Archive for May, 2014

Say Something Nice

May 31, 2014

In a world of bad news, nasty people, banned books, idiot politicians (still – always and forever) and generalised doom and gloom there is a way to inject a bit of sunshine into the world and it is terribly, deceptively simple.

nice flowers

Being nice is one of those under-rated things. Nice is such a bland, nonentity of a word that we forget its power. Being nice is simple, not tricky or hard and it should be one of those words we resurrect and give more power and meaning to. As the husband of a dear departed old friend noted many years ago: “It’s nice to be important but more important to be nice.”

I was struck by this this week during my journey into the bowels of the NHS, for a touch of day surgery. A bit worried, a bit nervy, as you can be one such days, it took one small comment, a moment of niceness and I felt just fine about the whole endeavour. With my pink hair and left-handedness the nurse commented that “you must be creative” and smiled. It was a tiny simple comment but it was nice and it made me feel so much better.

Taking that to heart, I was reminded of how often I do and (too often) don’t say something nice. How all too often it’s easy to say the unpleasant thing, to make the unkind comment, to not bother with being appreciative or nice. Have a think about it. Do you thank the bus-driver, the barista at Costa, the receptionist at the vet’s? Do you tell someone they’re looking nice, pretty, have nice shoes? Do you notice the little things and make a feel-good comment like my nurse did? How often do you say nice things to those you love and should appreciate the most?

Here are some simple things you can try out-

*Smile at people

*Say thank you and mean it

*Appreciate small things, like a nice cup of coffee made by someone else

*Say hello to people

*Let people know you appreciate their efforts, the extra mile they’ve gone

*Say something thoughtful when you come home from work, don’t whine as soon as you get in the door

*Equally greet your partner happily at the end of the day – show you’re pleased to see them

*Notice things about people, pay them compliments, but don’t go too far – be genuine and simple – you look good in that and the all time classic – you’ve lost weight

*Ask for things politely – manners are the epitome of being nice, and take you a long way

*Tell people you like them, tell those you love that you love them – you can’t say it too often

*Don’t forget to apologise when you aren’t nice, either. It helps restore the balance of niceness. A simple I’m sorry goes a long way.

nice in greece

There are four serious benefits to saying something nice.

1.You will make someone else feel good.

2.You will feel good because you’ve made them feel good.

3.You make the world a better place.

4.People will say nice things to you too!

nice venice

Go on, resurrect NICE, make it a word that matters. Make the world a better place in a small way every day. You may not be able to stop books being banned, drive-by shootings, kidnappings and hijackings but you can make a difference by simply saying something nice. Do your bit for good Karma. (Images courtesy Private Collection)

A year in the life…

May 24, 2014

This time last year, May 24 2013, it was raining too, grey miserable skies, cold and altogether uninspiring. It’s memorable because it was the day I walked away from one of the most difficult experiences of my life. It was an ending, and as it transpired it was a weekend of significant endings. I walked away, with a bit of a push, from a job I had done for nearly thirty years, and at this place for over five. It was an odd feeling last May 24 to walk away in the rain: it felt oddly appropriate that it should be raining on such a day. I thought it was the last day of my teaching career. Ah, me, pathetic fallacy is everywhere.

By the end of the weekend I had lost my job and my father. It was one of those ‘stranger than truth’ moments, compounded by the fact that my father died on my mother’s birthday. So this weekend, especially with the rain appearing once again, gives me moment to pause.

Life, as often happens, has shifted both dramatically and not at all. I remain my usual annoying, determined, mostly optimistic self. But it’s been a hard year. Being pushed from your job (through no real fault of your own, other than your face absolutely not fitting) and losing your last parent, seems a bit of an Oscar Wilde moment, to lose one is unfortunate, to lose both in a weekend might be seen as careless.

Being a certain age it has not been easy to find work again. But really, as I now settle into a long-term position once more, I realise how much my confidence had been damaged by my previous work-place. How difficult it was to feel as if I could still do my job, that some institution would find me valuable again. I know I am not alone in this. My sense of self worth had been eroded over time, to such an extent that you lose sight of what is real and what is made up. You lose control over your life, your sanity sits on a precipice and you are impossible to live with.

