Sunday, 6 December 2009

ZEN TODAY

Call off the search.
It's right here.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

A CONVERSATION WITH A CEO

CEO: "....................... and as it's often been said, CEO's are the loneliest people in the world."

ME: "No. The loneliest people in the world become CEO's."


Was I just trying to be smart?
No.
It's obvious.
The more mastery, the less intimacy.
The more intimacy, the less mastery.

CHARTISM 06


CHARTISM 05


Thursday, 3 December 2009

A VINTAGE OCCASION

ME: ............. and to go with that we'll have a bottle of your Barolo 2005.
WAITER: Very good, sir.
Waiter brings the bottle.
WAITER: How's that?
ME: Mmm. It's a Barolo, but not the one on your wine list. This is a 2006. Could you bring me the 2005 please?
WAITER: Ah. Sorry about that. Goes off to collect correct wine and returns.
Er, I'm sorry but we don't actually have the 2005 wine.
ME: I see. Let's have another look at the list. We'll choose another. This Chianti Classico 2005 will be fine.
Waiter disappears and reappears with the bottle.
ME: That also appears not to be the 2005, but the 2006.
WAITER: Ah, Yes. I don't think we have the 2005.
ME: OK. How about you just take the wine list and tell me which of your advertised wines you do have?
WAITER: Returning. I've had a look and it appears this Tempranillo is the only one.
ME: Interesting. And looking at the wine list, that wine isn't the same as advertised either. It is, again, a different vintage.
WAITER: ...................................
ME: So none of the wines on your list is actually available; only a different set of wines not advertised....
WAITER: ....................................
ME: I'm sure you can see the problem here.
WAITER: Yes.
ME: And I'm sure a Trading Standards Officer would see it too.
WAITER: ..................................
ME: Well, here's what I suggest. As I am pointing this error out to you and therefore saving you a lot of potential hassle and cost, not to say quite possibly a prosecution, I suggest you provide me free of charge with a decent wine of your choosing and I'll agree not to call trading standards in the morning to give you a chance to sort the matter out.
WAITER: ............................ OK then.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

DOES WHAT IT SAYS ON THE TIN

www.chicksandbikes.blogspot.com

MONOPOLY

When my son, George and I play Monopoly, there are a few extra rules we observe.

  • You are the enemy
  • We are the axis of evil and will use any means to bring you down
  • Whenever possible we will helpfully volunteer to be the banker
  • We will then filch between us as much money from the bank as we possibly can
  • In the early stages of the game we will steal property cards too.
  • Even though you think we are against each other we will gradually work you over towards our evil intent
  • If you are foolish enough to leave the room say to go to the loo it is fair game to steal your property
  • The number of moves made on the Board is exactly equal to advantage and has no relationship to the number of dots showing on a pair of dice
  • The wording of a Chance card is exactly what I just invented
  • Ditto Community Chest
  • Where you left your counter is where we just put it without you seeing
  • The rent due is what we say it is
  • I did just pass go and will collect £200.
  • Again.

You have been warned!

I add to this confession only one counter - that, as someone who likes to deal ethically and responsibly in my actual business life, this sort of behaviour is the perfect antidote.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

HOME, THE HERO

There are several recent homecomings which have grabbed my attention since my last posting (and thank you to keen readers who, through email, have been kickin' my ass).
One is the triumphant homecoming of David Haye, newly crowned WBA World Heavyweight champion of the World, having defeated Nikolay Valuev in Nuremburg.
A second is the sombre sight of the repatriation of six soldiers, killed in Helmand, their coffins saluted by the good people of Wootton Bassett, plus a few politicos trying to cash in.
And a third, the "unexpected" return of Simon Mann, a British mercenary, imprisoned in Equatorial Guinea for basically trying to steal that country and its rather extensive oil supplies.
What weave together these homecomings in my mind is an enquiry into the nature of heroism. It can be a difficult thing to unravel. So much of what we ascribe to it is societally conditioned.

Haye's struggle was inevitably labelled as David vs. Goliath, the rematch. Valuev was paraded as a freak in a freak show (especially by that most abject of freakmeisters, Don King), though in fact he showed himself to be more poised and thoughtful than many a boxer. The actual bout made for dull viewing, unless, like me, you have a taste for the tactical rather than the gladiatorial in matters pugilistic. Haye's tactic was correct. Hit and run. Don't get caught by that awfully weighty, long jab. Tire your man. Forget combinations unless you rock him and get a fleeting chance to work the inside. Hit once, and be gone. Take few shots but make each shot count. Use a deeply controlled violence. Heroism? Maybe.



The bodies of the soldiers returning from Afghanistan betray a losing game, the wrong end of a tactical game that any idiot can see is failing, and where we are the Goliath not the David. Moreover, can anyone distinctly define the mission? I think not, and this raises the question of for what these young men died. Heroism? Maybe.

And Simon Mann. I wonder if we will ever know the truth of his mission. Greed? Maybe. Deniable operations? Maybe. Sanctioned regime change of a tyrant? Maybe. Preferable oil trading interests? Maybe. Heroism? Maybe.

Friday, 23 October 2009

I AM NOT A NAZI

............ said Nick Griffin of the BNP in the controversial Question Time programme last night.

Oh yes, I'm thinking, you probably pretty much are.

But there's a problem.

Pouring venom on you, shouting you down, censoring you, and using anger and hatred as the weapons against you make your critics look as much, or maybe even more guilty of the hatred and bigotry of which they accuse you.

And that's what happened. Understandable, very understandable. But, in an open public arena, unfortunate.

It would have taken a statesmanlike leader to have calmly given you the space to hang yourself as a closed minded, nasty and brutish fear monger. It would have taken a real leader to have properly acknowledged the real human fears and injustices upon which you prey, and better still to be constructing and executing policies that address them and the dangers inherent in them, so that you have no political ground to hold. Sadly, there wasn't one present.

Watching someone getting publicly reviled, no mattter how odious they are, is a brutal and freakish form of entertainment with the danger that the object of revulsion actually becomes a figure capable of attracting sympathy.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

CHARTISM 04


Saturday, 17 October 2009

THE SUNNE RISING

A politburo memo:

Dull down.
And work the idealist trick,
Sedating with false unity.
Use class as enemy.
Cite equality, against the radiant individual facts.
Dumb down.
And rewrite history.
Make problems, so they feel you're solving them.
Stay monochrome. It's so much easier understood.
Move mass to keep your power.
And on this slate, they shall write nothing,
Leaving you to sketch your dawn -
Your new, precious dawn.
Red rising hood?
Or slate, slate grey?

Some dawn.
Some new false bloody dawn

Sunday, 11 October 2009

THE SUNNE RISING

Sweating against a deadline, the copywriter was up all night teasing and tweaking the phrase. At dawn, word-sick, he sat, head in hands.

"The future's bright....."

No, no. They'll never buy that.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

A SHORT HISTORY 01 - TOBACCO

It started with a girl at a party. Offering me one, she looked at me with big Pocahontas eyes. How could I refuse?
It continued with a Saturday job at a newsagents and tobacconists. Bert, the owner, and, as time went on, firm friend, was a devout communist. Weekly, he’d dip into his pocket in response to the appeals on the front page of the Morning Star, seeking donations for its own survival. When, therefore, I filched through the brands of available fagware, he had little response to my defence that it was redistributing wealth.
At 17, it was Sobranies. I looked a real prick, posing with pink ones, and coughing my way through the black russians.
Not much later it was Gitanes unfiltered, inspired by my poet friend who was on the Chatterton trail, living in a damp cellar with a nutritional intake that consisted only of the evil French smokes, and unbelievably strong coffee. Pursuing the Gitanes lifestyle we went together to Paris, sharing a small apartment in the 8th Arrondissement, dreaming (at least on his part) of being Verlaine and Rimbaud. We got ourselves arrested for having a Gitanes and coffee picnic at the top of the then unfinished La Defense buildings. We broke easily into the building site, ascended for ages, then sat dangerously, with our legs dangling over the skyscraper edge to enjoy the unparalleled views of the City, wreathed in mists of tabac brun .
At university I went through an Old Tory phase. I squandered a great deal of money on brogues, tweed jackets and corduroy trousers. To complete the picture I bought a pipe. At the time, to me and my fellow members of the Idiotic Old Tory set, this seemed like a good idea. At the tobacconists, when asked with which brand I would like to stuff my briar, I remembered that my Dad had smoked Erinmore Mix. Equipped with this I set off to an enjoy an evening of fine smoking. I’d never had my Dad down as a hard man. But two bowls of Erinmore was more than enough to convince me he had hidden depths, as my student bedroom span round at alarming speed, and on about the thirtieth revolution I managed to dive onto my bed and stay there, ill, for about three days. Thus ended a chapter of the pipe dream.

