Tribute: Terry Pratchett

I’m sad to be writing another of these so hot on the heels of my farewell to Leonard Nimoy.

I never read much written by Mr Pratchett. I adored Good Omens, and read The Unadulterated Cat, and occasionally dipped into bits of Discworld but never quite settled in or kicked my shoes off there. He was the ultimate friend-of-a-friend in the literary sense. Mr Shandy’s shelves are crammed with his books, many of them once his Dad’s before him. Other friends and ex boyfriends have hoarded and laughed over his writings with similar oceans of affection. I always had this feeling that if I just had the time, the equivalent of the literary hour-in-the-pub-on-our-own, Mr Pratchett and I could become very good friends.

I wish now I had made that time before his death, because when I eventually do read his work now, I will always know that it is finite, and I suspect that will change the experience considerably for a new reader of such a prolific and active, outspoken author.

I will miss his wit and humour, which came highly recommended by people I respected, as well as being spread across social networking with regularity. I will miss his wise words about living with serious illness and preparing for death. As someone who gives workshops occasionally as a Dementia Champion, it was valuable to have Terry’s words to turn to when my own failed in me in talking about conditions like Alzheimer’s Disease.

The Fantasy World has lost a giant, and many of the people who currently populate it once stood on his shoulders to get a good view of the landscape.

He was the first author to talk about death who made me think that the end of life might be a little bit like being collected from school at the end of a long day by a familiar figure. Not frightening, just restful, having someone to talk to all the way home about the things you learned along the way through life. I hope that’s how he found it.


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The News In Brief – Cross Post

Every now and again, my good friends over at The News In Brief do me the honour of linking and reposting some of my thoughts.

One of their managers contacted me to check that this one was both funny and appropriate.

It so was. On both counts. And so it gets the Project Shandy Stamp Of Approval.

Go take a look. And it you’re not following them you should be!


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Song Of The Week: The Story Of Us by Taylor Swift

It’s been a bit of a sad week for various reasons over here in Shandy Land, and we’re sorry that the Song of the Week feature has been delayed this week and never even made it out of the gate last week.

Over on the Shandy Music page, which was published this week, I’ve talked a little about how music is important to me and how I manage to deal with emotional situations by turning to songs, especially when trying to explain my feelings to other people. Without exception, I feel better once I find a song to latch on to where I can hang up my emotional hat.

This week’s Song Of The Week is The Story Of Us by Taylor Swift.

This was very nearly my ‘Song Of The Year’ a couple of years ago, but it was pipped to the post by something with a wider ranging relevance. Really, this should have been my song of the year a few times. Taylor Swift, I’m glad you’re here now, but where were you when I was going through my adolescent angst and it’s comeback in my mid-twenties? Tch, I dunno, late to the party but you’re here in my life now.

While I might seem like a rather with-it person, with a career and my head largely together and a lovely family, including the awesome Mr Shandy and our two beloved fuzz balls, there was a time when I had a habit of placing my emotional bets on all the wrong people. They weren’t wrong because they were bad – they were just wrong for me. I’ve alluded to this a few times and here I’m going to bite the bullet and talk about one of them.

I once had a best friend who I fell in love with.

It happens.

Hollywood knows it, soap land knows it, tv drama series thrive on it and half the chick lit in the world would never have been written without this phenomenon. The problem is that the way fiction deals with it is an absolute lie.

It tells you that once you fall in love with your best mate, you’re destined for a life of happiness. Sometimes you’re really not, because the best mate isn’t guaranteed to feel the same way. No matter how well you get on, how soundly you click, how much your tastes match, how much you have in common or how well you can read each other’s minds – love is a separate force and it comes from another place inside.

My best friend now is the person I love – my husband. During this period of my life, I am blessed. Several years ago, I wasn’t quite so lucky.

I honestly thought we had it all going for us under the surface and that given that right opportunity we’d be right for each other. Months of gentle pining followed this realisation because I didn’t really believe that the right time and place would ever happen. So I tried my best to be happy for him and look for a future somewhere else. Then there was what can only be described as a brief spurt of social cataclysm where I thought the earth might shift course and the stars might align enough for it all to go right for us.

It didn’t.

Because at the end of the day he didn’t feel the same way about me as I felt about him. And once you make a move in a direction like that, it’s very hard to drag yourself back from the brink and go back to what used to be.

The problem is, once you make a fuck up of that magnitude, you don’t just lose hope. You lose what was.

This week, my former-best-friend turned 30 and my heart was broken by seeing the perfect birthday card for him, and realising that even if I bought it, I would have nothing to say in it, nowhere to send it and no prospect of it doing any good for either him or me.

We have both changed massively as people since the days when we could finish each other’s sentences. I have no idea what he’s doing or what he’s thinking now, and sometimes when I stop to think about that, I still miss him. Not because I want him back in my life as he is now, but because I miss what was.

