Saturday, 27 December 2008

'Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay to be independent'

'So the fact that I'm me and no one else is one of my greatest assets. Emotional hurt is the price a person has to pay to be independent' wrote Haruki Murakami in 'What I talk about when I talk about running'.

Murakami is one of my favourite contemporary novelists - he is a great story teller, but in this book, he's talking about himself and two of his great passions, running and writing. They're two of my greatest passions too.

But his comments about the emotional cost of being independent rather than simply following the herd, read on 24th December, really captured for me the immense discomfort I always feel when under huge pressure to conform and celebrate Christmas. I am not a Christian and I do not like following the herd. I would prefer to celebrate personal achievements and events that indulge in the frenzied, mass hysteria that is Christmas today.

Our daughter, working in Ethiopia spent Christmas day at work. On their calendar, the big day happens in two weeks time . . . . which illustrates if nothing else the innacuracy of the day anyway.

This is not a rant about Christmas, more an expression of concern for the expectations it places upon people to conform. Surely in today's politically correct, inclusive, gender neutral society, expecting people to pass on individuality to conform to the collective christmas ideal is wrong.

Or am I just being silly?

Friday, 19 December 2008

Word's getting out . .

I really was a little cynical when The Business Channel on Sky told me that my TV series would attract a million viewers. Today I finally had proof that I'm reaching living rooms I never expected to reach.

Today a Christmas card arrived from my wife's now retired ex boss, he was a head teacher. Now a retired headteacher is not someone I'd expect to have seen me on TV, but from the nice comment in the card, he clearly has!

And yesterday, at a lively 4Networking meeting in Solihull, there where several who'd come along because they'd seen me on the telly. (View a clip here)

I'm now clearing my cupboard of skeletons, ready for the day the tabloids get me in their sights!!!!!!

Saturday, 13 December 2008

I wannabe me

Ever since hiring Bella as my new Business Manager I've been challenging myself to BE the person I want to be. This might sound daft, but too many folk distort themselves into what they think those that hire them are expecting.

A recent incident highlighted to me that it really is time to take my own advice and plough my own furrow across the currently frozen business landscape. I always tell people that if the customer's asking you to do things you really don't find comfortable, then it's time to change the street corner you loiter on seeking custom.

I'm planning to say no to anyone who won't buy my alternative style of business advice. I'm going to be me - There, ny first NY resolution!

Monday, 1 December 2008

BT are back in my good books

I forwarded an email from the editor of a newspaper eager to publish details of my battle with the BT call centre, to the BT Press Office with amazing results. All I said as that in the interests of fairness, I wanted them to have the opportunity to comment on the 'soon to be published' story.

Within hours soneone rang me up, sorted out the problem, had my phone reconnected and sent me a little something by way of compensation.

Of course 99.9% of problems encountered by BT customers can be quickly sorted out by their call centre staff. If however your problem falls into the 0.1% that are hard to resolve, there needs to be a system that screens them out and points them towards a 'special problems team' with greater access to the 'system' and greater freedom to get things done.

For anyone with a complex business, millions of customers and a need to control costs I'd recommend setting up a 'special problems' team - it would relly improve public opinion!

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Finger licking bad

When did that disgusting habit of licking your finger before turning a page go out of fashion?

I sat on the train this morning (in First Class) and watched a 60+ year old city type reviewing documents from his briefcase. Before turning the page he popped his finger in his mouth. I can remember my father doing this and have an 84yr old uncle who does it too. I can remember the practice being ‘normal’ but today it really does seem unhygienic.

What’s changed? Are pages now less prone to stick together? Or have we simply realised that passing round paperwork drizzled with spit is not very nice?

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Beware - cardboard boxes are potential death traps

Wanting to post some stuff to our daughter in Ethiopia, we popped into Sainsburys and as we paid for our stuff, asked if we could please have a strong cardboard box.

The answer was that 'for health & safety' reasons, boxes can no longer be given to customers. Perhaps we're only weeks away from plastic bags also being considered too dangerous and then there're those trollies - all those hard corners etc.

In 2009 I expect all supermarkets to ban customers from doing anything more risky than walking round the aisles preparing a list of shopping that will then be delivered to your home later in the day. How did we used to manage in the dark old days of the 20th century?

BT - one week on - still no phone

I'm getting really good at surfing the BT phone system. Over the past week a number of dedicated BT employees have tried to help me get my home phone reconnected. All have failed. Today's top tip was to cancel my direct debit and then ring tomorrow to pay the outstanding (but not due for payment yet) £8.21 by debit card. Then I'm told I can have a phone again.

