A spoonful of sugar…

Upon reading the title, how many of you managed to resist the temptation to start trilling (Julie Andrews style) the iconic song from Walt Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins’?

Dating back to 1964 (and composed by Robert B Sherman and Richard M Sherman) the song’s purpose was to illustrate how a mundane or daunting task could be made more enjoyable by introducing something pleasant into the equation. I suspect that we can all agree that Walt Disney’s demand for a ‘catchy number’ was unequivocally met, since the song continues to captivate audiences all these years later.

As with so many exponents of the creative arts though, success was by no means immediate. The Sherman brothers had originally written a song entitled ‘Through the Eyes of Love’ but Julie Andrews (who had already been cast as Mary Poppins) hadn’t warmed to the song and so it had been rejected. Struggling to find the inspiration for its replacement, it was Robert Sherman’s son (Jeffrey) who inadvertently came to the rescue whilst innocently recounting the events of his school day.

He casually mentioned that he had received his Polio vaccination – much to the surprise of his father who, knowing that his son was frightened of needles, would have expected such an event to have caused something of a ruckus. When he explained that no needles had been used because the vaccine had simply been put on a sugar cube for him to eat, his father rushed to make a phone call to his brother and ‘A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down’ (quite literally, in his son’s case of course) was born.

Having received the polio vaccination by this method myself, I still remember being thoroughly surprised that my dad (a GP) was offering me a sugar cube at a quarter to eight in the morning! Sugary cereals were very much frowned upon in our household and so this seemed to be a particularly bizarre (but nonetheless welcome!) turn of events. Considering the large numbers of children who seem to (rather systematically) consume unhealthy amounts of sugar nowadays though, I was curious to know the thinking behind it – and subsequent reasons for reform.

I discovered that the oral vaccine was made commercially available in 1961 – as a replacement for the earlier injectable version which had led to some cases of paralysis. Having eradicated Polio completely from the UK by the mid-eighties though (and courtesy of further medical advancement) it was discontinued in 2000 and offered by injection instead as part of the NHS’s routine childhood vaccination programme, as part of a 6-in-1 vaccine.

With the release of Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ in 2018, this magical nanny has been given the opportunity to live on in the imaginations of children across the globe for a good deal longer and, overall, I consider this to be a very good thing indeed. However, I’m not sure that the ‘Change4Life’ programme would welcome the mention of all that sugar nowadays – even if it was only intended as a metaphor!

Embracing the extraordinary

Continuing Professional Development (or CPD) is one of those terms capable of striking fear into one’s heart. Whilst the concept of developing and enhancing one’s professional abilities is something that most of us are more than willing to subscribe to, the quality of a training course can vary dramatically from provider to provider, and it is true to say that there have been times (throughout my career) when I have been left seething at the hours that have been lost to a ‘Mickey Mouse’ course that has failed to deliver on any level.

As you might imagine, most of the courses that I have attended have been child-centred and the arrival of my own children certainly brought about a distinct change in my outlook. Almost immediately, my focus switched from judging a course purely on the quality of its biscuits(!) to determining whether I could use any of the skills acquired to make my homelife just that little bit easier…

And I suspect that the data management courses designed to track pupil progress (and inform future planning) would probably work equally well for tracking the mood swings of a tweenager or evaluating the volatility of a child’s palate – if you were so inclined!

One training course that I recently found utterly inspiring though was ‘Working with Autism’. What made it unusual was the fact that a sizeable portion of the information imparted was by teenagers or young adults who themselves were learning to live with autism, and the integrity of their testimonies was incredibly powerful. Listening to the many ways in which they found ‘everyday’ scenarios stressful provided a valuable insight into the challenges faced by those who are neurodivergent. And with between 30 and 40% of the population falling into this category I began to realise just how vital it is that education professionals develop a deeper understanding of the subject. Otherwise, how else can we ensure that we provide a positive learning environment for everyone?

