I have never been so insulted!

Another tale from my teaching days. It dates back to the late 80s or early 90s when, in an attempt to make it easier to become a teacher, the government decided anyone with a degree could be employed and they could learn on the job for a year.
Sadly they never rolled this idea out into other areas, I always fancied a crack at brain surgery (ironically enough). Anyway this particular year we ended up employing Will Lines (name changed). A former ‘captain of industry ‘ he had an opinion on everything and a very high opinion of himself. He had trained at another local school, which I’ll call Hillview. The minutes of our meetings were full of comments from him starting “at Hillview they …” followed by a statement praising Hillview or criticising our school or often both. One particular bee in his bonnet was Hillview’s extensive set of resources, worksheets linked to every topic, which he could use and save time by not having to write his own or see if a colleague had something suitable. He was reluctant to accept the Head of Faculty’ point that such a system took a while to set up and that for now we’d try having folders where we could leave a copy of any sheet we created. It didn’t work: either the sheet was not the right degree of difficulty, or it used the wrong method, etc, etc.
However this wasn’t his “greatest” moment. That was something he achieved in another meeting with to following statement.

“Of course as a good parent I made sure my children got a good education by sending them to a private school.”

How insulted was I? Let me count the ways.
1. We were teaching in a co-educational all-ability state school. By implication we were not providing a ‘good education’
2. By further implication we as individual teachers were not providing a good education.
3. Having attended a state school by his inference I had not received a good education.
4. My parents, who had been content to send me to the local school, where I had been in the selective stream, were bad parents for not sending me to a private school.

I was not happy. I was so not happy without a word I stood up, left the room and strode down the corridor. There I met an empty, black plastic dustbin. Off the top of my head as it’s not an Olympic event, I do not know the world record for kicking an empty, black plastic dustbin but I must have challenged the British record as I channeled every bit of anger this pompous, know-it-all, git, with an opinion of himself so over-inflated he was in danger of popping. I may well have screamed a very rude word to describe him as I kicked the bin, like a tennis player grunting as they seek maximum effort.

The empty, black plastic dustbin soared majestically through the air, until it remembered how intrinsically un-aerodynamic it was, when it flopped and fell to the ground where it bobbled along the corridor. I completed my circuit of the quadrangle and as wordlessly as I had left, I took my seat again. Will was just beginning a sentence “at Hillview they…”

Post script.
Will left at the end of the year, for a job at his beloved Hillview. He was last heard of by us when we heard on the grapevine that he was in trouble for refusing to attend the weekly worksheet writing meeting where they created and filed the resources of which he was so enamoured. He wasn’t going to use his valuable time writing worksheets for other people. Oh how we laughed, when the news was relayed to us.
Kicking the empty, black plastic bin, has not been made an Olympic event, so we will never know if I could have challenged for a medal.

Those who can…

As another year ends…
(What’s he talking about? it is July!)
Sorry, force of habit. In teaching you get used to an eleven month, year, September to July, with August acting as a weird buffer zone, where the past and future mingle.

My eye was caught by a letter in the Guardian. Responding to an article about “unqualified teachers”, the author of the letter lists her wide-ranging experience in independent schools, her Oxbridge degree, her MA and her PhD and the fact that she is also a published author.
However, lacking a teaching qualification, she would be described as an unqualified teacher. Now I am the last person to stick up for Ofsted and I have a rant about their box ticking, approach to lessons forming. My sympathies lie with the author of the letter. What nonsense that all her experience should go to waste.
Then she writes this.
… we learn that about “6,000 trainee teachers began courses after achieving a 2:2 or lower in their degree subject”. Just who do we want to teach our children?

My sympathy has just evaporated.
Just who do we want teaching our children?
Well certainly not her, that’s for sure.
I would have been one of the 6,000 when I trained.
Were my pupils disadvantaged by my “2:2 or lower” in my degree. As roughly 0.01% of the maths I had to teach at secondary school was from my degree, I would be confident in saying they were not. Instead they were , I hope, enthused by my love of the subject and my willingness to explain and be positive about my subject and their abilities.