I miss the laughter, the shared jokes, the sense of having that one friend that you could tell anything to. I am lucky enough to have several lady friends in my life now who between them fill that criteria,  but I still miss knowing who my very first phone call would be in times of despair or elation.

Of course I have my husband. Of course I do. But half the joy of that sort of friendship is when I want to share ‘our’ news as well as mine.

That friend was the first person I called when I got engaged. Before my family, before my girl-friendz, because I wanted him to know how happy I was. I was devastated when the day came that I realised he wouldn’t be at my wedding, and I even had one last go at trying to build a bridge. It didn’t work. He told me via text he didn’t want to see me. I already knew that really, but confirmations hurt as much as revelations sometimes, and that was the end of all things.

I know it can’t come back. I know we’re not the same. I know that we have nothing left in common any more and if we did meet, well quite frankly we’d end up having a row because too much has happened and we don’t actually like each other that much any more. The end of our friendship was stormy and unpleasant because we had changed too much to find any more common ground.

But I miss who he was. And who he was to me. I miss the shared jokes that don’t make sense to anyone else. I miss the nicknames. He used to call me ‘Tink’ and I still have a necklace, a silver imprint of Tinkerbell with ‘Tink’ engraved on the back, which I can’t bring myself to wear. I hear songs that he introduced me to and I have to turn them off even though I once loved them. Because when I listen to them, I’m back there, and when they end, I realise that ‘back there’ doesn’t exist any more.

I spoke with one of my lovely girlz yesterday about how I feel like I’m the ‘custodian’ of all those shared things. All the roleplay games, the characters, the memories, the laughs, the music, the stories, the comics, the songs, the art work, the coffee, the food – the things that we shared which made us ‘Us’, part of something greater, better. Part of a circle of friends that couldn’t be broken, but which now lies in pieces on the floor of my past. I don’t even know if he remembers it. I doubt he thinks of it. If he does, there is very little chance that he places anywhere near as much importance on it as me.

He didn’t make me who I am today, but he made me who I was, and that was a very important step along the way to becoming the person I am today. That stepping stone might have sunk beneath the water now, but I know it was there. Because I wouldn’t be here without it.

This song sums up that sort of close relationship, that interweaving that you can’t imaging breaking down, and then the process that destroys it. Doubt, miscommunication, silence, distance and the dread of separation. I wish I’d had this song when I was losing my friend, because then I might have had a frame of reference for what I was going through to try and explain it to other people around me, and they might have understood a bit more.

I loved him.

Although he was never my lover.

I loved him beyond the scope of his physical presence. I loved his wit. I loved his artwork, his interests, his writing. I loved his characters. I loved his smile. I loved the turn of his phrase and the way he would have me and everyone else in earshot in stitches recounting stories. I miss the way he listened and the kindness that he showed to me and my other close friends in dark times. I miss the knack he had of gathering wonderful people around him – I still treasure his ex-girlfriend as a good friend, a star which came out of all that darkness. I would never have met her if he had not been an extraordinary man. I loved his sense of adventure and willingness to try new things. I loved the passion he had for the things that caught his interest and the depth with which he would dive into them. I loved his intelligence, his well read mind, his intellect and conversations.

I loved all of those things and when reminders of them stray across my path I am reminded of how much I miss about him still. And how futile it is to want or try to have any of it back.

The only way to go is forward. But there are days when that still sucks, no matter how routine or accepted or good sense it is. And this is one of those days.

Taylor Swift gets that.

She found that feeling, plucked it out, pinned it down and turned it into a song.

And so, belatedly, she is the star of ‘Song Of The Week’ for this week.

“This is looking like a contest
Of who can act like they care less
But I liked it better when you were on my side
The battle’s in your hands now,
Though I would lay my armour down
If you’d say you’d rather love than fight.

There’s so many things that I wish you knew
But the story of us might be ending soon.

Now I’m standing alone in a crowded room
And we’re not speaking
And I’m dying to know if it’s killing you
Like it’s killing me, yeah.
I don’t know what to say about the twist of fate
Where it all broke down.
But the story of us looks a lot like a tragedy now.”

Happy Birthday Luke.

I don’t know where you are, or how you’re doing these days and I couldn’t even find the words to put in a Birthday Card. But Happy Birthday, because I still wish you one from the bottom of my heart.

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#InternationalWomensDay – why I don’t think it should be ‘celebrated’

Let me say that again.

International Women’s Day is not something to be ‘celebrated’

It is a call to action. A force of nature. A platform from which we get to tell the world exactly what it is like to live in it as a woman. And at the moment, that’s not something I can give to anyone as a positive wish without a list of caveats a mile long. This is not good enough. This has to change.  

