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…

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…