Hidden Behind the Mask

In the world we live in it is expected to present yourself in a mask.  You can wear any kind of mask material, a face, a pattern, a superhero and no one would question it. Currently, it is a form of fashion accessory for many and an element of oppression for others. Culturally used for centuries as a way of hiding an identity in a party setting, alas that frivolity is no longer appropriate today. 

This shift in the modern climate has made me wonder about all the ‘masks’ that we wear in our normal lives. My adult life has been dedicated to helping others, mainly through the medium of teaching. Every teacher wears the professional mask; the actor, the subconscious thespian creating a stage from which to impart knowledge and shape nubile minds. 

The most common mask that I, and everyone wears is the, “I am OK,” smoke screen. It is often our first line of defence. Those who know us well will often question the validity of such a statement and make a judgement call as to whether to probe further. Others will take us at ‘face-mask’ value and avoid any discomfort. The world seems to be living the latter as its reality. There is so much left unsaid; so many responses to how we feel left hidden. Putting your head above the parapet to state a view can leave us open to ridicule from the opposition, therefore, just like the mask, we keep muffled; our voices unheard. It is the antithesis of what we should be doing right now. 

Silence doesn’t help our mental health. It is crucial now that everyone is able to say their truth, to seek a listening ear or a supportive ‘shoulder’. For those who would not normally have the courage to tell their worries, I implore you to use the mask, to be the actor, to speak via its cloak. There is no shame in admitting all is not well. There is no shame in being scared of your destiny. There is no shame in seeking help. One positive 2020 has given us, is the emergence of community, of support groups and compassion. If you meet a teacheresque ‘mask’ and you have that gut feeling that all is not as it seems, please be a journalist; the right words are powerful and could make the difference between seeing brightness in a future or the same dark dawn.

“We all wear masks and, the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” Andre Berthiaume

In the words of The Masked Singer, “ Who are you? Who’s there behind the mask?”

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY


School – Halcyon Days?


I stumbled across a Facebook post about my old secondary school. Photographs of the empty shell as it was being dismantled. Corridors desolate, rooms empty yet all awash with numerous memories. Genuine goosebumps ensued as I was transported back to a tumultuous time in my personal life that shaped who I became. Ghosts of events, people, lessons and feelings flooded back. I know I am guilty of remembering the good and forgetting the bad and often dire times school brings, but in general that place was my womb; it served as my safe place when all around me caved in and collapsed.  

Having gone into the teaching profession myself, I know what it is like to have the potential to impact on young lives. I vowed to make a difference, to listen and support. Looking back, you remember the teachers who took the time to care, to treat us with respect. Mr Willsher, Mr Mantin, Mr Hyde, Mr Finn, Mrs Reynolds et al…you all made an impact on me.  I was amused and touched to learn I was mentioned by an ex-pupil in his head boy’s leaving speech back in July. I don’t think it was for bad reasons (phew!).  Happiness was always what I strived for in my classroom. Regardless of age, problems are problems, however petty or major. These worries do have correlation in the classroom, in their attitudes, in their positivity and outcome.  A lot has been written about teaching happiness in schools as part of the curriculum. I do feel that our education system is outdated in its approach to how it treats pupils. It is the herd mentality, rather than looking at what suits the individual.  Differentiation is not just for the page, it is for the whole being. With the emphasis clearly on tables and results these days, schools need to think about why children are not meeting their full potential? What is going on in their world that is having a monumental earthquake which makes school work so much more of a challenge? It is time to change our approach. The world is evolving, but not for the better. Schools can take the initiative. Listen, learn and lead. Lead to a better place. The crusade continues….

Changing your mindset can change your life!
Dream Big, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY



At last! Finally! It happened – we had a hot day in our summer… woop!

It depended on how your day panned out as to how much you enjoyed the day. I spent the day trying to keep small people cool, watered and entertained; not as easy as you think when they are out in the sun all morning for a school event. A previously delayed by rain event.

The joy of the sun took its toll on us all in the afternoon. The children were happy to be quietly busy inside, tired after the morning’s exertion under the beautiful clear blue sky. I could have done with a siesta!

I know that if I had rung my mother this evening I would have been given the standard response to a hot day; she hates them, her legs swell, her joints ache, it is all too much! But hey, life would be boring if we were all the same. What provides the source of happiness for some is the antithesis of smiles for others.

That ball of plasma in the sky is an ever-changing mass of awe. It is the ultimate life-giver. We bask in the rays, we yearn for the longer evenings of summer, we race to be outside lapping up the vitamin d. It is almost like the sun powers our happiness switch – unless you happen to be my mother of course! What cares we have are forgotten for that walk barefoot on lush green, freshly-mown grass, or toes dipped into water, all under the comforting glare of the sun.

