Friday, 21 November 2008

Number's Up!

What was that I wrote about Wetherby being down on numbers last few weeks?
Cue Victor Meldrew impersonation; "I don't believe it!"
This week in Wetherby numbers were through the ceiling as we had 17 brand new beginners! This is a new record for us and in fact we had more brand newbies than we had "experienced" beginners so ended up throwing everyone in together for a basic class. Beginners who were expecting to cover "Casino" this week, please accept my apologies (we'll do it again in 7 weeks time) and also my thanks for your indulgence. I had one slightly disappointed leader ask if he could do our level 2 class as he felt level 1 had been a bit of a nothing for him. Sadly he asked me right before we started and we like to put our beginners through their paces before we move them up so he couldn't move up this week. Cheeky fella then proceeded to watch (and follow) the class from the sidelines, practising with a friend. From what I could see, he's going to be moving up next week!
I hope he stays with us when he does. A couple of years ago we had one bloke desperate to move up for months but he really struggled to make the grade. He'd used to go to other classes and tell us about how he'd managed ok, yet he'd still struggle to successfully lead our beginners syllabus.
When he eventually cracked it and moved up to our level 2 class, he only did about two weeks before he slung his hook and we haven't seen him back since. Maybe he was just seeking our recognition? There's no understanding some folk. I'm glad he hasn't given up dancing though - I see him around the circuit every now and again and always give him a nod and a smile.
If you're reading this, why not tip me a nod and a smile too?
Catch yer laters

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Driving Passion II

Four weeks ago today, following a two day induction course with the AA Driving School (following qualification as a DSA Approved Driving Instructor, following months of study and training), I started work as a driving instructor. Well, I say started work but in truth, I didn't actually "teach" anyone until the Saturday of the following week, when I had a lesson with the first of my AA allocated pupils. The pupil concerned was a very pleasant young lady called Claire who had already done a considerable amount of training and had her test booked in a couple of weeks. One lesson with me and she cancelled all further lessons and decided to go it alone! Either I was brilliant or I was crap! (I'm thinking crap). There was loads of stuff in that lesson I didn't do very well, suffice to say I learnt from the experience though I do feel I let Claire down a bit, as she didn't get brilliant value for money, that particular Saturday morning.

My next pupil was another partly trained lady, who despite the fact that I'd rectified many of my faults from the previous outing and did a much better job, also had one lesson with me before cancelling all further lessons. This time I didn't have to blame my poor lesson technique. The lady concerned was a field engineer working away from home and she was called back to her head office before we got the chance to do any more together.

Since then, it's been getting better. I've now got several pupils who I'm teaching from scratch, and three or four more who are partly trained who seem to be happy with the service I'm providing (one of whom had one lesson with me then promptly booked two hours a day for the next 11 days!).

It was a big jump, leaving a "secure" career and regular dayjob, but so far, at least now it's started to pick up a bit, it's paying dividends in terms of job satisfaction. I love to see how pleased the learners are when they start to get the hang of it, though it's not without its risks, too. One of the areas I only glossed over in my training was use of dual controls, and I wondered if I'd be up to it when the need arose. I needn't have worried. Earlier this week the learner in the driving seat next to me seemed intent on getting us both mown down by a 40 ton articulated truck as he happily attempted to pull out in front of it, and my feet responded pretty damn fast when my I realised my life (and his) was on the line.

At the moment, despite only teaching 19 hours this last week, I seem to be a lot busier than when I had a "regular" job, as I'm also spending loads of time on admin as I set up my new business and get used to all the new procedures, plus the time I spend driving the local roads searching out suitable locations on which to take my learners. Once I've found my feet a bit, this should ease off considerably and hopefully I'll be able to spend a bit more time with my family, though already I'm getting home at lunchtime most days, which I never once did when I worked in an office 55 miles away!