A TREE CALLED GED


Me and Ged planted this tree. It will grow huge and old, outliving us both. And now, its first fruit.


CHARTISM 03


CHARTISM 02


Friday, 9 October 2009

UNFILTERED

Ashford, Kent, Pall Mall, Marlborough, Richmond, Windsor, Afton, Mayfair.

Just why are so many fag brands named after British places?

SCIENCE OF THE SANDWICH


CHARTISM 01


Sunday, 4 October 2009

ZEN TODAY

Don't just do something. Sit there!

Friday, 2 October 2009

THE SUNNE RISING

.................... the lights of a vehicle. A long way off. Moving about. Why? He’s doing something out there. But what?

Monday, 28 September 2009

ZEN TODAY

Only the weak show no weakness.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

ENCOURAGING SMALL BUSINESS

Like many tiny businesses or self employed individuals, we make use of a lady who does the books. Our lovely bookkeeper turned up in a right panic yesterday morning. The reason? She has discovered that she now has to register as a bookkeeper. She has to read an absolutely incomprehensible guide to do so and fill out half a million forms. If she's in any way unsure about the need to register she can apply for, and be charged another small fortune for, a test. The test will tell her if she does need to register but not definitively if she doesn't. She has to sign complex anti money laundering informant promises she doesn't understand. She has to formally notify the authorities of the names and details of each and all her clients (they are all micro businesses) and has to pay a fee of £95 for the right to be registered and, naturally, inspected as the bookkeeper of each and every one of them. She's not sleeping well.

Yup. It's the enterprise economy.

If this were an isolated example of this kind of administrative complexity that would be one thing. But it isn't. There are countless examples. Most of employment law. Most of Health and safety regulations. If this government can find a way to tie everything for running small (and I imagine, larger) businesses up in red tape, add bureaucracy, rules and regulations and generally screw things up, they'll do it.
Oh, and if you are mad enough to try and actually make a go of it, they'll tax you half to death (and, thinking about it, actually beyond the grave too) to pay for all of their self serving, nonsensical interventionist crap.

Grrrr.

My advice to anyone wanting to start their own business? Emigrate.

But I think the root of it is this: we have career politicians running the country. Largely, they have no real contact with the enterprise economy; no real personal experience of entrepreneurialism. Hence, when they reach for solutions, those that come naturally and most easily to hand come from their own frame of reference - that of cumbersome, overburdened processes and procedures. The longer they spend in politics and the more senior they get, the worse is this syndrome.

And............... (one for the cynical) .......... enlargement of the state is a route to a huge potential tame vote bank, and therefore to the only thing these people are really interested in - self protection and the prolongation of their own "power".

THE SUNNE RISING 2

........... is the nasty livid welt swelling up under your left eye. Gift from that vicious little uppercut in the 4th.
“It’s nothin...” That’s the cornerman. But he’s working.
The referee looks through seen it all eyes and shakes his head.
No.
Not your day.
A punched out day. A day in defeat.
Blood. Sweat. Canvas.
Not your day, mate.

Friday, 25 September 2009

THE SUNNE RISING

............ skulks up wearing a turned up collar, dirty leer and nicotine stains. Bloodshot eyes at the fag end of a hard night's lessons at the card school. A draw on a fag and there's a glowing stop light. A long outbreath. Smoke. No stopping now. There's more trouble to be had, behind more of those smoke clouds.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

HOW TO TELL A PROPER CYCLIST

This post is unusually barbed.
A proper cyclist:
  • holds a line
  • moves legs not upper body
  • knows how to hold a wheel
  • and lead another on his wheel (see first point above)
  • has a rudimentary awareness of wind direction (see foregoing points)
  • has a clean drivetrain, emitting little noise
  • is intolerant of mechanical squeaks, grinding and grating. Fixes them.
  • knows that gears are for changing
  • knows that junction etiquette is more than simply keeling over sideways
  • does not suddenly brake at the sight of a corner
  • appreciates that having been provided with a twenty speed bike there is little point in using only one gear
  • prefers riding on the road, as opposed to in the ruts beside it
  • does not make erratic changes of direction
  • enjoys the upright position rather than diving into the path of oncoming vehicles
  • refrains from unseemly shouts of "6!" and "7!" when passing young ladies
  • does not tinker with things they know nothing about (e.g. complex derraileurs)
  • is amusing at all times

Companions take note.

Monday, 21 September 2009

ZEN TODAY

By being no better I get better.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

PROVERB

I got an email which contained a quotation. I'd never seen it before, though I don't doubt it may be well known. I can't find the derivation of it either. Perhaps it is because of the foregoing post that it stays prominent in my mind, and I can't get rid of it. Anyhow, here it is:

"I was crying that I had no shoes,
When I met a man who had no feet."

Friday, 11 September 2009

WAR STORY

When Associated Press release an image of a US marine on the point of death in Afghanistan, there is a furore.

It is, of course, a horrible image.

War is horrible. Unthinkably horrible.

I wonder if we were less protected by editorial and state censorship, whether the imagery of real warfare would act as a cultural deterrent to warfare.

Maybe, the more shocked, the better.

And, if you want to be shocked, try this: http://www.battlespaceonline.org/slideshow/

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

IN NOMINE PATRIS

Of all the deceits worked on you by parents, amongst the cruelest and most enduring is that of your name.

"Hello," you say. "My name is Arthur Farnsbarn, Priscilla Fotherington-Hamperful, Nathaniel Babywipe." Whatever.

And you believe it. A precious thing - your name. Indeed, these days, you've even got to protect it, allegedly, from identity theft.

But it isn't your name in any real sense. It's been given to you. Or rather, foisted upon you without your choice. And the choice of your name reflects all of your parents' prejudices, snobbery, expectations, preferences and cultural assumptions that, likewise, are shoved onto you without your consent. It's their name, not yours.

Does it matter? I think it does.

The first thing a name does is separate you. Not great, from a cosmic perspective. Then it places you within a stratification of societal assumptions. Then its permanence suggests an unchanging identity that is neither accurate nor helpful to one of the key determinants of mental health - the ability to embrace inevitable change. Its nature also subtly reminds you of your parental expectations of you - again, a key limitation in true self determination.

I'm in favour of having naming ceremonies. When you feel ready you could abandon your child-name and adopt your true name. Native American tribes such as the Coast Salish and the Sioux had this practice. In modern society it could be linked to an awakening process about awareness of the parental and societal assumptions and limitations placed upon you, and your own decisions about which, if any, you want to enact in your own life. That would be a major contribution to road-of-life safety.

Perhaps too it would be a new source of linguistic beauty, and along with it, a new, more lyrical and truer definition of respect for the individual. Again, Native American practice might lead the way, with their naming conventions suggesting what is self evidently true, yet almost universally forgotten in modern life - man's intimate connections, as with any other animal species, to the natural world.

Yours,

Beads Of Water Make Grass Shine Under Morning Moon.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

MANIFESTO OF PARENTING

  • Allow.
  • (Can't think of anything else right now)

Monday, 7 September 2009

MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR

We were hard up when I was a kid, living in Norwich. We therefore went on holiday to places like Great Yarmouth and Pakefield rather than places like Amalfi, or Mauritius, which on the whole are rather nicer. Though I note that some marketing wag has branded the Suffolk seaside "The Sunrise coast". I ask you! If the only benefit that you can find is that you face East, you really are lost. Perhaps the marketeer would be well advised to target the Moslem community.

Back to my childhood, though. Once ensconced in our caravan or other crap holiday accomodation on the Sunrise Coast, we would embark on a range of adventures. We could scarcely contain our excitement as we went to the boating lake, the swings and slide, or for an ice cream. And sometimes we would go on excursions that ventured further. Once, my Dad splashed out for us to go on a mystery coach tour and I have to admit that for a while, as the mystery was unravelled, it did have appeal. And finally we arrived at our destination. Norwich!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

