Live Life. Stay Young

Not many of you know this but when Janice was born, the doctors knew there was something special about her but they couldn’t quite put their finger on it because Google hadn’t been invented back them. I’ve known Jan for just over eleven physical years but I feel like I’ve known her all her life. You see Jan and I worked together in a English Academy in Cartagena where Jan taught more than English. She taught the students life skills lessons. Like how to have fun; how to laugh and her favourite game was “Simon says”. Her husband Mike  tried to play the same game with her “ Simon says stay home. Simon says go the kitchen. Simon says make my dinner. But this game didn’t quite work for Mike.

I got to know Jan because we shared a lift to work and when I drove the 25 minute journey, I got to learn  Jan has a passion for the finer things in life like good food, a cold beer on a hot day, dancing and dressing up – which is why you’ve all had an anxious week rummaging through your wardrobes to make sure the long dresses and suits still fit.

When it was Jan’s turn to drive to work, the journey took only 10 minutes where she ably demonstrated her defensive driving skills and needless to say my heart was well exercised and I made sure to wear my “brown” trousers.

Now what Google confirmed to me and I’m sure you’ll agree – what puzzled the doctors is how Jan’s brain works!! A whirlwind travelling at the speed of light. When Jan gets an idea in her head there’s no stopping her. An example that comes to mind are her numerous trips she made to England. Now these trips were very short lasting at most 2 or 3 days but she managed (only Gods knows how) to visit family and friends from the south of England to the north of England cultivating friendships and maintaining family relationships. And those same friends and family have returned the favour by being here tonight to help Jan celebrate her 70th birthday. Hands up cousins from Surrey – Hertfordshire – Burley- Isle of Wight – Hampshire – Manchester. Then just for good measure she flies back via Madrid, where she skilfully tells Mike she took that route because it was cheaper.

Her speed and energy don’t stop there because Retirement for Jan means sailing – twice a day – every day including Sundays – with her sailing buddies from SAMM, the Shoestring group, the Baltones and not forgetting The Titanic.

Now with all this running around Jan needed a safe place to put her head down so she would call me up for a coffee morning. Do you remember all those coffee mornings Jan? I’d be in the midst of story and when I looked up there was Jan, eyes shut catching a power nap!! Because after me, she had to fit in her Spanish lesson, her bike ride and dog walk. Mike certainly had to put up with a lot.

Jan’s philosophy has always been Live Life. Stay young.

Jan, you’re the nicest, sincere woman I know. You never forget what’s important in life like your friends, family and your children who have all gathered here tonight from all over and I especially thank the cousins from England who remembered to pack the rain. Let’s raise our glasses and wish Jan the best birthday celebration ever. Happy birthday Jan.


Life is for those who show up

How can you experience life unless you participate in all the avenues available. What’s the use in holding a piece of chocolate and never tasting it? What’s the use of receiving a gift and never unwrapping it? I always think, “What a shame!”

This question plagued me whenever I went to a party or a new event where there was a room full of new faces. Why would I not want to go home knowing more about at least one person in that room? Why then do some people go to parties and events and never interact with anyone new? I have not yet found the answer. People love talking and they love talking about themselves when you ask them the right questions. I could learn about the big wide world by opening a book or in these modern times opening Google or better still You Tube but how very passive. Interacting with another human pair of eyes is so much more engaging and you the listener dictate how interesting that conversation is going to get by asking the right questions and displaying the right kind of interest on your face. Don’t blame the speaker for being boring because this interaction is a 50-50 love affair. You have to do your part so if you find the speaker boring, what must the speaker be thinking of you?

Have you noticed different situations where two people are so engaged and animated in their conversational circle. There is a twinkle in their eyes, smiles on their faces and the body language is locked into each other. Then when they’ve had enough of each other you try to emulate the same with one of the espied and you just don’t seem to get the same connection. Why? Why is it at that moment, between the two of you there is zilch. Nothing but an awkward shuffle and mumble. Then perhaps an hour later you meet up with the same person and this time you click. You find some common ground. Your eyes twinkle and you leave with a smile on your lips. Amazing! But that experience,.. that joy doesn’t happen if you stand in the corner and don’t put the chocolate in your mouth, and unwrap the gift.