There was less provenance given to creaming up when I was young. Sunburn was a common occurrence. I am glad that we now understand the beauty and the beast that is the sun. We have evolved through its millennia and it will continue to lay claim to moments of happiness long after we are just dust in its wake. The next time you decide that the sun is too hot, or that it has given you a headache, stop and think. Think how mind-blowingly fantastic it is that this ball of extreme nature is the our life force. Stop and appreciate and be thankful for what it brings, and in homage to the late Caroline Aherne, think, “ooo scorchio!” and smile.

“When the sun is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome.” Wilma Rudolph
Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY



What did you say?


‘Words don’t come easy to me’, wrote F. R David in his classic song now synonymous to me with Bob Mills Goes Postal on Colin Murray’s Friday show on Talksport. Events over the past week got me thinking about the importance of words; words said and those left unsaid. With the deafening silence of so many who filled our screens with rhetoric for weeks and the realisation that there were those who deliberately kept their counsel, I have been drawn to the power of speech and who can or cannot say the words that help.  Politicians have an agenda. The agenda is set from those around them, as are most of what they deliver in speeches. It is calculated to create an energy, a buzz and often targeted to a particular audience. Understandable.

Working with children allows me to listen to real honesty in their words. They just say whatever they feel, they have not been conditioned to filter what will wound. Over the first few school years, that filter is put in place.  Their true selves will never again speak totally from the heart unabashed. In some ways that saddens me. What would life be like if we could literally speak how we felt even as adults? Instead, we look for clues as to the delivery in body language, eye contact and subtleties that give away the truth.

There are those who have a gift. Who can say exactly the right thing at the right time. These are people who speak from a place of love.  In times of turmoil, we turn to those people. When all around us is in chaos, we need someone to say exactly what we may or may not need to hear, to help declutter all the mish-mash of thoughts whirring around in our heads. These people are our go-to people.  You know who they are. They do not give platitudes. They are realistic, without wounding. They pull you back down to earth with the chosen language when you are way out in the ether struggling to hold on for dear life.  

To be this person, you have had to experience life in all its forms. But more than that, you need to have the wonderful skill of empathy. At the age I am now, my world is constantly shifting; births, illnesses, deaths, shocks. If I can reach out to someone with a few chosen words, I will. They will be taken or ignored, but I have tried. I appreciated so much those few people who made the difference to me through my living hell two years ago. We all need to give back. But some of us maybe should retune the filter first!.

‘Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.’ Maya Angelou
Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

Time to be Happy!


In the news this week has been the debate between what makes you happier – time or money?

As someone not brought up with a wealthy background, money has always been something to work extremely hard for, to obtain and sustain a standard of living that has become my norm. I was brought up to believe that life should not be lived via credit; if you can afford it, you have it otherwise you do not! I have stood by those values instilled in me by my father. Perhaps at times being more frugal than need be, but money for me is security and security has always been my top priority.

So does having time make you happier than having money? I had to think about this quite carefully. Money has allowed me to make choices and has given me the chance to continue to follow my football team each season. This has given me untold happiness (as well as stress!) over the years. Do I value time? I think at the age I write this, life experiences have definitely changed the value I place on time.  When you are told that your loved one has a life-limiting illness with a small amount of time left alive it makes you appreciate every moment. Time becomes less of an expanse and more finite. Each moment is a chance for memories. That in itself is special. That in itself almost stops time and creates happiness in the mundane. Since that event my view of time in a work / life balance has shifted. We have all had deaths that have caused us to stop and take stock. Often we promise life will be different, we will change our bad habits, sort out our unhappiness, but realistically we revert back to the old tried and tested world because it is easier. Having time to be me, to do what I wish is now very important. I am fortunate enough to be able to earn money as and when through my experience and expertise. I know that and appreciate that not everyone has that capacity. Working oneself so hard that life becomes all about eat, sleep, work is not happiness. It is the hamster wheel and I do not wish to be on it 24/7.

Happiness to me is being at one with my core. Knowing who I am and surrounding myself with those who nurture and appreciate me for who I am. People come into life and go from life. The external happiness they can exert can be very intense, very passionate and all-consuming. Ultimately, they cannot provide you with your happiness; that has to come from within. To allow yourself to grow as a person, you need time to grow, to grieve, to think and just to be.

Money or time? Time or money? An easy choice for me.

“The moment you realise how important time is, your entire perspective will change.”

