In the Zone

September 13, 2014

Are you in the zone? I was hoping to be in the zone to go hard on my study this weekend but life being the fun thing she is I have a hideously sore throat and serious snuffles. Yes, germs already from the unwashed teenage beast. Not happy…

Being in the zone is one of those phrases we toss around with gay (old meaning of the word) abandon. We use it to mean being ready, being in the right place to do something. Being in the zone is a state of mind, of preparedness and we mostly know it from sport. But being in the zone is more than that. It’s actually about being fully immersed in your activity, your work, or your sport – no it’s not about being fully immersed in the pleasure of your bath.

Being in the Zone or Flow is about being so immersed in the activity you feel energized, fully involved and find it enjoyable. Think running, think swimming – once you get over the initial pain of getting fit, you find the experience up-lifting and highly pleasurable. Flow – being in the Zone – has been explored by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (and others) and is connected to a wide range of fields. He first stumbled upon the concept through noting how artists would essentially get lost in their work, to such an extent that the need for food, water and rest was ignored.


6 factors equal the experience of flow, or being in the zone

*intense and focused concentration on the present moment

*merging of action and awareness

*loss of reflective self-consciousness

*a sense of personal control over the situation or activity

*a distortion of temporal experience – to wit, you lose all sense of time

*experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding


Do you recognize yourself in certain activities? If you are into fitness or artistic pursuits you should see yourself there. I also see something that would be most useful in a classroom – if we could get the little darlings there, into the zone of learning, how successful they would be!


But getting into the zone is the hardest thing. I need to be in the zone for a range of things:

To mark my books

To write

To work on my study

To regain fitness (oh, yes & diet)


In case you were wondering, there are agreed to conditions that need to be met to be successful in the zone, to find your flow:

1.Your activity needs clearly set goals and progress points – how many kilos off this week, how many chapters written?

2.The task needs clear & immediate feedback so we know how to adjust performance and stay in the zone – the mirror, your clothes, your readers, editor, supervisor

3.You need to have enough confidence in your ability to complete the task at hand – do you have the skills and the desire to complete your task – or when you falter can you get back on the horse?


Can I manage to get into the zone this weekend? Is there a zone you need to be in? Hopefully I can be so fully immersed in my zone that the annoyance and discomfort of my throat is magically spirited away. (Images from Private Collection)

Why FB Quizzes Are Good for You

September 6, 2014

I am:

Samantha from Bewitched

My Spirit Animal is a Wolf

Athena, Goddess of Wisdom & War

72% Right Brain

My Aura is Purple

My famous boyfriend is Robert Downey Jr


Can you guess what I’ve been doing?

It’s a no brainer: oodles of Face-Book quizzes, like many others of you out there, because I get them from you. That list of results only scratches the surface! I have become addicted to them – not all, I hasten to add, but too many, it’s true. It’s not a good FB session if I haven’t had a go at at least one quiz.

But FB isn’t the only place for quizzes. I do the Brain Teasers in the Metro every morning as I psyche up for work; the Literary Quiz, Word Watch and Two Brains in Saturday’s Times and just to be even handed, I had a spell where I was addicted to The Guardian’s on-line quizzes, where I got scores ranging from 2/10 – 9/10! High scores were usually related to utter trivia… I never miss Pop Master on BBC2 when I’m home and I have managed a couple of good scores – 27/39 last time. Of course, there are pub-quizzes and all sorts of other places where you can team up with mates and pit your wits against others at quiz nights. Love them too – even when I don’t win.

There’s also a whole swag of quizzes on TV too. The old faithful reliable likes of University Challenge, Mastermind, Jeopardy and others like Only Connect or Eggheads, but that’s a bit slow.


You could spend most of your waking hours playing quizzes. There is a quiz for every sort of person in the world. If you move onto Sudoku and crosswords and other puzzles there’d be no room for anything else in your life.

