Monday, 9 December 2013

BLACKOUT BLUES

I took matters into my own hands during the recent power failures due to storms.

Frustrated that two very fine sirloins from Messrs Laveracks would go to waste mouldering in the defunct fridge, I decided that the house’s only form of heating -the open wood fire in the sitting room - would also have to act as makeshift hob. I got the frying pan on, put in a tiny spray of oil and shoved the steak in. The flambĂ© effect due to spitting fat very nearly set fire to the wallpaper.

With the Missus away on business, I was hopping about, frightened that I would burn the bloody house down, and trying to extinguish the fat fire by blowing on it. It was the only thing I could think of in the emergency. Amazingly, it worked.

I ate my steaks by the fire. Albeit rather well done on the outside though a point on the inside. It was then that I realised that the sitting room was filled with a blue meaty smelling smoke, which also would fail to impress the Missus upon her return. So I had to have the window open for about an hour, during which I occupied myself by swishing about a copy of the Sunday Times to clear the steak fumes and after which I was hypothermic in the now icy room, and frankly in need of another steak. I had a smallish glass of wine instead. Then another. I was thinking about reaching for the Highland Park when I realised that alcohol in fact provides only a false sense of warmth to the hypothermic, and also that, sitting by an open fire, there was a distinct chance of spontaneous combustion.

ZEN TODAY

Poor victim.
Poor perpetrator.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

ZEN TODAY

Are you waiting for it?
Or is it waiting for you?

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

ALMA MATER


ZEN TODAY

Are they?

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

ZEN TODAY

It doesn't take a Doctor to cure death.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

ZEN TODAY

Yes = no.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

WEIRD....... WONDERFUL


ZEN TODAY

Practice makes perfect.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

ZEN TODAY

The more gratitude you feel
The more gratitude you feel.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

ZEN TODAY

When there is no destination
Why hurry?

AID

It is five days now since areas of the Phillipines were hit by a terrifying typhoon, wreaking awful damage. Aid is not getting through.

I know this because western media is full of it.

So how come we can get journalists there, but not aid?

Monday, 11 November 2013

REMEMBRANCE DAY



I'm not sure exactly what we are remembering, and I'm not sure all the instincts behind it can be trusted.

My Dad actually fought, was decorated, and suffered terrible personal loss, in WWII. He would never go to a remembrance service.

There are a lot of threads come together at these events - pride (unsure about that), gratitude (more certain about that), nationalism (highly uncertain about that), sadness (sure), military camaraderie (dubious), moral certainty (very, very dodgy), unreliable nostalgia (dodgy), the assumption that the military fallen are the only fallen (downright untrue), grief (understandable), maybe even a hint of glorifying military strength regardless of the cause (extremely dubious). Maybe, too, echoes of a national status in the world that is obsolete and we would do well to treat with more realistic eyes in our future.

In short, a lot going on. Not all of it unquestionably desirable.

The day I'll trust it more is the day when German representatives, Japanese representatives, representatives from our enemies are included to mourn their own losses at the same event.

ZEN TODAY

Opinion can be heavy baggage.
Put it down.
Rest.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

ZEN TODAY

To be a valued advisor
Give no advice.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

SIZE DOES MATTER


Saturday, 2 November 2013

I like to think I am good at being still.

I practice every day.

And I'm getting up there.

My record is......... ooh.......... all of three or four seconds.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

ZEN TODAY

If you don't like the radio station that is playing, retune.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

INNOCENT UNTIL..........

Here's an odd thing.
Our justice system works on the presumption of innocence and it is the duty of the prosecution to prove guilt, not the burden of the defence to prove innocence. A jury of twelve good men (and women) must be persuaded of guilt. And the standard is high. The burden of proof is beyond reasonable doubt. No room for doubt. Certainty. "So that you are sure".
Now, how is it, that, after a jury's deliberation beyond two hours and ten minutes, a judge may accept a majority decision?
Let's suppose nine of the jurors are convinced of the defendant's guilt. Three are not. Assuming that those three are "reasonable" there must by definition be reasonable doubt, and therefore an acquittal is the only possible verdict.
Suppose it is the other way around. Nine say not guilty. Three are convinced of guilt. The only possible logical verdict is an acquittal.
The numbers don't matter. If eleven say one thing, and one says another, it is only logical to conclude that there is some room for reasonable doubt.
If the dissenting minority of jurors are not reasonable, then they should not be jurors.
Puzzling.
A puzzle with huge consequences.
I wonder what our real de facto burden of proof truly is?

Friday, 11 October 2013

TOURETTES

I remember joking with an old friend of mine about Tourettes. The joke went, every man has Tourettes going on in his head. This was when we both disclosed the same mildly obscene workings of our two minds which would normally, of course, be unspoken.
Having real Tourettes must be no joke. But why are the tourettes invariably so terribly insulting / obscene / rude? Why couldn't they be nice things? Is it that we are censored only in the terrible things? That seems to tie in so poorly with what one experiences in organizations - a paucity of real and heartfelt praise.
Anyway, back to the Tourettes. I am not a magnet for loonies. I fix them with such an intimidating glare that, combined with a haircut suited to a Chief Inspector, they are often daunted and skulk away, thank God. Waiting on the station platform yesterday, though, the loony chose the next bench, from which he ruminated aloud.
His first utterance was incoherent - a deep guttural grunt.
Next, "nah, fuckit."
A pause .
"Cunt."
A pause.
Another grunt / wail.
Another pause.
Repeat in not necessarily the same order.
This happens four or five times, each punctuated by a pause of a few moments.
Then, unexpectedly, he burped.
"Oo. Pardon me," he said.
Manners maketh man.

Friday, 4 October 2013

KOAN

Let's start with the easy questions.

Who are you?
I do not know.

What is your name?
I have no name I own.

Where are you from?
Again I do not know.

How old are you?
I cannot say.

Where do you live?
That may be anywhere.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

1-01

MINI MSSUS:         When I'm at school, and Mummy is away working, aren't you lonely?

ME:                           Being alone isn't the same as being lonely.

MINI MISSUS:         Yes, but aren't you sometimes lonely?

ME:                            If I feel lonely, I go for a walk.

MINI MISSUS:         And then you're with the trees, birds and animals?

ME:                            Exactly.

ZEN TODAY

When you say you have no time
Have you not the same as me?

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

FROM MIASSOLE WITH LOVE

Rule one of walking in the British countryside: never shit within a mile of a footpath.
Breaking this rule has often got me into trouble. As it did today.
I started my walk towards the Pedlar Wife's Hole. This sounds like a music hall gag, but is, in fact, a cartographic, nay topographic, truth. It reminds me of a place in the French south called Miassole. Yes, if you don't believe me, Google it. Just after I got separated, and in a far from good state emotionally, I received one of the greatest acts of friendship of my entire life. I was invited away on holiday with my two sons, given a damn good listening to, whilst I expelled the grief of the situation. And on top of that, one of the best holidays ever. Miassole captured the imaginations of two little boys, and two big ones. No day was complete without a major session of what happened in Miassole. There was a traffic jam in Miassole. I saw you wandering about in Miassole. What were you doing in Miassole? Et cetera.
As with Miassol, so with the Pedlar Wife's Hole. Except I was alone, and thus became, for a while, one of those mad people who smirk and gibber at their own lonely jokes. Perhaps it was this levity which caught me short, but I think not.
What actually was the cause, was the apple juice. I and the Missus have become a team closely resembling a pairing of Mrs Tiggywinkle and Delia Bloody Smith. Discovering that we can make our own apple juice has led to frenzy of peeling, core-ing and juicing. And it's good stuff. Except that it goes right through you, in a most lubricating manner. It beats a coffee and a fag as a purgative. Hell, it beats skydiving, or being mortared.
So rule number one had to be broken. But the rule exists for good reason. The reason being that no sooner is one in situ, than interruption is guaranteed. And no matter how concealed the chosen location, you will be spotted. When they rewrite Army manuals on camouflage, they will be changed from the principles of SHAPE (no straight lines in nature), SHINE (the reason we used to take out our cap badges from our berets when we went, laughingly, "tactical") and SILHOUETTE (don't walk on a skyline unless you want to be shot- rather obviously) to SHAPE, SHINE and the more appropriately alliterative, SHITTING IN THE OPEN. Because, believe me, the one thing certain to be seen for miles is a hairy bum and a courtesy flag of boxers flying at the starboard cross trees.
Today, scouting my best cover, I returned to The Pedlar Wife's Hole and there made my offering to Mother Nature. Returning to propriety, and the footpath, I had gone only a few yards before I realised that, tailing me, at a distance where a full view of the matinee performance simply must have been had, were a couple of hikers of late middle age, the very first people I'd seen on the entire walk. They weren't there when I made my pre dump recce. They were nowhere to be seen. How did they get there? They were conspiring together and, did I dream it, smirking?
Note to self. More proof of the power of the rule. A dump in the open is like the magnetic north pole. Every single hiker in a million square miles will converge upon the act, drawn there by an irresistible force.
Don't do it.
Ever.

