Monday, 31 December 2007

Good health is everything

I've spent the last week with a cold. Not any cold, but a totally debilitiating, wearing, crippling cold of the kind only men seem to get. Everything is too much effort. I don't know where the Christmas holiday went - but wherever it was, I didn't notice!

The fog of illness is clearing slowly which prompts me to reflect on the way our health shapes our perception. I run and am a frequent, disciplined gym attender. This week though, running and exercise have been off my agenda and even the smallest task has seemed too much.

What's terrifying is that this must be how old age feels. Something to look forward to!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Do you remember Akenfield?

I had the pleasure of buying Ronald Blythe lunch yesterday. He wrote Akenfield in 1969, an iconic work that gave a unique insight into rural Suffolk life. He has written widely on social history and is one of the inspirations behind a book I'm currently researching. (A collective biography that explores how 50 people's lives have been shaped by the prejudices of others)

He's still writing and remarkably fit at 85. In fact he has clearly decided that old age and retirement are for other people, not him. ('Painters and writers never retire,' he told me.)

It struck me as I drove home afterwards that retirement is one of those things we are all encouraged to aim for, yet if you love your work, stopping to spend 20yrs reading the paper and watching daytime TV in an increasing state of poverty is not an ambition worth aspiring too.

Meeting Ronnie Blythe reassured me that potentially I still have 30 years of my writing career left. Now that is something to look forward to!

Monday, 10 December 2007

If in doubt re-boot!

I've just bought a Blackberry. Well, I had to as I feel rather left out sitting in First Class on the train surrounded by Crackberry fiends getting high on the latest stuff to hit their Outlook inbox.

As luck would have it, my phone contract's just expired so somehow I've got a free device and lots more minutes, all for no more than I was paying before. Of course O2 managed to cock up the contract and managed to sell me a bundle that didn't include email access.

Then, when it was sorted, I still couldn't get the ruddy thing to pick up GPRS. The helpful girl at O2 suggested cancelling the contract and trying elsewhere. The Blackberry website technical area suggested something more basic. Re-boot the machine. This worked!

So, even when faced with shiny new technology it seems that the best way to get it to work is to pull out the battery and re-boot it when confronted with what seems to be an insurmountable technical conundrum.

If only people could be re-booted in the same way

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Norwich half marathon

Well, I'm back on track with my running. Just finished a cold wet and rather windy half marathon at Norwich in 2hrs03. That's only 1 min slower than my best at this distance and a full 16 minutes faster than my September attempt at the Great North Run.

I'll be running the London Marathon next April for mental health charity Rethink. That means I need to be fit enough to do twice the distance in not much more than twice the time. A challenge I struggled with last year, finishing the marathon in 5hrs18.

Do you set yourself crazy goals? It's the only way in my view to surprise yourself and leave your comfort zone well behind . . . .

Friday, 30 November 2007

Have you ever tried Essex Red?

I ran a workshop at a conference nr Cambridge this week. The subject was rural social enterprise and not surprisingly the food we ate was all locall produced.

What really surprised me was the red wine we had with dinner. It was an interesting blend of three grape varieties grown and made in Essex! I knew you could produce white wine in England, but this was my first experience of locally produced red wine.

Take a further setep towards self sufficiency here!


Sunday, 18 November 2007


Waiting for my London train this morning I was engaged in conversation by a train spotter. I’m not sure what it is that makes me so attractive to strange people but it happens all the time. This guy was actually quite interesting, telling me the provenance, age and performance potential of every train in the station.

I could tell that others on the platform breathed sighs of relief as I took the full force of his enthusiastic commentary. Actually, I found it quite interesting. Trains are not really my thing (I view them as mobile offices) but I now know more about them than I did before.

Never pass by an opportunity to learn. You cannot overload your brain!

Thursday, 15 November 2007


I led a discussion on social enterprise at a Day Centre for people with mental ill health the other day. The reason for the session was that the centre is under threat of closure under the Government’s ‘Day Services Review.’

The theory is that people with mental ill health should not have a safe place to go and regain their confidence and interpersonal skills; rather that they should be ‘fully integrated’ into society. This of course is rubbish as the world is full of groups of people who prefer the company of their own kind. Churches, Mosques, Masonic Lodges and golf clubs are all in their way exclusive and why not!

Of course the Government ideal is for a homogeneous population where colour, race, ability and disability pass unnoticed. One service user described this as ‘the wet dream of integration.’ I wish the policymakers would wake up, wipe up and get real!

