morning in our assembly  the children asked our Governors ” What makes a good teacher?” Their answer, obvious though it may seem was, ” Someone who likes children.” Shock, horror really??  Do you mean some teachers don’t like children? Surely not, that’s like  a Dr who faints at the sight of blood, or a comedian who just can’t create laughter.

Sadly, during my teaching career I have come across the odd teacher who I was convinced didn’t actually like children. Liking children doesn’t make you a great teacher, but it’s a good place to start! This rhyme touches on the fact that you also have to like getting up early, spend your weekends working, be able to entertain children of all varieties, sit through dull training, have endless patience, and not get wound up by bureaucracy and news.

25 years later I’m still working on perfecting all of those things.


I want to be a teacher

I want to be a teacher and tell you what to do

Sit down, make a line ,and wash your hands after the loo.

I want to be a teacher and teach you how to spell

Encourage you to find something in which you will excel

I want to be a teacher, and guide you in your ways

Of making friends, and making up, respond to positive praise


I want to be a teacher, it seems a great idea

To help you grow, be yourself, not living days in fear

I want to be a teacher, work long hours and fill in forms

Of data that’s incredibly dull but shows how you perform

I want to be a teacher, take holidays when I’m told

And share a plane with loads of kids who sit as good as gold

I want to be a teacher, go on courses and then feedback

On how to read a power point and tweet while at the back

I want to be the teacher who is kind and makes things fun

I’ll sing and laugh and jump about, put my hair up in a bun

I want to be a teacher, I’ll aim to be the best

Explaining etymology, morphology – but mainly for the test

I want to be a teacher, writing plans in my spare time

And if I’m bored of an evening I’ll compose a little rhyme.

jo in school

Training Daze

One of the perks of being a teacher is that you get to go on exciting training days. Ha, just kidding! During the last two weeks I’ve had to sit through some essential, but  rather dull training sessions. The first was quite painful, so when it came to the second training day I asked my colleague  to listen for me so I could do some very important jobs…like plan my class assembly.

I usually head for a seat at the back so I can multi-task, make the most of a sit down, and day dream out of the window. It reminds me of French lessons at school. I’d sit at the back and stare at the Pennines.  Occasionally I got caught out and the French teacher would ask me to read. His usual comment was, ” Great accent, but you’re not actually saying much”. Is it unethical for a teacher to be proud of “scoring” minus 26 in a French dictation ?

It’s ironic that since leaving school I studied second language acquisition at a Spanish University and have been known to teach basic Mandarin, Arabic and ‘Norfolk, (requested by a Reception pupil last year)  I suppose it just proves that, thankfully, what you study at school doesn’t always determine your future career.  Apparently my name was ‘notorious’ in the staffroom. I remember having to look up the word to see whether it was an accurate description of me or not. It might have been… Of course I’m not proud……

I digress. The following poem was written during one of my recent training sessions. I should add a disclaimer. Not all training sessions are dull. Some are even entertaining.


Training Daze

I’m sitting in the training

And staring at a screen

Two clever men are rambling

It’s all a blur to me


I’m struggling through the training

My mind has gone off track

I’ve lost 2 hours of life now

I will never get them back


I’m dozing in the training

I think I’m going to die

My yawn is getting louder

And my life is passing by


 I’m twitching in the training

It really is quite bad

Imprisoned by the trainers

I fear I’m going mad


My mind has gone all mushy

I’m fiddling with my phone

My colleague’s checking twitter

I wish I could go home


I’m puzzled by the data

Bewildered by reports

While colour coded assessment sheets

Give me infuriating thoughts


I’m nodding at the trainer

 And feign I understand

I’ve no idea what’s going on

I’m in my own dreamland


I’m wishing it was Friday

And dreaming of the sun

My thoughts are on my holiday

The cocktails, beach and fun


I’m sure I left my lights on

Perhaps I should just see

A brief escape, a toilet break

I’ll sneak out silently


I evaluate the training

On a form with dots and lines

The biscuits get a “useful”

I feel I’ve just done time.

School daze. Ruskin’s View – Kirkby Lonsdale.