For my music O-level our teacher found the aural paper, involving for example the transcription of a piece of 4-part harmony, very difficult to teach. He was gifted with perfect pitch and could just hear it and couldn’t explain it at all. Perhaps a teacher with a “2:2 or lower” could have helped us, understanding our difficulty.

I have observed lessons where very bright teachers gave their pupils a dull and uninspiring experience, where questions were discouraged and the method had to be followed, as if it were engraved on tablets of stone. This way, once The Method had been given, the class could tackle the exercise is silence: questions or observations were discouraged. This allowed the teacher to do her marking.
The question said ‘a car travels 15 miles in 20 minutes, what is the speed in mph?’
“So ,” I said, “20 minutes is one third of an hour so multiply 15 by 3 and we get 45 mph.”
There were a couple of blank faces. They were horrified. I wasn’t using The Method. You HAD to divide by 20 and then multiply by 60. No common sense, no feel for the context, but at least that teacher didn’t have a “2:2 or lower”.

I was constantly marking and preparing and I would love to hear how the author of the letter found time to write and become a published author, while teaching. I’m sure not one of her pupils was ever subjected to a less than perfect lesson, with a plethora of stimulating activities, because her mind was on her book.

From a different field, perhaps the letter-writer has heard of Arsene Wenger, who, as a professional footballer, had a less than stellar career. The Frenchman only made 64 appearances scoring 4 goals in the process.
Just who do we want managing our club?’
However he could read the game and now the Frenchman is the most successful manager in Arsenal history with 19 honours to his name.
Perhaps the name Jose Mourinho rings a bell. A playing career of about 100 games for four distinctly average Portuguese clubs.
‘Just who do we want managing our club?
As a manager in over 650 matches he has won 20 trophies.
One final football example: Sir Alex Ferguson. His playing career of 317 games and 171 goals sounds more impressive, but as he was playing for such giants of the game as Ayr United, Falkirk and Dunfermline for most of them, it isn’t a glittering CV.
‘Just who do we want managing our club?
With Aberdeen he broke the Celtic/Rangers duopoly with 3 Scottish Premier Division titles, 4 league cups and a UEFA Cup-Winners Cup
At Manchester United he notched 13 Premier League titles, 5 FA cups, 4 League cups and 2 UEFA Champions League titles.
Great players who made poor managers include Sir Bobby Charlton, Diego Maradona and Graeme Souness, who once as manager of Southampton, signed a player he’d never seen play, brought him on as a substitute but he was so poor he had to substitute the sub.
My point? Being gifted as a performer is no guarantee of being gifted as a teacher/manager. Equally, I suggest that having a “2:2 or lower” does not automatically mean you will be a great or a poor teacher.

Certainly one young lady who I first taught in year 9, wasn’t disadvantaged by our paths crossing. She had the reputation of being an able but unfocused student. She was doing enough work, but there was something missing.
I began to notice that once she felt confident that I would listen to her, she had a talent for asking very intelligent questions, often tangential to the lesson objective. “Up yours, Ofsted!” Her interest was rekindled. Having lit the fire, I watched it burn through the years, Oxbridge, a First, a distinction in her Masters, and currently a PhD. The young lady and her parents are convinced I made a difference.

Watching the Paint Dry

It is an overcast Sunday morning in the suburbs of the city. Across to the south-west,  Roger Federer and Marin Cillic are waiting to do battle in the men’s singles final at Wimbledon. Tennis correspondents at the pun loving tabloids hope that they get the chance to use their “Cillic – Bang and the title is gone!”
All over the country avid Whovians are battling to control their impatience, as they beseech the gods of tennis to make it a quick three set win for either player; they aren’t fussed who just so long as it is quick. The announcement of the actor who will be the new Dr Who is scheduled for after the final.
I am sitting in the corner of the lounge of my step daughter and her partner’s newly purchased flat. It is a hive of activity. Walls that were painted yesterday are being touched up or given a second coat, old locks are being changed for new ones by the husband of my much better half’s friend and swimming buddy. Flat pack furniture from the land of quirkily named flat pack furniture and meatballs, is being constructed.

