30 Days Wild: Wyming Brook

2016-06-01 17.32.45May is always one of my favourite months and this one did not disappoint. We have had a fantastic time getting out and about, enjoying evening walks, seeing some amazing wildlife and taking part in some brilliant events. I’ve been trying to be more active and get outdoors more – something I certainly succeeded in doing over the last few weeks. However June is exam season and is often a distinctly sedentary time for me, so when I saw people tweeting about #30DaysWild it seemed to be the perfect challenge.

The idea is simple: just do something wild every day in June. What qualifies as an act of wildness? All sorts of things: I could go for a walk, watch some wildlife, make a bug house – the possibilities are almost endless. Maybe I could even blog about it!

I decided to start with a trip to Wyming Brook, one of the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust’s reserves. I’ve been past it many times, but I had never visited until today. We went hoping for a nice walk and maybe, just maybe, a glimpse of something I have never seen: a crossbill.

Within a few steps from the car park, the noise of the eponymous brook was drowning out any noise from traffic. In fact pretty much the only sounds we heard for the entire walk were water and birdsong. It was somewhat wilder than I expected; there were plenty of bridges and sturdy stepping stones, but also some interesting rocky paths to negotiate as we followed the brook downstream to Wyming Brook Drive. The drive leaves the stream behind and meanders off through the woodland. It is all rather beautiful, but surprisingly, given the number of birds that we could hear, we got almost to the end of the walk before we sighted a single feathery creature. Our ornithological tally amounted to one blackbird, one robin and a blimey-that-was-fast-what-was-that-bird that zipped past.

Our walk was short, but it was fantastic – an instant favourite that we’ll be trying again. Especially since we didn’t mange to spot any crossbills, other than the magnificent specimen on the information board (or, as we like to call it, the ‘Here’s what you could have seen’ board.) Ho hum. Better luck next time. Still, a good start to my 30 days. What’s next?



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Situation Vacant: Local Pub

Founders ArmsIt appears that we need to get out more.

Last January, on our annual jaunt to London, we were sitting in the pub that we like to refer to as our London local, enjoying a beer and the amazing view of the river and St Paul’s, when I had a slightly worrying thought.  We had visited that particular pub more times than any other over the previous twelve months (and no, we hadn’t spent a lot of time in Londinum Town that year).

It appeared that the Founder’s Arms, with its amazing view, wasn’t actually our London local,it was our local. Unfortunately, it is a bit too far from our house in Sheffield to qualify for that description. As I said, it appears that we need to get out more.

Once upon a time we had a couple of local pubs in Sheffield which we liked to frequent. They ticked all the right boxes: nice beer, nice atmosphere (largely due to having a great landlord), a good quiz and bonus points for having hideously patterned pub carpets. But times change, the great landlords both retired and were replaced by not-so-great landlords. In fact one of the replacements was exceedingly annoying and seemed to feel that brusquely interrupting your conversations was a key part of his job description. The opening hours got extended, so the pub quiz suddenly started at a time when I am thinking of heading home for bed. The annoying landlord sacked the DJ who ran a brilliant music quiz and replaced him with distinctly un-brilliant quiz questions on a PowerPoint. (And yes, he then read the PowerPoint slides to us. And yes, that was the last time we went to that pub’s quiz.) We drifted away from our former locals, but we didn’t drift into anywhere else.

This year, as we sat in the Founder’s Arms, we concluded that it wasn’t the pub that we had visited the most over the last 12 months, but it was still in the top 10.

There appears to be a vacancy for the post of Local Pub. Job description: must have nice beer, nice atmosphere, be within walking distance of Crookes, preferably not filled with televisions. And if you have a quiz that finishes at bedtime rather than starting then, the job is yours.

Time to get out there and give one or two candidates a try.


Image Credit: Image of Founders Arms: Untitled by Peter Harris, on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons Licence.

It’s a date: Happy Addition/Multiplication/Division/Subtraction Day!

I like dates that make nice patterns, so I was quite pleased to notice that yesterday’s date made an addition statement. I wrote 14/1/15 on the whiteboard in my classroom, spotted the pattern and then changed what I had written to say 14+1=15 Happy Addition Day!

Quite a few students remarked on this and started to think of other dates that would work, which was nice.

This morning, I started to write 15/1/15, which does have a certain symmetry to it, before realising that I could write 15×1=15 Happy Multiplication Day! I am obviously feeling a bit over-tired, because it was lunchtime before I realised that I could also write 15÷1=15 Happy Division Day!

