Thursday, 17 December 2015


If you are here
How are you lost?

Saturday, 7 November 2015


And then?

We dream of the freedoms wealth will give us.

Wandering is free. Hills are free. Byways are free.

We chain ourselves to dreams which, if only we unlocked ourselves from the dreaming, are there for the taking.

Friday, 6 November 2015


People talk a lot of guff about entrepreneurs and entrepreneurialism.

An institutionalised version of this guff, are the various agencies, set up to, supposedly, help entrepreneurs.

An example is a nationwide competition to find the best entrepreneurs, then flood them with help from leading academics and speakers from all sorts of fields of government.

My view? This is likely to promote failure.

The true entrepreneur is a strange animal, not given to seeking or receiving help readily. Almost addicted, in fact, to doing things his or her way. Whose very drive for self determination will propel them to success, and away from the "help" offered by people who, in all probability, have never really done it for themselves.

An HR supremo in a big Company talked some more guff to me the other day about encouraging entrepreneurialism amongst his employees. I listened politely, biting my tongue. Not saying - they're employees for a reason. Not saying - finish all their contracts as employees and see who emerges as entrepreneurs. Not saying - give them a share in the outcomes of their ideas, then you'll see who is an entrepreneur. Not saying - this University course you are about to give them on entrepreneurialism - don't bother.

After all, what do I know?

There are professors of entrepreneurship. There are people with degrees in the subject. There are people with Masters and Doctorates in it.

And I have none of these qualifications.

Thursday, 5 November 2015


I saw a thing where a very well known author went into a school and gave the kids a talk. Some kid asked “what advice would you give kids who want to be authors?”

The advice was “read as much as you can”.

It didn’t chime with me. Surely the advice should be “write as much as you can”.





Health and Efficiency magazines were an important part of my upbringing. The magazines were wholesome organs of the naturist tendency. But to mucky minded boys in 1970’s Britain, they were the nearest obtainable thing to hard core porn.

Of course, no reputable newsagent would sell them to 11 year olds, and so they had to be stolen. The way of doing this was to find the Beezer comic, which was notable as the only broadsheet comic available at the time. Then, by hook or by crook, you got yourself up to the top shelf and filched down an H&E. You put it inside the Beezer, paid for the comic, and left. It is surprising that you ever got away with it. The deep crimson blushes must surely have been what any poker player would recognise as a “tell”, but somehow amongst my circle there was always an availability of Health and Efficiencies for private enjoyment.

The pages contained black and white and sometimes even colour pictures of naked people enjoying volleyball, and on swings. The swings pictures were especially valued, as sometimes, with complex origami, the pages could be reformed, so that the naked man and the naked woman swung together, then away from each other. You could speed up this movement into a blur of swings and buttocks.

This is what is known as education. Without Health and Efficiency, God only knows what might have become of me.

I have fathered three children. It’s all down to health and efficiency.


Age tenderises meat.

Monday, 2 November 2015


At an airport I watch fathers and sons, queueing, as they go on their holidays.

The fathers say stop that. Think about your behaviour. I’ve told you not to do this. Stop it now. I have told you about this before. This is your last warning. Listen to me. Don’t do this. Don’t do that. Stop doing this. Stop doing that. If you carry on like this. Stop this silliness. Grow up.

And these big men tower over these little boys. And the little boys cower, or glower. And the men frown and growl. And sometimes they grip the little boys. And sometimes they even – just a little – shake the little boys. This is to make them see sense. And sometimes the little boys cry. And more than once the men say, man up. And I guess that means grow up. Become a man. Become a big man. Be like me. A man. A big man. Like me.

Sunday, 1 November 2015


At first choir practice was sixpence. But in 1971, when money went decimal, it went up to 10p. Cash in hand. Not bad. It was enough to buy yourself something at the shop. There was a MACE shop which smelt of a mixture of washing powder and ham, which is what it sold. But you could get crisps there too. You could try a new flavour each week. Pickled Onion, savoury onion, cheese and onion. There was a lot of onion.

But if you wanted sweets you went to the sweetshop. It was a purist sweetshop, and it only sold sweets. Crisps or drinks? Go to the MACE.

The sweetshop was run by a cripple. One of his legs was a lot shorter than the other. He could get around, bent at an odd angle, but he had to wear a built up surgical boot. He limped dreadfully.

When we went to the sweetshop, we would crowd in. Someone would ask for one of the more exotic types of sweets, sold in jars, one on the top shelf. Then the crippled sweetshop man had to get his step ladder to get at them, and contort his broken body to reach up and bring down the jar. It took him ages. During this time you could steal quite large amounts of the more expensive chocolate bars, which were displayed at a convenient height for children to reach.

Saturday, 31 October 2015



A friend of mine went to a retreat, held at a Buddhist centre, in the countryside. He went there with his partner and his niece, 9 years old, who they thought might enjoy the calm, meditative environment and the nice grounds. It was one of those retreats where there is a big name guru – Kelsang this or that – and, at a point in the retreat, the attendees could have a personal audience with the guru. It was a lovely warm day, and the gardens were beautiful in the sunshine. When the time came for the personal audiences, the people were asked to queue for their turn in a corridor, until the guru was ready to receive them. It was a long queue and a long wait so the little girl went out to play in the grounds and enjoy the sunshine. After a long time waiting, my friend went to check on his niece. She was fine, playing happily under a tree with the guru.





I was sitting with some Buddhists and they had this book about attachment. Attachment, they were saying, is the cause of all suffering. In the book there was a kind of quiz – how attached are you? Or something like that. And there we were, rating ourselves. So I took the book, and got in my hand a dozen or so pages, and ripped them out, and then for good measure ripped them into pieces. It was delightful how quickly angry the Buddhists became. A lady called me a bastard and threatened to kick me in the bollocks. I felt it prudent under this threat to leave the room and go to another. So I went. Laughing.



Friday, 30 October 2015



I was following you
Had been all afternoon
As we walked
And you talked
And all I could do
Was the helpless act of listening
And we reached a gate
Darkened by laurel
A robin was singing
And I was thinking
God, if I were your therapist
I wouldn’t know where to start
And you turned to me
And said
“These talks.
These talks we have.
They do me so much good.”

Thursday, 29 October 2015


There was this guy
Not a bad boss, but fired me,
Kicked, propelled me,
Shook me from the corporate tree,
Without knowing
How grateful I was to fall,
How much opportunity
Then lifted above my horizon -
New dawns, new suns -
New ways of being me.
And truthfully I think
He’d been better firing himself
Which, eventually, he did,
Going out of offices,
Tripping way beyond those corporate walls
And into Andalucian hills
To a lake
Of his dawn’s finding,
Seeing on a branch
A dragonfly
Attacked by wasps
(Which, with his meditation beads,
He shooed)
Chanting, picking up that lifeless thing -
That still stick of blue green life
Apparently extinguished.
And, not knowing what to do,
Went on chanting
Till the wings chirred,
The dragonfly rose
Flew again to the lake
And like a victory roll made off
Into some new, blue future.
Like that guy found.
Like I, fired, found.
All three of us.

Sunday, 25 October 2015


I can hear my daughter in the room next door
And she is talking in voices
One doll to another
Names like Skipper and Chelsea
Rehearsing a fashionista life
On beaches, in big houses
Where a ready flow of labels
Is mixed with girl talk
And surfing
And then she runs in to say
Look dad. Look.
I can put my foot higher than my head.
And she can.
Standing on one leg.
And then she does a handstand
Just for the hell of it
Before returning to Barbie world
Seamlessly, without the slightest doubt
That both acts can be performed
With no shred of self consciousness
And I remember
My son dancing once
He danced often
But this time was different
It was a moving of his body
Without plan or design
Just moving
Moving utterly held by each note and beat
And was itself moving –
Moved me to tears
As this morning I feel close to them
Realising these pure things are gone for me
Too held by notions
Of what is right or wrong
What is appropriate, adult,
Too held by what looks or sounds good
Rather than just spilling
Whatever words come
Onto a page.

Saturday, 24 October 2015


Thursday, 22 October 2015


Time is money.

People say that.

