TeachMeet Connect #teachmeet evolution⤴

from @ John's World Wide Wall Display

evolution

TeachMeet Connect

This move from Susan Ward looks like continuing the re-boot of TeachMeet in Scotland.

On Wednesday 21st September, we are launching TeachMeet Connect, a series of TeachMeets happening across Scotland on the same day, where teachers will get together and share what they do. Coinciding with the Scottish Learning Festival, this will be a celebration of all the good things happening in classrooms across Scotland and a chance to explore how TeachMeets can support professional development.

Whether you’ve been to loads of TeachMeets before or this will be your first, this is your chance to get connected to other teachers in Scotland who want to share too. We’d love you to get involved and hold a TeachMeet Connect of your own. There’s loads of info here about how to set up and run a TeachMeet and it’s entirely up to you how fancy you go- you could promote your event and have people sign up to come along and share, or you could just arrange a coffee with half a dozen colleagues where everyone talks about something that’s worked for them.

from: TeachMeet Connect – TeachMeet Scotland

On the TeachMeet front it was good to read David, for a bit of nostalgia: EdCompBlog: TeachMeet – What’s in a name?, I got the name wrong the first time round, but I don’t think I am wrong in thinking that this new blossoming of TeachMeet in Scotland is going to be great.

The featured image a the top of this post Great Gallery of Evolution a public domain photo from Joe deSousa on flickr.

That’ll do, chimps.⤴

from

This week I heard two wonderful things on the radio that had me punching the air (to the consternation of those behind me at the traffic light) and nodding vigorously in agreement.

The first was on BBC Radio 4 Today programme on Wednesday. Angela Duckworth, Professor of Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, talked about her research into the traits of high achievers, her analysis of ‘grit’ and her book ‘Grit the power of passion and perseverance.’

The conclusion of her work is that true success comes from a combination of determination, discipline and direction; a commitment to following a particular path with focus rather than dissipating efforts on disparate projects. She spoke about the need for constancy and direction; Isaac Newton kept going and returning to with certain challenges that were hard when others had got bored and abandoned them long before, for example. According to Angela, herself a former middle and high school teacher, grit can be learnt and taught and modelled.

She believes that there are four key aspects in developing grit:

  • Have a deep interest in something; find nuance in what you do, as opposed to novelty;
  • Practice something that you can get better at on a daily basis;
  • Cultivate a sense of purpose and a sense that what you are doing matters to other people;
  • Cultivate hope and learn to be an optimistic person. (She acknowledged that this is quite American!)

 

Angela went on to explain her belief that teaching can change people. In the week, children spend more of their waking hours in school than with their families on so teachers can clearly have influence; in that classroom when you close the door, you create a culture and an environment where there are the two things that encourage grit: support and challenge.

These final messages resonated hugely with the ideas that I have presented recently in training and conversations with teachers and about which I have written in my blog. True, teachers can’t do it all. We are not there to replace parents, social workers or other supports. But we can do a lot in the space that we control.

Teachers modelling grit and providing support and challenge are therefore key. Although the role of family cannot be discounted as an enormously important influence on children, there is something that we as teachers CAN do, even if it is not a complete solution.

(The full interview can be heard here: for another 20 days, at around 2 hours 23 minutes in: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07bzdjy)

The second programme I heard and was inspired by was this week’s Radio 4 ‘All in the Mind’.

The key messages here also chimed with much of my own thinking about the purpose of education, the pressures created by assessment in schools and the need to focus on wellbeing in schools

The programme included a discussion around tests and exams and the mental health of children which involved Lord Layard from The London School of Economics, Dr Berry Billingsley, Associate Professor of Science Education and Reading University and her colleague Tim Williams who is a clinical and educational psychologist.

Berry acknowledged that it is hard to find data about whether exams are leading to increased stress in children and young people but said that there is a clear increase in stress levels generally caused by increased pressure on them; this is evidenced by increased referrals to psychologists due to childhood stress and an increase in calls to Childline relating to the issue. Anecdotal evidence from teachers also suggests that tests and exams play a large role.

