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


Hug Those Failures!

We are taught that to succeed is wonderful, praise is heaped on achievement from an early age. From sibling rivalry, competitive parents through to peer pressure, the drive to be the best is a well-worn path in most lives. Championing failure is not an everyday occurrence, yet it should be! 

“Failure is only the opportunity to begin again only more intelligently.” Henry Ford.

Our greatest learning stems from our failures right from birth. Babies are the prime example of failure.  It takes dedication and doggedness to perform the myriad of new learning the world has to offer, but it is the desire to succeed that has driven us all forward into infancy.

Barriers to achievement begin to show in school. This is where vast differences amongst abilities are displayed within the intensive classroom day.  For those lucky enough to encounter establishments and inspirational teachers that are not solely results driven, victory is found in other ways. Small steps forward are celebrated allowing confidence to soar. 

Failure and confidence are inherently linked. Having watched a wealth of sport myself, you see examples of individuals pushing through the failure barrier; true resilience.  In this current high profile, high earning market, the price of success is immense. Top professionals all have an experienced coach who deals with the mindset which is as equally important as with technique.  In order to be your best possible self, you need to deal with the inner demons that sabotage our thoughts. The mind makes the difference to each day. Having a skill-set that allows you to sift and sort through the relevance for each task and dismiss the background gremlins allows positivity to flow. Once in that flow, our journey can lead us anywhere. 

To get to the top you have to start at the bottom. Your journey is never direct from A to Z, it will meander through failure and upset time and time again, yet the end goal of achievement helps us strive onwards.  Embrace the short-comings, use them as a stepping stone to the next chapter. Never give up – thank defeats for the signposts to a better way that they are and hug those failures!

“Don’t fear failure, fear the absence of progress.”

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

Believe in the Minutiae

With the current climate extremely positive in allowing it to be ‘ok not to be ok’ with one’s mental health, it got me thinking about how we cope with living on a knife edge and what happens when that precarious balance becomes dislodged and we free-fall.

What catches us? What is our individual security blanket?

In the Human Givens belief structure, we have certain innate needs that we need in our life to facilitate wellbeing. When one or more of these needs are not met, we experience dis-ease, which creates the issues that highlight the negative aspects of ourselves, beginning the journey into freefall.

For some of us, we can recognise the conception of that fall and start to rectify, but for the majority it takes a crash to realise that the fall is already well on the way to the end destination before we take notice. This is human nature.

The ostrich within us likes to think that ‘everything will be ok if we ignore it’.  Do we ever learn? Ignorance is not bliss, ignorance is the best way to high blood pressure and depression! Society is gradually waking up to understand that you will not be a leper if you admit that all is not well.

Having battled my own issues from childhood, I appreciate that I can now take a step back and see what was and is causing me pain, it has been easier, although not plain sailing to alter situations to negate my dis-ease. It takes time and courage. It takes patience and a deeper understanding of who you are inside to make change that can bring about a breakthrough.

Not all change does the miracle however, but even small steps add up. We tend not to value the minutiae, but this is the most powerful thing to be able to do.  

Family, friends and work colleagues may spot the signs before we have. Those who are able, and it is a skill in itself, will try to help. We may meet key individual’s on our life path who are there to heal, to hold up an ethereal mirror to our behaviours and actions in order to invoke that change.  Often these people are our partners. The ones who hold tightly that security blanket. The danger is that we do not open our eyes until it is too late and we miss the blanket and that person can no longer support us.

Life is tough. Let’s be real. But resilience is in all of us, if we unearth it. Mental health problems occur when we cannot adapt to the changes we experience. We need to find other ways to get our innate needs met – we need to set some goals, however small. Success breeds success. It triggers the feel good chemicals in our brains – a body chocolate boost!

Instead of looking in awe at the huge mountain to climb, take a moment to look closer.

The steps are forming that allow you to gradually climb that mountain with sustainability, with purpose and with belief that you can reach the summit.

To prevent freefall, take time to assess, to open your ears to the world around you. What have you not heard? What are you feeling inside? Who can be your blanket? What is your mountain – and what are your goals?

