Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Thoughts From 2008

This is a review of my year. It's another opportunity to be wonderfully self-centred. Hah!

On a more serious level, it's a chance for me to acknowledge what's happened before I start to think about what 2009 is going to be about for me. I had three themes I was focusing on throughout 2008 which will get covered in this post. This time, I've picked ten important things that kinda sum up my year. There is no particular order - but they are all important to me.

Read and have an appropriate reaction.

1) Weight Loss
Looking back, the biggest news in my world of 2008 has got to be the weight loss. I worked out that I've lost 20% of my body weight this year (that's two stone and ten pounds or seventeen kilos!)

I now weigh less than my wife did in January 2008.

It's such a big deal because it affects other areas of my life. Aside from general fitness it's related to other things in my top ten. The fact I now wear my belt on hole six instead of hole two has had an effect on number ten. Being able to touch the floor in front of my toes has had an effect on number nine. My waist measurement (that's around my tummy just below my belly-button) going from 42 inches to 33 inches is related to six. And the very fact that I've done it with my wife means it's affected two and seven.

Through the year I've had comments from everyone I've met. Of course the overwhelming silence from some people is a communication in itself that says more about the individual!

As I've mentioned on other posts this year - it's something I didn't think would/ could be possible, but I've achieved it.

And now it's time for me to move on - because I'm certain I've bored people to tears with the whole weight-loss thing! I'm looking onwards and upwards.

2) Truisms That Are Actually True: i) Marriage Is Wonderful
Having been to several weddings this year, and spent a lot of time working on my own marriage in 2008, I can unequivocally say it is wonderful. It is where I have discovered so much about myself - what really drives me, how I behave in reaction to another and the difference I make all that wonderful stuff - mundane and important.

Looking back since I got married, and over 2008, I can see how I have changed. I prefer to use the word evolved. I'm a different person, because of being married, and so's she!

I feel 2008 has definitely been about discovering each other within marriage. We've spent a lot of time looking at ourselves and our lives together and what we want to create for and with each other. I know 2009 will see a different set of concerns.

3) Writing/ Creativity
This is perhaps the area that's caught me by surprise the most. It was one of my themes for 2008 - exploring my creativity. I took the step of getting some of my friends together and creating the non-sequiturs. The idea was to meet regularly and write on a specific theme. We met a few times, but the whole thing has died down.

To be honest, it's died down because I couldn't be bothered to keep driving it. Part of me was fed up at having to take the lead, get things going, write stuff up, keep it alive. I've been there and done that a few times in my life, and this time when it atrophied (as all things do when left to 'default' setting) I haven't revived it.

I don't know whether things will change - because something positive has come out of it. We each managed to write one short story on a theme "The Wild". I've since shown mine to quite a few people around me (including several English teachers) and the response has been pretty positive. It's been described as a cross between "Catcher in the Rye" and "American Psycho" - and if you're reading this - you should read both those books.

This whole experience has coalesced the idea for my book. That's the bigger project I'm working on over the next three to five years. One person I've spoken to, who has experience in the publishing industry, says it's very difficult to create something original, or to find a different perspective on particular issues. They feel I've got something to say, and need to get it down on paper. Some of you will know about my book and my ideas. Some of you may even be in it.

Watch this space.

Apart from writing, my music has had ups and downs this year. It peaked with me practising guitar quite a bit, but has since troughed with a damaged guitar. I cannot now plug in my favourite guitar to my computer or my amplifier, and I'm now considering buying a new one.

I've noticed that I've been scared to pick up the guitar - perhaps because of my own expectations in my head. Somehow writing and performing my own songs is so much more of a naked experience. Writing a blog and ranting for people to read seems to hold no fear for me. Neither does karaoke in the form of Sing Star. But playing guitar and singing for those around me? A lot harder, unless they are close to complete strangers.

My wife doesn't really know that I'm quite a good guitarist. I mean she knows I can play, but she can't really relate my skills to anything she's listened to. So when we see a guitarist on television playing something quite innocuous that sounds good, I get asked if I can do that. Truthfully - I can...but I've been afraid and avoided exploring and expressing myself in this particular area.

It's sad really, as without music; without guitar - I'm not sure I would have reached my thirties. (Oh I know that sounds dreadfully melodramatic, but hey a little melodrama never hurt anyone...)

Anyway, this is really a roundabout way of saying: i) I've created a myspace page for my music called goateezmusic (there's one of my songs on it), and ii) I'm going to do a guitar grade in 2009 (thanks to SLB) to give me some focus on playing, and actually formalise my skills.

My music is alternative/ folk. Any comments, ideas or whatever then - you know...the very thought of other people listening to my musical expression...well...it's out there now.

I think this going to force me to put more music out there...I've always had an excuse not to - no more! 2009 will see a more creative force emerge.

4) Politics
So this year I've noticed: my cynicism with people (it was always there), the apathy around me (even from so-called intelligent people), unacknowledged conflict in the world (Darfur anyone?), mass-media manipulation (CNN or BBC - oh what's the difference?), shocking behaviour from children (can you tell I'm a teacher), and people blindly worshipping their God (from the old man in the sky in the bible, to pure consumerism).

There is enough food to feed everyone but still people die of starvation.

And I've reached the following five points:
i) people are fucking dumb (and I didn't even say this - I'm quoting George Carlin)
ii) politics is based on lying, cheating, stealing and greed (which drives everything)
iii) a revolution is coming/ happening: culturally and spiritually
iv) anarchism is valid - and it is different from chaos (read some Chomsky)
v) death is inevitable, I never own anything, and I can never take anything with me

Nothing particularly outstanding about these points, but this year I've my usual questioning has kept up constantly. Sometimes I've been told that it's so tiring to constantly analyse. I just find it interesting and satisfying.

And perhaps the biggest insight of all is that laughing is often the most appropriate response. Comedians and satirists have a skill that I love - to observe the world around us and get us to think about it by making us laugh is wonderful.

By thinking about my politics and politics in general, I sometimes feel/ think/ know/ judge that my sole purpose in life is wind people up. This year I've become even more keenly aware of my world, and how it clashes with those around me. I know my place in it and I relish the opportunity to make a point, to challenge, to keep pushing. Making people laugh is so close to offending them too - it's not too much to ask for both.

Oh and Obama? Well, he's likely to expire under the weight of expectation his "Yes we can" morphed into "Yes we may". Some people around me seem to think he's going to be assassinated in his first term - and that makes them cynical. No he won't be assassinated - that's too sledgehammer like for the establishment. No it'll be far more insidious. More like he'll kept in power by those really in power (you know those with all the money) and make a real hash of it. Then all we'll hear will be "See that's what happens if you elect a black man!" thereby permanently eliminating black people from anything resembling power. Yay mission accomplished - the long-term politics of exclusion plan.

Besides politicians are nothing but puppet power - it's not even the people who have power...even in a democracy...

Oh and I was recommended "Blazing Saddles" the Mel Brooks film - wow it seems just like the American Presidential Election!

And – the House of Commons is a fucking oxymoron.

5) Racism: It's Everywhere!
Deal with it. And if you disagree with that - you're a fucking idiot!

It's transparent, it's institutionalised, it's global.

Like I said, deal with it.

6) My Background
I've learned/ written/ discussed and pronounced lots about this through 2008. And I keep reaching new heights of understanding as my culture reaches new lows of behaviour. Yay!

7) Truisms That Are Actually True: ii) Marriage Is Hard
Marriage is hard. We've had our ups and downs, but I this year we focused on each other and also discovered/ acknowledged/ faced another aspect to marriage and relationships. There's no way to describe it other than the Dark Side - I know, I know a Star Wars reference but I can think of no better way of explaining it.

I'm not perfect. I make mistakes. Marriage seems to be a never-ending discovery of my own imperfections by having them pointed out by my life partner. I've had my mum dad and sister replaced by a wife. Ah - truthfully not so much replaced as enhanced. Each one of these people blessed with the skill of being able to "help" me as they see fit. Most of the time I don't see it as help, and about half the time it isn't help (although as much as I can I listen to it as help). Of course when it's not, I respond appropriately.

This is what I signed up for when I got married.

8) Money and Teaching and Money
So I actually applied for some jobs. I actually had some interviews. I wasn't successful in any of them. I was upset. Perhaps it was because I wasn't ready or it "wasn't meant to be" because "things happen for a reason" or whatever bullshit I choose to believe on a particular day.

Either way I'm still in the same job. As much as I love it, money is becoming a concern. I mean the big picture is that I want to have a family. To do that I need to be able to cover a mortgage and living costs on one income. Can I do that? Can I do that on a teacher's income? I don't know.