Downsides to quizzes:

They waste a great deal of your time

Many of them are excessively trivial

They mostly tell you nothing useful about yourself or the world

They can be addictive

They can make you anti-social

They can make you feel more of an idiot than you already are


But there is a significant and important up-side to doing quizzes and puzzles and it should console those of us who are starting to feel guilty about how much of our lives is disappearing in a fug of on-line quizzes and vegetative states in front of a TV screen.


Quizzes (and puzzles):

Keep your brain moving

Keep all its synapses and neurons firing

keep you sharp

Give you new insights into yourself

Give you new information

Keep dementia and Alzheimer’s at bay


So, ditch the guilt, do your quiz, keep your brain moving. Remember it’s like the rest of your body, if you keep exercising it you get to keep it longer. And in this era of increasing dementia anything that fires up your grey matter has to be a good thing. (Images courtesy Private Collection and Non-commercial reuse from Google)

The Fear (it’s that nasty old back to school feeling)

August 30, 2014

Have you woken this morning feeling uneasy, a bit distracted, not particularly refreshed, something niggling at you somewhere? Have you woken feeling like this on and off for the last week? Then I bet you’re a teacher two days away from returning to work, the summer holiday just not long enough. The fear of what awaits eating into you, ruining your last few days.

It’s not fair, is it? You spend the first week of the holiday getting over the year, the traumas and excesses of your life in a classroom, an edge of fear about your results hovering as you leave, wondering if you have done enough, if your students will do well. And then you can spend another week at the end as the dread, the fear about the new year builds again.


What I find amazing is that this fear never goes away. I’ve been doing this job for thirty years and STILL I have the dreams of dread, the uneasy awakening, the confusion about where I am, and what day it is. Then the dream crawls its way back to the front of my brain and I realise it was only a dream but that my days in the sun are numbered.

Last night I dreamt I couldn’t find my own classroom, or even a desk to work from, there were no IT facilities for me, I was meant to be preparing for an observation, I’d been away for too long and didn’t know my students and then the lesson I was preparing had been done by someone else in an amazing whizz-bang way and I knew I was doomed. Oh, yes, it was a fun dream.

Signs You’ve Got the Fear

*Dreams about – the students, no classroom control, being unprepared, being ignored, not belonging, being outside looking in, being in a school that isn’t really your school but you know it is, being rejected, results that swim before your eyes

*Unable to settle to a good night’s sleep again – unable to get to sleep, waking too often, not wanting to get out of bed in the am, feeling shit when you do wake up

*Looking for other jobs – there has to be an easier way to earn a living!

*Playing lotto – perhaps it is your turn this weekend…

*Face-booking your sadness, knowing your teacher friends will sympathise and join you in your suffering

*Feeling hopelessly inadequate about all parts of your life, not just your job

*Shopping for new clothes anyway, because shopping always makes you feel better

*Endless last drinks with mates to prolong the holiday vibe


Sadly I know of no cure for this. The fear seems to be one of the nastier side effects of being a teacher, the downside of the long holidays. I’m sure other professions have something similar, something you just have to endure, like childbirth to have a child.

Never mind, Sunday nights often make you feel as bad, don’t they? And Monday morning makes you want to pull the covers over your head and stay there forever.


Never mind, we’ll plough on, just the same, be sparkling and bright for Monday’s endlessly mind numbing round of meetings, telling us what we already know, a mixture of aren’t you all shit and aren’t we going to be wonderful, and without any time to prepare or do anything really useful.

Never mind, we will still be the best we can, won’t we?

I guess it’s a bit like stage fright for actors, the fear is part and parcel of the job. If you don’t feel the fear you can’t do your job, you don’t care enough about it, you won’t be good enough.

So, feel the fear and do it anyway. (Images courtesy of Private Collection)



4 Simple Steps to Happiness

July 26, 2014

It’s nice to see the amount of people doing positivity posts on FB – looking at the good things in their lives. It seems a good thing to be doing, especially at the moment when so many terrible things have been happening. It is time to count our blessings and search for simple ways to be happy. Here are a few simple steps into happiness, this lovely sunny Saturday as we embrace the summer school holidays.

