Solidarity

Hitler SATS result reaction video

I think that this is the most astute reappropriation of this video that I have ever seen. Manages to articulate so much about the current climate in teaching – the tricks, the fear, the utter meaninglessness of the gradings, the narrow focus on assessment, the aggressive hierarchy….

London Marathon 2015

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I am running the London Marathon on April 26th. I was lucky enough to get a place that isn’t dependent on raising a certain amount of money for charity, but it seemed like a good opportunity to try to collect a few pounds for a good cause anyway. So, if you would like to sponsor me, I am raising money for the mental health charity Mind – you can donate using the link below. Thanks!

On Migraine

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I was going to say this is ‘off topic‘, but I’m not sure I know what ‘on topic’ actually is at the moment. A few words, then, about migraine…

I’ve been a migraine ‘sufferer‘ (such a dramatic word, I know) since about the age of 11, when my first experience of the visual disturbance (the romantically mis-labelled ‘aura’) and the shocking, eye-gouging, localised pain logically suggested (at least to this already hypochondriac mind) brain tumour. A high-speed trip to A and E, followed by subsequent visits to various hospitals, doctors and specialists, provided a diagnosis of something that has now become an anticipated monthly, weekly and, mercifully only sometimes, daily happening. The strike tends to come from nowhere, the body suddenly infested by the flow of an invisible poison. The first sign is visual – the middle of my vision begins to pulse, the opposite of tunnel vision, the spot undulating and growing until I can not see anything directly in my line of sight. At other times, a slight crack appears, something quiet like a cat hair floating on the meniscus of water in a glass. The crack then grows, shifts and – again – pulses horribly, loudly… My heart sinks, knowing what to expect next. Experience tells that the best I can do is shut my eyes and keep them closed tight, as the amount of light allowed in at this early stage seems to correlate strongly with the intensity of the pain to come. This is often not plausible, however, when an attack comes whilst out in the wild, as vision tends to be required in the process of negotiating a way home. As a result, it is almost a relief when a migraine manifests at home and I am able to seek the solace of bed in an instant, knowing that I am once again spared the vulnerability of being stranded, nerve endings exposed to the elements. The pain part that follows, once vision returns, is now mediated by strong painkillers (codeine and paracetamol) that make the experience just about bearable. Pre-prescription painkillers (those over the counter remedies never make any mark), I was a mess of panic, pain and problem. I’m not certain whether it is the migraine itself or just any intense concentration of pain that causes the slight madness, a debilitating detachment from my usual semi-rational reality, but there comes an inability to think in anything like a straight line. Thankfully I have never found myself in a situation requiring precision life-or-death decision, but I dread to think how speedily I’d perish in the event of a zombie attack arising at the same instant as a bout of migraine. Other symptoms: a travelling numbness that moves from one side of my body to another, a tongue that feels like it has been borrowed from a dead cow, sickness (now, thankfully, less frequent, perhaps due to the painkillers), stomach ache, slurred speech and a dread that would normally accompany impending disaster. There are also the inevitable cancelled appointments and the associated feeling of always letting people down – which actually doesn’t happen as often as it might. I have come to see the idea of ‘triggers’ as a myth – or at least they must exist in such a complex combination as to render the pattern unreadable. There has not been a single instance (in spite of meticulously tedious food diaries) that has revealed any kind of causal link. The closest I have come is the realisation that I may perhaps, sometimes, under certain conditions (when the moon is in the blah blah blah) be more susceptible when I’m relaxing or calming down after a period of stress, but this element of life is impossible to control. It is very human to think that pain comes because we have done something wrong – if only we knew how to live properly! Preventative medication is also hopeless – I have tried everything – injections, pills, soluble abominations, crushed unicorn horns – and nothing has worked. And when the doctors’ advice became increasingly flimsy – ‘let us try this one again, because it really should work’ – I decided to walk away quietly to save them the embarrassment. So, now when an attack comes – like it did yesterday – I stay calm and, as immediately as is plausible, take myself away to a dark place, under covers. I have found recently that a quiet audiobook played in the background is useful in providing an alternative narrative to break the unhealthy, internal dwelling on the immediate; a reality that is unchallengeable but mercifully short-lived (I’m usually able to surface in a few hours and cannot imagine how those who are struck down for days on end can cope). Increasingly, I feel that that there is sometimes a ‘need to be ill’ – that for some, as mentioned by Oliver Sachs in his book ‘Migraine’ –  ‘the primary role of migraine [is] as a withdrawal of the whole body from the operation of a noxious or endangering stimulus, in short, as a particular form of reaction to threat’. My body just has to give in, and this is its way of telling me to hault. In this way, I think I’m learning not to resist, but to surrender to the experience and a rubbish inevitability. Sachs also quotes Wiggstein, stating: “The human body is the best picture of the human soul”, though I dread to think what the outward appearance of a body in the grip of migraine suggests about what lies within.

