Students – love them, hate them, they keep you going…

July 18, 2015

Students – love them, hate them, they keep you going…

Last week was about the destruction of the profession of teaching, why it has become almost impossible to see a future as part of it. This week, reminded by comments on my blog and the joy that is the student beast, I must write about them, the students: the creatures that frustrate, annoy, winge and complain eternally but ultimately are the centre of joy in the world of education.

Yesterday was the final day at my latest school. It was one of those happy-sad occasions. I am pleased to be moving away from a senior management team for whom I have absolutely no respect, but sad to leave behind some colleagues and my students. The students are where the tears and sadness really reside. As always, it will be the students I miss, the students I remember.


This year’s highlights:

*Liam, in year 10, who has all sorts of social, emotional issues – think Christopher from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – spoke for the first time in years, and then offered to read and responded when called upon.

*Georgia, in year 9, who was permanently in trouble, every lesson really, and struggled with the basics, but a bit of bribery, a letter home (of praise), a chocolate and the tide turned and after Christmas – one day I noticed she hadn’t been in trouble since the term began and she was now making progress. Once the change was in it stuck.

*Jack, in another year 9 class, who was an absolute shit elsewhere but good as gold with me.

*Erin, in year 10, a silent sweet thing suddenly came to life with a stunning speech about art and her love of it.

*Lauren’s version of Lennie (from Of Mice & Men) in our court-room drama – one of the best I’ve seen.

*Shennay, of the ‘your an asshole’ who moaned and whined her way through the beginning of every lesson who managed to end the year with a C in course-work and her mock exam, despite very shaky beginnings.


*Ryan, from year 12, was openly homo-phobic, said he would reject any of his children if they came out to him. Another student, George and I embarked on a furious discussion denigrating his position, completely ignoring whatever essential bit of English we were meant to be focusing on. George and I were concerned about Ryan’s ethical and moral soul and so the discussion raged for the lesson. A few days later Ryan confessed that he had gone home and thought long and hard about what we had said and had changed his mind – George and I were right. His homophobia, if not cured, had been smacked about and permanently dented.

*Lauren, Sarah and Kaitlin presented a dramatic re-enactment of key moments from the year in 0-6 with Lauren’s appalling Australian accent – she had the phrases right, though!

*Year 9C lining up to hug me good-bye with gifts of flowers and balloons – even my bad boys – and trying not to cry.

*My 6th form tutor group for their intelligence, humour, recalcitrance, confessions, need for advice, trust and love. It was lovely to spend the first 20 minutes of the day with calm (not really awake) teenagers who don’t have to be shouted at, who can engage on matters in curious and interesting ways. I love them – Y-06, probably my all time favourite tutor group – although my St Pat’s lot were pretty wonderful too. And, you get a whole different level of gifts from older students!!

Yr12 prez

What I am reminded of is that young people matter. That literature and books and writing and spelling are important but it’s the other stuff, the bit about life about becoming a decent human being, one with confidence and a belief in themself that matters. My cards are full of those ideas: thanks for the help, thanks for listening, for being there, for believing, for making me a better person, for liking me even though I’ve been a shit most of the year.

I will miss my collection of Jacks (all cheeky lads), Ruby, Ella, Erin, Shennay, Georgia, Paige, my Liams, Dylan, Harriet, Katie, Kirsty, Paige, the Katelyns, Emily, Lauren & Sarah, Connie, Issy, Beccy, Shaun, George & Ryan and the others who have passed through my door this year. Some will remain large in my memory, others will fade but my memory of this particular school will be based on them, and it will be a good memory.

Flowers & balloons

My students remind me why I do this, why I continue to do this and why I rail against the machine – there is so much more to education than a C in English, or good GCSEs. We must remember that education is about the child, who will become a person, hopefully a decent citizen, one who will make a difference too. Happy holidays all. xx (Images from Private Collection)


End of Term Blues: Why am I still teaching?

July 11, 2015

Why Am I Still Teaching?

It’s nearly the end of another teaching year – too many to count now! But I end this year sad and uncertain: what is my purpose, what am I actually doing as an English teacher in this country, under the latest changes?

Up until recently I have been confident about the importance and purpose of my subject and my job. English is central to the life opportunities of the young, as is Maths (yes, and other subjects are important too!). English is about the basics: reading and writing, but it is so much more than that – it is about communicating, thinking, creating, exploring, arguing; using the imagination. Well, it was, and maybe it still is at home, in Oz. But in the UK, with every change that is implemented English becomes an impoverished subject; ironically like most of the students whose life chances it purports to support.

In the reaction to the endemic cheating or gaming of the system through Course Work and then Controlled Assessments, key questions were not asked. No-one scratched their head and said: Hey, why are all these schools and teachers cheating to get better results? Why is this happening? Dots were not joined and so we have a subject that should be about nuance and thought, time and consideration, about planning and editing and drafting that is being wholly externally examined. My subject has been bastardised by people who have no idea about English and certainly not the first idea about young people. My subject has been hijacked by people who did not struggle at school, who have not listened to teachers or parents, who reside in some sort of alternative universe where education is stuck in the 1950s.


Here are some questions that should have been asked before the latest changes were made.

1. What is the point of English in schools?

2. How can we make this subject relevant to non-readers, to those who don’t write, or see much of a future for themselves?

3. What skills and knowledge do we want them to have?


I used to think the point of English was to foster a love of reading, to encourage students to read for information, for pleasure, to develop their own language and ability to extract meaning from a text, to think about ideas and meaning and come to their own considered opinions. Fiction’s purpose was to start a dialogue, to tap into their experiences and move them beyond that, to consider other views, other world’s, other ways of being and seeing.

Reading lead to discussion, exploration, arguing, justifying an opinion. It led to accepting there were other points of view, other ways of seeing and understanding things; it also showed you were not alone, not the only one feeling the way you did. Reading lead to writing – personal responses, essays, critical analysis and creative responses, a story, a letter to a character, an extra chapter, and alternative ending, something original using an element from the text. Writing meant thinking, planning, writing, experimenting, crafting, drafting and editing before producing a final product worthy of ‘publication’ or assessment. Not a tick box exercise about triplets and wow words and as much punctuation as you can shove in to get an extra mark.

How many skills can you identify from that paragraph?