Music – the impact of music on mood is widely known – from its affect on soothing babies and children to firing up head-bangers. Today I have a few songs that are guaranteed to make you happy:

Happy by Pharrell Williams (Of course!)

Waterloo by Abba

Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears (drive to it)

Love is in the Air by John Paul Young (always makes me feel happy)

Beautiful Day by U2

Echo Beach by Martha and the Muffins (my personal favourite song ever)



Smells – also known for their impact on your mood. Try these out:

Freshly mown grass

Smelly dog

Chlorine from the swimming pool

Your young baby’s head

Scented candles

The world after its rained

Fresh brewed coffee – especially early in the morning


Do something simple but satisfying

A walk in the park – move that body, every day it makes you feel so much better

Baking for others – the smell of baking is also mood elevating

Cleaning your home so it sparkles and shines and becomes a haven of tranquillity

Completing any task – a puzzle, a task for work

Have a long bath with loads of bubbles and nice smelly stuff

Reading – of course!!


Appreciate what you have – so many have lost so much lately, look around you and see what you have, look at it, hold it close to your heart and treasure what you have.

Family who love you

Friends who care about you

Work that pays your bills and sustains your ‘real’ life

A safe home to enjoy

A peaceful place to live

Be aware of what you have, of how precious it is and how easy it is to find and hold happiness and positivity to your life. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Who Do You Hate Now (that Michael Gove has gone)?

July 19, 2014

Hate is a powerful emotion, as powerful as love, possibly as destructive as love, but without the power to heal and redeem us. So, dear friends, what do you do when someone you hate is no longer there, when the figure of all your negativity, your anger and frustration with your world is gone? To wit, what do we do now Michael Gove is no longer running Education in the UK?

It’s easy to see why Cameron has removed him. In the end Gove was too divisive, too antagonistic, too easy to hate and blame. It was a powerful move, bust him down to Chief Whip, losing more money than many of us earn in a year from his salary, before he got locked in the loo. The Gove haters amongst us could not have hoped for more. If ever there was confirmation that Karma existed here it was.

The man who had spat vitriol and bile at teachers for the last four years, who had marched through his agenda for change with nary a thought for students, or parents, or schools or consequences had got his come-uppance. Indeed the viral world was full of rejoicing. Which was fair enough. And it was made even sweeter when his silly wife revealed how betrayed the Goves really were, how terribly ripped off they felt. Altogether now, ahhh…


But now, who do we hate? Gove may be gone but his policies remain alive and afloat, if only for now. We have a clean-skin replacement, a woman and a mother, Nicky Morgan. So a clear attempt to soften the voters, despite her stance on gay marriage and being a corporate lawyer, deep in the bosom of acquisitions and asset stripping (watch this space). But she talked about stopping all the Tory hate-speak. She seems to be the face of reconciliation – not someone teachers or unions or the Labour Party will be able to vent their spleens about. We can expect soft words and perhaps some lessening of the reforming zeal.

Cameron may be a fool and an idiot and an awful lot of other useless things but the removal of such a hate figure as Gove seems to be a very smart move: it takes the wind out of a flotilla of sails. It seems it will beach the opposition, as Tristram Hunt has done little but criticise Gove, not his policies.

We need to hate. Sadly it is one of mankind’s uglier traits, along with anger and jealousy – all emotions that do very little for you, as an individual or nation. Is not the Middle East conflict based on hatred going back years? Is not the current War on Terror between the West and Islam similarly about hate?

Do you remember when the Berlin Wall came down? I was in Alice Springs, it was my first appointment as Head of English, I was pregnant, young and saw the world as full of possibility. The Wall coming down seemed to be an act of hope: the end of the Cold War, the beginning of peace between the West and the Eastern Bloc, the end of the Red Terror.

But how long did we survive without an enemy, without someone to hate? 1990 when the Wall came down to 2001 when the Twin Towers came down (Albeit with the Gulf War in between). Just over ten years – not very long, not long at all. Once again we live in a world driven by hate, by the need to have an enemy.