PS. Just noticed on the OS map that the small stream fed by Pedlar  Wife's Hole is Bottom Drain.

ZEN TODAY

If your best friend is the Universe,
How would you ever be lonely?

Monday, 30 September 2013

CAN YOU ADAM AND EVE IT?

I've been an idiot.
I threw away all the bullace stones. If I'd thought about it, I'd have kept them and planted.
But then again, is it just greedy?
I surely have been greedy in my restocking of the orchard. Ten odd years ago, when we came here, there were a couple of ancient plum trees, a couple more tatty and useless old culinary pear varieties, and a pair of Bramleys. It was the fruit tree equivalent of a sad Old People's home. Fruit trees only last seventy or eighty years, as a rule. Those here were well into retirement, apparently nearing the end. There they sat, nodding in the slightest breeze.
One met its end. A large pear, it fell in a westerly gale. It slewed the tree, with the debris spreading like an aircraft crash, south by east. If the wind had had a touch more south in it, the tree would have crashed through the southwest corner of the house, doing God knows what damage. When we inspected it, the tree was old, and rotten to its core. The inner wood was orange dust. Brittle, like the bones of an old person.
One of the Bramleys came down too. The story there has a different ending. The fallen tree, also apparently rotten, began shooting upward new boughs in a phototropic bid for life. Feeling sorry for the old lady, I selected the strongest looking bough, and cut back hard on all the others. Now it's eight or nine feet high, and very productive. Its roots are dubious, and the inner juices of the tree must run up from the ground through the old fallen trunk, big enough, old enough and mossy enough to sit a courting couple on it. It's really still an old, fallen tree, with one new limb which happens to point upwards. But now, the issue is stopping it. It is again so fecund. I need a ladder to cut it back and stop it interfering with the overhead electricity cable, which it threatens every couple of years.
To these few, I've added and added in a wanton combination of tree - pride, tree - gluttony and, most likely, more of the seven deadly tree- sins.
Plums, damsons, gages, eating apples, cherries, and even two mulberries as a kind of mad experiment, have filled the orchard. Only a walnut failed. Too much competition, I later discovered. And still I don't stop. Come an R in the month, and my mind runs feverishly to assess if there is any space for yet more. The Missus is mystified. It isn't as though we need the fruit. On the contrary, we're inundated. I bring back another young tree, or trees, for planting. She casts her eyes heavenwards.
A sensible family tree-fruit planting goes like this. One plum. One cooking apple (preferably dwarf or semi dwarf variety). One eating apple. At a stretch, two. Pears, nil. You'll never eat them. Cherries, forget it - the birds eat them all. More exoticism than that is not required. Anything more is just greedy.
And yet, and yet. Despite our gluts, there is endless pleasure in just having a various and copious orchard. Come May, its blossom is unspeakably beautiful. Its growth throughout the year is endlessly fascinating. In summer, it gives cool, shade, and places to hang a hammock. And right now all the fruit gives scope for tremendous artistry and experimentation.
I pause. I think about planting even more, If one is going to sin, an orchard is the original place to be tempted.



Saturday, 28 September 2013

TREASURE TROVE

When I discover something like this I get childishly excited. Nothing can prick the joy of the unexpected discovery. I am beaming.
I rarely spend any time at all in our meadow, though every time I enter its wild acres, it is time well rewarded. Today, in an utterly blue sky, three buzzards spread their white wing feathers wide and circled and cried at each other. A pair is commonplace. A threesome less so. And I virtually never see them above the meadow, because the rookery in the tall wood which fringes it on its south side contains enough avian hooligans to scare away pretty much any buzzard daring to come anywhere near. Oh, yes. Rook v. Buzzard. No contest. Rook every time. But the rooks were away, doing dodgy things, nicking stuff, raiding others, conning, scamming, roughing someone up, taking the piss, as only rooks can.
I stood awestruck, following the magnificent birds of prey cruising in the cloudless air. Stalling eastward into wind, then coursing in high downwind circles, they filled my attention. So that when I eventually turned my eyes more towards a normal horizontal, I almost missed the trees and their fruit. I'd never seen them before, but there they were, just at the edge of the rookery, and most probably established there by and because of the rooks themselves.
Bullaces. Blue, velvety, luscious looking treasure. For a moment I had a deadly nightshade moment - was I mistaking them? But I tentatively touched my finger into one, and then dipped it on my tongue. No mistaking that unique flavour. Then I was all over them, gathering the entire lot. And sucking quite a few there and then.
It was a discovery of treasure. It was a moment like on an African game drive when you suddenly see a big cat. Or a tiger in India. Wild. Natural. Nothing to do with you and all your works. Nothing you could or did make happen. Just wild England at her finest.
Tonight I squeezed out every stone, both my hands up to their wrists in bullace goo. An almost sexual thrill. And then I combined the goo with unreasonable amounts of sugar.
Tomorrow, on my toast, I will have butter and bullace jam. A treat which takes me back to childhood  and which I can't remember enjoying since.
My hands are stained. My skin is torn. There's bark and dust in my hair and eyes.
I am smiling.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

NORTH SOUND

As an avid Greenland watcher, good to see an unusual export:


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

AND THIS IS HOW I WISH I COULD WRITE


Langston Hughes can.

THIS IS HOW I WISH I COULD PAINT



David Tress can.

PUGILISM

If you are beating yourself up, who is doing the beating?
And who is being beaten?

DEPARTURE

Yesterday there was a fatality in the village. One of the local ladies died. The end was sudden. She was hit by a car, going northwards. The car could not stop in time. She was killed instantly.
I did not see the accident itself. But I had a gruesome look at the corpse. Not pretty.
The Mini Missus has been complaining recently that there are dangerous parts of this road. Indeed, aged seven, she has written to the Parish Council, to get some SLOW signs installed. Perhaps the death will galvanise the authorities into action.
I haven't told her about it. She'd be upset. She chases the ladies across our paddock. They, the ladies, are the guinea fowl. About a dozen or so in numbers, and spanning a couple of generations, they range freely about the village. Too freely, it seems. The deceased was of their number. Her body was being retrieved from the road by the farmer's wife, whose bottom lip was out, if not exactly quivering. I stopped. She looked at me with almost moist eyes.
"Casserole?" I asked.
"Casserole," she agreed.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

I REST MY CASE

Some of my friends are ill. Bad backs, aching joints, pulled tendons, torn muscles - a mini epidemic of tissue issues.
In all cases I have asked, "is there anything which seems to ease it?"
In all cases, the reply has been "well.... when I rest it."
But when I have then responded "well, why don't you just rest it?" the sufferers have looked at me like I come from Mars.
"No. That's just not possible," they say.
Instead, they opt for a range of medical interventions from physiotherapy, through steroid injections, to (at one extreme) multiple operations.
I find it difficult to understand this.
Everyone is in a rush to heal everything. This became obvious to me when I tore my rotor cuff muscles in my shoulder. I was beset with people advising me towards this or that or the other treatment. Not a single person said "wait for the body to heal itself" or "let the body take its own sweet time". But this was the advice I gave myself and I am happy that I followed it, in defiance of more invasive approaches.
I certainly have not always been adept at listening to my own body, and it's had its fair share of fags, alcohol, stress and other abuse. But the older, quieter, stiller I get, the more I believe the answer to ills comes, when heard, from within. This is clearly not a panacea. But it's a good starting point.

Monday, 23 September 2013

John Donne was wrong, I think.
Every man is an island.
We come in this world by parting connection.
We go out, all connection gone.
Throughout, we yearn for a primal intimacy which cannot be achieved.
Briefly we may experience it, but it slips forever beyond our lasting hold.
As the seabed connects islands, meaning no island truly is an island,
So, deeply hidden strata of connection are hinted at, and sometimes glimpsed.
But only when truly still and quiet,
Accepting everything that is,
Observing the unity in universe.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

GAGES

The eight little gages which were the sole greengage harvest I stewed up with a little water into a hot sauce.
I ate this, poured onto vanilla ice cream.
Delicious.

