Nurturing my Identity

Sundays are not part of my commitment to #40daysofwriting on #lentblog, but nevertheless I find myself musing and writing about aspects of my identity that I’ve become more self-aware of in the last year. Last Sunday, I wrote about identity and how so much of it is wrapped up in my performance in my job. Today I go on to considering what I’ve done to diminish the negative draws on my identity and increase the positive ones.

I consider that I have quite an addictive personality. I get into things with a great deal of enthusiasm and then find myself thinking about them with every thought and doing them with every spare minute. This has often been to my advantage as a teacher – give me a topic that I’m interested in and I’ll throw myself into it wholeheartedly.

Two years ago I got really into developing the school website. I spent every Monday evening often working until beyond midnight trying to make it better, doing things I’d seen others do, making it inspirational. Really the website should have been a long way down my list of priorities. I could have delegated the responsibility, I could have outsourced it to focus on my core role. But no, I worked so hard on it until I actually found myself failing at other things I should have been doing. Finally realisation struck. The obsession had become part of my identity  – I was using it to define myself: “I’m the deputy head who can make great websites”. But the obsession was draining. It was taking time away from more important aspects of my work and more importantly, my family. I had to stop it.

There have been other examples too, sometimes with work, sometimes with gaming, sometimes with social media – getting into something that on its own would be harmless but the depth that I’ve worked at it has been obsessive and damaging. Instead of a computer game being a moment of fun it becomes part of my identity. As Tozer says: “the roots of our hearts have grown down into things and we dare not pull up one rootlet lest we die.” That’s me with the things I obsess about.

So what I’ve done about it? Well in summary: less of the bad stuff, more of the good stuff.

Diminishing the bad stuff

1. Keeping my phone downstairs, especially at weekends.
2. Having a day each weekend (normally Sunday) when no work is done and the minimum of screens are used.
3. Having an evening each week when I do no work.

Increasing the good stuff

1. Praying more.
2. Spending more time with my wife.
3. Choosing to meet friends instead of playing computer games or working.
4. Reading books (up until last Summer, I hadn’t read a book in 2 years.
5. Blogging to reflect rather than to gain popularity.

Of course, I’m not there yet. Physical exercise – running, swimming and cycling especially –  is something I need to do more of, and have to admit that in the middle of this term, my wife and family were still somewhat neglected in favour of work. I I wrote my “nurturing identity” report, it might say: trying had but could do better.

ref: “The Pursuit of God” by A.W. Tozer: chapter 2 The blessedness of possessing nothing

Flat as a Pancake

A Pancake in a frying pan
Really, really flat. A bit like this pancake.

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. The reason is that I’ve had the stuffing well and truly kicked out of me at times over the last year. I have been flat as a pancake.

A failed inspection. The worst SATs results in ten years. Failed performance management. I’ve been through an education desert. A wilderness. And with some medical problems too tedious to write about to compound matters, it really has been a dark night of the soul.

I have a little mantra that I live by: things can always get better; things can always get worse. So I’m not arrogant enough to suggest that from today things will definitely get better. And don’t be naive enough to believe that things have been unfailingly terrible for the last year. But it’s certainly been the most challenging time I’ve faced during my career as a teacher and I intend to write about some of those educational experiences during Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday: tomorrow.

This Lent, I am giving up my writing lethargy and taking up a commitment to post something every day. So here we go, for #40daysofwriting to coincide with Lent.

Image courtesy of

Real Life has greater bandwidth

The first person I heard say this was musician, artist and educator: Bobbie Gardner. “Real life has greater bandwidth” she said and then waited for me to take in her words of awesome wisdom.

It has a phrase that has stuck with me, so much so that it has become one of my pub theories. Get me in a pub, give me a pint of beer, mention social media and I’m bound to utter those words. I really am terribly predictable.

It means a lot to me, because sometimes I have got so much into social media that I have become almost dependent on seeing the next tweet in which I’m mentioned, or yearning for someone to comment on my blog.

But the thing is, real life has greater bandwidth.

You gain things from Twitter, from Facebook, from blogging, but you can’t gain as much as you can from sitting with someone and talking. Or standing in stadium and watching. Or walking somewhere in the rain.

On Twitter, you can’t smell the coffee. On Facebook, you can’t appreciate the subtle complexities of an Islay malt. And when you receive a comment on a blog, you can’t see the ironic smile, or the encouraging eyes, or the slightly disappointed frown.

I’m trying to blog more this year, to help me reflect on things I believe and things I’m trying to learn. But I’ve got to remember that real life has greater bandwidth: sometimes it is more important to take in the view than to take a photograph it.