Tim Williams added that, if schools themselves become stressed as a result of exams then children will pick up on the stress of their teachers; it is important to note and study levels of stress in schools at different parts of the year.

Recent World Health Organisation statistics show that, at age 11, the UK does not fare much differently to other nations in terms of stress but that at older ages, Scotland and England were suddenly in the top 5 for pressure so that 80% of girls in Scotland say they feel pressurised by school work at the age of 15, compared with 35%v in Germany and 36% in France.

Parental pressure and a long build up towards end of year exams were seen as key factor in contributing towards this.

Lord Richard Layard who directs the Wellbeing Programme at the London School of Economics then spoke about a project called ‘Healthy Minds’ which is working with 30 schools around London to try and get data in relation to this issue.

Hs opening statement:

“We are trying to help people learn how to live and not just how to pass exams.”

He spoke of the Healthy Minds curriculum covering the first four year of secondary school with an hour each week focusing on:

  • Understanding your emotions and managing them;
  • Understanding other people and learning how to care for them
  • Thinking about what kind of person you want to be and what kind of parent you might want to be when the time comes;
  • How to interpret mental health problems;
  • How to practice mindfulness.

The programme promotes the development of skills that enable people to focus on achieving a purposeful, positive approach to life, rather than telling them what not to do; telling them how to live fully and completely.

His message to every teacher listening –“what we know from all of these experiments is if you have programmes which help children with their mental health and their general values system, it is not a waste of time, actually they do better at exams. That hour is better spent becoming a decent person than swotting away yet more on your exams.”

Tim Williams agreed that there is too much focus on teaching for testing, rather than teaching for the future and developing as a person.

It was agreed that there needs to be some element of testing in schools but that there is too much emphasis on testing (of schools and children) at present and, as Berry Billingsley said, it overtakes children’s lives and all the other sorts of learning.

Lord Layard went on:

“We should learn, mainly, so that we can make a contribution to society which is a different motivation from learning to pass exams; we should want our children to learn for two reasons only, really; one, because it is interesting…and second because it is useful and will enable them to make a contribution to society. And we have really, by just concentrating on exams, completely misled children as to why we actually want them to be educated….”

He said that we can reverse the ‘stupid tide’ which is about everything in life about being about achieving personal success which puts a strain on individuals and is isolating.

Instead of promoting being ‘successful’, we need to teach that life is about making a contribution to others and getting some pleasure out of that.

Lord Layard feels that the pledge of the group ‘Action for happiness’ has a lot to offer children:

“I will try to lead my life so as to create as much happiness in the world as I can and as little misery.”

Berry Billingsley added that ‘success’ is difficult to define and quantify where children may have strengths in one area but weaknesses in others. She said that studies have shown that self-efficacy is key; children’s belief and confidence in their own talent is crucial in enabling them to succeed. Also, children who feel in control of their own pace and assessment and understand the assessment system do better than those who don’t.

Tim Williams concluded that schools and psychologists need to work together to tackle these issues and that school leadership has a key role to play in improving the situation in schools by recognising wider contributions beyond exam results.

And Lord Layard’s final word: emotional health has to be a specific objective our educational system.

Amen.

The full ‘All in the Mind Episode’ can be found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07bzdjy

So, am I scouring the TES for a job in one of the Healthy Minds pilot schools? Will I spend my days dreaming about getting a secondment to the LSE and working with likeminded people (as if!)?

Actually, no. Because in Scotland we have Health and Wellbeing within Curriculum for Excellence that back up the sort of approach advocated by Healthy Minds. We want Successful Learners, Effective Contributors, Responsible Citizens and Confident Individuals. We have a framework for developing Skills for Learning Life and Work that promotes resilience, self-discipline, employability and empathy. AND WE NEED TO FIGHT FOR THESE IN THE FACE OF PROPOSED STANDARDISED TESTS AND MORE ‘RIGIOUR’. Let’s check that bathwater very carefully for a baby.