MEATY STUFF

Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness, innit?
That means its crumble time, raiding the orchard or hedgerow for whatever I can find as the base layer and then wallowing in flour, sugar and butter to make it. Recipe: Fruit. Chop, cover with a bit of water and stick that in the oven whilst you make the crumble layer. Flour, a bit. Butter - more than you think would be healthy then double it. Sugar - most of the jar, then the rest. Rub as you would a sensitive part of your lover. Put crumble layer on base layer. 15-20 mins in the Aga. Bob's your uncle and vanilla ice cream's your Aunt.
It also means meat - a large joint fragrantly roasting. And I'm not talking about one you've rolled yourself.
That brings me to the season of grumble. Some time ago I signed, with a full heart, a pledge to buy my meat from local butchers. In part my motivation was to support my friend and neighbour who raises beef stock. In part it was a quality thing. I like going to the local butchers. I like the sawdust and blood stained aprons. I like to talk to someone who has actually slaughtered the animal he is about to sell you, or at least has a good working knowledge of what a carcass is and how to use it. I'm not talking about the people employed by Messrs. Sainsbury and Tesco now on their butchers' counters, good though they may be. I'm talking about Mr. Laverack of Holme upon Spalding Moor, Mr. Sissons of Pocklington, and other fine gentlemen of the butchery persuasion who display in their shops the blackboard upon which it is chalked "Today's Beef - Mr. Smithson, Ellerton; Today's lamb - Mr. Halliwell, Aughton; Today's pork - Mr. Blackhouse, North Duffield." I like that. I like to visualise the actual farm, and the actual field in which the animal was roaming that has given its life for my nourishment. I like the difference between supermarket meat and that I buy at the butcher's. You can tell the difference, and it's all in the slaughter and hanging. And it's in the conversation you have around which end of a joint you want, what purpose you want to put it to, and exactly how you want the meat cut for use before you. Most of all I like eating quality meat that has been properly butchered.
So I'm a big fan of local butchers.
And when I hear that local butchers are going out of business by the score, I grieve.
But then there is the other side of the coin. Go, on a Saturday afternoon, around any of the villages and small towns in our area, and you are hard pushed to find a butcher's open. Likewise, at other odd times of the week. Tough one, that. For the average punter who works all week, Saturday is prime shopping time. So it seems to me that the butchers are butchering themselves. It's a competitive world, and if local butchers are to bring to market their excellent quality, they must move with the times in customer service too.

TEAM BUILDING INNIT?

"We're going on a one day team building event!"

No. You're not. You're going on a surface scratching exercise at best, and, at worst, you're wasting your money to go and play with some planks and oil drums.

Teams are people. People feel close to each other, or they don't. They FEEL close. Or they don't. Geddit? It's about FEELINGS, EMOTIONS. Durr.

Think you're going to get to those in a day of welly boots?

Think again.

DAWNS

I like getting up to see the dawn.

Yesterday's was like someone had dipped a rag in petrol and set fire to it.
This morning's was like approaching a very large pink mountain from a long way away.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

HOOTERS

Last night I was awakened at 2AM. Sleep was impossible for about two hours afterwards. Was it my racing brain, too much rare meat or coffee? No. It was the owl party that had started. I'm not talking about one owl. I'm talking about the whole owl neighbourhood.
One of the beauties of living at Laytham is the presence of owls. The barn owls are practically a logo of the place, so often are they seen. People think that barn owls are nocturnal. But not entirely. I often see them well before dusk, and occasionally some time after dawn. As the season gets colder, they hunt earlier. They are silent, relentless and ruthless hunters. Their pattern is to quarter fields and run down the lines of dikes, lanes and hedges. When they find prey they will hover a bit above it, then swoop down, and it's theirs. They normally eat away from the site of the kill. So sometimes you can see them flying with their prey in their talons. More than once I have been cycling or in the car with a barn owl flying along the line of the lane, keeping pace, totally unbothered by my presence. There are few more majestic sights than a barn owl in frosty or misty weather. Owls are nearly blind. They don't see well in the conventional sense at all. What they do extraordinarily well is hear. An owl, I'm told, can hear a shrew move in the grass a kilometer away, zero in on it, swoop and kill.
The largely undisturbed habitat around Laytham is home to at least three species of owl. The barn owl is one. The Little Owl is another. These, sadly, you mostly come across dead. They have an unfortunate habit of resting, or maybe even roosting, in the middle of the tarmac of a road. Then they get run over.
Last night's party was the tawny owls. One calls too-whit. Another calls too-woo. Or more accurately hoo-ha-ha-hooo. This call is often mistaken for the barn owl. But in fact, the barn owl rarely calls. When it does, it's a harsh screech. last night I guess about ten or maybe more birds were communicating. I could guess crude locations for each, based on the cry.Their calls are often described as ghostly or mournful. But I find them amorous, romantic, wistful and lovely. I've never heard as many calling as last night. What were they saying? Only when I rot will I stand a chance of speaking owl, alas.
But I wonder if they had been troubled by the great silver bird that had landed in their territory earlier in the day. Perhaps they were awake enough to see it. Matt and I did. It was circling the village in the early afternoon, uncertainly, evidently conning to find a suitable place to land and circling lower and lower. Then it made a very low circuit, at only a couple of hundred feet before skimming the ash trees on Tanner Lane and disappearing. Fearing for the safety of the glider pilot, Matt and I raced out to check everything was ok. The glider had come down in the huge field behind my meadow, landing on the stubble. The two pilots had got out and were completely unphased. Stubble fields are apparently the landing strip of choice as you can see what you are landing on. Grass is not so good as you can't predict how long it is. One of the pilots recounted to us an occasion where he had landed in a field of grass that was higher than the canopy of the glider. A weird and scary experience, he said.
"How will you get the glider out now?" I asked.
"Simple," said the pilot. "We'll call up the glider tug. The plane will come in and land, then give us a tow and we'll take off again."
A ripple of excitement ran through the village at the arrival of these unexpected guests. So maybe that was also the cause of all the owl commotion.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

A RACE APART

The acceptance of women's boxing as an Olympic sport and the recent controversey around Caster Semenya highlight an anachronism in today's gender equal world.





Sport still applies gender apartheid. From a feminist perspective it is difficult to understand why single sporting events should not be open to both genders. Who's frightened? Women, or men?

CV

The other day I received a CV. It is one of the better ones I've ever seen. Here (honestly) is what it said:

"Born – 1571 to Russian peasants earning a living by turning small pieces of fruit into very small pieces of fruit

Emigrated to England in 1892, having stowed myself away on a (late) Easyjet flight from Malaga

2007 – Entered the Guinness Book of Records as ‘Man with the most ridiculous haircut’.

2009 – Turned into a carrot.

2065 – Dies, probably at the hands of vengeful mormons, for making their children drink B52s when they came to our BBQ on that hot Sunday afternoon. "

Monday, 24 August 2009

LEADERSHIP AND AESTHETICS

Leadership and aesthetics will meld.

It's obvious.

As emotional and symbolic benefits become paramount in markets, so aesthetic literacy becomes a leadership demand.

There's a gap here. Because business education in the last century was scared half to death to tackle this.

So a generation of aesthetic pygmies has grown up (or rather not grown up) to run organizations in less than beautiful ways.

To their customers they look and behave ugly.

And so, blighted by their own aesthetic failures, shall they die.

Those who live by the functional sword shall die by it.

ZEN TODAY

Shall a man be judged for the width of his opinions, or the width of his doubts?

PLUG

http://idler.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/advert.pdf

GOING YOGIC IN ITALY

The Missus errs towards asceticism. My leaning would, of course, be toward hedonism. Left to her own devices the cupboard would be bare. Left to mine it would be groaning. And there'd be another cupboard for the grog tray.
You may tell, therefore, dear reader, how galling it is to report that I've returned from a short stay in Italy, having gone the entire time without eating a decent meal. In Italy! Mama Mia!
The reason is that her indoors cleverly persuaded me that going to stay in a hardcore yoga retreat centre would in fact be a decent family holiday for me, her and the youngest sprat. Why did I believe her? I'm more than old enough, and more than cynical enough to have doubted. But perhaps my softer heart prevailed.
Never again.
The food was unutterably shit. Worse, it was paraded as healthy, macrobiotic, organic, vegan and the rest and served to grateful female skeletons who'd just done an outrageous two hour workout. I don't mind vegetarian. I don't mind wholemeal. But I do mind food preparation that is utterly devoid of love. And I fail to see how this could be in any way considered to enhance one's spiritual application in the world.
In fact the whole accommodation left something to be desired. By which you may infer, dear reader, that it was just the right side of Dachau.
The sprat, under nourished and under stimulated, whined incessantly. Upon return home,by contrast, and with a decent sausage and egg breakfast inside her, she chirped and sang through the rest of the day, in her normal happy way.
There was a nice pool, though. That I will say.
Well, I only have myself to blame.
But there are two features of this experience which bear further comment. The first is a caveat emptor to those sold on holiday experiences of the green / eco / wholemeal variety. This is the second time I have been stung. The first was in India. We stayed at an "eco hotel". What this meant was that it was a hotel, just like any other. Except it had all the correct green rhetoric. And charged more than top rupee for it. Now, in Italy, the same thing. There are great margins to be made from starving your guests, and giving them spartan conditions that flatter their quests for inner meaning by confusing them with rejection of outer luxuries. Better still, these punters will view complaining as bad karma. So you can get away with near murder.
The second is a musing about motivation. My natural inclination is the carrot. Or, more probably, the whole carrot cake. But the sad truth is that for some people, with whatever deep self worth issues they have derived from over critical parents, the stick really is more effective. It's the same terrifying confusion by which the abused becomes abuser. And there are plenty of people who realize that this is a perfectly legitimate tool by which you can lever an individual away from their cash. Or get them to work harder for you. Or go to war for you. Or..... you name it.
I thought yoga was about freeing the spirit. But I've returned wondering.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

AN R IN THE MONTH

Next month there will be an R in the month again. Which makes it the right time to think about planting more trees.