Every so often I keep thinking I should leave teaching and I could earn more money doing something else. All the old concerns about gender-roles and being the breadwinner all come up. I should provide for my wife. I should be able to take care of my family. My dad was a father at 26 years-old and here I am at 32. Friends around me have children or pregnant wives. What am I waiting for?

Money. The root of all evil? The means to an end? A conversation? A scarce resource?

Something I need to focus on for 2009 perhaps.

Not money, but priorities. Some people around us are saying just have the children and work it out. Some part of me thinks that's just irresponsible: bringing a new life into the world without the means to take care of it. But it's only when I throw my hat over the wall that I'm committed.

So a new job, higher earnings, more creative ways of getting money perhaps. Another D'Souza in 2009? I don't know - but what's brilliant is that dialogue is happening - and that's the main place things can get created.

9) Clothes
During 2008 I spent more on clothes than I've probably spent in the last five years combined. Losing weight meant that I actually needed to buy new clothes, but it also seemed to awaken a latent interest I've had in style and looks. I've always been aware of what people think of me - not in the negative sense, but more in the sense of wanting to make a point to people all the time. I've noticed that I've expanded my repertoire to include how I dress.

Combined with this, I've also got rid of tons of old clothes that I felt didn't represent me. Funnily enough, a lot of them were clothes that were bought for me. I had stuff in my wardrobe I hadn't worn for (quite literally) years! The local charity shops have benefited from my clearing out.

I noticed now I quite like being a chameleon: being smart when appropriate, being scruffy when I want. I still revisit the baggy trousers and hoodies of my youth - I don't think that part will ever die - but going out I needed to be able to get into a smart place and still be me. So I'll add a bit of quirk here and there...a Che or Skull badge; my wallet-on-a-chain; bright colours; t-shirts with distinctive slogans; a sweatband with a Decepticon logo on it.

I've always realised how important context is, but I've never really been able to exploit it with clothes until now. For example going to a metal club with a t-shirt that says "masturbating is not a crime" is no big deal - the clothing label Porn Star (popular with skaters) has been around these circles for years. Wearing it on a night out with the teachers at the end of term has a different effect. Equally, dressing "smart-casual" on some nights out with friends has drawn a response because I'm known for being a scruff-bag.

My sister has never had a problem with this - she's always just instinctively known what and how to dress and where and when to wear what. I like to think that's improving for me. I also like to think I'm evolving and becoming a little more adventurous - trying new things and combinations. (Although, I will still always love the baggy trousers, trainers and hoodies!)

Since losing weight, a whole world has opened up.

10) Balance and Flexibility: Mind, Body and Spirit
2008 saw me take on the Shaolin training method, learned from a book. And very effective it's proved to be: my flexibility has increased incredibly - touching my toes, one-legged squats, and the full lotus position are now no longer physical impossibilities!

It all started with seeing Karate Kid on tv again. I'm sure it contains as many life lessons as Star Wars - one of which is balance: "Better learn balance. Balance is key. Balance good, karate good. Everything good. Balance bad, better pack up, go home. Understand?"

Miyagi also says, "Remember lesson about balance? Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?"

I think in 2008 the physical became balanced with my emotional and mental side. One has always been stronger than the other - I've never been particularly physically fit or into sport, but I now feel more at home with my body because of the Shaolin training.

Getting my yin/ yang tattoo was a good reminder! Balancing everything is the challenge in 2009 and beyond.

So that's 2008 done and dusted. I'll be posting my themes for 2009 soon.

J.

This post was brought to you by: reflection, and old endings and new beginnings

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

One Hundred Push Ups-Update 2

Right...here's a quick update!

I'm into week five.

And it's absolutely killer! I've got to day three twice now, but I've not completed it!

I've also got stopped at day two...

It looks like I'll be stuck here for a while! I don't think the Christmas period is helping much - a time of excessive consumption (food, money, drink) doesn't help.

Ah well - keep on running I say - I'll get there in the end! I still think press-ups are a genius bit of fitness...

Friday, December 05, 2008

One Hundred Push Ups-Update

OK OK OK! So it's been ages since I've posted yeah yeah I know.

So here's an update on the whole push-ups, press-ups whatever-you-wanna-call it.

On the last update, well I had to repeat week four...so I did...except I got ill...so ill I actually had to have a day off work (how ridiculous!) I finished week four...and did the test at the end of the week...but barely managed 30. It was because I left two days before doing the end of week test.

Grr...I was getting annoyed with myself and lack of progress.

So I did week four again (for the third time).

This time, I managed it, along with 32 consecutive push-ups to move to week five.

Finally!

At this point I was thinking - ok - I'm into week 5 - how on earth can I get to 100 press-ups consecutively, when I can just about to 32 consecutively?

I began to see it was possible when I saw week five...oh my God!

In the meantime, at school I've mentioned this to a few people, including pupils. Some of the guys in the sixth form have started taking it on. One is progressing quite well! In a chat about this workout with some pupils who study P.E. I realised I'd been breathing wrong.

All the workout stuff I've done says that you need to breathe out when exerting, and breathe in for the next repetition. Kinda obvious, but takes some focus. For the press-ups I'd been doing it the wrong way round - breathing out going down, and in going up.

As soon I changed the breathing, doing press-ups got a lot easier, and I've now managed to complete day one and day two of week five...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

One Hundred Push Ups-second week!

Yikes is what I have to say this week...Yikes!

Perhaps because last week was half-term, and this week just gone I've been back at school - or perhaps because I had a hugely indulgent Saturday eating LOADS...when I set out to do week four, I found it almost impossible! (That's five sets of the following press-ups: 12, 14, 11, 10 and 16 minimum)

I think that the first week had definitely lulled me into a false sense of security.

Day one, I just couldn't do it. I complete the first set really easily, but struggle after that. So, this week, I've repeated day one (my Monday) on day two (my Wednesday). I realised I have to pace myself, and it does say to rest 60 seconds or longer if needed. So I rested 90-120 seconds between each set.

And on Wednesday I managed to complete Day One.

Friday, then I had to do the day two workout, and just managed to do it - with a slightly extended rest-time...(that's five sets of the following press-ups: 14, 16, 12, 12 and 18 minimum).

This meant Sunday had to be Day three.

I'd had a brilliantly productive day, but had also eaten loads and was really full. I was nervous as I set out to do it, but I took heart from the fact I could rest longer between each set...

And you know what? I did it: 16, 18, 13, 13, 20! I rested 150 seconds between the first two sets, rising to 180 seconds before the last one, but I kept it steady, didn't rush and just managed it. Jelly arms afterwards, but I did it!

Yay!

Next was the exhaustion test on Tuesday to determine my starting point for the next week...

I was nervous...but went for it...kept going...and managed to eke out 30...phew...

I was glad to see some progress from my initial 22! I wasn't sure if I was expecting huge improvements.

Checking on the website for the Week five workout, I can see I have to repeat Week 4 (not that I'm that surprised) because the minimum required is 31 consecutive press ups! A bit more strength building for me then!

I'm also going to start doing the workouts every alternate day rather than three times a week because I think I had too much of a rest between my Friday and Monday.

Phew and Yikes!

Monday, November 03, 2008

One Hundred Push Ups-first week!

My initial test was 22 good form press-ups, so on checking the information, I saw I could start at week three. However, more because I'm chicken than anything...I decided to start at the lower level...(there are three to choose from).

And I'm happy to say I managed this week. Despite my arms feeling like jelly at the end. It wasn't impossible, but it was a challenge.

Bring on the next week...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Pilates, Shaolin Workouts and One-Hundred Push-Ups

Perhaps those close to me would say that I like a challenge. It's one of those bland, filler phrases that seems to occupy CVs everywhere. Some part of me likes to think I do enjoy a challenge and that I rise to them. Of course when you meet one goal, the next obvious thing to do is to set a new one...I'm all for moving forward!

So I'm getting really close (like REALLY close) to my weight-loss target. I actually met the first one some time ago, and set a new one...progress! So I've been keeping my mind open for opportunities.

I've gotta say that the Pilates has been brilliant this year. I'm sure it's strengthened my core and all that jazz. I did it for over six months, three times per week quite religiously. I managed to complete a basic Pilates book by Jennifer Dufton - all the way up to level three.


I haven't found a class to push myself further, but I found something else...
MBaKAM [DVD]
I got sucked into watching a great tv series called Mind Body and Kick Ass Moves and found the dvd really cheap online and watched the whole series...a couple of times. Chris Crudelli presents it in a very down-to-earth style I found totally fascinating to watch. It inspired me to revisit my own (very short) foray into martial arts when I did tai'chi at the age of 21!

I never completed the Yang Form as it was called...and I kinda regretted it ever since. However, Amazon being the genius that it is - suggested a book that people bought when buying the dvd of Mind, Body and Kick Ass Moves...it was called The Shaolin Workout: 28 Days to Transforming Your Body, Mind and Spirit with Kung Fu .