I return to school this week after my secondment, as Depute Head Pupil Support with a teaching remit. The chimps in my head are having a field day. “You can’t teach any more! You’ve been out so long you don’t have a job to go back to! You can talk the talk but you won’t be able to walk the walk!”

But I have spoken to them. I have told them that I will be meeting around 120 new pupils in my classroom this week and possibly another 200 or so in assemblies and other settings. And my mantra will be this:

I will meet them without prejudgement and fear and offer them support and challenge in a nurturing safe space. I will savour the opportunity to help them develop self-efficacy and resilience and to grow from children into successful young adults and contributors to society. And I will aim to create as much happiness and as little misery as I can.

That’ll do, chimps. That’ll do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


TeachMeet – What’s in a name?⤴

from @ EdCompBlog

Ewan recently marked the tenth birthday of TeachMeet (Ten years on from the very first unconference for educators: TeachMeet is 10) where he shared his memories of that first meeting in the Jolly Judge. Unfortunately, I was unable to join the birthday party... but it did start me thinking about my own memories (some of which I shared on his facebook post). It also started me thinking about the name "TeachMeet", how we came to choose it and the bullet (or bullets) we dodged not choosing a different name. I have not used this blog much in recent years abut it seemed right to post about naming TeachMeet in this blog since this is where it all started for me.

Going to the pub with Will Richardson
Ewan has described the proto-TeachMeet in the Jolly Judge. He  claims he always had a "stick it to the man" agenda. That may be true for him. Me? I just thought it would be fun to go to the pub with Will Richardson. Ewan also explains that this meeting was called the "ScotEduBlogger Meetup" and states (as if it was obvious) that this name was limiting and that "TeachMeet was born..." (as if it was a painless birth). I remember the choice of the name emerging more slowly, I remember online and offline discussion, and I remember choosing just in time to get the word out for SETT (as SLF was then called).

The discussion about "What to call this thing" mostly took place on the Scotsedublog wiki. On 8 June 2006, Ewan created a page titled newtechmeet and posed the question:
We need a name. Not something too bloggy, not too techy. Suggestions?
 Later that same day, John Johnston added this as the first suggestion:
How to stop worrying and love the blog.
On 10 June 2006, I responded with the following list:
Read/Write Roundtable
Read/Write Roundup
Read/Write Rammy
Classroom 2.0
SETT 2.0
ScotEduSlam
ScotEduBlog Bash
ScotEduBlog Mashup
...I made more suggestions that day (not all of them serious) and eventually posted TeachMeet as a possible name.​ Credit where credit's due. I explain on the wiki discussion page that I came up with the name after toying with variations on the newtechmeet page name. I commented, '...as a wise man once said, "It's not the tech, it's the teach."' For the record, the "wise man" was Ewan McIntosh. It is something he said while at Jordanhill. I ripped it off and have been using it without accreditation ever since!

TeachMeet at SETT, 2006
Almost immediately after posting the TeachMeet suggestion, I edited it to turn it into "ScotEduBlog TeachMeet". I thought any meetup would be all about blogging. And in my defence, I wasn't the only one thinking this way. For example, on a number of occasions, John Johnston defended the inclusion of "blog" or "blogging" in the title. In retrospect, it was much better to lose the "blog" since it has allowed TeachMeet to grow and expand beyond its blogging origins.

The other mistake I made was to limit it to Scotland. I thought this was something for Scottish educators, hence my addition of the "ScotEdu" bit. I thought it was for my chums and friends of my chums. I was even more wrong about that! Thankfully, smarter people than me were in charge of picking the name!

I did have some vision though. I suggested: "What ever we call it, if we think it might become a regular event, we should stick a "2006" at the end." I thought this was something that had legs and that it would be repeated. OK, I thought it would be annual event, but nobody is perfect.