Here's what we've planted at Laytham so far:

Oak approx. 40
Chestnut 1
Cherry 16
Apple 6
Mulberry 2
Copper Beech 1
Silver Birch 3
Willow 2
Gage 1
Plum 2
Walnut 1
Hawthorn 1

All, with the possible exception of the walnut, are thriving. I think the walnut has too much competition. I may have to move it.

There are three especially fine trees absolutely shooting up too. But I didn't plant them. They just appeared. Two are grey poplars, offspring of the huge tree that skirts the old moat. They shimmer most beautifully in the wind and make a lovely calming noise. Trees are therapeutic that way. They say that if you have a headache, go and sit under a willow for an hour. Your headache will go. I quite believe it. And it would not surprise me if the poplars are equally healing. The third tree is a sycamore. But I think that won't survive. Where it is, it is jostled and pushed about by the poplar brothers. And, despite their calm exterior, they are hard men, not to argue with. I found this out when I tried to remove another of their brethren, first with a machete, then with a lopping saw, and eventually with a big bush saw. Made me sweat, the bastard.

Come next month, I'll have a shopping list. Topping it will be one or more horse chestnuts, which, like the copper beech, should grow on the east side of the house to be magnificent and huge trees, long after I become tree myself. And a couple of willows, to soak up the paddock's deepest furrow in its ancient ridge and furrow structure. I'm tempted by a pine or two. But there again, I'm not sure. They seem somehow a bit middle class, and I'm terribly snobby about that. Someone suggested a Eucalyptus. Never.

I have kids. I may one day write a work of genius. I doubt that. Apart from these things, what greater legacy can there be than planting trees?

Friday, 14 August 2009

TEFLON

If Teflon is non stick, how come it sticks to the pan in the first place?

Thursday, 13 August 2009

IDEAS, INNIT?

When organizations refer to upping creativity, they're normally jsut talking about getting better idea generation. I've been asked by a couple of clients to give them some simple rules to maximse their forthcoming idea generation sessions. Here they are:

  • Get 6 to 12 participants
  • Have a facilitator
  • Call for ideas with a simple question: "I'm looking for ideas now, how might we..." Don't overcomplicate the stimulus or people won't understand it. Don't allow lengthy questioning of the brief. that will have the same effect.
  • Allow, and brief participants to allow all ideas. Yup, all of 'em. You should aim for literally hundreds in a session.
  • Rule people away from behaviours other than giving ideas. Asking questions, giving opinions, giving information. These things are great but not when you want ideas.
  • Write down each idea verbatim. Verbatim.
  • Watch for the cresting wave, the moment when the group fails to produce any more ideas. It's not the first moment of silence. That may just be people thinking.
  • At the moment of the cresting wave, you could introduce a piece of new stimulus. The classic archetypes for this are Brian Eno's Oblique strategies. But you can invent your own.
  • Encourage throughout a spirit of play rather than work. Encourage silliness, outrageousness, mucking about. Watch kids, who are nearly all geniuses when it comes to producing ideas. they do all of the above.
  • Delay any evaluation till the end. Do any evaluation only at the end and simply and quickly. The simplest, and often the best is simply to give people each three or four votes, and let them choose the winners.

Voila!

It really is pretty simple. And the simpler, the better.

PROCESS AND POSTURE

To get ideas, sprawl.
To get (lengthy) opinion, sit.
To fight, get round a table.
To agree, be alongside.
To choose, move.
To decide, huddle.
To bare souls, walk.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

TREASURE

The man came this afternoon to deliver my new mower. This grand toy costs the equivalent of a small car and is one mean machine - the Arnold Schwarzenegger of grass cutting. It was raining lightly and he advised me not to use it today. Obvious really. But I did. Works a treat even in the wet.

And there, just under the sycamore and elder were the treasure that I find once a year. Puffball mushrooms. I hopped about I was so excited, leaped off my new mower, ran for the kitchen, grabbed a knife and had them up as soon as you could say "calvatia gigantia". Then, back in the kitchen I sliced my chosen treasure to check that it's nice and white all the way through. You shouldn't eat them if they have gills formed on the inside. Fry some good butter in a pan. Bung in the puffball slices. Season well with salt and black pepper. Chuck in a couple of rashers of bacon. Top off with a couple of fried eggs. The Holy Roman Emperor couldn't have eaten better.

And the mower didn't pack up.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

ZEN TODAY

No self. No problem.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

ZEN TODAY

Is it better to live wide?
Is it better to live narrow?
Is it better to live deep?
Is it better to live shallow?

Sunday, 26 July 2009

A PERFECT SUMMER'S DAY

Yesterday was a perfect summer's day. The sky was deep blue, but with enough wind and cloud for interest's sake.
Zara and I took Jed to his rehearsal at the theatre.
My replacement Guernsey turned up.
A spontaneously arranged day ensued with David, Karen and Tess, lived out almost entirely in the gardens.
We had broad beans and fat peas straight from the vegetable garden lobbed into a huge salad also containing leaves, cucumber, pancetta and croutons, together with tiny new potatoes. I experimented with making a toffee sauce for ice cream. It turned out better than I'd even imagined.
David and I played shuttlecock on the lawn for ages, he gradually revealing his sporting excellence, me less gradually revealing decrepitude.
The girls played happily in and out of Zara's summer house, in the hammock and on the new swing which Jed has fixed in one of the apple trees.
Yas and Karen chatted contentedly.
There was mint tea and a big jug of elderflower presse.
David and I picked up Jed, elated at the progress the production is making.
More badminton long into the evening with Jed.
Frost, on TV.
Bed.

Can't be more blissful.

Friday, 24 July 2009

CALLED TO THE BAR

Last night, an unusual amount of pomp and circumstance. I attended the Call to the Bar ceremony at Middle Temple. For my host, who was being called, it was a proud occasion. He has every right to feel proud after the outrageous slog to qualify. And he was duly called and signed his name in the register that has been kept for centuries on the Middle Temple's cupboard, made of a deck hatch from The Golden Hind.

Some impressions then.

What stuck out to me were the furrowed brows and intensity of the young men and women who had been Called. Their predominant concern - unemployment. Having taken first class academics, and massive amounts of sheer sweat and application to get to this point, they almost all face the prospect of .............. nothing. Pupillages will be given ultimately to less than 20% of them. The wastage rate is ridiculous.

Then there were the parents. Diffident. Congratulatory. But not joyous, not affectionate, not exuberant.

Some say that the very role of barrister is arcane. Maybe. But it can't be right to put so much talent through so many tests and challenges, only to waste it.

And those parents! Every step of restraint in the matter of love seems to me wasted, every moment of potentially joyous contact missed, again a waste.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

SMALL AD

Someone asked me recently to write a lonely hearts ad. Here it is.

"Utter git, no redeeming features, seeks well manicured, well heeled goddess to laugh at life's shortcomings. No nutters."

CORPUS CHRISTI

Last night there was a special moment.

I went to church. Not something I do a lot. But my nephew Matthew was leading the service for the first time.

He spoke the service and when it came to it I joined the communicants and knelt before him. Light streamed through a high roseate window. He administered the sacrament. I said, "amen." It was a quiet piece of magic.

Monday, 20 July 2009

TOUGH LOVE

Tough love pays. Sometimes. Here is a recent example.

During my recent trip to France Big Ged and I talked ourselves into a spontaneous viewing of the Tour de France. It was quite an adventure, involving as it did getting up literally at dawn and driving some four or five hours to get to the Col de Porte and see the mountainous stage. Despite the nay-sayers we did it of course. Hangover and all.

We were rewarded with a splendid day of Pyrennean views and a lot of arseing about flapping our arms at the Tour caravan to see if we could build a mountain of freebies, chucked at us by the promo girls. Much laughter and ribald commentary about said promo girls.

And then the riders appeared. Mark Cavendish, the British sprinter was well near the back. As he crested the Col I shouted at him "Get on with it Cav, you fat b*stard."

A few days later,on the BBC News website I saw the headline CAVENDISH SPURRED ON BY CRITICISM.

Tough love. Must've worked.

AGONY AUNT

I have a number of Sunday rituals. One is the purchase of the SUNDAY EXPRESS. I know, dear reader that you wouldn't have me down as a Sunday Express reader. You'd be right. I buy the paper and instantly throw it away. No. Correction. Not quite instantly. I check first as a sort of personal game that the words DI or MADDY are (as usual) on its front page, together with the latest accompanying non story. But I like the general knowledge crossword, which offers a thousand pound prize on completion. I don't really need the grand but I like the thought of winning it. Not that I ever have, mind. It's the plant genuses which get me, and the compiler is fond of them.

