Archive for December, 2012

Reflection – the Janus gift

December 31, 2012

The year is over, the year begins, and so it goes on. Before you plunge headlong into the new one, making rash unsustainable resolutions stop, think, review: reflect.

January is named for Janus the Roman god of beginnings and transitions. He is depicted as a two faced god, looking into the future and the past. He is also associated with doorways, entrances, gates, bridges, endings and time. So, he is well placed to be the beginning month of our calendar year.

janus1

Thus it is timely for us to think of both endings and beginnings, of our recent past and newest future. It does us good to pause and consider our passage through life this year. Was it a successful year: were there more triumphs than tragedies, what was good, what could have been better? Which bits are you proud of, which make you cringe with shame? What self-defeating patterns are you repeating?

polarbear-shame?

None of us proceed through life on a road festooned with success and glittering prizes, vaulting from one amazing feat to the next. Most of us stumble and fall, get up, try again, do better, carry on; endure.

But surely you want to do more with your life than endure? When we get to the end of our race – our sprint or marathon – it is better to look back on a life lived not just survived, or endured, with its overtones of suffering and pain. Life has those things, we know that, but it should not be predominantly made of those things. If it is, you must change it. YOU must do something so that YOU have a life worth living.

elephant

Hence people make resolutions but they are usually silly, excessive things doomed to failure because they are invariably based on externally driven expectations about what a good life would look like, what a good person should do. So we vow to lose weight, to get rich, to go to the gym, to work harder, to be nicer to our mother. We look at action, at doing. But perhaps we need to think more about values, about being.

resolutions2

Before you make another foolish list of resolutions reflect on these matters first:

What are you proud of this year?

What did you achieve this year for the first time?

Is the world a better place because of you this year? You don’t have to think too big here, small kindnesses and consideration count

Do you know yourself better?

Do you know others better?

Are you a better person at the end of the year? How are you better – quantify it

What should you have done better?

Could you have been kinder to yourself?

What bits of your life need working on?
What bits of you still need improving?

Where has the joy in your life been? Is there enough of it?

But don’t ignore the downside: the missed deadline; the time you were wrong and someone else was right; an error of judgement; a near miss; rudeness when silence should have prevailed; action instead of inertia; foolishness where sense should reside. Consider these matters, learn from them, adjust and change your ways for the coming year. Nothing is wasted if you learn from it.

scared

We live in most uncertain times: the world hangs by a thread economically, environmentally, socially. Unrest is all around. Values are shifting and changing. It is more difficult than ever to remain positive and focused on a bright future. But we can make a difference in small ways, every day.

roman bridge

As this year ends, no matter how wonderful or terrible it was, think about what you have achieved because there will be something to be proud of. Think about what you want to achieve in the future, the sort of person you really want to be, the immediate future, the long future and then work towards it. Positive actions start from the truth, from a clear and deep understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

dancing pbears

Before you leap into 2013 pause, breathe: think. Like Janus you must look backwards, considering your past, before you can look forward and make new plans. Reflect on who you are, how you are in the world and how you want to be, then make it happen.

janus2

Be brave and honest and make 2013 a happy joyful year, successful on your own terms. (Images courtesy of Google Images)

Passion – is a life without it worth living?

December 29, 2012

Some of us yearn for calm and tranquillity in our lives, for a smooth passage across the ocean of our existence. Is that you? Certainly I write a lot about finding that calm centre to your being, to finding your way through difficulties in a way that doesn’t damage you, but does that mean a life without passion? No, it does not.

I’ve had friends who never argued with their partners, who avoided fights and confrontation like the plague. But was it good for their relationships? One couple lasted 9 years, so I guess you could say yes. On the other hand if they’d not spent so much time squashing their true feelings, burying their passions, preferring a degree of practised politeness then perhaps they’d still be together?

passion heart

Passion is a two edged sword though. You can’t live your life in the storm, the constancy of the rain and the wind; the buffeting of the elements simply wears you out. But any of us that have lived through a storm – a cyclone, a bushfire a flood – know how amazing it is to come out the other side: to have ridden the elemental tiger.

tothy tiger

Passion, according to the Collins Australia Compact Dictionary is 1: intense sexual love; 2: any strong felt emotion; 3: a strong enthusiasm for something, eg sport, or your dog; 4: the object of an intense desire or enthusiasm, eg painting is her abiding passion.