By the end of June, we had the following list of possible names and had started to vote for our favourites:
Read/Write Roundtable
Collaborative Communication Colloquium
Classroom 2.0
SETT 2.0
ScotEduSlam
ScotEduBlog Bash
ScotEduBlog Mashup
ScotEduBlog TeachMeet
TeachMeet
EduBarCamp
Bloggers Anon... and on and on
Blog on
How to stop worrying and love the blog
Mashup Impossible
You've Got eLearning
Lord of the Webrings
Hello Mr Chips/Mrs Chips
Ewan called us to order, drafted four possible logos based on the two most popular choices. (Both Ewan and I liked "EduSlam", but clearly we were outvoted!) It was down to "TeachMeet 06" and "ScotEduBlog 06". We then voted again to choose our favourite logo. On 29 June, the decision was made and this logo was added to the wikipage.


Clearly, the right name was chosen. We ended up with a name that didn't limit us to our Scottish roots. A name that allowed us to talk about more than blogging. A clear example of the wisdom of crowds! (And, it has to be said, the wisdom of Ewan, whose gentle prompting pushed us in the right direction.)

We had a name, we had a venue, all that was needed was to organise and deliver the event. As we made our plans on the wiki, I don't think any of us knew just how successful TeachMeet 06 was going to be. But that is a whole other story...

TeachMeet – What’s in a name?⤴

from @ EdCompBlog

Ewan recently marked the tenth birthday of TeachMeet (Ten years on from the very first unconference for educators: TeachMeet is 10) where he shared his memories of that first meeting in the Jolly Judge. Unfortunately, I was unable to join the birthday party... but it did start me thinking about my own memories (some of which I shared on his facebook post). It also started me thinking about the name "TeachMeet", how we came to choose it and the bullet (or bullets) we dodged not choosing a different name. I have not used this blog much in recent years abut it seemed right to post about naming TeachMeet in this blog since this is where it all started for me.

Going to the pub with Will Richardson
Ewan has described the proto-TeachMeet in the Jolly Judge. He  claims he always had a "stick it to the man" agenda. That may be true for him. Me? I just thought it would be fun to go to the pub with Will Richardson. Ewan also explains that this meeting was called the "ScotEduBlogger Meetup" and states (as if it was obvious) that this name was limiting and that "TeachMeet was born..." (as if it was a painless birth). I remember the choice of the name emerging more slowly, I remember online and offline discussion, and I remember choosing just in time to get the word out for SETT (as SLF was then called).

The discussion about "What to call this thing" mostly took place on the Scotsedublog wiki. On 8 June 2006, Ewan created a page titled newtechmeet and posed the question:
We need a name. Not something too bloggy, not too techy. Suggestions?
 Later that same day, John Johnston added this as the first suggestion:
How to stop worrying and love the blog.
On 10 June 2006, I responded with the following list:
Read/Write Roundtable
Read/Write Roundup
Read/Write Rammy
Classroom 2.0
SETT 2.0
ScotEduSlam
ScotEduBlog Bash
ScotEduBlog Mashup
...I made more suggestions that day (not all of them serious) and eventually posted TeachMeet as a possible name.​ Credit where credit's due. I explain on the wiki discussion page that I came up with the name after toying with variations on the newtechmeet page name. I commented, '...as a wise man once said, "It's not the tech, it's the teach."' For the record, the "wise man" was Ewan McIntosh. It is something he said while at Jordanhill. I ripped it off and have been using it without accreditation ever since!

TeachMeet at SETT, 2006
Almost immediately after posting the TeachMeet suggestion, I edited it to turn it into "ScotEduBlog TeachMeet". I thought any meetup would be all about blogging. And in my defence, I wasn't the only one thinking this way. For example, on a number of occasions, John Johnston defended the inclusion of "blog" or "blogging" in the title. In retrospect, it was much better to lose the "blog" since it has allowed TeachMeet to grow and expand beyond its blogging origins.