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

Here Comes The Sun…


How to spot a Brit in a crowd of people? Either inappropriately dressed for the weather or…talking about said weather. If there was an Olympic medal in weather chat, we would be reigning champions since time immemorial.
At last, we have seen a return to the higher temperatures of June, as opposed to the freezing, rain-choked days of last week – of course, it was half term! There is something magical that occurs when the sun adorns the ground with its rays of warmth; hope sets in, stress levels drop and the supermarket shelves are devoid of anything related to salad, bbq food and alcohol deals!
Migrations of people flock to the coastal towns, including my own. The population almost doubles. But, everyone is in good spirits – the sunshine really does stimulate endorphins. The sun has given me the kickstart to sort out the many hours of weeding and planting that was required in my back garden. Now with aching neck and knees, I can admire a job well done. Whilst sitting on the bench earlier, I closed my eyes and tried to engage with all of my senses. The chirping of the birds, the fluttering of the pear tree leaves, the gentle breeze on my face were welcome distractions from the usual frenetic pace of life. Walking barefoot on the soft, cool grass is a lovely feeling and helps me connect back to Mother Nature. The shrill laughter of children playing outside alongside the whir of the lawn-mower are all wonderful sounds to behold on a sunny summer Sunday.
Transfixed to the weather forecast, the next question is, will it last? It is as if our happiness depends on it. Rain equates misery, sunshine gives us something to bask in, a feel-good factor where we can tackle our daily rituals and make sense of our problems with more of a positive attitude. Being British means an inherent acceptance of cold, wet and damp. A wrapped-up approach to facing the world. Our smallest chance of a glimpse of summer sees us shed our clothing (not always a good thing!) and shed our inhibitions (same applies!).
Happiness for many, is as fleeting as the weather. Happiness for me is my core, enriched by the fleeting moments where the seasons stimulate my being and I appreciate my surroundings twofold.
“Sometimes you have to create your own sunshine.” You can do it!

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY


Back in the carefree days of my later teenage years, I recall a conversation with an elder member of society that caused me concern, but subsequently dismissed the notion with the bravado of youth. I was told that when you are older that you could count your true friends on one hand! WHAT? How ridiculous thought I, with a core of wonderful friends and a fantastic social life.

Who knew – they were indeed correct. Happiness is….my friends.
My friends have been my family through some major life events over the past few years. There are a few key players in my life who will always be with me until we end our days. These friends are the ones that you may not see daily or even weekly, but you know they have your back and will be there like a shot if needed. These are the friends who can pick up exactly where you left off when you next meet up – no questions asked. These are your soulmate friendships. For me, the most important relationships I will ever have in my lifetime.
There are the transient friends, who come into life for a reason, at a certain time, who provide support and guidance for that period in your life when it is relevant, but may drift away at a later date. Never underestimate the power of a transient friend.
There are also friendships of the opposite sex. I do not agree with the old adage that you can never just be mates with someone, that there must be some form of sexual frisson. One of my longest-serving mates is a chap. Met when I was 18 and he hasn’t been able to get rid of me since. We have survived him travelling the world, working together and he is now in Africa for two years, but the bond remains. There are times when the viewpoint of a male is most welcome, there can be less rivalry and more stupidity. But… when it comes to confidentiality and opening up the real me…it has to be the ladies. I am ambivalent about being born a female, but I do thank my stars and the babymaking dynamics of my parents that I am me! The ability to be open about life’s issues, talk through events that cause angst; all these things allow me the freedom to have learnt who I am and not let things eat away inside of me.
As we get older, making new friends can become increasingly harder. Job changes and common interests herald one or two key additions. The power of social media can also have an impact. The shared joy of Twitter and love of my football team fostered one new friendship (yep…you!). So, back to the young me, panicked at the thought of a small clique of support, I would say – it will happen. What you don’t realise is the power, nurturing and unconditional love and support that those handful of friends give and receive is worth far more than the masses of air-kissing disingenuous.
“ Friends should be like books, few, but hand-selected.” C.J Langenhoven
Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

Dying to Talk


It has been a week of departure for many around me I care about. Deaths in the elderly, middle-aged and much loved pets. It has made me reflect once again about how we view death and how much the subject is still a taboo for so many.  Death is a given. Life cycles are ruthless, to be human is to witness this cycle in its many forms on a daily basis in Mother Nature; the dead fox in the road, the squashed snail on the path, the exhausted fly on the window ledge. Yet when it comes to the ones we love, there is a shroud of secrecy, an unwritten rule of not sharing how we feel, of being unable to cope, of burying the head in the proverbial sand.  

Once you have experienced the death of a close loved one, you are changed. It shapes who you are forever more.  My first encounter with the end of life was a school friend, aged 18. He was wishing everyone a ‘Merry Christmas’ from the window of his mate’s car when he fell out and hit his head. From joy to nothing in such a finite moment of time. His life lives on in another person due to the kindness and compassion shown by his family.  