Money is time.

People don't say that.

But it's true, in ways that change how people think about what they are doing.

One. You pay people to work for you. Wow. That seems ok. But it hides an insidious set of assumptions. That you have bought something less valuable for something more valuable.

But time isn't less valuable than money. Ask anyone diagnosed with a fatal illness. Ask anyone recently bereaved. Ask anyone with any sense.

Reverse the logic and you get something amazing. With a new respect for peoples' time, you hold the possibility of creating something special. By making the time of organizational life special, you cannot help making the experience of your organization special. By making the experience of your organization special, you will actually make more money. They don't teach you that at Harvard. Well, you don't need to go to Harvard to learn it, anyhow.

There's another linkage to time. Everyone is always selling time. They may not see it this way, but they are. Whether you sell goods or services, what you really sell is the quality of time a customer spends with them. Make that special, and you make your product special.

This thinking releases ideas. When asked to help British Airways revitalise their lounges, the trick was to stop thinking about them as physical spaces and start thinking about them as units of time - at that time, often blank meaningless pieces of time in a traveller's life. But waiting, just waiting, for ideas to add value to that time, to the benefit of people visiting them, and as a lever of brand preference.

This thinking about time has an individual consequence too. Spiritual, even. There are few jobs that cannot be defined as adding value to the time of others. Job is just a context for doing so. This is redemptive. Not only for the "others" but for the job holder. It is akin to the man with a broom, who, asked whether his job is the cleaner, replies, "No - I am building a cathedral!"

Saturday, 17 October 2015


I have had my dealings with blackthorn before. It is the plant equivalent of the mafia. Unforgiving, to say the least. I wrote about that on 13.03.2013.

I thought that maybe I had left it too late this year, but today I finally got round to picking the sloes. It turns out they are all the better for leaving. The blue, slightly powdery blush is upon them, and they are big and fat. They are soft, too, and that is  a great advantage in making sloe gin, as, instead of having to prick each individual fruit, you can squidge them between finger and thumb. Not without effort, but far less time consuming. You have to do this, or the fragrant juicy flesh will be unavailable to flavour the gin.

So later turned out to be better.

But there was something else. I don't know if it was my imagination but it was as though the sloes wanted to be picked. I used neither gloves nor goggles. And how many injuries did I pick up from the potentially lethal thorns? None. Could it be that, at the very right moment that the fruit needs to be picked, and thus the seed spread, the blackthorn lets its guard down? Its thorns soften and yield?

Perhaps it is fanciful. Perhaps, even, it is a trap.

But the mafia in the hedgerows let me pass unmolested.

And the illegal hooch trade is on.

Friday, 16 October 2015


If you say to me, how can I improve my hotel, make it more charming, I will give you a list. If you own a business and want ideas for it to be more customer friendly, again, a list shall follow your request. Banks, airlines, utility companies, retail chains, telecoms Companies, media organizations, industrial giants, financial services powerhouses - all of these and more, across the course of twenty odd years, have asked me for this kind of help. And the truth is, if you ask me for ideas, the only real question is, how many? I will keep generating them until you tell me to stop. I cannot stop myself. I do not run out. I just keep on finding more and more.


People say it is a rare talent. I don't believe that. I believe anyone can do it. Likewise, being a poet. Or an artist. Anyone can do it. Just be thick, be stupid, be outrageous, say whatever is on your mind, say whatever is in your heart, be it rude, be it idiotic, be it irrelevant, be it incorrect. I doesn't need to be "good". It just needs to be.

What is, perhaps, rare is the banishing of the censoring self which prevents it. For this reason, rebelliousness in kids is to be treasured. It is growing up, becoming adult, fitting in, worst of all being professional, which inhibit this ability. The ability is there, I think in all of us. But by believing we have to be things like smart, right, sensible, professional, moral, decent, honest and true, we censor away a world of ideas and possibility. These self definitions and their validation kill creativity. Ken Robinson alludes to how education erodes these abilities in his famous TED talk, viewed by something like 30 million people, many of whom, I can assure you, mourn the loss of their own creativity through the predominance of convergent, rather than divergent thought in our education and society.

In business, if you want divergent ideas - new ideas, get people on the job who know nothing about it. Get rid of the experts. They will be good at telling you what won't work. They'll be poor at coming up with new ideas. The whole history of invention proves this. Most breakthroughs are either accidents, or authored by amateurs.

Better still, disguise the real brief. Get people to find ideas about something different but analogous. That way, their prejudices about what does and does not fit won't apply. Just retro fit the ideas you get back to the original brief. It will amaze you how relevant they are.

I heard Lem Sissay, the poet, on the radio this morning, and his use of language was so startling to me, it acted as a personal alarm. The alarm was that, in listening, I realised that his language was so much more uncensored than mine, and that I, too, despite years of earning a living through my ideas and words, turn away in my daily thoughts, many of the simplest, the most innocent, the dumbest, the sweetest, the loveliest, the most useless / useful of connections. Like orphaning a child, my child. Abandoned. Hurt. Leaving that innocence bruised, grazed, ever so gradually broken. In the ignorant act, promoting the old lies - that to grow up is to lose the wonder of ideas and the magic of wide eyed, uncensored connection with the world around you.

The very essence of creativity.

Thursday, 15 October 2015


I was once asked to produce ideas for Eurostar. They wanted to attract business customers. Especially they wanted to get business people to try their route from central London to central Paris. My colleagues and I came up with a lot of ideas - that was our job. But the one that stood out for me, they didn't use.

I proposed that they buy all the available London to Paris business class airline tickets for a day or two. This would mean that there was no business class airline capacity on those days and so business people would have to try Eurostar, or fly economy. Since business class airline fares are fully refundable, the idea also had zero cost.

But they didn't run with it.

It was legal. It would have worked. It involved nothing immoral. It would have created more trial in the target market than all the other ideas. None were as strong. But the managers had their way. It was just too sharp. It went into the dustbin of history.

Shame. I thought it was one of my better ones.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Spreading butter is ludicrous.
Put on enough to cover the ground in the first place.



Morning has shown up
Wearing a dark coat
And when that’s removed
Little else;
The little being sheer
And trimmed with gold.
And it is more alluring than nothing.
A willingness toward surrender,
Against the fairytale norms,
A statement
That says I will enjoy this
And so will you.
And the hidden and the half concealed
(horizons in mist, nipples behind silk)
Are the more attractive for it,
Reminding me of a time
When my hands made a discovery:
You aren’t wearing underwear, I said,
Between kisses.
I didn’t think I’d need to, she replied.


Monday, 12 October 2015


My wide eyed infancy
Was written under Norfolk skies.
It's said it's flat there.
It's hillier than you'd think.

I was curious, left and climbed
Hills, mountains, crags -
Anywhere made thrilling by the chance of falls,
And views I thought lofty, heights worth defence.

Older but no wiser
I occupied a lower ground again,
Flat land, big sky.
A different kind of openness?

By comparison, a lack of views.
A return to boyhood skies
And possibilities?
A return, perhaps, to perhaps.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015


Causality is often unexpected.

As with Brian Eno's diagram - unintended consequences - desertification, which shows the unexpected and unintended result of digging village wells in the Sahel, as increased desertification and extended human suffering. A sobering view for aid workers.

I can't (yet) find the causality of what must have been a housing boom in the first twenty or thirty years of the 19th Century in rural East Yorkshire, resulting in so many farmhouses (including mine) being built about that time. Work in progress.

Meanwhile, prompted by a similar interest in vernacular architecture, my reading takes me to some new understandings.

Wool churches, across the East of England, were late medieval legacies of the wealth made from wool exports.

The wool exports were a result of increased emphasis on sheep farming rather than other forms of agriculture.

The increase in sheep farming was less labour intensive.

The change in emphasis was the result of decreased agricultural labour.

The decrease in labour was a result of the Black Death.

There's a Swedish detective series, BECK, which currently airs and captures my attention for similar reasons. The motives are unexpected. And often, people doing wrong things for right motives.

There's something humanising about this. If you walked in my shoes you would walk as I do.

