12 Rules for Life

Earlier this week I travelled to Manchester to hear Jordan Peterson speak at the O2 Apollo Theatre about his book ‘12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos’ . This was one event in a punishing schedule of 80 cities –  https://jordanbpeterson.com/events/

One of the delights of having children who do their own thing and are willing to share this with you, is that you end up doing things that you would never do had your children not suggested them. So it was that one of our sons introduced us to Peterson’s book (even bought us a copy) and thought it would be a good idea if we all went to hear him speak in Manchester. Our first response was that anyone who thinks you can number the rules for life needs to be considered with caution (although we were informed – not sure if this is true – that Peterson may write a second book with more rules) and secondly, did we really want to fight the terrible Manchester traffic (in the rush hour) to get there? But we did and yes, the traffic was terrible!

I’m glad we went. It was an experience. 1700 people were in the audience. I could scarcely believe that, although it’s interesting that none of the UK venues have sold out, although many European venues have, but maybe that’s because of the size of the venue. Also, as Peterson acknowledged, the balance between male and female members of the audience was 60:40. I didn’t see that as a problem. I had wondered before going whether there would be any demonstrations. Peterson seems to be hated as much as he is loved, and at the beginning of the show we were told that heckling would not be tolerated. This was said with ‘tongue in cheek’ and I wondered if it was really an invitation to heckle. But in the event there was no heckling. At one point a young man tried to get on the stage, seemingly to share some information that he had found on his mobile phone about a reference that Peterson had trouble remembering. Needless to say the security guards stopped him, but Peterson was kind in his acknowledgement of the young man’s attempt to help.

The event surprised me on a number of levels.

According to Wikipedia, Peterson is 56, but he looked a lot older than that. He is extremely thin and grey and to me looked exhausted. Evidently he hadn’t arrived in Manchester until 3.00 am on the day of the presentation and then in the morning had to do a BBC interview and following this visit a Manchester Boxing Club which, by all accounts was turning round disaffected young men. No wonder then that he looked shattered.

At the start, he said he was going to talk about Rules 11, 10 and 7 (See https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.za/sites/penguinbooks.co.za/files/Extract_12%20Rules%20for%20Life.PDF)

RULE 1 / Stand up straight with your shoulders back

RULE 2 / Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping

RULE 3 / Make friends with people who want the best for you  

RULE 4 / Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today

RULE 5 / Do not let your children do anything that makes you dislike them

RULE 6 / Set your house in perfect order before you criticize the world

RULE 7 / Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)

RULE 8 / Tell the truth—or, at least, don’t lie

RULE 9 / Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t

RULE 10 / Be precise in your speech

RULE 11 / Do not bother children when they are skateboarding

RULE 12 / Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street

In the event, he talked mostly about his encounter with the young men from the Boxing Club he had visited in the morning, relating that from time to time to the 12 rules. He talked for an hour without notes (I think there were auto-cues, although he didn’t seem to stand still long enough to read them) and there were times when I felt he wasn’t able to adhere to Rule 10, i.e. I asked myself where was the evidence for what he was saying. But on the whole I found myself sympathising with how exhausted he seemed (whilst at the same time recognising how much money he is making from this tour!) and I didn’t find a lot to argue with in what he said.

I don’t have strong feelings for or against Peterson. He is an interesting phenomenon. He is extremely articulate and able to argue his point well (even if he scarcely draws breath and would probably be easier to listen to if he would just pause occasionally), drawing on a wide range of literature, not least Biblical references.

What really surprised me was the audience. They gave him a standing ovation and whilst I found him interesting to listen to, his talk was unstructured, difficult to follow and clearly delivered by someone who was exhausted. On this particular night, from my perspective, it did not merit a standing ovation. I think a debate might have been more interesting, such as the one with Kathy Newman, as was reported in The Guardian here – https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/jan/21/banning-jordan-peterson-causing-offence-cathy-newman-free-speech , but that would probably have required too much energy on such a punishing tour.