…and yet what’s the first thing I see on Twitter this morning?

Where’s ‘International Men’s Day’?

Leaving aside that it does exist, and the fact that this is the sort of ‘rip it down’ bullshittery that I’ve already taken apart on this blog, here’s a few snippets of information to put this sort of gripe into perspective.

Here are some UK facts and figures about women’s experiences of Domestic Violence: 

1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during their lifetimes.

6-10% will experience it within any given year

1 call every minute is made to the police  to report domestic violence

Out of the people who reported incidents of domestic violence:

45% were raped by current husbands or partners

9% by former partners

29% of perpetrators were otherwise known to the victim.

Only 17% were raped by strangers

2 women every week are killed by violent partners/ex-partners. This accounts for 40% of all female homicides.

Women’s Aid estimates that only 24% of domestic violence incidents are reported. So if there’s one call every minute to the police reporting violence, that means there are another 3 incidents per minute not being reported.

And when they are reported – these incidents are not given the serious consideration that they should be. Let’s see what Patrick Stewart had to say about this!

Curiously, I never felt fear for myself and he never struck me, an odd moral imposition that would not allow him to strike a child. The situation was barely tolerable: I witnessed terrible things, which I knew were wrong, but there was nowhere to go for help. Worse, there were those who condoned the abuse. I heard police or ambulancemen, standing in our house, say, “She must have provoked him,” or, “Mrs Stewart, it takes two to make a fight.” They had no idea. The truth is my mother did nothing to deserve the violence she endured. She did not provoke my father, and even if she had, violence is an unacceptable way of dealing with conflict. Violence is a choice a man makes and he alone is responsible for it.

Patrick Stewart

Let’s compare some facts and figures for men and women in the UK now:

Out of those who had been subjected to domestic physical violence:

48% of women have also been subject to frightening threats, compared to only 9% of men

Women accounted for 89% of all those who had experienced 4 or more incidents of domestic violence

So in short:

  • Women are more likely to be physically assaulted than men
  • Women are more likely to live in fear of being assaulted than men
  • Women are 9 times as likely to be repeatedly assaulted than men

41% we subjected to emotional or financial abuse, compare to only 28% of men

Women are more likely to be subjected to financial abuse, because their earning power is not as great in the workforce and they are more likely to struggle to return to work/remain financially independent after having children. A woman’s wages will be largely eaten up by childcare costs, or she will have to give up work to care for her child and may struggle to get back to an equal position once the child is eligible for free care. Women working full time in the UK earn on average 14.9% less than man who work full time.  (statistic taken from Everyday Sexism)


For those men who do suffer domestic abuse We’re not denying that men suffer. But women suffer more, suffer more often and suffer more violently. If you are experiencing this, take what’s happening to you and multiply it by a factor of 4 for frequently, 5 for fear and 9 for longevity. We aren’t against you. We are beside you, ahead of you even, in this fight. Telling us that we should put our fight to one side to focus on your plight will, quite frankly, only result in one thing: More Dead Women. Yes, it is that blunt. Help is available for you, and we don’t detract from that.  The only war here is against violence – not each other as victims.

As this is International Women’s Day, let’s look a little wider: 

35% of women in the world in 2013 have experienced violence

That’s more than 1 in 3.

Nearly a third of women who’ve been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of their partner

38% of all murders of women are committed by their partners


‘It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in conflict.’
Major General Patrick Carnmaert, former UN Peacekeeping Operation commander in DRC

Only in 1998 did the UN pass a resolution classing sexual violence in conflict, including rape, as a war crime.

At least 20.9 million adults and children are bought and sold worldwide into commercial sexual servitude, forced labour and bonded labour.

55% identified trafficking survivors were trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Women and girls make up 98% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation.

That’s almost 12 million women being forced into the sex trade against their will every year compared to 250,000 men. 48 TIMES AS MANY. 


Women simply do not feel safe in this world. That is enough of a call for action.

83% of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment in the streets. (Everyday Sexism)

As many as 95% of women in India feel unsafe in public spaces. (Everday Sexism)

The destruction of monuments is seen as more newsworthy than ‘sanctioned’ crimes against women and children be the same regime.

Women who fight back against rape are blamed for their experiences of violence.

So are the ones who don’t fight back. 

If they are raped at home, they are told their should leave.

But if they are raped outside of home, they are told they have brought it on themselves by not being at home.

Women are expected to accept violence as part of their lives, even among the youth of our international cultures. In the UK, as many as 1 in 2 boys and 1 in 3 girls believe that is acceptable to hit a woman or force her to have sex. 603 Million women live in countries where domestic violence is still not classed as a crime.

Those are just the stats on violence, abuse and death. Naturally these issues take the lead when it comes to a day of action/attention such as today.