Monday, 9 September 2013

SWALLOWS

I have a great admiration for swallows. They seem to have it right.
For a start, they summer in Britain and winter in North Africa. It is hard to know which bit of their life they regard as holiday. But at either end they have the best of things.
I believe (though some expert ornithologist will probably say I'm wrong) that the same birds return to the same nesting sites year after year.
It is hard to interpret their tuneful and clicking chatter as anything but happy.
Equally, though not given to anthropomorphism, they seem to exhibit a delight in the art of flying. And they certainly have to be admired for it. They're brilliant.
Then there is the Scandinavian belief that swallows only visit happy homes. Thus, at their arrival, as they shoot low along the hedges then soar and wheel, there is always the question, will they come to our place, do we qualify? Thus far, we've been blessed with their presence.
Now, with another change in the season, away from humid heat to a new norm of cool, clear sunny late summer days, spiced with each brown signal of Autumn's coming, and cooler, shorter evenings, the swallows gather. In large congregations, sharing the same wire, they click, tut and debate. Once again, it is difficult but to conclude that their debate now centres on whether to stay, whether to go. Whether their time here is done, and, by means we know not, it is the season for their navigation back to the Straits of Gibraltar, and across to the Atlas Mountains and beyond.
By coincidence, I am invited onto a yacht delivery. My leg looks as though it will from Portimao, Portugal to Palma, Mallorca. I am wondering whether I shall again meet my swallow tail friends.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

JAM TODAY, JAM TOMORROW

Last night. I stayed up making jam. The house was quiet. Just the odd owl hoot for company. I made two batches. The first, plum, in response to the glut hanging from the branches of the orchard. The second, plum and fresh ginger, an experiment.
Neither worked, adding to a list of niggling frustrations which have invaded the last few days and weeks.
Now I will have a couple of jars of short shelf life fruit spread. The rest will have to be junked. I think that to boil it up again, with even more sugar than the amazing amount already in it, will leave it tasting burned, stewed. More sugar, though, is what the recipe needs, even though it seems unbelievable that 2 to 1 fruit to sugar is insufficient to do the job.
When plums are ready, they are ready all of a rush. An orchard full of them creates a sense of panic in me, to get them in, consume them greedily, and concoct ways of getting their benefit. I've already made quantities of slivovitz and plum brandy. Stone fruit like plums seem to be year on, year off. It's a two year cycle, and knowing there will be an absence next year adds to the sense of urgency in harvesting. This year is year on for the plums. Year off for the greengages. I picked seven or eight yesterday and that's the lot. Last year, I took a load of gages onto a yacht, where they were greatly appreciated by the crew. One crewman cited them as a cure for seasickness. They are very special, green - golden little globes, but curative properties may be exaggeration.
I can remember my first acquaintance with Victoria plums. My Dad had an allotment. His next door neighbour had a Victoria Plum tree. It was adjacent to an untended, overgrown patch which was the only bit of ground left uncultivated by my Father. My sister and I called this the Jurma Bungle. God knows how we knew about Burma at that age. It was a play area for us, and therefore convenient for my Dad, as it created a space in our endless whining about how bored we were at the allotment. When in fruit, the neighbour's Victoria Plum tree was an irresistible magnet. We would lurk in the long grass of the Jurma Bungle and shoot out to steal a small handful of booty. Retribution in the form of the neighbour, who was a perennially grumpy sort, and from my Father, who, though never as far as I can recall, given to corporal punishment, was still to be feared. This just added shivers of excitement to an already enjoyable experience. I'm certain my Dad must have realised we were scrumping. There are times of course when the correct action is to see no ships. I can imagine this was one, as occupation of any kind for us kids meant that Dad could get on with proper gardening, uninterrupted.
I was puzzled about the name. Why Victoria plums? My Father explained. I remained sceptical. I thought Victoria plums were an invented over claim. The possibility that a plum would be named in affection for a monarch seemed remote to me. My Dad was often selling things to us with the notion that they were somehow special, in a way they plainly were not. For example, when we had ham, my Dad would sell it to us as Virginia ham. The exoticism appealed to us, and we'd cease picky eating and tuck in. Likewise, Garibaldi biscuits and other boring staples were sold as having, somehow, an exciting provenance. My Dad should have been in advertising. He had a copywriter's natural bent for simple yet memorable emotive benefits, wrapped in very few words.
It's not something I've inherited. But I have had a couple of compliments about my writing in the last week. One was from someone encouraging me to write a book. Very generous. The other came because a friend of mine lost his Dad recently. His Dad drove a Jaguar and I wrote him a letter about how his Dad resembled and fitted the marque of car he drove. Apparently, unknown to me, they read it out at the funeral. Not a dry eye in the House.
Now, jam. If one were into holistic metaphors, one could see my jam making as an analogy for how life is with me. Frustrating in circumstance though happy in mind. The experience of starting a new business over the last year or so has been in parts exciting, tasty, rewarding and deeply frustrating in that it has not yet tapped the deep rewards possible. To know one has cooked up a system which works brilliantly, is appreciated by users, and has huge benefits, is all well and good. But it is jam tomorrow. Why? Despite user enthusiasm, and organisation wide benefits, it gets closed down by gatekeepers who've never even bothered to witness it first hand. The jam hasn't set. The answer is plain to me. Like the jam, just adding more sugar would spoil it. Mere copywriting schmaltz will not hack it. Exoticism not required. More adjectives not needed. I'm just dealing with the wrong people. And that is a matter of positioning. So now, with efficacy in the bag, I need to go back to square one and reposition the whole thing to reach audiences who will listen and will care. Make a new batch. Then I think the thing will set solid. Jam, tomorrow, though, I'm afraid.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Saturday, 24 August 2013

£10

Once I had a client who wanted to get his Board thinking differently.
He said, "I want them to put different hats on".
Well, that was easy to arrange.
At their event I simply supplied some different hats. His was a large brimmed pink affair such as one sees ladies wearing at Ascot. He rather enjoyed the attention he got from wearing it. I bet him £10 that he wouldn't wear it in his car all the way home. I lost. Paying out, I framed the tenner, having defaced Her Majesty's head by adding a bright pink hat.

Joking with another client about "what do I have to do to get you to buy our services?"
He answered, "bribe me."
I whipped out a tenner and wrote on it THIS IS A BRIBE.
He pinned up the tenner in his office, and it was there for months.
But then a cleaner nicked it.

Friday, 16 August 2013

ZEN TODAY

Sail the given wind.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

ZEN TODAY

That which you need, give.

Monday, 5 August 2013


Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.

That's how you know who the turkeys are.
"H ! You are being irritatingly inflexible."

"Flexible people have no sense of direction."

Thursday, 1 August 2013

DISPIRITED

Some people have bird feeders.

We have a fruit and vegetable garden.

Same thing.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

ZEN TODAY

Until your heart melts, how can you blend with the Universe?

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

THE COMEDY BILL

I was awoken by the rhythmic burping of a line of ducks crossing the wet lawns. The runt caught my attention. It was lagging behind, and unlike the others who moved in a smooth focused line, its waddle was stop and go, comic, and accompanied by loud calls for - could it be - attention. Younger siblings are often comic. Their more earnest elder brothers and sisters are taking a more straightforward route to parental approval. Could it be so even with ducks?



Sunday, 21 July 2013

PURCHASES

I bought the falcon decoy to protect the cherries.

Unfortunately there are now none to protect.

Hey ho.

Given that stone fruits tend to be year on, year off, it'll probably be two years before I get to use it.

I also bought a car.

Frustrated that the range rover is in the garage with an expensive electrical repair, I bought a run around, for less than the cost of the range rover repair. I took it for a test drive, moaned about the brakes (my friend Bobski commented "f*ck me, these brakes are spongier than an old woman's brain...."), haggled a bit, shook hands 20% lower than the asking price, and the lady vendor burst into tears. She was evidently attached. I'm not surprised. In a very few days my pulse is quickened by the little go kart, and a permanent smile is on my face at the filling station.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

Last night I watched my son die of AIDS.

Not easy for a father to bear.

Held in the arms of his lover, his beautiful life passed away.

I must be getting old. I was going to post the previous sentences as my facebook status and allow an outpouring of sympathy before explaining them. But old age and common sense have got the better of my instinctive mischief.

It was emotional, though, watching Jed, my youngest son, in his death scene in Rent. And to an old fashioned hetero, it was also tough watching him as a blonde bewigged transvestite snogging another bloke. All intellectualizing aside, it tested my broadmindedness.

Jed was, of course, brilliant, as was everyone else in the fantastic Nue Music Theatre cast - a stageful of young talent.

Anyway, here they are, at a recent music festival, performing one of the numbers from the show. Jed is in the centre, and a soloist.

Alive, fortunately.

Friday, 19 July 2013

IN THE DISSOLUTE CITY


Today I am pinstriped.

