On the upside…

Monday 30 May 2022

Oh what a fortnight! My son starting GCSEs, my classes also doing examinations and me facing job interviews … all mixed together with illness and a dental divorce!

Yes, for someone who is ‘never ill’ , my timing really couldn’t have been worse!

I am sent home, vomiting like a woman possessed, on the eve of GCSE maths paper 1. Full of guilt that lovely year 11 class are gathering for post-school revision with pizza … and I am not there! (Grateful as can be to my wonderful colleagues who welcome them into other classrooms.)

At home, my plans to be ‘super supportive mum of the year’ also take a nose dive. Smallboy asks for help with some algebraic proof but, although I try, I am unable to make it to the top of the stairs before I have to lie down … on the landing carpet … and I am sent back to bed.

Never mind mum. We’ll just have to pick it up on the next 2 papers!”

says my kind-hearted boy as I collapse back under the duvet.

For the next couple of days I fail to even leave my darkened room.

What is this foul ailment?”

I cry, struggling to recall the last time I was out of action for more than 24 hours.

Then come the job interviews

Why? Why now? Oh why indeed?’

A stressful week starts with me, in a washed-out daze stumbling through 2 hectic days of tasks, panels and presentations. Day 1 is not my finest hour and to say that I fail to ‘sparkle‘ would be an understatement. Nonetheless, I do see it through to the end and still await my fate.

Alas, as I wearily try to rally for interview 2, I discover that, to top things off nicely, one of my fillings has fallen out. So I flounder through the second appointment avoiding all offers of food and drink and trying to ignore the fact that I now feel rather feverish and appear to have a huge cavern in my mouth! At this establishment, I am informed that I have not been successful … and I completely understand why.

Next morning, I drag myself back to work, anticipating some (understandable) backlash from pupils who could be forgiven, mid-exam season, for feeling a little bit abandoned. But my classes are anything but resentful. Teenagers run across the yard, stop me in the corridors and gather around me in the canteen.

“Miss, how are you?”

Are you better now? You looked really ill last week!”

“So glad to have you back! We’ve missed you!”

It is a humbling and overwhelming welcome. Feeling a tad emotional, I conclude, not for the first time, that children are often a lot nicer than adults!

They are certainly a lot nicer than my dental practice, who inform me that, due to missing some check-ups, I have been ‘removed‘ as a patient. Left, abandoned, cast out… and told to take my ‘emergency situation‘ elsewhere.

Many phone calls later, I eventually find a dentist who can treat me at the weekend and, in the interim, I bung up the gap with some ghastly home-made remedy from the internet.

So, where oh where are the upsides?’ I hear you ask.

Well, firstly, it definitely makes me look at my current job with renewed affection. My pupils evoke a striking reminder that, in a profession like mine, value is not always found by looking within for self-fulfilment, but sometimes by seeing yourself through the eyes of others and the impact you have upon them. So even if interview number 1 yields a job offer, I will think long and hard about whether or not the post merits giving up the important role I deliver at the moment.

Secondly, I find a great new dentist. Open on Saturday, closer to home and…. he even compliments me on the ‘great job’ I’ve done with my Google-gloop!

‘You could be a dentist!’ he jokes good naturedly

Ha ha ha – but probably, methinks, not my next career move!

And finally….I actually feel okay today! And wellness after 2 long weeks of pain, nausea, and exhaustion just feels like heaven. Long may it last…

Happy Mother’s Day 2022

Sunday 27 March 2022

What a lovely mother’s day weekend!

The British Isles bask in a full week of sunny weather and by glorious chance this coincides with me setting out on a weekend jaunt. I cannot believe my luck!