Allen keys are being cursed; somehow an evil genius has created the universally useless Allen key, with its dimensions chosen to provide insufficient leverage, and here is the really clever bit, no matter who is using it! Young or old, strong or week, female or male, dexterous or clumsy: the human who can use this Allen key is yet to evolve.
Although I am having a half decent day with my Parkinson’s, I am not entrusted with any of these tasks, so I sit and chronicle events.
The air is filled with the potential for. tiredness-induced, snappiness. One word spoken in marginally the wrong tone and the peace could be broken.
Hang on….
Sorry about that, they found a job for me: could I swap the tie back seat cushions from the two old dining room chairs to two of the new, virtually identical, dining room chairs?
“Well, now, let me see? Do I think I am up to the task of moving the two cushions, which are Velcro fastened, so I don’t even have to tie a knot.” Inhaling through pursed lips, like a used car dealer who, having kicked a tyre, is about to make a low offer. “I suppose I can give it a try…”
That is not what I said. The time was not right for sarcasm. Like Ford Prefect in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, who often failed to notice sarcasm unless he was concentrating, the others, tired from actual physical effort of painting, wouldn’t appreciate a snippy reply from me, who has literally spent the last two days watching paint dry.
“Of course I will” was my actual answer.
Exaggerated politeness is the order of the day. “Would you mind…”, “sorry to stop you doing what you are doing but could you possibly help me with this…”
For a few moments we wait with bated breath as very tired step daughter is interrupted for something like the hundredth time. She takes a deep breath. I like to think that she is giving serious consideration to giving into the urge to rip someone’s head off. Instead she rolls her eyes. Her reply is both instant and yet timeless. Clocks wait, motionless between ticks. During this ‘no-time’, an endangered species of voles slips into extinction, and someone somewhere reads “War and Peace”.

“Yes, Honey, what is it?”

Finally the clocks resume ticking. No one has lost their head, neither figuratively nor literally.
Dowel by dowel, screw by screw, funny circular fitting that pulls the cabinet together by funny circular fitting that pulls the cabinet together, the flat packs become 3D objects and we have a cabinet, 4 chairs and a table. The cabinet doors provide multiple opportunities for Game of Thrones quips about Hodor, and political humour about the incompetence of the PM and her cabinet.
Federer wins, Jodie Whittaker is announced as the new, 13th Doctor and the paint has dried nicely.

This and That

The only thing predicable about my Parkinson’s Disease is it’s seemingly unavoidable unpredictability!I’ve been using a different set of timings, which has helped a bit. Some doses last 2 1/2 hours, some just 2 hours. Then it can take between 20 to 40 minutes to kick. So I can be “off” for just 20 minutes, which is scarcely “off” at all, or, worst case over an hour.

I’ve just thumbing through the Summer edition of “The Parkinson”. What have we got…
Reports on Parkinson’s Awareness Week; my only contribution was to wear my distinctive Parkinson’s UK, T-shirt to yoga and to the gym. I got zero attention/reaction at the gym. I’m there once or twice a week on a Steps2Health scheme. My varying “off” episodes mean I could be fine or I could gradually come to a standstill on the rowing machine. I know that the gentle set of exercises is doing two good things, trying to keep[*]some strength in my core and doing some cardio, because. . . It’s good for you, something to do with the n-dolphins[**] it releases.
“What’s up Flipper?”
“Skwark, akak, squeak!”
“The smugglers have kidnapped the Park Ranger and plan to tie him up to to the jetty?”

An article about apathy; I can’t be bothered to read that.[***]

Ooh, Yoga and Parkinson’s. I can endorse the benefits of yoga and the different types. Some are modern interpretations, some claim a long history. Some are all about the stretch, some are more spiritual. As the article says you should be able to find a style to suit you. I just know our instructor Clair is excellent with our group

Parkinson’s and Prescription charges. I know Parky meds are expensive and the prepayment certificate is one of the most value for money ideas ever. That does mean we are still paying for our meds. Why are some conditions given free meds. Maybe it’s time for another letter to my MP. . .