It is only a two hour train ride to London. Our little local station has no staff. It is two platforms only, one on either side of the rails. No shop. A tiny shelter. A barrier at the level crossing. And a pub, which is obviously not really part of the station, but is a convenient waiting room if you needed it.

London is such a contrast to Laytham.

There are the stress factors, for a start. In a big city, there are lots and lots of people. And they are all moving. And there are lots and lots of cars and lorries and buses and other vehicles. And each of these has its artificial colours and shapes. There are lights, often flashing and strobing. There are a million advertising messages and images, all vying for your attention. There is the constant traffic noise. There are sirens, every few seconds it seems. With so many people, there are a lot of emergencies. The traffic makes not only noise but dirt. Blow your nose after a day in London and see what comes out – filth caught in your nose hairs (at Laytham my snot is almost clear). People in London are going somewhere, focused on their task, looking ahead, getting on with it. Collisions are frequent. People are in close proximity. And you don’t know them. They are strangers to you. It requires concentration to maintain anonymous equanimity. It is, I think, quite natural to feel wary. The buildings are high. It is difficult to see the sky. When you do see it, it is a narrow view. And the built environment goes on and on and on. It is miles and miles in any direction before you can escape it.  The colours you see are not the natural palette, but garish inks and dyes, often designed to shout at you so you see them. The noises you hear are also not natural, and are often also designed to scream at you to get your attention.

It is easy to underestimate the stress of just being in that huge city. Returning after my day of business meetings, I step off the train into an evening filled with woodsmoke and the wide purpling sky. In two steps on the tiny rural platform, my whole body relaxes.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

THE ROUND


I grow, perhaps, unsociable.

Walking with others is a fine thing. But walking on your own ices the cake. It has the meditative benefit of quiet self-alignment. You see more. Nature runs away from you less. You hear more, with only your own breath (oh, and the entire Universe, of course) to listen to. Your walk can become focused on the walk, rather than on the conversation of the walk. Your pace does not have to be adjusted to another. More importantly, it can be adjusted self- indulgently to the interest in a thistle, the pattern of shade under an oak, the curiosity aroused by a fungus on the oak, which, when you press it, is almost as hard as the oak itself. You can stop to marvel at the ostentatious aggression of a bramble. You can listen to the curlew’s music. You can tune in to the humming and chirring of the summer land. You can stop at a sudden perfume, and wonder at its source, astonished that, attuned to it, attending to it, the humble clover flower becomes sense – filling sweet.

Thus are my constitutionals. Just as their pace is voluntary, so it varies. At times they are route march, sweat forming on my back. At times they are stroll. And at times they are lolling, lounging and stopping stock still.

In a six or seven mile round, I am disappointed if I do not see deer. I see few other mammals, scarcely ever other humans. Small rodents – shrews, field mice – they’re too scared of me to be seen. I sometimes see them when I am mowing the orchard. But only when the grass is long. Then they cower and scurry away from the blades and I am always reminded of Burns and his “wee sleekit, cowering,  timorous beastie”. Then I also see toads, occasionally murdering them for the hell of it. Once, turning over an old woodpile, I found a colony of orange bellied newts. Walking, I see stoats and weasels – like watching a thick nibbed orange pen, putting a dash across a road. Then they are gone. They don’t hang around for us. And you definitely don’t want to get too close to one. They could bite you through to the bone. I have a feeling that this year their numbers may be down. I have seen few, and, more telling still, there are hundreds of rabbits. Weasel v rabbit? Weasel, every single time. Put money on it.

On yesterday’s walk I went all the way to the penultimate stretch – a road section encouraging of speed walking - until I saw the deer. There were a few vehicles on the road and to get out of their way I stepped through a break in the hedge and into a baked field rather sparsely planted for an oilseed rape patch. I had a pee, and while the thin stream was coming out of me, noticed about eighty yards off a young doe, just at the field’s edge, just into the field, near enough to the shelter of the hedge and woodland beyond it to be able to bolt. Her head was tiny. I remember thinking momentarily “if I had a rifle I could get off a shot and take her, but not a head shot.” I’ll avoid saying “I put my weapon away” but I very soon abandoned all thoughts of violence. I stood for about twenty minutes, silent and watching her, peacefully grazing. It adds to my own peace immensely to know, that, within a mile of my home, and often much nearer, she and her kind are doing what nature intended: feeding, sleeping, excreting, mating, nurturing young – the great cycle in which we all live, to which, regardless of all human aspiration, we all contribute, into which we all return, and by which I am constantly inspired.

Monday, 15 July 2013

ONE THING AT A TIME

Men, it is commonly jibed, are incapable of multi tasking.
It's rubbish.
Whenever I have a practical job to do it is an almost impossible task to do one thing at a time. Yet this is the secret of all successful DIY / carpentry / almost anything.
Quieting the jabbering mind and hands seems inordinately difficult, even though failure results in pinning on the name badge of Captain Calamity,
Thus I broke the antique fluted stone birdbath now filled with beautiful and edible nasturtiums at the centre of the vegetable garden.
I was fixing the bird frames I made  a couple of years ago and, hands full of hammers, nails, a pencil  behind the ear, a saw between my knees and carpentry accoutrements bulging from all pockets of my overall, I thought I'd use it as a sawing trestle.
Blast.
It's broken into three pieces which I'll now have to cement up.
And you can bet, when I'm doing so, I'll be trying to do three or four more things at the same time.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

RANDOM NOTES

  • The day starts with mizzle as though to underline the micro season of Mistlemas.
  • Dew dampens the gooseberries as I pick them. They are undersized, but I am determined the birds are not going to have this little lot. One bush yields fruit almost the colour of red wine. The other, a unique gooseberry green. Both bushes have thorns and I wonder why. What predation are they designed to halt?
  • When made into a syrupy puree, the gooseberries are delicious. I pour the still hot puree over Greek yoghurt. Smashing. I may have overdone the sugar. It is very lush. My tummy feels swollen after eating it. I may have been greedy.
  • About 1030 the mizzle burns off. Steam rises from the lawns.
  • Norfolk people evaded the birds and bees questions of kids by explaining that babies come from under the gooseberry bush. Why? Why that especial bush?
  • Expanding on the theme of more than four seasons
    the season of easterly winds
    the season of yellowhammers
    the season of buttercups
    the season of dandelions
    the season of earth warming
    the season of first buds
    the season of blossom (different seasons for hawthorn and blackthorn)
    the season of first fruiting
    the season of first grass growth
    the visit of swallows
    the coming of bramblings
  • Everything has its season. Turn, turn, turn.
     
  •  Why don't savoury things grow on trees? If its from a tree, its sweet. I suppose nuts are exceptions - debatable. Avocados, too, maybe?
  • I have bought a falcon, to try and keep the birds off the cherries. Today, I am going to put some planks into the tree, so that every three or four days I can move the decoy, and maybe dissuade the thrushes. I feel almost mean doing it. I've heard mixed reports on the effectiveness of these things. From good, to "useless - I swear the pigeons were laughing at it." We'll see.
  • Last night, leaning on a gate looking across a buttercup filled field, towards an utterly rural horizon, I finally named the place I live. Paradise.
  • Digging up potatoes in the vegetable garden, one feels like an old time prospector - little nuggets of gold in the soil. I am brought back from daydreams of the Yukon by the fact that each time I bend to retrieve the gold, the aroma of the onions growing as neighbours to the potatoes fills the senses.
  • The last smell I would like to smell on earth is the Missus. Failing that, wild honeysuckle, such as that in the hedge just at the gate to the vegetable garden. Heavenly.
  • Blackcurrant leaves smell of mint.
  • At one point this afternoon the Missus says to me "watch out - you'll get stung by that nettle". I laugh loud and long, as for the last three hours I'd been battling nettles brambles, the lot and my body looks like its gone three rounds with a mad knife man.
     

Saturday, 13 July 2013

MISTLEMAS

When Vivaldi wrote the Four Seasons, how come he left so many out?
Any countryman knows there are many more than four. How many is a good question. Awareness of the tiny changes in nature which mark out the real, micro changing almost infinite true seasons demands a regularity of contact and a slow pace for full attention. Leaning on gates is good. Standing beneath Stella, my largest fruiting cherry tree - also good.
Paying attention to Stella makes me realise it is Mistlemas. That is, the season of thrushes. In our garden there is a dominant coupling - two mistle thrushes who guard their prime territory with a fierce jealousy. Stella is the reason - the prize. Right now, Mr and Mrs Mistle are colonising it, ensuring that the very second a cherry is ripe, it disappears down their greedy gullets. They laugh at my attempts to protect the tree. At evening they sing a brief song of gratitude. Hearing this, I was accused by the Missus of madness, when I shouted at the birdS.

