Not Enough Spreadsheets


The stars by which I steer.
 Sir John Betjeman, poet and sometime school teacher, on being asked towards the end of his life if he had any regrets, famously and abruptly said: “Not enough spreadsheets.”

That he should have had such a yearning ache for the completion of more spreadsheets, some ten years before personal computing had made them commonplace, is a testament to his prescience and humanity.

Teaching is a moral crusade: the increments of altruism are infinite and stretch off into the future like time-ribbons of goodness. As teachers, we collate data and measure performance every moment of every day. Only last night, I woke up with a start and shouted “9.5!” only to settle back into a contented slumber.

I measure my heartbeat and map my runs. I weigh my food and my body. I turn poetry into rubrics and human drama into statistical data. And I should, because without stars to steer by where would I go?

Time spent sleeping could be time spent on a scatter graph. Time spent enjoying a coffee with friends could be time spent correlating academic attainment with fruit preference. Time spent sat on the corner of a washing machine could be time spent devising a fiendish grid of qualitative statements with a contrivance of progression.

Because that is what there is never enough of: progress. Wherever it is to be found, there is always a little more to be had just a little further along the time-ribbon. Progress is the end without end.

It is a terrible shame that death gives progress such a rude awakening.


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