Saturday takes me to Hawes (I’ll skip the bit about me going via Leeds in a hapless satnav blunder) and a wonderful 10 mile trek along the Pennine Way. Oh it feels good to be out of my corner of the Northwest. Why I was becoming so dangerously domesticated I’d even bought strawberry plants for the garden! Amidst those rolling hills and mile upon mile of solitude, the grind of the week, the workload worries and the night-time niggles just melt away. Several medical studies affirm that walking is a proven mood booster and that Walking in nature, specifically, has been found to reduce ruminating over negative experiences. Well, it certainly works for me! And, as we hike back down to ground level, shop until we drop at the Wensleydale Creamery and then join the other weekend revellers enjoying beers in the afternoon sunshine, I almost feel as if I’m actually on holiday!

Alas, I am not and, on Monday will indeed return to work, but the the treats of the weekend are not over just yet. On Sunday I continue my drive North to pick up my Eldest from Uni-land for the start of her Easter vacation. Yeah – the perfect Mother’s day gift!

With much laughter and a surfeit of coffee and diet coke, we head home. After the two and a hour car journey, I actually hobble into the house, as the hiking has left me with a tricky combination of aching butt cheeks and very tight calf muscles! However, as my glutes and gastrocnemii loosen back into action, I find that flowers have arrived from Prom-dress daughter, my Eldest is ready to cook a Sunday Roast for me and my mum and even a rather jaded (from a Saturday night sleep-over) Small boy manages a card! Life feels good!

It is evening now and time to look to the week ahead. But with one last backward glance at the weekend, I am super glad that we made the most of the fine weather as the forecasters now warn of plummeting temperatures and even snow! Yikes; I do hope those strawberry plans will be ok…

Beethoven, Mozart … and bliss…

Saturday 12 March 2022

After a stuttering start back into the post-covid world of music, I am finally fully part of a great concert…

The invite to play pops into my email inbox about 3 weeks ago. Not only a concert night, but also a pretty intensive schedule of rehearsals in the preceding week. I hover with indecision. Work is manic; the weather is grim, Small boy has mocks and ex-hub is visiting meaning that I would be free-er than usual, to kick up my heels for a boozy ‘Saturday night out‘. Yet, something makes me say ‘yes’ and I am so glad that it does because …I love every minute of it.

Of course it is crazy careering out for 7 -10 pm rehearsals after a ten-hour day at work. Of course parking in a large town centre is (for me) a flustering fiasco of QR codes and scanners. Of course I often don’t find time to eat and arrive at the hall shovelling down handfuls of Walker’s crisps whilst dealing with text messages from all and sundry. But; when I do finally sink into my seat on the stage all of that stops. The orchestra is a really good one and the three hours of rehearsal time are intense, absorbing and a complete escape from the world outside.

So; the wind may be howling. Small boy may need someone to ‘test me on Chemistry’. Boris the gecko may need a new UV light and some fresh crickets. I may have lessons to plan on the cosine rule. But between the hours of 7pm and 10pm, all of this noise fades away and my focus is taken totally with phrasing and shaping the symphonies of Beethoven and Mozart into beautiful music. And it is bliss!

Bliss to know that I have given time to a real piece of me this week. Bliss to be challenged and pushed to think about how every note is placed and played. And bliss, to have shut out the clamour of the every-day for a few hours to be part of melody, music and creativity. As one article, 10 reasons to join an orchestra, outlines,

Life is full of daily stresses. Work, family, bills, and other responsibilities can take their toll. Playing in an orchestra, on the other hand, requires a great deal of focus. For that reason, rehearsals and concerts can be a great way to divert your attention away from day-to-day troubles, stress, and to-do lists

The final concert is amazing. The audience clap and cheer the climatic Symphony and an emotional rendition of the Ukrainian national anthem.My mood soars. I feel happier and calmer than I have done for weeks. I am ready for the manic week ahead and, even more so, ready to say ‘yes’ to the next concert I am offered…

Mums, daughters and retail therapy!

Saturday 19 February 2022

Nipping neatly onto a train in the brief lull between Storm Dudley and Storm Eunice, my Eldest pops home for the weekend.

Hip hip hooray – let’s shop until we drop!