Is there someone in your life you need to hate? Do you need to have an enemy, are you in a constant state of war? Are you spending your time and energy in negativity, in hating someone that probably doesn’t know or care? Yes, we hate our bosses, our parents, our partners, former lovers, devious friends. But do we need to? Is our hatred of them simply hatred of something in ourselves?

Life is too short to hate. Hatred has no up-side. It depletes you, makes you bitter, nasty, twisted. It takes time and effort to hate, time and effort you should be putting to better use. Rejoice that Gove has gone. Be pleased you no longer have to hate someone you didn’t know, who didn’t care, but who has got what he deserved. And you know what, he’d have got his Karmic punch without you (and me) hating him as much as we have. Now go and be positive somewhere else in your life and do not look for another object of hate to waste your life on.

But if you’re lost without Gove, remember there’s always Tony Abbott, equally offensive, arrogant and stupid. (Images: Michael Gove – The Guardian; Tony Abbott –

3 Steps to Happiness

July 12, 2014

How goes the happiness quest? Have you been practising little moments of happiness, noticing the lovely and finding the joy in the world? It is a tricky quest, so let’s remind ourselves of how we can manage it.




Happiness is not the destination, it is the journey and it is within all of us – we just have to believe that and dig deep. I know in an adversarial world this can be hard to accept at times. Yet again it’s been a rugged world out there – nationally we’ve been on strike, the UK government has gone into bile overload; Tony Abbot continues to embarrass and outrage in equal amounts; parts of the world continue to explode and we try and recover from the shock of Rolf Harris. And of course, our own personal struggles and challenges continue, doing their best to drown us and mire us in misery.

There’s a bit of buzz about happiness this weekend in the papers and on Radio 2 yesterday, there were three simple things were meant to make us happy.

1.Finding unexpected money

2. The sunset/sunrise

3. I forget, but think it was having a laugh – we’ll go with that!



My happiness revolves around my family, writing and reading, eating (I count entertaining here) and sleeping – that’s my three big happiness-makers. But in an interesting twist I read that you should not rely on others, on external things to make you happy, you must find it in yourself. If you rely on others for happiness what happens when they let you down, or leave you?



True happiness needs to be built on your own ability to make happiness, to accept that you have control over your emotions; that you control how you feel. So, think about the following and pick three that work for you

*If you believe you deserve to be happy you will be

*If you look for happiness you will find it – not everyone finds their family a bundle of joy, if you do you are blessed and will be happy

*If you take notice of the small moments they will build into larger moments, more sustainable moments – so when you wake on Saturday morning and the sun is shining and it’s a work free day and you feel a surge of happy make sure you do something that keeps that feeling bubbling along

*If you keep away from toxic environments and people it will help you – these things can eat you alive, draining any hope of happiness

*If you find something to do that makes you happy then try to do it as often as possible – the gym or exercise can be like this, writing is for me, buy flowers once a week: the list is endless

*If you have special places that make you happy, you should go there too – a walk in the woods, a stroll by the sea – the beach and the water always do it for me!





You can learn to be happy. You aren’t here to be miserable and sad, it is a waste of a life. As a happy person you will be a better person, more productive, more alive and more able to make the world a better place – and it needs to be!! Do your bit in your little part of the world to make it better – BE Happy.




What are your three steps to happiness, what are you doing this weekend to make yourself happy, to make the world a better place? (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Rolf Harris: When Celebrities Fail

July 5, 2014

Australia’s PM, Tony Abbot ‘is gutted’. The rest of us are shocked and appalled, but mostly we’re disappointed. How can this happen, how can someone we think we know, whom we’ve known all our lives turn out to be a criminal? How did Rolf Harris fool so many of us for so long?