Ten Reasons to Keep Writing

One of the people I enjoy following on Twitter is the author Joanne Harris. Every so often (this might be weekly, but I’m not sure) she invites her followers to ask a question about anything and everything to do with writing and publishing, which she attempts to answer in #TenTweets

The question today has come from:

Katie Hall-May @mypapercastles

How about ‘why we keep writing when it seems nobody’s reading’? I had a wobble recently and then realised that (at least one) of the answers is ‘because its about the journey more than the destination’ – but I can’t be the only one who wobbles sometimes on this one.

author-writing(Click here for source of image link)

Joanne Harris’s ten tweets response would probably be of interest to anyone who writes in any capacity, including a blogger like myself.

Joanne Harris  @Joannechocolat

This may be personal to each individual author, I suspect, but feel free to join the hashtag.

Follow#TenReasonsToKeepWriting to collect them all!

  1. Because you love it. If you don’t, then how can a reader be expected to?
  2. Because every time you put something out there, you’re reaching out to others and sharing your experiences.
  3. Because one day, without knowing it, your words might change someone’s life.
  4. Because the more you write, the more you understand about the process, and the more you get out of reading.
  5. Because the book you most want to read hasn’t yet been written.
  6. Because it helps you make sense of things that have happened to you in your life – and sometimes even helps you fight back.
  7. Because there’s nothing like the feeling of making something out of nothing, using only your imagination.
  8. Because you’re improving all the time.
  9. Because you know that stories are how people from different cultures and with different experiences communicate, empathize and grow to understand each other.
  10. Because if this world can be saved, it will be by those with imagination, compassion, courage, perseverance and the ability to ignite those qualities in other people, using only the power of words.

#TenReasonsToKeepWriting     3:35pm · 26 Oct 2018

Talking about dying

This month the Royal College of Physicians has published a report bearing the title ‘Talking about dying: How to begin honest conversations about what lies ahead’ 

There is a concern that doctors and other healthcare professionals find it hard to talk to patients about dying. This reflects something that I have heard Iain McGilchrist  author of The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, say, i.e. that death is no longer freely talked about. It has become a difficult topic. We would now rather talk about sex than death, whereas in Victorian times it was the other way round. If this is true, then it is not just doctors and healthcare professionals, but the population at large who finds it difficult to talk about death, and especially to talk about death to people who are dying.

Earlier this year my mother died so I now have a heightened awareness of death and how we might approach it. The problem is that if you have never experienced the death of someone you love (or indeed anyone) before,  unless you make an effort to become informed before the event, which seems to be generally regarded as morbid, then you can only learn through hindsight. Reflection on my mother’s death this year has made me think I should have thought more about death before she died. I now realise that there are many ways in which I could have done this.

I recently read Paul Kalanithi’s autobiographical book, published posthumously, When Breath Becomes Air,  in which he records his experience of dying and how he prepares for his own death. The book highlights the importance of open communication about this experience not only with healthcare professionals, but also with family and friends.

Also this year, my research colleague and friend Mariana Funes, encouraged me to watch a number of videos on YouTube in which the presenters discuss the importance of preparing for death and talking about dying. In these videos the presenters consider changing approaches to the care of the dying (https://youtu.be/mviU9OeufA0 ), the need to make clear our preferences for end of life care (https://youtu.be/lkvKGafoyIY ) and why we should all talk about dying (https://youtu.be/nQ90MFMYnZg ). These are just three of the videos I have watched. There are many more.

And last week I watched on DVD the film ‘Awakenings’, based on Oliver Sacks’s book of the same name. Its tells the story of victims of an encephalitis epidemic many years ago who have been catatonic ever since and how treatment with a new drug, L-Dopa, brings them temporarily out of this catatonic state, hence the title ‘Awakenings’. What really struck me about this film was that the doctor realised before treating his patients with L-Dopa, that behind the catatonia is a person who can be reached and communicated with. This is what I wish I had more fully appreciated when my mother was dying.

My mother had dementia for eight years before she died. In the latter years it was not possible to communicate with her through conversation. We used to communicate through singing. Right till the last year of her life she could recognise her old music hall favourites, even though I was not sure that she knew me or understood anything I said to her.