There is a large body of evidence that shows that reading fiction, especially good quality well written fiction, is good for us. It enhances empathy, our ability to connect to others, to understand people and how to work with them. Reading also develops our ability to concentrate, to sustain activities, as well as develop our vocabulary and understanding of how language works – the nuts and bolts of punctuation, sentence structure, vocabulary choices and effects. We learn how to be good writers from being good readers.


But the new curriculum is not about love of anything – certainly not books or kids. There is nothing modern or particularly accessible on the new list for GCSE – a raft of Shakespeare, as to be expected, 19th century texts that many will never access – Great Expectations is a great story but too long; Pride and Prejudice a bit too much romance and marriage; Jekyll and Hyde may be short but its language is impenetrable. Most of the 20th century texts stop short of the 1960s. I’m not sure what these texts bring to a modern child, how they will find reading less of a chore, a king-size bore from the xenophobic list created by Michael Gove, the master educationalist.

I’m not sure what future the politicians see for young people, I’m not sure what they think they will achieve by a retro Sabre-tooth Tiger curriculum that takes no account of the modern world, of the impact of technology on language, on the way we create and receive information. I wonder what world these students are being ‘prepared’ for.

dead angel

I wonder how I will connect texts and tasks to their experiences, to make them see the relevance of what we do for 5 hours a week. I wonder how I can resist the pressure to make everything we do about exam skills and preparation, because that will be the push, the fear from above about exams now that we have nothing else to tell us how students are progressing.

I wonder how much longer I can do this job, dictated to by idiots and fools who have no idea what it’s like to be a teenager, to be at school, to be constantly tested, to prepare for a future from within an education system that is not fit for purpose. (Images from Private Collection)

10 Ways to be Professional

July 4, 2015

How to be Professional

While we’re on the theme of work, let me ruminate on this idea of professionalism. You’re being unprofessional is one of those phrases managers and workers like to throw around, it most definitely intended as an insult, and it is taken as one. But what do we really mean by professional, by professionalism?

When I was oodles younger I remember coming across professional in the context of sport – amateur sportsman could compete in the Olympics, professionals couldn’t – so American basketballers because they earned money, were out and most athletes were strictly amateur, in it for love and glory not money, like most people I knew who played sport religiously and devotedly Summer and Winter. Oh, yes, the world of sport has changed massively since the innocence of my youth.


So professional is about being paid for what you do. Hence a number of us who potter about in the artistic community – artists, performers and writers – don’t tend to call ourselves by those names until we have been paid. Professional is linked to money, to profession – to doing something.

My beloved Collins Compact Dictionary says: Professionn, a type of work that requires special training, such as law or medicine; the people employed in such an occupation. Professionaladj, of a profession; taking part in an activity, such as sport or music, as a means of livelihood; displaying a high level of competence or skill.

It is the latter definition, about high levels of competence and skill, or lack thereof, that links to being unprofessional. But it is too loosely applied and has come to refer essentially to actions or behaviours at work that other people simply don’t like. Accuse someone of being unprofessional and prepare to call the troops for reinforcement – yes, it is a red rag to a bull, most especially if the accusation comes from some incompetent up the food-chain.


So, lets look at how to be professional, to avoid the accusation of unprofessionalism, so we can self-monitor our own performance better

1.Know what your job is – there will be a description somewhere, read it, make sure you understand what the various expectations mean. Make sure you are very clear about your rights and responsibilities and discharge them to the best of your ability.

2.Be adequately and appropriately trained – basic training is one thing but all professions are constantly changing, so go on courses, read in your area, get involved in PD. Aim to be highly skilled, an expert in your area.

3.Do your job. You’re being paid for a specific purpose and you need to do your job – so meet deadlines, chair meetings that have agendas and clear purposes, circulate memos and minutes – yes, inform and advice your team, write reports, complete all your tasks to the highest possible standard within the time frame.

4.Learn from those around you – watch your managers, how do they act, what do they do when things go wrong, how do they treat their staff, how do they interact with their managers? Note: this only works if you have good people to model from!!


5.Accept criticism and learn from it. Being professional doesn’t mean being perfect. We all fuck up from time to time, take the feedback, consider it and learn from it.

6.Apologise. Same idea – you’ll get it wrong with those you work with, be the bigger person and apologise. It helps keep relationships on an even keel, gets things done, gives you credibility and a human side.

7.Respect – for yourself, for the work you do and for your colleagues. This means simple things like saying good morning, informing people of matters that concern them. It means treating people as if they matter, as if they are important to the enterprise. They’ll work better if they feel respected and valued. It also means avoiding gossip and back-stabbing and keeping clear of office politics.

8.Manage things – budgets, clients, teams, children, your environment. Being professional is about keeping things under control, making sure things don’t go pear-shaped and when they do getting them calm and back on track as soon as you can. Often your level of professionalism is judged on your ability to manage such crises, as well as doing the basics of your job.

9.Lead by example. No matter where you are in your profession, you should aspire to be the best you can. Don’t expect others to do what you tell them if you aren’t doing it yourself. How can you expect anyone to meet deadlines if you consistently miss them? Be innovative, share your ideas, invite others to be involved in change, in decision making – let yourself be known by doing everything to the best of your ability – be a model for others to aspire to.

10.Keep your emotions under control. You should avoid crying and swearing at work – neither is good, so watch that (note to fucking self!). Work is a place for calm and considered behaviour. If you’re upset about something – be it work related or other (our life does spill over from time to time) – then try to find a way to avoid situations that will make it worse: focus on simple tasks, avoid people who push your buttons, go outside, take a walk, take deep breathes, have lunch with like minded colleagues, have a strong cup of coffee. Oh, and avoid work-place romances – they really do compromise your professionalism!


We like to think of ourselves as professional, as taking our work seriously. We want others to think well of us – that’s a very normal human desire. But to avoid the accusation of unprofessionalism we need to be aware of how we comport ourselves at work. If we work with good people it is easy to do our jobs well. If we work with people who haven’t the first idea of what a professional does then we will struggle.

A professional person is highly aware of their skills set, their strengths and weaknesses – they strive to be better in what they do and, importantly, they want to make others better too. So, the next time someone utters those ghastly words – you’re being unprofessional – you’ll know the truth of the matter, won’t you? (Images from Private Collection)

Be Careful Who You Work For…

June 27, 2015

Be Careful Who You Work For…

We all want a decent job, some place we want to be, where we feel valued and part of the team, where we can carve out a career and move up the promotion ladder, and make a difference. Sometimes this isn’t always the way. Sometimes just having a job is enough, is all there is.

