Back in my Liverpool home

So nearly 3 months have passed since returning to Liverpool and at the request of so many people I have decided to continue with my blog!

I moved back to Liverpool at the beginning of August after an emotional final few days in Brussels. The 1st few days being back involved me moving back into my house, lots of cleaning and organising things ably assisted by some amazing friends who gave up a lot of their time to help. One thing to look forward to was a family holiday to Cornwall. I had never been before and it was the ideal time to spend quality time with everyone after being away for so long. Staying in a very old cottage we where able to explore without having to travel too far. Managed to visit the Lost Gardens of Heligan, The Eden Project, Padstow, Tintagel, Port Isaac and a few other local places. After spending a year trying so many different Belgian beers I decided to carry on with the traditional sampling the best beer and cider that Cornwall had to offer 🙂

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The rest of the summer was spent visiting friends and catching up and before I knew it I was back at Broadgreen and the beginning of term! I received a lovely welcome back and a few people didn’t recognise me, especially with the beard and weight loss 🙂 After a few days it felt like I had never left which is not a bad thing and soon found that not much had changed! I found it comforting working with some of my best friends but also missing the buzz of Belgium.

This month I was also invited back to the Science Learning Centre in York to present a case study of how my career has taken off since completing the STACS (Senior Technicians Co-Leaders in Science) course in 2011 to this years cohort. It gave me a chance to look back at how much I have achieved in just a few years and share my experience of doing such a valuable qualification.

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So as we come to the end of a very busy and long half term I can reflect on some of the changes in my life. Things are looking up in both my professional and personal life.  In work I have been given more responsibilities. This is something I have been craving as I try and progress in my career. Some of it will provide a steep learning curve but I am up for the challenge!

This term as I am a member of the ASE Technicians Committee we are continuing to find ways to promote the role of a technician. Unfortunately with so many budget restraints in schools pay is always going to be an issue. Instead we are focusing on self promotion and trying to increase understanding of the role in our own schools. This was discussed in the monthly ASETechs Tweetups. These take place on the 1st Wednesday of each month and the highlights can be found here. Feel free to join the next one in November!

https://storify.com/ASETechs/tech-recognition

The Technicians Facebook group continues to go from strength to strength and we are hoping to have a 1000 members before Xmas. Lots of excellent advice and tips are shared on a daily basis and we have a very supportive community.

In my personal life, after such a horrendous year, I have unexpectedly met a fellow cat lover called Rachael who has become a very important part of my life. She’s beautiful, makes me laugh, inspires me and has helped me regain a lot of the confidence I had lost. Did I mention she has cats..;)

So that’s it for this update! Hope you enjoy it and thanks for all the great feedback. Phil

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The Last Post (A review of my year in Belgium)

So today is my last day at BSB and also in Belgium. Hard to believe that I have been here for almost a year. Lots of mixed emotions today, and I have to believe that I made the right decision to return to Liverpool. There is no doubt that the decision last June to move to Brussels has affected me in ways I couldn’t have predicted.

My past experience of travelling abroad in the last 40 or so years has been 2 city breaks to Paris and Ireland and a holiday to Toronto and New York. With that in mind, this made my decision extremely tough as I have always been insecure about travelling, especially around Europe as my language skills are not the best! But with the support of friends and family I accepted the job and started planning the move. In July last year I visited Brussels to find somewhere to live and this was the first time I had travelled abroad on my own. It was a great experience and although I didn’t find accommodation at the time it was a very worthwhile trip.

Last august I said aurevoir to my belongings as they made the trip a couple of weeks before me and I started arranging nights out to say my goodbyes. The week before I left the UK, I went on holiday with my family to a large house we had rented in Lincolnshire and we had a fantastic time. The last day was tough as I realised it was going to be a while until I got to see them again face to face.

This is when my journey began, physically and metaphorically. With not finding somewhere to live, HR pointed me in the direction of a staff member that sometimes offered rooms to new arrivals until they could find somewhere themselves. Fortunately for me it turned out that they were 2 of the most amazing people you could hope to meet. Friendly, funny, good cooks and with working at the school, they were able to provide advice and insight to me as I found my way around the local area.

