Always look on the bright side: Things that made me smile.

Almost two weeks ago, it was time for me to head back to work. A new academic year has now started and having spent the whole summer free of this particular stress, I never take the return very well at all. Despite 22 years as a teacher, I never get used to going back and I never look forward to it.

That first week would also later turn into the week when Queen Elizabeth II passed away and whatever your feelings about the monarchy, it seems to have hit large swathes of people really hard, especially here in the UK.

While none of this made me hugely emotional, it all combined to make me feel low, quite sad and just a little bit like I could do with a boost. So, rather than wallow in the doom, I thought I’d think – and write – about some more positive aspects of the last few weeks, something that I started to blog about early on in August. Here they are in no particular order.

A few weeks ago I chanced upon an article on the BBC website, something that I make sure to have a look at every day. The article was about a restoration project with a difference – the re-planting of seagrass off the Welsh coast. Seagrass is, as the name would suggest, a type of grass that grows in the sea. Bigger than the type of grass you’d find in your garden, but grass all the same. Brilliantly though, a single hectare of seagrass can be home to 80,000 fish and 100,000 invertebrates. It also absorbs and stores carbon dioxide, making it a really important plant to have in our seas.

The project is taking place off the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, which is somewhere we holiday every year. Its aim is to plant seeds that will grow into a 10 hectare seagrass meadow by 2026. In the sea off our favorite beach, there is already an area of seagrass, which is revealed every time the tide goes out. So the story really resonated with me and I must admit, the idea of its benefits just really made me smile.

The next smile giver is a little simpler than the serious, but exciting eco-project I’ve just written about. We’re big telly watchers in our house, viewing a whole range of things from terrestrial channels, Sky, Netflix, Disney+ and Amazon. We even have ‘Family Telly’ time every day in our house, where we all sit down to watch something appropriate together. But it’s not a family friendly piece of TV that has made me smile recently.

‘All Of Us Are Dead’ is a South Korean high school zombie horror show and to be frank, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds! We started watching it around a month ago and, despite its obvious flaws – blood stains on the kids’ uniforms that have clearly been scribbled on with a marker pen, for instance – it is just a fantastic piece of telly. We’re big fans of anything apocalyptic in our house, so it was onto a winner from the start, but its jeopardy and originality really make it stand out. It’s dubbed, which might spoil it for some, but still if you enjoy the odd fright and a bit of a rollercoaster ride of a programme, then I’d highly recommend tuning in.

While not wanting to go into too much specific detail and attract any unwanted – and frankly unwarranted – criticism, my daughter’s GCSE grades really put a smile on my face. Our faces, in fact, because it was a boost for all the family. She’s worked incredibly hard over the last few years in preparation for them and in the end got very much what she deserved. It’s a set of grades that should help open some doors for her and hopefully help with her progress as she enters further education and even when heading into the world of work eventually. She has a habit of asking, shall we say, ill-thought out questions, as well as just saying ridiculous things, but it turned out that we have a very, very bright kid on our hands and her success made me immensely proud.

Football can be a very cruel sport. Especially when you’re particularly invested in it, as I am. In fact, football was very cruel just a couple of weeks ago, when my team Newcastle United lost a game in time that had been added on to the time that was added. In essence, we lost a game because the referee seemed to revert to playground rules, allowing play to continue until the home team scored the winner.

However, just before this game we had rescued a point in an away game at Wolverhampton Wanderers with an absolute wonder goal from Alain Saint Maximin, our maverick Frenchman. The ball was cleared from deep inside the Wolves box, going so high I expected it to come down with snow on. And what did Alain do? Volleyed it straight into the back of the net from around 20 yards out! Smile? It made me leap around our front room like a giddy teenager again!

The final thing that has given me a bit of a boost over the past couple of weeks has been the surprise I’ve had upon going back to work. Two weeks ago I was dreading returning back to work after 6 weeks of summer holidays. I always do and wrote a post about it.

Teaching: That first week back.