Not a bad thought to take forward into daily encounters.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


We used to call them Firms.
They were firm.
Then we called them Companies.
Were they better company?
Now, organizations.
More refined. Classical etymology.
But more distant from the emotional connections of the previous two.
More scientific, perhaps? More in control of the lab rats?

Monday, 5 October 2015


The earth is laughing at the light -
The day crowing its fading longevity
Night gathers its winnings, and leaves,
Knowing the odds are shortening.
The sun that rose over John’s barn
(064 magnetic)
Now, like a sniper
Peering through masonry,
Aims its first shot south of east.
Dark knows it is darkening
Longer and colder,
Longer and colder.
The boilerman is coming
To cure the screeching valve.
Every night is longer at the table.


Friday, 2 October 2015


I don't shout at my kids. Not at sporting events, anyhow.

Once, at one of George's bouts, I caught myself shouting some idiocy. Then I realised, there's so many people yelling, he can't hear me anyway.

I confirmed this with him.

"I'm not going to shout any more", I told him, "but I am going to watch harder so that, if you want, we can go through it all together afterwards in a more thoughtful way".

Like me, he saw the usefulness of this.

I try not to want my kids to win. I try to be detached. I don't mind if they win. I don't mind if they don't.

But what if they haven't tried?

There, I find myself at odds with the throng of consoling, excuse making parents.

I am sure people read my silence as a Neo-Victorian censure.

Perhaps. To me, it's a matter of truth. A reluctance to say or endorse what is not true.

"Didn't your...... (insert name)..... do well?" says well meaning playground parent.

"No, they slacked in a shameful way," is what I want to say.

What I do say is, "well, .......(insert name)........ what did you make of it all?"


I met someone the other day. He is an airline pilot. Wow, you may say. A dream job. Once it was only a dream, a distant dream for him. As a boy, he ran down streets, his arms outstretched. Flying. He was flying. All his life he wanted to be an airline pilot.

For some years he was a happy airline pilot. But just recently, his airline has been run by money men, keen on staying competitive in times when people don't think flying is special any more, in times when they think it is the same as getting on a bus.

This change in status is hard for all who have to bear it. And when the airline is very hard nosed in the way it deals with its people, my pilot feels understandably angry and disappointed.

Hard to know what to say.

So mainly I listen.

Finally, as gently as I can, I remind him of that boy running down the streets, flying.

"Don't let them kill your dream," I say.


A couple of my favourite things are within this:

Wednesday, 16 September 2015


A friend of mine turns up with wine and eggs as presents.
The wine is delicious and well chosen. The eggs are things of beauty. Various. Odd. Indiividual as the hens which laid them. The opposite of uniformity.

The gifts set me thinking about presents. I once gave some presents of a book of poetry, written out by hand. The poems were written as part of a team event I did with a Board of Directors, trying to get them to expand the language they used to refer to each other, to see the individuals as muses, worthy of lyricism. It worked, and a s a tribute to their efforts I decided I'd write them all out by hand in lovely bound books, one copy for each f the nine or ten Board members.

Of course, I had completely underestimated the task, which took me weeks. But when I arrived at their offices with a haversack full of this labour, there were audible gasps, when I gave them out.

But was it worth it? In a sense the gift was irrelevant. The narrative of doing it was the point. Without doing it I could not now be recalling it. Such is the life of those plagued by the idea that the more interesting narrative choice is the guidance system for life decisions.

Should all art be gift?

Should even all life be gift?

After all, when we say it's our life, we ignore the fact that life is given, is itself a gift.

The eggs get me thinking too. They are so different from factory eggs, supermarket eggs. But not only is the greater volume of eggs in uniform packages, the greater volume of humanity is too. Eggs in cosy uniform little six packs. Humanity in uniform cosy little office environments, cosy uniform little housing developments.

Isn't that odd? Or is it me that is odd?

Am I the blue egg, rejected for quality reasons yet hiding the bright yellow double yolk?

Tuesday, 15 September 2015


The absence in blogging has been whilst on the boat for most of August. Sailing consumes all other thought. That is why it is truly recreational. All one's problems fall away, replaced by the immediacy of the many nautical decisions that need to be taken, problems which need to be solved.

Today, on land, at home again, it is rain.

Big Madam reports being invigorated by running in the rain. To me it is uninviting. I look at the two crane flies on the window. You can't tell if they are on the inside or on the outside. Jimmy spinners.

It is a day for looking out of windows. It is an interstice of a day - a day of gaps between other more important times. It echoes life at present. With the end of one major contract come questions about what to do next. Rush to fill the gap? Do nothing? Something rather different?

So what do I do? I flow back in the gap to childhood things. When I was a boy my Father used to bring home what I think were called pattern books - big thick things full of engineering data printed on white, blue and pink paper. They were brown paper bound. But the reverse sides were blank and that was their value as sketch books to me. I endlessly drew buildings. Skyscrapers, mainly, cutaway so you could see the use made of the space on each floor. Mine would have swimming pools, restaurants, gardens, living and sleeping rooms, gyms, velodromes, you name it. Occasionally I would have access to cartridge paper. Then my drawings would get much more finished and realistic. Not that they were brilliant. Having an artist as a Father was discouraging. He could flick his wrist and off could come a likeness that I could struggle for months to produce and even then fail. Remembered whiffs of this experience came this weekend, when Mini Madam was asked to produce a self portrait for school. I did one of her which was a likeness - mind you, even now it took me three go's. Hers was what a child would produce - some likeness, but not closely observed.

I find myself drawing buildings, as though a child. One of my boyhood cartridge paper drawings was of Norwich Guildhall. It has one façade finished with diamonds of black and white flint. Hard to approximate in a drawing, I remember. Again, memories of this return as I read Matthew Rice's book about vernacular architecture. He has a great map of the UK within it, like a geological map, except it maps the primary building material for housing. Brick, of course. Sandstone, too. Flint, in Norfolk, and in a  band running down to the Sussex coast. Best of all, a category he calls Random Rubble. Most of Scotland has this.

All drawing is really looking. Even when you think you are good at it, you quickly find you aren't. Relationships between shapes, shades, dimensions. You're almost always wrong. Thank God for rubbers, erasers.

Rainy days. Days for rubbing things out, looking harder, starting again.

Friday, 7 August 2015


Be wrong?

Thursday, 16 July 2015


A blue possibility
Beyond the dog's life,
Skimming to a charmed destiny
The dog could not imagine.

This light led where dogs can't go:
A realm of the river's shine and flicker,
Surfaces, depths, cool and nourishing.
His tongue told him so.

He could not voice the word freedom,
Being but a dog,
Yet glimpsed it
Speeding blue
On the water
In the air that day.

He did what dogs do:
Went on with his doggy life,
Cocked his leg against a tree.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015


The hares have had the growth hormones.

I mistook one, running in the lane, for a dog.

I mistook two in a field for deer.

I don't think it's my eyesight.

Monday, 13 July 2015

A SHORT HISTORY OF.................................................................... BICYCLES -1.

My sister had a purple and pink one, with white tyres. Mine was blue. Contrasting blue mudguards. We wobbled together around the perimeter of Eaton Park. I remember both our infant legs whirling the tremendously low gear, at an unfeasible rate, to create almost no progress. My parents strolled behind, admiring. My sister showed more talent than I did.

Those machines were tiny things in comparison to the curved tube Vindec which was my true boyhood bike. Nobody else had one. And that was not a good thing. Oh, how many taunts I had to bear about the curved top tube. How pathetic were the wide white saddle, the gold anodised mudguards, the chain guard and the straight handlebars. The bike was neither one thing nor another, and therefore absolutely uncool. It was an outcast amongst bikes. It had nothing of the cocky elan of the Choppers, even if their owners did rather often flip their inherently unstable bikes up, and fall on their arses. Equally it could not come anywhere close to the Carlton and Sun racers, that the really classy kids had. For God's sake, it didn't even have gears, and this was a time when the number of gears on your bike was a rough proxy for the measure of your manhood. Even the puniest kid around, who played the violin, and ground away on his granddad's old black sit up and beg, with an iron bath of a chain cover, and the weight of an ocean liner, had the kudos of a Sturmey Archer three speed.