To help me, I’m using scheduling on my WordPress site. This means I can post things on different days, but write them all at once if I want. Right now, it is Wednesday, but I know this post won’t go live until I’m just brewing my first coffee in my Bialletti on Saturday morning.

I’m also planning not to broadcast at all on Sundays. Sundays are going to be a social media Sabbath for me. Time to go to church, spend time with family and generally not look at too many screens.

It’s not just about the gun laws.

I had finished my day at work, culminating in a highly successful Christmas Fair. I ensconced myself at home with those most enjoyable of evening routines – teatime with the family, bathing our youngest, reading stories, singing the song we always sing before bedtime.

And then I switched on the News. There I learned that 20 children within the same age range as my own children had been murdered. A week focussed on both educating my school children and parenting my own children had ended with this. I was struck by how my children will still have their bedtime tomorrow, and the next day, and hopefully for many years to come. But the children in Newtown wouldn’t.

Today the inevitable debate has unfolded. What actually happened? Why? Would it have been different if the gun laws had been different?

I can’t answer any of that. I could pontificate on the difference in gun laws between the UK (where I live) and the US. But it’s not just about that.

What I can’t get out of my head is that during those tragic 30 minutes or so when Adam Lanza went on his insane rampage, it is estimated that 400 children died somewhere in the world. Malnutrition, disease, war. They all take their toll. Just like the 20 children in Newton, those 400 children in different parts of the world had their whole lives ahead of them. They were pure and innocent too. They will have no bedtime routine tonight either.

Estimates are that about twenty thousand children die each day, two thirds of them from preventable causes. 1 in 7 of those children die from the simple reason of just not having decent toilets – a problem that you can help by visiting

Yet the world’s media don’t go running to those tragic deaths. Somehow we are numbed from this human tragedy. People just like us are dying all over the world and yet some deaths are reported as more tragic than others. It’s this discrepancy that bothers me. It’s an injustice on such a scale that it is easier to argue about US gun laws, despite the entrenched positions that both sides take.

The late, great atheist Douglas Adams, in his book, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, talked about the interconnectedness of all things. It’s a principal that I agree with. Maybe if we work to see the world become a more just place, rather than merely protecting our own corner of it, then we might see less injustice all round.

Whatever happens after this, there may be another shooting next week. Or in January. Or maybe not until February. I don’t know. But I do know that twenty thousand children will die tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that.

Lego Men Don’t Bleed

I suppose it’s a function of growing older that Remembrance Day should get more poignant with each passing year. This year a couple of conversations have added to that.

The first was a conversation with one of my daughters, who overhead my wife and I talking about visiting my dying grandad in hospital. “I’d like to see him before he dies,” she said. We explained that she would have to be very brave, because he doesn’t look or sound much like the great grandfather she had seen previously.

When we arrived, he was lying naked in his hospital bed with a tube in his penis and his lower teeth removed – he had lost them on his previous visit to hospital. He was covered in red splotches and his hands were a deep unnatural purple colour that had spread back along his arms. He was groaning slightly.

He became aware of us and reached towards his hand towards me, but was unable to focus or saying anything intelligible. I held his hand for a moment and told him I loved him. My daughter, who is only seven, could only stand by the door.

As we walked out, she said, “I saw a lot of sick people there, but nobody as sick as Grandad Bob.” (For that is what we call him, despite his correct title being “Great Grandad”).

How to best introduce children to death and dying is an area of some interest to me. In my first year of teaching I was in a school where a mother killed one of her own children, and the consequences of that act were deep and far-reaching. An elder brother, who was eight, survived the attack and I remember doing some research at the time (before the age of Google and Wikipedia) and finding out that it was between the age of 8 and 10 that children start to get a deeper understanding of death. It was quite possible, I was told, that the surviving brother would have had no mechanism for understanding the loss and its permanence until he was older.

This was backed up firstly by my own experience. My other grandad had died when I was 8 and it made no difference to me at the time, even though I had loved him dearly. When I was 19, I remember being in conversation with my father about that time and the sadness of that loss suddenly hit me – I was unable to hold back the tears. It was like grief caught up with me when I was ready.

When the 9/11 attack happened on the Twin Towers I remember well the differing responses in my school. At the start of the next day, September 10th, the Year 4 children – aged 8 – were talking about the people jumping from the heights as if it was some kind of computer game, whereas the Year 6 children, only two years older, sat in sombre reflection of the events.

The second conversation happened following my son’s first Remembrance Day Parade as a cub at the local church. We were talking about some of the stories he had heard, including the bravery of amputee soldiers in how they deal with life after tragic injury. We were reflecting that many of those soldiers are looked after in the same hospital were my Grandad Bob is dying. And then he said “I often get my legs blown off in Roblox.” For those of you who don’t know, Roblox is a website where you can play games created by other members, based on a block type system that looks a lot like Lego. The players in the game all run around like little Lego men.