[*] okay develop rather than keep.
[**] I know it’s endorphins
[***] the whole post was written so I could use this joke. If you enjoyed it half as much as I did, then I enjoyed it twice as much as you!

Job Description

“So I understand you wish to place an advertisement in our recruitment section?”
“Yes, I’ve made a few notes about what is required.”
“Thank you, . . . now let me see. Okay you are no longer able to drive safely.”
“That’s correct, my passengers have begun to complain that on a long journey they find it difficult to carry enough spare clean underwear to cope with their feelings of anxiety me pulling onto a roundabout causes them.”
“So you need a chauffeur, that’s simple enough.”
“Yes, but there are other requirements.”
“Yes, but they are very difficult to decipher, is this shorthand?”
“No, my writing gets like that over the course of a paragraph.”
“Well, if you could just talk me through the details?”
“Of course. ”

Some time later.

“So you need a caterer as you’re unsafe with sharp knives and hot pots and pans, a cleaner as you can’t manage to wield a feather duster or a vacuum cleaner, a chauffeur, a PA to keep track of your appointments, a pharmacist to order and arrange your medication, a Jeevesian gentleman’s gentleman to help you get dressed or undressed, depending on when you need the help, a motivational speaker to get you through the bad days and a best friend to share in the better days? Someone to laugh at your ‘jokes and to share a laugh when the alternative is to break down and cry. And most recently someone to help you up from low seats, which included the toilet. They need the patience of a saint and the ability to judge the exact moment to offer the help without making you feel totally useless or a burden. All of these are 24/7 tasks. Is that a fair summary?”
“Yes I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, that’s another thing by the way, they need to do basic diy”
” I’m sorry but the chances of finding a person to do this job must be a million to one.”

I am very lucky. I am married to my one in a million.

“Signal please, umpire!”

At school I was the top scorer for cricket.
No, honestly it’s true.
If the PE department wanted someone to keep the score for an important cricket match I was their “go to” scorer.
For cricket in the summer term, occasionally in sunshine, but just as likely drizzle, I would be there pencil, (and spare pencil, pencil sharpener, erasers, blue pen for fours and sixes, black pen for wickets, and a shout of “bowler’s name please” or “signal please umpire?”) at the ready.
(Going off at a tangent, when I tried to type summer the auto correct offered me ‘Somme’. That is a slight exaggeration of the conditions; we had no trenches and less mud, but it did get rather wet sometimes and I’d be faced with a scorebook turning into papier-mâché as I tried to write!)
Most often the opposition didn’t have a scorer, so in addition to umpiring their PE teacher, would be keeping score too, so he’d often forget to signal things. My shout of “signal please umpire?” had to be very carefully pitched to ensure it was on the polite side of “I realise you’re only a PE teacher and are having enough trouble counting to six (the number of balls in an over) without having to remember to signal to me”. I usually managed it, or at the very least, managed to avoid sounding cheeky.
Back in those days a season ticket for Kent CCC was very affordable and family trips by train (and usually a replacement bus service) to Canterbury, Maidstone, Folkestone and Tunbridge Wells were a regular occurrence. I took my scorebook and well stocked pencil case I was set for the day.
Two of my favourite memories took place at two London venues. Once at the Oval watching Surrey against Kent in a Sunday league match. Sitting in the front row of benches, Mum, who would spend the day tatting or knitting, passing out sandwiches and keeping half an eye on the game asked me “to let her know if the ball was coming towards us.”
The Kent player fielding on the boundary, Brian Luckhurst, turned round and said “can you tell me, I’m supposed to stop it!”
The second happened at Lords. Mum and I had queued up to see a one-day match between Middlesex and visiting Australians. We ended up at the front at a Long Leg/ Long Off kind of position. Without finding my score book I don’t recall the score or result, but at one point the great Australian fast bowler Dennis Lillie was fielding in front of us. An unmistakably Australian voice called out, offering Lillie his pint of lager. You could hear the pain in Lillie’s voice as he replied “I’d love to, mate, but the press would have a field day.”
Finally there was the time at a Kent 2nd XI match at Dartford. Colin Page, the coach/manager saw me with my scoring equipment and asked if I had ever worked a scoreboard. Not a proper one I replied. Want to have a go? Yes please! What a great day that was! Kent no longer play at Heskith Park in Dartford anymore, the keen young players are long since retired and the stand in scoreboard operator couldn’t sit all day, nor manage to alternate between so many pens and pencils…