I bought the book on a whim...and I expected it to be an instructional book - a bit like the Pilates one.
I got more than I bargained for!

Yes it's an instructional book, yes it shows exercises and stuff to do but it also introduces the basics behind Buddhism and the practice of Shaolin Kung-Fu. The book is structured to be completed in 28 days. The really interesting thing is that not only does it have physical exericise, but it also includes a daily meditation.

I bought it not only for the physical side of it, but also the mental discipline.

The Shaolin Workout
So when I started reading, I realised I'd taken on something quite weighty so as a teacher I was glad I had the summer holidays to practice! It's taken me since July to get through the 28 days...but I can completely recommend it.

At one point I was working my way through the book, and doing my Pilates too. I noticed that my Pilates was waaaaay better. I've felt the results of this workout really quickly in terms of flexibility and becoming leaner. It actually says in the book that most people stop other forms of exercise such as Pilates. I didn't think I would...but I have! This workout is more intense...but has similar benefits.

I can touch the ground in front of my toes, with my feet together.

Yay!

Now - I'm practising the full workout everyday. It takes me around 40 mins...and on average I burn 350-400 calories. (I can tell because I invested in a heart-rate monitor...it's helped me with the weight loss!) Which is a lot - considering all I'm really doing is stretches, kicks and punches...

Aside from all this, I still do a one-man-mosh-pit workout for about half-an-hour occasionally, but my latest thing (always gotta keep moving forward!) is something I've heard about ages ago (thanks Jules), but only recently looked up: one hundred push ups.

This beauty of a workout is designed to get you to be able to do one-hundred press-ups consecutively. It requires no special equipment, and no previous knowledge. Genius!

I started it on Monday this week...and it's spread over six weeks. The workout consists of completing five sets of a specific number of press-ups, three times a week. Obviously it gets harder as you keep going. Part of the workout is also measuring progress by seeing how many you can actually complete.

For my initial assessment I completed 22 consecutive, good form press-ups. Admittedly, it was straight after my shaolin workout, but apparently 22 is still quite good.

So I've started another journey.

It also gives me a reason to keep writing my blog more regularly! Watch this space!

J.

This post was brought to you by: Pilates, Shaolin Kung-Fu, and being able to touch my toes.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Goan Overseas Association: G.O.A.


[Edit, Oct 2016: You might be reading this from a link posted on GoanVoice.

Note that: 1) this is a post from Oct 2008, and 2) it contains my personal opinions. The eulogy I delivered at Marcus' funeral is here.

You may also be interested in reading the speech I delivered at Selma Carvalho's book launch 'A Railway Runs Through' - in my opinion, the most important event in our community for a generation.

Enjoy reading this post - and comment if you have an opinion...]

-----
Me? Rant? Never!

Any of you that actually (bother to occasionally) read my blog will know that I have opinions on stuff.

One area particularly close to my heart is the nonsense of a mish-mash of influences that makes up my wonderful culture. Yes, yes I'm spouting off again about my place in the multicultural society of the United Kingdom. If you don't like reading what I have to say about my particular minority (of a minority) then stop reading now.

For the uninitiated, my first name is James, I have a Portuguese surname, my parents were born in East Africa, I originate from India and I was brought up Catholic. I have a Surrey accent, my English is excellent, I get mistaken for a terrorist when I have facial hair, I listen to metal, and I feel I have more in common with Italian Catholics (Sopranos and Corleones) than the way Indians are represented in the media (brightly-coloured-clothes-wearing, Bollywood loving, "bud-bud-ding-dings").

Any Goan reading this intimately understands the juxtaposition of influences I'm talking about - and all Goans have their own way of dealing with it. (It's just a shame so few share my love of Metallica...sigh...)

Of course different families have different ways of dealing with the immigrant experience - especially into a culturally vibrant (violent?) city like London. One of my senior family members decided to attempt to bring together Goans in the UK as one of the founders of something called the Goan Overseas Association. (G.O.A.)

The thing is the intervening years have had an interesting effect on the community...I think each immigrant culture in its struggle to establish itself in a new country, also seeks to make the influence of its mother country stronger by holding on to traditions.

Goan people were no different - the generations that came here held on to their romantic notions of colonial civil service jobs in East Africa with their own schools, libraries and social clubs, where English was their first language but they could converse in broken Swahili.

Even further back than that, Goa is a tiny province in the vast subcontinent of India (it never ceases to amaze me how surprised people are when they confront what a huge country India actually is!) that is primarily a village culture.

So what did immigrant Goans also do to hold on to their past? They simply recreated village culture by founding village organisations in the UK - along with all its petty squabbling, vindictiveness and insular thinking...

So there's the big organisation the G.O.A. trying to recapture the spirit of East Africa...and the village organisations also trying to recapture the spirit of 'true' Goan village life. A Match Made In Hell, and some say a Recipe For Disintegration.

And I'm born into that. Yay!

Ironically enough, one of the things Goans are best at is integrating into their chosen country - with English as their language, Goans have conquered...the UK, US, Canada, Australia...

But it's a wonderful double-edged sword...

...so when I was asked by the current MD of the Young London Goans Society for my opinion on how the G.O.A. could plan its future (set out in the form of the three question below)...I responded with the following...

(By the way - if you're not Goan and you manage to read this - it'll give you an insight into Goan culture, but also [I think] the workings of any immigrant community...perhaps even any community...Goans are humans after all - and sometimes I think the issues my community deal with are just a small part of what we're struggling to deal with as human beings.

Then again I could be wrong...

...but I digress...)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dear MD of the YLGS,

Here are some of my thoughts.

Are they taking you seriously? This whole exercise is massively overdue-something must have shocked them out of their stupor...what is it?

Perhaps the best approach is the extreme one: (that's guaranteed to get a response) close down the G.O.A. and distribute all the assets to charity. Perhaps the G.O.A. has run its course and needs a complete rebuild from the ground up?

Anyway...here goes...

1. How can the G.O.A attract more young Goans to their events?

As they are currently-they won't. Even us younger people can't get nostalgic about our own romantic childhood of 'dances'. The key thing is that we feel no affiliation with a village, nor some throwback to the East African days of G.I. and Goan School.

I think we would much rather try to feel 'Goan' rather than anything. That's been the reason why YLGS succeeded.

The G.O.A. needs to show a united and integrated front to Goans and the wider community. I think if the G.O.A. positioned itself as a champion of Goan culture not only for Goans but for EVERYONE in the UK; if the G.O.A. represented Goans not ONLY FOR the insular inward looking Goans of my parents' generation but TO the wider population then it would increase its credibility with younger people.

If we saw the G.O.A. being consulted on the news, or read about them in a broadsheet, it would instil the kind of pride in our culture that's missing - and being driven by the younger generation.

There has been too much of a focus on looking inward and it's costing us our future.

Each tiny minority culture has it's voice and specialist areas in London-it's what makes London wonderful. Where are Goans?

Our integration is our greatest asset and our biggest weakness. The G.O.A. does not have even the slightest understanding of this. Young, talented, articulate, high-earning Goans have no pride in their culture because they've seen the example that's been set for them. Why would we want to be part of that? No wonder none of us want to take on being a director of the G.O.A!

So here are my ideas to attract more young Goans to their events. Bear in mind, I'm approaching this as a long-term strategy - there's no quick fix.
- reposition the G.O.A. as a representative organisation for Goans TO the wider UK population - look outward not inward
- actively seek to be profiled in the media to instil pride and raise awareness, then once published, let word-of-mouth do the rest
- approach some younger confident Goans about shadowing a director for an insight into what goes on
- start practical discussions and debates (inviting younger people) about what constitutes Goan culture - AND RECORD IT - starting to get it down on paper would give people focus
- begin practical things to educate younger people about our culture: e.g. Konkani, Cooking etc.

The last few will only work if younger people feel listened to and represented: there was not a single young Goan who did not know about the family on Eastenders at the time. In these media-driven times - unless the G.O.A. starts to embrace it, and actively put out a positive message to younger Goans - they are destined to disappear.

Evolve or die - it's simple.

2. The G.O.A are thinking of having affiliated organisations more directly under their control e.g village associations. What the G.O.A could offer associations to entice them into becoming an affiliated organisation and being more directly under the control of the G.O.A?

Nothing. The village organisations are as inward looking as the G.O.A. There is no way those organisations would give in their autonomy. There would need to be a representative from each village as a director on the G.O.A. for the villages to feel they still have something - which is unworkable. It comes back to what I was saying before - the current membership of the village organisations has dwindled because they have not thought about how young people feel - we have no sense of being part of a village - we're Goan: not from Moira or AVC or Mungul or wherever. Each village organisation faces an identical struggle to the G.O.A. to attract a cyncial, angry and apathetic younger generation - but who can blame us?