Monday, 12 November 2007

My boy Jack

Having seen the play in the West End and found it both dramatic and moving, I thought I'd watch the TV version too. I rarely watch TV (and I mean rarely) so it's something of an event.

However, after two interruptions in the first 40 minutes for spells of inane ads with a childish Christmas theme, I gave up. I simply could not reconcile the seriousness of the play with the stupidity of the advertising.

In truth nothing can match the sense of drama of a well produced stage play so I was silly to expect anything close from the TV. It'll be a while before I bother to watch TV again.

As for the story, which of course is both tragic and true, it's a sobering reminder to anyone who tries to encourage their kids to live out their own dreams. Kipling's son lasts three weeks in the trenches and then dies; in many ways killed by his father's enthusiastic manipulation of the poor lad (and those who sought to turn him down for army service because of his appalling eyesight).

There may not be a war of that magnitude taking place now, but there are ample opportunities for over-enthusiastic parents to push young people into situations not suited to their talent and aspiration.

We should all chase our own dreams, not impose them on others!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Suck it and see

I'm afraid my mind works in an unusual way. For example I was fascinated and intrigued to discover a vending machine in a gents' toilet the other day that sold mints and condoms. The choice; the combination; the potential for unfortunate error really caught my imagination.

Whilst at first the idea of a machine that sells a packet of mints for £1.00 and a packet of condoms for £2.00 is illogical, the opportunities it creates are immense. For example, you can buy mints on your first visit during the evening so that you have nice fresh breath to pull the girls. Then, once you've got close, you can pop back and invest a further £2.00 so that you're fully prepared for that stopover in a lay-by as you take her home!

The context of the discovery was equally entertaining. I was at a mental health event, speaking to 'service users' about normality. Now a condom machine that sells packets of mints is not in my view normal; it enables you to challenge the whole meaning of the word. I was able to use the machine to illustrate to my audience that they must actually be normal

The fact is, that normal is nothing more than a majority opinion. Perceptions of normal change as do prejudices and stigmas.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

PR Works!

Also at Olympia, I spoke with the Community Interest Company regulators. They decide if a prospective social enterprise fits their critera for inclusion. (CIC presents the greatest opportunity for entrepreneurs to establish a 'limited by share' social enterprise from which they can take 35% of the profits for themselves)

I've been writing in varoius business magazines about how huge the CIC opportunity is and was flattered to find that the CIC regulatory team have been cutting them out for their own organisation's scrapbook.

It only goes to show the power of good PR.

Check out CICs for yourself

Olympic Fest!

And it's not a typo, more an attempt to create an eye catching headline to describe the Business Start-Up and Social Enterprise and Franchise Show at Olympia that opened yesterday.

The organisers and I are old friends and as always, I delivered a seminar to a packed hall. This time it was '10 Simple Steps to Starting a Social Enterprise'. The exhibition hall was buzzing with prospective entrepreneurs.

What a shame then that so many exhibitors seemed to have booked and not turned up. Around 10% of the stands were empty and there was room at the show for perhaps 50 more. Everyone talks about inspiring and encouraging enterprise, which is about taking risks, buttoo few seem willing to invest a little time and money in helping others make that happen.

If you work with young businesses - make sure you take a stand at the next one!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Do I really want to be a skinless wonder?

I was amused to see the Independent this week quoting me in a recent article about German anatomist Gunther von Hagens. It's now several years since I visited his Bodyworlds exhibition and was so impressed I decided to volunteer. I then visited his factory in China (by invitation and very much alive) to see how the bodies are prepared.

For the Independent on Sunday I described by decision to donate my body thus: "No rotting in the ground for me, or quick release as a puff of smoke from some crematorium chimney. I wanted to be here with the other exhibits – skinned, posed and proud."

We do get hung up about death which by all accounts is something you don't recover from in any way shape or form. Why not be recycled after you die into something of lasting use?

Join me, sometime in the future here!

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Tom Peters on brains

Clearly a man well endowed in the brain department himself, American management guru Tom Peters speaks surprising common sense.

I heard him on Monday talking about excellence; it's a topic he's been banging on about for decades. One commend really struck a chord. He said: 'in business being too bright can be more dangerous than not being bright enough'.

His point was that if you think too hard about the possible ramifications of your every action, you end up doing nothing. Better to be a little less bright, then you have the ideas, but don't talk yourself out of taking the risk!