It is generally understood that certain qualities tend to be prevalent in those who display autistic tendencies and even those with limited experience will know that taking things literally is a common trait (meaning that it’s best to avoid using confusing idioms) and that by keeping instructions to a minimum we are being sensitive to the additional processing time that will probably be needed too. However, one thing that I had totally underestimated was the extent to which most of us use visual clues in our routine interactions with others – one activity bringing me up short.

Working in pairs, we were asked to hold a short conversation – but with our eyes closed. Almost immediately, it became clear that not being able to see when our opposite number had something to say meant that the conversation became incredibly stilted, and we found ourselves either talking across each other or leaving lengthy gaps in between exchanges. In short, the whole experience felt unnatural (and more than a little awkward) and this was despite being in the fortunate position of working with a close friend with whom I usually have a good rapport. How much harder must it be for those who struggle to interpret the visual clues so readily accessible to the neurotypical?

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a ‘glass half empty’ sort of person and, as such, prior to attending this course I was inclined to focus on the negative aspects surrounding ASD. In my defence though, the very fact that being on the Autistic Spectrum is classed as a Disorder seems to invite this type of response. However, I came away from the course with a renewed sense of optimism and a deep-seated respect for the remarkable individuals that make up almost two fifths of our society.

Perhaps by celebrating their talents (such as attention to detail, drive for perfection, extraordinary memory, exceptional honesty and alternate problem-solving skills, for example) rather than focusing upon their struggles, we might begin to eradicate the stigma associated with this condition, once and for all.  

Books. And their covers.

The daily school run used to be a rather sombre affair – two thirds of the journey being completed in a deeply resentful silence born initially out of sibling conflict, and then cemented by maternal rebuke!

Having first barged passed each other on their way out to the car (often accompanied by some strategic ‘following through’ of the elbows and / or feet) the incessant verbal needling would then begin, serving as a brief prelude to one (or both) of them dealing a meaningful blow – and all of this before my key had even turned on the ignition! No amount of adjustment to the morning routine seemed to dilute the intensity of their testosterone charged rivalry and I used to arrive at work wondering quite where it had all gone so horribly wrong!

Now that my eldest is responsible for making his own way to school, however, the school run has changed beyond recognition. It has become a conversation rich environment in which my brain is frequently left scrambling for answers that are (almost) equal in quality to the myriad of questions posed by my youngest son. Being someone who deals in facts (rather than opinions) and takes things literally, he used to struggle to understand the meaning behind commonly used figures of speech. However, dogged determination on his part (no doubt bolstered by an unrelentingly competitive streak) has meant that he is now able to casually toss one or two examples into sentences of his own – delivered, I might add, with a generous helping of conceit!

One early example of the kind of confusion that can easily arise from speaking figuratively, was when (in response to a damning assessment of one of his classmates) I cautioned him not to ‘judge a book by its cover’. No sooner had the phrase left my lips than I was met with a plethora of reasons as to why the cover of a book was, in fact, a useful tool for deciding whether to read it…

Conceding that he had a point, I have since dropped that particular phrase from my ‘repertoire’. However, I was reminded of it again today when I saw a friend’s post on Facebook and very nearly fell foul of my own cautionary advice…

My friend had uploaded a photo of a chocolate bar and the accompanying caption was along the lines of being excited about eating it later. I’ll admit that I was about to scroll on when (sensing that there might be ‘more to it’) I realised that, far from being a frivolous post about harbouring a penchant for a particular brand of confectionary, this was a touching and well-written explanation about something (or rather someone) close to her heart. In this case, that chocolate bar had been given to her daughter as a birthday gift but instead of keeping it for herself, the little girl had chosen to give it to her mum.

Further explanation is needed, however, because this is a young girl for whom life did not begin favourably. Having suffered untold sadness and neglect, she had eventually been removed from her birth mother before embarking upon the long and painful road to adoption. With the continuing love, patience and support of her adoptive parents, the healing process has evidently begun in earnest and (no longer fearful of going hungry) this little girl was happy to part with the entire chocolate bar.  

