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.