The original purpose of the Standing Conference of Goan Organisations (S.C.O.G.O.) was to do just that: give every village a chance to feel part of the wider Goan community and be affiliated to the G.O.A. Over the past 20 years its descended into the Goan community coming together to eat and drink (dependent on the weather) while a subtle undercurrent of despair about our future bubbles away.

I think the only thing the G.O.A. has are the resources to become a truly (inter)national organisation representing Goans abroad. We're spread out all over the world - but London and the UK attracts so many different cultures (including Goans from India and everywhere) that we're in a position to provide a focal point for it. I think the G.O.A. is aware of this, but just doesn't have the skills (because no younger people are involved) to achieve this. I remember when I was about 13-14 or something, and went to the Moira social, they had a 25 year old president or something (whatever - he stood out because he was so young - a maverick). I remember feeling wow - he's young and old at the same time. He was someone I felt I closer to. I remember thinking he was amazing and I'd like to be like him - he made a speech and everyone listened and respected him. He even played piano and sang for the everyone (I also seem to remember he had a white girlfriend - although I can't be sure!)

Realistically, I think the village organisations need to call it a day, write up their obituaries, collect them together and hand them to the G.O.A. for posterity. Then the skills, expertise and people need to put aside their differences and step up to be part of the G.O.A.

Again - this would only happen if the G.O.A. became associated with the national consciousness - a couple of articles or profiles of Goan culture, with the G.O.A. at the helm in the Times/ Mail or even on a cultural programme on tv would allow something to happen.

So here are my suggestions:
- get everyone together, and get their opinions on pooling G.O.A. and village resources - but let a young person chair it (e.g. YLGS MD/ committee)
- get all the representatives from the village organisations and G.O.A. together and sit them in a room to (shut up and) listen to what a few of the articulate, high-earning, talented, YOUNG Goans have to say about the future of their culture

One of the things I've learned as a teacher is that young people do not feel that they're listened to. The G.O.A. and village organisations are guilty of this. Opening the dialogue between village and G.O.A. via the young will make a big difference - but only if the young people are talked to by someone worth taking seriously. That's why a tv programme or newspaper article would make such a difference.

3. What are your views on the G.O.A membership fees?

Verging on pointless. The only benefit I seem to get from them is that I can get a discount for tickets to events that I don't want to go to or have any interest in attending. The only reason I pay them is that I'd still like to get an invite to the A.G.M. and attend if possible - so I can put across the young person's viewpoint at the meeting...even though I'm probably considered old now! I almost feel that people became life members for show - it seemed to be a demonstration of commitment to the Goan community that they could wear as a badge of pride to all the other Goans they knew: i.e. a hollow gesture.

Membership fees would be worth the money if people felt they received a tangible benefit. The problem is - as the older members die off, they're not being replaced by younger members willing to pay...so the G.O.A. is faced with shrinking membership, AND shrinking revenue - which could mean the end of their only trump card - the resources to effect change on a national level and influence the national consciousness OUTSIDE the Goan community.

My dad is a life member - but he's not interested in participating in the decision-making of the G.O.A. (that's the example that I've grown up with!) The only benefit he wants is discounts to future events - he'll turn up, enjoy the event, chat to a few old-boys, dance a bit with my mum, and come home (all with the subtle undercurrent of despair about the future of our culture bubbling away).

The other point is that I think members cannot see their subscriptions being put to good use. There is such a level of apathy and cynicism about the G.O.A. that has been brought about by the charging of membership fees. It seems like it's people like myself who have to pay yearly - my dad's generation all seem to be life members and don't need to contribute a yearly amount! (At least that's how I understand it - I could be wrong!) The attitude seems to be - "the G.O.A. have enough money from the sale of the 'clubhouse' - why do I need to pay membership fees?"

So a couple of suggestions:
- make all the financial dealings of the G.O.A. open to everyone - members and non-members alike. As a paid member, I've heard people express such cynicism about the G.O.A.'s finances but they don't know the truth.
- negotiate some tangible benefits such as money of flights from a particular travel agent, or money off ordering from a website (some revenue sharing can be agreed I'm sure!) This would also encourage younger people to see a tangible benefit to the events

The overall background to all of this - is that the Goan culture is going to disappear because there are so many versions of it - we cannot agree between ourselves what constitutes our culture. I don't speak the language (and neither do my parents!), I don't cook the food properly. I don't feel at home in Goa, nor am I completely at home in the UK: I'm not Indian; I don't fit in with Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Italian Catholics, Irish Catholics or Indian Catholics. It's a big mixture and mess.

The G.O.A. is in a position to do something about this because they have the resources - but without listening to us and letting go of the romanticised notions of the past, those resources are destined to be wasted.

That's why I almost feel the best solution to stimulate action would be what I said right at the beginning: close down the G.O.A. and distribute all the assets to charity. Perhaps the G.O.A. has run its course and needs a complete rebuild from the ground up?

Hope this is useful.

J.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

If you've managed to get down to here, thank you for reading.

You may now be in several places:
1) You are Goan and you agree broadly with what I've said, but you don't really care. In which case, never mind eh...there are bigger things to worry about.
2) You are Goan and you agree broadly with what I've said, and you care a bit. In which case, post a comment.
3) You are Goan and you disagree with what I've said, but you don't really care. In which case, never mind eh...there are bigger things to worry about.
4) You are Goan, and you disagree with what I've said, and you care a bit. In which case, post a comment.
5) You're not Goan, and your STILL reading, and you think what I've said is interesting. It's opened your mind to what a mess the world is in, and given you an interesting insight into what James does in his spare time. In which case - thank-you, and congratulations - please post a comment.
6) You're not Goan, you're STILL reading, but you don't really give a shit about what I've said. In which case - congratulations - post a fucking comment anyway.
7) You're one of my friends or acquaintances who will humour me by reading my blog occasionally, and you've heard me talk/share/muse/rant about my upbringing before. And you think I'm funny. In which case,
I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to fuckin' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny? You said I'm funny. How the fuck am I funny, what the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what's funny and post a comment.
8) You're related to me. In which case - please do not post a comment, and don't embarrass me by talking about my blog.
9) You stopped reading when I asked you to stop reading near the top, but you couldn't resist scrolling down to the end.
10) You're dead. From reading this post. Oh and trying to decide which category you fit into because you're desperate to feel part of a crowd - which by the way - was what killed you.

This post was brought to you by: coconuts, bounty bars, and ideas for books

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Weddings, Friends and Countryside

True friendship is not being inseparable. It's being separated and nothing changes. - Unknown

That quote sounds kinda obvious, but in practice it's not easy to keep up with everyone. Relationships evolve, people move around, we grow apart.

Having made it through six or so weeks of school, I've now got the relative luxury of a two-week (yes I'm not joking) half-term to relax. It's made me more contemplative of the events of the summer...I mean I was planning on writing something when I got back to school...but school and teaching have a way of taking over your life...hehehe...*

Anyway - over the summer (and since the beginning of the year) several of my friends and acquaintances have got married. I think that weddings are these heightened social occasions where you can learn more about yourself and your attitudes to life than in other places.

I mean at weddings - especially if you're relatively peripheral to the bridal couple - it's easy to end up repeating the same niceties about career, family, relationship status, interests and all that. I became very practised putting together a short social vignette about myself for easy consumption - perhaps I'll shorten it to a haiku one day...

Being of the internet-using-blog-reading-pda-wielding-social-networking generation that I am, I almost felt that I could carry a printout of the ubiquitous facebook profile around with me...save on the talking just say "Here - read this" and be done with it...if they feel like responding - yay!

But these weddings - wonderfully celebratory that they were - they were places that I found out that I'm quite happy with my lot in life. I found that I'm not completely social inept, I (kind of) enjoy my job, and care about my family (most of the time).

Or perhaps it's just me keeping up appearances?

Weddings are also places where old social circles get together - and get all nostalgic about the past. University gatherings can be great or hellish for this - dependent on your outlook. (Actually a night out with work colleagues - especially if they're teachers - can be particularly hellish for some!) I received some nice compliments from people I went to university with (one was that I was her first male friend - before me, she never knew she could just be friends with blokes)...it's true - I just seemed to fall into the old role I occupied while at university (you know life of the party, funny, cheeky general all-round wonder-man...erm I exaggerate).

I think friendship has nothing to do with the frequency with which you see someone - it's about the strength of the connection, and maintaining that connection. It's about how you leave the interaction that's important...you know if you leave on a low or with anything left unsaid...that's when problems start.

That doesn't mean friendships are irreparable...

What made the summer even more contemplative was the fact that we were driving through England's Green and Pleasant Land from one wedding to another. Of course the Great English Summer Weather played its part - from lashings of rain to bright sunshine, it seemed that it added a more thoughtful air to everything.

