2019 – Year in Review

After writing an incredibly huge blog post on the 2010s in review, I am going to keep this one relatively short and snappy.

So here goes, the highlights for me in 2019.

  • Getting my work-life balance in control. I started taking Sundays off completely from September 2018 onwards in my tutoring. Additionally I cut down on Saturday afternoon tutoring as well from September 2019. This has finally led to slightly less tutoring but I feel refreshed and energised all week.
  • Going CPD crazy. I got a ton of training as a highly specialised maths and Dyscalculia tutor. I’ve learnt so much this year about teaching and learning and am addicted to learning about education. I went to day courses in maths teaching and maths conferences in Bristol, Penistone and Peterborough. This gave me an excellent new community of truly dedicated teachers to learn from and as a bonus I got to visit some new cities in the UK!
  • Started my own tutoring YouTube channel.
  • I won the Profs Ambassador of the Year 2019 award at a party and got a little trophy too. It is amazing to be recognised as a tutor.
  • Singing coaching. I’ve been taking singing lessons once a week every week consistently all year. And will be sitting a grading exam first thing 2020. It has been an incredible learning experience and I’m starting to really discover and explore my true voice and how my body works with singing.
  • Starting Argentine Tango lessons. This was really my New Year’s resolution, to start a new activity. Tango dancing has put me in the shoes of a complete beginner, got me out of home more regularly as my life working online was sedentary and the highly social nature of the dance has helped me meet a lot more new people. It’s been an absolute life joy for me in 2019. I started off slow but am now addicted to learning this beautiful art form. I take lessons twice a week and take Saturday afternoons off to attend lessons at the cost of tutoring time. Totally worth it in every way.
  • Cutting down screen time and social media – I’ve always liked connecting with people remotely but I started losing perspective in maintaining in person relationships vs online ones with people I’ll never meet. Only towards the end of the year have I finally started to try and reverse nearly 2 decades of over use of being on screen socially. I hope to get on top of this. Focus is not just about being more present, it is about cutting out distractions. And Facebook in particular has been the biggest thing I’ve needed to cut down on a lot.
  • In December I got a Fitbit and it gave me the truth on how physically inactive my life had become due to online tutoring. I was kidding myself when I thought going to the gym once a week and dance classes twice a week were enough, they were not. It is early days but I’ve been doing my 10000 steps a day (it was previously an average of 3500 a day) and taking short walks outside 9 times a day has been immense for my mental health. More on this on my blog later in 2020.
  • Cutting out things that didn’t work for me anymore or were no longer worth it. I cut out some tutoring projects and my music performing is a lot more focused.
  • I had a great holiday in Portugal, met up with old friends in the summer, got myself some amazing studio monitors that give me superb sound for listening and music production, bought myself a mini guitar amp and a few other little trinkets to treat myself…including all those cake photos I posted through the year 🙂

And that in a nutshell was my 2019. Can’t wait for 2020!

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2010s – My Decade in Review

Writing this post at the end of 2019 seems like a surreal experience because I remember writing a blog post on this exact wordpress blog 10 years ago in December 2009. The idea of any digital platform lasting 10 years seemed pretty alien in the wild early era of the internet in the 1990s and 2000s (more on technology later on this post). Yet here we are at the end of 2019 where I have a log of my life in my own words, reminding me of how I have changed, how the language I use has changed, yet how so much of me is reassuringly the same. My blog lets me have some of my own narcissistic indulgence but really it is just a conversation I am having with myself. I will link to many old blog posts in this review and also link to all my end of year reviews that I did for every year from 2010 to 2019.

Atul Rana in India

Sitting in a restaurant in Shirdi, India

A lot has happened in my own life in the 2010s. But compared to the changes in my life in the 2000s decade, this was on the whole, a more stable decade. As one gets older a decade becomes less of the proportion of one’s entire age. Furthermore, with age comes more certainty and stability in one’s life as life takes a certain direction and remains that way. For a 20 year old, the passage of a decade is a huge part of their whole life’s meaningful and memorable existence. For a 30 year old the last decade represents one third of their life. For an 80 year old that would be one eighth of their life and so on.

When I started this blog in 2008 I had these categories created that I wanted to blog about:

Things have changed since 2009 obviously so some of these categories do not hold so near to my heart, yet I have altogether new things that I pay attention to these days. So in no particular order here are how things have changed for me since 2009 in these areas.