You need passion in your life, for your lover, for your work, for your interests. For many of us the passion we feel for certain parts of our life is what tells us we’re alive.

passionate cello

We know (or remember!) the magic of the intensity of sexual love, how it consumes us, drives us mad, make us do and say insane things. There is a widely held belief that love is the strongest force on the planet and when you think about how you feel in the midst of the burning heat of sexual passion you believe it. Especially if you are wronged in this part of life – yes, life does feel as if it was over. Think of the great love stories: they are about the intensity of sexual love, of desire driving us mad – Wuthering Heights, Anna Karenina, Madame Bovary. Did not the love between Cleopatra and Marc Antony spell doom for them both?

cleopatra

Passion can drive us mad – jealousy kills, passion distracts and destroys. I am passionately devoted to my dog (as well you know by now) but there are many people out there who passionately hate dogs, and especially the breed of my beloved woof.

Zanz at AllyPally

Passion painted the Sistine Chapel, Passion got Chichester around the world in Gypsy Moth IV. Passion and self belief made one Austrian body builder one of the most famous actors in the world. But mis-directed passion made another Austrian one of the evilest men of all time. Passion is what rouses the troops to follow a leader into a battle fighting with heart and soul. Passionate speeches fill our movies, from Braveheart to Gladiator to The 300. No politician worth his salt is devoid of passion – why did JFK move a nation with his speech?

gladiator

Passion in the pursuit of our beliefs or talents drives us onwards – it can make us unbearable as we seek perfection, truth, justice, fame, etc. But it is one of the driving forces within us. Passion makes us take risks; it drives us to put ourselves out there and if the world is willing we’ll make it. If not our passion will leave us a crumpled, dishevelled mess upon the floor, a puddle of disappointment that may very well stain the rest of our lives.

But passion gone wrong, in the hands of extremists is dangerous; it kills people and damages our world: think Hitler, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Idi Amin. Too much passion makes madmen of us all; too little makes us passive and dull, lacking drive and imagination.

passion rose

Passionate people are difficult to live with. They are often impatient, self centred, and driven but if their passion is about you, aren’t you the lucky one? (Images courtesy Google Images and Private Collection)

6 Joys of Christmas

December 22, 2012

It is only right to reflect on Christmas as it is but days away. What does it mean to you? What do you enjoy most about the festive season? Or do you dread it; another dreary day devoid of love, companionship, nary a wisp of joy?

Well, I really do quite like Christmas; it is a time for family and friends, for gathering together, for chilling, eating, drinking and playing silly games. It is a time to be with the ones you love, some of them, all of them. It’s a time to remember how fortunate you are. And, my friends, despite some of our struggles and woes, we are fortunate.

There was a time when Christmas was a day to be avoided, a day of duty and best behaviour, a day when alcohol brought out the worst in my family, because the pains of the past were only papered over so too much enforced togetherness and cheerfulness meant one of us (at least) was bound to lose the plot and blood was invariably spilt. But those days are long gone.

For years now it’s been us and our friends, doing what we want in our own way, making our own traditions. Once it was tropical hot Christmases, with the play-pen guarding the presents; punch that lasted all day; roast pork, corn fritters and salad, roast potatoes and egg and bacon pies; an afternoon in the pool, the evening playing Trivial Pursuit. Deliciously drunk, happily shouting out the answers, while the kids veged in front of The Land Before Time or The Last Unicorn for the seventh time.

wrapping mess

 

We’re a little pared back these days, less extravagance in the present department; less drinking, less friends around. But the joys of Christmas remain. Let me count the ways for you:

1. Buying presents for others is delicious – of course it’s different now with the plethora of on-line opportunities and bargains; you can window shop all hours of the day. But going to the shops is still fun, finding something unexpected and sparkly and just right for…

presents

2. Wrapping presents is good fun – despite it being the epitome of an ephemeral task – wrapping a present carefully with prettily decorated paper that lasts a ‘moment’ only to be ripped off and thrown away in a second. But my properly grown up daughter (22) still loves to poke and prod and crush presents as much as she did when held at bay by the aforementioned play-pen. It’s a simple thing that you enjoy doing and then watching others poke and finally unwrap the treasure within.