Having watched ‘Awakenings’ I think I should have had more faith that she could ‘hear me’. I remember on the day before she died the District Nurse told me to go and sit with my mother and talk to her. I felt awkward about this. I hadn’t had a conversation with my mother, or really talked to her, for years. But I did what the nurse told me to and the last thing I said to my mother was that she was not to worry, she would not be moved from her home into a hospital (her wish was always to die in her own home) and she would not be left alone. At the time I wondered whether she had heard or understood me, but now, with hindsight, I think that she did, and that she knew I was her daughter and was reassured that she would die at home. My regret is that I didn’t talk to her more during her last weeks.

I hope the Royal College of Physicians’ report is widely disseminated and discussed. We should not wait until after the death of someone we love to learn how to talk about dying. As I wrote in a previous post, death should be a friend of life.

Visiting Rome with a Wheelchair User

Rome, like Venice,  is a city known to be notoriously difficult for people in wheelchairs to visit. I am writing this post as the partner of a wheelchair user, to share some of our experiences of this beautiful and fascinating city.

Of course, before we went we did our research which confirmed, from lots of comments on Trip Advisor and the like, that we would find Rome difficult, but also that it was worth the effort, so we spent some time planning how to reduce this effort.

Questions we tried to answer before we went.

We know that Manchester Airport, where we flew from, is good with people in wheelchairs, but what about Rome airport? We spent a lot of time trying to organise an accessible taxi (i.e. one with a ramp or lift) to take us from the airport to the hotel. In the end, after hours spent on the phone and online, we gave up. Instead we decided to take the train from the airport to the city centre. We didn’t pre-book, but just turned up on the platform. It was so easy and a fraction of the cost of taking a taxi.

Right up to the day before leaving we kept changing our minds about which wheelchair to take – should it be the fold-up one that would go in a taxi and was light to push, or should it be a heavier unfolding wheelchair with a bike attachment (tracker – as in photo)? Ultimately we decided on the tracker (the best decision we made), which wasn’t damaged on the outgoing or return flight, to which a good-sized rucksack would attach on the front, and which we discovered would not only go up steep curves, but also over big cobbles.

We couldn’t get in a taxi with this wheelchair, but we could get on the train and we just squeezed onto the hop-on/hop off bus, where passengers were very tolerant in edging past us.

On choosing a hotel, we followed the rules we always follow. The hotel must be central, so that as much as possible it is within walking distance of the main sites. The bedroom must be big enough for a wheelchair and the bathroom must be wheelchair friendly. We booked the Ariston Hotel, near the train and bus station. This worked really well as we were able to walk to and from the station in less than five minutes and to all the key sites, although we did get the bus to Vatican City (we walked back though!). The Ariston was not perfect, but we have no complaints. It was not as spacious as it appears on their website photos. In particular the corridors were very narrow, the lift was tiny, the bar was up some steps, and our bathroom was right on the edge of being wheelchair friendly. But by moving a bit of furniture around and doing quite a lot of lifting in the absence of well-positioned grab-rails in the bathroom, we managed. The hotel staff were very friendly and helpful and the breakfast was extremely good and certainly enough to set you up for the day. The other good thing about the hotel was that it was very near a lot of good restaurants.

Getting about in Rome

There is no doubt that Rome is difficult for a wheelchair user. Many kerbs are very high and do not have ramps. Most surfaces are cobbled, which along with gravel is a wheelchair-user’s nightmare, and some sites and restaurants are inaccessible. But despite this there’s plenty to see and do. This was our first time in Rome, so we took the approach I will describe below, an approach which depends on being reasonably fit.

We decided to walk/ride and observe from the outside rather than try to get into sites such as museums, although we did get into St. Peter’s Basilica, the Vatican Museums, the Pantheon and Santa Maria Maggiore.

 

The Santa Maria Maggiore and the Pantheon were free, but for those sites which charge, such as those in Vatican City, the good news is that not only do disabled visitors and their carers go in free but also don’t have to queue, being taken by a different route to the front!

It was very hot whilst we were in Rome – 30 degrees or above on most days. Although we walked/rode about 10 miles a day, we made an effort to stay on the shady side of the street and drink plenty of water – common sense really.