The other mistake I made was to limit it to Scotland. I thought this was something for Scottish educators, hence my addition of the "ScotEdu" bit. I thought it was for my chums and friends of my chums. I was even more wrong about that! Thankfully, smarter people than me were in charge of picking the name!

I did have some vision though. I suggested: "What ever we call it, if we think it might become a regular event, we should stick a "2006" at the end." I thought this was something that had legs and that it would be repeated. OK, I thought it would be annual event, but nobody is perfect.

By the end of June, we had the following list of possible names and had started to vote for our favourites:
Read/Write Roundtable
Collaborative Communication Colloquium
Classroom 2.0
SETT 2.0
ScotEduSlam
ScotEduBlog Bash
ScotEduBlog Mashup
ScotEduBlog TeachMeet
TeachMeet
EduBarCamp
Bloggers Anon... and on and on
Blog on
How to stop worrying and love the blog
Mashup Impossible
You've Got eLearning
Lord of the Webrings
Hello Mr Chips/Mrs Chips
Ewan called us to order, drafted four possible logos based on the two most popular choices. (Both Ewan and I liked "EduSlam", but clearly we were outvoted!) It was down to "TeachMeet 06" and "ScotEduBlog 06". We then voted again to choose our favourite logo. On 29 June, the decision was made and this logo was added to the wikipage.


Clearly, the right name was chosen. We ended up with a name that didn't limit us to our Scottish roots. A name that allowed us to talk about more than blogging. A clear example of the wisdom of crowds! (And, it has to be said, the wisdom of Ewan, whose gentle prompting pushed us in the right direction.)

We had a name, we had a venue, all that was needed was to organise and deliver the event. As we made our plans on the wiki, I don't think any of us knew just how successful TeachMeet 06 was going to be. But that is a whole other story...

One Direction (no not them)⤴

from @ School Leadership - A Scottish Perspective

We are one week in of the new Scottish government and we have had a few announcements about the direction of travel for our schools and education system. The first was made by Nicola Sturgeon and was around the appointment of John Swinney as the new Cabinet Secretary for Education and Deputy First Minister. Mr Swinney was already Deputy First Minister in the previous Scottish Government and had previously held the position of Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Constitution and Economy. A bit of a mouthful, but basically meant he was Finance Minister. The previous Cabinet Secretary  for Education, Angela Constance, had been given another post in the new governmnent, that of Cabinet Secretary for Communities, Social Security and Equalities. Ms Constance had not had an easy ride in her previous position and had struggled with being the voice-person on education as she had to announce, and support, a range of controversial measures seemingly designed by the First Minister as she sought to make education a priority for herself and her government. These included the re-introduction of standardised testing in Scottish schools and the controversial Named Person legislation around Getting It Right For Every Child.

Commentators seem undecided about whether Mr Swinney's new role is a promotion or demotion. Certainly the First Minister would argue that this is no demotion as she continues to put education front and centre of her new administration. 'Judge me on education', has been her mantra, and she has spoken frequently of her determination to close the equity gap between Scotland's most advantaged and most disadvantaged learners, and to raise attainment for all learners. At the same time she completely fails to detect any irony or conflict in those two stated aims. She has announced various measures, including those mentioned above, many of which seem to many observers to point to the adoption of features found south of the border, in England. It would also seem that a lot of government rhetoric seems to re-enforce this belief. She has stated she wanted a strong and experienced person in charge of education, and John Swinney would seem to fit that brief. Some are worried that he has been brought in to take on the teaching unions and others within the system who might be ready for a fight with some of the intended actions already announced, and others still to be revealed. In addition, the unions have already indicated their unhappiness with workload and the beuracracy that have become attached to the Curriculum for Excellence, amongst other issues.