That’s not to say we should accept the constant attack on workers, on hard fought conditions, on fairness in the workplace. No, we should not bow to the rich and powerful and let them push us around. We should not accept zero hour contracts, eroding conditions and the worker-boss balance tipping ever further in the boss’ favour. And we most definitely should not, unless we end up in difficult straights, work for those who would screw us over at every opportunity.

This piece is about being careful who you work for, who you agree to spend 8-10 hours of your day with, giving your time, your labour, your energy, your ingenuity, your devotion and passion. Be careful who you give these things to. They should be worthy recipients.


We should, where possible take as much care gathering information about prospective employers as they do about us. They want references, they want qualifications, experience and verification of our worth – which is entirely fair and right. They want interviews, tests, visits, background checks and yes, they do look at your internet presence, so be careful there!

Yet we are not as diligent with our prospective employers. I know, sometimes the euphoria of having a job overwhelms us, especially if we’ve been looking for ages. Sometimes that yes, we’ll have you when we’ve been searching for a while gets in front of our own due diligence. Often the new surface is glossy and pretty and we haven’t scratched it for ourselves, chipped away the perfect paint to see the damage underneath. Often, in the need for the job we overlook things that perhaps we should consider more thoughtfully before we sign on the dotted line.


How do you avoid working for wrong people?

*Research. In this day every company, every employer has a web-site. Read it carefully. While it will be full of spin it should tell you about values, results, give a first impression. It should give you some facts to work with.

*Talk to people who work there. Get the inside view – speak to people who have been there for years, speak to those who have just arrived, what about those who used to work there? People’s stories give you a better idea of the truth of an organization. We know some places suit some better than others, so listen carefully.

*Visit before the interview. Many places offer this option and you should take it. Yes, it will be a surface inspection too but it can give you a better feel for the place, look at what’s happening as you wander around, talk to people, not just managers. Just like parents visit a range of secondary schools on open days to make decisions about their child’s school, so you should too.

*Go on instinct. Too often we ignore our intuition, we think we should be factual and logical but sometimes how we feel about something (especially people) tells us the truth. So don’t over think your response, feel it too.

*Ask questions at interview – this option is part of standard interview practice, yet all too often people skip this, or ask simple questions that don’t really gain any information for them. Think more carefully about this as you prepare for your interview, what is it you need to know to decide to work for them??

*Don’t rush your decision. Allow some time for all the information to sink in. After all, your prospective employer is thinking about you, chatting further. They aren’t making a snap decision. You shouldn’t do the same. Think about what you really want: is this the place for you – for now, forever, until the right one comes along?


london building

Working for the wrong people/company can be as damaging as not having a job. We need to be more wary of prospective employers, just as they are wary of us. We need to be sure that they match our values, our way of doing business, our expectations.

And when things shift, when how you want to do business (of whatever hue) changes and you no longer feel valued and/or feel compromised in your job, or you can’t make those changes yourself, when you are out of step with the mainstream, you need to move on. You need to go before things corrode to such a state that you are damaged beyond recognition. Sadly, the bosses win. They have the superior firepower and the only way to survive is to leave. But leave while you are standing, while you can take a decent reference with you, while your self-worth is strong, so they can’t reach their malicious, evil tentacles into your next job, into your chance to start again.


You are at work for a very long time. You need to make good choices for yourself. Yes, your career matters, but so does your self-respect, your values and your dignity, not to mention your health. Choose your employer wisely. Change them when you need to and remember that you work to live, not live to work. (Images from Private Collection)

The World is a Dark Place, but There Must be Light Too…

June 20, 2015

The World is a Dark Place, but There Must be Light Too…

At the end of some days I really wonder what the point is – what am I doing with my life? Immured in the ignorance and stupidity of others, and not necessarily the young! Some days when lessons go pear shaped, when bills appear out of nowhere, when the news is once more full of man’s inhumanity to man – yes, you, Tony Abbott – how dare you be proud of paying people smugglers – I wonder what the point of existence is. I look at people on buses, in Tesco’s, in the street and wonder about the point of all these trivial, silly lives, including my own. What are we doing, why are we here?

In a world full of death, despair, evil, pain and suffering for so many I cannot help but wonder what the point is. It is too easy to spiral into nihilism, to enter a place of existential angst puzzling over the pointlessness of it all. The endless parade of war, rape, torture, inequality, callous disregard of the powerful few for the powerless many. This is our world. We have made it so. Even those of us who suffer at the hands of business and politicians. We have lost our way and we should be ashamed. We are worse than animals, we turn on each other, blame each other and kill each other – in many cases without batting an eye-lid.

dead angel

Is the world worse than it has ever been, or is it the constant stream of news and information from all over the world that makes it seem so? Are incidents of rape more common or simply being reported more often? Is child abuse on the rise or are we more aware of it now and less tolerant and so it seems worse? Is the gap between the haves and have-nots the same as it has ever been but we are simply bombarded with their excess through the media?

The insistence that we live in an Economy instead of a Society has not helped. It has made Money the God of us all. Celebrities and sports stars with their excessive lifestyles and incomes makes a mockery of hard work and ordinary lives lived well. Politicians who have no interest in making society better for all of us, not just their banker or business mates, have screwed ordinary people. Why do so many people need to live on the streets or in squalor when there is so much wealth in the world, especially in countries like the UK, Australia and the USA?


So, how do we find meaning in our own lives in the face of the darkness in the world?

Apparently at the end of our lives we see things as they are, we look at our lives and consider our worth in the world. If you’ve ever been seriously ill, or lost someone you love you’ve also trod this path. Cancer survivors often embrace life with renewed vigor, only too aware of what was nearly lost. But we don’t have to wait until the end to consider our own worth and value. Look around you now, what is it that you bring to the world, that shines some light in the darkness?

Don’t be fooled by money and celebrity. Don’t think that meaning lies in the big things, in doing something ridiculously brave or foolhardy. You don’t have to crusade against the latest infidel. We can’t all change the world but we can in many ways make it better.


Shine your light…

*Be aware of your strengths and how you operate in the world – are you a good friend, are you thoughtful and caring, considerate and fun to be with? Being a good friend is one of the best ways to make the world a better place, so don’t underestimate the gift of friendship.

