Friday, 28 October 2011


The Occupy London protests which have created a tented city in St. Paul's Cathedral are of great interest to me. I find myself in some sympathy with the protesters. Not because I understand what they want. I can't say I do. But I can sympathise with a crie de coeur which simply proclaims that a system is broken, without being able to prescribe a fix.
I can also empathise with the Dean of St Pauls in offering sanctuary to the protesters.
But the Occupy London bunch have now outlived their welcome and are abusing well meant hospitality towards them.
Why the fuss?
Isn't the answer obvious?
And provided by the protest itself?
Simply occupy Occupy.

Monday, 24 October 2011


Deep in the troubled province of Helmand, in Lashkar Gar, a visionary British Officer has established, of all things, a garden. The Colonel has employed Afghani gardeners to assist in both its design, realization and maintenance. Fed from a bore hole, its irrigation is guaranteed, and it has become a shady refuge for HQ ISAF staff during the heat of an Afghan day.
Reading about this garden took me back to 1986. At that time, Africa was perhaps less tumultuous than since. It was possible then to visit countries now too dangerous. Algeria was open to the adventurous, who wished to visit the real Sahara. I had long held ambitions to do so, fuelled by reading books such as Geoffrey Moorhouse's The Fearful Void.
In fact, my desert crossing goal started with the aim of a crossing of the Nubian desert. A friend of mine agreed, in a fit of (probably drunken) bravado, to come with me. The plan was a simple one. Hitch all the way. If that now seems foolhardy, I should point out that in Sudan, hitching on trucks, riding on top of the load, is commonplace, and trucks crossing the desert are plentiful. But a coup in Sudan destabilized the political situation there and made the trip inadvisable.
I formed another plan, equally simple. Hitch along the trans Sahara highway in Algeria. My friend recovered his senses and chickened out. Ah well, I thought, alone it must be. But when I mentioned my plan to another friend, who was having a very hard time indeed recovering from a broken relationship, he said "that's just what I need." Further volunteers joined up. I found myself selling my beloved Golf GTI, and replacing it with a long wheelbase Landrover Safari and kitting it out for desert travel. The plan now became Tamanrasset or bust, in the Landrover. This plan we executed, without great problems.
The garden in Lashkar Gar set me thinking about the birthday of my broken hearted friend. The date fell in the middle of our Sahara trip. Amongst our supplies we had hidden a tinned Dundee cake, candles, cards and other birthday paraphernalia for him. We woke him from his sleeping bag in the open desert with a fanfare of party hooters, and a full cooked English breakfast. Then he had his cake. "What," we asked, "would you like to do on your birthday?" The options were, shall we say, limited. It was a surprise to hear him say "go swimming." But, mad though it seems, that is what we did. About 200 - 300 miles from where we were, we had passed a signpost saying 'swimming pool'. We dismissed it as a joke, but later heard from other travellers that it was not. On this birthday, we retraced our tracks, and revisited. Sure enough, after nine or ten hours driving, at Hassi Fahl, just to the east of the trans Saharan highway, amidst fragrant lemon groves, there was a swimming pool, where, for a small charge, we could all swim, and the owner brought us complimentary glasses of homemade lemonade. It was a magical, unbelievable thing.
Algeria has had terrible troubles since my visit there. Hundreds of thousands have been killed in successive civil wars. I wonder if the swimming pool, the lemon groves and the gentle proprietors have survived. I very much doubt it.
I hope the garden at Lashkar Gar has more luck.

Thursday, 13 October 2011


The problem pages of magazines are loaded with complaints to the effect that the correspondent cannot get laid, get laid enough, or get laid with the right person, or in the right way or with the right frequency.
I wonder if this issue cuts across species?
Other species have their mating season. Often, it's in late summer, so that progeny can be born in the next spring and be nourished through the greater part of their first year on nature's bounty, increasing their chances of survival.
In man, apparently, sunshine on the pituitary gland brings on the urge. For the same reason?
But it occurred to me that maybe the problem page obsessions are misplaced.
What if we're only meant to mate once a year?


We're mad about the weather in Britain. We've got plenty of it to be mad about. But then, I wouldn't want to live in constant sunshine. Too bland. Sometimes a few less extremes would be welcome though.
One thing which we get locally, in our big skies, is the God moment. You know the one, when shafts of light blaze through parted dark clouds. I've heard more than one person say "there's God".
So it is also I've found with moods. There you are, bumbling along in the dark clouds, seeing little but your own failures and shortcomings (to which we English are also peculiarly attached) when suddenly whoomf - everything becomes illuminated, and one can see with great clarity the lit up paths of right and wrong, who is hero and who is villain, who is abuser and who is abused, and the deep patterns of human behaviour, rolling like cloud formations ever onward, parted and illuminated only briefly with the light of recognition and forgiveness, otherwise clouded by the awful inescapable weather of living.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Top of the form.


Thursday, 6 October 2011

I can't decide if I am better off without looking at the news.

Is ignorance bliss?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


Aren't we all on it?

Monday, 3 October 2011

E/I B.A.

Universities are packed with clever people running them. But are any of them really thinking about designing learning processes?
Just recently I have had a revelation.
At school I did well, very well. At the A level stage, especially. The learning model was broadly: read some stuff, talk about it, debate it, form an argument, defend it, sometimes write it down. Suited me down to a tee. I'm an extrovert. I get fired up by these exchanges. Result? Excellence (without blowing my own trumpet too hard).
Fast forward to University. Learning model? Go to lectures which are utterly without interaction. Go to seminars which are also mini lectures, without debate. Go to tutorials (which I thought were meant to embody a level of exchange, but disappointingly didn't). Stop going to all of above as they are a waste of time, especially for someone with my learning style. Spend time alone reading. Spend time alone thinking. Spend time, even in lectures, alone with the input of the lecturer. Spend time alone witing. Take part, in short, in a learning process designed by and suited for, introverts. Result? Mediocrity and disengagement.
Now I grant you that other delights than academic learning also played a part in my University career - pubs, girls, jumping out of planes, periods of sheer indolence. But I wonder about the learning design and its impact on my motivation.
Let's assume extroversion and introversion are relatively evenly distributed. Can it really be that University life can be so designed to frustrate approximately half of the population?
Perhaps things have changed in this respect in the thirty odd years since I attended. I really, really hope so. But I fear not.
If not, here is a view. The key predictor of degree class (especially in Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences) will not be IQ, but extroversion or introversion measures. And the educational opportunity will be scandalously missed or compromised for about half the entire student population.

Sunday, 2 October 2011


The Missus and I have spent an enjoyable, stimulating and rewarding two days together. Unusually we've been working as a team on the same assignment - a coaching skills training programme with a very receptive, very charming and very skilled set of people. During the programme we set up a debate, asking the participants to name a single minded intention for coaching. Their responses were thoughtful as well as various, encompassing SUPPORT, BUILD, DEVELOP, UNDERSTAND, ACCEPT, AWARENESS, CONNECT, and EMPOWER as coaching intentions.
They were only allowed one word, in order to push the debate. It is, of course a cheap trick. No one word really captures the range of intentions in coaching, though the exercise bred very good thinking. I can't say any of the above are in any way wrong. One's character determines (I think) whether one is further towards the challenge or support end of the spectrum.
Inevitably they asked me for my word. I plumped for the understand / awareness area with appropriate "no one word gets it" caveats. On the way home from the event, though, I wondered if I'd flunked it, and thought more - was there one word? The word I came up with, which perhaps for me bridges the 'challenge, understand and support' spectrum was APPRECIATE.
Am I confident in it? No.
But it feels close, at least, to an authentic descriptor of my coaching behaviour.