But you'll be pleased to know that this eccentric reading choice is balanced by the choice of OBSERVER and SUNDAY TIMES. Within the latter my very favourite bit is Mrs. Mills, the acerbic Agony Aunt. Being a coach can, at times be akin to being an agony aunt. It's a clue as to your own poor performance as a coach, when you feel that's what's happening.

The other week, in typically acid style, Mrs. Mills was peremptory about some loser who was droning on about their relationship difficulties. "If you can change it, do so," she advised. "If not, be happy with what you've got."

Universal advice.

MY NEW TATTOO

.......... is a heart, nice and red and throbbing. And a scroll under it for the recipient of my affection. The name in it: EVERYONE.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

EXPEDITION PACKING

I am packing my ruck sac for my Raide Cevennois. It's important to get it right as there are long distances to walk, no habitations on the age-old transhumance routes, and only camping sauvage at the end of each day. I say "only," as one of the greatest imaginable pleasures in life is to doss down in the Cevennois wilderness after a hard day, with only the moon and stars above you and and a fire beside you.

Packing like this, for the absolute minimum of weight, and working out where everything should be tucked away so that it comes easily to hand in the right order is also a great pleasure. it reminds me of endlessly packing and repacking bergens and webbing so that you know exactly where the full magazine is when you need it, and no farting about.

It also brings to mind a trip I took to the Hoggar mountains, back when it was safe(r) to travel overland in Algeria. Lashing and Stashing became a twice and sometimes three times daily routine of enjoyable problem solving so that the roof rack on the Landrover would just about be able to survive the endless bashing it took over the desert pistes. You have a choice on these rutted tracks: drive very slowly and safely but get shaken to bits and frustrated with the lack of progress, or drive at between 50 and 60 mph, floating over the surface of the ruts, but with dangerously little control. I wonder if you can guess my preference? The roof rack did in fact survive. Just. Only three of its spars were unbroken by the end of the trip. Whereas the Landrover itself just ate the journey, leaving me with an enduring respect for these machines. Only two breakdowns: an almost unbelievable wearing out of the contact point on the rotor arm, which was fixed by adding metallic paper from inside a fag packet; and a broken leaf spring. Amazingly I had learned the French for leaf spring (lames de ressorts) and had no trouble therefore getting it clamped and welded in a tiny Algerian settlement, by a bloke with a welding kit, watched by a herd of goats. He charged me the equivalent of 40p for the job. The clamped and welded leaf spring was still on the Landrover when I sold it tens of thousands of miles later.

All the packing and repacking of this sort has another dimension too. It convinces you that you are in charge of events, ready for anything. Pleasurable, but false. People and events take the oddest turns. If you are not careful you can turn your life into one big chess game, full of control based on predicting the actions of others. This has the danger of getting you what you wished for. And, as we all know, you need to be careful about what that is, in case you get it. Instead, it is a good man indeed who can see that the real joy of life is the essential item lost and the fumbling and cock ups that result, the broken and damaged things you've packed into your life. These are the treasures. Just give me the eyes to see them.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

MURRAY MANIA

In the words of Pseuds corner: "So. Farewell. Andy Murray."

And let it be a lesson to us all.

There he is: a young man who is tall, fit, reasonably good looking, incredibly successful, absolutely loaded, with a nice looking girlfriend and......... surely one of the top three people you'd least like to get stuck in a lift with.

You can't write it off as him just being a dour Scot. I know plenty of Scots of various hues of dourness, and they ain't even in his league. He might "only" make the semi final at Wimbledon, but if there was a Grand Slam at being a totally miserable c*nt, his name would be engraved on the board.

Now, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe with a couple of Glenfiddich and cokes inside him he's a wild, chilled guy. But there could be a lesson here. Look. Learn.

Does success make you happy?
Does money make you happy?
Does having a loving partner make you happy?
Does being a winner make you happy?
Does being fit make you happy?
Does influence, power and being in the media make you happy?

Apparently not, dear reader.

And so it is. These things don't make you happy. You make them happy. Or not. It's your choice.

Friday, 3 July 2009

BUSY AS A B******

A thank you to the good people of this blog's readership who have commenced the appropriate nagging action towards me about my recent absence from the blogosphere.

Sorry.

Is it limp to say I've been busy?

But I have. It's a question I'm often asked - are you busy? The "recession" did for a while mean I could answer "No". But the respite has been short lived. I am now (and have been for the last 3 or 4 months) as busy as I could possibly be, and then a bit busier than that. And then just a wee bit more activity squeezed on top.

Do I like busy? It's good, but it reminds me of the adrenalin toll that being long term busy takes, and the creative spirit it robs. In the middle of my little patch of Yorkshire, free from traffic noise, and in a space to empty rather than fill, creative and beautiful things can happen. In the hurly burly it isn't that they can't, it's just that they don't much. Too busy. Too busy to think.

It's a good job people in organizations are way too busy to think otherwise I wouldn't get half the work I do. Much of that work is to get people to slow down long enough to think. Ironic then that just recently I've had so little slow time myself. Still here are some notes of the doing I've been doing:


  • Saying "have you been to the opticians recently?" in a coaching session, and meaning have a think about the glasses you are looking through....
  • Being challenged myself about lines of connection running on axes of physical beauty...
  • Running across the gravel courtyard and swearing at Blackie who's stripped my netted cherry trees the cunning blighter.....
  • Listening to multi faceted sides of argument about personalities and their difficulties with not a penny of profit motivation to guide it.....
  • Accepting that things can come to an end...
  • Generating new retail concepts....
  • Plotting to get the man the top job...
  • Inventing an experiential conference design, and building chaos into it....
  • Hearing managers ask permission to laugh (My God!)...
  • Writing a rewrite of tales of the Arabian Nights to inspire participation....
  • Visiting Jimmy in prison (he's bearing up well)...
  • Worrying about A. in YOI, where he's so depressed he's on 24 hour suicide watch...
  • Deliberating whether catharsis is needed by talking about problems rather than getting on with solving them....
  • Watching the world go by in the artificial street at Gogarburn...
  • Producing a personal vision on an ordnance survey map...
  • Telling people to drive slower...
  • Reading Caught by the River.....
  • Wondering whether Mike and my "cockle shell heroes" adventure canoeing down the Trent might be on after all (note to self: dig out old commando cap comforter)...
  • Spreading out the Randonneur map for St. Hippolyte du Fort and plotting our Raide Cevvennois... (buy Zippo lighter for fires, consider tarp for basha)..
  • Arguing about whether you have to die to get to heaven or can have a bit now...
  • Saying "you're not just nice, you're amazing"...
  • Setting close up photography as an assignment...
  • Noticing bodily tension and how infrequently I am truly relaxed. Taking good note of Michelle's advice about chakras...
  • Weeding the vegetable garden and discovering that this makes me feel claustrophobic...
  • Wielding a machete. My kinda town....
  • Building a Zara House in the garden with Ken who moans the whole bloody way through the exercise...
  • Skipping breakfast...
  • And dinner...
  • Going out on my bike just to go out on my bike, rather than beast myself...
  • Feeling like I was thirteen again....
  • Being amazed at Lucy's luminescent quality and impressed by her idealism...
  • Billing so much I think "that can't be right"...
  • Making stuff with peas and tiny broad beans as I've got so many I don't know what to do with them...
  • Eating the one cherry that Blackie didn't get from tree 7...
  • Thinking I must have names for all my trees just like Stella, the cherry named after Ged's Mum, and Ged, the old chestnut he is....
  • Hoping for rain to break the static...
  • Searching out a decent BMW R1200GS for riding to Italy...
  • Admiring George's kilt...
  • Getting pissed off at the British Museum for having nothing that helps you access cuneiforms...
  • Eating at John Torode's place...
  • Using "I'm a f*ckin' vegan" (in Welsh accent) as a catch phrase...
  • Being upset about playing Cox and Box...
  • Walking home by moonlight pissed (eight miles from the station - lovely country lanes but feet ripped to shreds in Church boots)...
  • Making major shirt investments...
  • Praising EAT...
  • Playing Elephant Balls with David...
  • Only occasionally pausing for breath.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

NOW, WHAT AM I THINKING?

I often do little thought and life experiments. They keep me amused, sometimes do good and rarely do harm.

Here's one I've been doing at this time of mad pace in my work that leaves little time for my normally reflective habits.

I ask myself, "now, what am I thinking?"

Suddenly all thought disappears.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

A PUNCH UP

Experts who tell you they understand the change process are generally lying.