The Vindec had as its destiny only one possible route, short of wanton destruction. Modification. I became a bike tinkerer. The mudguards went. The saddle went, replaced by a Brooks narrow leather job. The padded pedals went - superceded by evil rat traps. The chain guard went. The flat bars got changed to Maes pattern drops, finished off with masking tape. The bike started to look like it was meant for business, albeit designed by a committee of blind, aesthetically impoverished halfwits. I wanted a racer, and unable to have one, the Vindec would have to have the Overfinch treatment.

You cannot make a silk purse from a sow's ear. The Vindec was simply hopeless, and the realisation was all the starker when I joined a cycling club. Eventually, even my parents, blinded by eccentricity and extreme poverty, could no longer hold back the inevitable. The new horse in the stable was a Puch, an obscure (and I guess cheap), Austrian brand, but, joy of joys, with derailleurs . A full five gears, which I would count over and over and over again, with deep satisfaction. The Puch was not up to the job either, but it was a start, and I happily struggled to hang on to the peloton of a club run, whilst, when I was so knackered I could not even manage a bit of toast at the tea stop, kindly hands would be placed in the centre of my back to keep me hanging in there. Even now it brings a lump to my throat to remember the gentle words of encouragement, and the club cyclist who always just happened to be going "right past my door" and would see me safely all the way back home in a dangerous state of exhaustion.

Whereas the Vindec was utterly useless, the Puch was overweight and underpowered. I used to dream at nights of bikes that were like the other club members' - 531 tubing, and perfectly geared and greased transmissions. Genuine lightweights, from an exotic world of craftsmen frame builders, whose brand was carried on the down tubes of the frames they made. Every town had its builder. Harry Quinn in Liverpool. Mercian in Derby. Bob Jackson in Leeds. Geoff Butler in Croydon. Ours was Les Bryant - a softly spoken man who rarely ventured even into the ground floor of his shop from the frame building workshop in the basement. The shop was supervised by his brisk and business like wife, who would occasionally summon him with a cry of "Les - ley...." There she transacted tubular tyres, wool mix jerseys and shorts and embrocation, the smell of which takes me instantly back to 1970's time trialling.

It was on the start of a club ten mile time trial that the limitations of the Puch were bluntly indicated. "Bloody hell," said the club marshal pushing me off, "ride this thing around and you'll have muscles like a blacksmith." Even now, the musculature of my legs owes a lot to this early resistance training. The starter was not alone in noticing. Another club member noticed. "Come and have a look at this" he said, taking a polished lightweight out of his van, a Jacques Anquetil, all chrome and Reynolds tubing, with inch thin tubular - shod sprint wheels.

"Lovely," I drooled.

"About your size..."

"Yes - I'd love one."

"See if she fits you."

I get on. "Perfect."

"Give her a ride up the road - remember she's fixed wheel."

I didn't ride up the road, I flew, on tyres as hard as boards, and a frame light, whippy and fantastically responsive.

"What do you think?"


"Well you'd better give her a go in the time trial then...."


"Go on boy."

That evening as I built speed away from the starter, I very nearly lifted the thing off the ground it was so light. I caught a rival schoolboy cyclist who was renowned for having all the right gear for three minutes, before the turn. The ride improved my best by about 20%.

"What did you make of her?"

I know not what words came. Too good, Too fantastic. Beyond words.

"Well, you'd better have her then."


Does sportsmanship, support exist like this in sport now? I don't know. I hope so.

I do know that I cannot bring this scene to mind without my eyes filling, as they did then.

Saturday, 11 July 2015


They call it a merger but it takes a time to suss who is the winner and who the loser. It isn't always the sharp suits who look like winners that are. Sometimes a shambolic wart nosed bloke, who had an idea, and saw it through, chumbawumba style, walks off with the real win. Money isn't everything. Many a deal is better ended with dignity than profit. Or is that loser talk?

The grey suits made no deal of their coming. You hardly knew when they weren't inside the precinct; they just got there.

The forces of light?
The forces of darkness?

Who won?

Friday, 10 July 2015


One benefit of a zen practice is that traffic jams don't exist. You are simply where you are. Where you are meant to be, or want to be, is irrelevant. On the hottest July day on record, in a jam which resulted in a journey from Birmingham to York taking six hours, this can be a stern test. But it is possible to relax into it, and the doors of perception then open, as they always will with a concentration on the present moment.

There is a great moment in the film of the Way of the Peaceful Warrior, where Socrates, played by Nick Nolte, takes his student on a walk. They sweat for several hours up a hill, till they reach a view of the familiar - the town where they live.

"There. There you are. Look at that," says Nolte.

 "What? That view? You've brought me all this way to see that view? I've seen it a thousand times. It's where I live for God's sake."

"No," says Nolte, "not the view. This stone here......."

He looks down. The student is dumbfounded by his stupidity.

So with the traffic jam.

At the side of the road, in defiance of traffic fumes, are ox eye daisies, foxgloves, wild cherry, blackberry, wild rose, wonderful ash and sycamore, and, high above, audible even in the traffic, a lark.

There. If only you have eyes to see.

Saturday, 4 July 2015


When some well meaning HR professional asks me if I am accredited as a coach, it is with some difficulty that I swallow my instinctive answer which goes along the lines of, "do you want a smack in the mouth, idiot?"

Other questions come to mind.

"Are you?"
"Is your CEO?"
"Are any of your Directors?"
"Is your best friend?"
"What of your lover, are they accredited?"
"Your parents?"

Accreditation is a notional affront to individuality, a self referential attempt to commoditize, and the worst of HR's tendency to dehumanize. HR - the term itself robs dignity from the polyglot of unique individuals it describes, and hints at the real power assumption; you, you unique people, are resources which belong to us - HR, behaving in this way, has an equivalence to slave driving. But, in doing so, it is blind to its own thuggery and its own diminishment, its own confirmation as slave itself rather than master. For its positioning is not the plantation owner - few HR professionals get to this status - but the gang master, inventing new forms of degradation, to keep slaves in order, for the ultimate profit of others.

If you are an HR professional who in any way bucks this system, and happens to believe that people really ARE key to an organization's future, here is why you should exercise caution in choosing to work with accredited coaches.

A coach ought to believe in the release of the unique individual as a means of maximising that person's contribution, as well as the recognition and reward they should expect in reciprocation. How, then, could a coach themselves submit to "method"? Surely that would strike at the roots of such a belief? Moreover, if you are buying method in your coaches through an accredited approach, as an organization, aren't you buying the opposite of the innovative urge you actually want and need? Aren't you buying predictability - sameness with your competitors? Aren't you buying the very thing you don't want your people to be? Indeed, aren't you buying something that may look clean and respectable, but is in fact, robotic?

Questions to ponder. Even if slavery was its heritage, can HR survive promoting control in a 21st century creative and knowledge based economy?

What you accredit, you control.

But you kill it too.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Thursday, 25 June 2015


"When life gives you lemons, it may be time to make lemonade".

Friday, 19 June 2015


I get compliments for my scrambled eggs.

Here is how I do them.

Put a big knob of butter in a saucepan. Enough. Then put another in. Too much. That's more like it.

Only ever use proper salted farmhouse butter. Unsalted butter is for pale people, and Christians. Trust me. Use that stuff and the lions will win in the arena.

Break three eggs per person into this when melted.

Scramble 'em about a bit with a wooden spoon.

Put two bits of toast on per lucky recipient. Butter them when ready. Yeah. More butter.

Just when you think, those eggs aren't quite ready, whip 'em off the heat. They will continue to cook a bit in the pan and even on the toast, so carpe diem. This is the moment to serve them.

Sometimes, if I am poncing about, I put a sprig of fresh basil - tiny green leaves - on each piece of toast.

If I am making this for myself, I will layer anchovies on the toast before putting the eggs on, or spread the toast with Marmite, or even, rich luxury, put some smoked salmon on. But few of my guests go for this.

They like the eggs though.

Thursday, 18 June 2015


Truth = happiness?