This is such a joy as Luca particularly is going through a phase where he seems to be developing really quickly and I don't want to miss it. He's been building up a vocabulary for over a year, but recently he's been putting much more in context and actually holding conversations where he answers questions. I don't expect anyone who hasn't got their own children to understand this ("great, so he can hold a conversation!") but I know other parents will totally relate to my sentiments. He is such a dlight to Trisha and I, and Ben, bless his cotton socks (which can't seem to stay on for more than five minutes) is still the smiley-est baby I've ever come across, despite being plagued with ill-health (currently bronchiolitis for the last month or so) for most of his life so far. He's six months old next week. Where did that go?

On a completely different subject, can anyone explain to me why when numbers at our York Club are going through the roof, Wetherby has dropped off big-time? I'll never understand the dynamics of the change of numbers of people at salsa clubs. I still vividly remember one week at Wetherby a little over a year ago when we only got 11 people through the door all evening! We were back to over 30 the following week and so we asked people what they'd bee up to. No big football match, no common reason; everyone we asked had a random, unconnected reason for their absence the previous week! Just totally coincidence. Weird.
Speaking of Salsa, we're now looking forward to our Christmas parties and attendees are in for a real treat this year. Trisha has put together a fantastic routine for the our intermediate ladies' demonstration and our friends (and assistants) Phil and Kate have been busy choreographing and teaching our partnerwork demo. Phil came to me with an idea for the demo about three months ago thinking I might take it on board, and unwittingly volunteered himself for the job. I'm glad he did though, because he and Kate are doing a brilliant job. I almost wish I wasn't involved in performing it so I could just enjoy watching from the audience. It's gonna be fab!

Hope to see you there...

Friday, 12 September 2008

Driving Passion

I'm feeling rather pleased with myself this week. Let me tell you why;
I've not been happy in my day job for a while. Years, rather than months. I don't want to get into detail, let's just say the company culture and philosophy doesn't match my own personal values. But what to do? I work in a particular niche of Information Technology, but it is a small, specialised niche and there's not much work around that I know of, not like the heady days just prior to the millenium (remember all the scares?). I didn't really want to jump ship just to end up in another company I didn't like so I stayed put for a while.

Those who know me reasonably well will know I've been involved in Advanced Driving and Motorcycling for several years and Trisha has many times suggested I think about driver training as a possible career. Anyway in December last year, I finally decided maybe she was right and started on the road to becoming a driving instructor, little knowing how drawn out a process it is.
Basically, you have to pass three tests; Theory, Driving Ability, and Instructional Ability, but before you can take any of them you have to be registered as a potential driving instructor, and to get this registration you have to have a CRB check. Cue a series of delays with government agencies processing (or not processing) forms and you've really got to want to do it or you'd die of boredom.
I eventually got my Theory Test booked for Saturday 14th June and knuckled down to some serious study, even borrowing a friend's house the day before the test to be able to study in peace and quiet, away from the joys of family life. Thanks, Maureen!
I passed and as soon as I could, booked Part 2, the Driving Ability Test for one month later on July 14th.
Since December I'd been looking around for suitable training - I'm not arrogant enough to think my background would get me through without it and how right I was!
Shying away from the large schools (lots of money up front and no guarantees) I eventually located an independant trainer with a host of qualifications, including IAM, RoSPA, DIAmond, Cardington, and even a degree in driving tuition. Here's a man with passion for his vocation, I thought, and I wasn't disappointed.
Peter is very down to earth but really knows his stuff and on July 14th got me through Part 2 after just 6 hours of training. Pass rate for this is apparently around 54%.
Part 3 is the biggy. The overall pass rate is just 24%, but first time pass rate is only 7%.
Fifty one more hours of training saw me sitting (and passing, first time!) my Part 3 ADI (Approved Driving Instructor) test on Tuesday this week with what the examiner called a very "solid" pass (Thanks Peter!).
So now I'm looking at a new career as an Approved Driving Instructor. I've no illusions about it being an easy life, but I'm damn sure I'm going to enjoy it a whole lot more than attempting to implement sub-standard software in front of disapproving customers. I'm finally going to be responsible for the service I'm providing, so I'll stand (or fall) on my own merit. I've given my notice in for my current job so there's no going back and I'm looking forward to my last day of incarceration on Friday 10th October.
Roll on that day.
A whole new life awaits.
Like I say, I'm feeling rather pleased with myself. :-)

Thursday, 22 May 2008

New Addition

I am so pleased to announce the safe arrival of a new member of the De-Giorgio Clan;

Beniamino John was born at 09:43 on Tuesday 20th May, 2008 and weighed 7lbs 12oz.