We tried to avoid hugely crowded areas,  or only stay for a very short time, e.g. Trevi Fountain. In my opinion and that of my partner, The Sistine Chapel is really not worth it for a wheelchair user. As an able-bodied standing person you are shoulder to shoulder with hundreds of others. For a wheelchair user this means you are pushed up against hordes of people at below waist height – not pleasant. In this hugely over-crowded space I got no sense of the beauty of The Sistine Chapel and even more annoying was the voice over the tannoy shouting at us to be silent! (I found when I worked in schools that if you want silence, you whisper!). So, either book a special tour for just a small group to visit the Sistine Chapel, or give it a miss and buy some photos.

It is possible to avoid the crowds though. We did this by roaming through the back streets and visiting sites such as the Circus Maximus. The video makes it sound noisy, but I wasn’t aware of the noise at the time, or at least didn’t find it troubling.

 

The most important lesson for us was …

You either need three wheels or four big wheels (a sturdy scooter), ideally assisted by battery power. A regular wheelchair with small front casters must be a nightmare – extremely hard work for whoever is pushing (we did see some). Even if you tip the chair backwards, so that it is only travelling on the two back wheels (which is the only way to get across cobbles without rattling the wheelchair occupant right out of the chair), there are so many difficult surfaces in Rome that this could not be sustained for very long.

The system we use is a Batec – expensive, but so worth it.

We only scraped the surface of Rome, in the four and a half days we were there, despite being out for about seven hours each day. I would love to return and see more. Hopefully we will be able to do this. If you are a wheelchair user, don’t be put off by the bad press Rome gets in relation to access. It is definitely possible with a bit of fore-thought. The people are very helpful and I got the impression that the city is doing its best to improve access, but, unsurprisingly for such an ancient city, there remains a lot to do. You don’t need to plan out every detail or even to go very far. There is something beautiful to see on just about every corner in central Rome.  It is such a special place to visit.

For more photos of what we managed to see in Rome – see https://www.flickr.com/photos/jennymackness/albums/72157695420925550

And for a similar post on visiting Venice – see https://jennymackness.wordpress.com/2014/09/27/visiting-venice-with-a-wheelchair-user/  We used the fold-up light-weight wheelchair when visiting Venice. Here are some photos – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jennymackness/albums/72157649650530148

Harmony and hope as pedagogies for 2018

This week’s OLDaily, the online newsletter published by Stephen Downes, includes a discussion about ‘a pedagogy of harmony’. In his commentary on Matthias Melcher’s post, Stephen Downes writes:

Maybe nothing will come out of the idea of the ‘pedagogy of harmony’, or maybe I have at last found a worthy response to the idea of the pedagogy of the oppressed and even the pedagogy of hope. In any case, Matthias Melcher has teased out one fascinating strand, the idea that our expectations make the difference between whether we are in harmony with the world or whether things sound a note of dissonance. It comes from an example offered by Laura Ritchie. Here’s what she says:  “The relationships of the notes, the ratios and intervals found within the natural harmonic series have not changed over the years, but the capabilities of reproducing the notes on manmade instruments has… What has also changed is our tolerance for adding new ideas to the conception of harmony.” As we grow as individuals, as we grow as a society, we can become harmonious in new ways, by changing (and improving) our expectations.  (Stephen Downes, Dec 21, 2017)

 

Stephen Downes’ idea of the pedagogy of harmony, Laura Ritchie’s explanation of the relationship of musical notes, the ratio and intervals found within the natural harmonic series, and Matthias’s/Stephen’s response that our expectations make the difference between whether we are in harmony with the world or whether things sound a note of difference, have all caught my attention for different reasons.

I’m not sure whether I fully understand Stephen’s idea of a ‘pedagogy of harmony’. The idea stems from Stephen’s experience of Mastodon, a calmer, slower, quieter alternative to Twitter as a social media platform. There he has written: ‘What is a ‘pedagogy of harmony’? I’m not exactly sure, but it combines a feeling of well-being and comfort and inclusion’ , which is how he experiences Mastodon.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines harmony as:

  • The combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce a pleasing effect.
  • The quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole.
  • The state of being in agreement or concord.

But, if we agree with this definition, would we want this all the time? My immediate thought was, ‘Don’t we need dissonance to be able to recognise harmony?’ and in terms of pedagogy  ‘Don’t we need dissonance to maintain interest and attention?’