Pal's pals@GCSE

*Your day job is probably more important than you know. So many jobs are people oriented, and how you interact on a daily basis does make a difference to others. Yes, teachers, nurses and doctors have an edge here. We have the potential to make big differences to people’s lives and we do and sadly that is not accorded the credit it needs. But note, people who make it big never mention their banker or the PM, they usually remember the teacher who made a difference. Yes, their teacher, not the principal or the Education Minister, but the person in the room with them, guiding them, chiding them, giving them knowledge, confidence and care.

*Volunteer – locally, it doesn’t need to be a big look-at-me oversees experience, get involved in clean up programs, charity shops, visit old people. No Australian should be OS helping third world people when the third world lives large and shamefully in our own Outback.

*Help others – it makes them feel better and it helps you. Coaching a team, tutoring others, sharing your skills with the world makes it a better place.

*Protest – if you believe in a cause join an action group, sign petitions, march against corruption, inequality, Austerity and what we are doing to the Boat People; march for the forests, for justice – people power does work, does change things and reminds you that others feel just as you do and renews your faith in your fellow man.

*Be an artist – paint and create beautiful things, the world is sadly in need of beauty. We need to be reminded the world can still be beautiful.

*Be a writer – tell stories to take people away to other worlds, different times, new experiences, to learn about themselves through your magic words. Tell stories that inspire others to action, to make them think. Stories tells the truth and stories of all sorts must continue to be told so we know who we are.

light forest

We all have a light. In this world of darkness and danger we must work harder to find our light and shine it brighter so the world does not become a place of relentless despair and hopelessness. (Images from Private Collection)

Who are Our Heroes Now?

June 13, 2015

Who Are Our Heroes Now?

Recently there’s been a spate of fallen heroes. Sepp Blatter, Alberto Salazar, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods. Notice that they’re all from sport and all tainted by cheating and corruption. Yet these men have been held up as heroes, as role models for others. There are others of course but sport seems to spawn an inordinate amount of cheating fallen heroes. Other areas are as guilty, entertainment has been tainted by the abusive and predatory Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, and politics is not a place we find anyone to admire any more – Joe Hockey, anyone? David Cameron, Tony Abbott?

There are a range of issues with expecting too much from people, with expecting perfection and goodness, with not allowing for human failure, with having heroes. But those mentioned have knowingly and wantonly cheated for their own good, have abused their positions of trust and exultation and in many cases are criminals.

Something in the human psyche needs someone to look up to, to revere, admire and emulate. Apparently Alexander the Great’s hero was Achilles, assassin supreme of myth and legend.


What makes a hero – or a heroine? What traits do we look for in those we admire? Think about this collection of positive characteristics:

Tenacious – they don’t give up, despite set backs, rejections and disappointments

Self-belief – they know they have something to offer, something worthy about themselves

Gifted – heroes tend to have a gift, a natural talent of some sort – Achilles and Alexander were gifted warriors; Richard Branson is a gifted businessman; Jimmy Page is an extraordinary guitarist/writer; Cate Blanchet is a talented and mesmeric actress; Dawn Fraser was the first woman to swim 100 metres in under a minute; Angela Merckel is a fierce and powerful politician. Heroes go beyond the ordinary, in who they are and what they do.

Dedication – these people work at their gift, they develop and refine it, use it and make themselves the best they can in their field. This is why we admire sports heroes – we know how many hours go into being the best, into winning. We admire skill and talent, we know we can’t do it and how hard it is, so their talent becomes super-human, as does the effort to become that good.

Achievement – true heroes leave their mark. The world knows they have been here – they have done something, not just made money or ripped things apart. Alexander built an empire; Shakespeare left an extraordinary body of work; Columbus went where no man had gone before. Agatha Christie wrote the best collection of crime fiction there is.

Something extra, something special – there is a sort of ‘it’ quality to heroes, something that sets them apart. They aren’t necessarily nice people, driven people often aren’t. They can be selfish and narcissistic, impervious to the needs of others but this single minded determination is admirable. People admire Steve Jobs but it’s clear he wasn’t the nicest person to be around. Elizabeth I was a great queen but mercurial and dangerous to cross. Still, we admire these two for their achievements and their presence on the world stage.


Why do we need heroes/heroines?

It seems we need people to look up to, to give us a clue about how to live a better life, be a better person. There’s no harm in hero worship. How many of us had walls plastered with the heroes of our youth – rock stars, film stars, sports stars? We could look at them and dream about being like them. Their benign presence in our bedrooms made us feel less alone in the world, and knowing that many of them had come from humble backgrounds and/or fought their way to the top was useful in the moments when you felt useless and unloved. David Bowie, Freddie Mercury and Mark Spitz helped me through many tumultuous teenage traumas.

mark spitz

Perhaps the point is that we should be more careful about who we admire, who we elevate to hero status. It is so easy in a celebrity saturated culture to be elevated beyond your talents, beyond your means. Too many such fabricated ‘heroes’ are fools with feet of clay, who should not be on any pedestal or strutting on any stage. (Enough clichés there?) Too easy for us to be duped into admiring what is not worth a second glance.

Look away from vacuous greedy celebrities and corrupt cheating sports stars. They bring nothing of worth to the greater good of mankind. Look to those who achieve, who make a difference, the ordinary heroes all around us; nurses, doctors, teachers, librarians, firemen, policemen. Don’t over-look them when searching for people who do great things every day.

By all means have a hero. But choose wisely. Look to real achievement, to characteristics that are worth admiring: look to the past, look beyond pretty faces and keep well away from sport.


Remember, too, you can be a hero too – as Mr Bowie said, we can be heroes, if just for one day. Worth a try, I’d think – look to yourself as well as to others. (Images from Google Images & Private Collection).

Just Be Kind

June 6, 2015

It is such a simple thing – kindness. And such a powerful thing. But there is so little of it about. Think on this: are you a kind person? Could you do better?

As we look around our world kindness and compassion seem to be in short supply. The news and FB feeds are full of cruelty to homeless people, refugees, animals, each other: stories of rape and war, death and casual indifference to suffering (especially you, Tony Abbott and David Cameron). Perhaps in this increasingly divided world where the rich and powerful and violent are increasingly holding sway it is time for the rest of us, the majority of us, to proceed in kindness, to see if we can make a difference.


Kindness to strangers

Why not drop a coin or two in the homeless person’s cup – why not take the time to say hello to them? Don’t assume they are so very different to you.