But there’s more at stake than violence/abuse. Even if a woman is lucky (yes, lucky!) enough to walk through her life without fear of being abused, raped or murdered – there’s still a lot of other stuff that she has to deal with which a man will not give a second thought to.

For a personalised view of these experiences, I suggest you visit Everyday Sexism

If you’d rather have some statistics, here you go:

All of these stats are taken from Everyday Sexism, which have been cited and logged. You want to check up on them? Go buy the book.

At the current rate, it will take another 150 years for the number of elected male and female officials in government in the UK to be equal.

1/3 girls aged 16-18 experience unwanted sexual touching at school. And if the girl reacts, she is blamed for her actions.

Only 5% of sports coverage in the UK relates to female sports

Men write 80% of newspaper articles. Interestingly, 84% of the subjects of front page newspaper articles are male dominated or refer to male subejct specialists.

12.5% of women have left a job because of sexual harassment.

More than 70% of recruitment agencies have been asked by clients to avoid hiring women who are pregnant, already mothers or who are of ‘child bearing age’

30,000 women lose their jobs each year because of pregnancy discrimination (8% of all pregnant women)

20% of Black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women in the UK are unemployed. Compared to 7% of White women.

Have I made my point yet? You should all know by now that I don’t do subtlety.

This is why I am a feminist.

This is why I protest against books/films like 50 Shades Of Grey being marketed as a romance/desirable relationship model.

This is why I feel so strongly about gender politics and issues.

This is why. All of this.

Because so much of this is my life. And more of it forms the everyday lives of my sisters who are of different colours, races, nationalities, faiths and sexual orientations/identities. And because if I lived their lives, I know my world would be a much darker and far more dangerous place.

International Women’s Day is not a holiday to wish to someone as a happy event. I hate the fact that this day exists, because it reminds me of the brutal necessity of raising these issues, challenging them, tackling them, fighting back against them, speaking out against them.

This is not a sociological experiment for you to ponder over and question the statistics of. This is the reality for millions and millions of women across the world, just because they were born female rather than male, or because they identify as female rather than male.

This is the cold stark reality. Compared to a man, a woman born into this world today is:

  • At greater risk of experiencing violence
  • At greater risk of a violent death
  • expected to accept violence as part of her life
  • Conditioned to accept violence as part of her life
  • Less likely to be employed
  • More likely to become unemployed
  • Paid less for doing the same hours of work
  • Less likely to be elected to a position of political authority
  • More likely to be sexualised at a young age

These things have an impact on men too. Of course they do. The thing is, they are often seen as ‘reverse sexism’. It’s not reverse sexism at all. It’s all down to sexism against women. This is a double edged sword and you will be sliced up with it too.

Men are more likely to commit suicide than women (3-5 times more likely according the stats in Everyday Sexism). Why? Because showing feelings, getting help and seeking assistance are seen as ‘girly’ things to do, something that men should be ashamed of.

Men are less likely to be given leave to go home sick from work and are pressured to return earlier than women are. Why? Because women are seen as weaker than men and men are expected to be strong.

Men are less likely to secure leave from work during school holidays, even if they have children. Why? Because caring for children is seen as a woman’s role, and men are supposed to devolve that to the mothers and stay in work.

At the end of all these things I arrive back at the first statement I made at the top of this article.

International Women’s Day is not something to be celebrated. It is a call to action. A force of nature. A platform from which we get to tell the world exactly what it is like to live in it as a woman. And at the moment, that’s not something I can give to anyone as a positive wish without a list of caveats a mile long. This is not good enough. This has to change.  








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Which ‘war crime’ is more important?

Let me ask you a quick question – Which ‘war crime’ is more important out of the following reported stories?

The destruction of historical sites by ISIS is being described as a ‘war crime’ and is currently the top story on BBC news.

Yet, the fact that ISIS have also recently published a pamphlet stating that it is “permissible” for their ‘soldiers’ to have sexual intercourse with, beat and trade non-Muslim slaves who have been captured as part of their war, including young girls has barely been reported and is nowhere to be found on the BBC website.

(The pamphlet in question was released in Arabic via an ISIS-friendly twitter account. The Middle East Media Research Institute translated the pamphlet into English, and you can read that on their website here.)

What’s more important here people?

An organisation’s systematic destruction of historical artefacts made of stone and brick? Or the rape, abuse and mistreatment of thousands of women and children, who will suffer and die at the hands of same organisation?


A good friend of mine, who runs The News In Brief, pointed out that men’s lives are more important than Brick and Stone too. It is true that in my political leanings, gender discrimination and mistreatment take the lead and sometimes I need to check myself on that. But this is one of the times I have done so, so I am going to add in the comment I left in response to his point, as it bears saying here too:

My reason for focusing on women and children here though is that ISIS didn’t feel the need to realise guidance on what their ‘soldiers’ should do with male prisoners of war. We have all seen what ISIS do to male prisoners of war. They execute them and release the videos on the internet, and that already gets a lot of attention in the media. A quick google search for the phrase ‘Jihadi John’ shows you exactly how much attention.