Tomorrow (16/1/15) is of course a Subtraction Day, which completes the set.

Four rules in three days – I think that’s quite neat.



Originally posted on my professional blog, http://www.morethanmaths.com/teacher/2015/01/15/its-a-date-happy-additionmultiplicationdivisionsubtraction-day/

Exactly how much do those chips cost?

How would you write three pounds and fifty pence in figures?

When walking through central London at the weekend, I noticed something slightly unusual about the menu pinned up outside the Golden Fleece pub:

Menu at the Golden Fleece

I thought it was odd, but assumed it was a one-off. Then I spotted the same thing on the menu in another pub, the Founders Arms:

Menu at the Founders Arms

I confess I am a bit baffled by this. For years I have been insisting that my students give money answers to two decimal places. Admittedly there are a few cases where two decimal places may not be appropriate, for example the price of petrol in the UK is always given to 3 d.p. but the final price that you pay would still always be rounded to 2 d.p. Surely that should be the case here, these are prices, in context – so 2d.p would be expected.

I don’t know why these pubs are presenting their prices in this way. Is it a fad? A new trend? Hopefully it’s not an attempt to mislead.

I do know that I will be including these images in my lessons in future. £3.5 may be a non-standard way of writing three pounds and fifty pence, but it’s one that any student with a good understanding of place value should be able to interpret.


Originally posted on my professional blog: Real Life Maths–exactly how much do those chips cost?

Bear With Me

Teddy Bear CakeThere is something quite magical about being the person who brings the birthday cake. Mr TLC’s younger GrandKitten’s midweek birthday did mean that baking time was a little constrained, so I decided that a midweek special was required: a Victoria sponge cake, topped with butter icing, in the shape of an animal. Since the effect on an animal cake is better if the surface of the icing is roughed up, they are relatively quick to make – perfect for a midweek birthday party.

This one was a basic sandwich cake, trimmed slightly with a couple of cupcake ears and half a cupcake for the snout. It made a very acceptable teddy bear cake.

The bear may have been less elaborate than last year’s Rapunzel, but that didn’t matter, it was received with great excitement by the birthday girl.

Alas, the excitement caused by The Arrival Of The Cake meant that I was the only one who noticed Mr TLC remarking “I have a bear behind!” as I followed him in, carrying (or should that be bearing?) the cake. He’ll just have to save that joke for another time.

Obligatory looking forward post: Five things I’m looking forward to in 2015

Being King of the Castle

We have booked a holiday cottage at a rather famous castle. I am far more excited about this than can be rationally explained. Did I tell you that we were staying in a castle? An actual castle? Woohoo!


A Spot of Star Gazing

Last year we visited the Galloway Forest and stayed in the Dark Sky Park. The stars were amazing – far more of them than I had ever seen before! I had no real idea what I was looking at – trying to use a book or an app in the dark is not a practical option – so we have signed up for an online course to introduce us to some of the basics before we go back later this year. I’ve already managed to take a recognisable (but blurry) photograph of Orion, which is a real step forward compared to my previous efforts. Let’s hope we get some clear skies.


Living in the Past

I’ve signed up to the University of Leicester’s MOOC England in the Time of King Richard III. Should be fun.


Growing something that isn’t mud

My north-facing garden is not exactly ideal for vegetable growing, but there’s a patch at the end that gets enough sun for me to have a go, albeit on a rather small scale. There’s a large fern to move from its temporary home before I can get started, but I’m hoping to eat some salads and beans that I grew in my own backyard this year.


Indulging in some Cosmic Speculation

Charles Jencks has created the most incredible garden at Portrack House. His ‘Garden of Cosmic Speculation’ has striking landforms and gorgeous winding lakes (designed by his late wife, Maggie Keswick) that sit surprisingly comfortably next to the rolling Scottish landscape. Add in beautiful planting, incredible bridges and sculptures, a spectacular bluebell wood, a few tricks of perspective and much, much more. This is not just an Open Garden, it’s a Grand Day Out. My advice? Get there early. And stay until late. And take your wellies – there are lots of visitors, it gets a touch muddy underfoot.


And one thing I could live without: a looong election campaign

I like it when politicians have a bit of local presence, but I am already heartily sick of the man who reckons he can unseat Mr Incumbent MP. We thought the first election campaign leaflets were on the early side, but then the first canvassers for next May’s General Election hit our street last November. In the absence of any available babies to kiss, they attempted to wiffle Ginger Cat’s ears. Alas, Ginger Cat does not like it when strangers attempt to wiffle his ears. He ran away and hid, before growling bravely from under a rather small plant. It’s a long while until May. Think I’d better plant something big for Ginger Cat to hide underneath. I might even join him there.