I might have averaged 90 m.p.h. on the drive up to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, and I might have had a nice weekend away, but it still felt like a summer.

And only now I've written this do I feel like Autumn has arrived and Summer has passed...

J.

This post was brought to you by: friends, weddings, and the English Countryside.

*The thing was - this post is dated when I actually started it...but I finished it yesterday!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Teaching - Part Two: Testing, 'Standards are Falling' and Career Progression in Teaching


This is a long post...and as I'm of the internet-blogging-opinionated generation, I'm aware that reading loooooong paragraphs is less palatable online than it would be on a book (wait 'til I write a book!) So, I've broken up this post into the areas that have been occupying my mind. They're kind of related - in that they're all about teaching; I'm just not sure if they'll flow together that well.

Sooooo...as it's the day before results day (A-Levels that is). Testing might seem like the best place to start...

I suppose results day is the culmination of my hard work; the point at which I get measured as a teacher.

The free-marketeers* out there would probably make a case for performance related pay for teachers based on the results their pupils achieve. I wonder if that's realistic? Would I be willing to put my neck on the line to that degree? I think it would probably encourage all sorts of dodgy 'creative' practices - anything to get a higher result. We'd end up with highly prescriptive syllabuses, lots of testing to measure pupil progress, a system of comparing schools to see which are producing the best results (a league table perhaps?), targets for schools, departments, and pupils, schools choosing subjects that are 'easier' to get higher grades, teachers 'teaching' to the exam...etc. etc.

Hmm...that is sounding oddly familiar to me...oh shit - that's what's happening already!

I have to say, sometimes I think over-emphasis on testing, and achieving results stifles pupils and teachers. My A-Level and AS-Level boys have taken exams. I know some of them are not looking forward to tomorrow. I've said to them - every single one - your best is all I'm asking for as your teacher. I've provided everything I can for them, and I want them to achieve all they can. And you know what? Some will, and some won't - that's natural.

But teaching isn't all about getting an 'A' grade in an exam - although that's definitely what some of my pupils (and some parents) think. Getting an 'A' grade is no guarantee of success in life either. There are enough entrepreneurs to demonstrate that.

Surely teaching and being in school is all about learning - not having a bunch of facts in your head that you can write about in some shitty exam!

Psychologists sometimes say that all IQ tests measure is how good you are at IQ tests. Perhaps all exams do, is measure how good an individual is at exams. In other words, exams measure how good an individual is at following the current educational system.

It's got nothing to do with learning.

That's why I'm quite happy that my lessons meander all over the place (yes it's true - ask some of my pupils). I always have a point that I'm putting across, I've got a clear structure of what I'm teaching, and I'm covering the required material, but my teaching still has to be set within these parameters. That's why I think young people get frustrated - not because they don't want to learn - but because they have to shoe-horn their heads into an educational system that doesn't value learning, but values knowledge, and being able to pass exams.

Like I said - I want my guys to do their best, and that's going to be individual to them: not everyone can or will get an 'A' grade. For some - a 'C' grade is going to be the pinnacle of their achievement. But I feel the current climate of testing devalues some pupils' efforts, and discourages them from trying.

And don't think the pupils don't know - they're fully aware of the system and the situation. Some are willing to play it to get into university. Others say, that school doesn't teach them anything useful.

The truth of teaching involves taking the dryness of a government prescribed syllabus, putting it across to young people whose default setting is 'I don't want to learn' in a way that engages them, and get them 'A-C' grades.

If we don't, we're failing. If we do, standards are falling.

Ah yes - the other yearly headline 'standards are falling' - sometimes I think it's a bit of a catch-22 for teachers and pupils. How does a 18-year-old feel? Imagine the situation when they've put everything into revision and their exams, they're happy with their results, and some (dumbass) older person they know says something like "of course it was much harder in my day, standards have fallen you know".

They'd probably feel like shit.

As if they don't have enough to feel shit about already. Anyone who thinks that teenagers have it easy have forgotten what it's like being young.

But also, when (older) people go on about kids taking O-Levels and not being able to do them (I'm sure there was a channel 4 programme about this...) they're completely missing the fucking point. The world now is a very, very different place from what it was when O-Levels were taught in school. It's an impossible thing to do, but I'd like to see some teenager who took his O-Levels in the 80s, attempt his GCSEs in the noughties - as a teenager.

I think they'd find it really difficult.

I'm 31-years-old now, and the world was a very different place when I was 17-18! I didn't have a mobile phone, the internet barely existed, and I wrote my essays with a cartridge pen.

Young people nowadays are media-savvy, technologically-literate, highly socialised (and sexualised) beings. I think peer pressure is huge issue - not helped at all by the media and big business foisting images of sex, violence and family breakdown everywhere. Films like KiDULTHOOD, Bullet Boy, Kids, and Thirteen explore these issues - every parent and teacher should watch these films.

Young people are emerging from childhood far faster. It's part of the gotta-have-it-now culture that surrounds us. A bit like force-ripened fruit.

Yes the world is a very different place, and the older people - the policymakers who grew up decades ago - would get eaten alive if they were teenagers now.

That's not to say it's that different from any other time - young people and older people will always be different. Bob Dylan said it best with his song the Times they Are a Changin' in one verse:
Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.


What's different now is the pace of change. I read somewhere (I wish I could remember where I read all this stuff) that one of the measures of a civilised society is how it takes care of its young. (I think there might be some other parts to that idea...not sure what they might be).

With Testing and 'Standards are Falling' teachers are under pressure to produce. I mentioned before about teaching being in a Catch-22, but I keep asking myself about the future, and my own career progression in teaching.

The thing is, it varies wildly from school to school, and from person to person. Some of the earliest advice I got was to choose your school carefully. In these times of the 'credit crunch' it would seem as if teaching is a recession-proof career.

But, as I've hinted at in earlier posts, I can't shake the niggling feeling of whether I'm doing the right thing career-wise. Perhaps I'm just looking for reassurance from people around me...perhaps I'm just putting myself under pressure to earn enough money to start a family...or perhaps I'm just responding to the frustrations of being in the classroom that I've outlined.

I don't know.

Every month (it's relatively often now), I do have the thought - I should forget about teaching and get a better-paid job in industry.

It might even be linked to the vague background feeling I sometimes have of cynicism. I changed careers almost on a whim. I mean it started with me just saying I was going to become a teacher, and the rest 'fell into place'. But now I have doubts about my effectiveness as a teacher. I'm not sure about it. I think as far as my career progression has gone, I'm used to being a little bit out of my depth - in a good way! Like it forces me to develop. I suppose being out of one's comfort zone is what calls forth development.

Sometimes I feel it might be that teaching isn't giving that to me right now.

Or maybe I'm just not good enough.***

Teaching as a career does offer lots of areas to progress: head of department, head of year, exams officer, timetabler - there are a range of things that need to be done to keep a school going. Teachers I have spoken with rarely have a 'conventional' career-path - from previous jobs to doing lots of different things in one school to moving from school to school.

Another recurring thought is that I've done all I can in my current school, and that's part of my frustration. The space for progression is limited in a school that doesn't change much over time. It seems as if the typical pattern is that young teachers are employed (because they're cheaper**) and they stay for a few years before moving on to bigger and better things at other schools. Meanwhile, the people established in middle and higher management only change when someone retires.

Yes my concern is that as I approach my first wedding anniversary, I need to be earning more money to buy a house and start a family. Yes I'm worried about my ability to provide that with a career in teaching.

Ironically, the number of teachers is set to fall as more and more approach retirement. Hence the current government incentives to encourage record numbers of people to train - and they all mention money (in true Capitalist style!*) But reading the teaching press, it seems as if lots of people train to become teachers, only to leave the profession a few years later. There 's someone I know who did just that. Some of the reasons cited included pupil behaviour, work overload, lack of progression etc.

Do I add myself to that list?

I do wonder where has my initial enthusiasm gone. It was enthusiasm (combined with sheer bloody-mindedness, and yes a commitment to educating young people) that sustained me through 'cause for concern' forms, lack of support, debt, and my own inadequacies. Would I just be wasting that if I stopped now?

I'm not even sure I could change careers again - I mean I'm in my early thirties.

I do have a choice - commit myself to teaching, rediscover my enthusiasm, and forge my own path, or go back and find a job in industry.

The annoying thing is I've experienced choice and commitment as moment by moment things. I've been there and wanted to eat loads of chocolate, or not go for a run, and two-stone later I've got the results consistent with those choices and commitment.

But with teaching - it's almost as if I'm waiting for the profession around me to give me something, to validate my experience, and tell me I'm ok. When I guess the thing to do is shit or get off the pot...

And I'm just one teacher.