I am appalled that our national media outlet didn’t think the ISIS ‘guidance’ on the sanctioning of rape and murder and ‘trade’ of women and children was equally worth reporting. Or worth reporting at all. It’s simply not been covered on the site. Not once. Even the Daily Fail did better than that.

Daily Fail

I resent giving them the hits/links but here’s some proof that the Daily Fail occasionally give a shit about something important

Regardless of the shape of human body that it is bound up in, human life is more important than buildings. You wouldn’t think that today when look at where the media’s ‘outrage’ and accusations of ‘war crimes’ are being directed.

Shame on you BBC. Shame on you.

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Jeremy Mogford Food and Drink Prize 2015 – Shortlisted

Last night I got a very exciting email from the organisers of the Jeremy Mogford Food and Drink Prize to sat that I have been short listed for the prize. To reach the final short list of 15 candidates out of 430+ entries on my first attempt has been a massive and much needed boost to my confidence and self esteem as a writer.

My head and my heart often disagree about the quality of my writing, and to make matters more frustrating they don’t always stick to the same sides of the argument. I know that my writing is good, because I’ve studied writing and I know how to identify good aspects of quality writing and can see logically that they do exist in my own work. But will other people see them and agree with their quality and significant? I also know that the submission rate for magazines and contests is huge, and while my work might be of good quality, much like any effort in the arts you need to be a stellar quality artist in order to get noticed. Being good is one thing. Being successful is something else.

While I love writing and I don’t think I could ever stop, there is a big jump between writing for yourself and putting your work out into the world for other people to read and judge, especially when it comes to big competitions like this. It’s like finally getting proof that you can swim in the rough and tumble of the ocean after getting used to peacefully wallowing in a small swimming pool or bath tub.

The prize is part of the Oxford Literary Festival and has a prize of £7500 for first place, so the next two weeks are going to be quite exciting while the final winner is chosen and notified.

The money would be lovely – I mean, of course it would! – but what’s more exciting is the idea that my work has been reviewed and selected from amongst a pretty talented and experienced batch of writers. Having a nice boost like this has reassured me that hard work and effort are getting me somewhere and I am not just shouting into a hurricane. I shall await the results of the Jeremy Mogford Food and Drink Prize with interest and will definitely be entering again next year.

Stay tuned for further news later this month!

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Tribute: Leonard Nimoy

I don’t think I have ever found a tribute piece as difficult to write as this one. Not due to any lack of love, but possibly due to a surfeit of it.

Over the last couple of years, it has occurred to me more than once that I will live to see my childhood heroes die and I’m not entirely sure how to deal with that on some days. The knowledge that I will live to see the deaths of Alex Ferguson, Morgan Freeman, Billy Connolly, Brian May… to name but a few of the  figures that I have come to know and love through their work and success – yeah, I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with that. And then two nights ago I come home to the news that Leonard Nimoy has died at the age of 83.

It wasn’t unexpected. It certainly didn’t hit me with anything like the surprise and shock that Robin Williams’s death hit me with last year. I mean, the man had been in poor health for a while and had been pretty open about that fact.But it still left me with the sensation of a cold hard stone sitting at the bottom of my gullet. Leonard Nimoy is dead. And for all of the grace and respect that Zachary Quinto has brought to the rebooted Star Trek franchise version of the role, for me this means that Spock is finally dead. And my heart is so full that my feelings keep spilling over in tears and laughter.

I’ve been trying to draft this piece since then and quite frankly I’ve been getting nowhere. I mean, where do I start?

I could start by talking about how important Star Trek is/was to me, both now as an adult and as a child. About how I have such an attachment to the original characters as to almost consider them my friends, and how Spock was the greatest of those.  I could talk about how Spock helped me to learn how to talk to my father, who reveres Logic with the same veracity and sincerity as Spock did. I could tell you how my Dad gave Nimoy’s Vulcan salute, along with the wish of ‘Live Long And Prosper’, in tears at the end of his speech at my wedding, and how the vast majority of my wedding guests replied to it with a toast which will stay in my heart forever. I could talk about how Kirk, McCoy and Spock’s friendship has been, and always will be, the greatest example of love I have ever come across between friends. It has become clear to me in writing this tribute that this is a separate post, which will need to be written under the Shandy Media Club banner – complete with quotes and clips and analysis. I keep getting distracted into this area and while it is important, it’s not what I acually want to talk about here.

All of these personal and analytical things are important, but they don’t really sum up the reasons why I loved Leonard Nimoy himself, rather than his most famous character.