  1. Children who had difficulties learning, when I was at school, were called slow kids. "A bit slow".
  2. This morning I read that "one of the most important qualities of a leader is speed". I disagree. Fast leaders get supplanted by slow ones an all group dynamics I see.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015


No surprise that I am a fan of slowness.

Better to cycle than drive. Better to run than to cycle. Better to walk than to run. Better to stroll than to walk. Better yet to stand still.

As people rush through their lives, there is an increasing awakening to the value of slowing down. I read in a magazine the other day "stillness has become the ultimate luxury".

On local roads I see warning notices stating Speed Kills. I used to joke that it wasn't the speed that would kill you, but the rather sudden stop afterwards.

I think there are other ills and kills than road deaths which can be attributed to speed. Take crime, for example. I think you can attribute a lot of crime - maybe even all of it - to haste. Theft - the urge to enrich more speedily than labouring for it. Fraud - ditto. Violence - product in the main of hot, speedy reactions. Rape - a clear violation of someone else's pace. There is an argument to be made that even the most planned crime is the product of a failure to take the time needed to see its very long range consequences. And there is a very strong sense in my mind that a lot of people become criminals, not because they are inherently evil, or even especially immoral, but because they didn't go slow enough to really think about what they were doing. Many, many crimes are the product of poor processing in this way.Slowness would be preventative, and can be curative too. When vipassana - a ten day silent sitting meditation retreat - has been introduced to serving prisoners in prison, it virtually eradicates their recidivism.

Likewise, blame, which often has a strong relationship to criminal, or immoral action. It is understandable that in many situations, the first recourse is to blame others. But it is slow thought of the action which reveals to us our own part in matters, our own responsibility levels, and the moral, self responsible answer, taking an appropriate amount of responsibility - no less, no more.

Speed is characteristic of conflict. The higher the conflict levels in groups, the faster the talk. A lesson I learned, as a facilitator, is the productivity of slowing down communication, to ensure that its critical element of listening is present.

But I am up for learning too. I'm as ready as anyone to get stuck in, when the conflict is personal.  A few weeks ago I met an innovator. A rare bird. Someone not given to talking about the problems, but of actually proposing solutions. I was impressed. He proposed a devastatingly simple protocol. When someone has finished speaking, there shall be a silence of thirty seconds before the next speaker. Its effect was electric, respectful, loving. I have no hesitation in stealing it for my own use. No. Hang on. I'll sleep on that.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Thursday, 11 June 2015

GO / DON'T GO................

"There are bold skippers.
And there are old skippers."

One of the hardest decisions a skipper can take is not to go to sea.

All sailing skippers, in my opinion, should be acquainted with the work of Solomon Asch. Asch, a psychologist, set up an experiment where subjects went in a group into a room and were asked how many sounds they heard in a series. Unbeknown to the subject, all but one of the people in the room were stooges, briefed to reduce the number of sounds heard by one. The true subjects mainly last only a couple of repetitions of the sound series, before they, too, give an answer which fits in with the group. This was the invention of the term peer pressure.

A sailing skipper may be under all sorts of pressure to put to sea when he has doubts about the wisdom of doing so. There is that event we have all looked forward to. There is the bus I have to catch home. There is the possibility that things will not be as adverse as the skipper's feverish imagination. There is the uncertainty of when we shall sail together again, if not now. There is the resounding laughter about the bloke who owns a boat but never sails it. There is the cajoling of the crew, who want to go. There is "the waste of a day". There is time pressure.

Years ago, I sailed as part of a quest to extinguish, through adventure, doubts about myself and my character. To prove myself. This thirst took some quenching, and in the course of drinking in its adventures, has taught me that, with age, the purpose of my sailing has changed. It is now simply to revel in the company of friends, in benign enjoyment of the sea, the coast, and a boat, in conditions propitious to that harmless delight. Drama has no real place in it, and is a symbol only of my failure of preparation, or of poor decision making.

I've had drama. The injured crew during a crash gybe in a big sea, at night. The broken bones. The prolonged seasickness, from an enforced departure into a storm. Racing the onset of nausea to get dressed below, in a boat pitching madly. Forcing myself on deck for my watch, when every cell of me wants to go to bed, ill. Punching myself in the face to stay awake during night watches, when my fatigue level has brought me close to hallucination. Nearly going overboard, when the deck was raked by a pitiless sea. Many times, wishing I was anywhere but on this boat, here, on these angry waves.

Perhaps one has to have these sorts of experience before one gains the timidity that may truly mark the experienced skipper. But I do not see my role as a skipper of my boat as the facilitator of such experiences, unless they are unavoidable. If caught out on a long passage, for example, then perhaps they are inevitable. But for the leisure sailor, avoiding them is the product of a simple decision, even if not always easy to take.

When you read the stories written in the sailing magazines, of how people ran into dramatic difficulties, they almost always start with an apparently innocent description of weather conditions which the cautious would immediately spot as malevolent. The protagonists clearly missed this, or, more likely, let their definitions of themselves as heroes prevail over a more appropriate awe for the sea and its destructive power. Once, a friend of mine recounted with vigour, how he was skippering a yacht out into a force 6 on the nose, and after some hours of bashing against tide and wind, going nowhere, taking the decision to return to the starting point. When I suggested it might have been better if he hadn't set out in the first place, I met the astonished responses of the entire group I was in. Solomon Asch, eat your heart out.

This coming weekend, I face such a skipper's dilemma. I've asked my crew what they think. Perhaps they will think as a skipper should. But, if they don't, that's what I'm there for.


Wednesday, 10 June 2015


Try to be content?

Monday, 8 June 2015


"Oh, you'd be good on a quiz team..."

With this came the pang of pain. Had I gone too far? Bragged? Shown off knowledge in an unwelcome way?

I go quiet, embarrassed, and fearful that I have made a gaffe.

I am chatting to someone about their holiday on Mull. I know the place and can bring it very readily to mind.

"We went on a boat rip round Ard.... Ard...."

"Ardnamurchan?" I suggest.

"Yes. That's it."

"A lovely place."


"When you sail beyond Ardnamurchan, tradition has it you put a sprig of heather in the boat's rigging."

"Ooh. You'd be good on a quiz team."

Awkward silence. I've gone too far. Or have I? The other week, I got feedback that I come over as manipulative by asking questions and not divulging information along with it. A worry. This week, I'm just a smart arse by doing the exact opposite.

I used to think I was skilled with people. Maybe the time has shifted somehow and its demands are no more what I thought. I'm getting it wrong.

I'll have to put some heather in my pocket, as I sail these unknown, and sometimes treacherous waters.


It is quiet and raining today after a sun drenched and rowdy weekend, during which the Mini Madam had her annual birthday party.

This year the format was slightly altered, with the addition of a water fight. This was very eagerly anticipated, it appeared, by all who attended, but most especially, the boys - classmates of the Mini Madam, who turned up - some of them - in shortie wetsuits and other sartorial indications of their preparedness for a state of war,

Big Madam asked George and I to supervise it. Though I'd had the idea in the first place, and thus was open to accusations of turncoating, nonetheless, I pointed out to Big Madam what a misplaced decision it would be to put us in charge. If you do, I said, you'll have a queue of wailing kids, complaining to their parents of how things have gotten out of hand.

In fact, George and I made ourselves scarce during the water fight, driving off to the bank, to get cash for the bouncy castle men, who insisted on it.

It all went well in our absence, the kids happily stalking each other through the mown paths of the orchard, reminding us once again of the wisdom of playing people to their strengths, rather than their weaknesses. A lesson which many leaders in many departments in many Companies could do to heed.

My role was to congratulate everyone who helped on a job well done, and buy them the now traditional dinner afterwards to say thank you. I can do that.

Next year, my role will include coming up with the ideas for the party format. That also plays me to strength. It's clear that the activities which have lasted us well for five or six years now, will no longer serve. Mini Madam is transiting from being a big little girl, to being a little big girl. Two very different things.

Sunday, 7 June 2015


You could not expect a richer monologue from a Shakespearian actor, than that delivered by the solitary swallow sitting centre stage on the electricity line from the pole in the orchard, into the house.