Stand up for someone on the train, tube or bus. Let someone go in front of you in the queue in the supermarket, let someone else have the better parking space. Open the door for someone.

Smile at random strangers for no reason. Pay someone a compliment if there is something about them that you find pleasing. I can tell you when people tell me they love my hair it makes me smile and feel better about the world.

Say thank you to the bus driver, the shop assistant – they may be doing their job but it’s a nice to show some appreciation.

Remember, you don’t know what their lives are like, a random act of kindness may make all the difference to them.


Kindness to colleagues

We spend a great deal of our lives at work, often years with other people, more time with them than our families it seems. So surely it’s not so hard to be pleasant, to be thoughtful and considerate in the work-place? Yet increasingly it’s become an adversarial environment, more like Game of Thrones, where it’s every man/woman for him/herself, with increasing levels of treachery and cunning. Where did this culture come from? Why are so many people only out for themselves, or wanting to cut others down?

I find it amazing in my profession, where we are meant to care for the kids, that so many up the food chain, patently do not. They say they do, but in the way they treat colleagues and manage matters it is clear that they have no care or compassion for anyone, so what are they doing in Education?

I won’t even mention the current Education Secretary, who is another in a long line of idiots who persistently crap on teachers, instead of praising and appreciating the dedication of most of us.

Why are so many teachers dropping from stress? Why do so many young graduates not stay in the profession? Because it is not a kind profession, because compassion and caring for your team, your colleagues, is not seen as the way forward. Because if you falter, fail in any way, you are seen as weak – you are the problem and you must go.

In fact, if you are working in such a place then you should go – find a place where management care about their team, their staff and you will feel valued and perform so much better and won’t that be the best thing for the kids, or the clients, or the business you work for?


Kindness to family & friends

This should be so obvious I need not mention it. But recent events remind me that we are often more careless with those closest to us. Kindness is not a given in family or with friends.

Being close means we see each other’s faults and over time and during intense events – such as holidays or weddings, funerals or moving across the world – we see the faults more clearly and sometimes we react badly. Sometimes we expect too much from others. Sometimes we need to think about what we are doing in a relationship – what does this friendship mean; why is this family member so important to me?

Patience is an essential part of kindness and is crucial in close relationships, as is forgiveness. People are foolish (as a wise child once told their granddad) and say and do foolish things. They are also thoughtless. But if we react in the same way, especially when we know better, how does that help anyone?



Kindness to animals (and other desperate creatures)

I do not want to see pictures of damaged and brutalized animals on my FB feed. I care not that many of these stories end well, I am upset by these images. Yes, like many, these pictures have a greater impact on me than boatloads of desperate refugees. I am aghast at what is happening to refugees and could not imagine the horrors of their plight but there is something about dumb animals, creatures that are dependent on us to look after them and do the right thing that cuts to the heart.

I loved Zanz (my GSD) with all my heart. I do not understand why anyone would knowingly and wantonly be cruel to an animal. It seems indicative of a much larger problem in our society, where cruelty, not kindness rules the planet.

It’s simple – don’t have an animal if you are not going to treat it correctly. And if you come across strays or animals suffering then don’t ignore them. You could even rescue a puppy yourself.


Kindness to yourself

Not last because it is least, but because this is important. Kindness comes from feeling strong yourself, from feeling good about who you are and your place in the world. Kindness to yourself recognizes your own humanity, your own infinite ability to fuck things up, but to let it go, forgive yourself. You cannot be kind to others, if you cannot be kind to yourself.

Kindness is about forgiveness, about recognizing that the world is a harsh and often brutal place, but we don’t have to embrace that. Kindness should be the new black, the new cool. Kindness to others makes them feel better and you know what, it makes you feel better too. It’s a simple thing but oh, so effective.


As Glen Campbell told us years ago –

You got to try a little kindness, yes show a little kindness

Just shine your light for everyone to see

And if you try a little kindness then you’ll overlook the blindness

Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets

Poetry: Monsoon Night … Northern Morning

February 21, 2015

My friends in the North have been battered and bruised by the elements once again – but survived. Yes, Australia is a dangerous and terrible place – it’s also beautiful and special, especially the Northern Territory. Today I have a couple of poems for you written as part of a longer series about life in a particular Northern town.


Monsoon Night

Up there, in thick black clouds

Beyond the fat moon, far above the tree tops

the storm gathers, growls

smouldering away.


Clashing noises from the Gods

rumble and thunder across the patient night sky.

Winds rush up streets

slamming doors – open and shut

rattling vases, knocking down pictures.

A sudden and vicious gust.

Before the rain whips in

hard and vertical

marching in a line up and down streets

first on one roof and then another

precisely covering each suburb

of this hot little city.

A swift-savage downpour.

Crashing on iron roofs

flooding gutters

filling swimming pools

washing possums, dogs, cats

from their resting places in trees, gardens, parks

Scattering bats across the clouded skies.


Waking babies

wake their mothers,

who walk the night

fill bottles, offer a breast, change nappies

Sooth unsettled children, startled babies.

Then sit on bamboo chairs on elevated verandahs

Alone, to watch the night

The wondrous storm

taking in the cool of the air

deep into their lungs, their pores

feel their being change, becoming

part of the confluence of nature

part of the storm

pulled into its current.

Faces cleansed with rain

nostrils filling with freshly released perfumes

bodies bathed in breezes

Calmed by the rain.

Spirits soothed by the storm.


A mother’s breath exhales, and her home eases.

Storm-disturbed children

sigh and settle back to a dreamless sleep.

Men shuffle down passages

Feel the change in the air

visit the fridge

the toilet

stretch and scratch, snuffle and snort

returning to bed for a restful sleep – a deep slumber

before the day arrives to send them back to work.


A man

A woman

stand abutting their verandah railings

flesh to naked flesh

rain splashing skin

Looking into the night

the arcs of light across the sky

the shadows of cloud across the moon.

Nothing moves except the sky.

No sound except the thunder.



High overhead

the storm moves away

rumbles mumbling out to sea

lightning now flashing feebly

over the black-blue water

losing passion

losing power.

A spent storm

Now all still over this northern most city.


Northern Morning

Still dark now

People waking, emerging from dreams

slip from ruffled beds, disentangle from sleeping partners.

Garbage trucks begin their guttural rumbling trek through

a snoozing suburb.