Parenting can be hard – even when your relationship with your little one began with a totally clean slate. One can only imagine how much harder it must be, when a veritable cocktail of emotional and physical trauma, deep-seated fear, and an almost blanket distrust of adults stands in the way of that crucial relationship building process. Only by having read the post in full, was I able to begin to comprehend its significance.

By all means then, use the cover as a guide – but don’t forget to read the ‘book’ in its entirety before you attempt to form a judgement of any kind.

And even then, it’s probably wise to tread carefully.      

To label, or not to label, that is the question

Over the years I have met a great many parents whom, at one time or another, have faced this particular dilemma. They have come to realise that their child is struggling at school, and they have begun to take those first tentative (but necessary) steps towards seeking some kind of help and support.

In my experience, when a group of parents get together over a coffee, the conversation usually adheres to a common theme – that of parental self-deprecation (after all, how many people honestly think that they are ‘acing’ this particular role?!) interwoven with the fundamental reality that most of us just want our children to ‘fit in’, be happy and to achieve their true potential. And it’s incredibly difficult to accept when something ‘isn’t quite right’. Feelings of inadequacy and anxiety begin to surface, and it can take a while for us to work through our own emotions, let alone ready ourselves for the inevitable challenges that we will need to help our children to overcome.

Society as a whole, of course, offers very little encouragement here.

As demonstrated by some of the abhorrent behaviour surrounding England’s defeat at Euro 2020, prejudice is evidently still very much alive and well. Whether pertaining to race, sexuality, age, or religion it would seem that ‘equality’ is the luxury of the few and there needs to be a concerted effort to change this. And like it or not, with every educational / behavioural diagnosis comes a certain amount of stigma too and (whilst progress is undoubtedly being made to address this) one can understand why a parent might be reluctant to authorise a comprehensive assessment for their child, for fear of them being ‘labelled’ and therefore viewed differently from their peers.

I remember taking part in an INSET session some eight or nine years ago that was looking at the common signs of, and useful strategies to help, those children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Being a subject that genuinely interested me, I had (rather uncharacteristically) listened intently – and made copious notes too! And just as I was beginning to wonder if my child might actually be ‘on the spectrum’ too, the presenter explained that most children under the age of five would exhibit a number of the behaviours outlined and that the mean age for ASD diagnosis ranged between 38 and 120 months. My relief was palpable (the proverbial weight having been lifted from my shoulders) and I settled down gratefully to the paediatric first aid course that followed.

All these years later, I have come to realise that my reaction was ‘normal’ (but also incredibly short-sighted) and this has made me much more empathetic towards those awaiting the diagnosis of a specific educational need for their child. The very notion that one’s treasured offspring might not be able to access education (or understand social convention) in the ‘usual’ way can be difficult to accept, and it is not uncommon for parents to feel a degree of culpability either – unwarranted or otherwise.

However, I wonder if an analogy with the labelling found on an item of clothing might be worth some consideration here? After all, without such a label there is a real chance that a particular item of clothing might become damaged or (in the event of it being dramatically reduced in size) rendered utterly worthless to the wearer. By attaching a ‘care’ label to a child then (rather than simply viewing that label as a set of arbitrary instructions) there’s a strong chance that this might help to alleviate some of their feelings of confusion and inadequacy. And better still, you might just be furnishing your child with an enduring sense of self-worth too.

Striking out

The start of any new chapter inevitably brings with it a glut of conflicting emotions, but it’s how we channel those emotions that ultimately sets the tone for what happens next.

I’ve mentioned before that (rather regrettably) my default setting would seem to be that of a ‘glass half empty’ sort of person. This is possibly why I am prone to dwelling upon all of the things that didn’t go so well, rather than simply deriving pleasure from those that did.

With this in mind, I am trying hard to gradually adjust my mindset, in the hope of becoming a better role model for my children whilst also improving my own sense of wellbeing. [I’m also painfully aware that the saying ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ (quite apart from being laced with hypocrisy) seems woefully inadequate – and would only invite all sorts of unpalatable comebacks, the likes of which I am eager to avoid!]