Heat Wave

Please forgive the long gap since my last post.
We have had a heatwave, the hottest June day since 1976. It’s hard to type a blog entry when you feel so hot that the sweat is dripping off my forehead and nose. Using the iPad when you are a puddle of sweat probably invalidates the warranty anyway.
As a nation we have a reputation to protect, or do I mean stereotype to live down to?

Whilst the knotted handkerchief may have passed into disuse, there are still many old friends for the press to fall back on, so, without any further delay, let’s play the amazing HeatWave game.
Simply score points by finding these heat wave cliches in the news or everyday life.
1. Score 1 point for everyone who says ‘hot enough for you?’
2. Score 1 point for finding a story in the press about the heatwave, illustrated by a photo of a young woman sunbathing in a London park or on Bournemouth Beach.
3. Score 1 point for finding a photo of tourists paddling in Trafalgar Square.
4. Score two points for a story linking the heat and alcohol to an outbreak of violence. Score 5 bonus points if they have the nerve to write ‘As temperatures soared alcohol fuelled violence flared in xxxxxx ‘
5. Score two points for finding a victim of terrible sunburn.
6. Score two points for finding a report that quotes the Australian ‘slip, slap, slop’ advice.
7. Score 10 points for finding a story pointing out the difference between ‘global warming’, ‘climate change’ and the weather.
8. Score 5 points for a story about male workers or boys at school wearing skirts because the uniform regulations don’t allow them to wear shorts. Score two bonus points if any of them have gone the extra mile and shaved their legs.
9. Score one point for the forecast of thunderstorms and torrential rain.
10. Score 1 point if you know a person with Parkinson’s who complains about the fine line between drinking enough water to stay hydrated and drinking too much water so as to cause the frequent and urgent need for a pee!

Enjoy the game!

The Only Guy in the Yoga class

A group of around six PWP attend a yoga class on a weekly basis. (The others also go to a different class on another day, with a different instructor. I don’t, not because it would feel like we were being unfaithful to our tutor, who I shall call Clair, because that’s her name, but because I’m trying to fit two trips to the gym.)
Clair is very patient, always aware of our Parkinson’s imposed limits, strengths and preferences, trying to adapt her teaching to encompass various problems we face such as aching and shaking legs, tremulous arms or even total shut down. She explains what each position is called and it’s aim. From our lessons I was surprised to discovered that there are many different forms of yoga, fourteen (I just googled it) and they all have their unique selling points. Some are recent variants dating all the way back to the 1990s
Anyway back to our class. I think it is an Iyengar based class as we use blocks, bolsters and chairs. Apart from two things Clair always remembers that I am there. However each week, when we walk on tiptoe, arms stretched up and she tells us to ‘imagine we are wearing our highest pair of high heels.’ Hmm, helpful for the ladies, me -. not so much. The other slip is during a torso twisting movement when she to tell us to feel the movement “where our bras run across”. Again helpful for the ladies…
Last lesson we tried a form of meditation where in our head she wanted us to comment on what we felt or could hear. Well The commentators in my head scrambled to get behind the mic. They commented on my posture (“he’s letting his head slip down to the left, that’s the result of his lack of core strength”), on the sounds outside (“and the birds are tweeting away, like Donald Trump on acid, but more tunefully and making more sense”) on the sounds inside the room (“there is some slow and heavy breathing, will they snore?”).
I mentioned the commentators and she told me to stop them being negative, they had to be neutral, just reporting what happens. So I’ve been giving them every opportunity over the last few days, pointing out in neutral terms when they fail to be neutral. Next lesson should be fun!

What are the chances of that?

Some musing on the nature of probability.

A mathematics student is about to board a plane when the bag check reveals that he is carrying a bomb in his bag. Arrested he is taken away for questioning. Why is he carrying a bomb?