Nimoy was a renowned actor who won many awards for his work. This included his television work, but also work in films and also in live theatre. In addition to this, he was also a gifted director. He studied photography at UCLA, an interest that he kept up throughout his life. He was a poet and a musician too. All round, a very talented and versatile artist. But that wasn’t the sum total of who he was.

He was a deeply religious man, who was fluent in Yiddish as his first language, both written and spoken. He worked on several projects which related to his Jewish background, including a documentary about Hasidic Jews and a film called Never Forget, about legal challenges to people who denied the holocaust. He also published a photography project called Shekhina Project about the feminine aspects of God’s presence, inspired by Kabbalah.

His photography work also included The Full Body Project, which recognises and celebrates genuine feminine beauty in all of its forms, not just those that the fashion industries would have us try to emulate. For his work on projects such as this, I considered Nimoy to be a feminist and an ally to the feminist cause. He never tried to speak for women, but he spoke alongside them and spoke positively about them.

He was a recovering alcoholic, who used his experiences and tried to reach out to help others who were suffering, including Nerine Kidd.

He had a pilot’s license and owned his own aeroplane. He also gained an MA in Education from Antioch College, in addition to his undergraduate degree in Photography from UCLA

Scratching under the surface of his well known and beloved ‘Spock’ persona, Leonard Nimoy was a highly intelligent and very gifted man, who was aware of his own weaknesses and who did his best to help others face and tackle theirs. He was willing to speak up for what he believed in, to publicise what he was passionate about, to try anything once and know when to quit if something wasn’t to his liking.

He was cast in Star Trek as Spock at the age of 35, which marked the beginning of his rise to fame.

There are times when I look at my life and panic, literally panic, about the idea that I’m not getting anywhere very fast. I place myself under a massive amount of pressure internally – I should be researching more, writing more, watching more, saying more, learning more… But of course, I will do more of all of those things, and there will be time to do all of that throughout a long life (I hope). I look at someone like Leonard Nimoy and remind myself that he took an entire lifetime to achieve all of this and he certainly didn’t view his life past the age of 35 as being hopeless or second rate.

Leonard often gave Spock’s greeting, his own invention, as a greeting to others – in meetings, interviews, correspondence, graduation addresses, you name it and he said it. His sign off in twitter habitually included the letters LLAP. It’s become ubiquitous, the phrase ‘live long and prosper’, to the point where we don’t often stop to think about what it means. I have had cause to twice now – once at my wedding when my father gave me that wish and now this weekend, as I’ve sat and thought and struggled to find the words for what Nimoy meant to me.

I guess what it comes down to is this. I have an especially profound respect for the people who practice what they preach in life. Nimoy used Spock’s catchphrase, Live Long and Prosper, long after he ceased to play the character, and it absolutely defines him and his approach to life. He lived long. Not just in years, but in accomplishments and breadth of experience and impact upon the lives of others. And he prospered. Not just in terms of financial gain and fame, but in his pursuit of all interests, his quest for excellence in all endeavours, his constant willingness to embrace and try new things.

I can only hope that I will, just like this man, live long and prosper. And if I can do that – in terms of my marriage, my career, my faith, my artistic efforts, my studies and continued learning, and my engagement with what it means to be alive and to be human – to the extent that he managed, then it will have been an excellent life.


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Down With The Sickness

There’s something comforting about being sick, at a deep and primal level. I guess part of that comes from living in the modern world where sickness isn’t the sort of thing that automatically causes an oh-shit-I’m-going-to-die level of panic.

And I don’t just mean that miserable form of sniffle where you plough through tissues as you go about your day and try your best to ignore it. I mean the urrrgggh, form of sickness, complete with sore eyes, dehydration, coughing, painful throat, horrific thirst (combined with a bladder the size of a penny) and the ever present stream of gunk from your sinuses. That kind of sick. The sort of sick where making a cup of tea and walking across the room are mammoth tasks which require effort and gearing up special reserves of energy. Where sleeping past noon and still being in your PJs and dressing gown at 5.30pm are absolutely necessary.

For the first time in a couple of years I am physically ill. I had physical symptoms when I was mentally ill last year, but that’s not the same thing. As this sort of thing sets in, I get horribly frustrated because my mind works perfectly well and the fact that my body won’t keep up is a severe trial to my patience.

But once you give in to it and accept that the duvet is the best place to be, surrounded by paracetamol and flavoured water and empty tea cups and dubious tissues, it’s actually kind of enjoyable. Especially if you’re lucky like me and have mates who rally round to muck you out and a husband who promises to make you curry for tea to clean out your system. And cats. Cats are awesome when you’re sick. Now, for instance, my temperature has gone up and I am prone to long bouts of sitting down, which means I am both warm and stationary, making me the Favourite Human Cushion for my fuzzy friends.