‘Striking out’ by Gaynor Hall

Dwell not upon what went before – it’s better left behind,
You’ve got a bigger project now, an exciting future to find.
By all means use what you have learned to fashion out a path
That furnishes you with everything you’ll need to help you laugh.

Hold close those friends that matter, be mindful every day
Of those who’ve had a part to play in helping you on your way.
Be brave and view each challenge as a chance to show the world
That you are like a silken flag just waiting to be unfurled.

Don’t shy away from difficult tasks, use every ounce of wit
To meet each obstacle head on, until you’ve conquered it.
Try to view each worry, each failure or fresh doubt
As a means of growing stronger – success turned inside out.

Follow your convictions, hold true and don’t be swayed
By those who’d see you falter just to quash their own malaise.
Extend the arm of friendship to those who need it most,
Be proud of your achievements but reject the need to boast.

Approach each day with honesty, compassion, and good humour –
Resist the urge to inflict harm by fuelling vicious rumour.
Remember that your legacy (when all is said and done)
Is the meaning that your life has brought to the memories that live on.

Calling all Superheroes!

I often think that parenting is akin to an extreme form of superhero training. There may not be any kryptonite involved (and I’ve yet to encounter any infinity stones) but daily survival has, nonetheless, been known to present its own challenges with everyone’s wellbeing (especially mine) frequently left hanging (rather precariously) in the balance.

However, even the most stressful of mornings (when the relatively straightforward task of leaving the house as a family unit, suitably equipped for the day with one’s sanity broadly intact) has nothing on the abject horror of the ‘in-tray exercise’!

Yes, with one foot firmly seated in middle age (and the other desperately seeking a new and exciting chapter) I finally came up against this veritable instrument of cognitive torture. And I have to admit that I was more than willing to wave the white flag of surrender just a few short minutes later!

For those of you who haven’t yet had the ‘pleasure’ of such an experience, let me attempt to give you an indication of what to expect.

Now obviously, my little Pandora’s (In)Box was full of school-based scenarios – the likes of which (if they were to occur simultaneously on a Monday morning as suggested) would literally require the help of the ‘Avengers’ and the ‘Justice League’ combined in order to demonstrate even a modicum of managerial supremacy – but if you can imagine apocalyptic levels of employee, client, or customer dissatisfaction, coupled with a lack of resources and wholly unrealistic deadlines, then this should prove universally relevant!

In just 30 minutes one is required to ‘solve’ a seemingly near exhaustive list of ‘problems’, ranking them in order of priority and explaining what course of action should be taken. Simple, right?

Wrong!

Because for every choice that you make, you are basically providing your future employer with a Velux style window to your soul, laying bare your capacity (or otherwise!) for compassion, logic, and leadership. And the final straw here, is that your line manager will almost certainly be ‘unavailable’ to lend any support to this fire-fighting exercise, and your future colleagues are apparently representative of the very small percentage of the population for whom physical or mental impairment should really have rendered them unemployable – and thoroughly deserving of every benefit going!

The final twist, of course, is that (having prioritised the immediate safeguarding concerns of any pupil who has been hypothetically placed in your care; having dealt with any pressing staffing shortages; having provided pastoral support to a distressed team member; having prepared the necessary academic data for a governors’ meeting; having written a captivating article for the newsletter; having responded to a parental complaint; having disciplined a junior member of staff and having referred a parent back to the school’s policy on the administering of medication) your own child is apparently in need of urgent help too.

What to do now? Where exactly should your own ‘flesh and blood’ rank in all of this? I mean, if you deal with your own son / daughter ahead of a school issue, then there’s a strong chance that you will be inviting criticism along the lines of
a) not being very dedicated to your job or
b) failing to take your professional responsibilities seriously.
Then again, to ignore your own child’s ‘cry for help’ paints you in a rather unfavourable light too – not to mention lining you up nicely for a child protection concern that is frankly a little too close to home!