People crowd around their screens to watch Britain's Got Talent, to find in many cases it hasn't, and, in a few, it has.

But this performer would astound any audience, if only, as I did, in the still evening air, we'd stop and listen.

The swallow is amazing. It holds you, astounded at the sheer imagination put into a single call. A song is trilled and embellished and polished up with repetition. And it's almost unbelievable in its variety of sounds. Chirps, arias, themes, clicks, tutting, swells of song and single notes. All find their way in. It is as though, by nesting under eaves and in attics, the swallow has got the idea of sonic hoarding places, and has opened them all - old chests, dressing up boxes, lever arch files of old administrative records, the odd old photo album.

If you stand below a swallow singing, debating, chuckling - whatever it is that wonderful bird is doing, it is impossible not to be filled with a sense of kinship. Not that your heart is struck, but your humour. You may not be invited into its soul. But you're invited to a rummage through every drawer of its vocal possessions.

Thursday, 4 June 2015


I sometimes wonder if my whole life hasn't been dedicated to laziness.

It's certainly the only thing I've ever worked at.

Thursday, 28 May 2015


Cycling between the crowds of cow parsley on the lane from Seaton Ross is like floating through champagne bubbles.

My reverie is interrupted by three deer crossing the lane, and then, literally, disappearing into the cover of the cow parsley and young cereal crops.

Each time I see deer, I am struck by how much more evolved they are than us humans. Deer don't have jobs, don't have tax returns or mortgages, need nothing other than the earth provides in fullness, are carefree, boundless creatures and are a lesson to me always of how life ought to be - effortless, mellifluous, serendipitous, mainly completely free of anxiety. Oh that we humans had invented for ourselves a path that were this simple!

Deer are cruel too. There they are. There they are not. Gone, in an instant, and even stopping to see their exit path from lane to fields gives no clue as to their exact whereabouts. As cruel and fleeting a vision of bliss as many a human has.

Cow parsley has a crueller reputation too. Mother Die, is its rural nickname. This aroused my curiosity. The sense  I make of it is that hemlock - lethally poisonous - is easily confused with cow parsley, and thus, in an effort to keep rural children from making a terrible mistake, cow parsley has taken one for the umbrella - headed plant team.

There, amid the myriad of the white froth, comes the thought that bliss is to be had, right there, right now, ignoring the small risk of superstitious poison, breathing in the heady smell of the present moment, filled with wildflowers. And the faint musk of deer.

Be simple, I tell myself. Be free.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015


I almost feel sorry for them.

One of the more colourful characters of the State Opening of Parliament, Dennis Skinner, abstained from his now traditional quip at the summons from Black Rod for the Commons to go to the House of Lords for the Queen's speech. Nothing. The beast fell silent.

Then, processing between the two houses, the normally amiable cross house relations were also silent at a leadership level. Harriet Harman, labour's leader, while there is no leader, had nothing to say to David Cameron, and they walked side by side in silence from one chamber to another.

It is as though these silences are symbols of an enforced humility, based on the trouncing Labour got in the election, and their rudderless current state.

Maybe they even mean more. Perhaps the gestalt of the twenty first century is so suited to self direction and optimistic self confidence that there really is no place left for the gloomy pessimisms and state dependencies of socialism. Its more egalitarian ideals seem so long forgotten, so deeply tarnished by its historical global practice that, perhaps, we could persuade ourselves it is gone forever. We can but hope, I suppose.

My take on the silence is that it is symbolic only of shorter term adjustment within the Labour party to its current malaise. It has lost its credibility. It has lost its appeal. It has lost its rationale. But with spin, which will spin it away from its socialist roots these may be regained. In pragmatic terms, though, with an apparent economic resurgence starting and growing, with trade union reform inevitable, with boundary changes highly likely, Labour looks like it has a mountain too great to climb in any short term.

Labour voices may be back. But not for a while.


Above the companionway, on the inside of CYLESTA's sprayhood, someone has written one word.

The word is "here".

I didn't write it, so assume it must have been put there by the previous owner. It may have meant any number of things - a casual marking perhaps of the envelope which contains the stays of the sprayhood frame at that very point.

But to me it means something different.

Each time I raise my head to ascend the companionway, it invokes me to be here, present, fully concentrated, and ready for anything the sea might offer me, open to experience, free of thoughts of elsewhere, mindful, attentive, here.

When I dreamed of having a boat, I thought I'd call it ZEN. There is no need. CYLESTA is a beautiful name for a fine old lady. And the marker pen on the sprayhood does the rest.


Is the width of me the width of me?
Or is the width of me the width of us?

Tuesday, 26 May 2015


As a statement of intent, how about this?

No more foreign travel.

There is not an atom of xenophobia in this. It is just that each time I travel abroad it reminds me how much I love Britain and how much I loathe the hassle of leaving her.

Since 2001, our airports have been places of security stupidity run wild. The queuing is horrendous. There are even premium offers you can take, to join speedier queues. I take them, and am still dissatisfied. The compulsion of some idiot to have me remove my brogues, or my belt or my trousers or something should not be a part of this deal. Especially if he / she is a poor imitation of a full security prison screw, and bears his / her self with all the aplomb of a football fan shouting from a terrace.

Then when I get herded around ritually in order to get on a plane, told off because my bag is too big, I haven't ticked the right box on some online form, or I have the audacity to wish to be seated with my loved ones, I baulk. Then comes a hard sell assault of Pringles and lottery tickets, whilst I am crammed into a pliant stress position, my knees somewhere around my chin. Amazing, isn't it, that I can't take a 300ml bottle of water through security, but I can buy a full glass bottle of scotch or vodka airside or even on the plane? Ah, but the airline / BAA profit from that! A friend of mine, who is a counter terrorism expert, did an article for a national newspaper which identified, if I remember correctly, at least fifty items available either airside or on board an aircraft, which could be turned with little effort into a lethal weapon.

Then when I am abroad, I invariably wish I wasn't. Abroad is too hot, too unfamiliar, too inhabited with reptile life, too unpredictable and stressful for my taste.

It wasn't always - the travel bug has taken me over vast tracts of the earth from Algeria to Zanzibar, and my curiosity for what is going on there is sated. But roughing it is no longer appealing. And luxury travel abroad is often a contradiction in terms.

Britain now has world class cuisine, fine hotels, a customer service culture as good as almost anywhere on the planet, a natural beauty which leaves one speechless with awe, clean beautiful beaches, a temperate and interesting climate which knocks the spots off endless blue days, a warmth that is enough to give you sunburn, good ice cream, and people who politely speak your own language. Oh, and you don't have to fly to get here.

Is it age? Is it unreasonableness? Or is it simply common sense to want to stay.  I do. I want all that Devon and Cornwall and Norfolk and Northumberland can throw at me. I want sand between my toes. I want shockingly cold briny water. I want my boat. I want dressed crab. I want a pint of bitter. I want cheery barmaids or barmen. I want cliffs to marvel at. I want lanes to bicycle down. I want hedges full of birdlife. I want misty dawns, and evenings where I need a Guernsey. I even want trash candyfloss and slot machines.

I want Britain. And this summer, I hope Britain wants me.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015


Today someone paid a real compliment to my work.

They said:

"I felt heard by you.
But more importantly, I felt heard by myself."

Tuesday, 19 May 2015


There are people I cannot beat at chess. Many of those.

There are people who I do beat at chess. A few of those.

And then there are people I can beat at chess, but choose not to. They require the most thought.

Give me the grace and wisdom to know the difference.
Intellect is power.

Monday, 18 May 2015


Along the Berry road, quite a few bystanders have called out "maverick" as I passed.

I had taken this as a not too dreadful insult, much as if I had heard the word eccentric muttered as I passed on a recumbent cycle.

Rather undeniable, if not positively welcome.

But now I've checked the etymology.

Back in the 19th century a Texas ranch owner either couldn't be bothered, or neglected to brand his cattle. His name? Samuel Maverick. A maverick became a term to describe cattle with no one's brand on their back.

Now, then, it is clearly a compliment.

Long may I stray beyond enclosure. Long may I evade another's ownership. Long may the branding iron be withheld from my hide.


