Happy happy happy happy

Getting up and stumbling about in the dark to beat the traffic to work, getting home after sunset and walking into your chilly home, when hibernating seems like a brilliant idea, the media start shoving ‘happiness’ at us. Are you happy? Could you be happier? Have you decided to be happy? What’s your happiness quotient? Is happiness an illusion? Where do we find it if it isn’t? Is it a journey, a destination, a fleeting state of mind or a rows of pearls on the necklace of life?

The older I get, the fewer answers I have to these questions. But the older I get, the less enchanted I am by answers anyway.

But I’m a big fan of learning and being taught! So here’s the Dalai Lama – he knows a thing or two about happiness, or so I’ve been told.

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October? OCTOBER??


Are you also scratching your head wondering where 2015 has gone? Can you remember anything about 2015? What did you do in April? Have you been anywhere new? Have you had dinner with the people you said, “let’s do dinner sometime’ to? Have you emailed, phoned, messaged all those friends you were going to keep in touch with? Why not? Not enough time? Why not? We all have exactly the same hours in a day as everyone else. How do some people manage to do so much?

I’ve often wondered how we can slow down time – make it feel longer and fuller and more memorable. Here’s Matt Cutts’s suggestion.

I’m going to take the challenge and take a photo every day this month.

Here’s today’s


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THIS is what I do……

Yes. I’m here and I’m happy to  talk.

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It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it…..

Talk posh and you’re in, in other words. It as long been the case that how you sound: your accent and grammar, will dictate very much how and how far you succeed in many fields of endeavour today. English is the primary language for doing business and for much else. If you sing in English, you attract a bigger audience; if you want to be a pilot, you have to speak English; if you want to be at the top of your game sports-wise, speak English.

But not only should you speak English, you should speak it correctly and with a posh accent. Working class, regional accents don’t cut it in big business. Bad grammar pigeon-holes you too. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, the latest business guru who promotes ‘executive presence’ makes it clear that unless your grammar is correct and your accent within the vague and unspoken boundaries of what is considered acceptable, particularly in the UK, you won’t get beyond the interview; well at least not for some of the high powered firms or ‘elite’ firms.

It seems that  this is still the key to success in the world today. So, let’s get the grammar right – it’s as easy to learn something that’s correct as it is to pick up something incorrect – and get to work on erasing those regional quirks and getting our vowels and diphthongs sounding more or less how they should.

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Into the Void…

I’ve done a number of MOOCs – one on the English country house which was grand, one on Shakespeare which was equally grand and one on Writing Fiction. (I have always wanted to be a writer.) I didn’t finish the writing fiction course and started questioning my motivation to be a writer. “Can’t be that keen if you can’t even finish an 8-week course doing what you supposedly love,” I heard my mother saying in my head as I admonished myself severely for ‘not finishing what I had started.’ But, in my kinder moments, I asked myself why my enthusiasm had fizzled out so thoroughly halfway through the course and the very clear and unequivocal reason was lack of feedback. I never once got any kind of feedback from anyone on any of the pieces I wrote and posted duly and diligently. The paragraphs and sketches, descriptions and characterisations wrung painfully from wherever it is writing comes from, fell into a void – a dark, limitless void – never to be heard from or of again. It made me think…….

There is probably nothing in the learning arena that is more soul-destroying and disheartening than not being given some sort of feedback on your efforts: What went right? What went wrong? What should I do next time? What should I stop doing? Did you like it? Why? How do I now move forward?

I failed my DELTA assessed lesson first time round. Why? I don’t know. This made preparing and delivering the lesson for the second attempt doubly stressful. Was I doing it all wrong? Was I going to go through the humiliation and tears yet again because I had no idea how to avoid them? I passed the next time. Why? I don’t know. What did I learn? Nothing. Was it a useful exercise for my ongoing development as a teacher? No. 

I lie. I learnt one thing: without feedback, everything we attempt remains a profound and sometimes frightening mystery. Therefore, as a teacher, the most valuable thing I can give my students is honest, clear, timely feedback. It is the reward every student deserves for making the effort to produce anything – be it a simple exercise, a detailed piece of writing, a formal presentation or the writing of an exam. Most things a student produces are at our behest and as teachers and educators we are beholden to provide feedback on how well – or not – they have fulfilled the brief. Not to do so is not only rude and dismissive, it makes our role as educators extremely dubious, to say the least.

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Working for Myself

I was always told that working for myself was a far better option than working to make money for someone else. And I am now working for myself. It is tough – much tougher than working for someone else because nothing happens unless I make it. 

