September 1st 2015: Old Habits…

…die hard.

The 1st September 2001 (or thereabouts) was the first time I experienced that first day back at school as a teacher. Today would have been my 15th first day back at school had I not taken the plunge and decided to quit my full-time teaching job last December. If you don’t know what has happened since 1st January 2015, shame on you for not keeping up to date with the ‘latest news’ section of! (A month of supply teaching in Reading as I waited for my flat to sell, a few weeks in Yorkshire preparing myself for six months out of the country, a month improving my Spanish at a language school in Cadiz before the small matter of cycling from Europe’s southernmost point at Tarifa to the northernmost point at Nordkapp – read about it here in 235 blog posts.) I returned to the UK a few weeks ago and have been ‘resting’ (pottering, procrastinating, idling…) ever since. But the 1st September has indeed arrived and the teacher in me tells me that this is a good symbolic date upon which to start my new life back in the north of England… as a self-employed person!

That’s quite daunting. ‘Self-employed‘. I am employed by me. I am my boss. My line manager is the person who is writing this. Crucially, I am the one who is responsible for paying me at the end of the month. On the positive side, it’s quite difficult to get sacked if you are both the one doing the sacking and being the sacked. Phew! That’s one worry I can cast aside…

The tools of my trade are here; a desk and a chair (with an OK view of my brother’s garden), a computer, a blankish diary, a library of reading material and (from the man who runs the canteen, otherwise know as me) some some strong black coffee.

But what exactly is my new ‘trade‘ for which these are the tools. Well, some are obvious, some less so. I have a small smorgasbord (there’s a word I never fully exploited while cycling through Sweden a couple of months ago) of possible income streams to develop. The two obvious ones are the teaching of children and the writing of books, but there are a few other odds and sods lurking out there in the big wide world of self-employment that could perhaps help keep my time occupied and my pockets filled.

I may have been spared the tedium of sitting in a school hall full of bronzed teachers who are trying to stay awake as their head teacher explains just how wonderful or dreadful last year’s exam results have been, but as I take my first tentative steps towards being a fully self-employed writer of books, I would be foolish not to subsidise the transition with ad hoc paid teaching work. I am on the books of two local supply teaching agencies and for the weeks and months to come I shall be ready to jump into my car at 7.30am and drive off to another exotic location in West Yorkshire; Bradford, Pudsey, Cleckheaton, Dewsbury, Morley, Sowerby Bridge, Brighouse… (the glamour!), and burst into the classroom to save the day as the regular teacher has decided to call in sick. It would be fun one day to turn up at speed in my (‘iced chocolate’) Mini Cooper, hand brake turn outside the entrance of the school, run into the classroom, rip off my suit to reveal a ‘super teacher’ costume underneath (all acted out to the Superman music of course)… at which point panic buttons would be pushed and I would be escorted from the premises. I’ll stick to the more traditional and sedate approach of parking carefully in the staff car park, presenting my credentials at reception and awaiting orders.

It will be interesting to see how the market for occasional supply teachers in West Yorkshire compares with that of Reading where I did my stint of such work earlier in the year. ‘Down south’ or perhaps more accurately ‘down south-east’, it’s a seller’s market when it comes to teaching with many schools struggling to have sufficient responsible adults to look after the children. I suspect that here in Yorkshire things may be quite different; not quite ‘dead man’s shoes’ when it comes to employment but the employer is almost certainly in a much better position that his or her colleagues in London and the Home Counties. Two or three days per week would be just fine at the moment, allowing me to crack on with the writing of books.

Or rather, the writing of a book: Heading North on a Bike Called Reggie. (Incidentally, have come to the conclusion that after the relative success of Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie [now just ยฃ7.99] and Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie [now just ยฃ8.99] that the ‘it-does-what-it-says-on-the-tin‘ [or cover] approach is not a bad one when it comes to the naming of a book and anyway, I have yet to come up with anything better.) But there does need to be a period of time between completing the journey and starting the writing. This is not just for reasons of procrastination; it is for the valid reason of what can only be referred to as the ‘rose-coloured spectacle’ approach to writing. I don’t think a warts and all description of what happened between Tarifa and Nordkapp would garner many fans. I’m no Ranulph Fiennes and I like to (at least give the impression!) that my travels are fairly light-hearted and decidedly unserious affairs. Time allows the rose-coloured mist to fall so I don’t think I will make any concerted effort to start writing before the start of October. Book 1 wasn’t started until the following Easter and book 2 didn’t go into labour until February but I did have a full time job to hold down at the time. With more time at my disposal (life would be perfect if I were able to devote at least three days per week to sitting down and writing) and fewer outside work pressures, an autumn start will allow me more time to produce something of even greater quality. Well, that’s the theory but ultimately I’ll let you be the judge.

