I’m with Confucius on this one!

English Proverbs have long held a certain amount of fascination for me, and I used to love hearing my mum refer to a large number of them as she went about her daily tasks. Coping with six children cannot have been without its challenges, but she was incredibly adept at finding a saying that would put a positive slant on an otherwise demanding situation.

I’m quite sure, however, that in our case (my mum being constantly surrounded by a veritable gaggle of ankle biters) ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’ might have been rather more apt than ‘Many hands make light work’ and this is possibly why she became a staunch believer in ‘Making hay while the sun shines’ – or at least before any of her ‘little darlings’ had had the chance to surface!

What I really love about all these sayings though are the many straightforward messages of wisdom and morality that they help to impart, in language that is rather less condemnatory than some of the statements found within the scriptures of the Old Testament. Take, for example, Proverbs 1:32-33 “For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm”. This is pretty uncompromising stuff! A case of ‘my way or the highway’ perhaps?

As with so many popular sayings though, it is usually possible to find another one that conveniently provides a ready-made counter argument.

‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’ can neatly be substituted for ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ depending upon the mood of the protagonist. Similarly, ‘Great minds think alike’ can be turned upon its head with the maxim that ‘Fools rarely differ’! And, being an unashamed devotee of language, I often find myself marvelling at the astonishing power of words to empower or defeat, comfort or wound, entertain or reduce to tears.

Confucius was a Chinese philosopher and politician who was generally considered to be the ‘paragon of Chinese sages’. Born in 551 BC, Confucius lived until he was 71 and during that time, he gained a reputation for striving to make education broadly available, and for establishing the art of teaching as a much-respected vocation. His ‘golden rule’: “Do not impose on others what you do not wish for yourself’ would seem to offer a moral code fit for all and one that requires no further explanation. For this reason (and because I am still working my way steadily through a mid-life crisis of my own) I decided to find out what Confucius had to say on the subject of old age. The results were surprisingly encouraging…

“Old age, believe me, is a good and pleasant thing. It is true you are gently shouldered off the stage, but then you are given such a comfortable front stall as spectator.”

Perhaps it’s time to let the youngsters take centre stage, and for me to settle gratefully into my seat, with a substantial container of popcorn at the ready!

Significant milestones

Language evolution is something that has always fascinated me and so I decided to take a look at some of the main motivating factors.

To a certain extent, the language that we use reflects both our environment and those with whom we interact. If we think back to the days of colonialism, there would have been a necessity to find a way to communicate with other populations for the purposes of trade. Similarly, technological advancement has had a huge part to play in the introduction of new vocabulary as people have striven to find innovative ways to talk about these exciting developments.

It has also been suggested that a sort of ‘Linguistic drift’ tends to occur when language is passed down the generations. As a result, our pronunciation changes, new words are invented, and the meaning of old words can begin to shift too. And whilst I’m entirely in favour of working at broadening my vocabulary, I have to admit to having been rather affronted by the quasi canonisation of certain ‘new’ words by the Oxford Dictionary. Take, for example, the word ‘fitspo’, short for ‘fitspiration’. I mean, really? What hope does this kind of madness offer me for remaining undefeated in the family ‘Scrabble’ games of the future?!

One example of a word that has undergone a gradual shift in meaning is ‘milestone’.

Originally a ‘stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place’ this term is now used as a means of marking a significant life event. And whether it is within the context of childhood development, or the lifetime ‘firsts’ commonly celebrated by adults, a degree of both pride and joy is traditionally shared amongst friends and family alike.

Is it just a happy coincidence then, that this article marks not only my 1st anniversary as a blogger, but also my 50th blog?

Of course not. And, like so many personal achievements, this particular milestone has only been made possible by the support and encouragement of those around me.

My sincere thanks for taking the time to read this and (more importantly) please do stick around for the next fifty!         

Youth v Experience

Many years ago, I had the great privilege of working with an exceptional teacher. She was one of those extraordinary people for whom plucking some obscure fact or figure out of thin air was practically a daily occurrence. She was definitely one to have on your pub quiz team!

Of course, exceptional intelligence can sometimes be coupled with a degree of social awkwardness, and I can’t say that I ever felt particularly relaxed in her company… That being said, her pupils adored her. Her lessons were full of energy, quirkiness and cynicism and every class that crossed the threshold of room C3 was mesmerised by the passion (and skill) with which she brought her subject to life.

‘In praise of middle age’ is intended as a light-hearted reminder that there will always be a younger, more attractive NQT hot on your heels, but that experience certainly has its strengths too. And in working together with the next generation of teachers (rather than feeling threatened by them) it is possible to enjoy the ‘best of both worlds’, where ideas are shared, and skills are honed.

In praise of middle age

“The years have not been kind!” they say, in whispers low and furtive,
“There are bangers with less wear and tear,” their judgement harsh, assertive.
Her sight is slowly fading, and she’s gained a couple of chins –
It’ll not be long before the ‘journey south’ of certain bits begins!