"Is that it? Is that it? Is that what you call a thank you? You've eaten all the cherries, you bastards."

"Thought of netting it?" said one smart arsed friend.

Great idea. Missus and I spent a happy hour trying to do so with a huge piece of netting I bought for the purpose. In the end, as our breaches of all sensible health and safety principles became more and more flagrant and frenzied, we gave up. Without a crane its impossible, and even with it, I'm unconvinced the mistle thrushes wouldn't get through anyway. For next year I am going to buy one of the plastic owls I have seen on yachts, designed to stop seagulls shitting on decks, by frightening away all bird life.

I love cherries.

I have eaten none.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

When I light a fire I start with newspaper, taking the sheets, rolling them up and then tying them into a croissant shape.
I call this tying the Guardian Knot.

Monday, 8 July 2013

CONSTITUTIONAL

Blame.
It triggers a visceral response in me.
Like stretching a rubber band and letting it go, so my rebellious response gets going.
It doesn't have to be me getting the blame. When I witness someone else dishing it out, it is repulsive to me. Literally. Beautiful women become sad and ugly in my eyes, once they start it. Fine men look pathetic.
I encounter someone blaming their life on someone else and it troubles me for a long time. Not hours, but days. It reminds me of the old joke about the man who works in a sewerage plant.
"Not much of a job," he says, "but it does have one benefit."
"What's that?" asks his mate.
"I've stopped biting my nails."
So the stink of blame stays with me.
So I'm blaming the blamers. What an idiot! And the hypocrisy is not lost on me.
I go on a constitutional -  a meditative walk, to see if I can fix things.
The first thing I  notice is that I am not filled with my usual ecstasy with the teeming universe present in every hedgerow, copse and field. I feel distracted, both by the thoughts which I am trying to resolve, and by the thought of journeying from A to B rather then being exactly where I am. Hey ho. Walk on.
As usual, Mother Nature does her healing, in very few paces. I get to think about rabbits. They eat their own shit. It doesn't appeal to me, and I wouldn't encourage it in my offspring, but it isn't wrong for them. Pelicans, and maybe even other bird species (owls and hawks I have a feeling) commit fratricide, throwing their unfortunate sibling from the nest, to perish from the fall. Just so they get more of their parent sicking up into their beak. Something else less than appealing to me.
I wouldn't think any of these things wrong. Why, then, do I have such a problem with blame?
Explaining the childhood roots of my allergy seems to provide less than satisfaction. But the natural world's oddities are emphatically calming. I realise that if I were the exact species, the exact individuals doing the blaming, I would too. I suddenly see them like rabbits (yes, caught in life's headlights) and perfectly acceptable as they are. That does not mean it's a game I want to start. Indeed, I realise, it's a game I want to stop, more than I admit playing it. It is a game, a way of avoiding the regular fact: that the very thing you are blaming someone else for, you are guilty of yourself.
I enter a copse of young trees. The ground is entirely covered with cow parsley, so that the light between the foliage and the lacy white has a strange, turquoise quality. It feels like a reward. For getting the answers to blame right? Perhaps. For deciding to seek all my answers in closer conversation with the natural world. Certainly.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

MALLARD (for CT)

137 mph
 
faster than my walk
 
during which
I did not see Mallard
but saw instead how
pigeons landed as a squad
wingbeats synchronised
suggesting animal heuristics
we do not understand
and the purple lane shimmered in the hot afternoon
blackberry blossom competing with dog rose
in a pink haze
a field away a deer made off startled
perhaps by me
and I saw a yellow wagtail
whose sweet simple call summoned my attention
and was answered from somewhere beneath the wild honeysuckle
by his invisible mate
attracted to the morsel he was bringing
and we looked at each other
wagtail and I
five feet apart
and I thought how like his life is mine
a morsel here
a morsel there
just doing the best we can
going along
one foot in front of the other
and I did not think of validation
or at least, did not think I thought of validation
nor of striking deals with tie flicking egos
but thought instead of doing what I say
of standing tall in the mirror of my life
bringing the promised morsel
without cringing away in embarrassment
good enough
to have walked, one foot in front of the other,
good enough
to have brought that morsel
good enough
a kind of validation.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

"Forever is a map of nows,
Charted every now."

THE CARING PROFESSIONS

A friend of mine comes to stay. She says "I want to retrain." She is a production manager.
"Oh?"
"Yes. I feel I need to move into a caring profession."
"But you're already in a caring profession."
"Haha. I don't think making soap is a caring profession. No one would see it that way."
"I might. But what would you be doing in a caring profession that you're not doing as a production manager?"
"I'd be making a real difference to people's lives."
"And you don't now?"
"No."

I recalled a story she had told me some time ago. She had a production worker - let's call him Mike. He was one of the best workers she had. After he had been working at the plant for some time, she noticed that he seemed downcast, not himself. Asking around tactfully, she soon discovered the reason. He was being bullied by some other workers who were threatening to reveal to the boss - my friend - something they had somehow discovered. The secret was that Mike had been to prison - not something discovered in the recruitment process.
My friend acted decisively, calling Mike into her office. He was clearly terrified.
"I hear the rumour mill is grinding out some stuff about you Mike?"
"Ah..."
"I hear that you have a criminal record. Is that true?
Mike was close to tears. "Yes. It is."
"Ok," said my friend. "Here's what we're going to do. Nothing. I'm glad you told me as now I know, and that means that anyone threatening to grass you up can come straight to me, as I know about it anyway. You're one of my best workers. I don't want to lose you." Mike, predictably, continued to be one of her best and most loyal factory workers.

"You don't make a difference to peoples' lives?" I asked. "What about Mike?"
"Well.............. yes."

You don't have to be in a caring profession to care about people. You can run a burger van and do it. You can work on the checkout at Tesco and do it. In fact, you can illuminate (I think that is the right word) any job by merely seeing it as a context for loving. So that your real job becomes loving people, giving them a loving level of care, and your paid job is just the context - the setting.

Butcher, baker, candlestick maker.
Consultant, coach, facilitator.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

ONE THAT GOT AWAY

What the hell is the matter with you, Berry?
You've let an opportunity for hundreds of thousands of dollars slip through your grubby fingers.
Worse, you've refused to pursue it.
You idiot.

This would not, in truth, be the first time that such a thing has occurred. I've regularly turned away contracts, for all sorts of reasons.

My friend, Chopper, was working for a major airline as their Head of Strategy when he rang me to ask for some help in a workshop he was facilitating. After a short phone call I determined I couldn't add any value, and told him so. It was, he said, the first time in twenty years he had ever encountered a consultant turning away work. It led to many years happy and profitable acquaintance.

Then there was the time we were being treated as slaves by a client. It was offensive to me. But the contract was a big one. Half a million or so. My associates begged for a tolerance I do not have. Driving to catch a train to one of the tiresome meetings with the client, during which, they would be no doubt (as they had been) misreading my name badge for one which said cunt, I suddenly turned right instead of left. Right again brought me 180 degrees, heading home again, rather than to the railway station. I didn't even apologize for missing their meeting. No more money from them. But it felt good. Literally. My body felt at ease, knowing that I had decided against the abuse and slavery so far endured. And, more complicated, but equally relevant - a slavery which meant that change agency was being at all points dumbed down and rejected. Five hundred grand was the manumission. Clear.

There have been other incidents of refusal. Each has been accompanied by the same clarity. It's a clarity not understandable to many. But, to me, it has always been something other than money which has been the motivator behind my own business. And it has been that clarity, born of a desire for free thought, for independence and for a commitment to originality and adding real value in the matter of creating distinctive businesses, and expressed individuals, which has won many a contract too.

This week, through twists and turns, comes another example. Tempted out to the Middle East by an old client, I'm asked to run a visioning workshop, for his Arabic clients (he is acting as a consultant with a large consultancy but doesn't have the visioning skills in house). So far so good. But going to the Gulf isn't my idea of fun, so I quote top dollar rates. He agrees. But then he hits me with an unsignable contract, with such blanket indemnities in it that it could only be signed for twenty or thirty times the fee - hundreds of thousands of dollars. The deal falls apart. But behind the deal is the larger opportunity - to go direct to his clients (whose contact details I have) and persuade them they should do the job properly with my Company, for the much more significant fee implied by the onerous contract. The Missus frowns in moral opprobrium when I mention this as a possibility, citing the principle of not shafting a mate. To me, morally, it would be little more than a swingeing, unexpected chess move, and its audacity is appealing. But I don't take it. Why?

It has taken some time for clarity to come. The bodily check reveals it to be tension free, and therefore the right decision, but why?

