Ode to Tim Henman


Most of us have a skewed idea of success. Just look at what happens every time a major sporting event comes along. Look at all the crap being spewed on the internet about mixed martial artist Anderson Silva right now, for example. For non-athletes, none of the work that goes into forging a professional career is seen, only the snapshot of a title fight or a Wimbledon final.

For Brits, a special place in the collective consciousness is reserved for Tim Henman. Yes, the seemingly hopeless figure that never made it to a Grand Slam final, most notably never the Wimbledon final. It seems quite irrelevant in the minds of so many that he was ranked No 4 in the world at his peak, won 15 ATP titles and is in the top 30 for career earnings at the modest sum of $11.6 million.

He’s been retired for six years, and still some people can’t resist a call of “Come on, Tim!” at Wimbledon. I’m not sure if it’s affection or scorn, but the guy has always kept his chin up in public regardless. Henman keeps a solid profile in the tennis world, taking part in the BBC’s tennis coverage since 2008 and remaining active on the masters circuit.

Tim Henman is a salient reminder in my mind that we can’t all be Federer, and that it doesn’t diminish being better than 99.999% anyway…

Come on, Tim!

Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.


When I was nine I did a standardised reading test in school and came out with a reading age of sixteen. Not surprising as I read more than anyone could without becoming a social recluse. If you had reversed the ages, most people would be alarmed, and I’d probably be the subject of ridicule besides. Alex Thompson did a great piece on failing literacy standards in UK primary schools back in 2007. I reckon even the chavs would make fun of each other if they found an illiterate in their midst, although I’m too cowardly to have asked. They were bigger boys!


When it comes to innumeracy though, it seems it’s both socially acceptable at all ages and a source of pride for some. But numbers, like text, are everywhere. No one’s saying we should all be able to do linear algebra in our sleep, but anecdotally I can think of some ridiculous demonstrations of the failure to grasp maths concepts that should have been mastered in primary school.

I recall an old school friend saying that mixing drinks is bad because “if you mix one drink that’s 30% with one that’s 40%, that’s like 70%”. WHAT? HOW CAN YOU FUNCTION? You probably think playing the same lottery numbers every week is a winning strategy too.

Indirectly it also limits understanding of some aspects of natural sciences, as you can’t handle the foundational maths involved. Again, not everyone needs to understand advanced chemistry, but it’s good for your health and your pocket if you can understand molar masses and why this helps us see that homeopathy is 100% insanity.

Remember that distance or flexible learning isn’t an entirely new idea.

Lots and lots and lots of people had a terrible time with maths in school, be it from teachers or uninspiring curricula. It’s never too late to start again though, especially with so many free resources. Start with Khan Academy – it’s great because you’ll see exactly where your teacher abandoned you before, and see how everything progresses from the most basic number line all the way to stuff you’d be learning in the beginning of a university degree. Want to go further? Perhaps Coursera or Udacity.

Never stop learning. Good luck.

The School of Oriental and African Studies

“SOAS for short.”
“Where’s that?”
“No you fool, England.”
“Oh right, what did you study?”
“Chinese and Indonesian.”
“What’s that for?”
“To facilitate understanding how two thirds of the world live, mostly in circumstances vastly differing from my own, and hopefully be of use in a world whose narrative is ever more the story of the global south.”
“So you’re going to be an English teacher?”

Free Hare Krishna lunch. Always make time for Hare Krishnas.
DavidC Photography

What a strange little place SOAS is. My massive cynicism during and immediately after has softened, as I’ve realised what a formative experience it was on a personal level. It’s not about “experiencing lots of cultures” (as if that’s even possible during an undergrad degree), but of seeing how fresh the memory of foreign encroachment is to so many people, and the mess it’s left as they try to reclaim and shape an identity for their nation.

Of course I also get to meet the children of a few who no doubt cashed in on said encroachment, or on the messy transition out of it. There will always be thieves who get rich and send their kids to live in Kensington, but I can’t change this by raging about it.

The formative effect could certainly have been found elsewhere, but for me at least, SOAS was as good a place as any. Cheers, SOAS.

Now if only I could do maths.

Save the NHS… with judo

I’m serious. We all know being physically active keeps personal healthcare costs down, but I’m talking about a specific skill of judoka.

Watch a judo match and see the thousand and one ways they get dumped on their back, on their head, on their arse… and get back up. BREAKFALLING. It should be on the PE curriculum.

Think how many people get admitted to A&E for tripping over the kid’s toys, or how many slow declines of older people start with a hip break that might have been avoided if they had lots of experience falling over.

Keiko Fukuda. Judo kept her going for 99 years. RIP.

I’ve not had a judo lesson since I was 5, but that little bit of judo practice (and a smattering of wrestling and BJJ afterwards) has probably saved me from killing myself with a broken neck more than once.

I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down!

Reading fiction 1: Chimamanda Adichie

At the suggestion of my girlfriend, I decided to start a foray into contemporary fiction with one of Nigeria’s most well-known authors, Chimamanda Adichie. If you haven’t heard her name, you might hear her voice on the new Beyonce album (sample of a TED talk actually).

I haven’t actually started reading Half of a Yellow Sun, a story of two sisters during the Nigerian civil war, but expect a review in this placeholder blog post eventually. Just need to start it enough times and I’ll finish it 😉

Procrastination is (mostly) bollocks

I know exactly how late I can leave something before I have to get it done, to a standard acceptable to me.

If you don’t work for it, you don’t really want it. You can’t make yourself want it.

On the other hand, there are a few emotional barriers to doing something that everyone should overcome. The one really useful tip I got from Neil Fiore’s The Now Habit is simply: stop worrying about finishing. Focus all your energy on starting. If you start enough times, you will finish.

It’s been a good three years since I read the book, so I don’t remember if he talks about the nature of gratification in the human brain. Human brains are not wired to consider very long lengths of time into the future. The best you can do is to form a positive habit cycle that rewards you now for behaviour that’s conducive to your long-term goals.

Again, James Clear gives it such a good explanation that I’d just be stealing his content to say the same thing. I did steal this image below though, because some of you are lazy and won’t click through yet.

Stop beating yourself up for procrastinating. Just form a habit of starting, and you’ll get where you want to be. Unless you don’t want it, that is.

It’s not what you know, it’s who you know

1. Who you know is a subset of what you know.

2. You say that like it’s a bad thing?

Sure there’s nepotism in society, but to come out with this old cliche ignores that we’re all social animals. Who we know is vital to getting anything done, and it’s through weak ties to a much larger social circle than say our immediate family and close friends that gives us the kind of “small world” effect that allows civilisations to function. No seriously, if it wasn’t for those random connections to people you sort of know, we’d probably all be living in little tribes scared of our own shadows, dying of dysentery before we hit 30.

I’ve been reading about this aspect of network theory and more in Guido Caldarelli and Michele Catanzaro’s book, Networks: A Very Short Introduction. £5.75 on Amazon. Great stocking filler if you’ve forgotten about Christmas until now and have geeky friends and family like me.