Living in Tervuren has been amazing. It’s a beautiful town that sits in between the hustle and bustle of Brussels and the laid back university city of Leuven. There are a lot of expats, as well as some of the friendliest people you could ever meet. Coming from Liverpool which is also a very friendly place, it felt like a home from home. There are some great restaurants, pubs, bars and local bakeries.

With the decision not to bring my car, the issue of travelling around was a bit of an problem at times. I suffer from osteoarthritis in my hip which needs replacing and I was also hugely overweight. In the run up to Christmas last year I was able to get a lift to work or at least half way and walk the rest. So many staff at BSB offered me lifts to functions or just on their way home I started to rely on them too much, especially with the huge roadworks outside school it meant them going out of their way. Travelling to Brussels meant a 20 min walk to the tram stop and coming home it’s all up hill!

The Christmas holidays arrived and I returned to Liverpool to catch up with family and friends and also to see my 3 cats who I was really missing. Unfortunately a couple of days before Christmas my wife left me and I returned to Belgium in the new year dazed, depressed and in a very dark place. With support from school, friends and family in Belgium and back in Liverpool, I did my best to stay positive and I made a conscious decision to embrace the country and the culture and I put myself out there more.

The biggest decision I made, was to try and lose the weight that was affecting my health so much. I had started with some success the year before but this was the time to up my game. Making the most of the beautiful park and forest on my doorstep, I started walking to work and back everyday and even heading off into the forest of a weekend to clear my mind and get some fresh air. At work, I changed my diet and cut back on all the treats that would come in to the staffroom. As I write this post I can proudly say that I have hit my target weight loss of 5 stone (32kg). Over the years I have tried and tried and not got anywhere with dieting but since everything changed at Christmas I have managed to stay focused even with the lure of trying new beers! AIthough I have reached my target, I am setting another one for when I get back to the UK. One of the benefits of this is having the opportunity to go shopping and buy myself a new wardrobe!

Coming to terms with all the changes in my life this year has been difficult but I have found that surrounding yourself with positive people has helped ease the pain. It can help you make clearer decisions and change your whole mood when you can’t see the wood for the trees. The walks to work of a morning have been a blessing and a curse. As I started the journey, I found myself flooded with emotions and what if’s, how things could have been different if only I… but by the time I had got to work I would recover and focus on the positives, the people I had met, the beautiful scenery, newly found confidence, the experiences of working abroad.

Making the decision to come over to Belgium last year was difficult but making the decision to return to Liverpool was even harder. Lots of people say you shouldn’t go back but I miss my friends and family and I know I will have to deal with lots of issues which can only be done by being in Liverpool. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time over here and made some fantastic friends. The job, although challenging, has increased my science knowledge, developed my management skills and improved my confidence. Working in a school that provides such superb facilities has been a steep learning curve as I had never done so much Biology!. It has helped working in a very knowledgeable and understanding department with some very talented teachers and technicians.

Some of the highlights of my year include:

– A local streetparty

– Getting to see comedian Mark Thomas live, after years of near misses.

– Zythos Beer Festival (my 1st one)

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– My first proper Xmas market in Germany

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Attending the Duchess of Richmond Ball celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

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– Hee Tervuren festival weekend.

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– The Belgian National Cycling Race went through Tervuren.

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– Going to Brussels drinking and not getting home till 4! (haven’t done that for years)

– A last minute dash to Leuven to see Scala + Kolacny Brothers play a music festival in Leuven.

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If you don’t know who Scala are check out this video.

– Discovering so many amazing beers!!

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So as I fly back tonight, I can look back at the amazing time I have had and I will always have the memories. I have made so many new friends and shared some fantastic experiences with them and I can always look forward to returning for a visit and who knows what might happen in the future.  To the people who moved on whilst I was away, it’s their loss.

As for the future…

“Our future will be shaped by the assumptions we make about who we are and what we can be” R.M Kanter

I have even made a video of some of my highlights. Thanks to everyone who has supported and been there for me on this adventure and for reading my blog!