So that’s the teaching and the writing. What of the rest? Well… This website is an ever-evolving (and increasingly popular) child of the Internet age. Before Christmas 2015 it should see its one millionth hit. From a modest Blogger blog named ‘Puglia 2010‘ that only I (and the chap searching for information about elections in southern Italy in 2010) ever read, that’s quite impressive, no? The secret over the next few months will be to create something that might even generate a bit of regular income. Strictly speaking I can’t have advertising on the site under the terms and conditions of it being a hosted WordPress website. (The one you see up there in the top left hand corner is not a paid advert by the way; more of a modest sponsorship arrangement.) But do WordPress check? I’m not convinced they do. Should I change it to being a self-hosted website and have ultimate freedom to do as I wish? (Have I got any clue as to how to do that? Err… no.) Do you own Halfords / Ridgeback Bikes / SIS (etc…) and would you like to pay me lots of money to see your advert on here? I don’t think it quite works like that… Sponsored posts are the other source of revenue but the income is sporadic to say the least. Perhaps I should start showing bicycle-related pornography; it is said that sex is one of the few things on the Word Wide Web that pays. Where does one find such material? [You are still a teacher Andrew; perhaps not…]

Back to the books. [Good idea.] In the past two years I have been invited to speak about my experiences of travelling, cycling and writing. It has been a steep learning curve but I have learnt various things from my forays into the world of public speaking. 1. Do not accept free alcoholic drinks before you start speaking. At one event in London I was offered a drink by the organiser but this was quickly followed up by further alcoholic beverage offers (it would have been rude to say ‘no’, no?) from two people who, having read the first book, were keen to reward me for my efforts. By the time I stood up (or rather swayed up) I had more alcohol in my blood than I would have wished for and although not quite Oliver Reed on The Word (remember that?), I did spend a not inconsiderable amount of time staring into the distance thinking ‘what comes next?‘ 2. Plan for technical failure. My talk at Ripon Cathedral was somewhat stressful due to the incompatibility of my Mac with the very PC projector. It wasn’t quite the best place to start turning the air blue but I came close, very close… 3. Plough on regardless. At the Yorkshire Bicycle Show on the day of the Tour de France Grand Depart I was interviewed at length on the stage of Leeds Town Hall and broadcast around the room via the P.A. system. People wandered around in front of me from stall to stall, chatting and, well, not appearing to listen to my words of wisdom. Now as an experienced teacher I’m very used to being ignored when I speak but it was a strange feeling nevertheless… Later this month I’m flying off to Sweden to take part in events connected to European Mobility Week. I have yet to find out the full details of what I’ll be doing and where I’ll be speaking but I am being paid for my services. Could speaking be another subsidiary source of income?

So, teaching, writing the new book, the website, speaking… [short pause in writing as I rush outside to rescue my drying washing from the hail, yes hail!] Anything else? Well, more writing perhaps? Newspapers? Magazines? I’ve just knocked out 1,622 words (up until the word ‘word’ – it’s now 1,629 [shut up]). Where does one start? Local? The Halifax Courier? The Yorkshire Evening Post? It’s a notoriously cut-throat world out there for such pieces but hey! How many people have cycled three times across Europe, written two books about and have a third in the pipeline? And then there’s the photography. You, the readers of this website (is anyone still here by the way; it’s a very long post) tell me that I should publish a book with the photographs I took when I was travelling. Publishing printed words is cheap. Photographs? That would need some outside help. On the subject of publishing, it did cross my mind while cycling this summer that there might be scope for a children’s book based upon the character of Reggie The Bike (another reason not to pension him off quite yet) visiting different European countries. Would that work? Who knows…?

What I do know is that whatever I do and from wherever my income comes in the future, never before in my working life have I been more responsible for going out there and finding it. Quite daunting. Scary, yes. But actually, very exciting.

3 replies »

  1. Andrew, well done on your decision to do what most of us would love to do! The safety net of your supply teaching gives some reassurance. On to the interesting stuff – whilst you say above readers may not be interested in “warts and all”, for some of us who haven’t yet started on cycling tours, but would like to, and intend to, where do i get basics ie bike security, essentials for trip, tent, technology or paper maps, emergency kit, tools, etc.? Apologies if you’ve covered somewhere in print/eprint.

  2. Leaving the security of a regular income, and stepping into the world of freelancing, is a courageous new direction in your life. Well done for taking it, and ‘bon courage’!

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