You shouldn’t even apply for work in this state as your own feelings of unworthiness seep through and you have no hope of finding work. Then you end up in a spiralling recursive falling to the bottom, the more you apply, the more you are rejected, the worse you feel, the more your confidence is eroded and you come to believe that those who initially pushed you out – who rejected you – were right after all. You are rubbish: you should be condemned.

In such instances you should retire from the world, if only for a while. This is when you must be kind to yourself. You cannot dwell in darkness, where resentment roils through your being and you make yourself sick with the unfairness of the world, of your own powerlessness.

We know the world isn’t fair, we know it everyday when we read the news, or go about our business. The rich in the UK are now twice as rich as they were five years ago, yet the poor are poorer. How can this be allowed? The recent Australian budget attacked the powerless in society, hiked up charges for ordinary people, but took little from the rich. All in a budget of austerity that the country doesn’t need, that won’t make a significant difference, all to erode the living standards of those at the bottom. How fair is that in the ‘Lucky Country’?

The worst unfairness is the sudden loss of family or friends. There is no chance to say goodbye, to make amends, to speak of love and affection. To say I was surprised by my father’s death is not quite true. He was in his 80’s, he’d had a heart condition for 40 years, he’d become frail. But for him to die in a car accident, not in his bed, was a shock. For him not to be there, on the other side of the world, pottering about in his riverfront house, drinking red wine, reading and machinating about his share portfolio took some time to accept.

page 6 31

But a year takes us many places, and a year in the wake of significant changes does shake you up. I do not look at the world with a stinging sense of failure, of strange relief to be away from truly odious and terrible people. I no longer plan their downfall, or even think of them much. I am no longer filled with rage and resentment, at those who wronged me, or even my father who had a knack for upsetting those nearest and supposedly dearest to him.

This morning I feel quite differently to this time last year. I have a sense of calm and looking forward to the future again. I give little time and no emotion to those I walked away from last year. I think of my father with fondness and remember the good bits, the sailing as kids, the wombat house, his happiness on my wedding day, his happiness with my step-mother, the wonderful Easters at Police Point – which now, most happily belongs to the kids and us. He died quickly and did not wither in a nursing home, which he would have hated. So perhaps he went as he wanted.

And perhaps, even though I did not leave work as I wanted, I am now where I need to be. I am free from that insanity, have a pleasant place to work, have my amazing family and excellent friends, and I think I’ve nearly got my mojo back. (Images courtesy Private Collection)


“Lesson” Plan for Surgeons – imagine if…

May 17, 2014

Imagine if every professional had to write plans, or context sheets for what they were going to do at work each day…. But perhaps other professions like doctors and bankers should be under the same, even more scrutiny, than teachers? After all I don’t think teachers kill people or send their countries into recession. Just a thought…

Dr's hands

Operation Objectives: Patient 1of 7- Female, 40 years.
To remove the brain tumour as one in timely fashionPatient to survive both the operation and for an extended time

To meet NHS targets for time and patient care

Operation Outcomes
Cancerous tumour is removed

There is little or no damage to brain from operation

Patient doesn’t die during operation

AFL: Assessment for Life (Signs) Opportunities
  1. Check patient is alive as we start, share a brief pleasantry with them as they succumb to the anaesthetic
  2. Check that team are alert and awake – shout a bit, threaten a few, make a joke or two, depending on who I am addressing and the time of the operation
  3. Check monitoring equipment for life signs – on-going
  4. Double check we have the right patient for the right operation
  5. Poke the patient to see if they’re still with us – from time to time
  6. Shout at someone again to make sure everyone is on their toes and no-one gets to die today
  7. Visit patient post-op to check they really did make it through in one piece
*Play different music at different stages of the operation to make me concentrate and/or feel good –sailing and water themes today, then heavy metal to conclude