Trip to Meise Botanical Gardens

One of the benefits about being a Science Technician is getting to go on school trips. Back in Liverpool I had managed to go to lots of different places including Alton Towers, Science Museum in Manchester, Catalyst Museum in Widnes and lots of places in North Wales including the beach at Talacre. My trip to Meise was only the second time I had managed to get out of school after just missing out on a trip to the zoo.

http://www.br.fgov.be/PUBLIC/GENERAL/index.php

Meise is locates on the outskirts of Brussels and is a Botanical Garden which the Belgians created after seeing Kew Gardens in England. They are both famous for housing the infamous Carrion Flower that only flowers on rare occasions and also smells like rotting flesh!

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrion_flower

We had decided to take Year 8 for the day to gain some fieldwork experience and also to look round the massive greenhouses. It turned out to be a perfect day weather wise and it was extremely warm so the sunglasses were out. The first part of the morning involved working outside and using quadrats to do some sampling. The biggest thing that struck me was how close to Zaventem Airport we were. The sound of the planes taking off was deafening at times!.

In the afternoon. walking up the hill to the giant greenhouse, it made you feel like you were visiting Jurassic Park (before the dinosaurs destroyed it) and I kept expecting Richard Attenborough to come out and greet us!

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We were fortunate enough to have a couple of tour guides inside the greenhouses who were able to explain all the different zones inside including a Tropical and Desert zone. They also set the students some questions and sent them off amongst the plants to find the answers.

As somebody who doesn’t really do any gardening, I was very impressed with the variety and design of some of the more exotic plants. The height of some of the trees and the smell of the many herbs growing was quite intoxicating.

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Although there was a lot to see, the fact it was the hottest day of the year, standing in a huge greenhouse was starting to take its toll on a lot of us and we retired outside to finish our work.

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The grounds of Meise are quite large and there is a lot more to explore if we had the time. Over the lake was Bouchout Castle that looked really interesting but we had to make our way back to the coaches to head back to school.

I only have a few weeks left in Belgium now so I won’t be posting again until my final week but hopefully that will include a year in review 🙂

Thanks for reading.

Getting more cultured!

Now that my replacement has been chosen, I am working on experiencing as much of Belgium as possible before heading back to Liverpool in the summer. This started a couple of weeks ago with a visit to Cinquantenaire.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinquantenaire

Bearing a very similar resemblance to a famous Paris landmark it is flanked by 2 museums. One being a war museum and the other called Autoworld. A very lavish Ferrari was parked outside advertising the fact it was a car museum.

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In front of the striking archway is a public park with a fountain and lots of stalls and attractions around the centrepiece. These included food stalls, theatre groups and a silent disco! This was all complemented by a bed of pink and red tulips that were in full bloom.2015-04-18 15.11.42 2015-04-18 15.08.07

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As it was such a beautiful day I then jumped back on the Metro and decided to head into Brussels to have a beer in the sunshine outside a lovely cafe and watch some street artists perform in the square. Brussels was the busiest I had seen it as I walked back towards Grand Place to see if anything was going on in the square but I had just missed a local flower sale which given my track record looking after plants was probably a good thing! Managed to get a few more pics of the beautiful buildings around me again whilst avoiding the many “selfie” sticks about!

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The following week was all about the Zythos Beer festival in Leuven! Meeting up at the bus station in Leuven we took the free shuttle bus to a business park just outside the town to a big warehouse. There were hundreds of people there from all over the world and it was amazing to hear all the different languages and accents from around the globe. Lots of people were dressed up in various fancy dress including monks, nuns and bottles of beer! For 10 Euros you were given a tasting glass and 7 credits to go and sample some of the 1000’s of beers on offer.

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There were so many beers to choose from that you are also given a catalogue as you go in! Out of the ones I tried I enjoyed nearly all of them apart from one very dark beer as it was so bitter. My favourite was also the weakest and it was a coconut beer made by the brewers behind Delirium. Yes I did say coconut! They also had Banana, Peach and Cactus flavours…

After a few hours of trying out the beer we decided to head back to Leuven for food. Whilst waiting to get the shuttle bus I got chatting to a couple of very drunk Belgian guys who actually worked in a brewery. They had won so many beers in the Tombola they were selling them off at a Euro a bottle. Whilst in Leuven town centre it’s always worth popping into one of the many beer shops and picking up some of the more unusual beers available.

