Meditation in Schools :: Why Isn’t Everybody Doing It?

Image from @actionhappiness

Image from @actionhappiness

This article is just over a year old and tells of how the introduction of twice-daily meditation in San Francisco schools yielded astonishing results in terms of improved attendance, achievement and mental state of many previously troubled children.

In years past, these students were largely out of control, frequently fighting in the corridors, scrawling graffiti on the walls and cursing their teachers. Absenteeism rates were among the city’s highest and so were suspensions. Worn-down teachers routinely called in sick.

Unsurprisingly, academics suffered. The school tried everything, from counseling and peer support to after-school tutoring and sports, but to disappointingly little effect.

Now these students are doing light-years better. In the first year of Quiet Time, the number of suspensions fell by 45 percent. Within four years, the suspension rate was among the lowest in the city. Daily attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, well above the citywide average. Grade point averages improved markedly. About 20 percent of graduates are admitted to Lowell High School – before Quiet Time, getting any students into this elite high school was a rarity. Remarkably, in the annual California Healthy Kids Survey, these middle school youngsters recorded the highest happiness levels in San Francisco.

So why doesn’t something similar exist in every school, everywhere?

Of course, it may be much more common than I’m aware. I’m looking into it. In the meantime, if something similar is practised in your school, do let me know in the comments.

Self-Control :: You Are What You Really Really Want To Be


Struggling with the self.

Interesting angle here focusing predominantly on self-control. The article cites Martin Seligman early on. Seligman is like, the granddaddy of Positive Psychology, and in a 2004 study entitled Character Strengths and Virtues, a survey of two million people showed that self-control was the personal skill that was least in evidence. And it is certainly important.

All the happiness strategies I come across involve doing things every day. Not impossible to achieve things, but things that require a little self-control – just a little, just to get you over the resistance. Actually, thinking about it, self-control is fundamental to any kind of successful life. Imagine all the things you wouldn’t do if you had better self-control. And therefore all the time you could spend doing the things you should be doing.

Anyway, this article highlights the mindset of the self-controlled. What do people with self-control do? Well, they forgive themselves, they focus on solutions, they squash negative talk, and so on. It’s an interesting article, which I may well finish later, and if I don’t, it’s because Forbes is a business magazine, and I personally find business just a little distasteful.

But yes, nice angle.


Illustration by NotKeith.

Fitter, Happier, More Productive…

Interesting piece here about rewiring your brain to circumnavigate the malign influence of what I like to call toxic thoughts. Yes, I do. Interesting mostly because it’s an article I’ve already read many times before and it makes me realise that I could be writing this kind of thing already myself. Also interesting because it totally fudges the science.

Painting by NotKeith

BEWARE TOXIC THOUGHTS. (Painting by NotKeith)

The difficult thing about Positive Psychology is that it still sounds – because of the word ‘positive’ and despite the word ‘psychology’ – like some New Age Mickey Mouse pseudoscience that really has nothing more productive to tell us than ‘smile and think positive and everything will be alright’.

Of course, along with be generous, be grateful, take some exercise, do things you enjoy and believe in something outside of yourself, that is pretty much it. Which is why the science is essential. I want to know about the experiments, and the proof.

The nearest this article really gets to the science is a mention of brain fibre and this paragraph here…

To be very clear, every thought you think has a corresponding emotion tied to it. Anytime you have a negative thought, you will always have a negative feeling. If you have a positive feeling, it’s because you are thinking positive thoughts. It only takes 17 seconds of concentrated attention on a thought, or story of thoughts, for your brain to begin to rewire. It contains very powerful energy, which can be shifted into either a positive or negative direction.

Hmmm. ‘Very powerful energy’. I think the only people who are going to be impressed by this kind of thing are probably already converted to the happiness cause. I want to turn the others. The ones who think it’s all a lot of nonsense.

That’s what I want.

I’d better get on.


Celebrating Real People, Promoting Physical Fun

Devised by Sport England to encourage more women to make the effort to enjoy sport, the #thisgirlcan campaign is a thing of genuine beauty and unfettered joy.

As is refreshingly evident, the women featured in the film are real humans, plucked from their local parks or gyms or where-have-you and thrust into the limelight, unsullied by commerce. Sport England’s CEO Jennie Price told the Independent, ‘No actresses, no models, no airbrushing; that’s been the rule.’

And the result is a thing of awe, and another beautiful baby-step in exactly the right direction…


There are more lovely little stories from the campaign here.



Twenty-five images of Christmas.


December 1



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December 10



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December 25


Let’s Go To Work


I’m very excited about the onset of responsibility.

It’s been a long time.

The last time I had to hold down a regular job in order to pay regular monthly rent and bills and whatnot came to an end just over four years ago. Since then, I’ve allowed myself to drift rather, into things and out of things, like a moth-eaten leaf on a questioning breeze, or a noble hound, following scents, not caring too much about my destination but generally aiming to please.