And, although I am not working to fuel the greed of ‘big business’ or fund someone’s personal delusions of grandeur, I do still work for someone else – my students. And most of them still work to feed the insatiable demands of ‘big business’ or someone’s personal delusions of grandeur. This makes my working day most varied and passing strange.

I go from university canteens or cavernous common rooms to the hallowed offices of the managing director; from cold meeting rooms in glass-fronted subsidiaries on soulless industrial estates to the lounge in a shared flat – “just until I find a house.” I teach people at 6am and at 8pm; I battle traffic on the M6 at rush hour, or I drift down country lanes, burgeoning magically in the spring. I’m paid hourly in screwed up grubby notes hauled out of back pockets, weekly IOUs and monthly electronic transfers. I teach from dog-eared manuals and crisp new exam guides; I teach and coach, mentor and listen. I sit with lonely people needing to talk, people desperate for help to pass exams, people frightened of being in an unfamiliar country and people using their hour as a refuge, ‘me’ time. I am become ‘all things’ to a lot of people.

Practically, I won’t be able to retire early; I may eat beans on toast, drink cheap wine on special at Lidl and have deferred my many dreams, but as far as life experiences go, I have found ‘Eldorado.”

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In Praise of the Cliche

Nothing pleases me more than reading a piece of language that is beautifully written – from the immortal lines of Mr William Shakespeare to some who may not stand the test of time, but who nevertheless have me writhing in either mirth or embarrassment as their words slice open and expose exactly what is in my head about the magnificent experience of living on this cluttered, random, unpredictable planet.

Stand-up comedians – some of them – gain their reputations from being unerring in their ability to see beyond and behind and winkle out the very essence of the mundane and look at it anew and skewer us with it.

But not all of us are gifted writers or speakers and when we find ourselves stuck for something to say, we have the dear old, long-suffering, overused and threadbare cliche. But we need these familiar, well-learnt, comfortable pieces of language. They too were once pithy and original, but precisely because they DO resonate with people, they are picked up and carried about with us to be used whenever and wherever necessary.

Don’t deride our cliches – choose them well, use them with a flourish, reinvent them and make them your own.

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Future-proof careers.

It is becoming a cliche to say that most of the careers that are followed today will not exist in years to come and that today’s young people are learning for careers that do not yet exist. It must be tough to try and decide which courses to follow in an attempt to be prepared to work at something that may no longer be relevant or that isn’t here yet.

But, there are some careers that will survive the relentless onslaught of progress and ever-more sophisticated technology: all of them require indefatigable passion and a lifestyle choice that requires 100% involvement, but promises rich rewards.

Here are my top five:

– farmers. Even if technology changes farming as we know it, we’ll always need people to look after the land.


– chefs and restauranteurs. Good food is not something everyone can produce especially when time is at a premium. Good food eaten in a convivial environment will continue to be in demand.


– hairdressers. Pampering in general, but hair will always grow and will always need cutting.


– landscape designers. It doesn’t matter what kind of urban landscape we will inhabit, green spaces will need to be designed and maintained.


– and my own favourite – winemakers. I’m so pleased that Georgian wine will soon be gracing our wine shops and dinner tables. 


Technology, progress, change and a future that holds a lot of surprises – but these five careers, I believe will stand the test of time and those with the passion to do them well will not only survive, but thrive.

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Microwave thinking

I saw this  phrase the other day. It means “think, but not for too long.”

And then I saw this


And then I remembered this from the late, great Maya Angelou:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Have a wonderful long weekend!


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Is there really an app for that?

There have been any number of posts and articles, reports and stories lately about our addiction to anything that alerts us to anything else. People get woken in the middle of the night by other people commenting on Facebook, heralded by a beep and a boop; WhatsApp twirts and cheeps incessantly as others in your group chat away happily during your hair appointment; emails announce their arrival as a constant stream of buzzes and bells while you try to get the shopping out of the car and up the stairs; text messages join the happy throng of stuff that whizzes and wheezes and bongs and peeps into that tyrannical machine in your pocket or bag.

Now I have conquered the monster. It took some beating, but unless I am desperate and I mean DESPERATE to receive news of something, I check my phone TWICE A DAY! Yes, just TWICE. Once when I get up and once again at lunch time. THAT’S IT. If people cannot wait overnight, or for six hours during the day, then too bad.

But if you cannot wait overnight or for six hours to see who needs you (who is needing whom by the way? Think about it.), then hey! there’s and app for that! This little thing alerts you when you have spent too much time on your phone instead of with your ‘loving family’ – or so it says. You impose your own time restriction and it tells you when you have been bad and overstepped the limit. And guess what? It probably beeps and whooshes, pings and buzzes too. And you’re going to spend more time checking that too. Oh yes you are!

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