However, although I still can’t declare myself happy to be back working, I’m surprised by how smoothly it feels like I’ve got back into the old routines. I suppose, having been a high school teacher for quite a while now, I should expect just to be able to do my job with the minimum of fuss. But there’s still anxiety at this time of year, every year. Still though, although I’m tired beyond belief at the end of every day – age can be a cruel mistress, dear reader – I’ve not encountered any problems at all and have just been able to take up where I left off a couple of months ago. Definitely a reason to allow myself a bit of a smile!

More again soon on this topic. I’ve enjoyed writing about the things that have made me smile and I think it definitely helps with my mood! Feel free to leave a comment if you enjoyed reading!

Poetry Blog: ‘About a time when I worried that I hadn’t really fulfilled my potential.’

This is another recently discovered poem. To cut a long story that I’ve told a million times before short, I think it’s one that I’ve written during a night when I’ve been unable to sleep. These are horrendous when you have work the next morning, yet enormously fulfilling when you can sit and write a few things for your blog! Unfortunately, once written down, some of them then tend to get lost in notebooks. This is always temporary though, hence this poem which was one of a ‘crop’ I discovered when flicking through an almost full notebook recently.

I think it must have been written when I was feeling a little bit down. I’ve struggled a little bit – nothing major and nothing that a good bout of telling myself ‘pull yourself together’ doesn’t solve – over probably the last 18 months or so and I think that this poem was written at some point during summer 2021 as I got particularly low at that time.

It’s a bit of a rambling title, but if you read regularly you’ll know that I struggle with titles. When I came to think of this one nothing succinct came to mind and every time I read it through I came back to the feeling that I hadn’t fulfilled my potential. It’s something I mildly beat myself up about on a fairly regular basis. Deep down, I think I’ve done alright though!

'About a time when I worried I really hadn't fulfilled my potential'

A rowing boat with a broken oar.
A home-made go-kart that doesn't quite steer right.
A shy child, hidden behind a parent's legs, clinging to a familiar hem.
A broken compass.
A book, bouncing between charity shops, corners curling more with every journey, pages thumbed smooth, seeking a shelf.
A grey pebble on a beach.
A crab in a rockpool, fighting the relentless pull of the tide.
A dandelion clock.
A partnerless sock.
A derelict building, stripped of its dignity.
A written off car travelling on an unfamiliar motorway on the back of a lorry for all to see.
A bag for life abandoned when the handle snapped.
A festival tent.
A once cherished trophy now confined to a box in the loft of a middle aged man.
An unfashionable toy at Christmas.

So this poem was written at a time when I felt a little bit broken. It’s a tough thing to admit, so usually I just stay quiet. I try to leave other people unburdened by my troubles and having been brought up in a family where how you felt wasn’t really discussed, I suppose it feels naturally. But at this point in time, I clearly needed to talk.

Although I can’t specify an actual day, I can pinpoint the time period of writing this poem. Without the routine of work, summer can sometimes get a bit dull and if we don’t get the weather – which we often don’t in England – it can become difficult to stop the routine of just doing not a great deal. And that kind of thing makes me suffer a bit. I don’t enjoy just sitting round, but if there’s little to do, I feel like I’m wasting the day. At the time of writing the poem, I was thinking about my age, my career and even my choices going as far back as going to high school. None of it made me feel very good. Lots of it made me think that I could have just been so much better at life, so the poem is just a list of what I felt I was like.

I have to say, I’m a lot calmer at the moment, a lot happier. But I still feel like some of the metaphors are apt. They’re probably apt for a lot of us.

I chose the dandelion clock because it’s just waiting to get destroyed and it doesn’t take a lot to do just that. A gust of wind can scatter them everywhere, such is their fragility. I think when I’m at a low ebb, perhaps that’s how it is. I’m OK to a point and then someone might say something, completely innocently and it’ll be the kind that I dwell on and probably devote far too much time to. Confidence, like self-esteem is a funny thing, I suppose.

The image of the shy child felt like it resonated too. I’ve never really been a confident person, just someone who can put on a front or come up with good ways of avoiding certain situations. Even at my age there are times when I could do with someone’s legs to hide behind.

I hope you enjoyed reading the poem and if it resonated with you, well I hope it helps a little bit. I think we all probably have times when we feel like we could just be that little bit better. The important thing is to realise how good you already have it. There’s almost always a positive if you look hard enough.

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