What makes feedback safe enough to accept?

It is interesting how many euphemisms there are around giving feedback to other people. Constructive feedback. Developmental feedback. Growth feedback. I've heard it called a number of things. Giving developmental feedback sounds more respectable than giving criticism. But criticism is what we mean. Indeed, that's exactly why we euphemise it.

My experience of criticism is this. It triggers at some level a fight / flight response. That's what it does in me, anyway. I'm a mature recipient, and I can even appreciate that the intention of the giver might be deeply honourable. Yet even small criticisms bring back a Proustian rush of the stern parent or the schoolroom. I can feel it happening, even if I can supress its overt display. In fact, at a microbiological level, I doubt I can supress it. The fight/flight response means largely one thing. There will be a resistance to what is said.

I was in an environment recently where the idea was, it was "safe" to give and receive feedback. Yet the same rushes occurred. So, presumably, within me, at least, I was just pretending that it was safe.

I notice, too, that in group settings, there can be a rush to give feedback. We can't wait to get our six penn'orth in.

How, then, to construct a safe feedback environment - one which raises awareness, yet avoids the fight / flight response which will create resistance to learning?

In the past, I have worked with the skill of noticing. I noticed this. I noticed that. I noticed that when you started speaking you raised your left hand. I noticed you burped mid way through. I noticed that your input took 47 minutes.

Noticing is factual. It is not that in noticing we notice something good or bad. That isn't noticing. It is judging. It is criticism or praise. Noticing is exact and behavioural without judgement. But, in a group, it's a hard thing to get to, a hard skill to employ, and needs strict supervision to get there. It's as though judgement is a group dynamics lodestone.

What of praise? That, too, gets euphemised, as though, especially in "professional" settings, we are embarrassed to admit to it. But I find, in myself, my inner child drinks it. And I've rarely found anyone I have given it to appear to resist. Sure, there have been verbal responses reclaiming modesty. But I have never felt it hasn't gone in.

Recently, on a course, an acquaintance referred to how we deal with children stumbling as they learn to walk. We pick them up, dust them down, praise them, and let them try again, praising each attempt. The course was full of feedback.

If one way of bringing safety to feedback is the art or science of noticing, maybe another is to limit feedback only to praise. I sense most managers, trainers and leaders would find this challenging indeed. But I'm not at all sure it wouldn't be their people's best growth medium.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


On a deep, perhaps unfathomable, level we find a link between emotions in others and their  aesthetic.

Eckhard Hess tested this, by showing subjects apparently identical pictures of young women. Which, he asked, was preferred, A or B?

There was a catch. The pictures weren't quite identical. Hess had manipulated them so that the pupils of the woman in picture A had been slightly enlarged to appear dilated.

Guess what? The subjects overwhelmingly preferred picture A.

The preference was created because the woman in picture A was, apparently, exhibiting love. More than once in my life, I have fallen prey to "come to bed" eyes. The same thing as on show here.

What's also striking is that some other emotions are reported with a wholly different aesthetic. "Ugly scenes" normally refer to violence and anger, and is an oft used cliché to describe this.

Be warned, therefore. If you want to be beautiful, act beautiful, think beautiful, feel and appreciate the beauty of others. This seems to be the implicit message.

For guidance, beautiful = loving, kind, compassionate, caring.

Ugly = hating, unkind, merciless, uncaring.

Worth thinking about!

Monday, 4 May 2015


Amongst the boats berthed in the same haven as CYLESTA is one christened MIDAS TOUCH. It is, predictably, an ostentatious motor cruiser. I can only assume that the owners have not read much classical mythology. I smile each time I see it.

It has come to my mind this weekend, alongside the Fight of the Century, a much longed for welterweight contest between Manny Pacquiao and the world's highest paid sportsman, Floyd Mayweather Jr.

My son, George, who knows a thing or two about the ways of the ring, predicted a Mayweather victory on points, the fight going the whole twelve round distance. Manny is a front foot southpaw, with a direct, aggressive, attacking style. All heart, and a lot of energy. Skill of course, too. Floyd is a cold, adaptive slippery boxer, a supreme technician, clinical in his reading of his opponents' style, and as much concerned to stay away from punishment as to give it out.

I had my money on Manny, which was as much an act of reverent hope, than of cold prediction. I lost my money.

The fight went much as George had predicted. As a spectacle, it was disappointing,  and if I'd paid the extortionate pay per view, I'd have felt let down. Mind you, I didn't see the undercard, where, perhaps, spectator value was delivered. Floyd skipped off Manny, who advanced constantly across the centre of the ring, only to find that the fighter he thought he had on the ropes was a ghost, his slippery brown body melting away to one side or the other in a master class of slipping and feinting. Throughout the entire first ten rounds, as far as I could see, Floyd used an armoury of punches which consisted only of two. A left jab, some inches longer than Pacquiao's, deployed with no apparent energy greater than was needed to keep the Filipino tornado at bay. Sometimes the jab was more a wave than a punch. A gentle patting of the air before Manny's nose. The other weapon was the right cross, used like an occasional detergent to clear a stain. Unless you looked very closely, you couldn't fathom how Floyd was scoring, and how Manny wasn't. But Floyd's jabs landed. Manny's energetic combos largely missed their target. Gradually, jab by jab, Floyd at first stayed on terms, then pulled ahead against a wearied Pacquiao.

For ten rounds, Floyd was backed up against the ropes, dancing away from shots around the edge of the ring. But there was no dope a rope end to this. The careful eking out of effort extended even into rounds eleven and twelve, by which time even the supremely fit Manny was sagging. So consummately professional was this, that before the final round, there was even a brotherly hug between the two. Floyd's detachment killed Manny's passion dead. Neutered it. Used it.

The two men and their differences made for a fascinating contest. A fascination that, if not equally felt during the fight, raised passions before and after it. For they are opposites, not only in their fighting styles, but in their characters.

Manny is a hero. He has a plurality to his interests, and a generosity and levity which make him endearing. In an interview before the fight, he told his fans not to worry, but to relax. After all, he said, it's me in the ring, not you. He smiles readily. He is himself very relaxed. Though wealthy, powerful and influential, he uses his influence as a lawmaker, politician and philanthropist within his homeland. Coming from very humble beginnings, he has made good, and, if we are to believe the image, does good.

Floyd, on the other hand, has made something else of himself. He has enormous wealth, but, as far as we know, closely protected for his own flamboyant materialistic use. He has some ninety cars, amongst them a predictable stable of Ferraris, Bugattis and Rollers. He has coined Money as his nickname. He has made a huge business by being a bling villain. He backs this with an unfriendly public image, and a credible, though minor league, criminal CV. Even his choice of crime, wife beating, seems calculated to attract odium.

This is where boxing meets Hollywood. In this territory, one needs to tread with extreme care. Are we to believe either of the images displayed in front of us, or are they both crafted with care by image makers keen to simplify narratives down to good and evil. Manny and Floyd would not be the first boxers given this kind of makeover. Boxers, often not notoriously smart young men, are moulded by very smart impresarios. It's an old story.

But in Manny's case, there is an endemic innocence which really does help you believe in him. A clear and sparkling directness to his eyes, which attracts and holds you. And there is a bank of evidence that he transcends boxing, and uses it for good, much as Ali did. Indeed, there's an argument for Manny as The Greatest. Like Ali, not purely because of his remarkable achievements within the ring.

Floyd won. But did he? Doubt remains on the richness of Floyd's life. He has the money, the medals, the belts, and an empire of associated bling. But is that all there is to it? Is his quest, in contrast to Manny's, purely a multi storey edifice of ego? An empty building? I can't help but imagine Floyd in his 22,000 square feet mansion, all alone, in his silly oversized bling baseball hat. Alone.

Even if I am as suckered into simplicity, as Manny was suckered by his own attacking style in the ring, I cannot help but reflect on what messages for humanity this fight has. Is it that endeavour is glorified solely by the bling it buys? Is money or winning really everything? Or, as I'd want to believe, is money a kind of trivia, with other values the true measures of a life well lived, a winning beyond winning?