So there is no doubt that whoever was to have the education brief in the new government needed to be resilient and be an experienced political operator, and few would deny that John Swinney fits the bill in that respect. What he has in terms of political nous he possibly lacks in terms of educational knowledge and experience, though I do believe he has a brother who is a secondary English teacher. So, he is on a steep learning curve in trying to get up to speed with his brief, and also to keep up with the First Minister who seems to make some pronouncement or another  on an almost daily basis. The SNP election manifesto contained more announcements on education including the setting up of Regional  Boards to oversee schools, almost all of whom are currently under Local Authority control. There was also a promise to devolve more budget and power directly to Headteachers, and these were seen as a possible aimed at loosening the control of local councils and strengthen the control of schools by central government.

In her first speech in the Scottish Parliament, following the election, the first minister again set out her prioritisation of education as one of the central planks of her government. She identified the appointment of John Swinney as an indicator of her commitment to deliver on her pre-election promises for education and schools in Scotland. She also announced the creation of an International Council of Education Advisors to help the Scottish government and advise on education, and teaching reform and development. The membership of this body is yet to be announced but people like myself hope it includes experts such as Alma Harris, Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves, Carol Campbell, Yong Zaho, Helen Timperley, as well as experts from closer to home like Mark Priestley, Stephen Ball and John MacBeath. Our worry is that the 'experts' chosen will be those most likely to support the agenda already set out by the First Minister. Watch this space on that one.

Another announcement last week was that there was to be a 'major summit' of education leaders around 'closing the attainment gap between schools.' She accompanied this with a caution against inertia 'We intend to be bold and to move forward with purpose and with pace.' I am not sure of the purpose of this summit, and who will be invited, but it will be interesting to see if it brings an open and frank exchange of views and opinions, or whether it is carefully stage-managed by the government and Education Scotland in order to seek notional endorsement of decisions already made. Scotland is a small country and the education community is quite well linked, and also small. So it is difficult to keep much quiet or secret and we are already hearing stories of various models, that involve schools being taken out of local authority control, being discussed by various think-tanks and at government level. This only re-enforces the fears of many that decisions have already been made and steps identified for the way forward in the very near future. This is why it is imperative that those within the education system in Scotland engage in the debate, and are truly consulted, and why any 'experts' being consulted or asked for advice are truly expert and impartial in their advice. I would suggest consulting with CEOs of Academy chains in England fails that test of impartiality.

Yet another announcement was made by the new Minister for Finance, Derek Mackay, which was that the role of local councils in managing and running of schools needs reforming. He pointed out in an interview that there was nothing wrong with local councils running schools 'but that we could do things differently in the future,' particularly when it comes to the funding of schools. He went on to say that it was the government's intention that Headteachers would have more autonomy over how they use school funding through Devolved School Management budgets and procedures. He stated that they wanted more government funding to go directly to schools and Headteachers, so they could set and meet local priorities. There are times, when such a scenario can appear quite appealing to school leaders, but I still believe that there is an overwhelming majority of opinion that believes schools should remain under the auspices of local authorities and councils. All of this talk just adds more credence to the view that the Scottish government is trying to introduce an acadamisation model by stealth into Scottish education.

There is no doubt that education and equity remains a high priority for the Scottish government, as it should be. In order to achieve the aims set out it will require consensus and collaborative action by all in the system. The actions we take will need to be informed by credible research about what works and needs to be sufficiently nuanced to reflect the Scottish context. I know the First Minister wants to act and, like all politicians, wants to act quickly. The danger is, the quicker change is imposed the more who are left behind and the less sustainable becomes the impact. Everyone I know in the profession supports entirely the government's aims, but none of us can deliver on these on our own. All have to work together towards this common purpose and, whether Ms Sturgeon or others like it or not, these aims can only be achieved over time, and neither can they be imposed from above.

 It would be better for Scotland if her legacy for Scottish education was that, during her time in office,  she had set up the structures and understandings that allowed the system to address meaningfully the issues identified, and that she matched these with other government policy and action in all sections of of our social and political infrastructures.

With Neil and I⤴

from @ Through The Windae

SCRUBBERS!