Kevin Hodgson in his response to Laura Ritchie’s post has created a video in which he has written:

Some of us revel in the juxtaposition of dissonances. We are disturbances on the surfaces of one another’s waters.

Perhaps it is more than ‘revel’, more a need for cognitive dissonance to enable learning.

Another question that occurred to me is ‘Can one person’s harmony be another person’s dissonance?’ This question is sparked off by my participation in Dr Matthew Nicholl’s Ancient Rome MOOC. In Week 3 of this course we are introduced to the music of Ancient Rome, in particular the music created by aulos players.

It is clear from the discussion forum posts that this music is not to everyone’s taste. For some it creates a sense of ‘well-being’, for others it does not. Laura’s comment that “What has also changed is our tolerance for adding new ideas to the conception of harmony” makes sense to me, but it must also mean that our understanding of harmony as an idea is a moving feast.

But I like this comment from Stephen: ‘As we grow as individuals, as we grow as a society, we can become harmonious in new ways, by changing (and improving) our expectations’, which was sparked by Matthias’ idea ‘that our expectations make the difference between whether we are in harmony with the world of whether things sound a note of dissonance.’ These ideas fit with those I have been learning about in a wonderfully enjoyable face-to-face course I have just completed – An Introduction to Philosophical Literature, run by Darren Harper. Over the past couple of months we have read and discussed:

  • Week 1: Introduction and Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
  • Week 2: The Trial by Franz Kafka
  • Week 3: Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre
  • Week 4: The Outsider by Albert Camus
  • Week 5: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  • Week 6: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

All these books are essentially about searching for meaning in life. Can we find meaning and if so what is the meaning of life, or is life essentially meaningless? This week, the last week of the course, when discussing Kundera’s wonderful book, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, we were asked:  if we knew that our life would repeat itself over and over again, without the possibility of correcting or changing anything, what would we do/change from this moment on to ensure that the repeated life would be bearable. This may not make sense to anyone else, but for me it speaks to both Stephen and Matthias’ ideas and suggests that I must revisit Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of Hope, a pedagogy that believes in the possibility that things can change. Perhaps harmony alone is not enough as a pedagogy.

Both harmony and hope seem like fitting topics for reflection at the end of 2017.

Here’s wishing anyone who visits this post, Season’s Greeting and Best Wishes for 2018.

#FLvirtualrome : An exciting MOOC about Ancient Rome

Last week I stumbled across a fantastic MOOC – FutureLearn’s course on the history and architecture of Rome.

I wasn’t looking for this course, but Rome is a city that I have recently thought I would like to visit and then FutureLearn’s newsletter listing this course landed in my inbox. I signed up, thinking this would be an opportunity to find out whether I really do want to visit Rome. I have completed Week 1 of the course and now know that I do.

It’s been a while since I have felt excited by a MOOC. I am surprised by my response. I am not a historian and have never had more than a passing interest in history. At school I had to choose between history and geography for my ‘O’ levels (that dates me!) and I chose geography. In my school days history was memorising dates and facts and I have always had a terrible memory! Of course geography and history are closely aligned so over the years when I have visited sites such as Machu Picchu, whilst the geography is spectacular, it has been impossible to ignore the history, but I have never tried to commit this to memory. Whatever sticks, sticks and I have learned that whatever sticks usually sticks because of some sort of emotional reaction.

Dr Matthew Nicholls, from the University of Reading, who is the tutor for this 5-week MOOC, is succeeding in eliciting an emotional response from me, i.e. I feel motivated. After the first week I already know that I will probably not engage in social interaction in this course. At the moment I do not want to do a history project or take this further. I just want to know enough to know what I am looking at when I visit Rome.

Why, after just one week, do I think the course is so good?

Matthew Nicholls is clearly very knowledgeable, passionate about his subject and an excellent communicator. He makes the subject come alive and is not at all patronising despite obvious considerable expertise, not only with Ancient Rome but also with technology.