Others have said I'll need to pay a reconnection charge, one said there was no line to my home so a survey was needed by an engineer to see if connection was possible and a third simply hung up.

Even the online complaints department took three days to politely suggest I simply needed to place an order for a phone line. The thing is, until last Saturday I had a phone line, a phone number and was very happy. Only now it's been taken away without any reason BT can fathom out, do I realise just how happy I was until they cut me off.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Aren't BT wonderful

BT have just agreed to reconnect my home phone for free!

They can't explain why they took it upon themselves to disconnect it in the first place, but the weekend without a phone does at least mean I can get some work done without distraction.

Good old BT. Perhaps all the utlities providers could give us quality time by disconnecting their services for a few days at a time. I'll stock up on candles and buy a wind up gramaphone so I'm ready for when they do.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Of Time and City

In my view the best film I've seen in a decade, this autobiographical account of Liverpool by Terence Davies is amazing. It blends old film footage with a very clever narrative to create a moving account of life, prejudice, behaviour and social engineering over the past 50yrs.

See a clip here.

Davies has only made four films . . . now I must see the other three!

Should all world leaders be left handed?

I've been steering clear of American politics so have only just realised that the candidate for common sense is left handed. I'm hugely reassured.

As well as cancelling World War 3 and encouraging his country to be, well democratic in every sense of the word, he is left handed. This is not unique and he would be I think the USA's seventh left handed president, but perhaps he'll be the first one to seek equal rights for left handed people.

In a world where everything is adapted for people who are different in terms of ability, race, gender, sexual preference, faith, ethnicity and just about everything else, no concessions are made for left handed people. Everything you touch or use has been configured for a right handed person. It's a bloody nuisance and I'm sure contravenes some human right somewhere . . . . . .

Friday, 31 October 2008

Could this man make you laugh?

I was at an awards evening in London last night. Former MP David Mellor QC was the after dinner speaker.

What I was expecting was an entertaining account of some of the seamier (and widely publicised) episodes in his life. Instead he told jokes - few of which I think he'd written himself.

It was as if he was trying too hard to be an 'after dinner speaker' and give people what he though they might be expecting. He should simply have been himself . . . . . in my view.

In many ways his lacklustre performance was just what I needed to witness. It's so reassuring to find that even those much further up the professional speaking ladder than me have off days and get it wrong.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Our daughter's flown the nest

Ruth, our daughter has just landed in Addis Ababa after an overnight flight from London. She's working for at least a year for The Malaria Consortium as an intern, having completed her MSc at the London School of Hygiene this summer.

She emailed from her office to say that a) she had arrived, b) the coffee's excellent and c) she arrived to find her name was on her office door - a lovely touch.

We're planning to visit her there early next year and I for one can't wait to explore Ethiopia. I'm already wondering what happens there on an entrepreneurial nature and if it's going to be possible to combine holiday and work. I've come close to visiting Nigeria a couple of times and Africa and its economic challenges and opportunities fascinate me.

I guess it's inevitable that my travels now will be focused on visiting the kids . . . . yet another sign that middle age has arrived!

Friday, 24 October 2008

Bodyworlds is back!

As a signed up body donor I got an invitation to the pre-view of the new Bodyworlds exhibition at O2. The show opens today and runs for several months. It's well worth a visit.

We walked round behind a couple of journalists from the Evening Standard. One was telling the other that the bodies were all 'Ukranian mental patients'. I had to but in and point out that he was wrong.

There are now 104 UK body donors (my daughter Ruth is the latest) who can see lots of merit in being recycled as an exhibit/teaching aid after death. The alternatives, burial or cremation seem to be rather wasteful.

The exhibition had several old favourites, the pregnant lady, a muscular athlete and lots of smokers' lungs. There were some exciting new exhibits too, the most striking of which is a giraffe.

Gunter was in fine form and we caught up on each others' news before he was dragged off for yet another press interview.

It's such a shame that controversy and misconception constantly shadow this man. He is simply following his personal vision of making anatomy and good health education accessible to all. One day I'll join him at an exhibition where we'll both be on display. Providing it's not for another 30yrs, I'm happy with that. It certainly beats rotting in a cemetery!

Bandits approaching the next roundabout

I was in London with my daughter Ruth yesterday and we visited the Cold War exhibition at the V&A.