There is never a perfect time to face reality. It is like the conveyor belt on the Generation Game, it keeps bringing new things to remember, some to keep, some to forget, some to smile at (Cuddly Toy!) but it is your battle to win.

It is ok not to be ok. It is ok not to know what to do. It is ok to take time to come to terms with this. Only you will know when it is not ok to ignore the warnings. With the wealth of social media accounts, initiatives led by the royals and celebs, help is readily available.

“Sometimes when you are in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried, but actually you’ve been planted.”  Happy Place.com

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

Is workplace mental health worth checking? Does EAP work?

We all have times when life just doesn’t behave. It shakes you up, it messes with your head, it causes angst and upset. The natural thing to do for most, is nothing. It will sort. And a lot of the time we work through our problems, a different day breeds a different outlook on the same issue etc.

But what happens when these life events impact on our ability to function at work? The one place where we need to be firing on all cylinders – our cash cow.

There are work problems and outside work problems. Both are tough and both can cause us to deviate from the focused, driven path we are expected to be on in our employment. If you are someone who hides the build up to the explosion within, then telltale signs may show in your work, leaving your seniors to wonder what is going on. If this is not spotted, then the cracks may not show until the volcano has exploded, which is a difficult to clean up from.  

Companies have been offering the Employers Assistance Programme (EAP) for many years to varying degrees. It is a caveat that shows that the employer cares, that your wellbeing is important. But what is it really like for the majority? In principle, this looks a great scheme. But surely the focus should be on making this scheme obsolete?  If we had a secure knowledge that any deviations in our mental wellbeing would not be seen critically and would be given a voice to be heard early doors, then there should not be a need to have assistance when that ‘closes the stable door when the proverbial horse has bolted’?

Failure and weakness are not traits that most of us like to admit to, or even share, especially within the workplace. With the chance to promote a more proactive mental resilience programme within companies I would like to see the focus shift to maintaining equilibrium rather than fixing the dilemma. A healthy workforce, mentally and physically, is a happier workforce. Productivity is better, sickness reduced, results happen. I commend the more forward-thinking enterprises that have grasped this concept and treat their staff with a nurturing ear.  

“We are all born with innate knowledge programmed into us from our genes. Throughout life we experience this knowledge as feelings of physical and emotional need…People whose emotional  needs are met in a balanced way do not suffer mental health problems. ” www.hgi.org.uk

Giving a mental health check as part of an annual review could become the norm, allowing people the confidence to speak in a secure timeframe before urgency occurs. We should adopt a non judgemental approach to dealing with mental health; it is something that gets us all.  Luckily, enlightenment is coming. Views are changing. People matter. Embrace a new way of thinking about personnel. Mental health does not mean darkness.

Resilience Regenerated

What makes us happy? Happiness is a very unique concept. If you asked a poll of people, most would give some generic stock answers such as money, family and friends, but dig deeper and the nutshell of happiness has not been analysed by many. We all have days which go well, the ultimate ‘happy days’, but life is not a straight road; the propensity to meander is very real. For lots of us, each day is a challenge when viewed as a whole. There are very few people who get through a day oozing happiness throughout. Curve-balls are thrown towards us left, right and centre. The only way to deal with life is to live in the moment. Happiness is easily measured when you scale it right back to the here and now.

Unfortunately, us humans rarely manage this seemingly straightforward way of thinking. We stress over the ‘trifles’ as well as the BIG stuff. Things that are mountainous in magnitude to deal with quickly become overwhelming and pull us back down to the beginning of the climb.

What separates those who fight and those who flight is resilience. Resilience that is inbuilt from birth, that oozes from every pore of an exploring baby, fear has not been conditioned, can be seen as they tackle any mountain in their way. How do we learn? We learn from failure. We learn by trying again, not giving up, thinking outside the box, we learn from our resilience.

If we are so out of tune with our inner strength, then help is out there, from mindfulness groups through to talking therapies. We live in a world that has moved away from ‘gut instinct and trial and error’ to one that has to be the best, have the best and achieve.