Thirty minutes later, I left the confines of that tiny office a mere shadow of my former self.

My head was literally throbbing with the strain of trying to deal with such a kaleidoscope of child-related chaos; the academic data had been delegated to possibly the only other suitable senior leader (assuming that they were not, of course, amongst the previously mentioned high numbers of staff absences); my newsletter article was about as engaging as a bowl of tapioca (having managed to devote just 2 minutes and 48 seconds to it, off the back of far too much ethical and logistical deliberation) and try as I might, I couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that I had more than likely overlooked something of real significance.

In summary, I suspect that my performance was moderate to mediocre, and it was undeniably an experience that I would be in no particular hurry to repeat. However, in a humble attempt to adhere to my original analogy, I would suggest that certain qualities would be a minimum requirement – if ever (like me) you should find yourself bravely pursuing ‘in-tray utopia’…

At the very least, you should aim to exhibit the genius of Iron Man, the leadership of Captain America, the resilience of Thor and the compassion of Superman. Otherwise, prepare for the comparative ignominy of, for example, Marvel’s Jack of Hearts.

Preparing to be unlocked

Having recently entered the next stage of the government’s plan to ease restrictions, there’s a sense of cautious optimism in the air. We’ve been here before, of course, but with the roll-out of 30 million+ COVID vaccines, there is every reason to feel quietly confident that we are taking back some of the control that was so ruthlessly snatched from us 12 months ago. Here’s hoping that the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is not simply a train coming the other way, ready to knock us off our feet once more…

‘Daring to hope’ by Gaynor Hall

Tell me it’s over, the incarceration
That stifled the freedom of many a nation,
Prevented the sharing of happiness or grief,
And threw up behaviour that ‘beggared belief’.

Playgrounds fell silent, parks were left bare,
Homes and gardens deemed unsafe to share,
Bus stops deserted, restaurants too,
Roads less congested; used by so few.

Hospitals quite literally bursting their seams,
Struggling to cope with a virus so extreme
That people were dying – regardless of age,
With figures quite simply impossible to gauge.

But slowly the tide has started to turn,
Children are back in their classrooms to learn,
Businesses fighting so hard for survival
Preparing to open, to start their revival.

And so, there is only one question to ask,
(Although it might seem an onerous task)
What will you cherish, and what will you change –
Having lived through an era unparalleled and strange?

If at first you don’t succeed, shout a little louder!

When I was growing up, Cornwall was very much the destination of choice for our annual summer holiday. Every year, we’d set off from Shropshire in my Dad’s Citroen Familiale with a variety of hearty homemade meals stashed under every conceivable seat. Then, many long hours later, we’d pull up outside our holiday accommodation, only to find that one of us had fallen asleep en route (again) and left a sizeable footprint in the top of one pie or another. And whilst the flavour never seemed to have been palpably diminished by such treatment, I’m sure that you can imagine just how well this tended to go down with our parents… 

Imagine my excitement then, when Mum and Dad announced that we would be going to France for a change. The plan was to catch the ferry from Dover to Calais and then take the motor-rail as far as Brive. This in itself sounded like quite an adventure – taking your car on a train was ‘quite something’ back in the 80s and (quite apart from eating fresh croissants and trying out my term and a half of French) I couldn’t wait to see what sleeping on a train would be like.

The summer holidays finally arrived, and we all piled into Dad’s car for our first taste of foreign travel. The journey down to Dover seemed distinctly less onerous than the laborious annual struggle from Exeter to Wadebridge and standing up on deck waving a fond farewell to those iconic white cliffs, with the sea air blowing a gale, was nothing short of exhilarating. 

Fast forward to our arrival in Brive, following an ‘interesting’ night spent split between two 4-berth couchettes, wondering if what I could hear was the train’s engine – or my Dad’s snoring! Suffice it to say, I don’t think that any of us felt particularly well-rested the following morning – and both parents seemed to be sporting that ‘end of their tether’ kind of look, as they stepped tentatively out into the Aquitaine sunshine.  