Yes, he’s not the only one. But sometimes the fall of particular celebrities hits home harder. Jimmy Savile doesn’t mean much to me or most Australians, nor does the jailing of Andy Coulson for the phone hacking. Oscar Pistorius means little to me – I think he’s guilty as sin and hiding behind his celebrity status. But Rolf Harris, one of our iconic Ozzie blokes, a battler done good? Well, yes, that hits home. There is a sense of being personally let down as well as being disgusted by his behaviour, by his abuse of power and the deliberate use of his celebrity status.

Rolf bbc

What is it about celebrities when they fall from grace that is so compelling to us? Why do we follow certain stories with a passion?

Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong were kings of their respective worlds. Both excellent sportsmen but more than that, they were such good guys. Lance and his cancer, and his foundation to help others. Tiger and his pristine, guy next door, all round good bloke image. Both were rich trading on their sporting prowess and their carefully crafted public image. We admired them, we looked up to them and we believed the image. We did not know the substance. So, when the substance emerged – well, exploded in Tiger’s case – the world was aghast. Just as with Rolf, we were shocked – it can’t be true. Not Tiger. Lance’s fall from grace took a lot longer, had a much uglier side to it. But when the scale of his cheating finally emerged it was breath-taking – the lengths he had gone to to shut people down, to kill the truth of his life.

Both men had large secrets that they went to elaborate lengths to hide from the public and many around them. They seemed to believe they were above it all, that they were both different and the same. Tiger Woods famously wanted to be left alone like a normal man cheating on his wife. But he wasn’t an ordinary man cheating on his wife. Lance Armstrong didn’t really think he was cheating because everyone else was. It took both celebrities some time to accept that they were in the wrong: that they were cheats and liars.

Tiger wiki

Rolf Harris, and many others, traded on his celebrity, lived in a milieu that seems to allow behaviour that is not appropriate. Perhaps it was the times, perhaps it was the company he kept, perhaps he is just a misguided old man who shouldn’t be going to jail…

But the problem with some celebrities is that they hide behind their status, use their status and the power from that status to behave badly. Does something happen to their moral compass when they become famous, or was there something faulty in them in the first place that pushed them to become famous and enabled their faults to have full reign?

We should be in no doubt that while celebrities seem to be like us, they are in fact nothing like us. Their trick is that they seem to be, which encourages us to connect to them, to buy their products, see their movies, follow their lives, which increases their power, status and wealth. But they live in different circles, they do not work as we do, struggle as we do. Gwyneth Paltrow doesn’t get divorced, she ‘consciously uncouples’.

Fame and wealth make you different to your fans, your followers. It has to, otherwise why would it be so attractive? Being famous is one of those things we can all aspire to. It’s not accident that many of the big names in the world of sport and entertainment came from humble origins and have such big fan-bases – Tom Cruise, David Beckham, Johnny Farnham and Rolf Harris.

Whether they like it or not, their rags to riches stories resonate for us. It means we can too, if we work hard and have enough talent. It’s also why we admire them: we understand their struggle and we appreciate how hard it was for them to climb their stairways to heaven. Thus when they fall we are crushed. Somehow their journey has been our journey. Their successes ours and therefore their failures ours. We know them, that’s the point of being a fan, a follower – we have a special relationship – albeit incredibly one-sided, but as important for some people as their every day relationships.

So, when they let us down, as David Beckham did a few years ago with his affair and Tom Cruise embarrassed us on the couch with Oprah, and now Rolf Harris, we feel personally affronted. We didn’t know them at all.

No, we don’t know them, we know a version of them, the one they want the world to see. What hides beneath none of us really know. We see the product, the manufactured entity; the version sent out into the world, not the one that lives at home. Rolf Harris’ wife and daughter tell a sad tale of a man they hardly saw, didn’t really know, who saved the cheerful daftness for others, not them. He was away from home at key times, didn’t recognise his wife and new baby, was somewhat self absorbed. His letter of contrition to the family of the friend of his daughter is pathetically about himself, not his sorrow for the damage to her or her family.

