Richard Larkin: a man of peace


About four years ago I joined the “revolution”. I discovered Twitter and this led me to a wealth of new connections and some fascinating people.

I joined a regular Twitter discussions on education and found like-minded people, who, like me, sought change to the test-obsessed system that we have now.

One of the first people who I  found much common ground with was a retired Elementary school Principal from New England U.S.A. who had emigrated to Israel and settled down there with his family.

He was Richard Lakin and very quickly we established a Facebook friendship to accompany our Tweets to each other. I found out a lot about Richard from his posts and by reading his book “Teaching As An Act of Love”.

Richard had run a very successful school as a very popular Principal who stressed the importance of every child achieving their potential in a humane and unstressed environment. He railed against the severe testing regime that made schools such a difficult environment for teachers and pupils after “No Child Left Behind”.

We often had online discussions where he would applaud  one of the many posts I did on this blog!

I found out that Richard had been a staunch supporter of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. One of his best memories was attending the great rally in Washington D.C. to hear the Reverend Martin Luther King deliver his never-to-be-forgotten speech “I Have a Dream”.

When he arrived in Israel Richard continued his belief in co-existence and humanity by becoming a leader in the Peace Movement. It was Richard that got me interested in the work of the Peace Movement in Israel and even to follow one of his great loves a Facebook group called “Israel Loves Iran”



The picture on his Facebook profile summed up his hopes for a peaceful co-existence between Arabs and  Israelis. He watched the flashpoints in the ongoing problems in his country but he never stopped attending meetings for peace and using his considerable online presence to push for a reconciliation and a peaceful future for his adopted country


A couple of weeks ago Richard attended a hospital appointment. He decided to take the 38 bus home as it was becoming dangerous to walk the streets in Jerusalem where he lived due to a recent spate of knifings and other attacks on civilians.

Two Arabs came onto the bus and attacked people indiscriminately. Richard was shot and stabbed. He was rushed to hospital where he was treated for his wounds. They managed to stabilise his condition but he never regained consciousness. He died, aged 76, on Tuesday of this week and, as is the Jewish and Arab tradition, he was given a quick burial yesterday (Wednesday October 28th).

The New York Times wrote this report on the burial:

Like so many I will miss a person who I shared so much in common with. There is a deep irony in the manner of his death and his passion for peace. His son was interviewed yesterday following the funeral and you can see this here. I think though that the power of the the man and his desire for peace will, like his (and my) hero Dr Martin Luther King, survive the manner of his end.

I think that his legacy will live on as can be seen from the words of his granddaughter in the article:


R.I.P. Richard you will be so missed

My 10 rules for lifetime learning

1. Follow your interests not what you think would be desirable.

2. Understand that fishing in an ocean of knowledge you will be lucky to land just a few good fishes. Be realistic in what you can learn in your limited lifetime.

3. Enjoy the experience. Learning should be fun not an onerous task.

4. Develop a “crap detector” ( to quote Howard Rhinegold). There is a lot of rubbish that you will encounter.

5. Do not become a “dedicated follower of fashion”. Stay on your path and find your own truths.

6. Use different media. There are many sources of knowledge out there. I particularly like video and audio information.

7. Learn to search effectively. Never just take the top 10 findings in a Google search.

8. Share your information with others.Learning need not and should not be an isolated venture.

9. Remember there is always something new on the horizon.

Be prepared to reflect and change your perspective.

10. Last but not least:

remember learning is a journey do not aim for a destination just enjoy the ride!

Decisions, decisions


I have been reading an excellent book by the renowned Neurosurgeon Henry Marsh called “Do No Harm”.

The title comes from part of the admonitions of the father of medicine Hippocrates to all doctors of the future… “First, do no harm”.

In the book Marsh talks honestly about the job of being a neurosurgeon. He recalls different cases that he operated on, some of which he was highly successful with and others which resulted in pain, disability or death for his patients.

Throughout he reveals his fears and his anger at attempting to treat patients who are seriously ill. The fear is in making mistakes and he admits that a brain surgeon learns more from failure than from success but at a very high price in terms of the lives of his patient and their family.

He recounts how his own child, ironically, developed a brain  tumour when only three months old. He recounts rushing with his wife to his local hospital and his feelings of overwhelming fear and frustration at the seeming slowness of action for what they believed was a life-threatening condition.