Light-creeping night-falling

sun fingering in through dawn-clouds

Streaky bacon sky.


Alarm clocks shrill

clock radios spring into life

walkers, runners, riders invade the streets

silently pounding, arms swinging, regular breathing

swimmers plough up and down backyard pools

The day begins.


Light floods

the flat blue horizon

Storm clouds roll away across the heavens

leaving the suburb coolly sighing in the moments

before the sun bursts upon them

firing up the day

firing up the week

firing up the temperature

so that by the time people step

from their morning showers

before they can even dry the water from their bodies

sweat is rolling down their skin.


The morning smells sweet

clear, crisp, lighter than the night

Light-blue smells

not the

velvet blue-black smells of the night.

Inhale the refreshed gardens

the flowers releasing cleansing perfumes

filling the nostrils of the waking streets.

Later, children strolling

spilling from cars

will breath in this morning air

smile and be revived for the week’s work

All – children, workers, mothers, babies, students, unemployed –

as they find their way in the world today

will be buoyed by the night storm

the fresh smells of their suburb

the bright blue of the sky

and go happily about their business today.


But now dreams are scattered with the early morning light

lost, taken with the dispersing clouds

only snatches left,

disturbing tendrils to bother and mystify throughout a day

busy with the needs of work, of other people.

Ah, to sleep the extra five minutes

to save the lost dream

the door to the soul, to dark wishes and desires

the book of ideas and inspirations

the path to the future (Images from Private Collection & Google Images)

Stories: A Small Flirtation

February 14, 2015

A story for Valentine’s Day – a bit of romance and betrayal, passion and lust. This first appeared in Red on Red, an Anthology of Northern Territory Writing. Happy Valentine’s Day.



I kissed her. Properly. Finally. Well, she kissed me and I didn’t hold back. Well, I did. A bit. I didn’t kiss her the way she wanted. I wanted to. When we were sitting in the pub I knew something was coming. She touched my hand a couple of times, kept looking at me, held my gaze: smiled. She’d grabbed my arse before we left work: I knew what she was thinking. Said she’d had another dream about me. Erotic again. She dreams about me a lot. I like that. I like that she dreams about me and tells me. I wonder how explicitly. She hints. I can guess.

So I went for a drink with her and Cam. I s’pose I shouldn’t have. I know she wants me. Would I fuck her? Perhaps if she was a bit thinner, perhaps if we weren’t married. I don’t know. I think about it. I like cuddling her, touching her, the smell of her. But anything else is too difficult. Judy would kill me this time. But we went for a drink – couldn’t hurt, not with Cam there too. But she played up to me, smiling, listening sympathetically to my woes, swirling her ice in, it sounds stupid, a very sexy way. I was really aware of Cam, like a chaperone, there with us. He seemed not to notice her attentions, but he’s used to her flirting: he has coffee with her every morning. Perhaps she doesn’t like me that much? Perhaps she plays us all like this? I watch her. She pays more attention to me than Cam: it’s my hand she touches, it’s my gaze she holds. She stays in her seat as Cam moves to go. So do I. Is she waiting for me, watching me? I expected us all to leave together. But Cam leaves and neither of us move so we’re left alone in the pub.

Her drink is almost empty. She wants another. I don’t. I’m frightened what might happen if I drink too much. I offer to buy her a drink. She will if I will. I won’t. She doesn’t. I feel nervous. I should go. Judy and the kids. It’s eight o’clock. She won’t stay without me. We leave together. I feel better that we’re going. It would be too easy to stay. Outside the door she slips her arm around me, tucking her shoulder under mine. My arm goes around her. I don’t even think about it. We walk like this so often. I like the way she feels tucked in close.

We stop at my bike. I put my helmet and gloves on the seat. She stands in front of me. Close. Expectant. We don’t often stand face to face. She’s quite short really. No heels. Her head fits neatly onto my shoulder. I know this from before. Before that scene in my office, when we used to cuddle too much. She puts her arms around me, around my waist. I know this is stupid. I should have got on the bike and just gone. I shouldn’t have put my helmet down. She’s waiting for something to happen. I put my arms around her. She looks up at me. She wants to kiss me. I want to kiss her. I’ve kissed her before, on her hair, her tinted blonde, soft hair. And a peck on the mouth, once. She wants more than a peck tonight. I bend down to her mouth and we kiss. Mouths slightly open, enough pressure. She tries to move her tongue into my mouth. I can’t do that. She pulls away. Pissed off. I’m glad. No, I’m not. Shit. I don’t know what I am. I want her but her tongue at my teeth scares me. I can’t open my mouth.

She rants and raves a bit. Understandable. Do I lead her on? Have I encouraged her? I don’t know. I do like her. I like the way she feels. But she’s married. I’m married. I know her old man. I tell her I like him too much, her too much. It’s not much of an answer. I put on my jacket and helmet. I can’t go any further with her. Although I probably want to. Where would we go for God’s sake – her car and have it stink of sex and Gary know something was up because that smell is unmistakable? I hug her and go. I don’t even look back to see the lights of her car or if she’s okay. She’s okay. She’s pretty tough really. Must be to like an arse-hole like me. I try not to think about her as I ride home. I lick my mouth tasting her lipstick. I don’t think about her body pressing into mine, her eyes on me. I put tomorrow out of my mind.

I wipe my mouth carefully before I go into the house, remembering the shit her lipstick on my shirt sleeve had caused last month.



He kissed me. Properly. Not really passionately but it wasn’t a Platonic kiss. He held me and he kissed me. He just wouldn’t let his tongue respond to mine. I don’t know why. But as I think about it now it wasn’t all me. My mouth tingled from the stubble around his mouth, so the pressure was there. He tasted of beer and smoke, sexy, making me think of years ago. And as he’s so much taller than me and I wasn’t wearing heels and I wasn’t on tip-toe he must have bent to kiss me. So he kissed me as much as I kissed him.

I can’t remember how tightly he held me or where his arms were I just know he stayed behind when Cam left and he put his helmet down when we got to his bike. He’d spent the afternoon with me, sat with me at the function, got me drinks, told me stupid jokes. I told him I’d dreamed of him again. That always gets into him. But I was surprised when he agreed to go for drinks with Cam and me after work. He usually pisses off really early. I was pleased though. I knew something would happen. Six months of this, the year nearly over. Something had to happen.