I had a vivid experience of this some time ago when I was working with a Company which, due to a reorganization, was going to shed a third - yes, a third of its workforce. Wisely, the Company invested in an intervention to help their management prepare for and explore the impact of that change. Equally wisely they commissioned yours truly and some colleagues to deliver this. We used a very open process, demanding strong facilitation skills in order that people could really explore.
In one of the workshops, I found myself facilitating a group comprising quite senior managers. We started. "We, of course, being senior managers, understand all about change," they said. "Oh yes, the change curve, Maslow's heirarchy of needs, Jo and Hari's window. You name it. We understand it. We know all about handling change." They stroked their ties with pride.
So it went for the first half of the morning. Blah, blah, I thought. So when it came to coffee time I sent the group off to congratulate themselves further over a nice cuppa and a bourbon or two. Meanwhile, with them out of the room, I removed a third of the chairs.
When they came back in, guess what happened? You got it. It all kicked off. Big time. People were shouting at each other, pulling rank to try and get a chair, arguing and yelling at each other and at me. "Just put the f*cking chairs back," growled one man an inch or so from my face. I thought there might actually have been physical violence.
After as long as I dared I called the thing to order and confessed where I'd hid the chairs. After I'd got everyone seated, I asked them "so how did you handle that change?"
It was a workshop for which the participants seemed to have the highest gratitude as, obviously, the discussion post chair removal had a greater reality. Not a model in sight. But a heightened sense of the sorts of responses we really make, and which catch us out in times of change.
I've been in the behaviour change business for twenty odd years. I haven't seen a model yet that explains the mellifluous flow of change in my own life. And in coaching and group dynamics I am still constantly surprised at the paradoxes and unexpected nature of changes.
I wish I knew more. But I suspect that it is the confidence and humility to say "I don't know" that is one of the most useful bits of equipment in times of change.

Friday, 15 May 2009

HUMAN CAPITAL

Someone I respect greatly recently wrote this:

"The capital of the human is the heart."

Yee hah.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

NEW WATCH

I saw an advert for a watch.

Instead of numbers on its face it just has the word NOW.

Think I want one of those for my birthday.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Thursday, 30 April 2009

GOOD MANAGEMENT USE OF MODELS

Are you into management models?
No. Me neither.
I prefer the kind that walk on catwalks. And I quite like it when they fall off their heels or have other unfortunate accidents.
But sometimes models have a purpose. I was writing a proposal the other day, and found myself, unusually, referring to the their use by including the following:

I used shop's dummies in a visioning event a couple of years ago and these models proved very useful. I got the participants to develop names, characters, lifestyles and needs for these “consumers” in order to develop a customer vision. It was very effective. But the second part of the event was a bit less inspired. So I suggested we had the mannequin Olympics. The High jump was phenomenal. The Long Jump was good too. After the event each participant was given their “consumer” as a keepsake, and as a reminder of the consumer needs they were trying to meet in their business, they could, if they wish, keep their “consumer” in their office. This was also meant to be a clever way of getting them as talking points to help spread the customer vision around the organization. Now, unfortunately, a number of the “consumers” got “broken” during the Olympics. But quite a few participants decided they were going to take them back to their offices. One participant was so struck by the idea he went straight back to the office that night after the event and installed his mannequin. Unfortunately, the security men on duty later that night didn’t know that. Hence their carefully organised emergency detention of the “interloper”. Also, one of the spare dummies we used had a leg sticking out of the van we’d hired, on the M4. And my mate Chopper, driving the van, got stopped by the Police. They thought he might have been disposing of a body. Disaster. Good job they didn't know his nickname.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

TIMES RICH LIST

Every year the Times publishes its Rich List.

Alas, what with the recession and everything, I've fallen off the bottom of it this year.

But when are they going to publish the Happy List? That's what I want to know.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

BULLY BAIT

Once there was a boy. He didn't like football. He liked dolls. What? Was he ill? Some thought so. Others, at school, didn't think at all, except in their invention of the next sordid torture. They'd just punch him, or plant a head butt on him or spit or shout "f*ck off, poof" or ridicule him or push him around, steal his drawings or trash some other valued item.
Now, many of us at school have faced the daily horror of being bullied, and we find our ways to survive it. George was a bit small and geeky, but transformed himself into a thai boxing champion. He's still short. But you wouldn't mess with him. I learned how to be humorous and could ridicule people. I discovered a talent for horribly cruel nicknames that stuck. And although I had little skill at fighting, I had a violent temper, and the terrorist's instinct to know that you don't have to wait to be attacked to attack yourself. When Jed faced a bit of bullying, my advice was to take a bit of four by two in his pack, and not wait to be attacked but just find a time when the bully wasn't expecting a bit of Jewson's finest around the ear, and give him the glad news. Thankfully he didn't take my advice, which ran me into criticism from a number of people for being politically incorrect.
But back to the boy with the dolls. He did none of this. Especially he did nothing that changed who he was. He kept on playing with dolls, and drawing girl's dresses. He had his dream. Despite all blows against it, he carried it.
And yesterday that young man, now grown, went to London, to Central St. Martin's College, and another step towards a future as one of Britain's most talented and original fashion designers.
I take this chance to salute him, his dream, and his tenacity and to express my loathing for the ignoramuses who were stupid enough to try and stop him.

Friday, 17 April 2009

DEATH IN THE AFTERNOON

There has been a pair of mistle thrushes in the paddock for the past three weeks or so. They've been a pleasure to watch. They have a great flight, like a breast stroke swimmer, coming up for air after every couple of strokes. This morning I saw one feasting on worms exposed by the newly cut grass. This afternoon I saw one dead on the gravel by the barns. No indication of how it died. Oma suggested it might have flown into a window and bounced back dead. I picked it up. It was crisp to the touch and surprisingly light for a bird of that size. Now I can't see its partner. I guess I won't.
I first got close to the natural world by stealing birds' eggs as a boy. I had a good collection, all nicely blown (which is an art) and kept in shoe boxes lined with cotton wool. I had a mistle thrush's I expect. I shinned up trees and steeled myself against hedgerow lacerations to get them. For a rarer species I'd go farther afield, and I had a map in my head, where places were named after what we kids discovered there, or the adventures we would create. I've a mind now to do the same, but make the map. Perhaps I will make a tracing of an OS map. I like the idea of it being in the micro scale of a child's eye.
Dead Thrush Patch. That could be on it.

STILLNESS

Ah, yes!

Some of that.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

RUSSIAN ROULETTE

I've taken quite a few risks in my time. Not all of them have paid off.
When I was a kid I was very interested in parachutes and parachuting. So I jumped out of my bedroom window. Luckily my Dad had recently dug the garden immediately beneath it. But I still made quite an impact. As I had not, at that stage, mastered the Parachute Landing Fall (the Para's roll) I fell forward and got a lot of dirt up my nose, bloodied my face on stones and skinned my hands and knees. Not to mention the pasting I got for being so bloody stupid in the first place.
I started parachuting in my twenties in order to beat what I thought would be the ultimate test of fear. Turned out it wasn't. I nearly got banned from that game by jumping a parachute rig that hadn't been properly tested. It was an honest mistake. Guv.
As I approach fifty, you'd think I'd have learned my lesson. But you'd be wrong. I'm still very much up for a game of Russian roulette. Here's how it goes.
You go in a wood. Preferably one filled with silver birch trees. You enter on the pretext of "a nice family walk". You then ferret about and find an old, dead tree that is nevertheless still standing. In a silver birch glade you can normally find plenty. Then you shake said tree to and fro, setting up a good rhythm and then, bang, you suddenly shake it on an off beat. Result? Tree comes crashing down. You run like f*ck. Hopefully you survive to play again.
A simple game of simple pleasures. For nutters.
I've played it many times with my two sons who collapse in laughter as their Dad comes crashing through the undergrowth to escape certain death or injury. I haven't yet tried it with my two year old daughter.