I see MIDAS TOUCH, inevitably painted on the stern of the boat in gold. Again, I greet it with a wry smile. And a little sadness.


The night grey tide ebbed
Beaching us on a mud shore.

Monday, 27 April 2015


Wednesday, 8 April 2015


Yesterday on a cycling / hiking expedition with mini Madam and half a dozen of her friends.

SELF IMPORTANT DOG WALKER: (who could see jolly well we didn't)... you haven't got a dog with you have you?

ME: .......................

SIDW: It's just that he (dog) doesn't like other dogs. He's fine with people.

ME: You haven't got a bicycle with you, have you?

SIDW: No ...... (puzzled).... why?

ME: It's this bike, you see. Bit fearsome around other bicycles.

SIDW: ...........................................

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


It is surprisingly difficult to be simple about what we feel.

Asked, "what do you feel?" most people answer, starting with the words, "I think...."

That's different.

Another tendency is to state feelings using past participles. "I feel disappointed. I feel rejected. I feel ...... -ed". There's a problem with this as feedback. The recipient will hear it as blame. And that may be because it actually is blame, though euphemised.

I have heard it proposed that there are only four core feelings, abbreviated as mad, sad, glad and scared. This may be a slightly simplistic view, but nonetheless a good starting point in using disclosure of feelings as a means of improving relationship.

Since most people do not act deliberately to hurt others, declarations of feelings help press the reset button in relationships where this has happened.

I teach many of my coaching victims a simple practice, to mend relationship issues, and it is often very helpful.

It is scripted thus: "(this) has happened between us and I feel (this). What I want to happen is (this)".

Over, then, to the other.

Simple, assertive, blame free.

Often surprisingly difficult to get to.

Friday, 3 April 2015


Someone wrote that no pheasant has ever done anything interesting. Perhaps that's why I've stopped avoiding them and now just run them over.

A friend of mine got his car all entangled with a pheasant, just before arriving to drop his son off at school. Conscious of the image problem, he rummaged to try and get the pheasant out of the radiator grille. This made matters worse, because the corpse would not come. He tugged and yanked at the dead creature but was rewarded only with a facial and bodily spray of pheasant blood, guts and feathers. As the school bell rang, he attracted shocked parental stares. A murderer in the playground. Further evidence of the horror of this man's character could be attained from a glance at his car, the mangled remains now wrenched across most of its bonnet, as well as hanging from its front bumper. Not a good look.

"But they're so stupid," he might have said, by way of defence. "They strut out stubbornly right into the path of your car."

Pheasants play a bizarre game of "chicken" with motor vehicles, asserting their right to strut nonchalantly wherever they will, even in the face of a 2 litre engine, a tonne or so of metal and a couple of hefty Goodyears. They know they are right, until, well..... the end.

Some years ago I knew a man who wore a cravat. He was what I would call old. He was in fact, I suppose, in his sixties. But it wasn't the age that defined him. It was the certainty of his views. He knew what he thought, about anything. And what he didn't know, he didn't want to know. He knew enough to know what he knew, and to know it was enough. It was this certainty, this lack of curiosity, which marked his age. To me, that kind of certainty marks out old people. You can have the experience of visiting an old folk's home with people in their mid twenties. And you can bathe in the joys of youth with eighty year olds.

The cravat was worn rather as the extravagant colours of a cock pheasant. His wife, whom I have difficulty remembering, was of the invisibly brown tendency. As far as I can recall, she habitually agreed with her husband.

I meet quite a lot of people like this. Externally colourful, perhaps. But within, deeply conservative, deeply certain, deeply incurious.

I find myself now at a point of my life where some options open upon what I may focus, to what I may dedicate myself, over the next few years. A junction point. There are no guideposts. I am uncertain which way to go. And that uncertainty is not only within the decision, but also written into the chosen route, as an energy for propulsion along it, once chosen. Uncertainty, curiosity and wonder may serve. They may make for a more interesting time than pheasant-like certainty. May, indeed, be the elixir of youth. No matter how old one gets.

Saturday, 21 March 2015


When I was on the train, we passed through Taunton. I only know 2 people who live in Taunton. One is a friend of mine who is known to me simply as Chopper. I look out of the train window at Taunton station and there is Chopper. I ring him:

“Have you just got off the London train?”


“I’m looking at you.”

”What do you think?”

”Very nice, Chopper, very nice.”

“Why are you in Taunton?”

“I had a meeting in London and I’m on the train back”

“But you live in Yorkshire…..”

“It’s ok. I’ve got a ladder.”

Friday, 20 March 2015


The Mini Madam is developing a nice little brain.

We go to a 24 hour service station, and, as we go into the shop area, Mini Madam notices that there is an Open sign on the door.

"Why do they need that, if it's open 24 hours?" she asks.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


It'll be alright in the end.

If it isn't alright,

It isn't the end.

Friday, 27 February 2015


Every formed view is a kind of mortality.


We've had the wheel, the machine, the computer and the robot. Management has become a science.

Yet hundreds of years of humanity on, people are still working all the hours God sent.

Doesn't say a lot for our productivity.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015


Winston's favourite.

Mine too.

Thursday, 29 January 2015


There are days, and the last twenty four hours has encompassed one, when it is possible to believe that one is feeling the pain of the entire world. I suppose that is when people look at you and say "he looks as though he's got the sufferings of the world on his shoulders."

I do not wish to carry the suffering of all humanity on my shoulders. They are broad. But not that broad.

It's just that sometimes the volume of incoming narrative about the suffering of others bears in on one's psyche in a peculiar way - a special vulnerability to seeing that even minor things carry with them their pain, according to the perspective of the sufferer. One man's bereavement is calculable alongside another's relationship breakdown, alongside doubts about self worth in another, alongside money worries, health worries, love worries, you name it. For each, they are real, and palpable. And their presence is pain, none the less real.

When, as today, one finds oneself porous, what is happening?

Is it what they call compassion?

Is it what they call depression?

It is all very well making objective calculations of real impact. I am not sure these measure pain in any way accurately.

It is all very well doing spiritual work on oneself. This may bring a perspective of gratitude, against which to set present pain. But it doesn't change the pain.

Even the devout, with a knowledge that roses grow best in shit, that pain is the best growing medium for transcendence, cannot but admit that the pain has to be real to breed such growth.

Puzzled. Porous. Pensive.

A frozen day, of unfrozen sensibilities.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015


I have a form to fill in.

The first couple of questions are easy. Name. Address. Date of birth. They're simple. Then it comes to profession. Job.

What do I put?

That is more troubling.

The auto response would be management consultant. But the truth is nearer anti management consultant.

The closer I get to a management theory, model or vocabulary, the further away I wish to run.

Where I am deployed, it seems to me that the role I perform is to undermine the subtly dehumanising force of management as a science and breathe back into hierarchy a child like voice of humanity.

To say it is about stating the bleeding obvious is to state the bleeding obvious.

Yet it seems that it sometimes takes an innocent daring from outside a system to name the system's patent human erosions.

To say: that practice there - we wouldn't, couldn't do that with someone we love.

Sunday, 25 January 2015


I was struggling to help a friend, in some difficulty. Another wise friend advised "stop trying to help. Just enjoy them."

What golden advice this has been.

Advice which I passed on to someone else this last week. Their elderly parent is finally failing - physical and mental health on the severe decline. A brother visits the relative, but offers no help. Indeed, he is looked after by the ageing parent on his visits.

My view? The apparently dependant son is actually helping, without even meaning to do so. When parents age, it is a severe challenge to get them to break the habit of a lifetime - of looking after their brood. When they can no longer do this, I think it is common that they lose purpose, and thus the will to live. That certainly happened in the case of my own mother before she died. She could not and would not accept that her son could and would help her. It was her job to do that. Not mine. I struggled for a long time, even after her death, to understand this. I believe she died, not from the illnesses which invaded her body, but from having no credible (in her mind) reason to carry on living.

Friday, 23 January 2015


If you can't win the peace, why fight the war?
If you can't win the war, why fight the battle?
If you can't win the battle, why fight the skirmish?

Monday, 5 January 2015


= you th.