The course content is colourful and lively. The text is easily accessible and there are lots of references provided to follow up on for those who want to extend their study. There are also lots of photos and the videos are very good. We see Dr Nicholls in Rome, and also in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. I never realised before that so much historical information about buildings, aqueducts, roads, sewers and people could be gleaned from coins.

But best and so impressive has to be the 3D digital model of ancient Rome built by Matthew Nicholls using SketchUp. This is used extensively to explain how Rome was built and the significance of different buildings and roads. To see how amazing this model is you would have to join this free course, or there is also a very interesting video on YouTube by Matthew Nicholls in which he explains how he built the model and how he uses it with his students at Reading University.

A friend recently told me that he didn’t think it was possible to have an emotional response to an online course in the same way as you can in a face-to-face course and implied that this diminishes the online experience. I have had lots of social experiences online over the years which have elicited an emotional response. I am intrigued that this course is able to do this through its content alone, without the need for social interaction, although there are plenty of opportunities for adding comments to the discussion forums and making social connections if you wish. Maybe I will change my mind about participating in the discussion forums as I work through the course. I think Phil Tubman’s Comment Discovery Tool, that I wrote about in a previous post, would make a great addition to this course.

Hand-cycling for the Prince’s Trust

A week ago today at this time, I was congratulating myself and others on having completed the Palace to Palace charity ride in aid of the Prince’s Trust.  This is an annual event. The ride is 45 or 90 miles, depending on which route you choose from Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle. Around 4000 riders take part.

I am making this post to encourage hand-cyclists to consider taking part in this event. It is definitely do-able, especially if the weather is kind, which it was to us, despite forecasts of heavy rain and high winds – which fortunately didn’t materialise. You can find further information on the Prince’s Trust website.

The ride was a wonderful experience. We joined a small group of hand-cyclists – four in total – for the 45 mile route. The Prince’s Trust went out of their way to accommodate us. Many cyclists meet and park in Windsor (easier than London) and are ferried on buses to the start line on the Mall in front of Buckingham Palace, with their bikes being loaded onto lorries. We did this and the Prince’s Trust arranged for a special mobility van to transport us and the hand-cycle. They couldn’t have been more helpful.

We arrived at Buckingham Palace early in the morning.

The organisation of the event was impressive. For the 45 mile route there were 3 water stops at, 10, 20 and 30 miles, with not only free water provided, but also free bananas. Toilets were also available. The route went through wonderful countryside and for someone who lives in the South Lakes, appeared almost flat for most of the route. There were a few hills but our village is surrounded by hills, so the Palace to Palace ride was not difficult. It was also entirely on hard surfaces, so ideal for hand-cyclists. There were Marshals at every junction and the route was very clearly signposted.

This is the description of the route copied from the Prince’s trust website:

  • The ride starts out along the Mall with the stunning view of Buckingham Palace ahead and continues through southwest London, over Putney Bridge, towards the first water stop at (mile 10) amongst the deer in Richmond Park. 
     
  • You’ll then head out through Kingston (mile 13) and Hampton towards your second refreshment stop at (mile 20).
     
  • At Walton on Thames, the Ultra cyclists split off and head South through the beautiful Surrey Hills, heading towards Dorking to battle the highest ascent of 200m on Ranmore Common.
     
  • Those taking the shorter Classic route will continue along a fairly flat ride, pass through Chertsey and Chobham.
     
  • During this time, the Ultra riders will have passed through Dorking town centre (mile 36), before heading west passing the nearby towns – Newlands Corner (mile 45), near Guildford, Deepcut (mile 70), near Farnborough and up to Bagshot.
     
  • The Ultra cyclists will then rejoin the Classic route around Virginia Water, with the final water stop at Kitsmead Lane, Longcross (mile 30/80).
     
  • FINISH! The Ultra and the Classic will then continue through Virginia Water and Old Windsor before finally come to a much needed rest at Windsor Racecourse to enjoy the festival village. 

Gradients
Classic
Ultra

The icing on the cake for the hand-cyclists was having their photos taken at the end of the ride with Chris Froome and David Weir! These are photos to keep for posterity!

With Chris Froome

With David Weir

Many thanks to the Prince’s Trust for making this ride possible for four hand-cyclists.

For a few more photos see: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jennymackness/albums/72157687173126231