My Amazon Kindle 3 next to a pen

My Amazon Kindle 3 next to a pen

Making music, performing live and my band DonkeyBox

I thought more about music making and performing than I did about anything else back in 2009. Performing live gave me a buzz like no other. And I was a very driven musician keen on having a career out of it. Ridiculed for that ambition by some, respected by others and everything else in between. So is the curse of being an artist. I found a post on Facebook in 2013 that went viral with musicians that struck true to what I felt like.

In 2009 my outlet for music making and performing was my band and we were fairly at the peak of performing, nearly once a month. And we even made a road trip to Rochdale which was really cool. But we had consistent issues with not having a bass player.

Donkey Box t-shirt

The most expensive t-shirt I ever bought 🙂

After our last bass player left in 2010 we have relied on guitar players who have doubled up to play bass for the band. Despite bass player woes the band kept going fairly strong in the early 2010s. I got into selling band t-shirts which was a massive flop, we won our first battle of the bands round in 2015, we got to play live on a student radio station

Heading into 2013 I had to reflect deeply on my life and the band started becoming less of a priority for me. Bandmates were getting married, having children and my priorities in life were changing as well. But music is the very elixir of life in me so I need some outlet to express it. I started doing open mic nights, which was terrifying at the start as I was not used to performing on stage with no one. I had always been a band musician up to that point. This experience really matured me as a musician, I also played bass in a gospel choir in 2012 which was very cool.

I had learnt an absolute ton about social media and online PR due to the band. While this barely yielded anything for me in the band context, years later ‘social media marketeer’ actually became a job and a title. I ended up getting some regular paid work for BitPaper. Not a bad gig at all (more on tutoring and the gig economy later).

Atul Rana at open mic night gigs

The energy I give at open mic nights even with empty venues is now also channeled into livestream 🙂

Towards the late 2010s the band has nearly ground to a halt. My live performing outlet is through open mic nights. And I have been taking singing lessons in 2018 and 2019. I have gone full circle again, the thrill of performing is satisfied through a new community of open mic musicians. And from the basics I’m learning to be a better singer for my own sake, but eventually to go into producing cover songs and YouTubing it. Tutoring made me earn a decent salary so I’ve been able to invest more in myself. I diverted my created attention into tutoring in the 2010s which has paid off and given me purpose, direction and meaning.

Tutoring becomes my career and tech propels it to the next level

I made a truly bold move in June 2009 career wise. I wish I had blogged about it at the time but I didn’t. I left a decent job in the city where I worked in a software development team programming Economics cost models. I was doing impressive work and even started a company newsletter which was well ahead of its time technology wise, embedded videos and all. But 18 months into it and I was hating the commute and felt imprisoned by the corporate culture. Luckily I had a side gig of tutoring that also paid me and I had been reading a whole bunch of books like Seth Godin’s small is the new big and Tim Ferriss’s 4 Hour workweek. The gig economy had already started to take momentum and I was about to go into it myself head on.

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I started tutoring in 2006 and my tutoring clientbase kept growing and growing. I felt more alive tutoring students in the evenings after having worked a full 8 hour day in the city. I knew I had to do this. I thought what I knew in maths was obvious and straightforward but only by teaching students I realised that students can get stuck at many points. And for them I held the key to getting them unstuck. I was able to bring about learning in far better ways than I could have ever imagined myself!

So I quit my full time job and hoped that I could tutor full time eventually. At the time I lost two thirds of my income to free up 90% more time. This was a really good trade off for me as my living costs were low. I knew no one at the time that was tutoring full time. Again, in certain quarters I was ridiculed for not having a proper job, a part timer, doing a pocket money job. My tutoring clients really respected and valued me. Many of them were fairly successful and high profile themselves. I knew that I was wasted in my company and tutoring is where I really had to go. I had the gift of teaching and I had to do more of it.

I tapped into tutoring residentially in North Yorkshire and Hampshire. It was one amazing trip after another. I saw some incredible places and lived with many families, even tutoring at two schools. It made me a more learned person to be the fly on the wall of so many families. 2014 saw massive changes in my family situation, I moved to a flat and started dating. Travelling and tutoring was losing its thrill and I was tiring out of the travel as by then I’d rather be in London and spend time with family, friends and my girlfriend. I took a gamble and stopped taking new jobs North. Instead, I signed up for a bunch of tutoring agencies in London. Living in central London I now started getting lots of great tutoring gigs in London. Again my confidence in my tutoring ability rose me to the top tutor with one agency and I got two very amazing homeschooling gigs with them.