We may open our weekend curtains to thick snowfall. Our first taxi may be a no-show. But we are undaunted. Buttoned up to the nines, gripping umbrelllas for dear life and sprayed by countless cars, we slosh off to the bus stop.

One double-decker ride and a Manchester Metrolink later we step out into the city centre. Our mission? Sprucing up Spring wardrobes … and having a fabulous time! I am happy to report that Cottonopolis does not disappoint. After three glorious hours, we sink into comfy seats for a well earned coffee, brandishing impressive numbers of bags and purchases. Jeans, bargain-jumpers, ‘going-out’ tops, shoes…and we both feel great.

So here’s the question? They call it retail ‘therapy’ but… is shopping actually good for you?

Marie Claire report that it is, in their 2018 article, Shopping is actually good for your mental health and science proves it, and they cite a rather complex survey carried out by The Journal of Consumer Affairs, which examines the role of shopping for those battling with the very serious challenge of grief. For many of us, heading out to splash some cash, will be for more trivial reasons, however, there is definitely commonly a notion of self-care: cheering yourself up, deciding to treat yourself or just to brighten yourself up by have something new to wear. And there are plenty of studies that support the notion that a shopping spree will do just that and lift our mood for various reasons: distraction, social interaction, feeling ‘in control’ and feeling satisfaction at having saved up for a purchase are just a few discussed in WebMD’s article, Is Retail Therapy for Real?

A day of flexing the credit card is, some suggest, also great way to strengthen the mother-daughter bond, for whilst shopping with toddlers is surely a trauma most parents are only too keen to forget, trips out with your offspring, as they emerge into early teen years can be really enjoyable. A great context to allow some time together and to acknowledge burgeoning independence, as your children now start to take control over what they want to wear. Does it work for the teenagers because they like the fact that you are paying and for parents because, if you are like me, clothing choices are ones we tend to feel pretty relaxed about? I am not sure; but I would concur with, Parenthub who observe that,

This struggle for independence can be fraught with conflict and stress, yet interestingly our results indicate that the shopping environment is a safe place to express this independence.”

It can, of course, be expensive and in our household this simply meant that we only went occasionally. But I reckon that this in turn made our retail adventures seem extra special and times to be excitedly anticipated and cherished.

Whatever the ins and outs, we have certainly had a lovely time today. I do smile as I compare the very different brands we have purchased. Mine bear the distinct hall-marks of established British high street stalwarts, whereas my Eldest has made a bee-line for fresher, trendier more current labels. That aside, it as been a jointly successful day and, as my ‘bargain jumper’ was such a steal, there is even some money left for a cheeky cocktail or two which is a definite “Woohoo and cheers all round…”

The Covid Christmas Chronicles

Wednesday 22 December 2021

Day three of the long awaited Christmas holiday and things are not exactly going to plan…

Ho ho ho! Did I dare to think that Christmas 2021 was going to mark a return to more festive familiarity; with the extended family WhatsApp whirring into December discussions about a month ago? Alas, no sooner have I collected both Uni girls from the station; handed round the glasses of seasonal Baileys and unveiled our new Christmas board games than…

I am floored on Saturday by a revolting attack of vomiting and severe headaches. Generally, there are few low level ailments that stop me; as a single parent of the past decade I’ve learned that being ‘under the weather’, duvet days and most variations flu/common cold/fever etc, are simply not a viable option for the only adult in the house and, thanks to my amazing allies, Anadin Extra and Lemsip Max, I’ve trundled on. But this; well I can hardly raise my head from the pillow! At 7pm, I attempt to prop myself on the sofa for the long anticipated ‘Strictly‘ final but, before the first ‘9’ paddle (Oh Craig; why not a 10?) appears on the screen, I have crawled back into bed to toss, turn and … well throw-up for the rest of the night until…

Sunday and “Ding dong merrily on high!” the sickness finally stops. I summon the energy to take and keep down a painkiller and my headache dulls to blissfully acceptable levels. Festivities are surely back on track! My eldest and I head into town, indulge in yuletide gingerbread lattes, find a few late gifts and splurge my Tesco ClubCard triumphantly on copious amounts of food and drink for the Christmas Day dinner. My mum comes over and the five of us have a hilarious evening of board games and mince pies. I do choose to wear a face mask, explaining, “I really don’t want anyone catching this disgusting sickness bug”, but that measure aside, it is holiday business as usual! In suitably high spirits, we all agree meet-up plans for the week ahead and turn in for what I hope will be a better night’s sleep.