*Rude and snappy to some of the team – especially the Surgeons-First lot (see below)

*Cheery and jokey with my trusted off-siders

State of the Art operating theatreLots of machines that go bip and flash from time to timeShiny sharp metal instruments

First class team

Decent sound system with music pre-programmed for the event

Health & Safety Issues
Two Surgeons-First people – “doctors” from Russell Group universities who have first class degrees (in History of Art and Mandarin) who are being fast tracked to be surgeons – need to keep them as far away from me as possible so they don’t distract or upset me such that I stab them with a scalpel instead of modeling outstanding practice (and/or let the patient die!)
Getting Down to It: The Operation ProperStarter: Get the Operation off to a Zippy start
*Check everything is ready, equipment, assistants, patient is prepped, scrub up

*Prepare a couple of jokes to set everyone at ease and be in positive frame of mind

*Ensure this is the right patient (always best to be safe than sorry- measure twice, cut once)

The Actual Operation (aim for 3 different activities)
Part 1 – Make incision at the specific area on the skull in order to locate and remove tumor, ensure I am in right spot – set music to soothing calm, beach like stuff today – Chris Rea, Australian Crawl

Part 2 – Double check all scans and information, ensure I have the right tools, proceed to remove tumor, taking all care to remove only the tumor and not cut, nick or damage anything else – a bit of Enya to help me concentrate – Orinoco Flow on repeat. Prepare to remove Tumor.

Part 3– Tumor removed, send off to pathology, brow mopped, sip of water – change music, some AC-DC – Highway to Hell and It’s a Long Way to the Top. Close and leave everything neat and tidy.

Plenary – consider the operation against the Operation Outcome
1. Ask the team how well they thought the morning’s work wentWWW – what went well in terms of the whole operation and in terms of your own role and othersEBI – how would what we have done today have been Even Better If … we had done what… (ie, what did we cock up?)


2. Evaluations and Reflection

Do you agree with others’ feedback

How will this help you/me

What have we learnt from today’s operation

Do you think this was useful task for us to complete today

*Make sure you all include this in your e-port-folio for evaluation and pay progression

Post Operative ActionsHomework
Remember to visit the patient in the ward, check their progress, make sure they’re happy with my work and not thinking about suing me or the hospital…
Surgeon’s Reflection on his work
All good.Tumor removedPatient alive

Didn’t lose temper with Surgeons-First twats

Should consider different play-list – but no time before the next op


So, which is sillier, plans for surgeons for each of the operations on their lists for the day or for teachers to produce bits of paper like this to satisfy management, so we can prove we know what we are doing, instead of just doing it? (Images from Private Collection)

Be Kind To Yourself

May 10, 2014

This is one of those are you looking after yourself epistles, like being calm and being positive. So, are you being kind to the rest of the world but not yourself? Perhaps you need to stop for a little while this weekend and focus on you.

Where are the pitfalls in your life?

I want you to think about rules of 3, in this case: work rest and play. Your day is meant to divide into 3 pieces of 8 – just like a good pirate. But I bet it isn’t. I bet your lack of self-kindness starts with this hard won division. This is what the eight hour day represents, what the 40 hour week was about, what the union movement introduced so that we had a balanced life, but do you??


Work will be taking the lion’s share of your time. It’s taking its toll, you are working too many hours, you’re going in when you’re not well, you don’t know what a weekend is anymore. This is not good, this is not kindness, this excessive work scene many of us have going, is killing us. Step back from the excessive demands, step back into a manageable space. Work hard, by all means, do what you are paid to do, do your best. But remember it’s work, not life and unless you are CEO of the world, then it’s really a means to an end. Cut yourself some slack, don’t work every hour the Lord sends. He doesn’t want you to! And it really doesn’t make you a better person, in fact it probably makes you a less patient, less tolerant, and – dare I say – angry person.