What a wonderful profession I'm part of!

J.

PS: I think today has been an opportune moment for me to get these thoughts down...bear it in mind as you read the papers tomorrow...all this stuff has been swirling around my head for a while now, and I'm glad it's out.

PPS: Any advice or thoughts - post a comment.

* I think it's obvious I'm devouring with great glee Naomi Klein's book The Shock Doctrine - a post will follow...

** As a school in the Private Sector, the drive to stay profitable takes on extra importance. Some people say it's the driving reason for policy decisions: cost-cutting, maximising pupil intake etc.

*** For those in the know - and they're aware who they are - it's a deliberate choice of words.

This post was written by: fear and doubt, wonder and worry about the future, and shitty fucking teachers.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Be careful with advice...

I got in contact with someone I used to teach through the wonders of Facebook, and they asked me for my opinion on a particular situation. So I thought, and wrote. And the results were interesting enough for me to post here.

But first a quote, and at the same time a disclaimer:
Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who
supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of
fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the
ugly parts and recycling it for more than
it’s worth. Baz Luhrmann - Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen)


Just bear it in mind as you read this...

...oh and I've altered some bits to keep things private...so here you go.

I have been thinking about it...because I went through a similar situation. I don't believe in advising people on what to do, because everyone has to figure out their own way of doing things.

I don't really have anything to add to your own way of thinking through the situation. Yes it's difficult, yes it's painful, but I get the impression you have no regrets from the whole thing. I don't think it's negative or pathetic to stay friends, or to want to stay friends. I think the problems start if you don't let go of her - 'cos then you'll be thinking you'll get back together or something when she comes back. That would be a difficult situation to get yourself into.

It is going to change her, and it will change you too.

Here are some other points to think about...

First - it takes a lot of courage and maturity to tell the truth about a situation, and then act on it. Courage is being afraid and taking action anyway - it's not like courageous people don't get scared! For both of you to sit down and talk about the future and where things were going for your relationship takes a lot.

Second thing, I strongly believe is that with relationships we have to keep moving it forwards and growing. Otherwise there's no point being together. You know how some couples stay together for years, but nothing changes? They get comfortable and don't put anything into their relationship with each other, don't create something to move it to the next level. If they don't it will die...the problems start when people deny that something is ending. Seems as if you didn't do that - everything had run its natural course - and you were faced with a choice - and have made it.

Third, everything takes work - the OC, One Tree Hill, and Hollywood have got a lot to answer for...that's not what real life is like for us, but people still get upset when their life doesn't look like a film! All relationships take work - friends, family, colleagues whatever...and there are some days I don't wake up full of love for my wife, job, family or whatever...I'm human after all...but then I do have a choice about what I do/ think in the next moment...

Last thing, there's no right or wrong for how long a relationship is supposed to last or what you supposed to do. It's not even about quality or quantity - just your own experience of it all - and it sounds as if you had a good one...life is made up of the good and bad...might as well enjoy misery and happiness - they're part of being alive!

There's always gonna be doubt about 'did I do the right thing?' and the 'what if?' conversations in your head, but that makes no difference really. You can afford the luxury of looking back on really good memories...

Hmm...seems like my thoughts kinda spiralled there...hope there's something useful in this message!

Keep on rockin...

J.

This post was inspired by: someone I used to teach, advice, and pure opinion

Friday, July 25, 2008

Something worth posting...

Yes it has been a long time since I’ve posted something proper. I think it’s because I’ve felt that I haven’t had anything worth posting. Just over halfway through the year made me reflective – remembering the three themes I was looking at this year. I think I felt it had to be something quite significant before I wrote anything – and I think I’ve found it.

Two stone. Twenty-eight pounds. Twelve kilograms. It’s quite a lot of weight. And that’s about how much weight I’ve lost this year (in reality it’s a little more, but the two stone sounds more impressive – to me!)

If people want to, I think everyone KNOWS what they have to do to lose weight. Eat less and exercise more. That’s basically it…and that’s basically all I’ve done! I did practically no exercise last year…and now it’s become quite natural. I’m proud of the fact I’ve changed my habits for the better.

But the whole knowing thing is interesting. Morpheus says in the Matrix, there’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path. Perhaps because I’ve become more aware of it, or perhaps there’s more of it around – but there’s a LOT of information and knowledge about losing weight, getting a six-pack, losing the belly and all that jazz. I’ve heard it somewhere, but the truth is, knowledge makes fuck all difference. I have to get off my arse and do it.

I had this discussion with a relative recently. They know exactly what they’re supposed to do – but they still insist on buying cakes and biscuits, and proceed to eat them! It’s not easy shifting lifestyle, but it’s certainly not impossible!

The other thing that’s helped of course is doing it with my wife. It’s something we’ve worked on together. One very funny recent comment from a friend was that after you get married, you’re supposed to let things go! Getting married has made me think a lot about the future – family, health and all that. What kind of dad would I be if couldn’t at least keep up my children?

As I’ve said before, I really didn’t give a shit about taking care of my body and well-being. I used to drink a can of red-bull every day…sometimes two in a day! I used to eat a pack of three Reese’s cups about two or three times a week (over a month I bought the entire stock in that particular shop…) I used to eat Burger King and Pizza Hut without a second thought. I used to get knackered walking up the escalator at a tube station. I used to wear really baggy clothes, and pretend that the fact I couldn’t see my toes when I looked down (unless I bent forward slightly) was not a problem. Funnily enough, no one really commented. I guess I put the weight on gradually.

Perhaps that's also why I felt the need to grow my beard so long. I was hiding my face and my embarrassment. I mean I love styling the hair and everything, but having my beard as I did last year was probably a sign of some deeper issue. Perhaps. (Freud would have a field day). Of course, deep down I did know what I was doing, but there was no way I was going to confront the truth. That would mean admitting to myself I didn’t care. Far easier to ignore it, and make out like it wasn’t a problem.

There was a turning point, where I had the thought “I should do something at some point” that was at my stag do. We played 5-a-side football and myself my best man and couple of guys were warming up. I found I could not touch my toes; they were a good six inches from the floor. Everyone else in the room could. (Interestingly enough, at this point I'd been to the doctor for a check-up and he'd told me I needed to lose about two stone...I just ignored it). Inside I was deeply embarrassed. I was fat, but I hid it well.

So, just over six months down the line this calendar year (and about twelve months after I felt I should do something about it - perhaps I spent six months getting up the courage?)…new habits have been formed, and I’m living a different lifestyle. It’s been hard work, but I’ve got there...some of the new things include:

1) I exercise regularly
Never would have thought this would have been a habit...but it is! Instead of sitting around watching TV, I actually feel like doing something...I did do a run for half-an-hour in January - but I felt like I was going to die! Luckily, we had a simple stepper machine at home - and that kept me going. First time I went on it, I managed ten or so minutes before my feet hurt too much to carry on. I think the thing that made a big difference was listening to music while doing it! I basically took over the iPod...from Fear Factory to Metallica and SOAD - it was all there - and it kept me going...I don't think there's any better workout music!

But then, a while ago - I broke the stepper machine - all my hard work would be for nothing...so my latest method of exercising is simply putting on the music and dancing round the flat! I remember when I was at university, I would go out on a Saturday night and go for it on the dancefloor for about four hours non-stop! During my year out, at our regular haunt in Kingston, the dancing became a full workout - yes really! Dancing to heavy metal, and making it look cool was a brilliant workout!

And after nearly dying the first time I ran for half-an-hour - I now run about 5km fairly regularly now! I even ran the school fun run in my lime-green pimp suit...last year, that was definitely NOT going to happen...

I think the last thing of course is doing Pilates. Three times a week, every week this year (apart from two - when I went skiing, and when I was ill...) I highly recommend it. I don't even think of it as particularly girly - but apparently it is! I'd like to see some of the guys do the moves - they're not easy! It's even managed to tone me up - I have noticeable arms! A bicep (albeit small). It might not sound like much, but it's a MASSIVE deal for me - I've always been the short, round, brown guy with a big mouth...I'm still short, and have a big mouth...but I'm not so round!

2) I eat fruit and veg.
Most days I ACTUALLY GET MY FIVE PORTIONS A DAY! Total shock! Last year it wasn't much...now grapes, clementines, bananas, cucumber, tomato, broccoli...we did start the year having lots of smoothies...but I've gone off that idea, mainly because it's a bit of an unnatural way to get the fruit in. I don't mind Innocent smoothies because in a serving of their stuff, you could actually eat the fruit in it (like a bit of an apple, a bit of a banana, some strawberries etc.) Anything made from concentrate...well I'm not having...can I eat thirty oranges in one sitting? Nope...so why would I drink it?