Hoping to get some more visits in the next few weeks so stay tuned 🙂

RSC Lectures at The British School of Brussels

One of the benefits working at BSB is that we are host to quite a few lectures from the Belgian arm of The Royal Society of Chemistry. Last nights lecture was presented by Professor Sir John Holman from The University of York in the UK.

http://www.york.ac.uk/chemistry/staff/academic/emeritus/jholman/

I have a huge amount of respect for Sir John as he helped set up The National Science Learning Centres around the UK which deliver excellent professional development to science technicians and teachers. I have attended quite a few of these CPD courses over the years and learnt lots of useful skills that have helped me become a better and more confident technician. He is also a big advocate of practical science skills in students which are needed if they are to pursue a career in Science. He has worked alongside the Gatsby Foundation to promote these skills in schools which science technicians prepare practical lessons for students.

http://www.gatsby.org.uk/education/programmes/support-for-practical-science-in-schools

The title of the lecture was called “Gelato to Guncotton – The Art of the Demonstration” and last night was a great example of using demonstrations to enthuse students and encourage curiosity. Some of the demonstrations included making ice cream from liquid nitrogen, using dry ice to show that carbon dioxide is acidic when dissolved in water, “burning banknotes” and my favourite screaming jelly babies.

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This lecture had a very enthusiastic audience especially when we were handing around the ice cream… A lot of last demonstrations I have had the pleasure of demonstrating at school open evenings and on primary school visits to get younger students excited about Chemistry and how much fun it can be!

This was also a lecture that could not have been done without science technicians working hard behind the scenes to prepare and test everything beforehand. I would like to thank my team for ensuring that the lecture ran so smoothly.

There are lots of other RSC events taking place all over Belgium  this year if you want to attend any. Here is a link to their blog for details.

http://rscbelgium.blogspot.be/p/rsc-belgium-forthcoming-events.html

Other links you may find useful:

https://www.facebook.com/NationalScienceLearningCentre

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @floorphillaz

Solar Eclipse – A view from Brussels

Three days before the partial eclipse and the weather around Brussels was fabulous. Cold and frosty in the morning but then bright sunshine. 24 hours before the eclipse and it’s thick cloud and zero visibility. The actual day of the eclipse and it was just as bad, but undeterred we set up tables with our pin hole cameras and held our breath for a gap in the clouds! Whilst we were waiting to see anything we had the live stream from the BBC website in the prep room and it seemed that the Faroe Islands were having similar problems to us.

Then it appeared! Faintly at first but enough to get a good view and snap a few pictures. I’m quite pleased with some of the images and they where captured by my Galaxy S4. I even prefer this to a normal camera these days as the picture quality is great for day to day things.

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We had set up desks with pin hole cameras and binoculars so that as many students as possible could take part as can be seen in BSB’s official photos. It did become noticeably colder and darker but then again it wasn’t the best day for seeing the sun!

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Meanwhile back in my home town of Liverpool there were some fantastic shots appearing as they had a lot less clouds! This was my favourite picture of the day.

http://www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/solar-eclipse-dazzles-liverpool-merseyside-8882832

All over social media there have been some great stories and pictures of such a rare occurrence and it’s great to see Science and Nature so prominent in the public eye. And that’s it for us for a while. Check out when the next one is appearing near you next!

http://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/list-solar.html

Leaving on a jet plane…

So it’s with a heavy heart that I will be leaving Belgium in the summer. Due to personal circumstances I will be returning to Liverpool. My job is currently being advertised until Monday 16th March at 4pm (Belgian Time). If you would like to apply, you can upload your CV and covering letter here:

https://www.britishschool.be/Jobopportunities/Currentvacancies/HeadScienceTechnician/

It is a fantastic place to work and Belgium is a beautiful country. If you want to get a feel for what the school and life in Brussels is like, feel free to browse through my previous posts.

I will still be blogging about the final stages of my time over here so stay tuned!!