I watched him when Cam made going home moves. He just sat. Cam seemed unsure. Didn’t seem to know what was going on. He sort of hesitated, then left. He waved at me through the window. Did he raise his eyebrows? Jack did not move an inch. He stayed still. Sat with me. Alone together. It was fine and then he seemed to get cold feet. Jabbered on about getting the kids to bed and getting home. Me too, I said. What’s the hassle, I thought. So we left. I put my arm around him and he hugged me to him. We walk like that a lot. I like it. I like the way he feels. Big, strong, but soft. He’s beginning to run to fat in there somewhere. Who am I to say! We stop at his bike. He puts his helmet and gloves on the seat. He stands there. Me in front of him. I can’t help but cuddle him. He puts his arms around me. Well he must have. I can’t really remember this bit. I didn’t have that much to drink, perhaps I should have had more, perhaps we would have fucked then!

But we kiss. Open mouths, some feeling, some fire, but he won’t respond properly. I feel stupid. Idiot. My mouth tingles from his stubble. I taste his beer and cigarettes in my mouth. I step back. Shout at him. Made a fool of myself again over you. How nice for your ego, how nice for you. What stops you? I want to know. He throws out come-ons, winks, smiles but won’t go the distance. Why have a drink with me, kiss me and then kick me in the face? I hate him. I feel so fucking stupid. Because I respect you and Gary too much he says. I almost laugh. What a fucking stupid thing to say.

He stays calm. I hate it that he does that. Gary does that too. He puts on his gloves and helmet. He puts his key in the bike. I hang about. I want this resolved. He comes back. His mouth is covered in dark pink lipstick. Mine. I think I should tell him to wipe it off but why bother. He hugs me. It sort of stems the discomfort I feel, the bile rising in my throat. He isn’t a complete arse-hole. Not quite. I go to the car. He roars past me. Gone. I can’t go home. Can’t face Gary after that. My head spins, my mouth still tingles, I can still taste him. I go and see Caitlin and get blind.



The day after the kiss was fine. He was easy with me, smiled a lot, chatted a lot. We seem to have a secret, a nice secret between us. There seems to be an understanding about Tuesday night, about us. I feel calm around him, sort of happy, like we’ve moved to the next phase of this idiotic non-relationship of ours. I feel like we’ll progress like this, slowly but inexorably towards fucking each other. It seems an inevitability of being around him. Things will happen if I don’t force anything.

Caitlin thinks I should talk to him. It didn’t work last time, why should it this time? I don’t want to talk to him in his office but he won’t come to mine. Patience. I shall try patience. Today I think I can wait forever for him. I assume this serenity won’t last.



I’m not sure what’s going on. Kim is all sweet and calm. No hassle about Tuesday night, yet we seem to have seen a lot of each other at work: intimate sort of chats. It’s like we have a secret. Well I s’pose we do. Where to from here? When she smiles at me and touches me I do want her. I’m sorry I didn’t fuck her the other night. I could do it now – take her into the photocopy room and fuck her there. Just do it.

I had a strange conversation with Cam. After Kim had been with us, discussing next year’s intake. I didn’t think we’d flirted at all, but he did. He was cryptic but I got the message. I’m not as thick as some think. Too much gossip, not good for the place, for me, for her. But I don’t want to talk to her about it. What do I say? Look as everybody thinks we’re doing it we may as well. There’s a thought. Listen, you’ve got to keep away from me. But she does. She only sees me when she has to, she just tends to stay for that extra five minutes. We can’t talk to each other at all? A solution, but not a preferred one.

I should have fucked her. Ages ago. Made all this shit and angst worthwhile.



He’s been transferred. I don’t believe it. He’s going.



They’re transferring me. I don’t want to go.



Kim came into my office after Cam announced I was going. She looked terrible. I felt terrible. She wanted me to shut the door. I said no. There’s been enough bullshit around here the last few days. No closed doors. She just left. I s’pose I was a bit harsh. I saw her about twenty minutes later in the corridor. Looking sad. I must have too. Our eyes met for a moment, a long moment but we said nothing. What is there to say now?

She was leaving work as I was, just in front of me. I called her back: Kimberley. Sometimes I call her that. She only lets Gary call her that. What does that mean? I want to talk, want her sympathy, her support. I want to know how she feels about me going. I feel absolutely shit-house. She’ll give me a hug, help me feel better, make leaving bearable. There’s no-one around.

Instead she savages me. What happened between yesterday and now? She’s pleased that I’m going. Personally, I’m glad you’re going. You’re such a bastard. You’ve tried to say this is all me. It’s not all me, not just in my head. It’s you too. You stayed on Tuesday. You sat with me. You kissed me too. You could have left. You know how I feel about you.

I can’t handle this. No hugs, no smile. No comfort here. How much truth in what she says? She’s hurt: about me going, about how I treat her? I’m hurt. Can’t she see that? I hate her for this. I don’t want hysterical scenes. Not as I’m leaving, not ever. I have done nothing wrong. I was just being friendly. I can’t see her eyes behind her ray-bans but she hates me too. Her chin is set against me. She gives up. Suit yourself. She’s gone. I drive away too fast, feeling bad about the whole mess. Fuck her, fuck her, fuck her.

Fuck the company too.



I cried as I left work. I didn’t want a scene like that. Not so close to the end. Not with him. But the bastard wouldn’t talk to me and then he was an arse-hole in his office, eyes all steel and cold, as I don’t know him. They went like that again in the car park. But in between they were soft and sad, lost blue eyes. Blue eyes I think I love.

No, I don’t. That’s just being sentimental, dramatic, so stupid.

But I felt a real bitch after. I felt mean and nasty and low. In town after I’d done the order for next year and posted my Christmas cards I bought him a card. I thought a long time about what to write. I used my best black pen and wrote it out a couple of times before I wrote on the card. I left it on his desk first thing Friday morning, with a chocolate Father Christmas. He’ll be late. So he’ll get the card before seeing me. He’ll be softened and I’ll be half shot after the champagne breakfast. I’ll have to try not to cry all day. And not to make an utter idiot of myself. Not again.



The new place is horrible. I don’t want to go. Why can’t the bastards leave me alone? Why can’t they leave me here? Everyone is being so nice this morning. Lucy, the receptionist, cried. Sandra, Cam’s secretary, gave me a hug and a kiss good-bye; early she said, before the rush from the others. As if Kim could seriously think that I liked Sandy as I like her. When I finally got to my office there’s a range of packages, a fax from the department, official written notification and a card from Kim. Simple. Sweet. So she felt guilty about yesterday. “Love, Kim”. Oh, yeah. Does she love me? She’s never said. But she wouldn’t. Why would she, I’d just screw it back in her face. Shit, I’ll miss her.