Life happens to those who show up.






The Shortcut

Wagging his finger at me and looking me straight in the eye, my father said, “My girl, there are no shortcuts in life”. That was more than 40 years ago yet I still remember his words as clearly as if he had spoken them yesterday.

It all started at the age of seven. I was brought up in a home where routine was king of the castle. Ringggg, the alarm clock goes off at 6.30am. Mum gets out of bed and does what mums need to do in the morning. Who knows what mums do first thing in the morning. Then she opens the door to our bedroom and switches on the light at 6:45am. Can you imagine a more cruel way to deal with your kids first thing in the morning? I snuggle even tighter into the bedsheets and block my ears because I couldn’t bear to hear those dreaded words “time for school, up, up, up”. Could you imagine doing that nowadays? You’d have to answer to social services and the courts for child abuse and for failing to uphold their human rights. Anyway, like zombies we file one by one into the bathroom to do what kids do in the bathroom like run the tap, stick one finger under the running water and quickly dab each eye and wet your toothbrush and immediately place it back in the toothbrush holder. Breakfast was always cereal, toast and tea. For all that I care it could have been black pudding, cardboard and wine and I would have munched away because that’s what a 7 year old  who is sleep walking does at 7 in the morning. In other words … who cares?? Of course this is followed by get dressed, school, lunch, afternoon rest, homework, play, bath, telly and finally bed at 8pm. After 7 years I figured that I was an expert at routine and it was time for change. Time to deviate. Time to think out of the box when mum announced that she would be going back to work and that she trusted us, meaning me and my brother Joe who was 2 years younger than me to make her proud and continue with The Routine.

The big day arrived. 6:45, 7 o’clock, school, home, lunch, rest, homework, play… then bath time – my way. Enter the bathroom. Close the door. Put on my pyjamas then quietly sit in front of the telly waiting for 5 0’clock cartoons to begin. We hear the car pull into the driveway. My parents are home from work. The first question asked “Did you bath?” At 7, I thought the fact that I’d got my pyjamas on would be an obvious clue to my mother that I had had a bath, but I guess she needed reassuring as she had not witnessed the event. “Yes, I bathed.”
“Let me see your feet”. Oh no. No one alerted me  to the fact that dusty grubby feet would would be the watch dogs. I had to jump into the bath and take a bath, missing my favourite cartoons.

Day 2 started routinely, until bath time. I scrubbed my feet and put on my pyjamas all ready for Scooby Doo. Mum walks through the door.
“Did you bath?”
“Yes, I bathed.”
“Then why isn’t the bath wet?”

Day 3 arrived. I couldn’t wait to get The Routine over with to try my new bath plan. Feet scrubbed, run the taps for a minute to wet the bath tub. Sit in front of the telly and wait for the 5 0’clock cartoons.
“Did you bath?”
“Yes, I bathed.”
“Then why isn’t your face cloth wet?”
Missing 3 days of Scooby Doo was now getting to be a serious matter. My planning skills needed all night planning. In fact I was so excited, I got out of bed before my mother’s hand reached for the 6:45am light switch.

This time, I decided to stop playing a 10 minutes earlier so that I would have enough time to carry out the perfect crime against routine. I had my check list worked out like routine in my head. Enter the bathroom, scrub feet, wet the bath, wet the face cloth, put on my pyjamas. Perfect. Sit and wait for Scooby Doo.
“Did you bath?”
“Yes, I bathed.”
“Then why is your bath towel dry?”

So I say to you, wagging my finger and looking you in the eye, if a job is worth doing, do it well. There are no shortcuts in life.