opening presents

3. Writing Christmas cards is good for you  – a little token of your esteem with a personal message wishing people well or thanking them for their efforts, or just for being in your life. Selecting a card that suits your friends, writing a message just for them makes you feel good. As with presents, it matters not that you receive in return; it is the giving that matters. You feel better for making the effort and they appreciate your effort. It does bring smiles to people’s faces. The thought does matter.

cards

4. Decorating the tree must be a moment of joy – does it go in the same place every year? Does the tinsel go first, when the lights? Who puts the star or angel on the top? These things matter, these are the things of tradition and good times. Our tree has always gone up on the last day of the term. It used to signal the end of a long school year, successfully navigated, the long summer holiday ahead. Now it’s the end of the long winter term and small breath before we return to the fray. The tree in the corner of the room with presents gathering at its feet is always a fine sign. And yes, I have a pink tree this year!!!

my pink tree

5. I love baking and preparing for the big day. My family now expects… So mid afternoon after a breakfast of eggs and bacon we have little egg and bacon pies, roast pork and apple sauce, some turkey, a small ham, roast veggies and, most importantly, corn fritters (see recipes blog). I will make a lemon-jelly cheesecake (see recipes blog) and there will be little cheesy-parmesan biccies too. In the kitchen I am queen, even if it isn’t my uber-fab kitchen on the other side of the world. Oh, yes, and the food does taste good, especially with champagne and Cointreau punch.

corn fritters

6. I just love being with my family, even though my kids are grown and the thrill of Santa has gone. There was the famous incident in the passage of the Darwin house, when the Dragon met me in the night and was aghast that he had disturbed Santa and me worried that he had seen me put the presents under the tree and knew I was Santa, well before that illusion should have been dashed. Only years later did we reveal who we really were in the night!

 

Christmas is many things to many people and once it was about Jesus and miracle births and singing in church but now it’s about the miracle of being alive and being grateful for my life, for shutting away the shadows and being in the light and warmth of my family this particular day of the year.

my family

Enjoy your festive season: be good to yourself and the ones you love this Christmas and every day of the year. And if you can manage it, forgive those who have sinned against you this year, because they will not have the joy in their lives that you have. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

Gove v Teachers – Round X

December 9, 2012

Have you read the weekend papers? If you’re not a young teacher but an older-type one then perhaps you’d better not. The article in the Sunday Times is grim and an example of incredibly biased reporting. Ah, perhaps I should take in for my KS4 lot to tear apart??

The glove are off: our dear friends Michael G is after teachers’ pay because good teachers – no, sorry – good young teachers should be rewarded for all their hard work and efforts and extra hours by getting the pay they deserve. They should be able to move from approximately £21,000 pa to £50,000 in six months if they are worth it. All young teachers, it seems are worth it and shouldn’t be constrained by out-dated modes like pay for experience and age; or the hard won teachers’ pay scales.

boxing gloves

Mm? So, where are the good older teachers – do we not exist? In Michael Gove’s world and the Sunday Times, it seems not. Clearly they envisage a world of Teach –first’s and young, enthusiastic teachers, all with passion and energy, willing to work extra hard, motoring up the food chain to be in charge of everything by the time well before they are thirty. Well, good luck to them.

There is a serious flaw here, and those of us who have been teaching for years know. In fact, those teaching for a few short years with a degree of awareness and intelligence know too. You need to put in the hours to develop your skills and your craft. Teaching is a craft. There is a reason for the pay progression by years and experience – most young teachers aren’t that spectacular in their first couple of years. Many have flashes of brilliance but good teachers become so through experience. Good teachers, no matter what their age, should be rewarded.

war o theacers

In fact, my own utterly delightful Teach-first reminded us all of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour theory in his Outliers book. The idea goes that to reach expert level in your field you need to spend 10,000 hours mastering that skill. So, the theory about work says you need five years to become proficient in your field. Interestingly enough when I worked in the Northern Territory of Australia that was their line in the sand about applying for promotion. You would not be considered ready for your promotion assessment until you were in your fifth or sixth year of teaching.