The most exciting exhibit was a Messerschmitt KR200 just like this one. Understandably there was little demand for fighter planes in Germany after the war and so the remaining stock of cockpit canopies were used to make these wonderful bubble cars.

Ruth could not believe that people really used to drive them. I had to explain that to graduate to a bubble car from motorbike and sidecar was a huge advance in comfort and convenience.

If you're in London, the exhibition is fantastic. It runs until the end of Jan and costs just £9.00 to get in. For those in their 20s, it's a revelation about how us baby boomers lived. For those in their 50s, it's pure nostalgia.

Where was Lady Penelope?

I spent last weekend on Lanzarote speaking at a travel trade conference.

It was my first visit to the island so I had no idea what to expect. Of course I'd read that it's volcanic, but little could have prepared me for what I found. The place is totally surreal and reminded me instantly (and constantly) of Tracey Island, home of Thunderbirds.

Our hotel had a pool just like the Traceys' and I was convinced that at any moment we'd see TB1 emerge from underneath.

If you've not visited Lanzarote let me tell you it's perfect if you want to eat fish, lay in the sun and drink cocktails by the pool. If you want history, culture, greenery then it's not your place.

There's miles and miles of lava fields, volcanic peaks, and scruffy vines growing in the lave behind lava-rock windbreaks. There are also plenty of places you can eat an full English breakfast for just three euros, watch Sky Sport over a pint of Stella or simply strut along the prom, showing off your beer gut and tattoos. Having neither of these I felt rather conspicuous.

It was a great conference though and once you'd retreated into the darkened, air conditioned conference room, you could have been anywhere - even Birmingham!

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Simple pleasures

I spent Sunday afternoon fetching a load of horse manure for my garden. I have an arrangement with Julie who keeps horses and lives about three miles away. She makes a muck heap, rings me up and I go and collect it.

It's a great chance to take my tractor out for a drive and to use the front loader and tipping trailer. My tractor was built in 1963 and this summer benefitted from a complete engine overhaul. (I have still not owned up to what it cost!) I also have a five foot grass cutter for it which provides further opportunities to play with it.

I first drove this model, a Fordson Super Dexta, when I was 16 and have been driving them on and off ever since. It is pure nostalgia. All the chaps driving big modern tractors on the fields I pass give me a wave. I know they'd really like to swap places.

On this trip, I passed another Dexta on the road. This one had a plough on and had been re-sprayed as well as restored. Proof that I'm not the only guy who invests vast amounts in keeping 45yr old tractor on the road.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Mental Health Week

Last week was World Mental Health week. This was appropriate for me as my depression 'black dog' bit my arse hard and refused to let go. I started waking at 3am and then when I got up later, feeling like life was not something I wanted to continue.

The tension and arguement between the rational and the suicidal continued in my head all week. What broke the spell and released me was a dinner on Friday night.

TV and radio personality Helen McDermott was guest speaker and I was MC. The event was a celebration of mental health charity Meridian East's 25th anniversary and the retirement of my friend Alan it's founder.

Helen talked about her own 'coming out' as someone with wavering mental health. She described in her talk so many of the things I experience that it was clear that how I feel is not unique. The evening, the wine, the conversation and the chance to further hone my presentation skills all helped.

Today I feel fine again. Which is just as well, as I'm facing a very busy week

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Ever been thrown out of a cafe?

I was last week, from this place in Spitalfields. It was one of my favourite haunts, just five minutes walk from Liverpool Street. A really creative space to talk, drink coffee eat cake and if they're not too busy, whip out my laptop and spend an hour writing on my current book.

All this changed when I suggested it as the perfect venue for Korean film journalist Soo Kim to interview me. As soon as she set her camera up, clipped a mike to my shirt and started filming, we were ejected. The owner told us in no uncertain terms that he doesn't allow filming in his cafe.

Now I would have though that all publicity is good publicity and that even a square metre of his cafe wall, behind my head, on TV in Seoul would be better than a poke in the eye. Clearly not.

We had to decamp and move from a delightful (once friendly) place with character to a modern, soulless cafe just over the road.

I'd love to know why we were really thrown out. Surely no one can be that publicity shy?

Friday, 29 August 2008

I went to church yesterday

As a devout atheist, going to church is not something I regularly do, but yesterday was an exception.

I had a very pleasant lunch with the author Ronald Blythe. He's a lovely man who is still working, despite being in his mid 80s. I can learn so much from him about writing, England and life. He is a delight to be with.