Rest is vital to health. It means we recharge, regenerate and are refreshed to start another day. Are you getting enough sleep? Are you sleeping well? Are your dreams pleasant lands of joyfulness or are you plagued with horrors and darkness where you’re stabbing your former boss to death and then picking the shrapnel from your own belly in agony? Rest means turning off the noise, moving away from the world so you can chill, just be. Rest can be you and a book, a glass of wine and a box set, a sleep in on Saturday. Rest is meant to be soothing, peaceful: it’s what we all need to be full and functioning human beings. Lack of sleep is one of those things that sends people mad: it’s the easiest torture there is. Remember life with small babies and how you would murder for eight hours uninterrupted sleep? Do not underestimate the importance of sleep.


Play is another of those things that gets eaten up by work. In fact some weeks our whole life seems to be lurching from one work episode to another. You must stop. You must play – and this isn’t just sitting at the pub drinking and whinging. Play can be so many things – sport, exercise, gardening, sewing, knitting, playing games (board, okay, even computer games), visiting galleries, going to shows, baking amazing cakes, being with those you cherish, etc. Play is about getting away from work, about doing things that you enjoy, that bring you happiness. Play can be as simple as cooking a lovely meal of an evening and talking with your family. Play should take you miles from your work, metaphorically and literally.

Play hard means you’ll sleep hard and then work a whole lot better. 

So, being kind to yourself is giving yourself a break. You are allowed a little time for yourself out of your hectic existence. So this weekend and next and next – stop, drop and just do what you want. You may only need an hour but be kind to yourself and you’ll find you’re a whole lot kinder to the rest of the world, and the rest of the world might just be kinder back…

Here are some ideas

Have a long bubble bath, perhaps a glass of bubbly and some music while you soak

Have a massage

Read for the morning in bed

Read the Sunday papers from cover to cover

Have a glass of wine in the afternoon sun

Go for a long walk in the park or the woods

Go to the movies

Buy a new pair of shoes

Eat a whole Toblerone (but don’t feel guilty)

Allow yourself a whole day off study

Go to a garden centre and buy some flowers

Go to the beach and have a paddle

Have a nap under a spreading tree

Watch your favourite weepy movie and have a good cry

Hang out with your pet, the best way to be kind

Play your music really loud, sing and dance as if the world IS watching

Have a meal with your favourite person in the whole world


Being kind means not doing as much as doing, but remember you must not feel guilty about this otherwise there is no kindness. The world won’t end if you leave things be – perhaps someone else will pick up the slack and be kind to you too!

Don’t wash up, or clear the table

Don’t do the washing

Don’t clean the house

Don’t answer your phone after 6pm

Don’t mark those books

Don’t write that report

Don’t clean the car

Don’t mow the lawn

Don’t worry about anything – the little things that dog your life, or the big things – an hour off worrying is probably the kindest thing you can do for yourself!

How would you be kind to yourself? (Images from Private Collection)

GCSE’s – bring on the ungrateful

May 3, 2014

In some parts of the world children are dying because they want to be educated. In some parts of this country children would rather die than be educated. Think that’s a bit harsh for a Saturday?

Well think about this. This week 230 Nigerian girls were kidnapped from school while studying for their final exams – who knows what has happened to them and lord knows their government hasn’t been doing a great deal to find out. They reside in a part of their country where going to school can be fatal. This week my year 11s came back from their latest gee them up and boost their confidence assembly with this: ‘Why should we care about our education, why should we have to do anything about it?’ Coupled with a general: ‘Oh my god, are you going to make me work this morning when I’m so tired from the weekend?’

Needless to say I was not terribly compassionate to those who have complained this week about how much they have to do to get their C, or make progress in English. No, I’ve been singularly angry with those who don’t care, with those who think it’s all a joke, all somebody else’s problem. (Please note there is a disclaimer at the end regarding sweeping generalisations and students.)

I am appalled and disgusted by the attitude of too many children I have met over the last six years who simply don’t give a shit. Fair enough, my non-teaching friends are thinking, let them fail. And in a fair world we would. But Education in England is not about the consequences of your actions, or even learning; no, it’s about teaching. Specifically it’s about league tables, year on year improvements, and meeting and exceeding targets, that actually are not realistic or based in any sensible or rationale logic, just some massaged numbers.

