Day 24 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up:  the purpose of beauty?

Terry, a big Scouse presence appears as if by magic on the floor of an imposing, oaken school library dressed in the hybrid clothing of part teacher gown, part trainer top, part designer trousers and complete black and white brogues.  

Looking out at the wintery skyscape, Terry takes to the floor with ease and an in-your-face energy from which there is no shirking.  The wooden panels of the walls stare back at him with their air of sobriety and gravitas, waiting for the scouser to show his true colours. Blue or (well) red?

The seats and tables are shoved back to the walls, giving him the floor space which he takes to like a duck to proverbial, slurping out of his bottle of noisy water, telling me about the fecundity of the group’s work  from the previous week.  An awkward gaggle of angular faces, beaks and folded arms look on and I’m reminded that despite all the experience in the world, you never know what you’re going to face: all the preparation, all the theory, all the lesson plans, all the tricks and tips and turn ons is fine but… in the end…. you’ ve got a line of expectations, gazes, hopes, resentments, gaps, blank minds, active minds fidgeting just waiting for you, for someone, for something to switch them on….

He confides in the assembled Leekettes that  “this is a special day kid – chrimbo next week” and follows up with an impromtpu solo improvisation about his own experiences of  education and the resistances he encountered:  “what are you going to night school for, you poof?” before launching into the session proper  by reading some of his own poetry, a love poem about a boy and girl on Wigan Pier.

He meets and is met by the group’s  gaze.

Before we can complete the school electronic register, we’re sailing through some turbulent performance poetry at 9.45 in the morning to boot.  “How can you have more than one heart?” 

Moving onto some early morning workshop games,  Terry introduces the group to a trust exercise which is premised on the simple rule that one player has to be guided through a maze of  plastic glasses on the floor with instructions called from the other side of the room.  One simple rule is all it takes for the group to be up on the floor, wrestling, challenging, getting on with getting on, laughing, joking, defiling the solitude of the normally hallowed walls, breaking the rules of what it is to be and behave in a library.

Straight into a flip chart exercise, the rule being to complete the phrase, ‘I want to be the first…’  “I want to be the first whisper first heard by a deaf man.’  

Momentarily, we’re all stunned.  But we move on and gloss over.  How do we acknowledge, value that moment produced by a young lad who looks as bemused at his contribution as the rest of us who have just registered it? 

A huge question but not followed through. For all the talk about personalised learning in the classroom, can we ever have the wherewithal to respond to moments of beauty that don’t entail ticking off an outcome within the confines of a cell in an excel spreadsheet?

Or do those moments of beauty succeed in silencing us, once and for all?  Is that the purpose of beauty?  Or just its side effect?

Back to the rules. Rule 1:  it can’t be wrong, whatever you write. Followed by a quick exercise: complete the following phrase:     In case of… X then Y. Rule 2: the last word starts the next line: but remember Rule 1: all answers are equally valuable “it doesn’t matter what you say, it can’t be wrong…” he urges.  Rule 3: the first line and last line have to be the same, “like a jigsaw puzzle: ironically meaning that the final rule negates the principle of Rule 1.  But we’re not worried as we frantically scribble, trying our best to fill that empty page of lined paper.

In the fluidity of the writer, child, teacher relationship, the writer establishes the rules,  yet breaks them rapidly, easily, without consternation or complaint.  “It can’t be wrong, you’re the author”.

From the transience of the writer’s rule setting regime an essence emerges of a kind of super-author who makes and breaks the rules for his apprentices, his minor authors.  Through the walls he drifts, from the floor he rises: the meta-author,  the author of authors. Welcome to the world of the writer in residence.

The Mighty Creatives staff team are going to support the campaign by taking part in the Mighty (UN)Mute, a day-long vow of silence, on the 5th October. If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.

Day 23 of the 26 Day Big Shut Up: 2 days to Shut Down.

This week’s the week!

The Mighty (Un)Mute takes place on Wednesday, so I’ll be off-grid all day, well and truly shut up.

In case you missed it, the team at The Mighty Creatives and I are taking part in a day-long vow of silence to raise awareness of young voices that so often go unheard – and to raise vital funds for a ground-breaking arts education project that fights for racial justice.

We’ve got a team goal of £5,000 and every donation counts. You can learn more and donate online before I seal my lips, switch off the email, stop the WhatsApping and throw away the passwords!

If you want to join us on the day and take a vow of silence, then please check out the campaign here. 

Of if the thought of donating your silence for 24 hours is really too much, then you can donate your hard-earned disposable income here.

Or if neither of these is possible (and heaven knows we’re all in tough financial times right now), then anything you can do to share and shout about the campaign would be equally welcome and appreciated.

So… come and help me to shut up, once and for all. You know you want to.

Day 24 of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: Ball seeks Hoop for satisfying up and down relationship.