As Winston Churchill said:


“Success is not final.

Failure is not fatal;

It is the courage to continue that counts.”  


…And boy, did we have that in buckets when it really counted. The collective resilience of the British Public was attune to an extra army on the ground in real terms. The ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ allowed us to battle on. Maybe as individuals, we need to regenerate like Dr Who, to switch on the change button, to wash away all the angst we carry, weighing us down daily and battle back in our minds. Create the battleground in our mindset that would see the good guys overcome the baddies. After all,  change is good, evolution is how we began.


“We are all stories in the end. Just make it a good one.” Matt Smith as The Doctor


Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

Return to Warmth

I have the luxury of being able to step back and observe life in schools. For the past twenty three years, the majority of my working life has been based around the daily routine of planning, delivering, marking, assessing young people. I reflect on how that has changed over time. Lessons are more dynamic, the wealth of pupil diversity has broadened, technology has blasted pen and paper into another stratosphere…yet one thing remains; school is a secure haven for the many.  

We went to school, safe in the knowledge that we formed a unit with our class in our own unique way; our pecking order established. Everyday was different, each one having its own trials and tribulations, but it was a known quantity. What made it that way? It was the staff that made or broke your school experience. The staff who could say something inspiring and encouraging or equally, deliver that shattering blow that remained ingrained into adulthood.

It is commonplace to share stories of childhood with peers; reminisce about the ‘good old days’, that is what Facebook and its predecessor, Friends Reunited allowed us to do, with relative ease. We tell the ‘classic’ tales to our new loved ones, our children, yet it is the human face of school life that has the greatest impact.  I vividly recall the teacher who assumed I had a vivid imagination and basically called me a liar. Equally, I remember the wonderful lady who believed in me. Chalk and cheese. It is potluck for a child who they encounter and who has the opportunity to shape their futures. That was then. What about now?

I have been lucky to work in some wonderful establishments, with pastoral care high on the agenda. The welfare of the pupils has been paramount.  I am equally aware that these places go above and beyond to ensure the careful nurturing of their cohort. Children who need that special bond with their teachers and assistants. Children who have school as their sanctuary when life outside is tough, unpredictable and full of unease. Those children need ‘school love’. Those children crave the bonds that a teacher can provide; the security, the structure, the routine and the praise. Small things that allow an individual to flourish. Small things that like a fine wine, mature over time.

It worries me that time is no longer something in abundance in school. With the constant pressure-cooker of observations, scrutinies, reviews and the dreaded OFSTED, teaching is no longer about the children, it is about paper and data. Is there time for the warmth of relationships with our class?  Such key things matter. It matters more than data. Data quantifies the learning, but nurturing is unquantifiable; it is priceless.

We have something fundamentally wrong in our education system. It is no longer about the whole child. It is targeted and cold. I champion the need to return the warmth. Let’s give our teachers that chance once again.


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

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

Switch on Happiness

In the midst of the darkest gloom there is happiness, however fleeting the moment. It is within us all and can be manifested in an instant. Think of it as flicking a switch to put the metaphorical light on.  This switch can hide away in the depths of our inner being, gathering emotional dust, never to be touched again – for many it feels exactly like that. However dim the light becomes, there is always a switch; it does not seize up, disappear or hide.

There are times when our switch can feel so disconnected from life itself, that we wonder if we will ever feel happiness again?  In these darker times, it is important to hold onto the memories, words and passions from the past that have caused pleasure, made us smile or ignited intense laughter. It is these moments that will help us through the days of despair.

As International Happiness Day arrives, for those who have an abundance of hope, passion and joy in their lives, it can be a day of celebration. Yet for others less fortunate, it can be seen as a day of falsehood; so far removed from reality, it seems a fallacy. I would urge those who feel the enveloping darkness to take a moment today to think back, remember back to a happy event and to try to concentrate their minds on how it felt to be in that time – to relive the senses, to promote emotional wellbeing. Timeout to relive the past is not a bad thing. It stimulates the endorphins, the happy hormones and keeps us in touch with our ‘switch’.