Education is not about learning at all! It’s not about the students (and their families) taking responsibility, no it’s about teachers and schools busting their guts to get the numbers, to not fail, to not have Ofsted breathing down your neck, to avoid being bullied out of your job or sacked, or ending up in Special Measures.

At the moment, across the country teachers are offering extra lessons, spending weekends at school, creating booster packages for home study, running residential weekends; are doing everything they can other than write the exams themselves to get their students over the line. Teachers sit in meetings where management asks – what else could you do for them? Why isn’t management asking the students – what else could you be doing for yourself?

Why are schools chasing students to attend classes, offering inducements to attend extra lessons, ringing them up to remind them to attend extra lessons, allowing extra time for everything, even driving to their homes to pick them up for the exams? Why don’t students and their families care enough to do these things for themselves?

The poor woman who was stabbed this week was doing such a thing – in school on her day off to teach an extra lesson for her GCSE Spanish class.

Indeed, why do teachers care more about students’ results than they do, why are we working harder than they are for their GCSE’s????

In other parts of the world students are desperate to be educated, some walk miles and miles to get to school, some get shot on the way, especially if they happen to be a girl (remember Malala) and their schools do not have remotely adequate facilities. In other parts of the world students compete fiercely to get into the government schools (Shanghai) because they know if they don’t they’ll never have a decent job and there is no welfare to prop them up the rest of their lives. In other parts of the world students take responsibility for their learning; they read, they complete their homework, they focus in class and do their best.

pal studying

Here, in failing schools across the country students don’t care. They want to be entertained, because education must be fun! They don’t want to be in class every day or work effectively when they’re there. They don’t read and wonder why they can’t pass an exam. They get to year 11 having done bugger all for too many years and wonder why they aren’t going to get a C. And they blame their teachers because finally it starts to sink in, school is nearly over and what the hell am I going to do – it must be someone else’s fault…

And you know what, it isn’t actually all their fault. It’s the system that is failing them. Not their teachers, who are as much the victim of the pernicious focus on league tables and Ofsted as they are, but a system that has taken away the students democratic right to failure and to their own true success.

They exist in a system that is not about learning, not about becoming a worthwhile person, a person who doesn’t understand the worth of an education because they have not had to work for it. No, they are failed and continue to fail because schools are not allowed to fail and so we spew out endless young people whose C is not theirs, who haven’t read an entire book in years, who don’t know how to think, who have been drilled and coached and had words and phrases shoved down their throats so they know how to pass. But they don’t know anything worth knowing about English.


In Shanghai and other places there are consequences for not learning, for not trying. Schools work because students and families respect education, know that learning is the only way to a good life, self respect and security. Teachers are respected, not blamed. Education is valued.

Gove’s reforms are doomed. Not just because he’s an egotistical idiot, but because he is dealing with the symptoms, not the underlying cause, not the disease at the heart of education. Ofsted and league tables breed lies, cheating and all sorts of scurrilous behaviour. Exams are a blunt instrument, but given everything else in the system is singularly lacking in refinement and finesse what do you expect?

It won’t be until this country looks at itself, at its issues, its massive gap between the rich and poor, and creates a bespoke education system, one for all the people who live here, not just patched in from bits from the rest of the world, that all children will have the chance of a good education and a better future. Someone really should be asking how you can have such world class universities as Oxford and Cambridge and such a third rate government sector… someone still needs to be joining the dots much much better.

Singapore and Shanghai looked inward, looked at themselves and what they needed and then they changed their systems. The best performing Scandinavian countries do the same. They didn’t cherry pick from the rest of the world and now look at them!

Disclaimer: I have taught some amazing and hard working students here, those who have really cared about their education and were impressively decent people. I still do! I have also worked with some amazingly dedicated and hard working teachers. Teachers and students are not the problem, not at all… (Images from Private Collection)