So, this weekend another celebrity has fallen. Rolf Harris sits in jail, notionally for 5 years and 9 months. His family sit somewhere, broken and shamed. His victims have some justice. He is 84, my father’s age. Should he be in jail for crimes from over twenty years ago? Yes, justice has to happen and be seen to happen – war criminals from WW2 were pursued and jailed in their 80’s many years after their heinous crimes.

Will Rolf Harris be rehabilitated in the public eye, will we forgive him after he’s done his time? Will we do what we normally do with celebrities and forgive them once they’ve been publically humiliated and punished and sought our forgiveness? I have my doubts. Perhaps finally we are sick of celebrities and their extreme behaviour, their lack of contrition, lack of shame for what they have done, only sorry because they have been found out. Perhaps we are tired of their duplicity, being something they very much aren’t.


So, look to your favourite celebrity. Are you sure they’re all they seem to be? Are Brad and Ange as solid as we think? Are they as nice as we think – like us only infinitely more beautiful and rich, or is there some dark secret waiting to find air, to be exposed… (Images: Rolf Harris, BBC; Tiger Woods, Wikipedia; Brad & Ange, Guardian)

*For a more in depth consideration of the Rolf Harris story read this article by Peter Conrad from The Monthly – ttps://

It’s Time to Consume Less –Eschew the Clutter

June 28, 2014

Stop! Before you click buy, consider how much you really need the item you are about to purchase from the comfort of your home, from the ease of your computer. Do you really need another pair of shoes, a new coat, the latest iPhone and all its accessories, more knick knacks? The truth is you probably don’t need to buy anything non-essential ever again.

Look around your home. Is it full of things – of possessions that you simply have to have to feel good about your life, to feel as if you live in a lovely home, have taste or just enough money to buy whatever you want, whenever you want it?

If you’re like me, then your house is full of lovely little things that you just had to have, that made you feel better simply by buying it. But, the truth is for most of us we have homes full of stuff that we don’t use and don’t need. In fact some of it we never use. It just takes up space and clutters our life.

We live in a consumer society – it’s called an economy and an economy is all about money, about buying and selling, money and goods changing hands forever, so producers and manufacturers keep in business and people keep their jobs and we keep spending our money and keeping the world turning.


Spending money feels good. It’s lovely to walk into a shop and leave again with your brown bags replete with some special item you simply had to have. It’s lovely to get your little packages from Amazon, etc in the post. It’s wonderful to wander a market and find amazing bargains.

We’re also bombarded with advertising at every turn. It is worse than it was. Buses, tube stations, trains, newspapers, magazines, not to mention the invasive web advertising that is now wonderfully linked into your latest search so that when you’re reading your stars or the latest news, there, in the corner is the ad from John Lewis, or Jaguar or ASOS, reminding you that you want to buy, you really-really do.

But, do we need half of what we buy these days? Do we thoughtfully replace our old coat with the new one, throw out the shoes that are worn, or do we simply keep things forever, because – you never know when it might come in handy… Here’s the big hint from this blog- IT WON’T.

Several things remind me of the need to de-clutter our lives. One is moving again (a separate blog to come about the joys of moving) and the other was cleaning out my father’s things after he died last year.

My dad loved to shop. He had a house full of things and some very recently bought: some new books and a very nice selection of clothes. Which is fine, you are saying. But when we cleaned out his life – never an easy thing to do – we sent a small truck’s worth of clothes to the charity shops. Nice clothes, but so many and from when he was a much younger man! We did the same with books – sort the historical worthwhile and the pulp quick reads – why wasn’t he a library member? The kitchen was the same –there were still items from when I was a child – a kettle and toaster from the 1960s alongside a cavalcade of kitchenalia bought over the years. Why not sort and clear? Why did he need a house full of things, of clutter? Why do any of us?


Jeremy Clarkson wrote recently of the loss of his mother. You know Jeremy, loud mouthed brash, trouble prone, man-boy from Top Gear. He wrote a touching article about the loss of his mother in the Sunday Times – she was the creator of the Paddington Bear toy. His fear, after his sadness was having to go into her home and sort through her life, making those terrible decisions about sorting and keeping; about having to be sensible not sentimental. And you know what? He didn’t have to. His mother, who had known she was dying, had sorted through her own life and de-cluttered it before it was too late.