The demise of Hoop on Day 23 left Ball feeling bereft.  Little did we know that an intimate relationship had flourished between the now deceased hoop and the size 7 Opti Basketball.  All those no-where closes, near-misses, and holes-in-ones had brought the thrown and the catcher closer together than either could have imagined 24 days ago, and so the premature ending of the relationship led to Ball moping in surprising and poignant ways.

It wouldn’t lay still on the floor anymore and kept popping up in surprising locations around the house; its bounce became rugby-ball like and even the Opti logo – normally assuming a cheery emoticon smile- assumed a downward frown.   All was not well in the world of Ball.

So, to try and shake Ball out of its misery, we thought what better than other to provide it with a new stimulus and a new view of the world so set off to look for a new hoop, new free throw line – and who knows, perhaps find a new net into the bargain.

Happily, the search didn’t take long and before we knew it, Ball was re-establishing a new relationship with a new Hoop and a bonus Net.  The presence of Net was particularly beneficial in distracting Ball from its sadness, not least because it was composed of metal rings which didn’t so much ‘whoosh’ as the ball went through it so much as clank their appreciation of the introduction to a new ball.

To cap it all, Hoop was installed in a public recreation park so once its endeavours were over, Ball was able to relax and recuperate with some fun filled moments on the children’s swings and zip wire.

If you’d particularly like to see the Zip Wire exploits, you can click here: and if you’d like to see me repeat the humiliation all you have to do is donate £20 to the campaign here, tell me who you’d like to dedicate the Zip Wire ride too and I shall repeat the exercise and publicly dedicate the ride to you.

Ball will be delighted to participate, I’m sure.

Day Three of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: lies, damned lies, statistics and delusions.

Enthused by the possibilities of baselines, statistics and indisputable quantitative improvement, Day Three of the 2.6 challenge commenced in bright sunlight, no wind and a dry forecourt.  Perfect conditions to build on the 87.500000% improvement of yesterday of 0.57692308 BPM and a baseline effort score of 0.07731959 BPA.

Some 189 throws and 26 minutes later however, I was looking at a miserable two baskets achieved.  Two! After the amazing step forward of the previous day of 15!  What had gone wrong?

I could comfort myself though with a new statistic: the number of near misses.  Yvonne, my independent invigilator, recorded the number of occasions in which the ball hit the hoop but failed to succumb to the invitation to fall through the net and this generated a more cheering statistic: a whopping 87 near misses!

Even if it’s another baseline, it is at least an indication that given another couple of centimetres, the success rate could increase again rapidly.  The question remains though: centimetres of what? Elbow extension? Arm height? Standing to the left? Standing to the right?  The possible variations multiplied at an astonishing rate but unfortunately, I was still left with a sobering 0.07692308 BPM: i.e. a chronic 86.666666recurring % collapse of performance.  Back to the mentor, coach and as many YouTube videos as possible over the next 24 hours.

Mark Twain quoted that Benjamin Disraeli, the former British PM, claimed  there are lies, damned lies and statistics but I’m pretty sure that he had never tried shooting a few basketballs in his spare time.

(Whether he inspired the performance of the Bridgewater Eagles though is another matter.)

You can find out why I’m involved in the 2.6 Challenge – and how you can help – here.

Day Two of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: Progress is many a splendoured thing.

Yesterday’s modest tally of eight baskets after 26 minutes was nothing if not a baseline. 

We’re used to baselines in education: in order to know how much we’ve progressed we need to know where we’ve started from and a data baseline (whether this be of fronted adverbials,   adjective declensions or educational attainment in general) is pretty much as good a starting point as any.

So, OK, eight baskets after 26 minutes may not count for much, but it does at least give you a baseline figure of 0.30769231 baskets per minute. (Doncha just love figures to eight decimal places?  They remind me of population statistics that state things like ‘2.4 people live In a normal household’.  Ever seen 0.4 of a person?  No, me neither unless you count those people lying comatose in the streets after a Covid-lockdown-release pub crawl.)

But I digress. 0.30769231 baskets per minute  (or BPM – note the immediate adoption of an acronym when it comes to measuring success) may or may or may not be a measure of success, but it is certainly a baseline.  And something to build on, as football managers are wont to say after the 15-0 thrashing of their side by their league’s minnows.  ‘We may have just been humiliated, Brian, by a team which is holding up the whole of the English football league, but our attacking spirit gave me hope and is something to build on.”

 So today, I was determined to build on that baseline of Day One and achieve success.  However, what often happens when you start to measure success, you find yourself with an overwhelming desire to measure all sorts of other things which you hope will indicate whether or not you are actually achieving anything, in what context you’re achieving it, whether you’re getting any better, or whether the whole endeavour is a complete waste of yours and everybody else’s time.

Today was a case in point.  Not content enough just to measure BPM  (Baskets per minute, do please keep up at the back), it struck me that it would be really useful not just to measure balls that followed a trajectory of hand air basket swoosh bounce and a triumphant yeh, but to measure how much effort this took. 