NAKED ORGIES AND DISCO FIGHTING

Round our way it is deer central. I can't decide if it's them or me. Green shoots, if not of the recovery type, then certainly of the herbal variety tempt them beyond the coverts. And I see loads of them. Perhaps I am sharper eyed to avoid another range rover on deer incident. Maybe they are staging a mass demonstration. Kill one of our number and we will only return in ever greater throngs! Just after dawn, on the little double bend in Long Lane, a hind stood elegantly framed by mist. And then her bodyguard leaped up startlingly from the ditch into the road. A stag. A three pointer. He skidded slightly on the damp tarmac. Then he regained his composure and looked at me hard and long. Come and get some then, he seemed to urge. I was impressed. Then he shook his head. "Thought not," he affirmed to himself, and disappeared with his lady into the woodland. I felt like I'd been called out in a disco and not had the balls to go.
More gentle was my meeting with the muntjac.
It went like this.
When I rang my old shipmate and said, "I'm down your way," I needed to add, "but I've got to get up for work the next morning so it'll need to be a light night."
"OK. We'll have a little aperitif in the pool and then I'll cook for you."
Knowing that he is a very fine chef who has trained with some famous names, I knew it would be churlish to visit without providing a bit of wine to drink with what would be excellent food.
You guessed the rest.
The aperitif turned out to be three or four naked bottles of Chablis. And that was before the meal.
The next day was near-death by hangover.
But then, there, in the Warwickshire forest, crossing the road, was the ultimate hangover cure. One of Britain's shyest, cutest mammals. A lone muntjac seen at close hand though briefly, before it went snuffling off in its gentle way. Quite unlike my tangle with the bruiser of a stag.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

TRAINSPOTTING

Letitia Sweitzer is an American author and expert on boredom. My recent blog entry "Dr. Berry's Quack remedies for Boredom" prompted her to contact me. We have had a lively exchange. These "Letitia Dialogues" promise to continue in a question and answer form. Here is our latest exchange:
LS: YOU HAVE SAID THAT THE REMEDY FOR BOREDOM IS ACCEPTANCE. CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE THOUGHT PROCESS INVOLVED IN ACCEPTANCE BY GIVING THE DETAILS OF A REAL LIFE EXAMPLE?
HB: Yes.I said that the only real remedy for boredom is full acceptance of what is and full rejection of what is not.Since boredom does not exist, you may reject it.Since the thought "I am bored" exists you may accept it.The thought is a thought. Nothing more.The thought is real enough but the meaning it conveys is untrue, and therefore only the unwise will use it to guide their behaviour.After all if you are bored, which part of you is capable of noticing that you are?And if part of you is noticing, then is not part of you beyond the bored thought?Acceptance is acheived by paying attention to what is true. It is true to say I have the thought "I am bored". But it is not true to say that "I am bored!"The thought process of acceptance is easy.Stand aside from your thoughts, as you would stand aside from a train entering a station. Let it arrive. Let it stay. Let it depart. It's only a (train of) thought.There it is. There. Over there, if you prefer.Where are you?Watching, of course.No point trying to jump in front of a moving train to try and prevent it coming into the station.Thoughts are, after all, rarely still, and nearly always moving, endlessly going somewhere or perhaps nowhere.Or do you prefer to be on the train, led into whatever destination your thoughts carry you?Which is the more truthful? Which is the happier guide? To be inside your thoughts, or to know that they come and go and therefore to have access to observation of them?In my own personal experience, mental harmony is always acheived from perspective on one's own thoughts. And when it is lost, it is always because I have got on the train.I could make a good case that a great deal of mental illness could be overcome by teaching the skill of train spotting.You can try this for yourself.The circumstances are largely irrelevant. But if you take those commonly associated with boredom - waiting (as you Americans say) in line, sitiing in heavy traffic going nowhere, that airport departure lounge when the flight is delayed, you can practise this skill.Simply watch the trains of thought come and go.I recommend it.As I said in my blog, there are plenty of people who have a vested interest in persuading you that boredom is real. But I think you will find, if you examine it, that you can't send me a kilo of it.
Letitia's blog, by the way is ThePowerOfBoredom.com where you may be able to see her side of this dialogue -my questions and her answers.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA

Jim, my much loved, much respected sailing skipper contacts me to invite me to help deliver a yacht with him. With the owners he embarked from Holland and made a North Sea crossing, bound for Inverness. North westerlies prevented that. They diverted to Lowestoft, and are shortly to embark again on the long trek northwards to Peterhead. Now the mention of Lowestoft sets my nostalgic juices flowing (see blog 28 Feb 2009 "A spring in the step") as it was a holiday spot when I was a boy. I have an inescapable memory of eating corned beef sandwiches on the esplanade there. They were half filled with corned beef, half filled with sand from the beach. Therefore, despite family commitments over Easter, the idea of revisiting Lowestoft for a few days at sea with Jim in a well found boat, is a call that is difficult to refuse. In the schooners and clippers of old, the Skipper was known as The Old Man. This was true, even if the Skipper was aged twenty five. I think of Jim as The Old Man, regardless of his age. I've never seen him flap, despite scenes of chaos that would try a saint. I've never known him stuck for a solution to a problem. I've never heard him lose his temper, despite warning me the first time I met him ten years ago, to get used to being shouted at. And his cunning, character and knowledge has brought many many advantages in yacht races, and much hilarity ashore. In celebration of ten years sailing with Jim, I've agreed to do my fourth Fastnet campaign this year. After the 2001 Fastnet, I swore that I would not do it again. It was too gruelling. I hurt too much. I'm just getting too old, I told myself. But when Jim rang in 2005 saying "H, we need a crewman, can you do it?" I found myself agreeing to go. And this year, the tenth anniversary, I just have to. But I can't go to Lowestoft. I look on the net, just to see if Lowestoft has moved on in the forty years since I've been on holiday there. It's still recognisable. The Royal Norfolk and Suffolk yacht Club is still there with its funny little copper roofed dome. And they have a web cam. I look and a boat is leaving. I ring Jim.
"Have you left?"
"We're leaving now."
"Are you in the Outer Harbour?"
"How do you know?"
"I can see you on the web cam."
"I'm waving!"
"Fair winds, Jim," I say, and a bit of my heart goes with them on that long North Sea trek. Across the next forty eight hours I find myself doing calculations.
"20 hours. They'll be off Skegness or somewhere."
"43 hours. Hartlepool? Blyth? Amble?"
And my mind is filled with memories of collisions, groundings, near misses, crash gybes, wild broaches, middle of the night stumblings, making animal shadows on the mainsail by torchlight to Jim's despair, kedging in shipping lanes in deep fog, race winning scams that never quite come off, and a hundred lager and wine fuelled shenanigans in ports both sides of the Channel.

Monday, 6 April 2009

PLUG

Here's an interesting blog:
http://people-everyday.blogspot.com/

CIRCULARITY AND CHOCOLATE SHOES

I like circularity. Life itself is circular. That is a freeing thought. For Green types keen on recycling, it is good to know that they, as I, will be recycled.
Matt comes. There is circularity in our relationship. He is my Godson. And Zara, my daughter, is in turn his Goddaughter. The very first time I met him he was a tiny baby. I held him in my arms on his first day home from the hospital where he was born. Earlier the phone had rung. "I'm very sorry," the voice told me. "Your mother died late last night". Matt was then the instant reminder of life's circularity - the great universal circularity of life and death. If there are such things, he was an angel then. He is most certainly an angel in my life now.
Matt rings me and says "I'm coming over for lunch". "Good, "I say. He stays for two days. Great! We shop for and build a structure in my vegetable garden to keep birds from feasting on my peas and beans and raspberries. During this construction project we act like builders, calling each other by expletives and berating the other's abject lack of skill or effort.
We go to the spring sale at Tennants, where they are auctioning unspeakably awful oil paintings for ten and twelve thousand pounds a pop, and where, for lower priced lots the auctioneer says things like "Come along now. The frame's worth more than that!" Matt reins me in from my normal practice of over excitement. A good thing, as normally all financial constraints disappear in my mind if I am in an antiques bidding war. My dad was an an antique dealer at one stage. I used to go with him to the auctions where he would challenge me to say how much each lot would go for. I was invariably wildly wrong. He was invariably close to the mark. Age has not improved my skills in this deparment. He also instructed me to set a budget (for an antique dealer normally answered by "can I get double that for it?"). I've failed him there too.
We leave to go to the chocolate factory, where Matt has a professional appointment to buy bulk quantities of moulded full size chocolate stiletto shoes. These unlikely delicacies sell readily in the deli, and at great margins too. Then we run them down to the deli and have a convoluted argument about political engagement. The gist of this is to observe that politicians want engagement rather than apathy. But they want engagement in a system that is itself disengaging. If the limit of participation is a cross in a box every five years, how can it be otherwise? We debate government by constant referendum. And we wonder if apologising is ever really needed.
Finally, Matt leaves to fulfil his obligation as early morning baker at the deli.
Two glorious days of spring weather, marvellous company, many laughs, quite a bit of chocolate, and no oil paintings.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

UNCENSORED

Sometimes in the course of my coaching work, common thematics seem to arise through a number of sessions with widely different people. One at the moment is about wasting energy.
It was one of my brightest, most insightful, most surprising and certainly highest potential clients who indicated and clarified this thematic to me, and it has since applied to many of my interventions. He realised, he said, as a result of coaching, how much energy he was wasting in either trying to be, or telling himself he should be, someone he was not. By contracting with himself to fully be himself, glorious and uncensored, he was able to release that energy into his own confidence and performance. The results for him have been transformational.
I'd never really thought about this matter in terms of the effective use of energy. For me it had always been an article of faith, or perhaps simply a compulsion for myself. But I've found that this thematic emerges a great deal at present. And what is stark is how much energy it takes to angst the natural self and confuse it with what one "should" be. Some people live in a forest of shoulds. It's quite a dark place, and difficult there to see the wood for the trees.
I owe my now super-energetic client a vote of thanks.