I drifted into the festivals project like a puppy under a cloud. I was confused. I was half-cocked. I had a bash. It didn’t work out. Then I escaped to France. Aaaah, le shack. Thinking now of that lovely little housey hideaway there on the edge of the forest, the first 18 months have coalesced in my mind to a feeling of stretching out in the hot sun on a picnic blanket on the grass. Which is not to say there was not bone-snappingly hard work in amongst the enjoyment, but just the sheer luxury of actual free time stands out as a rare luxury. Just having the option to do with your days pretty much as you please. And I did. And it was good. And I know how rare that is in the world of the rent-beholden. And I know how lucky I was. But now it’s over. Now it’s time to get involved with things again.

In a little under five weeks’ time, I’ll be moving into a charming house, in a very respectable rural setting in Cambridgeshire, with a wildly exciting woman and two wildly excitable hounds. It’s going to be magnificent. What’s also exciting is that this time I’m actually looking forward to the challenges of finding work. Thankfully, I have no obligation to settle for some awful noxious grind of a job. I can pick and choose. A bit of teaching. A bit of translating. A bit of journalism. A bit of self-publishing. A bit of subbing. A bit of gardening. A bit of guiding. And sizeable chunks I’m sure, of whatever else pops up from nowhere in the everyday thrash, whisk and tumble of life in the proximity of peoplefolk.

Peoplefolk. That’s what I’ve missed. And I am genuinely looking forward to getting involved with them again.

But first I need to put this website to work.


Here I go.


Learning to Drive :: Day Nine :: I’m Mr Brightside



This morning at 11.21, I had my driving test.

It went well. I gave ‘a tidy drive’. Only three minors. But, I messed up my gears at one point, and repeatedly tried to get the car going in third gear. It was a mistake I made a few times last week, when I was first learning to drive. And because I didn’t figure it out, I failed.

I am disappointed, and when I think of it, of that particular moment, I do cringe a little. But it’s OK. I’m genuinely not upset. Because I can do it again, and I can pass. More than that, I can drive now, and I couldn’t two weeks ago.

It’s also a shame because a very nice person I’ve not even met was going to give me a little van to play with. Ah well. There’ll be other nice people. There’ll be other vans.

So, all I have to figure out now is when and where to do the next test. First of all, there has to be a gap of ten days – a cooling off period. Which is kind of a shame because I think I’d rather have another crack at it tomorrow, or even this afternoon. But that’s not possible. Unfortunately, in a week’s time I’ll be moving to London for five weeks to look after a house and a cat. I don’t want to do my test in London.

As soon as I’m done in London, I’ll be moving to Cambridgeshire. So my options really are as follows: wait till then – January 19th onwards – and have a couple of refreshers in Great Chishil and do the test there, or, come back to Blackpool, get in the same car and do it here. I could maybe even do that in a single day before Christmas.

At the moment, I’m unsure, but I’ll figure it out.

I also need to get insured on my girlfriend’s car and start having a go in that in the meantime. My girlfriend’s car is a huge beast that kind of frightens me, but never mind. No progress without conquering fear.

Now I’m going to carry on preparing for my self-publishing frenzy leading up to Christmas and, for a week at least, forget about driving.

In the meantime, thank you to everyone who wished me well. And don’t be downhearted on my account. We’ll get the bugger next time.

(or the time after that)


Learning to Drive :: Day Eight :: Nerves

My Tough Mudder. The last time I did something that made me feel sick with fear.

My Tough Mudder. The last time I did something that made me feel sick with fear.

Apparently 1) you’ve more chance of passing your test at the beginning of the month than at the end 2) Blackburn has relatively easy test routes and 3) the potassium in bananas alleviates nervousness.

My test is in about 14 hours’ time.

I really hope I don’t mess it up.

Ultimately of course, it is a complete waste of time and energy to worry about such things.

Much more sensible to worry about the kind of examiner I’m going to get.

Two of my fellow learners – let’s call them Milo and Terri – had their tests last week and each had very different experiences with their examiners.

Milo was a very superstitious man, a man unable to pass a magpie without saluting it. I saw Milo after his test. He had failed, with two non-minor infractions. The first was staying out of a bus lane which was not at that time in use (which seems rather mean to me). The second was a repeated failure to check his mirrors. Fair enough. Milo’s examiner, however, at least according to Milo, was ‘a fucking prick’. The very first eye contact filled Milo – who is a very upbeat, smiley, sociable chap – with dread. His examiner did not smile, did not talk small, and basically showed no humanity whatsoever. ‘I bet he was a Man United fan,’ said Milo, a thick-accented Scouser.