I don’t want to go. Fuck ’em!



I didn’t see him until lunch time. He was cooking sausages on the BBQ. People everywhere. I’d had about two bottles of champagne since 7:30. He had a beer. I went straight out to him and hugged him. He kissed me. On the mouth, in public. Several times. I apologised for being a bitch. I asked about the new place. He’s resigned to it. I’m happy that we’ll end as friends. I still like the way he feels: so good to hold.

Lunch is a long pissy affair. I tidy up my desk slowly, wondering about saying goodbye to Jack. Caitlin is taking me home but she’s busy washing up. I don’t feel so desperate any more. By the time we start again next year this will all be forgotten: he’ll be gone, there will be no more gossip. Well, not much anyway.

I wander through the front office saying goodbye to people. I kiss Cam, hug Rob, then look for Jack, hoping he’s in his office. He’s not. He’s standing by Lucy’s desk. I don’t care any more. I’d like a private goodbye but it doesn’t matter. Not any more.

I’ve come to say goodbye before it’s too late. It’s 2:30. We hug close and tight. We kiss hard but friendly. I burrow into his neck. God, I’ll miss you. My head is buried in his shoulder. His face is in my hair. I love you, too, he says.

I walk away quickly, putting on my ray-bans so no-one can see me crying. Bastard! How dare he say that now! How dare he say I love you? How dare he say such a thing as he’s leaving!



It’s gone. The last box is in the car. I can’t believe I was only there for six months. I could have stayed forever. I’ll miss Cam, the others, Kim. I will miss Kim, but … If I’d stayed it would have got messier. She looked lovely today; all Christmas, balls in her ears, tinsel around her throat, her wrists. I watched her through lunch. I know why I want to fuck her- she uses her body the whole time, she smiles continually, she’s noisy and bright and I want her next to me, naked and lush with me inside her. I don’t care that she’s a stone over-weight, I don’t care that we’re both married. I care that she wants me. That she might love me. Christ! I should have fucked her when I had the chance.

She came to find me after lunch. I wondered if she would. I wanted to be in my office alone but I was talking to Lucy. I expected Kim would take me into the office. I was surprised when she didn’t. Perhaps I’ve been too rough with her. Not given her enough out of this strange game we’ve been playing.

So we said good-bye. I held her tight and she buried her head in my neck, kissing it as we were lovers alone. I kissed her hair and we kissed again, hard, too much feeling. God, I’ll miss you, she said. I hope she does. And I said, not thinking, not even sure if I meant it, but said it perhaps because finally it was the only thing I could say, I love you, too. I held her a moment longer. Close. Intimate. And she was gone.

As I left I over-heard someone say Kim was crying. I almost went to her. Almost held her tight. Almost took her away. Almost.

Stories: Life, the Universe and Cancerous Things

February 7, 2015

This is the story of my cancer journey – 12 years ago now. It was early February that I found a lump in my left breast, just starting at a new school, just moved into my new lovely house on the Tamar River. Oh, my was it a tumultuous year. This story won an ABC Short Story prize and appears on their web-site somewhere!! Enjoy.

Life Happens

Life, the Universe and Cancerous Things

I am 42, which according to Douglas Adams in The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is the answer to the question about the meaning of life. In my case the answer is cancer. Breast cancer and I have a feeling that Adams might just approve of such an answer were he still alive to hear it.

I am slightly younger than the average age for this encounter, but not uniquely so. Every day someone is diagnosed with cancer. Every day someone dies from it. Recent statistics have us all lasting a lot longer. Early detection is the key to survival, as is treatment. There are still those of us living in denial who, on finding a lump ignore it, hoping it will go away. I met such a lady during treatment. She ignored her lump: now it is huge and the cancer has spread throughout her body. Why did she ignore it? She doesn’t know.

I found my lump during dinner one Saturday evening in February. A slight pain near my left nipple and in rubbing it better I found it. My lump. Not small, not indistinct – clearly something that shouldn’t be there. I felt sick, worried all weekend and rang my doctor on Monday. How long had it been there? Had I been ignoring this, not examining my breasts regularly or carefully? But I was sure it was new, that it hadn’t been there in December.

Time then did strange things, as it has been doing ever since. My GP moved quickly, ordering scans, biopsies: an appointment with the specialist. Onto the cancer roller coaster I stepped, taking my family with me. Once malignancy was established the choices narrowed. It had to go. How much breast was to go with it? As it turns out over a third has gone and I have a seven inch scar from left to right, making me look something like a cream bun on the left and a normal round full jam donut on the right. It is not a pretty picture in the bathroom mirror.

Chemotherapy followed surgery. A decent interval apart. In fact it seemed too long at the time. I just wanted it to be over. All treatment completed and behind me so I knew what was to happen for the rest of my life and then get on with it.

Don’t let anyone lie to you: chemotherapy is hideous. It makes your hair fall out, your skin reacts, you ache all over, you’re constantly tired, you feel nauseous, constipated, or the other extreme and your predilection for infection rises dramatically. Yes, chemotherapy can kill you.

Six treatments were set at two weeks apart. During the course of treatment I contracted two chest infections, my veins collapsed and I had to have a transfuser port inserted into my chest. Some days I felt so bad I thought that to die might be easier. Chemotherapy is a blunt instrument and it amazes me in this age of medical advancement and miracles that a regime, which seems to just kill everything indiscriminately in its path, is so commonly used. Is in fact, integral to successful treatment.

Radiation on the other hand is refined and specifically targeted. I am measured up, tattooed and then zapped every day for six weeks. Some discomfort, on-going fatigue, but nowhere near the trauma of chemotherapy.

I am nearly through the initial cancer woods. Drug therapy and follow up checks and tests with my doctor’s lay ahead. Is the cancer through my system? Has it spread from the breast through the lymph nodes to other vulnerable parts? I won’t know for some time. Five years they say until the “all clear”. And then the numbers are on my side.

Douglas Adams made it to 49, perhaps that was his answer to the question of life, the universe and everything? I hope my answer is a much bigger number than that.

PS: I remain cancer free, check ups have been all clear since that terrible year.


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