But it is not great, because an irritating cough has set in and I am wide awake even before the 6am work text, ‘Remember to take your lateral flow test‘ pings onto the screen. Within seconds, the test goes a bright-pink, determinedly double-lined, impossible-to-miss … positive.

“Bloomin’ covid !”

Monday; very much the ‘Bleak Mid-Winter’! I drive to some god-forsaken testing centre where a disinterested youth, briefly looks up from his phone screen to pass me a PCR kit and nod his head towards a make-shift booth. Like some irrelevant miscreant, I skulk home to await my fate.

Let me be clear… I am not even remotely close to being ill any more, at worst I cough occasionally and feel mildly spaced out. Nonetheless, ‘I have covid!’ Moreover, I am an important key worker, who has ploughed through 2 years of disruption and chaos without a single day off and ‘I have covid!’ Even if that tester was completely unimpressed, can I not be allowed centre of attention status in my own home? And so, I trounce around the house like some spoiled brat, demanding star treatment from a bewildered trio of teens who do their best but, quite honestly, could carry me around in a sedan chair and serve my meals on a silver platter and I’d still find something to criticise. By the time I stomp off to bed on Monday evening, no-one is speaking to me and… I am confident that none of you would blame them…

Tuesday, brings: the PCR confirmation and me to my senses; well ‘Hark the blessed Angels sing!

I reorganise ‘Christmas mum-plans‘ with my brothers, apologise to… everyone in the house and start thinking instead about how to make holidays fun from the confines of my four walls. No traditional family film outing, but endless outstandingly awful, cheesy Christmas movie-originals on Netflix. At some point we may crack and turn out attention to worthy, unwatched classics, Citizen Kane; Breakfast at Tiffanys, Casablanca… but for now it is, unashamedly, the Christmas Prince trilogy! No lunches out, but at the touch of a button, lunches delivered in. No rushing around to perfect table trimmings or stocking-filler gifts, but … loads of time together, three cheers and Fa la la la la for my board games and …. a very welcome change of pace.

I am super-lucky, I know, to have such a mild dose. Be it the variance of Omicron, or my recent booster or just a fortunate roll of the dice, I am very grateful that I am not poorly, as so many friends and work colleagues have been with this wretched virus. And I will be glad to get out! When one of my brothers sends news of the reduction in isolation time to 7 days, I almost break the land-speed record to dig my box of LFTs out from under the bed and cross everything for a negative test (no joy yet alas!) But until I get my ticket to freedom, I will concede that sitting out the frenzy of the pre-Christmas prep has certain advantages. I may have to live without bread sauce on the 25th and have frozen peas instead of parsnips… but quite frankly I am struggling to remember why that was ever important ….

Sometimes you deserve a treat …

Saturday 25 September 2021

I did set out to have a dry month but, as I finish another demanding week of September 2021, I am dreaming of a G &T, a Sicilian lemon flavoured shot of deliciousness … and I decided to indulge and feel not a second or remorse. No, I think I deserve it! And here is why:

1) I survive teaching GCSE Spanish (in addition to my usual mathematics)

A deluge of PCR test appointments causes the teacher absence rate to rises rapidly and the dreaded “rarely cover” re-appears on timetables. And so it is that I find myself directed, for a double lesson of Year 10 Spanish last thing on a Friday afternoon.