The answer is that the venture is loveless. The people are loveless in their venture. It is people who are used to so much money that you and I can't even begin to imagine it. But not money earned by creating anything. Money earned by shaking a money tree with infinite supplies of money to be had from it. Magic money. Silly money. Money with no point to it, there's so much of it. Money with no meaning. Money not earned by creating anything anyone else finds intriguing or appealing, but money that just flows unstoppably out of the ground.

I realise that it's love, not money, that interests me, and that explains this aberrance. I like putting love into things, and these people aren't interested, because they are so soaked in money, they can't undrestand the creative process normally needed to get it. Their venture will be loveless, no matter how much money it makes. What's the point of hiring a chef, if what you want is semolina? What's the point of hiring a fresco artist, if what you want is a magnolia painted wall? I don't want to make semolina. I don't want to spend my life painting magnolia, no matter how much money there is in it. This will surprise the odd Sheikh or two, perhaps. But it will surprise no one who knows me. And it is good to be reacquainted with that and have it reaffirmed. Through actions, of course. Not words.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Contentment makes poor news.

Monday, 13 May 2013

THE ART OF CONVERSATION

Sometimes I play a game.

I meet you for the first time. I enquire about you. I volunteer nothing but equally evade no enquiry about me. Each thing I find out about you is a point to me. Deduct a point for anything you find out about me.
I played it yesterday with a new acquaintance.
In under an hour of casual acquaintance I found out:

His name
Where he lives
Where he grew up
What he does for a living.
Where his business is.
Where he was educated.
How many kids he has.
Of what gender and ages.
How he got into doing what he does for a living.
How he had a business, employing 180 people.
How that business went bust.
How he lost his house, his car, everything else he owned, and his marriage.
How a consortium re employed him to run a crucial bit of the business he previously owned.
How that affected his personal confidence.
What his new suggested equity buy in scheme is like and how that restores his confidence.
What his product range is.
Which products are doing better than others.
Which products are rated best for quality.
What his factory utilisation is.
(By a bit of mental arithmetic therefore) what his turnover is.
What his distribution chain is like.
How many people he employs
What the brief is for his new sales person starting tomorrow
What that person's background is
What his sales growth plans are
What his son's name is
What his children's interests are
What he is passionate about.

26, maybe 27 points.

Deduct one for "I am not an insolvency practitioner".

25 or so, then. There or thereabouts.

I wonder what this says about the art of conversation?

Dale Carnegie advises that if you want to be thought of a s a good conversationalist (win friends and influence people), simply ask people about themselves. They're only to happy to talk about that most fascinating of subjects, seemingly endlessly, and seemingly without any interest whatsoever in you. So don't expect anything else.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

FROM DAVE ALLEN

"I'm an atheist...................... thank God!"

Sunday, 28 April 2013

A VISIT HERE


Saturday, 20 April 2013

SOFT SOAP

As an ex Unilever marketing man, I'm pretty hard headed about emotional advertising. But just occasionally, there's an exception which really provokes a response. Glad the old Firm is still cutting it.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

COLD CALLER

It's a lazy wind, they sometimes say. It goes right through you.
This isn't.
Since Easter, the time of easterly winds, we have a had a huge contrary blow. It started as a westerly and has gone southwesterly and southerly, as the days have gone on, trying out its different angles on us.
It isn't lazy.
It is hard working wind. Persistent. Diligent, even. It uses its best endeavours on its way. It leaves no stone unturned, no opportunity missed.It's the kind of wind that is on commission, blowing your door forcefully open, in a timeshare selling gale of patter. It's a sharp suited, spiv wind from the south. It's a villainous wind (a word invented by country folk to describe those quick talkers from the City). It's the sort of intense, NLP educated salesman I have never wanted to be. It does all the talking, and none of the listening, constantly, continuously. It wears you down, till resistance is eroded. It asks you questions only because it already knows the objection busting answers.Though not of itself a cold airflow, you can't trust the genuineness of its warmth. You know it's put on. Its force is chilling. It's a cold calling.

Last night, all night, it was doing its work, creating a howling in the rafters, a deep hum which was an experience against which to fall asleep. The Missus couldn't, troubled by its high pressure technique. A pitch inescapable to her, though, thankfully didn't trouble my slumber. Hand grenades wouldn't.  Mine is the sleep of the just, I tell people.

Around 0515, at dawn, it eased off its rant and chatter, though only temporarily, as though it had gone to fetch a few more back up copies of the timeshare brochures, which would be needed later.

Blackbird broadcast his resistance song - and, was it just me, or was the song different from usual? Down, up up, down rather than the normal fluting crescendos. As though this was his gloomy weather forecast.

"Morning neighbours, Blackbird FM. Depressing news, feathered friends. Not spring yet, so don't get excited. No. Just another weather warning. It's that southerly again, knockin' down your door. Another day of staying put and putting up with it. Only going out if you're heading north! Take off to south east, and turn left sharpish. Ensure you're clear to leeward, 'cos it's a blow! Oh, and goggles on. It's dusty out there"

This morning the wind's results were to be seen in the brown haze covering the Vale - topsoil blown from off the fields. A haboob, in rural England. Going the few miles north, where Foggathorpe clay gives way to lighter loam and even less resistant sand, towards Bielby and Hayton, drifts have formed against hedges and across lanes, giving a drive to Pocklington the frisson of excitement of going to the seaside, cued by these false dunes.

False promise. That's what it all is. The wind's direction promises a spring yet to come. It's intensity blows away that promise by overselling it, leaving you thinking:
."..... those promised benefits, that idyll, those rather too good to be true returns...... mmm. Maybe discretion is the better part of valour? Did he mention that the value of your investment can fall as well as rise? I didn't actually sign, did I?"

Saturday, 13 April 2013

MEA CULPA

THEM: "You've pissed me off, and you've pissed him off. I think you should apologise."

ME: "Mmm. Can I ask you a question first?"

THEM: "Er....... ok."

ME:  "Do you feel that my behaviour was out of character, or normal?"

THEM: "Er... well, out of character, I'd say."

ME: "Then, knowing it to be an aberration, you can forgive it."

THEM: "And what if I'd said it was normal?"

ME:  "Then you'd be foolish to expect anything else."

Thursday, 11 April 2013

AN EASTER

The etymology of Easter is, apparently, obscure.
Based on the last month or so's experience, let me hazard my own guess.
Easter. (n.) The time of easterly winds.
There's a lot behind that.
First, it has been the season of log fires. Needed, because, even with the heating going full blast in a leaky old house like ours, we've still had to thaw the marrow beside a blaze of our own ash logs. Outside has needed true valour for any sustained venture. And a bonfire, to keep warm. The winds have blown unstopped by any natural barrier from the Urals, or perhaps even further east, and unhindered by any nod of decency to the calendar, which long ago suggested they resume their westerly prevailing heading, rather then freezing us all to death with their current unbroken easterly trend. In desperation at one point, and much to the chagrin of Missus major and Missus minor, I lit the woodburner with the leaky chimney. I now have stage four lung cancer. Still, it warmed us through the dense blue cloud of woodsmoke. A family that coughs together, stays together. It's an ill wind.
Next, the calendar has taunted us as would-be gardeners. Despite all planting predictions, the vegetable garden lies still barren. Shirley, my oracle on matters horticultural, advises even now, "give it another week". Unable to resist, I've planted out first early spuds. Whether they will survive is questionable. But it's mid April for God's sake. That's global warming for you.
Animal behaviour has been retarded by approximately a month. Only in the last week have the hares started boxing. That was meant to happen in mad March remember? Only in this time have pigeons started pairing up, the cocks sidling up to the hens to proposition them, to be met in the main by a pecking rebuff. Only in the last few days have the horse chestnut buds turned sticky. Only very much of late have the hedgerows been singing with birds flirting and chattering in their pre homemaking phases.
I have made a couple of last desperate acts in the hope of seeing some sort of spring. The first is tree buying. You should, the old adage goes, only plant when there is an R in the month. That gives me only a couple more weeks to go for it. A year without a tree planted is a year wasted. Yesterday I purchased for the orchard another of my favourite greengages, and a red Williams pear. We have two old pear trees, but they are hard old culinary varieties. They crop well, but short of buying a press and making perry, I don't know what to do with them. You can only eat so many Pear Belle Helenes. A pear you can actually eat will be a very welcome addition to our five a day. I salivate at the thought of the many delicious uses the greengages will have. And by rights, since last year was so unspeakably poor, it should be a right old year for stone fruit, which has the habit of year on, year off.
I've also bought a fluted old birdbath as a centrepiece for the vegetable garden. "Revolting," was the Missus' verdict. She has a point. But it'll be useful filled with a soil / compost mix, for growing nasturtiums. I visualise them trailing attractively over the sides. They are a cheap trick to turn you, in the eyes of guests, from humble cook, to chef extraordinaire. Bung in a few of their flowers into a salad and Bob's your Uncle, and Michel Roux's your Aunty Who Can Cook.
I've realised that my gardening has a simple, though noble and single minded aim. If you can't eat it, it pretty much isn't worth growing in my book. And that does bring me to the consolations of the persistent, draught-finding winds which have chilled us. Such adverse conditions require, of course, an increase in calories. Say, a thousand or so a day? It perhaps explains my current addiction to walnuts and Brazil nuts, both of which probably have, in addition to their substantial calorie count, some vitamin or mineral or other just especially right for withstanding the current Siberian conditions.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Saturday, 30 March 2013