3) I actually take note of what I eat!
Yeah well, it was quite obvious that I didn't care what I was putting in...we actually bought some nice digital kitchen scales to measure out what we eat...shocking! I have a much better awareness of how much to eat, a good portion or not etc. I think before I never listened to my body - if I was feeling full, it didn't matter, I had to finish what I had on my plate...or what I took...of course that doesn't mean I don't eat desserts and stuff...much more in moderation...and if I'm going to, I'll make sure I do a good bit of exercise to burn it off!

And the secret to all this? Well yes - eating better and exercising are the basic foundation, but my wife found a very good structure for supporting us here. Now when I first read about it, I was totally cynical - another idea for us to try and follow...but we have stuck to it. And the results speak for themselves.

I think that the heart of all this is making a promise and sticking to it. We just followed the guidelines...simple, but not easy.

Needless to say, after all this, I can now touch my toes.

The question now remains - what's next?

J.

PS Check the before and after pictures!

This post was brought to you by: weight-loss, confronting the truth, and what the doctor told me.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Teaching - Part One

Yes I know my enemies
They're the teachers who taught me to fight me
Compromise
Conformity
Assimilation
Submission
Ignorance
Hypocrisy
Brutality
The Elite
All of which are american dreams

Thought-provoking bunch Rage Against the Machine. I've been listening to them in the car to and from work. The lyrics above are from Know Your Enemy. Do teachers have that much of an effect? I suppose teachers aren't only in school, but that's the usual place to find them.

It's got me thinking about teaching.

More later.

J.

This post was inspired by crap teachers, shitty pupils, wonderful music, and righteous indignation

Sunday, March 02, 2008

To Shave Or Not To Shave

I am not a fucking terrorist.

I'm also no stranger to controversy. I think that's something people know about me.

Growing my beard was always going to bring forth people's stereotypes. I mean - everyone knows a terrorist has a beard right?

To be honest, the initial inspiration behind my current facial hair was Leonidas...yes it's that sad. I enjoyed the spectacle that was the film 300...and chose to grow my beard like the lead character. There were several other excuses I cultivated:
i) I was going skiing in February and needed to keep warm...(bollocks!)
ii) I'm raising awareness of male health issues, especially prostate cancer - yes that silly month of 'Movember' (note that I acknowledge the importance of raising awareness of prostate cancer, but a vast number of shitty moustaches on men in London does not make me think it was the best way of doing it)...
iii) I have it for religious reasons (total bullshit - although lots of people immediately assumed I was Islamic - ahh the human capacity for living in assumptions...)
iv) I'm growing it to court controversy and expose people to their own stereotypes and judgements, and thus bring about an elevation in their consciousness (yawn)
v) I like the way it looks...(true and somewhat convincing)
vi) I can't be bothered to shave (true and perhaps the most convincing)

It was quite amazing that my facial hair change this time round could generate so much controversy. I've always changed it pretty regularly and people accept it...what can I say? I get bored...I liken it to a woman changing her hairstyle/ colour every so often.

I can deal with silly comments from strangers - that just makes me laugh - especially as they're so rare. It's the comments I get from people close to me that annoy me.

The initial reaction from the closest one was a bit apprehensive at first...but she loves me whatever I look like! I had initially said I would shave it off coming back from skiing but I got too attached to it (pun intended).

No - the reaction from some of the other people close to me was horror, thinly disguised disgust, followed by general disappointment that I could go through with leaving myself looking the way that I do.

Admittedly for about two months I let it grow wild.

Then before Christmas I trimmed it...it looked quite stylish...so much so my grandmother actually said she liked it...(maybe that's not the best indicator of style).

Then in January I sculpted it further to its current incarnation imitating Leonidas - it's original purpose.

It then started to get annoying being constantly asked 'when are you going to shave it off?' Predictably this spurred me on to keep it for longer. What makes it more interesting is that the logic behind their protests is 'it makes you look like a Muslim' (read that phrase again and imbue the word 'Muslim' with a certain amount of disgust and that's generally how it was said to me).

To my mind that's no fucking reason to get rid of my beard.

It's also an indication of the narrow-minded, judgemental nature of humanity, and it does annoy me. It seemed as if growing my facial hair is viewed as condoning ignorant, suicide-bombing, narrow-minded, morally-reprehensible, woman-persecuting terrorists.

Perish the thought that ALL terrorists have beards and are Muslims.

Perish the thought that ALL Muslims are terrorists...yet that's what some people around me think. I suppose I should be glad that those close to me are taking the time to point out how dangerous world that we live in actually is; that they're just expressing how much they care, by telling me to shave.

Aren't we better than this? Surely we can see through the ridiculousness of it all.

Apparently not.

It got me thinking about perceptions of terrorists...Russell Peters has a few things to say about it...so does the Loose Change documentary...[By the way - every self-respecting person living in a democracy owes it to themselves to watch the loose change documentary.]...but are people really that bothered by a beard?

I think people are manipulated by the mass media...Noam Chomsky wrote Manufacturing Consent ... we are more open to suggestion than we realise. Someone else I know is a big fan of 24...and he suggested that the series is American propaganda...apparently the main character is put in a position where he has to use torture to 'save' America - even though the U.S. is a signatory on the Geneva Convention. Are there circumstances where torture is justified? Is the series 24 'preparing' the American public?

All this from a beard...

Anyway - the time is right for it to disappear - I'm getting bored of my look...not sure what will be next - but I'm hopefully going to raise a lot of money for charity by having a live beard shave at school...for every £50 raised, a section of the beard will disappear...some boys are (apparently) willing to pledge a lot of money to see it go; another group of boys want me to keep it...either way, it will disappear eventually.

If only people's prejudices and paranoia would too.

J.

This post was brought to you by: prejudice, everyday racism, and beards.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Giving and receiving

Difficult situations happen. A lot of the time I don't know how to deal with them.

One of the hardest to deal with is relationships...they're always changing.

I find it hard to balance them, and a lot of the time I feel like I just annoy people. According to some, I'm not very discreet and I'm called 'King Blurt'. Some other people think I'm quite professional and sensible.

Some people I know find it easy to ask for what they want.

I'm not one of them.

Teaching psychology makes me think about my own situations...I think it takes a certain person to study and teach psychology. Someone hinted to me recently that perhaps I overthink things, and I should accept things about myself as they are...including my body shape.

I want to help people, and the planet. That's why I became a teacher. I really want to help the people I care about the most too...but it never seems to pan out quite the way I'd like it to. Someone I know has been through a really difficult situation, and I don't think I've been the best support I could have.

Even then, it's still expected that I'll be the one giving the support - I created this situation for myself. I prefer giving to receiving.

So what happens when the shit hits the fan at my end?

I think I'm becoming the worst thing I thought I ever could be...and something I never thought I would.

A cynic.

I'm wondering where my never ending well of optimism has gone.

J.

This post was inspired by calls not returned to people I care about, a post I received on MySpace and AQA Psychology

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Obesity, patience, and other stories...

First thing to say - as of this post I've retired the song title game. I think I need to make it a bit more obvious what I'm talking about post by post. It was time for me to move forward.

So here we go...

1) Obesity
Now if anyone read my last few posts, and has got an idea about what my themes for the year are, then you'll know that one of my preoccupations has been my weight. Apart from all the self-conscious stuff, and really not caring about my body, I've discovered a lot about myself this year.

I did some digging around and found that I'm almost obese.

Now it's easy to get all scary about it, but I was checking on the World Health Organisation (WHO) website, and the National Obesity Forum (an independent UK charity). According the WHO, having a body mass index over 30 is a crude definition of obesity. Over 25, and you're overweight.

At the beginning of the year, my BMI was 28.8...and I'm sure it was higher last year...

...so that makes me nearly obese...

Nothing like the truth to wake up oneself.

More scary, was the fact that waist circumference could be a better predictor of later problems associated with obesity (e.g. diabetes, high blood pressure etc.) than BMI. I measured my waist (and for a bloke it's not where the trousers sit - it's the area just under the navel) and have found myself to be in the highest risk category for those future problems.

Even more interesting, waist circumference could be considered to a be a better indicator of health in south-Asian people than BMI - due to different body make-up...

Again - nothing like the truth to wake up oneself.

I am doing something about it: eating properly and exercising. I'm actually starting to give a shit about my body and take care of it.

The plan is to live until I'm 100 years old.

2) Patience
I had my patience severely tested at school. I've never really totally lost it with a pupil at school. Even when I 'go mad' it's all for effect - being a teacher gives me free rein to express myself and I take that opportunity.

But I'm always responsible and aware of what I'm doing.

This week, my self-confidence was shaken by a pupil who got under my skin because I let them. The stuff this pupil was saying, and the way he was delivering it was designed to get a rise, and attention.

When the attention was withdrawn - the pupil really didn't like it. It was the contempt the pupil showed for the class, and learning that got to me.