I have never learned Spanish, however, back in 2018 when I helped my Eldest revise for her GCSE Spanish speaking test, she put me through such a relentless schedule of practice that by the end, not only was she ready to shine but I reckon that I could also have scraped a respectable grade 3! So, I get off to a confident start in the classroom,

Wow miss, you actually sound as if you are Spanish!”

one pupils observes, as a I navigate the opening activity. Alas, as we get deeper into our translation activity, my limitations become only too apparent. When I try to help one puzzled pupil by suggesting that “Enrique’s favourite activity is taking photos of a sacred family?” a very lovely, and linguistically able girl, calls me over and whispers “Miss, it’s The Sagrada Familia, a very famous church in Barcelona.” She then gives me a little shrug, as if to say, ‘Should we tell the rest of the class?’

Of course we should! I call the group together. We view pictures of Gaudi’s basilica on the white board. I throw in the tale of my friend and I being mugged in Las Ramblas, on a trip to Barcelona in the late 80s and, as several hands shoot up, the classroom is a buzz of other holiday and passport disasters.

As we eventually return to work, it is agreed that, if self-help strategies fail, (familiar vocab; cognates, dictionary, working partner) and we need to ‘ask an expert’ that the expert is clearly not me, but rather several nominated pupils dotted about the room.

2) I converse civilly with the local anti-vaxers

As covid vaccination is now rolled out nationally to the under 16’s, this protest group, with noise, banners and pamphlets, migrate to the locality of English high schools. Our Head handles it really well.

After conferring with local school leaders and hearing the cautionary tale of Headteacher who sent the Senior Leadership Team out en masse, whereupon they became embroiled in the confusion and, in the local media coverage, were presented as being part of the protest, we are far more low key. We are dispatched individually to politely greet any anti-vaxers we encounter, recognising their right to opinion and protest but gently reminding them not to put leaflets into pupils’ bags without their consent, nor to attempt to stop pupils who just want to get into the school building without talking to them. So far, so good… but I think this addition to our work duties may well last beyond the end of this calendar month!

3) I complete my ’60 running miles in September’

Gosh; so much harder than my January, ‘run at least a mile a day‘ quest. To keep up to date, I aim for 2 miles per day but, I discover that this means finding close to 20 minutes of daily ‘me-time’ and in September 2021, this has been a tough ask. So I push myself to finish early, with some longer weekend jogs, and feel overjoyed as the Strava clock tells me I’ve made it. I am full of relief to be free of the relentless demands of finding the time and route for a suitable 2 miler … as is my very sore right ankle. On the upside; I do feel good and pretty proud, plus all my pre-covid work clothes now fit me again. Who knows; by next week, where a staff social has made its way onto the calendar, I think there may be a fighting a chance that I’ll be able to fasten up my little black party dress too!

4) We make 4 journeys to the vets

Poor Boris has really struggled in September 2021 and is still not cured. We have now: clocked up over 80 miles of driving to and from the exotic pet specialists; spent over 10 hours, stuck in rush hour traffic, waiting in car parks or consulting with vets; administered many eye drops and other medicine and endured many many days feeling anxious and worried as he continues to look troubled and out of sorts.

5) I have missed first 1 and now 2 uni-girls for 23 days and only told them so once … or maybe twice

Yes, probably the biggest challenge of the whole month has been adjusting to life with two of the squad living in other cities….and that is a mission I’m definitely a long way from fully accomplishing but at least I’ve mostly managed to sound bright and breezy on our calls.

So all in all…I think I deserve a little tipple and in fact it is amazing that I made it this far without a small reward. But let’s not stop with me. Look back at your September, I’ll bet you’ll find plenty of reasons to treat yourself too!!

Holidaying …without kids…

Saturday 28 August 2021

On the heartwarming ‘Raising Boys’ blog, there is one article, ‘7 Rules for taking a Toddler on Holiday‘ that takes me on a poignant trip down memory lane and inspires this week’s post. For this year, I find myself emerging on the other side of this parental vacation voyage. In August 2021, I leave my kids at home and go holidaying with my friends again!