Her hair is slowly greying and there are crow’s feet around her eyes,
And wrinkles upon wrinkles which foundation can’t disguise!
Her walk is a little less purposeful, her stride somewhat lacklustre –
Her voice is unassuming; excitement hard to muster.

She quietly walks the corridors, she’s seen it all before:
Messy shoe racks, dirty socks, coats strewn across the floor.
She sidles into the classroom and softly shuts the door,
Greeted by rows of eager eyes, and faces full of awe.

The show begins, the theme unfolds, she places them under her spell,
With passion, guile, and anecdotes – the tools she knows so well.
She piques their curiosity, and tends their burgeoning knowledge,
She cultivates their interest, whilst for hidden depths she’ll forage.

The lesson ends, the pupils leave; her impact monumental –
Taking pride in her work is reward enough, she’ll not be sentimental.
But for those who mourn the passage of time, on retirement placing a bet,
She’s far from ready to hang up her hat – there’s life in the old dog yet!

The sands of time

2020 has not been an easy year for anyone. There has been uncertainty and loss in abundance and trying to juggle work with home-schooling (during lockdown 1) certainly tested the parenting skills of even the most adept of multitaskers!

However, venturing out for local walks and bike rides (during the permitted daily exercise slot) became our way of looking after our emotional and physical wellbeing, and I found myself feeling immensely grateful for those precious family moments and (by association) the many opportunities for self-reflection that they afforded.

Being a Sagittarian, I have just ‘celebrated’ another birthday (groan) and I have to admit that my natural instinct was to dwell (rather unflatteringly) upon the ‘sands of time’. After all, feelings of frustration, a loss in confidence and (to some degree) a sense of inadequacy are incredibly common in women whose career path has (understandably) been re-routed in order to accommodate the raising of children.  However, I have tried instead to acknowledge some of the aspirations that I held when I was young, whilst also being mindful of the ‘bigger picture’. Let’s hope that I can carry this (frankly rather uncharacteristic) brand of positivity into the next decade – when the time comes! 

Another year older

When I was but a tiddler, I dreamt of being a teacher,
(My brothers said my bossy streak would be a useful feature!),
I’d line up all my teddies and issue clear instructions,
Or take a crafty polaroid of their end of term ‘productions’.

When I moved up to ‘juniors’, I thought I’d be a dancer –
Not Ballet (requiring elegance) but ‘Tap’ the obvious answer…
I had an excellent memory for dance routines straightforward,
I just lacked poise or presence, and looked extremely awkward!

As I approached my teenage years, I decided to become a swimmer,
(I’d entered a single gala and been proclaimed an ‘almost’ winner!),
I joined a club and practised hard – the lengths offered time to think,
But a lack of pace (or stamina) caused my dreams to quickly sink!

When I was in my twenties, my love for music flourished,
Spending hours at the piano and keeping my soul well-nourished.
I rattled off countless ‘études’, ‘rhapsodies’ and ‘sonatas’,
And still I lacked the confidence to really raise the rafters.  

When I was in my thirties, I yearned for far-off lands,
The type you see on postcards – turquoise waters, golden sands.
I set about visiting heritage sights, monuments great and small,
Sampling different cultures; in truth, I had ‘a ball’!

And now that I’m in my forties, wondering what’ll come next,
I find myself re-evaluating, and feeling truly blessed,
I may not have ‘set the world on fire’ – but perhaps there is still time…
But I’ve found my soulmate and borne two sons, and I’m proud to call them ‘mine’.

What’s this all about then?

Everyone is entitled to a midlife crisis of sorts – and this is mine!

I’ve checked that I fall into the correct age bracket (45-65 apparently) and I understand that (being a woman) I have between 2 and 5 years to work through this ‘condition’ in any which way that I can. How incredibly liberating!

I also understand that if I were a man, this ‘phase’ could legitimately be spread over 3-10 years (the vindication here of a prolonged absence of judgement should not be underestimated lads) so I feel fully entitled to press on!

And there is some good news here too… (husband, please take note):

  • There won’t be any rash purchases – I’m not all that motivated by status symbols and, more importantly, the (bank’s) computer would almost certainly say ‘No’.
  • There won’t be any costly cosmetic procedures – I’m a realist; ‘silk purse’ and ‘sow’s ear’ spring very much to mind here.
  • I suspect that I won’t really be any good at ‘apathy’ either – the need to verbalise my emotions seems strangely undiminished as yet!
  • In sharing the observations, insights and (let’s face it) ramblings (!) of a Teacher, Examiner and Mum, they may (at best) prove entertaining to some, and (at worst) cathartic for the author.

So, all in all, things could be far worse. As midlife crises go, I’d say that this one could be classed as rather low maintenance!