I arbitrarily decided that Yvonne, my independent invigilator, also now needed to start counting how many attempts I had made at causing that trajectory.  My feeling was that effort could be determined by calculating the ratio of the number of balls thrown to the number of successful baskets.  Logically, if every effort succeeded in achieving a basket, then my effort would be 100%. Note how one’s feelings could soon be legitimised by expressing an event in logical terms.  This gives one a curious sense of intellectual satisfaction, even if no-one else has been involved in the calculus.

So, count the number of attempts as well as the number of successes she did.  After 24 attempts I had scored precisely nul point meaning my effort was precisely zero.  However, on the 25th attempt I actually shot one basket meaning that my effort had increased dramatically to 0.04 exactly.  An infinite improvement on the situation I had found myself in just seconds before.  This was a very satisfying moment and gave me (if not Yvonne) confidence that we were moving in the right direction.  Something else to build on if you like.

Before I knew it  (well, actually after 26 minutes in fact) we stopped the challenge and counted up the ‘scores on the doors’ as Brucie like to chuckle in The Generation Game. 

15 hoops over 194 attempts over 26 minutes.

0.57692308 BPM.  Up from 0.30769231 BPM from the day before. An increase of a massive 87.500000%.

An effort score of 0.07731959 BPA. Good? Bad? Indifferent?  It is at least another baseline and something I look forward to building on over the remaining 24 days of the challenge. 

And BPA?  Baskets per Attempts of course.  Where would we be without our acronyms? Struggling to determine whether we were making any progress at all, that’s for sure.

You can find out why I’m involved in the 2.6 Challenge – and how you can help – here.

Thanks to the Sunday Night Quiz Gang for the graphic!

Day One of the Basketball 2.6 Challenge: when in doubt, change the rules.

Like so much in life, I started with good intentions.

I’d planned (if that’s the right word) to throw a basketball hoop from a line, the regulation 15’ away from the hoop, 26 times and to time how long this took me.  And do this for 26 days with the intention to shorten that time on a daily basis. 

The first challenge was to find a basketball hoop and fortunately for me, our new neighbours had one stuck on the side of the kitchen wall, facing their driveway the width of which is about 18’.  They willingly agreed for me to use the hoop – probably because they’re away for much of the day and were probably privately relieved that they weren’t about to witness the bounce bounce pause thwack bounce bounce missed again dammit monologue that was to follow.

So, the first challenge was rapidly met and soon after the challenge of having independent verification was addressed too.  Our neighbour, Yvonne, volunteered to adjudicate the challenge and I gratefully accepted her offer. 

So, Day One dawned and all seemed straight forward enough.  I measure out a throw line 15’ from the hoop (informally known as the ‘Charity Stripe’ I’m reliably informed) with a measuring stick. Yvonne switches on her stopwatch. 

I remember the advice from Tahir about how to throw a basketball: BEEF, an acronym for “Balance” (yep, got that); Eyes on the target” (doddle); “Elbows at right angles”  (er… what?” “Follow Through” (of course, what else, it’s just like tennis. What could possibly go wrong?)

What could go wrong was of course pretty much everything.  Balance isn’t helped by running after a stray ball and then running back to the charity stripe to try again without stopping. The eye on the target is all very well if you completely understand which target it is you’re meant to have your eyes on.  The board?  The back of the hoop? The front of the hoop? The little logo half way up the board? Placing your elbows at right angles is all very well if you don’t expect to hold the ball in a particularly meaningful way. Follow through leads to a constant arc of optimism turning to disappointment as the ball repeats its trajectory of bounce bounce pause thwack bounce bounce missed again dammit.

After 10 minutes Yvonne is clearly worried about whether or not she has an evening to look forward to.  I have some managed to throw 4 balls into the hoop over this time and managed at least ten times more ‘ah, nearly’ moments. It looks like we might both have to stay about another hour or two if I’m to achieve the deceptively bland target of 26 hoops before retiring gracefully with a gin and tonic to assess how long it took me to do it.

After 20 minutes the success rate isn’t much better.  A further 4 hoops and a slightly lower proportion of “ah, nearly” moments.  A much higher ratio of “WTF is going on?” moments.

It’s at this point that I decide to follow all the best professional sporting advice and to decide to change the rules of the game.  Instead of timing how long it will take to throw 26 balls into the hoop, I’ll see how many I can throw in 26 minutes.  That way, we can see an end in sight and can thankfully retire to the comfort of a gin and tonic knowing that we shall live to confront another day of BEEF. The following six minutes yielded no more moments of success other than a relief that we could both get back to having a life that evening.

So, the final score on day one is 8 hoops over 26 minutes.  It does at least count as a baseline and if and when I get to throwing 26 hoops within the new target of 26 minutes, I will take heart that there has at least been some element of progression: especially if I can achieve it over the next 26 days.

Sport can quickly make a fool of you in a very short space of time and I have a feeling that this won’t the last time I remember that particularly embarrassing lesson.

You can find out why I’m involved in the 2.6 Challenge – and how you can help – here.

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