I am frustrated on some level about not being able to work – even with an active brain there’s only so much looking at a laptop screen that my eyes can take and only so much typing that my tired dried out hands can muster. But that’s also what’s comforting. Being sick allows me to take time off without feeling under pressure to fill that time with some sort of useful or amusing task. It allows me to just sit, and think, and read old comfort books that I haven’t read for years (and seriously, we’re talking Enid Blyton here guys, lots of jolly japes and large picnic teas!). I’m not required to perform, achieve or progress with anything other than feeling better, and that’s kinda nice.

It reminds me what levels of workaholism I occasionally lapse into in my life. I was perhaps due for a small bout of feeling like molten goo to remind me that it is ok to do nothing occasionally.

There are one or two entries queued up on here and Tweetdeck will be spewing out some links to already-live articles, but I might be a little quiet on here for the rest of the week. Don’t mind me, I will be taking some time off in duvet-and-lemsip land. Will be back when my body kicks this sickness bug into touch.

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The Loss of David Carr

I’ve been away on business for the last few day and am looing forward to getting home tonight. As a result of both of these factors, I was awake absurdly early this morning and caught the breaking news about the death of David Carr, the New York Times Media reporter. It’s left me deeply shocked and saddened and not really even sure where to start about paying my own respects.

As a Brit who has never even set foot in America, The New York Times has been a background noise in my life rather than a driving force of media and news. I’ve always been aware of its existence but nothing more than that. Until a couple of years ago, when I was working as a volunteer at the local Theatre/Art House Cinema venue called The Dukes and they screened a documentary called Page One.

David Carr featured prominently in the documentary and he was a breath of fresh air. I found his comments about his work, his articles and himself to be honest, insightful, witty and sraightforward – not really the descriptions I have associated with any journalist during my late teens and twenties, but factors which are beginning to make a comeback in popularity these days. David Carr made me realise the value of standing up for your thoughts, even if they weren’t shared by the so-called seasoned professionals. He made me realise that it was possible to build your own success even when the path of your life thus far had dumped you on your ass in the gutter.

Most importantly – he made me realise that even someone who may at one point have been considered worthless and deserving nothing more than a swift dismissal by their immediate social environment could rise and rebuild themselves to the greatest of heights, when given the right attention, encouragement and support – not merely in terms of being touted by a loud voice but by being listened to with respect by the right ears. And yet, for all that he achieved an astounding position of respect in his profession – David disliked being introduced as a ‘New York Times Journalist’ – because to him, what he had to say was more deserving of attention and judgement than the perceived stampt of approval that appeared on the top of Page One of his publication. The research, content and integrity made David’s works excellent pieces of journalism – the fact that he was published in the New York Times was a testament to the quality of his work, but he refused to use that fact as a status enhancer to demand a more central spot in the media limelight or a greater portion of attention from the public at large.

He was 58. Too young. Far too young. His body may have been ravaged by the life that he lead, but his mind and intelligence were jewels and should have been allowed to burn bright for a lot longer. He will be much missed. Goodnight David. The world is a much darker place without you shining that light into all the dusty corners.

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Why do you charge so much for private tuition?

For the first time since I started providing private tuition, I had someone question my charge rates and as usually happens when I am questioned on any of my decisions, it got me thinking.

I charge £20 an hour for private one-to-one tuition. That might sound a lot, but it is at the cheaper end of the market when compared to what some of the big agencies charge.

Kumon, for example, charge upwards of £50 per month, on top of a registration fee of £30, but expect children to complete work independently, often at home rather than in a study centre, with a teacher to ‘observe’ them rather than guide them, and are not willing to vary their provision to match a child’s school needs.

Maths Doctor charge at least £20 an hour (although you have to commit to 10 hours minimum to get that rate) and up to £50 for one off lessons.

I had an interview with a local Tutor Doctor franchisee a few years ago who told me he expected tutors to charge £37.50 per hour minimum. This was to cover the tutor fee, the franchisee wage and the percentage expected by Tutor Doctor. One charge for three wages! No wonder it was so expensive for parents.

So when you consider those options, £20 per hour isn’t too bad.

Especially when you take the following into consideration; for every hour I spend with a private tuition student, I spend another hour outside of the lesson on their work and progress. This might include searching for/designing resources, finding exam papers online, reading work and marking it, planning lessons, writing up feedback, reading set texts and making notes, completing sample answers… the list goes on. So you’re actually paying me £20 for two hours work, £10 per hour. It’s just that for one of those hours I’m not with your child.

If I work full time for £10 per hour, that’s still a healthy wage. 35 hours a week times 52 weeks a year works out at £18,200. Although it’s worth noting that this is about £3000 less than a starting teacher’s wage in a UK school.

