Tresor by Gwenno

2022

In 1998, I started a job at Oakmeeds Community College, in Burgess Hill. My job title was “Head of Maths”. Six years later, a changed staffing structure was announced in which all Heads of Department’s jobs were to disappear. In their place would be “Subject Co-Ordinators”, on a reduced salary. An extra layer of management was introduced on an increased salary. All ten subject co-ordinators would be overseen by four “Lead Teachers”. This was not designed to boost staff morale since all ten existing Heads of Department applied for the four lead teacher posts. In-fighting, acrimony, jealousy and unpleasantness were inevitable. Within four years the Lead Teacher experiment was dropped and the staffing structure was re-organised again. Another four years later and the school was in special measures, by which time I had left. This strategy of upheaval, chaos, contradiction, deceit and disregard for staff welfare could have been a blueprint for the Tory government of the last 12 years.

I wasn’t particularly keen to take a drop in salary so I applied to become a Lead Teacher. The job was to manage a combination of the Maths department and the Modern Foreign Languages department (French, German, Spanish). The new faculty was named the Communications Department. I was given the job and began the process of trying to understand how I could manage a department full of highly talented linguists. I had a weekly meeting with the utterly charming Subject Co-Ordinator, who was always very pleasant and supportive. Whether or not I ever helped her in her job is a moot point. In a job where time was the most important commodity, I’m not sure that taking up a valuable hour was efficient but we always had a nice chat over coffee and biscuits.

What was even more ridiculous was that I was expected to observe lessons from everyone in the Languages department and give feedback to each teacher, the Subject Co-Ordinator and the Senior Leadership Team. I was very happy to do this with the Maths department. After each lesson, I felt that I had learned a lot, I was able to offer positive praise and encouragement and I may even have been able to suggest one or two small ways in which their Maths teaching could improve. Observing a lesson conducted in a foreign language was a completely different matter. I had passed my French O level in 1970, but the extent of my use of French when I went on holiday was “Parlez-vous Anglais, s’il vous plait?” I had dropped German after one lesson and when Roo and I had a holiday in Spain, we had found it literally impossible to communicate with anyone and choosing a meal from a menu was completely guesswork. However, I had no choice in the matter so for four years, I observed lessons by each of the six teachers. The joke that “I had no idea what was going on – it might as well have been in a foreign language” started to wear a bit thin in the end.

One teacher was from Germany and was not always easy to manage. She had a predilection for a couple of lunchtime drinks and some students complained that she smelled. I went to observe one of her lessons with 15 Year 10 students, all of whom were girls. Obviously, I had no idea what the lesson was about but all of the students were highly motivated and engaged; there were elements of reading, writing, speaking and listening in the lesson; the teacher commanded attention and the lesson was well structured. I had to grade the lesson through the evidence of my eyes and ears, not the teacher through hearsay and gossip. Not being a Languages teacher, I couldn’t offer any suggestion on how the lesson could be better, so I gave her the top grade in each of the six categories that I had to use. The effect of this grading was far-reaching. The teacher was extremely happy and, so I was told by the Subject Co-Ordinator, it transformed her work: she became much more motivated and easier to work with. So much so that when she retired, a few years later, she asked me to give her leaving speech, which was difficult because I hardly knew her. The Senior Management Team were aghast at the “outstanding” grading, because they were hoping to terminate her contract, using poor lesson observations as evidence. As a consequence, I lost any small vestige of credibility I had with them, and I’m sure that this was one of the many reasons that I failed in subsequent attempts to get promoted. Not that I regret anything I did.

Two days ago, I went for a meal with the 18 members of the Maths Department at BHASVIC (the Sixth Form College in Brighton where I spent the last eight years of my “career”). It was a pleasant evening and I was surprised to find that six new teachers had joined the department since I left, just over two years ago. I spoke to someone who I had never met before who spoke at length about the holidays she had been on. She talked about Iceland and I began a conversation with another new face to me, Marvyn, about the geysers in Yellowstone Park. I said I didn’t know how to pronounce the word – was it gee-sirs or guy-sirs? He said that he had been to East London recently and come across some geezers. I always like a verbal pun and I found this amusing. Some time later, when someone else spoke to Marvyn, that I realised that he, too, was German. Not only did he have no discernible accent, he was able to make language jokes in his second language. I was impressed. I asked him if he spoke any other languages and he told me that he was also fluent in French.

I asked Marvyn what language he thought in and he said he wasn’t sure. When I delivered some training to 14 new Samaritans yesterday, I thought more about this. Do we think in words or are all thoughts simply electrical brain impulses. When I rehearse a conversation, I think in English sentences. Drifting off to sleep last night, preparing to write this post, I was composing English sentences. But when I have strong thoughts about something, do I have these thoughts in words? Should I rephrase that last sentence to “when I have strong feelings about something?” Thoughts and feelings are different. Are thoughts expressed in words and feelings in impulses? Isn’t the point of Samaritans to convert your feelings into words so that you can process them?

A paper by Matthew Lieberman at The University of California from 2007, suggests that verbalising our feelings makes sadness, anger and pain less intense. A region of the brain called the amygdala detects moments of alarm and sends warning signs to protect the body. These signs cause us to beware of danger by heightening stress levels. By carrying out experiments, they observed that translating feelings into words reduces the response in the amygdala which is like “hitting the brakes on your emotional response”.

All of the above is linked by the use of language. My ability to learn new languages has always been negligible and I am in awe of anyone who is bi-lingual or multi-lingual. Processing feelings, by turning them into words, in whatever language, is fascinating and, to my mind, healthy.

The opening lines of the first song, “An Stevel Nowydh” are “Welcome. Sit down. Fancy a cuppa?” The important factor here is that most of the album is sung in Cornish, the rest being sung in Welsh. Gwenno Saunders’ mother is Welsh and her father is Cornish. These were the two languages spoken at home during her childhood. She was born in Cardiff and was a cast member of Michael Flatley’s production of “Lord Of The Dance”, playing a lead role in a Las Vegas production of the Irish musical. In 2006, she joined the Brighton-based indie pop band, The Pipettes, singing lead vocals on the single, “Pull Shapes”, which was a Top 30 hit in the U.K.

“Tresor” is her third solo album (her debut album, “Y Dydd Olaf” was sung entirely in Welsh) and, she says, is “about exploring desire and other emotions”, using two languages which, sadly, are in danger of dying out. However, her second album, according to the Cornish Tourist Board, contributed towards a 15% increase in the number of people taking Cornish language exams in 2018.

The musical style of the album is folktronica. A dreamy, kind and beautiful sensibility enhance every song. Surrealistic imagery is set against fuzzy psychedelic rock with a medieval inspiration. “Is it a Goddess or Eve stood in front of you” is translated as “Duwes po Eva/Ow sevel a’th rag” on “Anima”.

“NYCAW” is sung in Welsh and stands for “Nid Yr Cymru Ar Werth” (“Wales Is Not For Sale”). This is a phrase adopted by an activist group called Cymdeithas yr laith (the Welsh language society), when protesting about the purchase of second homes in holiday hotspots.

The album was written in Porth Ia (St Ives) and makes interesting use of found sounds, as well as incorporating global influences such as Monica Sjoo (a Swedish artist) and Eden Ahbez (an American musician who wrote songs for Nat King Cole, visited Brian Wilson in the studio when he was recording “Smile” and had a “near-telepathic” conversation with Donovan in 1967). The result is an album that conveys strong emotions using a variety of feelings, thoughts and language.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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