In a spin: surprises, memories and a look to the future

On Sunday morning, after a gruelling spinning session at my local gym, I drove over to see my family at my sister’s house. When I arrived, I was met with a tremendous surprise: my mum was downstairs and she was walking! It’s been a long time since she has been able to walk so well and we were all thrilled. The joy and pride on her face reflected the smiles of everyone around her. It was a lovely gift for Mother’s Day.

This weekend was a “wedding weekend” at Aunty Doo Doo’s house, which meant a change in the sleeping arrangements. Rebecca and the new baby were swiftly replaced by my second niece Abby, who is due to marry her fiancé Jonny this June. She had come home for Mother’s Day and for more exciting wedding planning, although the happy couple and my sister are being very secretive about the big day. All I know is that lots of surprises are planned, so I for one can’t wait!

My father had been busy hunting for my sister’s marriage certificate. Since Abby’s wedding will be an Orthodox Jewish wedding, both sets of parents must produce their own marriage certificate to the Ecclesiastical Authority, known as the Beth Din, in London. This is necessary to demonstrate that all are members of the Jewish Orthodox religion and that their children are eligible to be married within the faith.

When a Jewish Orthodox couple divorce, obtaining the divorce document – the “Get” – is vital. Without it, a divorcing parent and any subsequent children of a second marriage will encounter serious obstacles when attempting to marry.

In these circumstances, practitioners acting in the civil divorce should remember to record their advice in writing, as it is possible to stop the civil proceedings in the event that there is a problem with obtaining the religious divorce. Even though many clients will have an understandable desire to get things done as fast as possible, and therefore dismiss as unnecessary the need to obtain a Get – especially if the other spouse has refused or is making extortionate demands – it is crucial that it is obtained.  Also, the civil court can assist to “encourage” the recalcitrant spouse to agree to give the other a Get.

My father also had a little surprise for me this weekend. On his hunt through his papers, he had found a large envelope containing my A-level results.  I was about to open them when Dad said “Leave it until you get home; there’s nothing in there to be proud of!” We both laughed remembering when the results arrived home when I was 18 and we all lived together. Although I achieved four A-levels, the grades were very poor – especially given my aspirations to become a lawyer.

My grades – one C, two D’s and an E – weren’t anywhere near good enough to get me into my chosen university. I’m sorry to say that they were entirely the result of sheer laziness and a misplaced self-belief that, I didn’t need to work hard to pass my exams.

I didn’t do much revision at all and assumed the exams would be, as usual, a walkover. The unexpected outcome gave me the biggest shock of my academic career and one I have never forgotten. In fact, sometimes even now, I occasionally still have a nightmare that involves me taking an exam for which I have done no work. I start to read the exam paper… panic…and I wake up sweating!

However this experience, at only 18, has actually shaped my life.

The University of Leeds, with its fantastic Law School and acclaim as one of the world’s top 100 universities, might not appear to be an immediately obvious saviour. However, unbelievably and even with my results, it showed faith in me and offered me a place the following year. The decision was based in part on a magazine that I was editing and writing in my spare time. Writing interested me very much, and as you will note, I continue to enjoy it all these years later.

I learned a hard lesson that too much self-belief and self-confidence can cause a fall. I realised that I should not ever assume that success would drop into my lap and that I could not rest on my laurels. The experience taught me that I should always do more than is necessary and do the best that I possibly could. Perhaps some would say deliberately choosing to have a lack of self-confidence is unnecessary, but I’m glad I’ve chosen that path. The lesson in how easy it is to fail has stayed with me throughout my life and will continue to do so. In work, I drive myself hard: checking, cross-checking and triple-checking everything little thing that I do. I also ask it of the people around me. And I’m the same at play.

Even when I go spinning I have the same attitude. You might think spinning is easy. You start off slow and it doesn’t feel too difficult, so what’s the big deal? But the truth is you soon find that it’s anything but. There is always a faster speed to achieve and a higher level to attain.

By the end of the class this Sunday, I was totally exhausted but felt exhilarated. I had hit very high levels and sustained them for long periods and at a reasonable speed. I told the instructor that his class was so hard that at one point I’d thought about ducking out. His response was to say, no chance – he’d have locked the doors if I’d tried!

The truth is that he will never need to, as he doesn’t know what drives me. It was quite ironic seeing those A-level grades, and smiling as I was recovering with my parents, Abby and my sister over a Mother’s Day coffee. Life could have so easily turned out very differently for me, and I’m so glad it didn’t.


DT - March 20, 2012 at 3:17pm

I did my first degree at Leeds University and often (far too often in fact), still have anxiety dreams that I’m sitting in the big sports hall (near the dental hospital and LGI) where we sat all of our exams., and that I haven’t read or prepared for the exam. at all; I don’t have a clue what’s going on as everyone around me settles into their exam. – it’s awful! It’s worse in the summer time I think because that season has always been synonymous with exams. since I was very young.

I’m a compulsive checker and obsessive re-checker too – I wouldn’t change this trait though!


Kathryn Evans - March 22, 2012 at 3:25pm


Pleased to note you are a fellow alumnus of the University of Leeds… as well as a compulsive double-checker – I think this trait is vital to being a good lawyer!

I recently attended my first Leeds uni alumni event: “Freedom of Expression vs the Right to Privacy” at Mischon de Reya’s offices and found meeting fellow alumni whose years of graduation spanned decades to be extremely interesting. I was surprised at how palpable the connectionit felt with people who, in every other way, were strangers.

Kathryn Evans
Tees Solicitors

Marilyn Stowe - March 22, 2012 at 6:32pm

Dear Both,
I went back to Lydden Terrace to read my son Ben’s first class finals results because if ever there was a proud mum it was me on that day!!!
 It felt amazing to be back there, nothing seemed to have changed. It was brilliant to see Ben receive his degree too. I couldn’t have imagined when I was a rather hefty student that both husband and I and our son would all three go to Leeds University and study law. 
I also went back for The Who concert at the Union building but this time as a guest of the VC and not someone who stood outside to listen to Roxy Music because I couldn’t get a ticket!
It was an honour, it’s a fantastic University, and I will always be proud of my connection to it and of course my connection to Leeds, the city which includes my Super Heroes ……the Leeds Rhinos!!!!
Thanks very much for the comments

Pippa Keech - August 16, 2012 at 6:28am

I am sitting here basically waiting for my son’s A level results in a few hours time, wondering what he will do if he fails to get the grades he needs (which are very high). Your story is so inspiring and made me stop feeling so miserable about this whole period of my own life (in 1981!) when I spectacularly failed to get the grades to do medicine. My husband had exactly the same experience. So we are both in a lather today. But actually, I retook and am now a GP and love my job, he did a biology degree, got a first and then did medicine and is now a professor at Southampton uni. In many ways like you, the experience was formative,a wake up call. But if we are not careful we can let it define us and our inner psyche can have a field day using it against us! This is what I will try to convey to my boy if he doesn’t get the grades. Thank-you.

Marilyn Stowe - August 16, 2012 at 12:19pm

Dear Pippa
Thank you so much for your comments. I can remember sitting in the car in the school car park when Ben was getting his A level results, practising what I would say to him if he didnt get his grades.
We are parents who love our children and in many ways I think its tougher going through this with them than it is for ourselves.
However, I have just returned from London where I appeared today on ITV’s “Lorraine” with a family whose son was wrongly made the subject of an Emergency Protection Order and Interim Care Order. I wrote a blog post about it on the train home afterwards and its being published shortly.
We actually have it much, much, better than we sometimes appreciate.
I wish your son very well, please drop me a line and let me know how he does! If hes interested in law again please let me know.
Best wishes

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