It turned out that the tumour was benign and easily removed but the experience of the events stayed with Henry Marsh and made him well aware of the emotions of his patients’ families.

The key to Marsh’s book is the fact that surgeons are only human. They have to make decisions on a daily basis. Some of these decisions will be good ones and some will be seriously wrong.

I spent my working life as a teacher and consultant. I made decisions that were, as I now realise, wrong. My decisions did not have anything like the consequences that a surgeon’s decisions have. There is no life and death outcome.

Another theme of Marsh’s book is his growing resentment at developments in the service that he works in. He is a committed believer in the National Health Service and has spent nearly 40 years within it.

He bemoans the fact that many of his operations have to be postponed, often when patients have been prepared for them, because there is no bed-space available. He bemoans the paperwork that exists and the stupidity of government rules that can hinder him from operating, often with deadly results.

The video above was from a BBC “Newsnight” programme just before the recent election that has seen a Tory Government returned with intentions to continue the stealth cuts that have made our National Health Service weaker and potentially non-workable.

In the election there were many of us who pointed out that the NHS was under pressure and that an outright victory for the Conservative Party would cost lives.

Politicians make decisions that cost lives just as  a surgeon does. The surgeon does so in an attempt to help and cure, in the best traditions of Hippocrates. The politician has no such idea in mind. They are the slave to their political and economic ideologies.

It is a pity that they do not have a statement that guides their actions as they seek to govern. If you can do no good DO NO HARM!



I have to admit thatI had never really come across William Zinsser until yesterday. Unfortunately the reason for my discovery was because of his death on May 12th aged 92. (see

I read the BBC report on his life and decided to look at what many consider his masterwork “On Writing Well” which is a master coach’s advice on how to put pen to paper or better still use a word-processor which he loved and championed later in his life.

This story that I am now writing would no doubt have been scrutinised by the master for economy of language, for care not to use too many buzz-words and for personalisation.

He was very much someone who believed in writing as a craft and felt that every piece of writing needed to be kept simple and personal. He stated that you write specifically or yourself and that it is up to your audience to appreciate your efforts. Do not pander to what you think your audience wants to see but what you want to tell them.

What I want to tell you is that, as a subscriber to Scribd, I was able to access the audio book of “On Writing Well”. I sat back in my comfortable chair and heard the soft tones of the author himself reading his book.I found myself thinking, as he read, of the other pieces that I had written (over 600 of them!) in this blog.

Had I used to many long words for affect? Had I thought too much of who was reading my piece. Was it simple and most important was it really my voice that could be heard or somebody I thought my readers wanted to hear?

Many years ago I had a dream of becoming a writer. I wrote mostly short plays with very wooden dialogue that looked right on the page in front of me but would have tested the skills of the greatest actors in the world. I dabbled with the short story and found that they had some reasonable reviews in my student circles. I sent a few plays, a film-script and a collection of short stories to agents and a few directors.

I got a few replies, saying that there was a germ of talent but I needed to find my own voice. My favourite reply was from the film director Ken Loach, who I wrote to after seeing and reading the script to his film “Kes”. He said that writing was a personal thing and that you needed to write from deep experience and “put your guts on screen”.

I never really found my voice. I disobeyed most of Zinsser’s fantastic advice. This was a book that I needed in 1972 and it wasn’t there until 1985!

So my story is of discovery, regret and hope. William Zinsser is someone you should read if you have any pretensions to becoming a writer. You should read and reread his advice and if possible, get hold of the audiobook and listen to the words of the master.

My hope is that this story might have got some sort of nod of appreciation from the man himself, although I’m sure he would have hauled me over the coals for some areas that did not heed his advice!

May he Rest In Peace.

Reflections on the Conservative victory yesterday

Neil Kinnock was a much derided and hated individual by the right wing press in our country.

In our pre-Blair Labour supporting household, I have to admit that he was considered something of a “windbag” who lacked real political depth.

After yesterday’s highly unexpected defeat of  the Labour Party by the Conservative Party under David Cameron though a speech came to my mind that he delivered in Bridgend, Glamorgan, on 7 June 1983, it was two days before Mrs Thatcher had a resounding victory despite a first administration full of class warfare and policies that were based on giving aid to the rich at the expense of the poor.

The reasons that his speech came to mind was that he gave a powerful warning about the “victims” of Thatcherite Government. It resonated with me because the last Government has introduced cuts in public services that are due to the need, they say, for austerity following the 2008 economic collapse caused by greedy bankers.