Yes, my friends and I have shared many holiday permutations over the years. In our student days, lots of adventurous travel. Booking a flight, packing a rucksack, a tube of travel wash and the iconic ‘Rough Guide to…. wherever‘ and simply setting off for a few weeks … occasionally months. Then marriage and settling down, lit up by the sociable toddler years, when our cheery, chubby offspring were only too happy to team up with any children in sight and so came with us on trips to see our pals. Built sandcastles together, shared tents together, giggled, laughed and probably cried on ‘long’ parent-led walks together. Alas, this harmony was soon to hit the challenge of the teenage era! Definitely a more barren time in terms of keeping in touch. Awkward adolescents are fare less keen, we discovered, to immediately bond and socialise with each other, simply because they are around the same age and, back in the 1980s, their parents became buddies at University! So our holiday meet-ups, regrettably, dwindled away … until this year.

With Small Boy joyfully driven to Wales to enjoy a seaside holiday with my Mum and his ‘caravan friends’, my girls more than keen to have the house to themselves for a week, I am free to head to the beautiful Northumberland Coast to join a house that ‘sleeps six’ with a group of university friends. And there is not an single child in sight!

And it is wonderful! Seven days of adult company and a full 180 degrees different from my usual life. A large G & T greets me upon arrival on arrival. We enjoy leisurely meals out and fantastic food in with wine, chat, laughter and no-one rushing to finish and get back to the x-box. Countryside and coastal walks are planned with pub or cafe stops … and without needing to resort to threats or bribery. The very civilised ‘Great Estuary Debate‘ aside, (to chance a wade across at low tide or play safe with a longer roadside route?’ … that was the question) there are also no arguments, no sulks, no squabbles. On the beach, some do swim and board, someone even brings a bucket and spade… but not me. After years of having to occupy, entertain and cart equipment for 3 children to the sand and sea … I just bring snacks, drinks and my kindle.

Of course, there are still some decisions to be made… just not ones you’d usually hear on a teen family vacation,

I thought Yemeny pilaf for dinner tonight, or possibly salmon‘ calls one of my friends from the kitchen ” Any preference?”

Oooh – tough choices!

And we don’t forget about our children completely. We share parenting tales, we swap proud pictures and we call them most days. But predominantly, I find, I have a precious and refreshing week for me; afternoon and evening drinks, lazy morning lie-ins with a good book interchanged with occasional runs, convivial jigsaws but competitive board games, fresh air, stunning scenery, much tea, many biscuits, fun and friendship.

Do the kids miss us? Today I drive home and arrive at a house where the curtains are closed, the shed is full of uncollected Amazon parcels and there not a scrap of food to be found in fridge or cupboard. But those who are in welcome me back with hugs and smiles, so even if they haven’t missed me, even if they have had a lovely break from my ‘mum – nagging’, I think they are pretty pleased to have me back. My Eldest sends a text explaining that she is ‘out’ until later and Small Boy reminds me that he is heading to a gig in the local park at six. I resign myself to tea without milk, an afternoon of washing and conclude that whilst we have all had welcome change of pace and routine, that life will be ‘back to normal’ before I’ve even unpacked my bags.

Or maybe not; I fire up my laptop, start to type and escape back to holiday mode for an extra indulgent hour or two…

Exam Results 2021 …let’s make it about the pupils

Monday 9 August 2021

It’s the eve of A level Results day in England, with GCSEs following, hot on their heels. Always a tense time for so many pupils and parents but: throw in 18 months of  covid-chaos in our educational establishments; toss in the word ‘ teacher assessed grades’ and stir it all up with accusations of ‘grade inflation’ and speculation of a landslide of appeals and our scandal-seeking national media look set for a bumper week of headlines.