Trisha and Ben are now both home and doing absolutely fine, and whilst Luca has only so far made a passing acknowledgement of his little brother, he so far seems to be taking the change in his stride.

Here's a few pics, hope you like 'em.
As you can see, we're rather proud...

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Chinese for 9?

It started with just two of us. Sarah had agreed to help me out teaching at the Bradford All-Dayer, so I felt the least I could do was ask her to join me for dinner between the afternoon's classes and the evening party. Then I found that Maureen, Donna and Louise from our Monday clubnights were coming too, so it seemed appropriate to invite them along. Maureen especially as I'd agreed to give her a lift to the venue. Five of us.
The evening before, I learnt that Ben (another of our Monday nighters) was also at the event so it seemed like a good idea to ask him too. That'll be six, then.

I thought I'd got it sorted. Bradford is the curry centre of the north and twice previously Trisha and I had nipped for an Indian between teaching and partying. I'd even got a place in mind, the Nawab;- big enough to cope with a few of us at short notice, but small enough to be good quality, and reasonably priced to boot. And if they were full, hey, it's Bradford , I knew several others curry houses we could.
After the tango classes, I got chatting to Jamie, Bill Newby's tango partner and wondered if she and Bill would like to join us. Now we were eight.

Sarah was the first to throw a spanner in the works.
"Curry?" she said, disapprovingly, "I don't think that's a good idea, with the stinky breath that always ensues."
To be fair to Sarah, she had a point, but that said, where else was I going to find that was big enough to cope with nine of us at very short notice? Yeah, nine - Sarah had asked our friend Rick along too. I'd lived on the north side of Bradford ten years ago but a lot could change in that time and I only ever went out in threes and fours in those days.
I phoned Trisha after watching Doctor Who (thanks to Jan and Gary, oh heck, maybe I should've invited them as well?) and she was a little concerned.
"You've given yourself a real job there," she warned. "How are you all going to decide on what you want to eat, and then when you do, how are you going to find somewhere that can fit nine of you in at less than an hour's notice?"
Trisha had a point. These impromptu gatherings sound great in concept but can be a real pain to organise.
Back down in the foyer, I met with Sarah, Donna, Maureen, Louise and Ben to discuss what to do.
If only there was somewhere like Maxi's in York , I cogitated, they'd manage us all and everyone likes chinese food. Well, hopefully. Wait a minute, there's a Maxi's in Leeds and we could be there in fifteen minutes down the motorway!
Checking with those present, everyone really did seem to like chinese and the idea was received with universal approval. The first attempt to call and check availability wasn't promising though, the phone just rang and rang but nobody answered. Ben called directory enquiries to check the number. It was the right number but he tried himself anyway and sure enough, they answered straight away. Nothing personal, I hope.
Nine of us? In half an hour? No problem.