HEALING HANDS

Morning. I awoke with  a start. Something was wrong. No. Nothing was wrong. That was it. Nothing hurt. The sensation lasted a few moments. No longer. Then, at a low level, the pain which has been with me since November returned. With it came a string of memories, clarifying the action I needed to take.
It was about 2 o'clock in the morning and we were on a course NNW across the Celtic sea. The wind was high, a gale, but fair. and we ran on a starboard tack, reasonably well reefed down for a racing boat, on a broad reach. Perhaps it was that our course was far enough off the wind to allay fears, perhaps it was just a piece of incautious seamanship, but no preventer had been rigged. The helmsman was an old salt who'd been around boats most of his life. But something jolted his attention. Perhaps it was an especially large following wave, and as the stern came through the wind, the boom crashed terrifyingly across the boat. I was on the port side of the cockpit and with my head mercifully low when the gybe happened and I heard the scream straight away. The crew on the starboard side, a Scottish girl whom I'd christened Hiberni-Ann had her hand on  the track. The mainsheet itself grazed her face, but the real problem was her hand, now trapped beneath the mainsheet block. I reached forward and grabbed the mainsheet tackle to free her hand. As I did so, with mayhem on deck now, the startled helmsman managed to gybe the boat back again. Again. fortunately my head was low, but this time the mainsheet block snapped over on top of my thumb. The skipper and mate appeared, and took the injured lady below. I pulled out my thumb to realise that it was now the size of between a golf and a tennis ball. Thus it stayed for two or three more days, until we hit shore. Then I went off to stay with some friends, one of whom was a reiki practitioner.
"Shall I give your thumb some?" she asked.
"Why not?"
She held it in her hands with an unusual intensity of care. And so continued for perhaps two hours.
Reiki. Schmeeki. That would be my prejudice. But the swelling subsided, and the thumb never again hurt.
Mumbo jumbo?
What do I know?
But there's the evidence of the thumb.
And so it was I realised what I needed to do with my currently painful shoulder.
"Dear shoulder", I said. "I am so sorry. I realise now how hard I have been on you, blaming you rather than me for your pain when its me who has caused it falling on you like that - a clumsy oaf. I see now that all this time I've been saying its your fault when its mine. I am sorry. I now understand dear shoulder, what a remarkable bit of machinery you are, how beautiful in all your movements, how irreplaceable, how sublime a design. And I see now that I have been trying to shirk the blame and shove it off on you, when all you want to do is join in again the fantastic party going on in the rest of my body - your body, dear shoulder. Here. Have some care."
And I held my shoulder gently, with love. With, in fact, all of the love and high regard I can muster. With real compassion. And I admit to a tear or two realising how horribly I had treated my poor joint.
And my shoulder is better.

Monday, 18 March 2013

GURU

I am not big on kissing the feet of gurus.

But the thoughts and work of this man changed my life.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

DECIDING

When facilitating, experience has taught me that it is around the decision making process that groups often get stuck. This isn't because they are decision making. On the contrary, it is because they are not doing that.
I therefore advocte keeping decision making as simple as possible, using an extremely simple TIME, COST/BENEFIT, FIT, RISK matrix.

Decision making is, if you think about it, relatively instant.
"Shall we spend $xM on this project?"
"Yes".
Takes no time at all.

"There are four options here, and option four has three sub options.Which shall we pursue?"
"One, and three."
Instant.

But the problem comes because, when they are supposed to be making decisions, groups aren't. They're doing other things, like questioning, opining, seeking and giving information, even generating ideas.

Now, you can make the argument that these are all valid things to do before making a decision. Correct. But they aren't making the decision itself.

This then raises questions about what you are there to do as a facilitator - how you add value and even who is your client.  I see adding value as to facilitate (the word coming from "make easy"), and since I know that it is the stuff around decision making, rather than decision making itself, which gets sticky and eats up time (paid for by somebody), I try to position the decision to be made in as simple terms as possible and focus the group down to actually making decisions, which takes hardly any time at all. In this I am trying to bring my experience to bear to save time and money, by manging the process - in this case, managing it away from deviating behaviours, and focusing it towards productive behaviour (ie. decision making).

In fact, the simplicity of my model was originally derived from facilitating hundreds of groups where, without providing it, but asking people ahead of the workshop, this was, unprompted, in fact the criteria on which they almost always based their decisions anyway.

I think there is one more thing to say about the sticky business of group decision making (or, as it turns out, behaviours AROUND rather than actually, decision making) and it is this. Critical, in my view, to good group decision making, is clarity of the options. This finds me as a facilitator doing several things:

Firstly, managing idea generation and recording it in such a way that ideas generated can easily be absorbed and understood by a group selecting from them.

Secondly, ensuring clear display of these (or otherwise generated options) for decision making purposes.

Thirdly, providing simple tools to establish the group's choice (decision) - for example simple voting mechanisms.

Fourthly, keeping the group doing what they should be doing - the simple, speedy act of deciding.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

TO KNOW ME IS TO LOVE ME

I believe that it is a sacred moment, as yesterday, when someone takes you into their confidence and shows you their artistic work. It takes balls. It is a reaching out to you, and an acceptance of you in itself. It demands respect.
For me, it is a moment which shows a wonderful acceptance of me and my views, and an expectation that my responses will be honest to me and can be trusted to be without hurt to the artist. So I think my first duty is to be as ruthlessly honest as I can be in my responses. This requires concentration.
By ruthlessly honest, I do not mean giving the work a slating. I mean making the effort to understand it and to appreciate its qualities. I mean rising above personal taste to look at qualities as they stand, and as they stand in relation to the artist's intention.
I find it a similar process to that which I try and promote within teams, and between people. That is, to appreciate the qualities, their genesis and place within a unique creation. In an artistic setting, that's the art. In a team setting, it's the person. I look to promote appreciation, not in a schmolzy, untrue way, but wth a concentration which is born of a genuine desire to understand the other and their qualities. By that, inter personal problems in teams often fall away, replaced with an understanding which makes small irritations lovable, and greater differences tolerable.
It is a way of peace, of love even.
And it repays with a reciprocal inner peace.
As you realise that if you were that artist, you would have produced that art, with those exact qualities, so you also realise that, if you were that person, with their upbringing, awareness and experiences, so you too would walk, talk, behave exactly as they do. You experience a deep compassion towards that person which calms you. You realise that you and he, or she, are interchangeable, separated only by your different experiences.
Promoting such exchanges has become, through serendipitous evolution, my job. But anyone can practice it anywhere - crowded streets, shopping centres, parks and anywhere else where your fellow man congregates. All you need to do is fix each passer by in your eyes and thought, and know "if I had grown as you, I would do as you do."
You need say nothing. Perhaps, in the calm of that thought, radiating through your body, it will transmit to the passer by. I believe it does. And that person will pass on their way the better, the happier for it.
Try it out for yourself.
Let me know how it goes.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

HEDGE FUND

It has been a battle, but the hedge is cut down to size. It was getting twenty feet or more tall, so it has required a good deal more than a hedge trimmer. Machete, loppers, high loppers, pruning saw and even a tungsten hardened saw have all been in evidence. It has hurt to do it. It was an unwise decision with an injured shoulder, but there we are. Not the first, and not, I am sure, the last.
The hedge is made up of three woods: elder, ash and blackthorn.
As a wood, elder is useless. It gets old and broke in a season. It snaps if you whisper at it. It has no value as a wood to use, no strength and it even stinks when you put it on a fire, banishing it to bonfires only. Its only value is its yield of elderflowers, from which we make a very palatable cordial, and its fruit, which is a buttery, very slightly acidic addition to a fruit crumble.
Ash, on the other hand, is spectacularly hard wood, and yet with a spring to it. It is the ultimate firewood, with optimal calories, and it burns even when wet. Its dense white grain (it is so dense it almost has no visible grain) makes it enormously difficult to cut. It is very strong. When you saw through it, it will remain intact, even when all but a few millimetres of the bough are cut.
Blackthorn is satanic. Hiding behind its innocent-looking and beauteous blossom is the most utterly evil of plants. Go anywhere near the territory of blackthorn, and it will punish you again and again. Try and curtail its growth and it will defend its territory with lethal force. To attack a blackthorn, you need steel gloves, protective goggles, and a suit of armour. Wrong. You need a tank. Even in a Challenger, its evil thorns will probably come through one of the air vents and spike you in the eyes or the liver. Although it burns modestly, and thus can be used as kindling, its terrible thorns need as careful a handling as if you were trying to put a lion on your fire. Every single grasp has to be thought out with a battle plan. Even then, the tree does unexpected things, like when you fell it and it contrives to crash down on you, impaling your brain with its massive spikes. Conqueirng it has been like conquering a medieval castle. We have taken terrible losses. But we have prevailed.