It is quite simple, he explains, have you never heard of the multiplication law for calculating the combined probabilities of independent events?  He goes on to explain that this is mathematical term relating to the likeliness of two independent events occurring. The compound probability is equal to the probability of the first event multiplied by the probability of the second event.

If the odds of there being someone on a plane with a bomb are 1/1000, then the probability of there being two bombs on the plane = 1/1000 x 1/1000 = 1/1000000.  so I feel much safer!

[At this point if this were a maths blog we would discuss the nature of independent events as by bring a bomb onto the plane then you would really want to calculate the conditional probability of there being 2 bombs on the plane given that there is already one, but I digress.

I and my much better half met up with a friend who I hadn’t seen since my days with Team Talbot Guildford. about 30 odd years ago ( I am spectacularly bad at keeping in touch with people). Apart from our connection with the team we have something else in common.  You don’t need to exercise the ‘little grey cells’ in the manner of Hercule Poirot to guess what it is, given the nature of this blog.

So on the way home, as with my much better half driving, we ascended the steepest road I can ever recall being driven up, outside of the Scottish Highlands, or indeed driven down (as on the way there, when it resembled a ski jump for cars, as in some wacky stunt from the BBC TV show ‘Top Gear’), I pondered to distract me from the slope, on the odds of two out of a group of fourteen (10 players, coach, assistant coach, manager and statistician) developing Parkinson’s.

Back home I started to look up the odds of one person developing Parkinson’s

  • Read this bullet point if you are OK with mathematics: so I could apply the binomial distribution to the numbers.
  • Read this bullet point if you are a bit afraid on mathematics: blah blah blah omg numbers look away now blah blah.

And that is where it got interesting. Did you know that an Amish welder, with red-hair who was an exponent of the pugilistic arts and has a history of Parkinson’s in the family stands a greater chance of developing Parkinson’s than the man on the Clapham Omnibus.  (Unless I suppose the red-haired Amish welder and part-time boxer who had a relative with Parkinson’s was visiting London and had caught a number 88 bus.)

HERE is a link to a really interesting article about  factors affecting the incidence of Parkinson’s Disease. This was a lucky break, Sherri Woodbridge’s Parkinson’s Journey is a fantastic blog about Parkinson’s Disease


So what figure can I use?  Here are some numbers from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation website.  More than 1 million Americans suffer from PD and it is estimated that more than 10 million people worldwide are living with Parkinson’s disease.

The population of the USA was 321.4 million in 2015.  So an estimate for the odds of a person developing PD is (very) roughly  1 million ÷ 321.4 million = 0.00311139

Let’s just call it 0.003 as it is a best an educated guess.

I’m going to treat the as a binomial distribution.
There are 14 people in the minibus  so  n = 14.
The probability of developing Parkinson’s  p = 0.003
so the probability of not developing it is     q = 0.997
The probability of 2 people out of 14 developing Parkinson’s is
14C2 x (0.003)² x (03997)¹² = 0.00078999… or approximately 0.0008


So the probability was 0.0008 or put another way 1 in 1250
Of course this is all based on my original estimate which, let’s face it was just one step removed from a wild guess. The second most important thing is that I got the chance to crunch some numbers and exercise my brain.

The most important thing was, of course, meeting my friend again after all those years.

A Paradox

I have created a short morning exercise routine, taking inspiration from the many exercise clips on you tube and their associated sites.  Some of it is seated, some standing but with a chair for support. It isn’t strenuous it just stretches me gently and gets my limbs moving.

The idea is this: done in the morning, by following this set of movements, I will be mobile and flexible enough to face my personal daily Nemesis – getting dressed in general and putting my socks on in particular.

It is too warm now for us to have the heating on, even for a little bit first thing in the morning.  After all it is June ° c (As I may have mentioned, my much better half uses a calendar to measure temperature!)  However, with my relatively small working temperature range I can’t afford to start the day off cold, so I just need to get something warmer than my pajamas on and some socks to keep my feet warm…

And here’s the rub*.  In order to do the stretches to help me get dressed more easily, I have to get dressed!  This is I believe a Parkinsonian Catch 22.

I’m open to suggestions…