It is not possible to what is the right or wrong to do for everyone, so I will leave this blog post with the following message the late Ken Dodd told us:


“ Happiness, happiness,  the greatest gift that I possess.”


Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

A Steady Hand…

This time of year people look to change as their mantra. Encouraged by the national pastime of making a New Year Resolution, we often pay lip service to our failings and for a couple of days at least, attempt to be resolute in our steely determination to make good our foibles. But as we all know, failure is often the outcome. This inability to make a permanent change can set us back even further than before we began. So why do we do it?

A fresh start can happen to anyone at any point in the year. The turning of a page into a new chapter is not limited to new year, but it is the wave of collective consciousness that picks us up, takes us on a rollercoaster ride and ultimately spits the majority back out on the sand, with little to show for their efforts apart from bruised pride.

Life is like a domino rally. You can set out each domino of life – home, job, family, romance and keep adding to your dominos one by one. You can look back at what you have achieved with a sense of pride. It has taken a steady hand to position all the achievements in such a way that they can be appreciated and reflected upon. Yet, it takes one, just one rogue outcome, to topple this rally.  And this is where the makeup of the individual shows. Who looks, cries and thinks that this is the end? Who looks, sighs and begins again to restack in the same way. How many look and really see what has occurred? Who stops, takes time to reflect, learn from those mistakes and rebuilds the rally in a slightly different way?

I would urge anyone who has that chance to stop and look, to really think about the lessons we are being given. Is our pathway the right one for us? If not, what can we do about it?  There is nothing worse than a repeating pattern. It can often take those closest to us to show us that we are in an ever-decreasing spiral of decline and for those lucky enough to have people with a supportive helping hand, that reversal can be stopped.

In this time of need, try to avoid a bandwagon and find your own vehicle to steer you through.

And if it all becomes too much, do not beat yourself up over it; treat it as a chance to recollect. We learn through failure. Failure drives us. Pick up the dominos one at a time, but apply space, time and energy to the gap between them. Give yourself time: to grow, to heal and to remerge. Make your rally the best yet!


“ Change is the end result of all true learning.” Leo Buscaglia

Happy New Year!

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

A Blue and White Heart….

As I sit and observe the morning sun on the garden, my eyes are drawn to a framed photograph. It was taken after Brighton and Hove Albion performed the biggest magic trick ever – the great escape at Hereford United on 3rd May 1997. I shall return to that momentous day later.

My Albion journey began aged 11 in 1983. Surrounded by the building excitement of the FA Cup run, it was difficult to ignore this game I’d previously exit the front room to avoid on the tellybox. Sussex was ‘cup crazy’. Towns were buzzing, players were allocated to towns to sign the classic Cup single and meet the fans….. I got a kiss from Gary Stevens – nuff said… Glued to Grandstand on the big day, I watched the team have their breakfast, interview badly and lounge in their natty tracksuits at the hotel.

With big sis unable to go to Wembley first time, I was lucky enough to be taken to watch the helicopter return. WOW! Sis got a kiss from Jimmy Melia, we were in touching distance of these heroes. The dye had been cast.  Fast forward to the following season post-relegation, my first mantotty crush had taken his grin to Liverpool, but I had just begun my first real season of Albionitis. Shoot magazine purchased, sticker swapping in the playground with the lads, flimsy cardboard league ladders religiously moved every Sunday, radio commentary on every match – I was hooked.  Christmas 1984 saw the best present ever….a scarf, a teddy I named Fozzie and the promise of my first match.  Blackburn Rovers at the Goldstone. A draw. Tony Grealish on the programme cover. East Stand terrace. AMAZING! Then….we were drawn against Liverpool in the FA Cup at the Goldstone. A chance to see Michael Robinson in the flesh. Just needed to pluck up the courage to ask bis sis and Neil if they would take me – took me ages, but YES! Michael knew I was there; he could feel the love.

Progression to the North Stand over the years, the removal of the metal fencing and a new crush – Steve Penney. And there is another story. (Thanks Alan Wares!)