I kept my cool though, and I've since moved forward, but it's not over yet.

It's made me re-evaluate my career direction - I know what my skills are, and my curriculum vitae is being updated accordingly.

However, it's also made me think about the pupil too. Something must have been going on with them, to have them respond like that. It's third year I've taught them, and I've had a pretty good relationship and respect level with them.

Being a teenager is not easy...and old people who say it is have forgotten what it's like.

3) Other stories
Last week was our half term...and I went skiing with my school in Austria. It wasn't that much of a holiday - because it was like being a teacher/ parent/ guardian all in one for 24-hours-a-day...but the pupils were pretty well behaved - and I had good time.

Now, I don't have much of a reputation as being the most athletic or sporty of teachers, but I gave it my best shot. On the first day, I couldn't get up - it was soooooo difficult! The second day was just hugely frustrating - I kept skiing out of control and crashing. The third day, I got much better...and even got a certificate for being the most improved skier!

But one thing I've learned - ski boots need to be perfect. And mine weren't. They were too tight or too loose...so they rubbed/ bit into my shins so I've got a nice set of cuts and bruises that are only starting to heal now.

This meant the fourth day - I didn't ski. I was in too much pain. The rest of my group were up on the mountain having a great time.

I did ski on the last two days - and actually on the mountain. I was a day behind the rest of my group, but I did myself justice, and managed to keep up with them. All the pain was worth it to see the views from the mountain - and the satisfaction of skiing all the way down!

I still think that the only reason the lead teacher asked me to go on the trip was purely for comedy value...

J.

This post was brought to you by: weight loss and skiing, with a healthy dose of frustration

Friday, January 11, 2008

MTV makes me wanna smoke crack


The mammoth musical monolith that is MTV.

Music television...

...it sucks. Badly.

Its corporatised, homogenising, nonsense is rotting the brains of everyone.

And THEY DON'T PLAY ANY FUCKING MUSIC! I THOUGHT THAT WAS THE WHOLE POINT?

I remember and cherish the time when I could actually turn on MTV and see music...it was a revelation - music 24-7 - a whole video...wow!

Now it's full of truly shit reality TV. Ah - but this is the corporate money-making age. Where there are millions to be made selling the celebrity to the brain-dead masses...but not just everyone...oh no - different groups of brain-dead masses.

First came the inevitable geographical divide...MTV Europe...MTV UK...

Then the splintering of genres (according to some Viacom marketing exec and his research...I can imagine it 'focus groups of 18-24 year old teenagers show...) so now we end up with:
MTV One: for brain-dead teenagers (yes it may show South Park and Strutter, but the humour is waaaaay beyond the dumb-ass audience)
MTV Two: brain-dead, 'white-emo' boys...who are desperate to be different from everyone, but still contribute to money-making monolith
MTV Base: brain dead black people and white people who want to be black
MTV Hits: pop for the generally brain dead...perhaps the bored housewives?
MTV Dance: something for the weekend? Getting ready for a drugged up night out?

Ah - I hear you VH1 viewers - you're above this right?

Wrong - guess who owns VH1? It's a sister channel of MTV.

Nice...for Viacom...

Live music is where it's at...live music and recommendations from interesting people...that's what I think is the best source of finding out about music...not that the radio isn't interesting...I only listen to C(r)apital Radio for Johnny Vaughn - I think he's hilarious in the mornings.

But where else is there to find out about new music? Myspace? YouTube? I'm not sure.

Keep music EVIL I mean...LIVE.

And GIVE ME SOME GOOD MUSIC!

J.

And to end with - just so you know - this post was inspired by Beck...and yes he did write a song called 'MTV makes me wanna smoke crack' - it's on the Loser CD single...

Friday, January 04, 2008

Sign "☮" the Times: 2007/ 08

New year makes everyone a bit more reflective.

Not that I'm any different - I too look to how the last year went, and what the next year could hold. I'm not too enamoured with the idea of New Year's Resolutions though...I mean every moment is another opportunity to turn something around...a new second/ minute/ hour/ day/ week/ month/ year...I've heard it called the eternal moment of now...or the power of now...

2007 was a pretty big year for me...here are seven standout moments.

1) Getting married.
That was the zenith...along with everything associated with it...rekindling friendships, eating good food, etc.

2) Going over to the Dark Side.
I bought my MacBook in August, and I've never looked back! It really does get things done...turn it on, wait a few seconds, and get going. I need to investigate the office side of things a bit more - mac: office is ok, and does the job of using all my wonderful excel spreadsheets...but I can't help thinking something better is out there. Of course, when I get a 2nd Gen iPhone it'll be perfect...but that's later.

Someone said to me recently that having to use PCs and Macs means I'll be bad at both instead of good at using one...I guess I'll have to go over completely to the Mac side then...

3) Discovering Facebook.
OK OK...it took me until February (and I'd been using mainly MySpace amongst others until then) but the social networking phenomenon of the year did impress me. I found it interesting that it's managed to cross age groups...from professionals to school children. Mark Zuckerberg is poised to be a billionaire...I still use it...albeit more sparsely than I did before.

4) Giving up.
Giving up on something I felt totally passionate about has definitely affected me.

I see how easy it is to sell out on oneself, and that it's a normal state of affairs for most people.

The rather heated argument that happened earlier this year was almost as big a turning point as getting married. I've let it permeate everything I've done since, and it's contributed to my general level of unhappiness (which in turn has led to number seven below). Even now - just about seven months on - I don't feel I've emerged from it. I'm not too sure that I will.

But that's down to me.

The wonderful irony to this point is on a Facebook application, my friends have rated me the happiest!

5) Enjoying teaching.
I finally feel as if I can teach. I am enjoying the journey. I'm not perfect, and I feel as if there's a lot more I can improve on, but after the turbulent beginning my confidence is finally growing. Even the boys enjoy my lessons. Part of me is a bit disappointed I wasn't inspected - I still wonder what the observer would have made of some of my rather chaotic lessons.

6) Playing Wii.
So simple. So much fun! I'm now part of the gaming fraternity...although not the hardcore Halo 3/ PES08 lot...I'm just a mean tennis player! Nintendo completely altered my viewpoint on computer games...from being over-involved and taking ages to master, to being something I can easily play with friends.

7) (Re)discovering guitar.
For so long I'd been trying to nail one particular practice exercise. And through steady practice I got it. I think being generally not happy has driven me to the guitar...that and harnessing the genius of the metronome. The crowning moment has been finding that I can play the opening to Disposable Heroes by Metallica...the rest of the song approaches...key practice songs have been Cowboys from Hell by Pantera, the solo in Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits and Master of Puppets by Metallica - with downstrokes.

That's the past over and done with...so what about the future?

There are a few themes in my head...

1) Addressing being 2st overweight.
That's what the doctor told me. I know I need to lose weight, but I've not been bothered to confront the vastness of my belly...that and comfort eating my way through unhappiness has done nothing for the wonderful opinion I have of myself.

I really just haven't cared.

Seeing pictures of myself ten years ago, I felt fat then! Yet I keep wanting to get back to that...and I think that's the mistake: romanticising the past. I'm seeing that a more effective approach would be to create something for the future...and go for it.

2) Developing creatively: blogs, books, business and music.
Given the increase I'm going to have in free time...I think it's about time I started putting music to all the lyrics I think of. I don't know how I'm going to record it, but I know that I've got something to say...

The same goes with my writing. Having this blog is just a starting point...ideas for books and stories float around my head, but I'm not sure how to get going. I've got the bare bones for a book kicking around on my comp...I've just not added to it for several years.

Apart from music and writing, I've got a few entrepreneurial ideas too...this year will be the time to get them going...I'm just wondering if my but is too big...not that anyone will see me on Dragon's Den anytime soon - if I'm going to do it, I'll do it on my own terms. Besides, what better way to teach business studies than running my own...

3) Continuing Personal Development.
That's CPD in teacher-speak...last year I learned a lot about my own strengths and weaknesses...and spoken to the boys I teach for some inspiration. They've given me a lot to think about.

But I need to determine my focus, and my future in teaching. I know I'll stay in the profession (it's funny how what I predicted is happening - teacher numbers decreasing as people complete the training, but don't stay in the career) despite all my misgivings - it's just choosing a direction.

Note: if anyone I teach/ have taught is reading this - feel free to post a comment...

And there it is...are those three 'New Year's Resolutions'? I'm not sure. I don't want to be one of those silly idiots who makes resolutions every year and does nothing about them, and wonders why their life isn't fucking changing...

...we'll see...I'll make this an annual post...

Perhaps blogging it will make me more accountable - now you all know what I'm thinking about, you can ask me how I'm doing on my three things...

This post was brought to you by the musical genius of Prince