I saw Terri before her test. She was explaining how she had just got changed into the t-shirt she got for completing the Tough Mudder obstacle course. She thought it might bring her luck to wear something that commemorated another challenge she had feared but ultimately overcome.

I saw her after the test. Her examiner had not only greeted her with smiles, but the first thing he said, pointing at her t-shirt, was that he too had done the Tough Mudder challenge. So they bonded over that even before they got in the car. After which, she said he was nice as pie throughout the test, chatting and laughing and putting her totally at her ease. She passed. Only three minors. She said the fact that her examiner was nice to her made absolutely all the difference.


The above photo – me on GMTV – is my Tough Mudder t-shirt. This blog post is me, wearing it.

Fourteen hours.

Apparently, if I stay focused, I should be OK.

Wish me luck.


Learning to Drive :: Day Seven :: Teenage Fishwife


You must meet all sorts of people running an intensive driving school. Well, I know you do. I’ve heard the stories. There was, for example, the very quiet man who’d just done twenty years for murder. Then there was the 80-odd-year-old woman who ran a funeral home; her dead husband was waiting in the deep freeze while she had lessons so that she could fulfil her death-bed promise and drive him to the crematorium. Then there was the psychotic young Scouse girl who arrived with her boyfriend on Sunday, and was escorted off the premises this afternoon.

I heard them shouting up and down the stairs to one another last night when other people in the house were trying to sleep, and I thought, Hmmm. Well, they’re extremely inconsiderate. But then I thought, hey. They’re young. They’re idiots. Give them a break.

Then this morning, the woman – let’s call her Grizelda – was railing against Kim, the owner of the company, in a horribly ill-mannered way – cf. teenage fishwife – accusing her of misleading learners by not providing enough theory training.

So then later, when Grizelda failed her theory, that’s when she really kicked off. Back at the school, she continued to shout at Kim, accusing her of ripping people off and so on. Then, rather than calming down and discussing her complaints rationally, she threatened to stab Kim in the face with a knife, there and then. Which was when the police were called.

It’s all over now but I can’t help imagining what kind of driver Grizelda will make if she persists. I imagine her driving around West Kirby, flying off the handle and pulling out a knife at the slightest provocation. Then I imagine all the other highly strung, borderline-psychotic drivers out there. Then I stop imagining them. Because all I can do is be as safe as I can possibly be.

When I start driving, I will endeavour to acknowledge my shortcomings, which will, for a long time, be substantial. I will be aware that I have lots and lots of room for improvement and when I make mistakes, I will endeavour to learn from them.

I will endeavour to never – yes never – become angry.

Tonight I am reading Roadcraft: The Police Driver’s Handbook.

And tomorrow I will nail my manoeuvres or as God is my witness, they’ll be scraping lollypop warden off my wheels for a week.

Ho ho.

Two more days.


Learning to Drive :: Day Six :: Manoeuvres


Advert for Bach’s Rescue Remedy homoeopathic placebo, which I believe to be 100% nonsense, but which I may very well be utilising come Thursday…

So. The only things I’m not confident about at the moment are some of my manoeuvres. Hill starts are a piece of cake. Three-point turns (or ‘turns in the road’, as they seem to prefer to call them these days) are pretty much OK. Reversing around a left-hand corner is more or less OK most of the time. Parallel parking is still a bit dodgy. Bay parking at a 45-degree angle is very dodgy. I have a pretty good idea now of where the car begins and ends, but only when I’m going forward. Going backwards, not so much.

But we’ve got time. We’ll be practising them a lot between now and Thursday.

Aaaaaaaah, Thursday.

Three days hence.

My instructor doesn’t seem to think I should have a problem. And he would tell me if he did.

My instructor is a bluff, bald-headed, generously-bellied man who might occasionally be said to verge on bumptiousness. He’s of the speak-as-I-find school of northerner. If he needs to bollock someone – his words – he’ll bollock ‘em, and if they’re offended, they can fuck off.

He probably wouldn’t make a great nursery school teacher or UN conflict negotiator, but as far as driving instruction goes, I have no complaints.

I don’t think I want him in the car during the test though. You can choose, and I don’t really fancy it. Having one person watching and judging your every move is bad enough. Two might just send me over the edge.

I just have to breathe, and stay calm. One of the new learners that arrived yesterday failed her test in April primarily because of nerves. Sometimes her nerves get so bad, she says, that she just starts sobbing. There was a guy here last week who had the opposite problem when he took his test at 17. He was too cocky. He was also kind of stupid. During his test, a young boy ran out in front of his car. He performed an excellent emergency stop. Then, with his blood up and brain out of commission, he rolled down his window and shouted, ‘Get out the way! I’m on my test, you little wanker!’ The examiner asked him to pull over, complimented him on his emergency stop and failed him on the spot for his lack of emotional control.

It’s a bloody minefield.