Theere have been Old People’s Centres closed down, there are free food Co-Ops floourishing, a huge increase in family poverty and a huge number of unemployed youth who can look forward to never owning a home and having to work till they are in their seventies or beyond in order to quaify for what will become a reduced pension (compared to today’s values).

When Kinnock delivered the speech he knew that he was going to lose. His voice was almost gone from days of continuous speechmaking in a doomed cause. The speech was from the heart and remains one of the most moving and effective speeches that I ever heard.

It would have fitted so well in response to Cameron’s victory yesterday.

Here is the transcript of the speech and below is a link to a video clip from the speech.

“If Margaret Thatcher is re-elected as prime minister on Thursday, I warn you.

I warn you that you will have pain–when healing and relief depend upon payment.

I warn you that you will have ignorance–when talents are untended and wits are wasted, when learning is a privilege and not a right.

I warn you that you will have poverty–when pensions slip and benefits are whittled away by a government that won’t pay in an economy that can’t pay.

I warn you that you will be cold–when fuel charges are used as a tax system that the rich don’t notice and the poor can’t afford.

I warn you that you must not expect work–when many cannot spend, more will not be able to earn. When they don’t earn, they don’t spend. When they don’t spend, work dies.

I warn you not to go into the streets alone after dark or into the streets in large crowds of protest in the light.

I warn you that you will be quiet–when the curfew of fear and the gibbet of unemployment make you obedient.

I warn you that you will have defence of a sort–with a risk and at a price that passes all understanding.

I warn you that you will be home-bound–when fares and transport bills kill leisure and lock you up.

I warn you that you will borrow less–when credit, loans, mortgages and easy payments are refused to people on your melting income.

If Margaret Thatcher wins on Thursday–

– I warn you not to be ordinary

– I warn you not to be young

– I warn you not to fall ill

– I warn you not to get old.”

Why I voted


Yes, I know. The election is upon us after six weeks of to-and-fro negativity. The whole process has been called as a “non result” before it began.

If you live in a constituency such as the one I live in, the result is pretty much a foregone conclusion. My vote will not count under the present “First Past the Post” system.

I have just voted in the local Community Centre where local government employees are earning a little extra cash checking my polling card and handing me my voting slip. I make my way to the flimsy polling booth and then fold my wasted vote and place it in the black ballot box with a smile on my face which is duly reciprocated by the clerk in the seat opposite.

Why did I bother? The picture below says it all! I vote because I can do so. I do not live in a country where I have no opportunity to vote. I did not have to protest in Tianamen Square. I did not stand in front of a tank and later die to get the chance to do what was so boringly comfortable to do in our local Community Centre just a short while ago!


Yes we will get Muppets as our next Government but at least we have the right and the opportunity to vote them in!

Doctor Nature: How our health hinges on biodiversity – MAHB

This is an excellent blog post by Holly Moeller about the threat of disappearing environments and the flora and fauna within them and the fact that most of our key medicines are found from nature.

The most telling part of the post was a fact that made me open-mouthed with amazement:

It’s no wonder, then, that when scientists hunt for new medicines, they often begin by screening natural compounds. Today, as concerns mount over antibiotic resistance, with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus killing 18,000 people in the United States each year, and multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis infecting almost half a million people annually, the need for new antibiotics is urgent. Research expeditions into the heart of the rainforest or to the bottom of the ocean bring back samples that are screened for antimicrobial activity. Newly discovered compounds are also tested for anti-cancer activity as we continue to seek elusive cures for that deadly set of diseases.

Successful as these approaches have been in the past, they will continue to work only so long as we have plenty of raw material to work with. At the moment, scientists estimate that we have described 15% or less of all the species currently alive on the planet. A huge potential reservoir of new medicines is contained in Earth’s biodiversity – hidden in plain view among omnipresent microbes and tucked into remote corners of the planet where humans never venture.

The fact that we have discovered only 15% or less of all species currently alive on Earth  is the thing that made me sit back in amazement. We are threatening habitats that contain life that could help us overcome some of the dreaded diseases that constantly threaten humanity and we will destroy them without ever knowing what they may have helped us to overcome. In my  book that is just plain madness. We really need to see how important the conservation of the environment is for any future we may have!

This is a timely and important post that I urge people to read.


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