LICKING CONSULTANTS IS WRONG

I was reminded the other day that I once had a complaint letter about me. I was working with a very large Company designing a behaviour change programme for their customer service staff. During a design session we were talking about the impact of inhibition, and how to make people aware of its limiting effect. I proposed a session where people licked each other. "Urghh!!" said the assembled Company. "Exactly," I said. As the discussion wore on, I challenged my main client to lick me. Great woman that she is, she came across the room and did so. That was what triggered the complaint letter. Her staff filed an official complaint. In their letter were the immortal lines: "It is highly inappropriate for a Senior Manager to lick a consultant".

Monday, 30 March 2009

MIS HEARD HEADLINES

  • Cat hears Khmer rouge testimony
  • Tiger Woods fights back seals
  • Jacqui Smith fiddled during adult film
  • GM Chief Waggoner outed by Obama
  • Nationwide buys Dunfermline
  • G20 summit will forget the poor

REASON TO BE CHEERFUL ABOUT HMG

Jacqui Smith's video hire expenses claim.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

REASONS NOT TO BE CHEERFUL ABOUT HMG

  • The application of TUPE regulations to professional service contracts
  • Harriet Harman
  • the removal of Britannia from coins
  • £ slide against $
  • The disingenuous shenanigans about Fred Goodwin's pension - designed to pillory a capitalist icon in disguise of the obvious profligacy of a government that maintains two armies in wars of highly questionable legality at vast expense to the British state
  • Political correctness
  • Health and safety
  • State enlargement
  • Recent advertising encouraging citizen surveillance of suspicious terrorist - looking stuff
  • Police hassling photographers
  • More to come..........

Saturday, 28 March 2009

DR. BERRY'S PATENT QUACK REMEDIES FOR BOREDOM

I go to see a friend who is dark, dangerous, clever and powerful - an almost irresistible combination to some women.
He is bored, and I promise to publish my quack remedy.
Here it is:

· Boredom is a metaphor for our own isolation.
· The only real remedy for being bored is full acceptance of what is, and full rejection of what is not.
· Pseudo remedies arise as palliatives to the pains of our own disappointments in being bored.
· Our disappointments are ultimately self directed.
· As with disappointment, so with anger, sadness, guilt and every other negative emotion.Disappointment is a failure of presence, nothing more. Boredom too.
· Filling time persuades us momentarily we are alive, but it is a temporary palliative. It is emptiness that really is persuasive of our life force.
· It is notable how many time-filling activities involve the mouth. This tells you that they are infantile drives toward nipple pleasure, the baby’s response to minor pain, neediness. Always, the filling response. Are you a baby?
· Filling time is an act based on the presumption of emptiness. But no time is empty to the person really there. And all time is empty to the person never there.
· Emptiness, fullness are points of view. Nothing more. One man’s emptiness is another’s fullness. One man’s fullness is another’s emptiness.
· There is a long standing story of the zen master whose student found just sitting and breathing boring. The Master took the student to a nearby lake. “Look in there.” He said. The student looked. “I don’t know what I am looking for” said the student. “Look closer”, said the Master. So the student looked closer, still rather mystified. “Kneel down and look” advised the Master. The student knelt at the edge of the pool but still remained puzzled. “Get down really close to the water” the master suggested. The student did so. Then the Master grabbed the student’s head and shoved it under the water, holding it there until the student was very nearly drowning. Eventually the master released him, whilst he choked and gasped for air. “Still find just sitting and breathing boring?” he asked.
· Life doesn’t have to be threatened to see its sheer ever present beauty and how every cell cries out to rejoice in it.
· Boredom is an opportunity for a repose of the ego, as much as it is a chance for frustration.
· As ego fades so disappointment and boredom fade also.
· A remedy for the mental disease of boredom is the same as for any other irksome thought: complete acceptance. Resistance is futile. With our own thoughts, the more one tries to master them, the more they master us. Stand aside, and thoughts do what thoughts will: arise, flare, subside, depart. If they are enemies to desired states of peace all the more so. The bio mechanics are evident: the bigger they come the harder they really do fall. But only if you get out of the way of their own energetic propulsion and let them propel themselves.
· I’ve heard it said that if you are bored it is because you are boring. Perhaps.
· “I am bored” is untrue. Are your feet bored? Is your pancreas? There is always a space between you and the thought. If there were not you would be your thoughts. If you are that, then you are ever vanishing or vanished as yesterday’s, last year’s thoughts are gone and lost now. If you are not that, then no need to worry about the boredom. It most certainly does not define you. At worst you are dealing with a little localised pain. Truer perhaps to say “boredom comes to visit now”.
· Stand and look at your visitor. Stop pretending there’s no one at the door.
· Some people fetishize the expression of boredom as a cue to those around them to do better, be more entertaining, please them more. It is a facile trap. These people are playing a low card trick which can’t work many times, and in any case is destined to destroy connection through its own power assumptions. Then that player will be left alone. And be more bored. So this gambit paradoxically reinvents its own problem and is self defeating.
· When a child says “I am bored” most parents rush to fill the void. This is bad education. “Be bored” is a better response.
· Boredom is also dangerous as a piece of self stimulus that suggests we are in control of life. At best this belief is headed towards yet more disappointment. At worst, megalomania.
· If you are bored you are not looking hard enough. And especially you are not looking hard enough at your own feeble attempts to control the world.
· Does all of this mean that it is easy not to be bored? In one sense it is incredibly simple. Surrender fully to the moment and you cannot be bored. But in many ways modern conditioning promotes boredom with its expectations of an ever exciting lifestyle, and an ever greater need for stimulus. It is instructive to think about who are the beneficiaries of such cultural norms. It doesn’t take long to realise that if you are bored you are very ready to be sold to. This makes ready victims of the bored. In a spare, bored moment or two, an interesting diversion to boredom is to wonder who benefits from it.
· Being against boredom, though, is like being against rain. It defies reality. Given conditioning, if it comes it comes. How can one be against that?
· What’s real, though? The boring circumstance? Or the mind’s reaction to it?
· And whose reaction is the reaction?
· Unravelling that little lot should keep the bored amused for some time.

Friday, 13 March 2009

SUCH GREAT NAMES AS THESE

It almost makes me proud to be British.
The British Grenadiers played by the band. The 2nd Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment, the Poachers, returned from Basra, marching through Luton. A group of orthodox Muslims with banners saying that the soldiers are butchers and child murderers. A counter demonstration in which some sixty year old bloke in a trilby starts mixing it with the bearded Muslims, getting himself arrested, and the BNP there whipping it all up. Our boys in blue in the middle trying to keep everyone apart. The media, whose protective instincts towards our brave boys are offended, railing at Muslim spokespeople. The politicians joining in condemnation. Lots of people, especially in blazers with medals, disgusted and outraged, saying "what about their fallen comrades?" A Muslim cleric saying "what about the 100,000 civilian body count in Iraq?" Journalists remonstrating "but surely you should be protesting to the government not these soldiers". And an obvious riposte: 1,500,000 people (myself amongst them) did that on February 15th 2003. It didn't make any difference then. Why should it now?
Glorious.
A knickerbocker glory of opinion and counter opinion.
Served on the frayed edges of national sensibility.
With a tow row row row row row row.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

WORDLE OF THE DAY

Friday, 6 March 2009

SNIFFING MOLE HILLS

Never thought I'd ever be doing this but I have been sniffing them. Man, that's how sad my life is. They smell very strange. Like nothing I've ever smelt before. Very musty. And very warm.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

NEW FISH

A young friend of mine is about to go to prison. He has yet to be sentenced but it isn't looking good. The sentencing guidelines are clear: 2 years. A two stretch. That, I think, is the correct terminology. He asks me for advice on how to survive it. How am I to know? He is understandably distressed, and especially anxious about his first night banged up. I eschew advice there and then but write a letter. I'm not sure I am going to send it.

Dear Jimmy (name changed to protect the guilty)

In your coming experience there is the same capacity for happiness as in any other. Your imprisonment will only be complete with your own imprisonment of your own mind. Stand aside from where you prefer to be and here you are, right here in the perfect place. You will need to be some kind of warrior against the enemy of your own mind to do that, believe me, but, also believe me, it is possible.
Time exists in your mind. It is possible to dwell through time never being in the time. Without being inside, many ,many of us are just doing time, wishing somehow we were somewhere or someone else. It is up to you. Punishment is obvious and crude when your mind dwells on what it hasn't got. There is no punishment when the mind dwells in what it has. In that sense you can never be anything but a free man, to the extent that you choose your own freedom.
You will have plenty of time for watching. Watch your thoughts.
People you meet where you are going have been harshly judged. There is another view. Taking the time to do so, they are understandable. Leaving aside the harsh judgement they are no different from you or I. If we actually were in their shoes fully, we'd do no different than them.
Give up wanting anything.
Be there.
You will then be free.

There.
I've sent it now.