A part of me wanted to scold my son – how very dare he be so insensitive on Remembrance Day!

But he’s just nine. To him death is something that happens in games just before you restart. He’s probably not developmentally ready to appreciate the permanent loss of death and the grief that goes with it, and if he isn’t I don’t want him to have to wallow in it.

But at the same time, I am concerned that the developmental stage of appreciating the finality of death might be being pushed back for our youngsters – especially in this age when we are so focussed on the playing of games in which each individual can succeed and we can all be winners.

It makes me appreciate the fact that we have a Remembrance Day – a chance to reflect on lives ruined through war and conflict. And someday I’m sure I’ll have the opportunity to educate my own children that real people do bleed, without being overly-morbid about it.

Langennith, Surfers and Whisky

It had been 28 years since I’d last visited the Gower and as I drove along the peninsular I wondered how much had changed. It was perhaps hard to think these thoughts as I dodged the surfers in their tiny, battered Peugeots hurtling down the country lanes… But when I got there it was like nothing had changed. Rhossili Bay was still at its magnificent best – amazing sand, great views, so big that you’d need a city worth of people to make it feel busy.

I was amazed at how undeveloped the place was. My idyllic childhood holidays were right there, ready to be re-lived. And now bringing my own family, they could be.

But why? Why was it still relatively undisturbed? It’s true that the road into Langennith was narrow and windy – it would deter some caravans I’m sure. But the natural holiday resources are all there for some big company to come along and commercialise it all. The beach is amazing. There are waves and mile after mile of sand. The dunes are pretty good too – probably enough for a golf course if you were that way inclined. There’s history too – hints of long-gone abbeys and iron-age hill forts around the place.

And then it hit me: the surfers. So near to Swansea, Rhossili Bay is a major surfing beach and I’m sure many hundreds career down the winding roads to catch a few waves whenever they can. I’m not a surfer, but I could see in the way they drive that waves are the only things that matter – they didn’t want to waste a single valuable second away from the sea. And good on them too – I’m sure they are the main reason why that part of the Gower is so undisturbed.

Meanwhile back at the Kings Head in Langennith I was amazed to see the whisky selection at the bar. Three rows deep and in alphabetic order it’s the best collection I’ve ever seen, and that includes the bars I visited earlier this year on Islay.

If you ask for it, they hand you a well-thumbed list, including tasting notes. I tried the Penderyn – a Welsh whisky that I hadn’t tried before. It was light and floral, with a honeyish feel to it – perfect for a Summer’s evening. Then I saw that the list had Port Ellen on it – a drink I learned about in Islay and still haven’t sampled. Unfortunately they had run out – so I’ll still have to wait a little longer. So I tried the peated Penderyn instead and I was a little disappointed. I guess firstly because I associated peated whisky more with winter months – so while it is my favourite kind, I had made a poor choice on this occasion. Secondly I thought it tried a little too hard – I felt the peatedness was a little forced and it detracted from the original Penderyn that I had so enjoyed initially.

Langennith for me has now transcended legend. It was a place that I looked back on with fond memories of idyllic beach holidays. It is still that idyllic place, but now it has whisky too.

Sleeping Dad Blues
Listen on Posterous


A blues that came to me this morning after a terribly disrupted night with a poorly child. Messed up the guitar solo a bit. Whoops.


Also, I got in a bit of a mess with formatting this audio file. Posterous doesn’t seem to like .aifc files. The .mov file above will play in Posterous, but is technically a video with no images. The audio only file is here:


It’s weird (from a technical point of view) that movie files are easier to deal with than audio files…

Applying some principles from #uppingyourgame

Applying some principles from #uppingyourgame


A few months ago I acquired a Kindle to test how it might be used in the school where I teach. My first purchase on said Kindle was Doug Belshaw’s #UppingYourgame. For 86 English Pennies I thought I couldn’t go far wrong.


And I was not disappointed.


It’s a few pages of common sense which refers to lengthier tomes should you wish to read more deeply. I didn’t.


I did read #Uppingyourgame. Then my wife did. We both enjoyed it.


That was at the start of the Summer Hols and as you all know, teachers do nothing over the Summer except lie on beaches taking in the scorching British sunshine. As a consequence I’ve not been able to put any of the principles into practice. I’ve had no game to be upped.


Now however, term is back into full swing and I thought I’d write a few posts about the putting into the practice of the principles of the Uppingyourgame.


One of the things that impressed about the book is that it doesn’t deal in specifics – what follows are my specifics – if you really want to up your own game a bit then read the book, not this blog.


So whether it’s me getting fit, or using lists, or using social media more wisely, be prepared to see how I’ve begun to up my game…