However – that’s if you work full time. Which not many private tutors do. I work 10 hours a week max on private tutoring. So my wages are actually about £5,200 per year, at most. And out of any wages, every private tutor who is at all respectable will have to pay the following costs:

  • Tax (because I work outside of tutoring, I lose 20% – which is £1,040 – to the tax man straight away)
  • National Insurance (I still have to pay my class 2 contributions, even though my class 4s are paid through my day job)
  • Stationary costs – printing, paper, pens, my laminator and slicer, etc
  • Resource costs – books, worksheets, DVDs, downloads from websites…
  • Union costs – Unions provide local training, legal support and help tutors keep up to date with qualification and curriculum changes
  • Membership of professional bodies – eg Institute for Learning. I have to pay these fees to keep my Qualified Teacher and Learning Status
  • Qualifications – my level 4 certificate in Advice and Guidance cost me over £200 in contributions
  • Travel costs – fuel and all associated car costs
  • Advertising costs – business cards, fliers, pages on agency websites. You wouldn’t find me without these.

All of these are important practical concerns that I need to take into account when I sign someone up and agree an hourly rate. There’s not actually that much profit left at the end of all that, although I am able to claim tax relief at the end of the year for some of it. Which involves being organised and conscientious about receipts and records and filing – administration time, yet another thing which needs factoring into this job.

However, those aren’t the things that are worth the cost of what you pay. Those are my problems, not yours. What you pay me for is something that’s not easily quantifiable.

I only tutor at weekends and evenings, because I work 9 to 5. Which means you are also paying me for my evening and weekend time, which should be my down time, my rest time to spend on my own interests and with my family/friends. I give that up to tutor you and your kids. Please don’t gripe about it.

You are paying me for my increased and prolonged energy levels, for my display of enthusiasm and my constant positive attitude even though I have had a long day and I am tired before I even get to you.

You are paying me for the wealth of tricks I have amassed to engage and encourage your disaffected teenagers in a subject which has become the bane of their lives, for a knowledge and explanation and confidence boost which you have probably already tried to provide and found yourselves unable to manage.

You are paying me for my ability to find new ways to explain something to you or your child when you possibly haven’t understood it since you were six years old.

You are paying me for something which a classroom environment cannot provide for your child. Or something that a classroom environment has not been able to provide for you. For undivided attention, focus, security, the ability to divert from a set plan and tackle those individual needs without disrupting 29 other educations.

You are paying me for the fact that I can give you or your child careers advice and suggestions/options for future study as well as teaching them the subject they are struggling with.

You are paying me for my expertise, my qualifications and my experience. For my years of training and professional development. For every government and Ofsted report I have read. For every exam syllabus that I know backwards. Teachers who work in a school might need to know one. Or two, maybe. I need to know them all – because all of my learners are at difference schools, different ages, doing different classes, preparing for different exams.

I don’t do this for the money. Well, OK, I do, it is nice to get that little boost to my salary I will admit. But when I add up the hours, the effort, the weekends, the evenings, the late nights, the tiredness, the extra work and the pressure of putting myself under this extra strain – I do wonder whether it is worth the money I get.

But the thing is – of course it is. Because the satisfactions I get from it are not all to do with money, and they far outweigh the money. Satisfaction for me has come from some hard to quantify and yet easy to understand places.

Like the two phone calls I got from women who had passed their maths equivalency tests and achieved their EYPS after their university threw mock exams at them with no tuition and expected them to do the work themselves.

Or the three learners who are now qualified teachers after finally mastering the timed mental maths tests.

Or the sixteen year old girl who achieved a D grade in her maths GCSE after being predicted a U grade, who was accepted onto the college course she wanted.

Or the fifteen year old girl who raised her English grade from a C to an A* in three months.

I get satisfaction from other places too. Which are even harder to quantify or put a price on.

Like the 10 year old who tells me she has been looking forward to working on this story all week.

Or the 14 year old who dreads double English who told me that my session ‘didn’t feel like two hours at all’ and who asked how soon she could come back.

Or the 14 year old body who had been out of school for 2 years who wrote me four pages of independent research on the Civil Rights movement and a three page essay on why Ben Affleck was going to make a great Batman.

Or the text I got at Christmas from an adult learner who had finally worked out how to calculate percentages and stuck to her budget for Christmas shopping for the first time in her life.

I get satisfaction every time someone says to me ‘I get it now’ and they actually do.

I don’t do this job for the money. I would be an horrifically bad teacher if I did. But that doesn’t mean the money’s not important. And I certainly don’t think I’m overcharging at £20 per hour’s tuition when you’re getting all of that into the bargain.

Next time you question what a professional is charging you – think about what you’re getting in return. And perhaps then you’ll understand why it is money well spent.


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