Running and Reading

I recently read this interesting article on the motivations of runners. It reflects on running as an end in itself, as well as recounting the usual motivations relating to health and happiness. My motivations for running regularly are a combination of those traditionally bound to brain and body. If pushed, I’d say the former provides the most dominant impetus, in that I run primarily to improve my state of mind – although I’m not sure it is actually possible (nevermind useful) to metaphorically sever the brain from the body.

I’ve stumbled across Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow in a number of unrelated areas recently, and I think that running is one of the few places I can claim to find full immersion in an activity. I often go running attached to some kind of device – thankfully out of choice and not as a physical necessity (although if I keep sustaining the clumsy cycling and running accidents I’ve managed to endure over the last couple of years I’ll soon be in need of a bionic limb or pacemaker). I often elect to run with an audiobook on my headphones, downloaded to my phone (previously an iPhone, now a Nexus 4 – in case that matters). Particularly on longer runs I find that an unfolding story fits well – whether fiction or non – with the constant forward motion. There’s a sense of progress and discovery that isn’t present in quite the same way when listening to music or being alone with my thoughts.

And, although in theory I would need to be more physically alert on a run than sat in a chair, with a book, in the relative safety of my own house, I find that I’m actually more able to achieve that elusive sense of flow, as if running helps to enable my suspension of disbelief and freedom from self-consciousness. This is perhaps counter intuitive – being the polar opposite of an exhibitionist, I’d expect to feel under scrutiny during such a public pursuit. However, now I’ve overcome the initial reticence to run alone, it often feels like the most natural thing on earth – certainly more instinctive than going to the shops or indulging in small talk.

When running, memories of scenes from stories I’ve heard on previous runs will often return, triggered by the locations where I first heard them. As a result, the physical surroundings of my most regular running routes are bound with manifestations from the minds of Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Julian Barnes, Audrey Niffeneger etc etc. Recalling these events and feelings that neither actually occurred in that location, nor directly happened to me, provides an opportunity for enjoyable and unexpected reflection.

These flashes of fiction add an extra element to the run, and I can’t help but feel that this experience provides access to a way of experiencing reading at its most alive.

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ZOMG!!!!!11!!!!1!!!

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For my last run of the year yesterday I downloaded a new app – Zombies, Run.

I often listen to audiobooks while running (one of the few instances of multitasking I can actually manage successfully), so I was interested to see how a more interactive audiobook-based app could work by actually storifying the process of running. The app uses gamification techniques, adding challenge and rewards to increase motivation during a run. As you run, the story unfolds over your headphones. The further you run, the more items you collect. These supplies are then distributed to the Abel Township, thus increasing the population of surviving humans.

You can also, rather alarmingly, enable zombie chases, which results in you having to increase your pace to escape your undead pursuers. This was perhaps the most effective feature, as being chased by a group of blood-hungry zombies turns out to be a very good reason for running a bit faster!

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So, does it work? Well, on the basis of my single, rather methodologically unsound, test yesterday: yes, it does. Comparing my performance to the same run the day before, my pace did improve, largely due to my increase in speed during the zombie chases.

Did I enjoy it? Yes, and no… I liked the story and the sense of achievement, but at the same time I felt that my relaxing run was hijacked slightly – especially when a group of zombies arrived just as I reached the bottom of a real-life hill and was expected to accelerate my speed! (I was caught three times out of four!)

How does this relate to the classroom? Well, I initially had visions of myself running across the park during cross-country club with a speaker strapped to my back, followed by a group of hysterically screaming children, desperate to avoid being eaten by the undead!

However, I think more realistically (and certainly more age-appropriately) it provides another example of how gamification can actually enhance a real-life activity, sometimes leading to an increase in performance. This is different to a game used to learn a fact or skill (a times-tables or word game, for example) or a game used to make a boring task more bearable (for instance,eye-spy on a long journey) – although your perspective on the latter would obviously depend on the individual’s perception of the activity in the first place. (On the whole I like running, so I don’t need to distract myself from it – I want to get better at it.)

On a personal level, I definitely intend to use the app again, but certainly not for every run – I don’t think I could take the stress of a daily fight for survival, not to mention taking individual responsibility for the wellbeing of a whole township full of frightened survivors!

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