It made sense: the first year of teaching you make all sorts of rookie mistakes, the second year, if you’re smart you don’t make those mistakes, you make others! By the third year you’re developing well and probably ready to take on year 12s and by the fourth you’re actually adding to your school and department, so by the fifth – your 10,000 hours, you have mastered your field and ready for the next challenge. Although, I would be very hesitant to say that it is possible to fully master such an fluid and every changing profession as teaching.

100000

So, why is there such a rush to take young teachers to leadership when they are not ready? Why is there such an emphasis on young teachers being the only ones of value in schools these days? What’s happened to experience and wisdom, to a calm steady hand; one that knows what’s important and what’s ephemera?

How can an inexperienced head-teacher really judge fairly and objectively the worth of a teacher to the profession? Because, let’s be clear here, many head-teachers on the basis of the rush-through Teach-first, Future Leaders programs have not had the requisite 10,000 hours at the various levels on the way up to be prepared to run a school or make valid judgments.

snarling wolf

Talent, hard work, dedication, spark and flair – all these things should be rewarded. But to overlook wisdom, experience, gravitas in the headlong rush to break unions and push teachers out of the profession, will only weaken the schools that need strengthening and will not deliver anything for the kids.

 

The pay-scales are there for two very good reason:

1.Experience matters and is worth it and is hard won

2.Head-teachers are not always objective rational beasts: they have their favourites; they have their ‘to die’ list – they are like all of us; fallible and flawed. I am on my 17th head-teacher – I speak from experience.

 

Again, I can only wonder at a government and a minster hell bent on ripping into teachers once more, blaming them for all the ills of education in this country for the last 30 years. Ironically, teachers know that to help students make progress you emphasis what they can do, show that you believe in them and tell them they are worthwhile human beings.

happy PB

A shame that governments and too many head-teachers ignore this bit of truth about the world. (Images courtesy Google Images)

In Praise of Saturdays

December 1, 2012

Friday night is wonderful as it is the end of the working/school week. We scarper to the pub, head out on the town, collapse in front of the telly, drink, socialise relax; having survived another week.

But it’s Saturday that is the jewel in the crown of the weekend. Ah, Saturday, who stretches before me this frosty morning with all your charms and joys. A day of simple pleasures, cheap indulgences: a happy day.

zanz

On Saturdays I write my blog, up-load my latest bit of fun to Fan Fiction, I walk my dog, over the fields, to the shops for the papers. I chat to my beloved, we throw the ball and the dog returns home happy and ready for his bones. We then spend the day in individual pursuits; some study, some work, reading the papers, perhaps a snooze, sometimes a meal out, a bottle of wine. These days Saturdays pass like a trip across a calm sea.

calm river

In the somewhat distant past Saturday was race day. For all of my teenage years and into my 20s I spent my weekends on the water. I sailed my rainbow – Tiger-Country – to oblivion at the end of the fleet with my fellow incapables. We were competent but not particularly competitive. Fletch, Guy and me, mouldering at the arse end of competition, having a great time. (Well perhaps the for’ard hands did not so much, as they got a great deal wetter than Guy, Fletch and me. But now mine, Paul, runs part of the ANZ Bank, so clearly not traumatised by Saturday seasons on the Derwent with me.)

derwent

Then I went rowing and Saturdays remained on the water but racing with girls now, more grunt, more races, more wins too and lot more exhaustion but I did love it. Not to mention the plethora of handsome fit men, also half naked for most of the day. Can’t argue with that. Thence to the pub, the trip home, unloading the boats and off to a party somewhere. Saturday night was party night in my town.

rowing

Saturdays can be as busy as you want, as chilled as you want. It’s that lovely moment in the week when the world seems all right again, all things are possible once more. Enjoy your Saturday, look forward to Christmas, to a visit to Oxford, to time with your family, your friends, doing what you want to do because Saturday belongs to us all, in whatever way we want.

rowing 2

 

Live, love it, own it – make Saturdays your own. (Images courtesy Google Images and Private Collection)