Friday, 1 March 2013

WOODY

 
 
Jed was acting in York last night (Miss Saigon, Joseph Rowntree Theatre - highly recommended) and stayed over last night, meaning we had the opportunity to go the Woody (The Woodside Cafe, just off the motorway at Goole) this morning.

This local institution is determinedly basic in its approach to catering. You can have one of four breakfasts, simply called, Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4. No.1 has sausage, bacon, egg, tomatoes, potatoes and fried bread. No. 2 has all above without sausage. No. 3, the same only no bacon but sausage. No. 4 is for maverick's - spam as the protein of choice. Tea coffee and bread and butter are all provided in any of the choices.

When Jed ordered "a No. 3; no tomatoes," the lady behind the counter shouted to the cook, "one No 3 with beans."

Jed corrected her, "no beans either, thanks." She looked at him as though he had come from Mars. You've got to have your veg. Still, she obliged.

The Woody has no carpet. It has no napkins. It has no extras. It has no tablecloths. It has pretty much no anything, except it does have a fine pinball machine, the only one for miles around.

It fetishizes the basics. But it does get them very right.

Two groaning breakfasts later, I emerged £7.40 lighter.

My kinda place.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

PAPAL RUNNERS AND RIDERS



Peter Turkson                                                               11 - 5
Angelo Scola                                                                  7 - 2
Tarcisio Bertone                                                             4 - 1
Marc Ouellat                                                                   7 - 1
Peter Erdo                                                                       9 - 1


Fancied outsider: Christoph von Schornborn, at 28 - 1, well worth a punt.

Oh. can't they have a RACE?

What a spectacle that would be!

3 A.M.

Throughout my life I have suffered from what you might call depression. At one point, my suffering was bad enough for me to even think about killing myself. But I don't believe depression is an illness. There isn't a depression virus. And I don't believe there is a depression gene. Though if you told me depression was genetic, I'd be likely to believe that it can be socialised into you as a habit learned from your family members.
Truthfully, what's it made of?
Thought, is the answer,
My approach has been that, if my mind has made the depressive thoughts, my mind can unmake them. Therefore, throwing away the suggested medication, I have taught myself habits of mind - thought processes - to deal with the harmful, depressive thoughts which sometimes come into my mind. I have a whole range of counter thoughts at my disposal, but here's one - one I used recently - last night, in fact.
I awake in the middle of the night. My brain is quite full of depressive thoughts, mainly centering on how useless I am, what a failure, how pathetic, what a waste of space, etcetera. I look at the alarm clock. It is invariably 3 a.m. That seems to be the phase of sleep when these thoughts arrive.
"Oh," I say to myself, "3 a.m. Must be." Then I check the clock. As I say, invariably it is. I then link in my mind the thoughts with that time, knowing they will pass as time passes.
"These are 3 a.m. thoughts." That is comforting. Even though the thoughts may want to persist, the fact of their association with a particular time places them in an impermanent context. The dangerous bit of depression, the one that led me towards suicidal thoughts, is the thought that these torrturing thoughts will never leave. And that, of course, is a fallacy.
What if it isn't 3 a.m.?
Then I simply look at the clock and think "Oh, you're early today," or "oh, you're late today." Last night it was 0440. They were late.
In either case, the important aspect of this way of dealing with unhelpful thoughts is to get outside them and see them for what they are: thoughts which come; thoughts which will go.
Then they stay where they need to be - thoughts - unpleasant certainly, but no more than that.
I write this rather personal post with the sincere aim of helping anyone who reads this and suffers the torture of their own thoughts. I have developed many more ways of dealing with them. If you want to know more, feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

WELCOME ABOARD

Monday, 25 February 2013

......OMETERS



Today, two ometer stories:

1)
As part of an assignment I did once, I commissioned ALIVEOMETERS for the Directors of a client Company. Their settings read from dead to absolutely zinging. They had dials and everything. They were made by a lady welder / sculptress in dungarees in a workshop in the East End, were about five foot high, mild steel, very heavy. They made an impression.

2)
I and a colleague went to Toronto to pitch for a largeish innovation assignment. The Canadians who grilled us were very anal, and at one point asked us "how can you be sure that what you say works". My colleague, tired of their nitpicking, said "We've got a meter which measures it." Bizarrely, the Canadians didn't bat an eyelid.

After the meeting, we were not only pissing ourselves, but we realised that for the following pitch meeting to even more important Canadians, we actually did need a meter. Therefore we went ferreting around in Toronto's junk shops till we found one which we could hook up to a battery, and when we got to that bit in the even more important meeting, we hooked up the dial and hey presto, the needle swung round to max. Again, amazingly, no reaction.

Later, the Canadians came over to visit us in sunny Leeds. We had a driver pick them up at the airport. But instead of holding up a sign with their names on, we had him hold up a ruddy great big ometer.

Friday, 22 February 2013

THEIR NAMES LIVETH



We came across this beautiful and moving memorial to the men of 158 squadron RAF, quite by chance, after a trip to the beach.

My father flew in bombers during World War II. Like many of his generation, he rarely spoke of it. He flew some 180 or more missions. On one mission, acting as tail gunner of his bomber, he was chased by Messchermidt ME109 fighter planes for some 90 minutes. In this time, the German planes shot off some 13 feet of one wing of my father's aircraft. Later, within a short time, my father's hair turned white. I am not surprised.
Returning from one mission, my father was collected from his aircraft, along with the rest of his crew, by a lorry to take them to the debriefing room. Arriving outside the debriefing area, my father jumped down from  the tailgate of the lorry and  fell awkwardly, breaking his ankle. The following day, his crew went out on a mission. They never returned.

I took a few moments to look at  this memorial, and bow my head to the men who gave their lives so that I and my generation can live in freedom and to make my own small act of meditational gratitude.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

HOW TO BE A DOG

The mini missus came home excited.

"Harry Ward's got a potion that turns him into a dog."

That, I thought, sounds like a line from Tom Waits.

"How does he do it?"

"I'll write it out for you."

Here it is.

Go down and up five loopsin a row. One yoghurt spoonful. Give dog a dress.Have honey. Stik big flower in your mouth. Spit out in fifteen minutes. Have one bite out of a big ruler. Stik a lefe under a boat for 2 minutes and then suk out all of the sea water.
YOU ARE A DOG.
Well done.

So now you know.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

THE FIDO PRINCIPLE

Fuck it.
Drive on.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

THE INEDIBLE IN PURSUIT OF THE UNSPEAKABLE

Across the field they came. Six of them. Maybe seven. Coming at a lope towards me, in a loose formation. Not in uniform, but in a kind of uniformity marked by their masks and balaclavas, and their camouflage trousers.
Briefly, our marine hand to hand combat instructor's words flashed in my mind. "In a fight, drop the leader first. The leader is the first to speak, the first to appear, the alpha in the group. Don't wait. Drop him, and the others will cower."
The leader vaulted himself over the small fence, towards me.
I felt no instinct to fight, but none towards flight either. Just calm.

"Are you lost?" I asked.

"Mmhhrrrmmoph," said the alpha from behind his balaclava.

"You're a long way from a footpath," I prompted.

"Hrrmmaammpphhrrrr,"

"Why are you wearing masks and balaclavas?"

"..................................."

"Are you ashamed to be seen? Are you doing something which shames you?"

".............................................."

The six now stood like little boys receiving a parental reprimand, heads half hung. Boys gone too far in their game of cowboys and indians, goodies and baddies.

"Look," I said. "I'm no fan of the hunt either. But how would you feel if masked men came into your home? This is my home. I could feel frightened."

"Mmssiihhhhgghh"

The young men were saved from further questioning by the appearance of a minibus containing their fellow animal rights hunt saboteurs. They skulked aboard. I drove the few yards to the house, rather marvelling at my own calm. I don't doubt it will change nothing.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Thursday, 14 February 2013