Sheep in North Yorkshire baaaa

Sheep in North Yorkshire

By the mid 2010s with my dating and family life more the way I wanted to be, I started taking tutoring very seriously and found a tutors’ forum on LinkedIn. A small handful of tutors who were tutoring a lot online and charging good money, this really blew my mind.

Now I was tutoring a little online since 2012 but I never knew of its vast potential. The increase in bandwidth speed, more touchscreen devices, small computers and the growth of the tutoring market put me in a sweet spot to capitalise on this new phenomena. I started diving more and more into online tutoring, perfecting the pedagogy and technical skills of tutoring online. By 2016 I went fully online and got known by the Profs in 2017. I then started working for BitPaper. More and more opportunities opened for me.

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In 2016 I started running Facebook groups for tutors, and in 2017 I attended my first maths conference. What had been missing in all these tutoring years was the company of other tutors and teachers. I started organising meetups for tutors, online video call groups and started going to training events. It is hard to think how I could have possibly developed as a tutor on my own. Going to these events and meeting other tutors has truly propelled my tutoring skills to the next level. This feels like the start of something amazing for me and the 2020s is bound to bring a lot, lore more. I have always believed in the power of social learning.

The music industry and my prediction on it in 2009 comes true

In 2009 the way that music was consumed in the west was as a product sold in physical form. CD sales were still the norm. In 2000 I was one of the first campus users of Napster at Imperial College. Napster was banned to download mainstream music pretty much within months. But the music industry had been disrupted. The disruption continued all the way through the early 2000s with mp3 files being available on other torrent sites and all. Then came the idea of streaming music online with great bandwidths available. The streaming sites cleverly negotiated around the idea of anyone owning music.

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I loved playing open mic nights.

In 2009 I signed up to, at the time, a not very well known streaming service called Spotify. I knew that service was going to be the death blow for the music industry then. And it was. The ownership of a physical thing like records, tapes or CDs is well a thing of the past now. Music as a product has changed. The period between the 1950s and the 2000s will be seen as a bizarre one in which music moguls monopolised music acts but on the other hand the creativity thrived. Music is still a product and music is still of course still being made but it is competing against Netflix, video games, social media, food on demand Deliveroo, WhatsApp video calling etc. Staying in has given us so many more options other than to while away our time listening to our favourite music album.

Books need to be streamable as well

Seeing the fate of the music industry, the book industry put a brake on electronic copies of books being distributed in the same way as music. Electronic copies cost the same to buy as physical copies, which is kind of insane. I feel frustrated at having to buy books for up to £20 and then just reading them once. I hope that the same disruption takes place with books. And it is merely a matter of time when the tide turns. You will be able to rent a book for a fraction of the cost of now in electronic format.

Global politics, the swing to the right and social media echo chambers

Two book series that I read in 2018 and 2019 gave me a real global perspective on how the tide is changing. Factfulness by Hans Rosling is a cheery perspective of how much the world has improved in every way possible. And the book series by Yuval Noah Harari, i.e Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 lessons for the 21st Century is a sobering perspective on the world. The United States, UK and Indian electorates all swung to the centre right. And the trend continues. Donald Trump’s election and the Brexit vote in 2016 were clear signals. India also ended up re-electing Modi.

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In the last year I have really started exploring why this has been the case? And I have gotten out of the left echo chamber I lived in for so long. The centre left will be my side of course but perspective is very important. I have followed the other side’s perspective and it was no surprise at all that Boris Johnson’s win in late 2019 was coming. Social media has reduced all nuanced discussion to a few emotive soundbites. Discussing politics in person is hard enough as it is and changing one’s worldview is no easy or small matter. I won’t be surprised if the drift to the centre right continues in the next decade given things as they are now. As for social media, it is only in the last few months I too have been able to get out of its strong grip.

The digital revolution of the 2010s – software side

A lot happened in this decade, the digital revolution really took pace after a slow start in the 1990s and setting some ground in the 2000s. Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple really have grown into immense corporations, the likes of which have never been seen before. Air BnB, Uber, social media, music streaming, video streaming, data video calling, online banking, digital currencies and so many more things have changed things forever.

Denon RCD-M39DA

Denon RCD-M39DAB Micro Component CD Receiver System – Black

Even 5 years ago my cousins in India would not be able to call me, it was simply too expensive to make phone calls and text messages would cost a ton. Paying for text messages? I know right! We really did live in that world for a long time. Now my cousins all have smartphones and can call for free on video on platforms like WhatsApp.

One of the most unexpected things for me in this decade was the use of online banking and digital money. Cash to me is nearly extinct now. It was unimaginable in 2009 when I was getting paid in cheques and cash that by the end of the decade all that would be truly finished and online banking would take over completely. For me that has happened across country borders with my online tutoring. I don’t even use my wallet anymore and even contactless payments are done through my phone!

TV sets and touchscreen devices have evolved in amazing ways in the last decade. Flat Screen TVs with High Definition images and phone screens with superb clarity. This is a marvel in itself and it is hard to imagine the grainy and pixelated world of TV and media which was the norm until this decade. There is no going back. The end of analogue TV signalled that transfer that I blogged about in 2012.

The software and tech side of things have only been possible thanks to an equally linked and fast development on the hardware side to match it.

The digital revolution of the 2010s – hardware side

The video camcorder I bought in 2008 was very quickly defunct. I got my first iPhone in 2010 and it was an instant gamechanger. It was a computer with me all the time. And a really amazing photo and video camera. I got hold of a Kindle, a Hi-Fi system and as my tutoring business thrived I got hold of some other hardware like a great computer, monitor and of course music related things like studio monitors, microphones, guitar amps and my first new guitar since 1997!

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Smartphones, tablets, electric cars have to be the biggest hardware breakthroughs of the 2010s.

Other key moments for me in the 2010s

  • Getting British citizenship and a British passport
  • TV
  • Being in a relationship
  • Enjoying the 2012 London Olympics
  • The joy in seeing my dad and grandad’s village getting electricity
  • Going to America for the first time
  • Cutting sugar out in 2014 and losing weight
  • Starting free weight training
  • Starting Argentine Tango lessons in 2019
  • Going to many musicals (I never used to do this before)

…and so many more!

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Some predictions for the 2020s

So I gaze into my crystal ball and predict some of these changes for the coming decade.

  • The rise and rise of my online tutoring into other areas
  • Autonomous cars
  • Fitbit type personal devices that help with exercise tracking
  • Personal devices that can measure our health status and give us body analytics, fed into a database that can be used by doctors if necessary
  • The internet of everything will join up devices
  • A growing digital divide
  • A heavily data analytics driven world
  • A balanced green movement leading to more renewable energy sources, the UK is already leading with this
  • The rise of Asia and Africa as cultural and global powerhouses

And that has been my very memorable and very long review of the 2010s. Finally if you have managed to read this far then here are all my end of year reviews of the 2010s.

Thank you for reading.

 

Cutting Down on Mobile Phone Screen Time

In 2010, nearly 10 years ago now I bought my first smartphone. Like for many others this was to change the way I interact with technology in ways I never thought were possible, mostly for good. Or so I thought. Over the years my screen time went out of control as more and more social media, apps and even taxis and food delivery came to my phone direct. I had to do something about it. And 10 years on that time finally has come.

It turns out that Apple, Facebook, Instagram etc. were all no doubt aware of this simple fact that the more they can keep the user’s attention on a screen the better. The true currency they now had was a person’s undivided attention on a screen.

Then Apple (and others) got caught out. Social media addiction carries with it a big responsibility by these firms on decreasing the quality of people’s lives and mental health. As such iOS took a brave step and social responsibility. They produced a screen time app to get us off screen in May 2019.

I ignored the app for the first few months and the notifications it was giving me on my screen time. What was taking up most of my time on my mobile phone was social media. Which in part is fair enough as one of my jobs is social media coordination for BitPaper. But this can be done far easily and without spending hours looking at my phone every time I find a free moment.

I found that one Sunday I had spent nearly 5 hours on the screen, most of it on social media. What a waste of my precious free day in the week. I knew then that I had to make drastic changes.

Streamlining admin duties on Facebook groups

What was taking up most of my screen time in recent years was interacting on Facebook groups for private tutors. I have never known private tutors until I first started finding them in 2016 and even started growing Facebook groups.

The interaction on these groups; gossip, advice, edupolitics all became a sort of addiction. Managing one group in particular became nearly a full time job. I devolved my duty by getting two other admins for that group. But it remained troublesome. I looked up Facebook Groups Support. Based on their advice and new admin tools like group rules and other powers to admins, I was able to set the tone and quality to the group me and my fellow admins believed in. It has worked like a charm and my role has become so much easier and stress free now.

Uninstalling Facebook messenger

I was wasting a lot of time looking at Facebook messenger and responding to people on there. Unlike WhatsApp and text FB messenger is open to all my friends on there and the messages I get on there are on the whole not of a personal friendship nature. Friends will have my mobile number. But I was responding to everyone (including many many people who I have never met in real life) as if they were my close real life friends and deserved my immediate attention.

About a month ago my co-admin friend mentioned he had taken off FB messenger off his phone. So I did the same. It has been one of the best moves I have ever made. I do respond to messages on FB messenger of course but only when I am next to my PC.

PC Screen time needs to be reduced – social media needs more culling and to be more strategic

My phone screen time has been reduced to nearly a third of what it was. At first it was very hard to get it down. But now I have just got used to it. I tutor 100% online so I can’t avoid all my PC screen of course! But it is a much bigger screen and it is by my desk. Once I have left my desk I feel free from the screen. For that I need to get out of my chair regularly. Which I have more or less done now. I still need to cull social media more as I do of course use it on my PC when I have free moments.

Removing social media apps altogether from my phone?

I am finding the prospect of removing the Facebook app from my phone altogether a daunting prospect. Particularly that some of my job with BitPaper does require it. Perhaps I don’t need to after all but perhaps I do need to get rid of Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn. Instagram might be ok to stay.

Anyway, this is a gradual process. I have made the first HUGE step in freeing myself of smartphone screen addiction. The road ahead should be a lot easier. And with more free time I can start doing the things I really want to do in my free time, mostly to improve my singing, do more tutory projects and blog 🙂

The Brexit vote must be respected and with imminence

I have now more or less stopped writing on my personal blog. My work blog serves me very well these days as I have become engrossed in the world of education. Anything musicy or personal that I want to articulate…well, Facebook, twitter and instagram serve that purpose well. But that’s not always the case which is why I return to my blog here.

Social media is not what it is when it first started, it has sort of become a shouting factory. What offered an immense way of connecting people of all sorts, with different or the same views, cultures etc, it has ended up building echo chambers in ways unprecedented in human history. The ultimate connector has in some ways become the ultimate disconnector. A full analysis of this would be a different blog post for me altogether.

When the Brexit vote took place in 2016, like many who voted to remain I was very disappointed and angry. That anger is expressed in its rawness in my blog post of 2016 on Brexit. But what has happened since then has troubled me even more. I accepted the result of that vote even if I didn’t like the result.

And if I am to even say that on social media then I am sure I will lose friends on there. Since I am both a private tutor and unsigned musician, I have a large friendship base of those leaning not only to the left but quite some way into it. Though maybe I shouldn’t worry about that all, after all my true friends are probably less than 5 and they know how I think anyway. I am mostly a centre left person and when I say mostly, it means that there are some values to me that are more left and some even a little bit to the right.

I can’t voice my opinions on respecting the result of the 2016 referendum as a ‘remainer’ either. There was a referendum in 2016 and we were all told that this is a once in generation vote at the time. Yet, so many seek to overturn that result. Or put in so many spanners in the work that the process is delayed forever, which is essentially what has been happening so far. The Liberal Democrats even openly want to revoke Brexit. After more than a decade of me voting for them, they have now lost my vote because of this.

Labour’s policy is to have another referendum. What’s the point of that? We already had a referendum. And if you have two referendums then why not make it best of three?

As the General Election looms I am in a real dilemma, I am let down by my side if I am honest, the left that I have been part of has become too militant. I would have never dreamt of voting for the Conservatives even a year ago. But now I must seriously consider that option. Why? Because they seem to at least want to respect the result of the referendum. I am very unhappy with the result of the referendum and agree fully with the sentiments of the remainers but a referendum result was decided 3 years ago and it must be respected.

Noel Gallagher sums up the situation perfectly in his usual blunt way with strong language.

“None of us like it. But there it is, it’s happened. I get really fucking cross at myself for not voting, as I’m sure a lot of people didn’t vote. They didn’t because they were thinking no one’s going to vote to leave, it’s a ridiculous idea. But now, I would defend the rights of people who voted to leave, it has to fucking go through.”

I agree that the rights of the people who voted to leave has to be in this case defended. There are more ‘leavers’ out there than you think. The moderate leavers are simply not allowed to express their opinion for fear of backlash. So the only defenders of leave in public left tend to be the more extreme type. This was an issue that split families, friends and other relationships. I know many leavers, some very close to me. I respect their decision at that time.

 

2018 – Year in Review

I started this particular blog on wordpress in 2008 and it is hard to believe 10 years have passed since. There was a time when I wrote more than 20 blog posts a year as an honest and real expression of my thoughts at the time. I rarely blog here now (instead I blog on my tutor website), I do however like writing an end of year review on my personal blog as it grounds me back to what blogging is really all about. Within the tutoring community blogging is often seen as something necessary for SEO purposes. For me blogging should just be about blogging and I blog about whatever I feel like blogging about. I hope to revive this blog or merge it with my tutoring one eventually. For now here is my 2018 year in review:

A year of accommodation in limbo

I left my Old Street flat last year in summer 2017, which seems like a very long time ago. I intended to buy a property but the uncertainty over Brexit means I don’t know what’s happening to the market. It’s not a terrible situation however, as I’ve managed to save more money for a deposit and as property prices have been static I’ll be in a better position to buy. It’s been really nice to have been living with my family in the meantime. Though most of my belongings are stored at my brother’s garage, so I feel in a state of unsettlement. I wonder if I even really need that stuff now as I’ve managed perfectly fine for 1.5 years without it.

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Spending a lot more time with family this year.

A year of losing a friend and a singing influence

The only two blog posts I wrote this year were a tribute to the Cranberries singer and much closer to home, a tribute to the sudden loss of Steven Joad, a prominent figure and helper on the London open mic night scene. Both losses meant a lot to me and I wrote about them at the time.

In March 2018, the world lost Stephen Hawking. My life crossed his for a very short moment and my Facebook post at the time was:

I was 20 back then and out in Cambridge with my collecting tin, raising money for Poppy Day with the RAG club of Imperial College. I happened to be just outside the Marks and Spencer and I noticed someone inside. I was in two minds if I should go and say hello but I went in anyway. After a brief conversation with the carer, I handed her a couple of poppies, including one for the person she was with. The person in the wheelchair acknowledged it with a brief flicker of his eye and I went off outside to collect again. It was Stephen Hawking. What a true inspiration to humanity, a moment of time and space I will never forget. Rest in Peace.

Paid off student loan

21 years after I first took out a student loan I finally paid it off late this year. It was a more emotional moment than I had anticipated, as for the first time in a very long time I became debt free. The loan was part of my life and when times got tough for me financially I was able to defer the loan. Thankfully the last 5 years were good for me and I started paying the loan off again. Bring on the next debt of the mortgage.

The rise and cutback of my online tutoring

My online tutoring just got busy and busy in the 2017-2018 year. That was my busiest year of tutoring ever and I was at it 7 days a week.

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Meeting up with Indie Tutor friends, colleagues, supporters, co-workers. Whatever you want to call it 🙂

I had gained some weight as I tutor from home. The days of going out commuting daily and running about on the London transport network seems like a faded dream. Little did I realise that running around had some (albeit limited) benefits! My social life suffered and I stopped performing music regularly as well once I moved further East with trips into central London taking a little longer. Furthermore, I got involved in many tutoring related side projects as well which really took up a lot of my time.

So, this summer I made the decision that I was going to take a hit in my income for 2018-2019 and reduce my tutoring hours. I’m glad to say I’ve managed to discipline myself to not tutor on Sundays and I keep Friday and Saturday evenings free. It’s a great work-life balance and I’m very happy with it all. The rise of my online tutoring in other countries means I tutor midweek daytimes more than ever. I’ve got a regular schedule of going to the gym, running at the local park and going out to a local cafe to get out of home. The new schedule doesn’t always go to plan but it sure has allowed me to focus on my love of live music and singing more as well. More on that next.

Singing lessons and playing open mic nights

I was taking singing lessons sporadically in 2017 but this year I’ve really gone for it.

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Performing more regularly at open mic nights again 🙂

I’ve been taking them regularly every week, once a week since the summer. It’s been quite a process so far and in many ways I’m only now starting to find my true voice. I really look forward to sharing it all through new recordings I’ll make. I bought a brand new microphone for vocal recording in 2017 and I’m planning to buy studio audio monitors too. This will complete my PC’s transformation into a fully fledged demo audio studio. I fully intend to release a bunch of solo material as a singer in 2019 or 2020.

On the performance front I found a great venue 15 minutes walk from where I live. It’s the perfect way for me to get out of home, get some fresh air walking and blast out some songs once a fortnight. Going out and playing live is my thing and I’m so glad I’m doing it again now.

New laptop, monitor, microphone, chair and guitar amp

I got myself a brand new laptop (the very first one I’ve ever owned) which comes in very handy for tutoring when I’m away from London or at a cafe. To enhance my online tutoring even more I upgraded to a larger monitor screen this year. From 21″ to 24″ and in future I plan to pair both monitors up too.

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Funky new Rode NT USB mic.

I also got myself a really decent microphone for my online tutoring and Facebook live-streaming. The Rode NT USB is a cracker and I can’t believe I only upgraded to a good quality mic so recently. Additionally, I got myself a decent ergonomic chair since my job involves sitting on the same chair for hours. I had been using a terrible folding chair for nearly two years and when I started getting back pains and breathing problems, I seriously had to make a change. All this is superb investment in my own well being as an online tutor and to enhance the tutoring experience for me and student. I’m a big believer of reinvesting in the very best possible hardware, software and resources when it comes to online tutoring.

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Dell 24″ monitor

And lastly, I treated myself to buying the Boss Katana 50 guitar amp. It’s the first electric guitar amp in 20 years that I have bought and has really got me into playing my electric guitar a lot more at home. Usually home guitar amps are pretty rubbish, so I would only play my electric guitar properly in rehearsal studios and gigs. But now I can get some of that raw rock guitar roar at home from a really decent sounding amp.

Maths teaching professional development and Education technology

This year I’ve learned more about the skill of teaching than I have in any other year.
img_5001 I’ve learnt a phenomenal amount on teaching maths from one of the best networks for CPD, the La Salle Education Complete Maths Network. This fills me with a great sense of confidence in my abilities as a tutor. The fact that I now have a fair bit of teacher training is going to add a ton of value to my tutoring. I’ve also read a lot and followed education blogs. I feel this journey into truly exploring education has only really just begun and more on that will be on my tutoring blog over the coming months and years. I also attended a couple of EdTech events, Bett 2018 in January and the EdTech exchange.

Indie Tutors and my tutory live-streams

I remain totally dedicated to organising tutor meet-ups and community. Each week me and co-host Henry Dingle hold a lovely Facebook livestream for tutors. I’ve really started to get better with this live presentation on video. And I’ve even started my very own live-streams on my tutoring Facebook page (Atul Rana – Online Tutor). I’m a big fan of video and hope to really do a lot more of this next year. After running tutoring courses, Facebook groups and attending maths events all over the U.K. in the last 3 years I’m getting a good sense of what’s needed.

Summer hot hot hot

This summer was one of the hottest I can ever remember. It really was amazing and memorable. England’s unexpected performance in the Football World Cup 2018 added a national sense of optimism for a short while. I blogged about the summer in some detail on my tutoring blog. img_4090It was amazing to go on many day outs with my mum and sister, locally in Hackney Wick, Greenwich Peer, away to Windsor Castle, the Farnborough Air Show, loads of local carnivals run by the council and watching team India for the ladies Hockey World Cup 2018.

I had a lovely time going to Edinburgh and a friend’s birthday weekend near Peterborough jamming lots of music. I performed at the Mint Street festival again. Iron Maiden + Def Leppard were my two big gigs this year. Both surpassing expectations.

Books I read this year included Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, Factfulness by the late Hans Rosling and Craig Barton’s How I wish I’d taught maths. All invaluable reading. Things I didn’t do at all in 2018 included any sort of travel abroad. I do miss going to India and hope to travel there soon.

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From the Beast from the East, to an early hot spring weekend, to being cold again, to a long hot summer, a mild autumn and a mildish winter, with never ending Brexit drama all around, 2018 was a roller coaster. Despite what was going on in the outside world, it was a great year for me personally. It was a year of growth followed by reflection, re-balance and renewal. It has set me up perfectly for 2019. Happy new year all!

Other year in reviews: 2017, 2016, 2015

In Memory of Dolores O’Riordan

On 15th January 2018 I heard the news and posted my immediate thoughts on Facebook at the death of Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan.

Somewhere deep on my band’s website is a list of singers that have influenced me, and The Cranberries have been there right from the start. For the summer of 1996 their album was the sound of teenage angst and I heard that second album of theirs endlessly. Living in Edinburgh at the time I was vowed by the potency and beauty of their music. Their minimalist chorus soaked electric guitar, sparse drums, clean simple basslines, topped with the sweet, small and lush voice of Dolores that really struck a chord for me. From the bright and hopeful Dreams, to the melancholic Ode to my family, the summery Linger, the simple yet potent Pretty and so many more incredible songs, they gave me a soundtrack when I needed it most. Rest In Peace Dolores.

There are celebrity deaths and those of musicians which come but then they fade out of memory. But for some reason this one hit me hard at the time and it still does. I am not alone and every update of the Cranberries Facebook page still has lots of sad face reactions on it. And there are so many heartfelt beautiful comments on her YouTube videos. The fans that adored her and her music are in a state of mourning.

I was living in a triple room as a first year undergraduate in 1996, my life was full of confusion, angst and happiness at the same time. It was a really strange cocktail. Music was my drug and when my French roommate put on the ‘No Need to Argue’ album on a mini CD player with small battery speakers I knew I was hooked. The more I heard the album the better it became. I left London for Edinburgh for 3 months. Still just a teenager I went into this crazy journey at a place well away from the emotional protection of my parents or friends.

I heard that album pretty much the whole summer, it really was the soundtrack of my angst, her voice rang true and her angst in those songs were companion in my loneliness and heartache at the time. Her music had real potency about it. There was something very very raw, real, vulnerable and powerful about her lush and soft voice. Her voice and songs healed me and were my companion when I needed it most.

As I had grown older I had lost touch with their newer music, they too had grown older as a band and the angst of the early writings was no longer there either. A part of me had changed and assimilated with their music. I went to Edinburgh again a few more times later through the years and every time I went there I could still hear her voice echoing in my head. The Celtic magic of her voice and music really suited the magic of that city.

The singer that comforted me when I most needed it is no longer there. Rest In Peace Dolores O’Riordan. You touched the lives of so many and we will miss you.

In memory of Steven Joad the Musicknight

Hello from the other side of the bar

Is what Steven wrote while I was livestreaming my open mic night from Belushi’s in Camden, to which I replied to later “ha ha yeah hello from the other side as Adele would say”.

Steven Joad is so very well known by musicians in the London open mic night scene. Sadly a sudden stroke took him away from us all a few weeks ago. Today is his funeral and the tributes have been pouring on to his Facebook wall. Steven’s instagram account was called The Music Knight and that he well and truly was.

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Steven’s quirky sense of humour will be missed.

Playing and performing music live is my drug. At first I did this with my band DonkeyBox but as that winded down over the years I went out alone and discovered the vibrant music scene in London by myself. What an amazing discovery it has been, so many creative souls, so many dreamers, so much talent out there. Amongst them are gems like Steven Joad, not a musician himself, just someone else addicted to the thrill of live music. He was there at several open mic nights throughout the week. He helped musicians set up, helped promoters put on a night and did those small things that made life so much better for musicians. He would happily take photos and videos of musicians, had a handy torch for whenever I was fumbling around looking for cables in my rucksack and would help setting up on stage so much more efficient and more relaxed.

The thing I will remember him most for however is how he saved me from an attack while I was performing live. In the hundreds of times I have played live there is only one occasion in which someone actually came up to me shouting abuse straight and up close to my face. I was bracing myself for a punch to my face. It was a strange moment and I was so much in the flow of performing that I just continued singing and playing the song. Steven flew out from nowhere, grabbed the guy straightaway and within seconds he was thrown out of the pub by pub staff. I simply kept playing until I ended the song and only at the end of the song did I realise what had really happened. I acknowledged the incident and thanked both Steven and pub staff for helping me then.

Rest in Peace Steven, themusicknight will be sorely missed by the many musicians’ lives and hearts you touched all these years.


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