With a (not inconsiderable) final leg of the journey still to be made, we were instructed that this would be the last opportunity for a comfort stop. I dutifully headed to the ladies with my mum (where we joined the obligatory long, snaking queue) whilst my brothers sauntered straight into the gents. No change there then! And after what felt like an eternity, there was just one woman standing between us and the sanctuary of the first available cubicle.

Now, to say that she looked distinctly French would be an understatement of epic proportions. She could have stepped straight out of ‘Tricolore’, minus the shallots and the beret, of course! Anyway, when the time came, this sophisticated Mediterranean lady made no attempt to stake her claim on the facilities; our expectant glances being met with a typically Gallic shrug that was truly mystifying, given the time that she had already invested in this exercise.

Far from happy to just sidle past this lady and potentially ‘jump the queue’, my mum decided to engage her in a conversation of sorts. Ten out of ten for effort – bearing in mind the (not insignificant) language barrier that was about to rear its ugly head.  

With full eye contact established (so as to avoid any possible confusion) mum asked, “Are you waiting?”

“Pardon?” was her reply. [The first clue.]

“Are you waiting?” mum offered once more, pointing in the direction of said cubicle.

“Pardon?” her slightly louder response this time, accompanied by that infamous shrug.

And so, in true British style, mum went for absolute linguistical supremacy…

“ARE YOU WAIT-EENG?” she asked once more, only several decibels louder and with an accent worthy of Rene Artois from the BBC’s ‘Allo, ‘Allo!  

And then the penny finally dropped.

Looking at me (nothing short of aghast) Mum said, “I think she’s French!” and rushed blushing into the cubicle, leaving me to endure much lip pursing, shoulder shrugging and (I’m willing to bet) some guttural native expletives – which my term and a half of tuition had left me ill-equipped to translate!

You can imagine how much flak she got for that, over the years…

In one sleep-starved moment, she had unwittingly confirmed what many Europeans had suspected for some time – that us Brits are notoriously bad at learning other languages, with a whopping 62% of the population still only able to speak English.

And there’s a fair chance that, having been responsible for publishing these damning statistics, ‘Honte à vous!’ might plausibly have been the verdict of the European Commission!

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!

Temet nosce

‘Temet nosce’ (or ‘know thyself’) might be the briefest of phrases, and yet these two small words convey such an important message.

However, before I go on, I feel duty bound to set the record straight. I am not (by any stretch of the imagination) a Latin scholar, and the irony of having chosen a Latin phrase as the heading for my latest blog will not have been lost on those who remember me from my school days…

As a nervous pupil starting Year 7 at secondary school, being placed in the top set meant that the (rather dubious) honour of learning Latin had been ‘bestowed’ (or rather thrust) upon me. And so, my (not so) illustrious relationship with the language of the Roman Empire began.

It ended just 12 months later when the teacher gratefully washed her hands of me, noting on my end of year report that I had “spent a good deal less time inside the classroom, than out in the corridor” – a fitting punishment for my “poor application and lack of reverence” apparently!

Anyway, in spite of all of this, I am often fascinated by the extent to which Latin words still dominate our language. After all, the notion of working on an ‘ad hoc’ basis, perhaps for a ‘bona fide’ company, in an attempt to ‘carpe diem’, makes a good deal of sense when trying to take control of one’s own destiny.

‘Temet nosce’ then, will possibly resonate with many of us, as we strive to overcome the many challenges associated with living through a global pandemic. Bereavement, loss of income, a sense of isolation and the sheer anxiety of trying to juggle work with home schooling / childcare are factors that have put untold strain on people. However, there have been countless stories of human resilience too, and so it strikes me that to ‘know oneself’ is probably currently more important than ever. Because, in understanding our own psyche (and dare I say it, ‘limitations’) we are enabling ourselves to set realistic targets (through tailor-made strategies) that will propel us forwards – hopefully with our mental health intact!