So, this weekend, have a look around your home. Do you really need and use all that you have? Are you hanging onto things for no sensible reason? Sentiment has a place, comfort and indulgence has a place but perhaps you should be concentrating more on the other things in your life that matter and not the stuff that clogs and clutters your home?


Remember, charity shops are there for a purpose, so is the tip! (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Karma and the Wheel of Fortune

June 14, 2014

Allegedly a former senior colleague of mine (and others) endured an incident of humiliation and distress at the hand of an innocent recently, as reported, and then confirmed, on one of the more reliable social networks.

I must confess dear friends that this small defiant action by one person against another, and sadly I do not know the full details, thrilled me to the core. I did feel a tad guilty about my pleasure at their displeasure and distress. But then I remembered only too well what the ‘victim’ had visited on me and many others.

Indeed I feel as if Karma, taking her sweet bloody time, had finally smiled on me and I found myself unusually cheered in the wake of the news.

As we know it is unutterably hard to cope when the Wheel of Fortune is stalled at the bottom in the mud of despair and powerlessness, sometimes at the hands of another, sometimes because of our own foolishness and stupidity. But, if you know your Shakespeare and your Tarot, wheels are always going around and he who rises also falls, just as he who falls also rises.

King Lear was “bound upon a wheel of fire”, having been the king who gave it all away, he went mad and lost his beloved youngest daughter. He didn’t quite manage to get everything back but he had grown from his suffering and it could be argued he died in peace; certainly order was restored to his ravaged kingdom.

Macbeth began as a hero, lauded across the land. Like Lear he began his play at the top of his Wheel of Fortune, but oh did he fall. His act of regicide was only avenged by Macduff , at the end of the play, who completed the karmic circle for Duncan’s sons. Thus the kingdom was restored and all was right in the world again.


This is the heart of Karma, that what goes around comes around – believing that injustice, that your unwarranted suffering at the hands of another will be dealt with, will be avenged. The problem with Karma is that she takes her time and appears in deceptive disguises. It is unlikely that you will be the instrument of your own Karma, especially in our context, that of revenge. And this is what makes keeping the Karmic faith difficult – you have to be patient and you have to trust it will happen.

You are always the instrument of your own Karma when you act for good. While you wait for the evil-doers in your life to get theirs, go about your own business doing good, being good. It will distract you from your suffering and make you a better and stronger person in the meantime. And if you spread good about it will come back to you.

Remember, just like the river, you cannot push Karma against her will, and know that the Wheel of Fortune is ever turning, always falling and rising. Smile, go about your business, be patient. If you believe in justice there will be justice. (Pictures courtesy Private Collection)

Reading Lists for students… dare you write your own?

June 7, 2014

Aftre Michael Gove announced the ‘banning’ of several iconic books for GCSE students a predictable and not entirely unwarranted torrent of abuse ensued and then alternative lists popped up – including the Guardian’s selection from notables. Oh, dear, what lists – full of self indulgence (Russell Brand) and complete ignorance of the teenage beast (nearly everyone else except for Hilary Mantel).

It is worth considering – what books should be experienced during the high school years, what should you read and know about as you grow and become who you are? After all those of us who dwell in the world of books know how we learn about ourselves and others from reading, as well as all the osmosis language skills we acquire simply from reading.

Should we agree with Michael Gove and eschew books from other countries, other cultures and be utterly xenophobic in our canon for the kiddies? What sort of citizens would we be brewing if we follow such a path? Others are asking this question and it is an important one to consider, given there is more truth in fiction than in history, given there is mandated focus on socio-historic-cultural baggage of the texts studied in school.