Being a wee brother is both a curse and a blessing. There is a 10.5 year age difference between me and Neil. Growing up, Neil and Colin were more like gods than mere mortals to me. They arrived back from mysterious far away cities, like Dundee and Edinburgh, fitted out in long trench coats, attitude and humour that influenced and guided my tastes in music, book, films and life in general. I still had the feeling they both looked upon me as but a wee boy of nine – wide eyed and gullible behind the NHS specs.

But then that’s understandable. I was supposed to be a dog. As children, mum had told them that if they wanted to have a dog then they would have to save up for one. Diligently they started emptying their loose pennies into a giant and empty brandy bottle. Only when they had saved to the top of the bottle would they be able to go and choose a dog.  And, as the legend is told, it was just as the coins were finally beginning to make their way up the long neck of the bottle, and all thoughts started to dream of long walks throwing sticks in the park that mum announced she was pregnant  –  with the little sister they always wanted. That’s right; the next thing on their want list after a dog was a little sister.  What hope did I have?

Actually, I could not have been luckier to have a big brother such as Neil. His influence on me always has and always will continue to be completely immeasurable.  Where do I start?  He bathed me as a baby.  He bought me my first Asterix book.  He shaped my musical tastes from an early age.  A compilation tape from 1989 single-handily converted the whole of Turriff into avid fans of The Stone Roses and Happy Mondays. He introduced me to Bruce Chatwin and Raymond Carver but also Alisdair Gray, James Joyce and Graham Swift.

Many times as an impoverished student I found refuge gently cradling his toilet bowl following a heavy night of drinking, yet another rock n’ roll history lesson and an early morning lecture from the philosopher Bill Hicks.

He nurtured my passion for curry with trips to Khushis and the hallowed Formica tables of Kebab Mehal.  There he would do mysterious and cool things like order dishes that weren’t on the menu. Normal people didn’t do these things. Only big brothers. And gods. But I didn’t believe in gods.

I remember the day he left for Ireland in that famous tomato soup Ford Escort estate. Every inch of it was packed full of stuff. He was crying as he drove away from the front door of my flat in Arden Street – which I remember thinking was unusual.

When looking for a comforting space, my memory keeps dragging me back to my last proper visit to Ireland 5 years ago during the Easter holidays. For a couple of the days it was just going to be the 2 of us as Moe was flying to Copenhagen for work. This made me a little nervous. Neil can famously be a little bit grumpy from time to time but the drugs and treatment were sadly making him ultra sensitive to noise, smells and things not being done the way he liked them. I opened and shut doors in the house wearing kid gloves and listened to him sagely in the car as he told me off for not using fourth gear at the correct time and reprimanded me on the dangers of crossing my hands when turning the steering wheel.

The day I return to was wet and miserable. Dreich, as we say in Scotland. But Neil was more energetic that day and he suggested we watch a movie. His friend Boris had gifted him a copy of the film, Withnail and I.  Neither of us has seen it in years. Good choice we both agreed. For those of you who know the film  – a grimy bittersweet tale of 2 struggling actors in the 60s – it was as funny and downbeat as we both remembered. A perfect compliment to the grim weather outside. Neil said Withnail and Marwood’s slum living habits reminded him of my student flat. He had a point. We didn’t quaff the finest wines in humanity but we did scoff two very fine magnum ice creams that Moe had kindly left in the freezer for us. And we talked. We talked about student days, books, films, music and nonsense. And it was great. And for a few hours I forgot that there was anything wrong with him. From the angle I sat looking at him in the room – he didn’t even look ill.

Then he complained that he had perhaps eaten the magnum too quickly and wasn’t feeling too good.  I watched uncomfortably as he slowly and stiffly arose from the couch. The spell was broken. But in my eyes he was still my big brother and still a god.

I feel unusual, I think we should go outside.

(Today marks 5 years since cancer took his life)

The post With Neil and I appeared first on Through The Windae.