Obligatory looking back post: Five things I’m glad I did in 2014

1. Converted a muddy mess into a garden that I love

Once upon a time we had an overgrown quagmire at the back of our house. Then some mild weather back in February allowed me to get started on some pruning and one thing led to another. We cut back, pruned, dug out and cleared a huge amount of overgrown stuff from our tiny terrace garden. We dug what Mr TLC called the Mariana trench (amazing how much earth you have to shift to build a small retaining wall) and gradually a garden started to emerge from the mud. It is now at the stage where I can potter about and enjoy it, or even (weather permitting) just relax with a cup of coffee. Lovely.

2. Visited a lot of curious and interesting places

We’ve had some grand days out over the last year. We’ve enjoyed the 12th Night celebrations on Bankside, come face to face with a Concord and a piece of the Berlin Wall, joined a lantern parade, marvelled at Charles Jenck’s Garden of Cosmic Speculation, felt drunk without touching a drink at the wonkiest pub in England, been pony spotting in the New Forest, met an awful lot of M1ldreds, said hello to Puffins, climbed into a boat to get to Threave Castle and generally had a very nice time.

We have some great things lined up for 2015 – bring it on!

3. Worked a little less, lived a little more

It started as a joke. One evening last summer I got home from work late (again), but before I could start mumbling my usual litany of excuses, Mr TLC breezed into the kitchen, then Ginger Cat padded in behind him. “Hello!” said Mr TLC in a cheery sort of way, “I’m Alan and this is our cat Charlie,” he added helpfully. Just in case I had forgotten. He was joking. I was mortified.

So I made a decision: I needed to spend less time at work and more time with Mr TLC. In any case, by that point I was exhausted to the point that I was in danger of losing the plot, so less time at work was essential if I was going to be able to carry on doing the job I still love.

A cunning plan was hatched: it involved a combination of the 50 hour rule and date night.

Since September I have been trying (mostly successfully) to limit my working week to 50 hours. I am, of course, behind with everything as a result. But that is the nature of teaching: the job is never ‘finished’ and frankly I have been behind with everything for the last 22 years. I should note that this is no worse now that I am (mostly) working a maximum of 50 hours per week than it was I was when I was regularly putting in 65+ hour weeks.

The next step will be the 45 hour rule. Watch this space.

We also now have a weekly date night, which is sacrosanct. However much work I have hanging over me, however imminent the deadlines, Mr TLC and I have a mid-week date. It isn’t always on the same night each week, it depends what we want to do. Sometimes we go out, sometimes we just cook a nice meal and watch a video. Mainly we enjoy each other’s company – something which is much more important than ticking tasks off my never-ending to-do list.

Have I achieved a work-life balance? Of course not (is there any such thing?) – but the scales are definitely tipping back in the right direction.

4. Started the slow journey towards improved fitness

This hasn’t been a success (yet), so why is it in this list? After a Christmas of being laid low with the lurgy, I started 2013 feeling unfit, heavier than I have ever been, looking at the state that SuperMum has got herself into, not wanting to end up on the same path and realising urgent action was required. I did brilliantly to start with: shedding a stone by following the deeply unfashionable eat less and do more regime; getting gradually fitter and starting to feel much better. Then as my working hours sneaked up, my progress on the fitness front started to disappear.

A few weeks ago, I came across one of those little revelations that can be so truly life changing if you take them on board: you don’t need goals, you need a routine. (I’d love to credit the person who wrote that, but I can’t remember where I read it – I found it somewhere when browsing through the posts in my feed reader).

So I’ve started getting into a routine. We eat at a set time, I get to bed at a sensible time, I have set time aside for exercise. My routine isn’t really established yet (I reckon it takes me around 90 days of doing something every day before it becomes a habit) and I’m not quite back to where I was, but it’s getting closer. It may be only a start, but starts are good.

5. Got stuck into Operation Own Less Stuff

This has been an on-off project for the last 3 years or so. It started when Mr TLC broke his leg. A man with crutches is wider than a man without them, so spaces that seemed perfectly adequate were suddenly too narrow. Once I had shifted one bookcaseful of books out of the way, I decided I liked the space more than the books. Operation Own Less Stuff was go!

It has been a long process, but it is amazing how much stuff I have been able to get rid of since then. This summer we tackled the kitchen and the real horror: my office. It turns out my office has a floor – who knew? I hadn’t seen it in a while, but it’s nice to have it back. It’s even nicer to have a space that is a pleasure to work in. Now I just need to keep it like that.