Is it unfair to suggest that the press and politicians and ‘joe-public know-alls’ sometimes forget that pupils lie at the heart of this…

Our house is on edge, anxiously awaiting A level results for Prom-dress daughter. Like many pupils in her position, this set of grades represent hard work and talent but even more importantly a whole ton of resilience and grit. Yes, it is remarkable that so many of these pupils kept going. Kept going through: home-learning, blended learning, lockdown, unlocking, mass testing, endless isolation orders  and … to cap it all an anxious assessment marathon, hastily cobbled together at the eleventh hour by an incompetent Department of Education. Let’s spare them headlines that make ill-informed shots at the validity of their grades; they deserve every success and every bit of praise their schools and families can lavish upon them. For those who don’t receive exactly the scores they hoped for … I think we know that they have learned how to pick themselves up, learned how to adapt…. I think they need to be reassured that they  will be okay.

For whilst my daughter and others collecting results are typical of most examination age pupils, there is another group whose story is even less likely to be told.  As we dispatched out Teacher Assessed Grades in June there were a small number of young people receiving no grades at all. And we are not alone. In July 2021, the TES in their article ‘Most teachers had GCSE evidence gaps‘ found that over 70% of teachers had pupils for whom they could not evidence a grade.

The article explores many reasons for this saddest of situations; mental health, bereavement, school refusal, the causes are numerous. There is an even more serious issue too, some of our pupils are actually lost. Lost to education and … missing. Quoted in a Times article, Anne Longfield, former children’s commissioner reported that,

” …the state had lost track of tens of thousands of pupils who had gone “off grid” during the pandemic…” 

Her fears for these vulnerable young people centre upon the threats from criminal gangs and the dark cloud of county lines that casts an ever present shadow over our school communities.

Is there a place for this cohort of pupils on results day? I’d like to think that there was … because I really believe in educational care. I’d like to say ‘come back to us‘ even if you haven’t gained a single grade. We have time for you too today. We’ll find you a path. We’ll help you take that first step. We are … still here. Because 18 months of a global pandemic has re-emphasised one thing so clearly to those of us privileged to work in our high schools and colleges, pupils are not just a set of exam statistics, and a list of grades, they are complete and unique young people. And they flourish with our amazing knowledge but also our care and encouragement that helps each one to see how much they matter and what the best version of themselves might be.

So please…  let’s make this week’s results days about the pupils… about all the pupils….

Talking about running…

Thursday 22 July 2021

Yuk, yuk and triple yuk! My garments are literally sodden with sweat as I return from a short run this morning; my first in nearly 2 weeks. Do I regret choosing one of the hottest days of the year to dig out my running shoes again? Not for a second; my head needed this!

In his book, ‘What I talk about when I talk about running‘, Murakami, observes,

Most runners run not because they want to live longer, but because they want to live life to the fullest. If you’re going to while away the years, it’s far better to live them with clear goals and fully alive than in a fog, and I believe running helps you do that…”

And whilst is would be clearly ludicrous for me to draw many life parallels with an award winning novelist and regular amateur marathon runner, even as a steady 10K jogger this chimes with me. Take this week for example…

Like most teachers, I crawl to the end of the academic year and the long Summer Holiday dawns with me too exhausted to think, feel or do anything, beyond basic auto-pilot mum duties. So for days I do nothing but shopping, washing, taxi-ing … and paying for lots of things. I lounge about. I loaf about. And as for exercise; I shun it completely. I am “too tired to run.” It is “too hot to run.” I need a “break” from my run.

By mid-week, do I feel rested and refreshed? Alas, I do not. I feel smothered in sluggishness and hemmed in by the humdrum. As the main adult in the house, there are more important things I need to be doing; creative tasks; decision making tasks; project planning tasks…but these just seem overwhelming. My head is a muddle and I hover on the edge of gloom and despondency.

So this morning, despite little sleep, a bunged up nose and the searing sun, I haul myself off for a bit of pavement pounding. And I feel instantly better. Settling back into the familiar running rhythms is reassuring. I am out of the house. My route is peaceful and spacious. The brain fog lifts and an order for the day begins to dance into place. By the time I am home, showered and sipping my first coffee, I am filled not only with energy but also enthusiasm for the day ahead.