In my time in Australian schools we taught a broad range of texts from writers across the world, although perhaps we could have done better. But, there were a slew of excellent YA American novels by the likes of SE Hinton, Paul Zindel, Robert Cormier – so many kiddies loved The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese. I taught To Kill a Mockingbird alongside The Lord of the Flies. We had Animal Farm and Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy. But some of these dated – notably Colin Thiele and Lord of the Flies, or perhaps it became too English as we became more Australian and hade more home grown stuff to choose from, including Nick Earls, John Marsden, Isobel Carmody, Sonya Hartnet and Nadia Wheatley.

We were not starved for choice and indeed many of my happier moments were raging arguments in my departments about which books needed to go and which ones we now wanted in our book-rooms. Yes, schools where I chose what we would teach and then my teams chose from the range. Good times.


So, what might an All-Australian list look like?


For the term

For the Term of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert

We of the Never Never, Jeannie Gunn

The Eye of the Storm, Patrick White – there must be one White at least, as he is our only home-grown Nobel winner, no matter how inaccessible you think he is!!

A Fortunate Life, AB Facey

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay

Walkabout, James Vance Marshall

The Harp in the South, Ruth Park

A Town Like Alice, Neville Shute

The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

Ride on Stranger, Kylie Tennant

Poetry of AB Paterson

Short stories from Henry Lawson


Modern Classics

Monkey grip

Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey

Gould’s Book Of Fish, Richard Flanangan

Monkey Grip, Helen Garner

Lilian’s Story, Kate Grenville

Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Unreliable Memoirs, Clive James – entertaining memoir

My Place, Sally Morgan – important memoir

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Carpentaria, Alexis Wright

Poetry by – Les A Murray, Gwen Harwood, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Bruce Dawe, Judith Wright, AD Hope, John Kinsella, John Tranter, Dorothy Porter




The One Day of the Year, Alan Seymour

The Club or The Removalists by David Williamson

Radiance, by Louis Nowra



looking f Al

The Obernewtyn serties, Isobel Carmody

48 Shades of Brown, Nick Earls

Looking for Alibrandi, Melinda Marchetta

Tomorrow when the war began, John Marsden

Lockie Leonard – Human Torpedo, Tim Winton

Sabriel, Garth Nix

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak


Classic Films (because films should be included too…)

rabbit proof

Rabbit Proof Fence (based on true story)

Gallipoli (based on letters from the front)

Mad Max (just because…)


What would this highly personal selection tell us about being Australian? That women are valued in our canon, that there are Aboriginal voices (although there is an argument there should be more). There are few immigrant voices, but I have been away from home for a while and not as up to speed with recent developments… What would these stories tell us about ourselves? Do we not need texts from other countries, other voices in our heads to tell us about the world and how to live?

When I taught English Lit in the NT the texts were King Lear, The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night and 1000 lines of poetry, which was taken from an Australian anthology. So there was representation from three countries, different times and places, classics and moderns. Perhaps there should have been more classic Oz-Lit at that level, perhaps there is now. When I taught English Communications in Tasmania we embraced other cultures much better and taught The God of Small Things and Jhumpa Lhahiri’s collection of short stories alongside Radiance and some non-fiction texts.


From my list – extensive but not exhaustive you can plainly see we have as Australians a rich and long standing literary heritage from which to create a bespoke English curriculum but I am not sure this is wise. I think it would shame us in many cases, it would reinforce some of our less admirable characteristics and much and all as people might breath a sigh of relief at the absence of Shakespeare or the Romantic Poets, or Dickens, what would an English education be without a smattering of good writing, of the classics from across the world?

It is always wrong to ban books, or attempt to modify people’s reading, be they teenagers or adults. Reading books, reading fiction is one of those activities that is dying fast amongst the young. What is beholden on the powers that be is to promote texts that engage and excite and mix in the classics, from across the world. A country like the UK should be outward looking, to learn from reading, to be anything but xenophobic and nationalistic in your curriculum.

Remember there is more truth in fiction than in any other book, perhaps that’s why people want to burn them and ban them and why writers are often considered with suspicion…

What do you remember from your school days? What would you want students to be reading in High School? (Images courtesy Google Images)


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