Christmas means so many different things t0 all of us. No two people can honestly say they have the same intensity of emotions, the same connection to  Christmas, the same vibration to the ambience of this festive season. For me …. connecting with family is so special. I get to do it once a year with most members of my family as we are scattered all over the world. The bulk of the bodies come from every corner of the UK. The rest fly in from Spain, Hong Kong, Zimbabwe, The Bahamas and the USA. Others are connected via Skype from Vancouver, New Zealand, Toronto, South Africa. England is our base. Our Christmas gathering is on the 26th December, Boxing Day. The excitement builds up a year before as we say goodbye to each other and pencil in the next family gathering for 365 days time. One brave member volunteers to host the event. In this case it has been Aunty Patty who has the accommodation large enough to house us, the cooking facilities to cope with feeding enough h”angry birds” and parking space for the numerous modes of transport, excluding the jumbo jets.. which sit on the runways of Gatwick airport. Thank you England for the good weather on every Boxing Day that has allowed easy travelling. Before we even arrive on the day, you can see the plethora of detailed plans everyone needs to execute to make this yearly event possibly plausible. Read the follow up post as we look at the minute details of ….

On Math, Teaching, and the Magic of Bad Drawings: A Conversation with Ben Orlin

Reading this is great. What A Laugh.


Ben Orlin’s signature stick figures have been (snarkily) explaining mathematical concepts since 2013 at Math with Bad Drawings. By day a math teacher in Birmingham, England, Ben is a voraciously curious, multidisciplinary writer and educator whose work has also been published at The Atlantic, the Los Angeles Times, and Slate.

As a longtime fan of his blog, I wanted to ask Ben about cannibalistic numbers, his passion for teaching, and some of the more egregious uses of math in popular culture — and he was kind enough to respond not only with his sharp words, but also his beloved “bad” drawings.

Ben Orlin photo

All drawings in this interview are courtesy of Ben Orlin.

What is it about math that made you decide to teach it?

When it comes to learning, I’m pretty omnivorous: I’d have happily taught English, history, or social sciences — anything but lab sciences…

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Mastering a craft (any craft)

Graduating as a primary school teacher meant I taught, lets see ….. English , Maths, Geography, History, Science, P.E., Art, R.E.,  Music, Shona, Needlework ….The realisation years later that I was a Jack of All Trades and a master of none stuck with me and as the years pass one after another, there is a wanting to turn the tables round and master a craft … any craft.

So for the last two decades I´ve been on a mission like a gazelle trying all sorts of crafts and that precisely was the problem. I was choosing any craft and all crafts. I´ve whittled it down to two crafts which for me is a huge and I mean huge achievement. I´m not sure how focused a gazelle is but I do know that they look ahead and run fast. Now if I can focus on just two crafts and run with it, the law of averages say I should be able to cross several finish lines of mastery. I feel optimistic as the goal doesn’t seem overwhelming as long as I stick to two. After all I have a lot of two´s – eyes, ears, hands, feet,… If I continue, no I could say when I continue to run like a gazelle I will be the master of speaking Spanish fluently and spilling my thoughts onto a blog page with ease.

Why have I chosen those two disciplines? Well, for one thing I like communicating on all levels and I´ve felt immense frustration at not being able to express myself fully whilst living in Spain. I constantly feel like that three year old who is still developing a vocabulary but who knows what they want by simply using body language and gesticulating. I´ve often come close to having a tantrum on many occasions because “they” just didn’t fully understand me. I want my language to stop having the robotic set phrases from the text book but to have feeling and meaning.

Writing has played a large role in my teaching life. My mind constantly seeks new ideas, finds them and wants to write them down quickly for fear of losing them, (which is the case now its on overload). It’s not the writing I want to master but the ideas to lay the foundations to storytelling. I marvel at the great storytellers whose words just flow. I have fragments of story which lack body in the form of well constructed words.

So I say to myself. Watch this space. Watch this blog. Watch me be the master of my craft.