To be tentatively heading ‘back on track‘, feels a wonderful relief, so I briefly ponder ways to maintain this level of motivation and focus? Should I commit to some exercise goal throughout the Summer? The magnificent Murakami aims to run 6 miles per day to maintain the ‘stamina and endurance’ needed to support his writing? Yikes, that is beyond me! More realistic would be re-vamping my January homage to Ron Hills, of ‘running at least a mile a day’. I sip on my coffee and decide to give myself a few days to decide. In the meantime, I elect to put distances aside and go day-by-day. Today is today and tomorrow, I will go for another morning run…

Relationships by numbers…

Sunday 6 June 2021

You hear some strange things on the radio in the middle of the night…

Somewhere between teacher assessed grades, mass testing and track n’ tracing, work stress has made the grim descent into insomnia. Although I invariably zonk out effectively enough in an exhausted heap; by around 2am I am awake again, tossing and turning fretfully in a fruitless quest to return to the illusive REM-cycle. When my mind is really racing, I switch the radio on, hoping for distraction, and this is where, a few nights ago…I discover the notion of numbers linked to social and workplace interaction. It is claimed that,

You can only maintain so many close friendships

The central name in the debate is evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, best known for 150, his namesake ‘Dunbar’s number’. Dunbar claims that this is the number of ‘stable relationships ‘ we are able, cognitively to maintain at once. It is his ‘wider circle of friends’ number, the amount you’d expect to see at your wedding, or imagine at your funeral, as opposed to your closest most trusted companions. On the radio, the guest expert applies this number to the workplace too, as the number where you could know each colleague not only by name but also know something of them as a person: their role, their family, their interests, their ambitions. Its suggested that although variation is inevitable, this is a suitable number for that sense of unity and community that hallmark effective organisations. When employee numbers rise too far above this, our expert continues, some businesses choose to open a second office or warehouse to break the workforce down into more sociable sized units.

Now this draws me in because 150 is pretty close to the number of colleagues I work with and all of this is certainly true for us. Additionally too, it catches my imagination because, as a mathematician, I have a long standing fascination with the seemingly mystical existence of numbers and number patterns in society, in music, in art and in our natural world. Oh yes, our wonderful cardinals refuse simply to be confined to the dusty pages of some academic tome!

Hence, as this audio item moves onto explore other numbers, I find myself wide-awake. The theory examines various friendship thresholds. Five is the ballpark for close friends – shoulder to cry on friends, the ones who share your happiest (or saddest) news first friends. It is proposed that this is why we so often see quintets, or their near neighbours, winning appeal in popular culture; Enid Blyton’s Famous 5, Friends, Scooby Doo‘s sleuthing squad and numerous rock and pop groups.

There is a long conversation about fifteen. In the relationship ranks, 15 is ‘best friends’ – around the number you’d have at a regular birthday meal, on a hen party weekend or those you’d call upon to look after your children. The radio discussion suggests that this stronger bond makes a suitable number for sporting teams and even expands to include Jesus and his disciples in the category.

From 15 they jump to 50 and then the renowned 150…

I lie there thinking it through for my life: reliving the times when friends did drop everything to support me and who they were, picturing the faces at my 30th Birthday Party or the various work teams I have contributed to and which worked well and which … less so. There or there abouts … those numbers work for me, although for a statistically minded soul, there is not a lot of space between 5 and 15 for variation! And I strongly suspect it was the clarity of definition of roles, rather than the size, that made several work teams successful or not. I imagine this could be an easy theory to challenge… from various directions.

Nonetheless, possibly akin to counting sheep, as I attempt to recall and count those who came to my Wedding I find myself drifting pleasantly off into a wonderful spell of sleep. I decide, whatever it limitations, that this is the theory for me after all…