Right. Nine of us. Two cars? Oh wait. Ben and Rick both drive two seaters, Sarah's started drinking already, and Bill and I can only fit four each owing to him having a posh Saab convertible and me having a child seat in situ. Three cars then. After a two minute wait whilst Ben vanished and then reappeared, we finally got on the road and headed off in convoy. I knew approximately where it was and how to get there, though you wouldn't have thought this from our circumnavigation of Leeds as I missed my exit from the M621;
"It's that one isn't it?"
"No, I think it's the next one."
"Oh yeah, I think you're right."
"Wait a minute. No. It actually was that one! Oh well, round we go..."
I knew that the actual place was on set back from Kirkstall Road , on the North side, between the A58M roundabout and the viaduct.
Driving past it the second time, Maureen spotted it through a myriad of other buildings, far closer to the roundabout than I remembered. Unfortunately we'd already passed the turn off so another detour was in order.
Nevertheless, we all arrived in good spirits and were ushered straight to our table upon entry. From here on in, everything came together beautifully. We were all happy to share a set menu so we could just divvy the eventual cost up thereby avoiding lengthy discussions about who's had what and how they only had half a glass of wine and not three bottles like him over there and anyway I didn't have a starter.
The food was quick coming and when it came, was delicious. The company was both eclectic and enjoyable, with people from diverse backgrounds including an organic farming consultant, two zoo keepers, owner of a credit management consultancy, a physiotherapist, an occupational therapist, a dance student, a college lecturer and little old me.
With all of us having a common background of dance, the conversation flowed between this and other subjects and covered topics such as why giraffes have blue tongues (to stop them getting sunburnt, apparently) and why Clive Anderson thinks one of a real lady's best qualities is her ability to wait.
Despite my early misgivings about organisation, it turned out to be one the most enjoyable dinner parties I can remember, and even better as it was followed with a great night's dancing back at Bradford afterwards.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

12th Night Salsa Extravaganza 2008

I am knackered. Really knackered. But I'm happy too. Really happy. In fact, really, amazingly, ecstically gobsmackingly happy. Read on to find out why...

This weekend Trisha and I were once again invited to teach at York's 12th Night Salsa Extravaganza, the biggest and best salsa event in the North East of England each year, in my opinion at least. Over four hundred dancers from all over the region (and beyond) come together for two party nights and a full day of workshops, covering salsa at all levels as well as taster sessions of of Bachata, Argentine Tango, Cha-Cha-Cha, Rumba and more...

Two years ago, the organisers introduced a "12th Night Award" to be awarded for "Services To Regional Salsa" - as voted for by attendees. The first year, the biggest vote went to Leeds based teachers/promoters Nicolai and Helena, though as they weren't able to attend, the award was given instead to one of the scenes favourite unsung heroes - a guy called Pete who helps loads of teachers out with beginners classes and is the bloke at social who seems to make it his mission to dance non-stop all night with every lady in the room. I guess now he's not "Unsung" any more, having received his award!

Last year, Nicolai and Helena won the vote again (organiser Tony Piper in close second place, and rightly so) and were around to pick it up. Which was nice.

Trisha and I were gobsmacked (and thrilled) to be voted in third place last year - ahead of loads of other regional teachers and promoters who've been around far longer than we. Actually we were a bit embarrassed as many of the other teachers around us were the teachers from whom we learnt when we were starting out on our salsa journey.

So, onto last night, and the 12th night Salsa Award 2008.

I can't hold in the excitement any longer for on our mantlepiece is our "Joint 1st Place" 12th Night Award!!!!

I can't begin to tell you how thrilled we are to have received this, on many different levels. Firstly we shared our first place with organisers Tony and Mary Piper, who I believe do more for the regional salsa scene than anybody. On top of organising the 12th Night Congress and running their own weekly classes and twice monthly Engine Shed socials along with teachers Alfredo and Christine, they publish the most comprehensive regional event guide I know of. Whenever anyone asks me what's going on, I just point them to Tony's site ( and tell them to check out the event guide there.

Secondly, the award is voted for by the 400+ plus dancers attending 12th Night, so the recognition isn't just between fellow promoters, but from the dancers themselves.

Since Trisha and I started teaching together less than three and a half years ago, we've tried hard to ensure our classes and clubnights are as good as they can be, and this award is the best feedback we could possibly wish for to let us know we're getting it right (at least some of the time). It's a fantastic feeling to know we have inspired enough dancers enough to want to give us this award, but in turn, the main reason we do it, is because OUR greatest inspiration is seeing our own students learn and progress with their own dancing, and the enjoyment they get from it. Long may it continue...