A Good Sign

A Good Sign

It’s probably not pronounced Straight On, but it still made me smile.

What I did on my holidays

Watched a bike race.

Learned to make croissants and Danish pastries.

Listened to the blues whilst drinking beer at Tramlines.

Went to the seaside.

Got up early and made the most of the day.

Had a lazy lie in bed with coffee and the newspaper.

Rode a carousel.

Shared fish and chips with Jonathan Livingstone the Herring Gull. (Yes, yes, I know I shouldn’t have.)

Saw a black dog climb out of the sea at Whitby. Yes, really. Then it disappeared. (But only around the corner.)

Accidentally attended a tea dance. Took part in the tea aspect, but not the dance.

Read books.

Decided I need to Say No to Magic and vary my reading matter for a while.

Did crosswords, killer Sudoku and Futoshiki puzzles.

Enjoyed beautiful Peak District countryside and a pub lunch whilst out walking with colleagues.

Enjoyed it so much, that we did it again.

Finished a huge writing job, involving a most unwieldy document, then discovered Scrivener. Ah well, at least I know for next time.

Discovered that L. S. Lowry once lived around the corner from my Mum’s new place.

Met up with friends. Said we must do this more often. Meant it. (But haven’t done it yet.)

Visited the Yorkshire Moores.

Visited the Yorkshire Moors. Fylingdales looks very impressive all lit up.

Got soaking wet in a thunderstorm.

Had a holiday in Scotland.

Enjoyed the smiles on the A Level and GCSE results days.

Saw a lizard scuttling very quickly and a slow worm moving almost imperceptibly.

Took hundreds of photographs. (Am still sorting through those.)

Tried some new recipes.

Had a picnic on Flamborough Head.

Tried a new approach to language learning. Learned more German words in 2 weeks than in the previous 2 months. Woohoo!

Did a lot of work in the garden, then sat back and enjoyed the view.

Rode in a boat so I could visit a castle.

Visited a town full of bookshops. Somehow managed to come home with only one book.

Picked blackberries. Baked a crumble. Nom nom nom.


I started with the aim of making every day count. I think I managed it.

Back to work today, but no students, they appear on Monday. Hope they’ve made every day count as well.

Travel Games

1. M1ldred

Mr TLC is a bit of a classic car fan. Our car does not resemble a classic, but we like spotting more venerable vehicles as we trundle around. We used to mark sightings with a shout of “Classic car!” but at some point that changed to a hearty cry of “M1ldred!”. All old vehicles score, but actual M1ldreds are obviously worth extra points (not that we keep count).

2. Say it with Sandra

Sandra’s dulcet tones have prevented many rows in the TLC-mobile. Since we purchased our first Sandra-SatNav, irritable exchanges between driver and navigator have become a distant memory. Our current Sandra is a pretty good navigator, but she does have a few linguistic quirks, which have resulted in us engaging in a strange call and response activity every time we use her.

We generally respond to Sandra’s odd pronunciations by repeating them back to her in an enthusiastic manner, but we do make an exception for Bakewell, or as Sandra prefers to say Bake Well, which elicits a chorus of “for 40 minutes”.

Sometimes Sandra wins the game by leaving us so totally baffled that we fail to repeat what she has said. She did very well in Normandy last Autumn, making a decent attempt at saying the name of every place that we visited, until we headed back to Cherbourg. It took us a little while to equate that with the town of Sherry Boo that Sandra wanted us to head for. Sounded like a dodgy 1970s cocktail to me.

A trip to Wales resulted in something too bizarre to describe adequately. As we crossed the border, Sandra switched to saying the place names in Welsh. At least, I assume she was trying to speak Welsh. I can’t even begin to offer a phonetic representation of what she was saying. It bore no resemblance to any Welsh place names and it was certainly beyond us to repeat her efforts. Still, she got us to our destination, which is the reason we have her in the car.

3. Dickens or Disney

Some places have brilliant names. After years of seeing signposts for for the excellently named Hadfield Padfield, I was a little disappointed to find out that Hadfield and Padfield are actually two separate places. By that time we had also spotted the sign to Shirley Longford (alas, also two separate places) and invented the game of Dickens or Disney.

I always imagined Hadfield Padfield as being a Dickensian gentleman, whereas Shirley Longford is definitely a character from a cheerful Disney movie. Dry Drayton? Has to be Dickens. Cherry Hinton? Disney.


Of course, sometimes we just admire the views as we travel from place to place. Are we nearly there yet?