My most desolate time was when my father died on 5th November 2014.  Ravaged by a fast-acting leukaemia, he went from being a tall, imposing figure of a man, to a whisper, a shadow of who he was on the outside, but the same stubborn old bugger on the inside.  We talked about death when we knew that his prognosis was terminal. I could not imagine the vast, emptiness I would feel once he had gone, even being prepared for it.  Death itself for dad, was peaceful, and I am grateful for that. I am also pleased I was with him every step of his illness until the last breath.  I found an inner strength that kept me going when many around me could not. I sought comfort in the small things in life, the glorious sunshine that summer, the outings to the pub, the humour from the transfusion nurses, the witty comments from my father.  Tiny, minuscule memories that created happiness in such a dark time.  I thank my wonderful friends who did not give me platitudes, but told me things straight.  No rose-tinted glasses were worn, this was a time to speak the truth, to be able to say all the things I needed to and a time to listen.  

After dad had died, I went to meet a wonderful lady, a friend of a friend, who, in her 70’s herself has spent many hours offering bereavement counselling to those in need. Many hours also spent sitting with those who were ready to go. She said to me that people were too scared of death to really talk about what was important.  Wise words.

What was important to me was that dad knew he had permission to go, that he was loved, that he knew we would be OK.  On seeing two friends go through the pain of losing loved ones this week, I was reminded that kind words are so special.  But any words are better than none at all.  To hide from those in pain is living in your own awkwardness.  Happiness is captured in the most bizarre ways when your world has turned upside down.  Say something…..

I champion discussing death, old and young, it is the ultimate event.  Let us embrace and celebrate a life lived, rather than hide from what cannot be changed.

To those who are grieving now, hold onto the memories, be thankful for what you have shared and don’t forget to talk …. Oh, and look out for the white feather. If you see it, it is yours, from them. No one else will notice that special white message falling for you.  Open your heart, open your eyes and open dialogue.

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY





To test or not to test, that is the question!

It has already begun…the build up to the biggest pressure on a child in their early school years.  The pressure inflicted because the politicians believe it is the right thing to do, politicians who chop and change jobs with regularity and very few of whom have a background in education.

Yes, it is the joyous time leading to the dreaded month of May, the SATs!

There are no teachers who wish to inflict any extra stress upon any pupil, but sadly it is the result of the knock-on effect of what it being given to the staff, the school, the authority by the government. Who is at the very bottom of this food chain – the pupil.

I can see that there is sense in having something that allows a measure of ability, of what has been learnt by the individual. I wholeheartedly disagree that this should begin at Year Two, especially now as the anti has been upped and the rules and regulations are more on a par with GCSE! The children should be enjoying school, having a wealth of enriched experiences in all areas of the curriculum, not being given mocks and test papers galore aged 6/7. If ever there was a time to sow the seed of failure and self doubt, I feel that this year group is when it occurs. Children become more aware of where they fit within the ability in the class, of who can achieve and who cannot. Peer pressure is tough. Experiencing spelling tests etc have been built into school life from day one, so that the word ‘test’ is not a new concept, but a silent booklet of words and numbers is HUGE! Teachers will move heaven and Earth to try and create the best low-key atmosphere possible (or should do so) but for them, the results are vital as more performance-related pay indicators are used to denote their ‘worth’. Who wins? Good results, happy position in the tables – bad results and woh! Morale, self-esteem, negativity all kick in – and that is just the staff! I do not think that figures can really show the true nature of the school and  its demographic. There is not an even playing field. Let them be children.

Go compare – doesn’t work!

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY


The Sound of Silence



In our modern world, in our modern daily lives, who experiences silence? It is very easy to avoid that space in our world that promotes quiet, a stopping time where we are left alone to our thoughts and the inner workings of our minds. For some that is something to avoid, a place best left hidden as it is too difficult to face and embrace.  We can be silent, but the world around us has always something to offer, something to tune into, albeit manmade noise or the natural world. My favourite place to be to gain some semblance of peace is by the sea or the river. Watching the ebb and flow of the tide is my relaxing space, but it is far from silence. The noises of nature have a profound impact on my emotional and physical well-being.  I enjoy being still at home. A contemplative stare at a naked candle flame or a glance out of the window at the garden all give peace, but are we ever truly silent?

I am guilty of living too much in my head. A criticism I give myself, thinking too deeply about things, a constant mull of my virtual reality mind. Some people talk to their pets, I jabber to myself!

In a  Lifehack article, Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think,  by Rebecca Beris, it states that consistent noise can elevate our stress levels. Children can suffer from reading, attention and memory deficit due to noise pollution. For those kids who plug themselves into tech, music and television, where is the escape into silence? With experience in the developmental changes occurring in pupils over the past 20 years, I can see the huge impact our thirst for outside stimuli has had on minds and attitudes.

I fully advocate the need to introduce some quiet meditation within schools to teach a different way of being, to incorporate stillness into a very transient and busy world. We all need stillness, we all need silence. With no access to a truly silent world, learning how to switch off and cut off the outside world is a must. We have become so far removed from the world of our ancestors that I can only hope we find a pathway back to the simple, the free and just be.

Silence is not the absence of something, but the presence of everything. John Grossman
Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY