Plugging back into the in-person world

Now in its thirteenth year, this blog is a record of my thoughts. I will want to look back at these exceptional times in history and get a feel for what life is like right now during pandemic.

When living in the present, it can be hard to think out of it. The pandemic has thrown around phrases like “is this the new normal?” and questions like “will we ever work in offices again?” “Is online shopping the norm?” It certainly feels like it right now. But I think we will return to in person life very quickly and settle into it very easily. Though that process is going to be gradual because the pandemic needs to subside globally. Globally the pandemic is at its peak now and while things are looking good here, that is not the case in so many other countries. It will be a good year or more before things can truly return to normal, the old normal?, the new normal? Well, there I said it again!

Standing on London bridge with Tower Bridge in the background. London is teeming with life again.

Weather wise, this has been the coldest May that I can remember. The wintry days have still not ended as we approach the end of May. The last one I remember and blogged about were the wintry days of March 2013. This year’s winter has been compounded severely by months of lockdown. It’s unimaginable to have had central heating and full winter clothing all the way to May. A long harsh winter both literally and metaphorically. But all things pass and the sun is breaking through with lockdown nearly all over.

What has added to that sense of optimism is vaccinations as I’ve had one vaccination shot too. All my family (except for baby nephew) have had one or two shots. We are incredibly lucky in the UK to have a vaccination programme delivered through a nationalised health system, early on and fast. The UK has the lowest vaccine hesitancy level of any country. There is no doubt that the UK made a real mess of it at the early phases of the pandemic. It is all too easy to play the blame game and default into the pessimism trap. Optimism always wins in my world and on the whole we are to be commended for lasting such a long, difficult winter with the security of a successful vaccination programme. I hope we never have to go through anything like this again.

Walking to my local area pond. I only observed it autumn and winter so far. It looks lush in spring.

Plugging into real life again has been an absolute joy. For me it was when the winter lockdown was released enough so I could exercise more by going out and meet one friend outdoors. The next phase meeting my baby nephew outdoors. I feel sad to have missed on months of his development, when at one time I was able to babysit him at his home. Babies grow so fast and I’ve missed seeing many of his developmental milestones in person. My family managed to connect with him on video calls but as we only live 20 mins away from him the separation has felt difficult. My mother and her first grandson had to be kept apart for so many months for her safety. A small sacrifice perhaps in the big scheme of things.

I forgot how to travel on the tube again and how intense this experience can be. Much like when you’ve been in the countryside for a while and are thrown into the urban jungle. I found it stressful walking around hoards of people, trying to distance socially while travelling on the London Underground. I also forgot that some people are just morons on the tube, no mask wearing and music or videos playing through tinny mobile phone speakers. Being at home meant I had become oblivious to these little annoyances of real life. But I enjoy the buzz and energy of the city (once the morons are out of the way). London has an incredible future ahead of itself and I’ll be investing in it.

Lockdown has nearly all ended now and the weather is warmer. I’m so glad to be back in the studio again doing Pilates and some sort of studio tango dancing too. I really can’t wait for a few more weeks when all restrictions are lifted. That still hasn’t stopped me from catching up in person with friends, including small garden parties and regular visits to my baby nephew. The fear of virus variants is always going to be there as viruses mutating is nothing new and we experience that with colds and flu as well, though the consequences are of course not as severe. I am confident science will stay one step ahead of it now that genome is well sequenced.

We will meet again soon my friend. As I said in my last blog post: “In time, we’ll be dancing in the streets all night”.

In time we’ll be dancing in the streets all night

In the film Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure there’s a scene where Bill & Ted arrive temporarily into the future. A futuristic council of members are looking cool with their shades and floating on throne like chairs. There is something ethereal and magical about the background music that adds real gravity to the scene, it’s totally excellent.

Now I’ve watched that film a few times, but this time in the middle of pandemic, something about that song stirred me. I looked up the song and found it online. It turned out to be In Time by Robbie Robb.

A film that is silly and a song that fits that moment where they arrive in the future is even more silly. But there is something deeper in the whole film and that song. There is an optimism for the future, a place where you can do the things you want to, where anything is possible. The more I got into the lyrics, the more I got that spine tingling feeling of being moved by the music. After an atmospheric intro, the opening lines are : “No fear, no loss, no tears, the time is almost here…” Culminating with the chorus that “I can see for miles and miles, in time we will be dancing in the streets all night”. What a vision. To be able to see miles into the future is a great metaphor.

The line on being able to dance in the streets again nearly bought tears to my eyes. Argentine Tango dancing is something I have missed so much. Being able to dance in the streets was a normal, everyday thing. It has been unthinkable for the last year to do an activity which was so normal before. To once again have the freedom to do that would be sublime.

For me this song has become the song of hope during this pandemic. Whenever I feel stuck, frustrated or locked up, I know I can put this song on for a cheer.

So be excellent to each other and party on dudes.

No fear, no loss, no tears,
The time is almost here.
Our dreams will all come true, I promise you,
‘Cause I can see for miles and miles.
In time we’ll be dancing in the streets all night (all night, all night)
In time, yes, everything will be all right (all right, all right)
It’ll take time but we’re going far,
You and me, yes I know we are.
In time we’ll be dancing in the streets all night.Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah,
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah,
In time we’ll be dancing in the streets all night.
All night.

One heart, one soul, one mind,
Our eyes will not be blind.
We’ll see this rain come down without this sound,
We can all, we can all break free.
In time we’ll be dancing in the streets all night (all night, all night).
In time, yes, everything will be all right (all right, all right).
It’ll take time but we’re going far,
You and me, yes I know we are,
In time we’ll be dancing in the streets all night.

Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah.
In time…In time we’ll be dancing in the streets all night (all night, all night).
In time, yes, everything will be all right (all right, all right).
It’ll take time but we’re going far,
You and me, yes I know we are,
In time we’ll be dancing in the streets all night.
All night, we’ll be dancing,
We’ll be dancing, we’ll be dancing,
All night…
We’ll be dancing in the streets all night.
Dancing…
In time, we’ll be dancing… all night.
We’ll be dancing in the streets all night.

Robbie Robb, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Journey, Original Soundtrack

I can see clearly now the rain is gone

Not too long before we have to start thinking of excuses not to go out again.

Very British Problems – 5 February 2021

There was something about last Friday 5th February, it felt good, really good. The short, gloomy days of January had left us behind and it was a sunny, bright day. Both literally and metaphorically. But only because of the contrast in that week. I was saddened to hear the passing of Captain Tom Moore due to Covid-19. He gave the nation hope, optimism and unity. His legacy will forever live on in the history books.

The vaccinations all over the world have been extraordinary and the UK has really excelled at it. We are going ahead at a spectacular rate. My mum got an appointment for the vaccination and got her jab in the same week last week, which nearly bought tears to my eyes. I can’t describe the feeling of relief and release of tension I didn’t know that I had. And then news after news item showed the accelerating pace of vaccination. The end of lock down, starting of schools and even thoughts of how to recover the economy were all in the news.

We don’t know how long it will take to reach the end of the road with the pandemic. And I certainly don’t want to jinx things either since this is a complex process. But last Friday definitely felt like a turning point. The song ‘I can see clearly now’ by Jimmy Cliff kept playing in my head.

Having the luxury and choice of excuses to not go out is a truly divine thing. I so look forward to making that excuse when the time comes.

Pandemic and a distorted sense of time

How can it be that not even a year has passed by since the first lock down, yet it feels like 2 or maybe even 3 years have gone? Weekends feel like week days, week days feel like weekends. No social events to go out for, no friends to meet for coffee. Home is where the heart is but perhaps we’ve had enough of home.

I believe that the passage of time is experienced in a non-linear way. When many things happen one after another quickly, particularly those that involve big changes in life, time literally does seem to stand still. But once we get into set routines, years pass by and every year feels the same. That happened to me in my 30s. The late teens and early 20s felt like an eternity as so much was happening in my student life. But then I was bewildered in my 30s that 4 years could pass by without much happening.

You can subjectively buy more time in life by doing more things with it. So although the pandemic has bought disruption to normal life, the present moment is one to be cherished and enjoyed. Craving for a time in the past or the future while foregoing the present moment comes at a cost, something that I wrote about in 2011.

Time at home can be spent in so many creative ways. My room used to be just for tutoring but with some creativity I’ve made into a Pilates studio (bought a mat), dance practice studio (cardboard box on floor is enough) and I have started journaling more. I also take longer, more reflective walks when I do get out. And a whole bunch of other stuff that I talked about in my review of 2020.

Of course I am lucky to have already been working from home, so things are a little easier for me. But nonetheless I have taken this opportunity to do things that I had only been thinking about and to finally implement them. So might as well enjoy that ride. This too shall pass and we will meet again.

Focus hack – The same time, location and duration every week

It takes real skill to get 4 people turn up to a band rehearsal every week.

I was looking for a new lead guitarist for my band back in 2004. Booking band practice used to be hard work, trying to sync up the diaries of 4 student musicians and the room rental space. So when a prospective guitarist made that quote, I was taken aback by its simple and profound clarity. That quote and the “eighty percent of success in life is just showing up” one by Woody Allen has stuck with me ever since.

With that clarity and new determination, I devised a new, almost obvious system:

Booking band practice between 7 pm and 11 pm every Wednesday, every week.

Once booked, I didn’t have anyone to chase up. We met on Wednesday and then we would talk about meeting the following Wednesday. No one would book Wednesday off for any other purpose as it was sacred for band practice. This consistency in time and space gave us a stable framework, focusing me and my band mates. Week by week, we got better and within a few months a lot better.

I had tapped into the powerful nature of consistency and the compounding returns it brings.

Growth with a compounding ‘R’ value of 1.01 Vs 0.99. This is why monumental efforts are being made to keep the R value below 1 during the pandemic.

James Clear’s book Atomic Habits explains why this focus hack I’ve used for the last 20 years works so well. And now that I know about it more consciously, it is going to become a part of my planning forever.

It goes something like this: (from James Clear’s blog)

I will [BEHAVIOR] at [TIME] in [LOCATION].

  • I will meditate for one minute at 7 a.m. in my kitchen.
  • I will study Spanish for twenty minutes at 6 p.m. in my bedroom.
  • I will exercise for one hour at 5 p.m. in my local gym.
  • I will make my partner a cup of tea at 8 a.m. in the kitchen.

Give your habits a time and a space to live in the world. The goal is to make the time and location so obvious that, with enough repetition, you get an urge to do the right thing at the right time, even if you can’t say why.

Here’s a few actual examples in my diary of things that I currently commit to:

  • Every day – Read 10 mins after waking up, go for a morning walk straight after (indoors during lock down)
  • Wednesdays 10:30 am – Singing lesson
  • Wednesdays 8 pm – Pilates class
  • Fridays 7:30 pm – Tango class
  • Saturdays 11 am – Ballet for Tango class
  • Sundays 7:00 pm – Live streaming singing and guitar playing

Signing up to classes is the easy bit as the timings are designed by someone else. The hard bit is something like committing to live streaming every Sunday or going for a walk first thing in the morning. These habits took me about a month to get into. But once I was into doing these, everything was automated and even if I didn’t feel like it, I was far too committed to the consistency to back off now.

I still have a few other things I need to automate. Same time, same place, same duration, every week or daily. In the beginning the energy need to focus is high but with time this gets easier. Trust yourself that compounding will take over later. Slow improvements at first will lead to huge long term changes.

So try it with any new habit you are trying to build.

Small initial consistency (it really has to be consistent, otherwise this fails) really pays off massively in the long term.


2020 – Year in Review

2021:
“Fancy coming round?”
“I’m social distancing!”
“But we cured the virus?”
“I said what I said”

Very British Problems – 29 May 2020

My journey of 2020 could be described from three different viewpoints. My monthly step count, my baby nephew growing up from the age of 2 months to 14 months or the witty Very British Problems tweets.

I already covered a rocky journey of step counts and would love to post pictures of my baby nephew in every month of his development. But that journey is best kept within the family. So, the Very British Problems will be your guide.

Presenting at a maths conference for the first time, a major professional landmark

2020 was, despite its difficulties, a great year for me. I lost weight through regular, consistent walking. I ate healthy food at home, cut down on projects that wasted time and improved my focus significantly. I also presented at maths conferences for the first time, became an established education live streamer and was recognised by a major newspaper. Lots of amazing new opportunities came my way as I got recognised for my remote teaching skills. The phrase I heard more than ever this year was “You were ahead of the curve” which has been humbling.

That is not to say things were easy in my personal life. I too had stresses of my own, just like everyone else did. Tough regular lockdowns is not what we humans are designed for. But every time I was locked, I cut through the prison and found new freedom, one that I could not have found had I not been in lockdown.

So here it is, a month by month review of my 2020.

January – Baby, Breakfasts and BETT show

With with Sam Power on 1 January 2020

31st December 2019, I was a stone’s throw away from the largest firework display in London at Waterloo. Celebration and hope was in the air. I was out in the freezing cold with my good friend Sam singing and playing guitar below a restaurant porch and away from the crowds. Just two friends, meeting outside in the cold. It was almost as if we’d sensed that we need to get used to meeting one friend outside thing in 2020.

The next day was New Year’s day 2020 and I performed as Sam’s backing singer on second guitar at an indoors centre. The night before we had been rehearsing in the cold. And so this is how 2020 started for me, not just this gig with Sam but band practice with my own band DonkeyBox for a gig in February.

As previous years I visited the BETT show, focused on education technology. This year, for the first time I saw a stand by a company called zoom. I had been using this video platform for 4 years so I went to the zoom stand and asked what they were doing for education. Building large TVs for school video teleconferencing use. I told them that I teach pupils all over the world using their platform, from my own home to pupil homes. They thought it was pretty cool but didn’t make much of it. After all, who would think any educator would need to teach from home when they can do so in person in a classroom? Evidently, not even zoom.

The most number of tutors who have ever met at Bett Show, Bett 2020. Only 4 of us there were already full time online tutors. Photo by @TeachAllAboutIT

Otherwise January and February were no different to the end of 2019, I continued to post pictures of cakes and big Sunday breakfasts. I was attending open mic nights, tango classes were going solid, so were pilates, singing lessons and my step count. January was a power month. My adorable baby nephew turned 3 months old. We celebrated every month he got older.

February – A mystery cold bug, DonkeyBox gig, leaping into a Tango ball

February didn’t start well, I caught a strong cold. Through regular paracetamols I managed to tutor online as usual. My family was on holiday in India for 2 weeks so I was home alone. But I just about managed to squeeze my bands gig in, which I was very happy about.

It was now mid February. On a cold Valentine’s day evening after tango class I was sitting at a Franco Manca pizza restaurant. Pondering singledom I was eating Tiramisu cake. I was going to go home that evening but am so glad I just went out on my own to just absorb London on this beautiful day. I made the right call, for life as we know it was going to change in a month from now.

The Covid-19 virus that had been in the news since November was now starting to make the news more often. And an imminent spread in the UK was on the cards. But no one knew what that meant. So life just continued as normal.

In late February and March I had 3 big Saturdays coming back to back. February 29th, March 7th and 14th. At the time I was worried about having to reschedule my Saturday tutoring to make these. Not to mention being tired of so much socialising.

The final hours of leap day, February 29th could not have been more beautiful. I dressed up, blazer, tie and cobalt blue shoes. I danced all night at the Winter Tango Ball. The show by my instructors, meeting the tango community and watching elegant dancers in a large hall was magical and ethereal. It was a brief respite from the news. Even the ball only just went ahead as some people were already aware of the virus spreading. Alcohol gel was enough of a precaution then and later on in the March maths conference.

March – Singing exam, hockey, maths conference, #StayAtHomeSaveLives and live streaming (music)

“Did the clocks go forwards or backwards?”
“I don’t think it really matters anymore”

Very British Problems – 29 March 2020

1st March 2020, a crisp mid-day Sunday morning, still high and tired from the tango ball, I nervously headed to a music studio under a church crypt in North London. Over there I performed my first exam in over 20 years, grade 3 singing Trinity Rock and Pop. I felt it went well and a few weeks later I got my pass result.

March 2020 was a pivotal month, all the extremes of normal and pandemic life took place in the span of just this one month. This will be the longest month write up, because in years I will look back and see the fast adjustments I made and jumped into what I felt was my call of duty.

Mens hockey reunion match at Imperial College

On the first Saturday of March I attended the annual Imperial College Men’s IVth team reunion match. An annual event that I have not missed in 18 years. But we only just went ahead with this too. By the following week the virus situation escalated even further.

Pre-conference social for maths conference in March. My last big social outing.

On to the weekend after, I was in Manchester at a Pop World nightclub, the Friday night before the conference. The pub was nearly empty and the club wasn’t full either. The virus was starting to dent people’s confidence in going out. And it was clear that we now had a serious pandemic to deal with. The maths conference was fantastic as always. The day after I went for tourism around Manchester with my good friend Austin. It was a muted affair, the city buzz was just not there.

I headed back to London on the train on Sunday night. The news that weekend was not good about the virus. My tango instructors had already suspended their studio classes and announced they will be trialing online classes. I gave them a call on zoom while I was still on the fast moving train. My role in training others to use video conferencing had already begun.

Canal Street in Manchester. Already looking empty mid March. Pre-lockdown.

This was my calling, my moment and so I threw myself in. I went all out in showing people how video conferencing works, particularly the use of zoom. I was overwhelmed by other tutors asking me how I tutored online. I had already prepared written guides for this 2 years ago, so I just needed to tweak these.

It was too much to do though, things I learnt over 8 years had to be taught to tutors who rejected ideas around technology previously. And it had to be done immediately. I thought long and hard what the most efficient and effective use of my time would be. It would be to live stream with other tutors, experienced ones. I went for it and set up several live streams. I started testing live streaming on twitter as well and set up a big one with the maths teacher CPD network. The network was already established so all I had to do was move it in the direction of live video.

A digital image made by one of my tutees. Determined to keep learning online.

As for the rest of my activities and life, Pilates went online, open mic nights went online and so did my dance classes.

March 2020 step count

April – Tutoring, live streaming (maths), ballet , mass destruction of online tutoring

Today it is April 1st. It is a Wednesday. Everything is real. There are no jokes. That’s it. It is what it is. Here we are.

Very British Problems – 1 April 2020

The shock and reality of lockdown really took full effect in this month. Schools were off, streets remained quiet and most local shops remained closed. It was a depressing sight. I remarked to my sister that the streets are as quiet as Christmas day, it is most bizarre.

Screen time
Weekly report:
Yeah, fair play, I don’t blame you.
Crack on.

Very British Problems – 13 April 2020

The news was full of the daily death count of people. It was impossible not to pay attention to this. Locked up at home, being on screen, following such negative news every hour was not good for mental well being. With just one outing available, I started to walk for longer. Kudos to my tango teachers who innovated and moved online very quickly. I helped them initially and got the ball rolling for them. They started an online ballet class as a result of going all online. For the first time in my life I was learning ballet. And I am so glad I am doing it now. It is fantastic for core, balance and breathing.

I missed singing to my nephew. This image was from February 2020.

Nearly time to change from daytime pyjamas back into night-time pyjamas.

Very British Problems – 16 April 2020

I did my best to help out online tutors, as someone who runs various meetups, groups and being part of Bitpaper. Rightly so Bitpaper commercialised or risked being drowned by server costs. It was stressful doing so many tech things. and trying to help as many people as I could.

The little niche I had been part of so many years was now full of novices. In many cases lacking the most basic of IT skills. Nothing wrong with that as everyone learns this with an open mind. The expert voices were getting drowned out. Novice to novice advice took over. I gave up and went live streaming with mainstream teachers from the maths conference community I knew. This turned out to be truly amazing and I started forming an identity as a live streamer. This is when I came to realise that there are truly very few excellent online tutors out there. “I am not a maths person” is a quote lamented by maths tutors, yet so many were saying “I am not a tech person”. You can’t learn anything with such a mindset. The very few that learnt to teach online well already had skills of flexibility, adaptability and thinking across domains.

May – established live streamer, 2nd computer monitor, the lockdown spell ends

Might just stay in today.

Very British Problems – 2 May 2020

The decision of exams being cancelled earlier took a huge toll on education and the tutoring industry. It was a wild ride for me, some parents wanted extra tutoring as children were at home and not doing anything, while GCSE and A Level tutoring finished early. I lost a lot of tutoring hours and income in May. But got busy instead training other tutors and live streaming. None of which was going to make me money but I felt it was the right thing to do.

Live streaming maths education.

I also bought myself a second computer monitor. Previously I had just one 24″ computer screen but as I was live streaming, I realised I need another one. What a great decision! It was amazing to have two large monitors and has been a total game changer in the way I work.

After nearly three months, today is the last day of May.

Very British Problems – 31 May 2020

In a cruel twist of fate, May 2020 was the warmest May on record. It was the most bizzare thing seeing hot days with no one going out at all. I increased my step count as much as I could with just the one walk a day. The #StayAtHomeSaveLives lockdown was finally ended at the end of May. Two and half months of national imprisonment at home ended. My elderly mother had not left the flat at all in all this time for keeping safe.

June – long walks, baby visits, online mathsconf and new microphone

Self administered haircut, my only one of 2020.

Knowing it’s been a strange year when a pint and a haircut is the ultimate dream.

Very British Problems – 23 June 2020

I decided not to go for a haircut as I didn’t feel safe at the prospect. All my walks were within a 1 mile radius of where I lived. I was just glad I could do 10000 steps again. I didn’t want to go to pubs either as I didn’t feel they were safe. June was one of the wettest ones on record too.

With so much live streaming from the very outset of lockdown, I was setting up a precedent of what is possible online. And companies who run conferences starting running them online. I attended the La Salle maths conference which was all online this time. I missed the real life interaction of the conference that was held in March but enjoyed the virtual nature of the new one. I even set up a coffee/staffroom on zoom through the day for that conference. Father’s day, the day after the conference made me reflect in a deep way.

I was able to meet my baby nephew again, albeit outdoors. Despite occasional rain the weather was perfect to meet outside. Although I had seen my nephew several times a week on video call, I couldn’t get a feel of how much he had developed and grown until I saw him in person. Even in March I could hug him, sing to him and feed him. All that was no longer possible.

Going for local walks. I got to know my area well.

July – Indoor baby visits, 5 mins of fame as guest speaker

Never wanting to hear the word “unprecedented” ever again.

Very British Problems – 9 July 2020
My online tutoring desk

July was a nicer weather month. We were finally able to visit my nephew’s family indoors. It was absolute bliss being able to see my brother’s family again. I kept live streaming and got invited to present my knowledge on online tutoring at a Tutors’ Association panel. I also presented to other teachers (rather than tutors) for the first time ever at a Seneca conference. Both presentations were just 5 minutes and I really prepared for them hard. The Seneca one had over a thousand people tuned in so it was a big deal for me.

August – Buxton, Wall Street Journal and Leytonstone Unplugged

Enjoying a walk at the Roaches near Buxton, England

My tutoring workload was high all summer, more than any summer. Which in part is due to adult tutees and homeschoolers who I teach all year round. And in part due to the virus and school learning loss. I needed a break pretty desperately.

I was so hoping to visit my friend Sam in the Algarve region in Portugal again this summer. But this was simply not possible. I had not used the London underground or ventured on the high street since mid March. My rucksack was still full of the March maths conference stuff. Like a frozen time capsule.

By August I felt more confident to go out and masks were standard usage now. I looked for holidays and booked a bed and breakfast in Buxton, near Derby, England for 6 days.

Chilling by this bridge in Bakewell, England. This became a pivot place for exploring the Peak Disctrict

Buxton was divine. I was blessed with beautiful, hot sunshine every single day. I went completely on my own to this holiday just with my guitar. I didn’t drive, so getting out of Buxton had to be done by public buses. They only ran once an hour. With prior planning I managed to see a ton of nice areas around Buxton. I met up with my friend Austin as well.

While still in Buxton, an article I had been working on with a Wall Street Journalist got published. I was in seventh heaven, being featured in one of the world’s largest newspapers is a major personal achievement.

Towards the end of the trip I met up with some of the maths conference teachers. Meeting them again in a beer garden outside on a warm August afternoon is a beautiful memory of the summer. Along with the long walks from Bakewell to various places. The best one being to Chatsworth house. A walk and experience I will never forget.

Chatsworth House

August was truly the month of things hinting to return to normal. Only hinting though. I played my first actual gig singing and playing guitar as part of the Leytonstone Unplugged festival. Musicians performed outside 12 or so front gardens on the streets of Leytonstone, while the audience wore masks and saw musicians from the distance. It was such a unique gig for me, I played with no amplification and sang out raw. The day was great and I also met and befriended local musicians.

Performing to people from a front garden. A first for me

September – School year starts, weekends off, long walks and studio tango returns

Well, September. Here we are. Be a good month. No pressure.

Very British Problems – 1 September 2020
Reviving social life again with team tango

The school year re-started and things were looking more normal, albeit with restrictions. Feeling more confident in going out after my Buxton holiday where I was eating out in pubs daily, I felt I could revive some things in London too. I organised a tutor meetup with just 6 of us.

The new school year was the most stressful one ever for me being fully booked already in the summer. I decided to keep Friday afternoons and Saturdays free. Meaning my weekend was two and a half days long. The downside to this was that my midweek was really packed, tutoring until 8 pm most evenings. I was feeling the strain in the middle of the week but the weekend was so nice and relaxed.

Afternoon tea at Liberties London

I started venturing out further in my local area. Studio classes for groups of 6 started for tango again. I should add that each couple was part of a bubble (i.e no partner changing, therefore many couples were real life couples too), each couple 2 metres from each other and wore masks. This was very different to the studio classes before but also special in its own way, which I enjoyed. I started to socialise outdoors after class with my new tango group. And we had great times with outdoor drinks. Life was feeling good again. But central London looked depressingly empty, a shell of its former self.

September came and I decided not to celebrate my birthday this time. I could have done a great job on zoom, uniting friends all over the world. But I was suffering from too much screen time, and just wanted to meet people outside in person.

October – Presenting at a maths conference, baby is 1, glorious autumn walks

Celebrating Friday night by staying in and keeping safe 🥳

Very British Problems – 23 October 2020
Intro to maths conference where I presnted the first workshop

I did it. After 3 years of continuous engagement and participation in maths conferences, I finally presented a workshop myself. It was a great personal achievement. The workshop went incredibly well and it established me more as a maths educator. I blogged in detail about this whole journey on my tutoring blog. I connected with maths teachers I get on with more than in any year ever, thanks to zoom socials.

My nephew’s 1st birthday, a beautiful celebration with family

October was really all about my baby nephew. As he turned older every month, month by month, we had a mini celebration. We wished him happy month birthday every month. October was the big one, he was going to turn a full one year old! We could only celebrate between the two households, no big parties, but that wasn’t necessary.

Seeing the little one develop and become a year older has been a journey full of joy for his parents, his grandmother (my mum), me as his uncle and his aunt (my sister). The baby kept us distracted from the troubles of the world and into his present focused world.

A local park. The colours of autumn were incredible. And I only noticed them this year in such detail

October started getting colder but my walks kept getting more glorious, the colours of autumn were stunning. For the first time in many years in my life, I was blessed with the time to actually slow down and appreciate nature. I also met up with a friend by the river Thames on the weekend whenever I was able to.

November – The second wave lockdown, presenting again, Diwali, cold walks with friends

The clocks changed and it got darker earlier in the day. Inevitably the second wave came, worse than the first and a second lockdown was announced in late October. November was going to be a glum and dark month. Thankfully, the second lockdown was not worst than the first. But it was a lockdown nonetheless. I was gutted to miss out on studio tango classes and visiting my nephew. We didn’t visit him for the rest of 2020 after October. I felt like I missed on months of him growing up. But in the big picture, this was a small sacrifice to make.

Cold walks, amazing scenery

On the back of the success of my previous maths conference talk, I got invited to another one. This was such a privilege and I thoroughly enjoyed doing this talk for Teach Meet Maths Icons. The tutoring workload midweek was intense for me, so I stopped live streaming with teachers and tutors. I really missed this and hope to revive these in 2021 right from the word go.

Lockdown meant that my family could not celebrate Diwali with my brother’s family. But we got sweets and celebrated with lights nonetheless. It went well despite the lockdown. Halloween was also unusual but pretty cool nonetheless. Despite rules, it was nice to see homes being decorated and children trick or treating out with parental supervision.

Despite Lockdown version 2, I was still just about able to meet one friend at a time for a walk outdoors. It got colder, but autumn gave way to another atmospheric version of winter London. Empty, gracious and elegant. I even looked up poetry by William Wordsworth to resonate with his words over a 100 years ago.

December – vaccine no.1, 10000 steps, self isolation, Tier 4, cancelled Christmas, mutant bug, vaccine no. 2

Early December, Tiramisu

Something changed for me in December. I discovered the Modern Wisdom podcast while walking. Some of the material in here was amazing. I got into self development again and started really enjoying various thought provoking podcasts. I started hearing about goal setting and focus. One particular podcast on focus gave me real clarity into cutting distractions and another one discussed the fine art of writing. And that the best way to improve writing is to blog, once a week, every week. So I revived this blog. Overall my focus has really improved this year.

December started really well. We got lifted from lockdown, studio tango classes re-started and the UK was the first country to approve and start a vaccination program. But the second wave was rising and rising fast. A new variant of the virus was spreading. We now went into yet another lockdown, barely a week after the old one was lifted. This lockdown was called Tier 4 and the harshest one since the very first one. Christmas got cancelled.

The second wave was serious. I came very close to being infected or perhaps was infected already. On the third week of December I got a message from the NHS app to self isolate for 5 days. I was initially anxious about this as I didn’t want to infect family members. But after a while I took a pragmatic and practical approach. Work was no problem and I could live with being at home for 5 days in a row. By walking inside home for an average of nearly 2 hours, I got on top of my step count as mentioned on this post.

Despite the gloom and doom nature of Christmas being cancelled in the build up, like Diwali, it went well for me and our family. We got rest, lots of food and of course, cake. I took 4 full days off from tutoring, the longest stretch off since the summer.

30 December 2020 will go down in history as an apex of 3 big events, the approval of the Oxford vaccine, Brexit being approved and the worst day in the pandemic so far with the fastest spread of virus. Each one of these developments were huge news items on their own alone. In context and considering everything, the vaccine news is the overarching one. Knowing that in our darkest hour we have finally stumbled upon light. The beginning of the end of the pandemic has truly started.

And so that was 2020

2020 was a year in which the situation gave me invaluable reflective time. I also read more books, re-read old ones and part read some other ones. Ever the optimist, I hope to look back on this blog one day and know how pivotal this year was.

A global pandemic like this is serious and will have long lasting implications. People have lost loved ones, lost jobs and much of life as we know it has been destroyed. But with the cycle of destruction, there is new light that emerges from it. I am confident that with the collective spirit of humanity we will re-build a better future. Office working will never be the same, education has gone through innovation. And so many characters rose to the challenge to keep our positive spirits going. Captain Tom Moore for example.

Ending the year on this book, to start 2021 with a bang

In 2020 we have learnt to manage so well with the existing internet infrastructure. The technology was already there for us to connect on video and so were experts in the field of remote working. It would have been so much harder even ten years ago. Thanks to the army of delivery people, Uber Eats, Amazon, volunteers to help with shopping, things kept ticking. While the NHS got claps in the first few weeks of the pandemic, there are many people who deserve their recognition in 2020. People who kept delivering items to us, those who kept the global supply chain going and so many others.

So finally, what’s a good perspective to have for 2020? My baby nephew has lived nearly all of his life through the pandemic. He will have no conscious memory of it whatsoever. Just stories of how it was. Lets hope they are good stories that will inspire him and his generation.

A wild and turbulent journey of 10000 steps in 2020

On 11 December 2020 I had finally done it. Despite the ups and downs of 2020 my step average for the whole year was 10000 again. A week later, the NHS app pinged me to self isolate for 5 days. My celebration was too early. Surely, I wasn’t going to make the 10000 average in 2020?

In December 2019 I bought a Fitbit on Black Friday for the main purpose of monitoring my sleep. I became obsessive about my step count instead. I had a new metric to measure my overall health and something to aim for. I was initially skeptical about this metric but as an empercist I decided to give it a go and experiment. Now, 10000 steps turned out to be an awful amount of walking considering the lifestyle I had at the time. Back then it took me just over 1.5 hrs during a whole day to get to 10000 steps. And nowadays it is 2 hrs due to a slower pace to avoid plantar fasciitis, but more on that later.

I first had to make time for walking in the day out of my busy tutoring schedule. But I was determined and kept at 10000 steps daily. In fact right at the start I even managed to do 250 steps every hour for 9 hours as my Fitbit pinged me every hour. I felt the Fitbit was ruling my life. But after about two weeks I noticed my back problems had totally disappeared. I had a nice, ergonomic chair but there was still lingering back pain. It turns out that it was very easy for me to be sitting two to three hours continuously without even realising it. Even the best chair in the world wasn’t going to help with this. After 3 years, I had finally found a solution to my back problems. It wasn’t just getting a good chair but it was to get off it and walk regularly. That was not the only benefit of these walks, far from it.

My head starting clearing up significantly through these walks. Going outside so regularly in the fresh air, seeing trees, buildings and people breathed new life into me. It felt like I was going outdoors on long countryside walks, except for I wasn’t! A large part of the fresh sensation from the country walks wasn’t the location of the walks, it was the very act of walking in the outdoors air. I felt liberated that I could just walk around the block several times a day and get that fresh country walk feeling. And god I needed this.

I work with children online up to 5 and 6 hours a day, all over the world in front of my computer. This is hugely complex and my brain needs to switch off and reset. Previously, I would just idle on the computer or social media as embarrassing as it is to admit that. It was just too easy to do that as I was working on screen from home anyway. But now that empty time was taken up by walks instead. This was priceless for my mental and physical health.

I became curios about what my step count was like before the Fitbit. The Fitbit only measured steps when I wore it. I needed some reference for comparison as I wondered if 10000 steps is what I was taking before I had become a full time from home online tutor. I had gained weight in the last 4 years and this frustrated me as I had previously lost weight very successfully.

I couldn’t run often either as my feet would be in pain after just 20 mins running. So I had limited running to once a week, occasionally. Something made me look on my iPhone health app to explore it more. And I stumbled upon a goldmine of step data I had no idea even existed! I found that my iPhone was recording my step count since I bought it in October 2015. Freaky, yes, but invaluable also. Now I knew exactly how my step count changed in all these years.

The data was distressing to say the least. I consider myself to be an active, healthy person but the step count laughed at me in the face. The step count is what finally explained why I had gained weight gradually these 4 years. And why my occasional running caused pain in both feet. I was barely walking on a daily basis, so when I did go for a run, the stress on my now gentle feet was just too much. It is a miracle I didn’t end up with more serious problems with my feet. I had to slowly condition them into walking more again and toughen them. Easier said than done. Within a few days of walking my left foot starting hurting from plantar fasciitis. Luckily, I had a spiky foot massage ball that I had never used. Two years of the ball sitting idle, I found it and started using it to massage my feet. It was an absolute godsend. Regular massaging helped immensely. But not enough, the pain was eased but overall it kept coming back. I knew I was overdoing it. Going from an average of 3000 steps to 10000 steps in one abrupt change was going to shock my feet. I didn’t want to go less than 10000 steps, so I really slowed down the pace of my walking, to nearly snail pace. This decreased the stress on my feet but increased the time of my walks. 10000 steps would now take just over two hours. I listened to my body and took the right corrective action.

December 2019 and all of January 2020 were consistent with 10000 steps. It wasn’t easy as these months are really dull and dark, so I was walking in the dark a lot. But I did it. I learnt to listen to podcasts to help learn new things during the walk. Initially I just heard music but felt that was wasting precious time.

In February I caught a cold and simply couldn’t go out and walk. I was well enough to work from home but not well to go out. My 10000 average plummeted and I knew I would probably not get it back up. To do that I would have to increase my step count to more than 10000. I was only scraping it to 10000. But I kept it up with 10000 steps after that nonetheless. Even a lower yearly average of 9000 or 8000 was well worth aiming for. Far, far better than any year on my iPhone record.

March was going very well. But then 2020 happened and we were limited to just one exercise outing a day. The order was to #StayHomeSaveLives. My step count plummeted again. There can be no more depressing metric of 2020 than my step count in late March to sum things up that month.

In April I made my one walk as long as possible. And I was able to push that one walk even further in May. The average step count was down and I had accepted my annual step count would probably look more like 7000 or 8000. Not bad, but not what I had initially aimed for. In this time I realised I could get up to 2000 steps out of the way by walking first thing in the morning. I am not going to lie, the old me would hate to get out of bed for a walk straight after waking up. But several months later, now it is a routine. And it is the best thing ever, the mind is calm and relaxed first thing in the day. A walk outside settles and sets things up more for the day. The habit is so strong now that I would find it hard not to walk in the morning. That walk really charges the rest of my day up.

June 2020, lockdown lifted. And my step count was back to 10000 a day again. I was so happy with this. July went smoothly as well. In August I went to the Peak district for a holiday and did a lot of walking. My step count was shooting through the roof. One day it was nearly 20000. And I didn’t feel that it was that tiring either. My step count was well over 12000 every day of that holiday. A new bar was set.

On my return to London, I came back with new vigour and upped my daily step count to 12000. Then in:

  • September – 12417
  • October – 12529
  • November – 13084

My yearly step count average slowly went up, to beyond 8000, 9000 and it was nearly creeping up to 10000. I did some rough calculations and I knew with the current rate I could get to an average of 10000 a year by the end of 2020. I was nearly in tears of joy. On December 11, my iPhone step count finally went over the 10000 mark. All I had to do now was just to maintain the 10000 average.

But nothing in life comes that easy. A week after, the NHS app pinged me to stay at home and self isolate for 5 days. I was gutted, I knew if I didn’t walk 10000 steps my yearly average would fall just below 10000. I had thought of such a scenario in my head several times. And I had a solution for it. To walk indoors in my flat.

Time to put the plan in action, I started pacing up and down in my small flat. It wasn’t easy as I got dizzy initially. But I learnt from dancing to spot at an object while going one way and spot on another one while going the other way. I also got calf pain. Because the set of 3 stairs that I climbed during my walks was a tip toe style of going up the stairs. Fine for every now and then but repeat that hundreds of times and calf pain is what I got. So I narrowed my walks to a small 4 metre straight stretch of the flat, spotted on objects to avoid dizziness and kept a 10000 steps average through those days. I also learnt to read books while walking, something I now do on outdoor walks in parks. The walks at home forced me to innovate and in the process I formed a new habit and ability to read books while walking. In their own way these limits set me free and gave me new habits.

In this year I discovered so much, about myself and my neighbourhood. I wasn’t just walking for the sake of getting steps. After my Peak district holiday I found a new sense of confidence in going out safely. I explored areas around my local neighbourhood that I had never thought of exploring before. Beautiful locations just 20 to 30 minutes walk from where I lived. In my restriction to stay local, I had found new freedom, new locations. I started meeting one friend at a time in the cold months of October, November and December, as and when possible. We walked along the river and around central London landmarks. It was amazing to connect to friends one at a time with a walk.

It is 28 December today and I’ve pretty much got to my 10000 step average. It is one of my life’s most memorable achievements, despite the odds and turbulence of 2020. I’ve lost weight, feel more refreshed, my concentration has gotten better, morning walks set me up for the day, I’ve connected with friends, discovered new podcasts and I don’t feel as cold as I used to at home. Staying at home and not exercising regularly in the winter made me scared of the outdoors cold. I now embrace it, as I get warm within 10 mins of walking. That warmth keeps me going all day.

I dived into 10000 steps with an experimental mindset. Through thick and thin I kept going, on cold days, warm days, rainy days, windy days, sunny days, dark days and more. It has been one of the most life changing habits to develop. I would highly recommend going for it, but keeping in mind that such a big change should be done gradually.

Baby rocking, Argentine Tango and dancing books

It was the most special concert I played in 2020. An audience of just one. My tiny 4 month old nephew strapped up in his baby rocker, kicking and rocking. Something magical happened when I was singing 500 miles from the Proclaimers while bashing out power chords on my acoustic guitar. I saw my nephew smiling and looking at his uncle. Which made me smile too 🙂 He was tuned in to one of our most natural instincts as humans. To move our body, to groove, to be lost in music and motion.

Over the last few years I felt I was losing this connection to dance. I had been working full time from home since 2016 and that had reduced my outdoors life a lot. My body was slipping away into a sedentary life, which for an active and restless person like me felt out of place. So in early 2019 I decided to do something about it. I called upon a friend who had been taking dance lessons for many years. We met up for a drink and he introduced me to the world of Argentine tango. I took my first ever tango class and later went to a milonga (social dance club for tango dancers). It was like a set from a 1920s film. The music and the dancers were serene, graceful and ephemeral. The energy of the place called me to get into that dance floor one day. So I threw myself into learning this elegant dance form.

My journey into learning this dance has had many twists and turns, both metaphorically and literally! Someday I will write about that too. A major part of that journey was when I read the books ‘The Dance Cure’ and ‘Dance Psychology’ by Dr. Peter Lovatt. In those he details the many many benefits of dancing. Creativity, improvisation, endorphins, relationships, social cohesion etc. After reading these books I realised dancing is something completely natural. Something to nourish the body and mind.

So if you are looking for a New Year’s resolution, learning how to dance is a good one. Forget about Strictly on TV, just get out there instead. TV is designed to keep you sedentary. There are dance schools like the one I attend (Tango Movement) that have adapted to deliver excellent online classes. And of course they are masters of studio classes, whenever they return. I can’t wait to hit the dance floor again in 2021.

Focus

If you don’t learn to focus, you will have a shallow and unrewarding life without any meaningful achievements.”

Derek Sivers

When I read Derek Sivers’ answer to the question ‘I want to focus’ it really hit me. Never before in the history of humanity has the ability to focus and to be present been obliterated like it has been in recent years. And that includes me.

Websites, Whatsapp, email, Facebook chat, Instagram, twitter have our attention diverging into multiple directions. The tech giants have hacked our brains to keep us addicted thanks to smart algorithms and beautifully designed interfaces and gadgets. People consume and interact with information that is less than 24 hours way more than say, reading a book that has stood the test of time. It is easier to read inane social media posts for an hour a day rather than read a meaningful book for one hour a day. That requires deliberate and continuous attention.

I’ve started to regain focus slowly in the last two years. Realising that the current electronic age has created for me an addiction to bite sized, in your face newsfeed content, I’ve been making gradual changes. Walking 20 mins first thing in the morning, dance classes, pilates, singing lessons, singing live, walking a lot outside and my own tutoring etc.

And so I want to revive this blog. I used to write here a lot, for myself mostly. The act of publishing it to public meant I had to really focus and structure my thoughts. Somehow Facebook took over that part with much shorter status updates. So I’m rolling back to the times I had my personal blog to express myself, through more structure writing.

So here it is, a commitment on my part to blog regularly.

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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