Saturday, 30 March 2013


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


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


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?"
Takes no time at all.

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

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


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


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


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.