Student life meant working on a Saturday and moving away to college, to live by The Dell in Southampton. I never went to see the Saints play until the last ever match played there versus us after we had won the Div Three title.  

Once I had become a worthwhile member of society and earning a wage, I wanted to go back to the Albion. It was 1995 and we were in the doom years. No one I knew wanted to go. I didn’t want to go on my own. So, ever resourceful, I resorted to bribery and pity.  “Come with me and I’ll buy you dinner afterwards,” was the usual mantra. It sometimes worked. Then, on a second date with a Sunderland fan, I found a footy buddy and a long-term partner. We sat on the North Stand terrace to watch matches as there was no one to interrupt our view. We protested. We wrote letters, we marched, we battled. We were there. It was all-consuming, but it was important. The BHA family was strong.  York CIty postponement. Fans United will never be defeated. The second to last match at the Goldstone against Wigan – can we really do this? The Donny match. In my head, the weather in the last few games matched the sombre mood of our predicament – dull, moody and miserable. We may have lost our home, but we had hope. We had light at the end of the boardroom – the enemies were withering, our Knight in shining armour had arrived complete with Gritt and determination.

We come to Hereford. THAT day. THAT day I will never forget. Parking the car with local ‘yoofs’ asking for protection money for the car. Getting in the ground very early. Police telling us they had been told to make friends with the fans so that we’d be less inclined to cause trouble later.

The Bull….what the…..! Sunshine. It was a sign. We were at the front. I have never felt so knotted inside. This match meant more than anything. It was our death sentence. We had a noose around our neck awaiting the stay of execution. Half time….I drank from my fizzy drink bottle and the drink reemerged as I was soooo tense.  

The rest of the match is well-documented.  The words ‘batshit mental’ spring to mind. A love-in ensued. We had done it… we’d only gone and bloody done it!

“Hey, nice copper, could you take our photograph please?”

As I sit here thinking back 20 years, I am grateful to all those who I have met on my Albion journey over the past 34 years. Big thanks to big sis and Neil who are still home and away regulars from deepest, darkest Somerset. Immense appreciation goes to those who were at the forefront in saving our club and those who worked tirelessly to get us back from exile.  Love in abundance to the money men – Dick Knight, Tony Bloom and others who put their money where their hearts were. To all our fellow football fans who have understood what we faced over the years and offered support, either practical or ethereal. To the players who have given me headaches, adrenalin-rushes, joy, sadness and passion. PRIDE. To the hordes of children who I have taught who were subjected to total and blatant indoctrination into the ways of BHA FC. To the people who never made it……we have all lost loved ones during the battle years. I look at that Hereford photograph and I stare at one of those. We did it Tim. We are on the cusp of our dream.

To everyone who bleeds blue and white – THANK YOU x

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTLY

International Happiness Day on a Monday!

It is raining. It is Monday, it is International Happiness Day … on a MONDAY?! As The Boomtown Rats famously sang, “I don’t like Mondays.” Monday for so many is the beginning of the weekly grind, the justle to work, the routine of drudgery with the weekend feeling so far away it is out of reach.  Monday is not usually aesthetically pleasing. The alarm hoiks you out of bed too early for your liking and the dye is cast for the day ahead.

STOP! Not this Monday, Today is different. It is a day to celebrate being alive, the small things that we take for granted and most importantly, being who we are.

It is unrealistic to expect to smile 24/7 and possibly somewhat creepy, but smiling on the inside is what matters. Having a core inner happiness is what gets us through the tough times and helps us have appreciation for the good.  The world around us impacts on our daily lives, our mood dictates our response to these actions.  I will never be a Saint Theresa, but I am capable of picking myself up off the floor and going again.  So are you.  The rain gives life, it refreshes; it is the water of life. The tree opposite my house has just blossomed. Beautiful pink flowers desperately clinging onto the branches as the wind tries its best to dislodge them.  Life has lots of uncertainty right now, but what I am certain of is that I will not be beaten – will you?

Dream BIG, Sparkle MORE, Shine BRIGHTY