After lunch we went for a walk. He took me to Wiston Church, which was build in 1135 and sits in the grounds of the local Hall. (He explained that churches were build next to the Hall, with the villages evolving later) Ronnie told me how he used to visit this church as a boy, and now comes here to preach.

On the wall is a painting of St Francis of Assisi. Ronnie explained how this was created around 20 years after St Francis died, so in about 1240. That's an awfully long time ago. How did the story of St Francis travel to this quoet corner of Essex? There was no internet, no Ryan Air and in fact nothing much at all - yet people travelled far and wide.

To be confronted with the past when you're rushing headlong through the present is so important. It puts your life in context - it reminds you how insignificant each of us really is!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Retirement - rude word or something to shoot for?

I had a conversation yesterday with someone younger than me. He's a successful, professional fundraiser at the peak of his career.

We talked about our plans for the coming year and beyond. I'm starting a new business (a social enterprise publisher) and he's got the kind of heavy workload that people with a great reputation in their field always collect.

What bothered me was his announcement that he intended to retire somewhere between the ages of 50 and 55. He must be younger than I thought!

I was 53 on Friday and so am in the middle of his 'retirement zone.' When he is my age, he wants to stop working. I on the other hand am still trying to work out what I want to really do when I grow up!

Retirement as our parents knew it is not an option for many any more and thank goodness for that. The idea of deciding one day to stop working, stop earning and most of all, stop contributing to the world seems ghastly to me.

Today I'm off to meet author Ronald Blythe for lunch. He's best known for his book 'Akenfield', published more than 30yrs ago. He's still writing now, at the age of 85. Like me, he has not time for retirement, more the gradual change of lifestyle from' full on/flat out' to something more relaxed and perhaps introspective.

To me, retirement is a rude word . . . . !

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The snip

I was fortunate to meet Kerry Whybrow last year. Kerry is one of the people I interviewed for my book about prejudice, 'I Know Someone Like That', which will be published early in October.

Kerry was born a man and has led a fascinating, at times tragic life. Unlike so many transgender people, she is quite happy to speak out and seek publicity if it helps challenge people to understand the increadible journey she and many others feel compelled to make.

I spoke to her this morning. She's in Charing Cross Hospital and as of yesterday is now physically a woman too. Never slow in coming forward, she described her surgery to me in great detail, proudly telling me that she is now very well equipped to satisfy any man who comes into her life.

People often accuse me of 'collecting' unusual people. I don't think that's strictly true. What I can admit to is a fascination with people who have the courage to be themselves in the face of opposition. They can be entrepreneurs, activists or in the case of Kerry, people who take the largest steps to become the person they truly want to be.

I learn so much from people like Kerry. They help me realise how important it is to be yourself, whatever others might say.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

You know when your kids are truly adult when . .

. . . they decide to make journeys you're not sure you'd enjoy yourself!

Both of our kids are currently preparing for 'advanced foreign travel' by subjecting themselves to spooky vaccination programmes. I hate needles and so theprospect of protecting myself from rabies, yellow fever and all the other nasty diseases that seem to be lurking around outside Europe would not be something I'd enjoy.

However, when you're in your early 20s and determined to see something of the world, it's perhaps no big deal. This summer sees our son Tom driving to Mongolia with three friends in an old Land Rover and our daughter Ruth working in Uganda on a malaria project.

As we enjoy a quiet summer in Norfolk, with a week in La Rochelle to break the routine, two rather alarming thoughts keeps coming back to me. First, my kids are grown up and braver than me. Second, middle age seems to have arrived unnoticed!

Oh dear . . .

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Living Library

Yesterday I spent five hours in the library at Whitechapel being a 'living library book'.

Along with some 20 other people, I was there to represent a prejudice that others might have and feel moved to explore to me. I was there as a Bodyworlds body donor, someone who has signed up to a deal that will see my corpse plastinated, posed and put on public display when I die. Others represented homelessness, humanism, trans-gender, a medium and many, many more.

I was most affected myself by meeting Vikki Lucas. I spent all day plucking up the courage to recognise what was clearly a hang up about appearance. I was dying to ask Vikki lots, but we ended up just chatting. The thing is, she doesn't see her appearance (a rare genetic condition) as a problem - it's simply the way she is. My perceptions of how it must affect her, were my problem and for me to deal with.

I went to help people visiting the library understand me, but ended up being challenged myself. Meeting Vikki and realising that she's just an ordinary person with an unusual face was somehow deeply significant. Do I really judge people by how they look? Am I prejudiced? Curious? Drawn to the extreme? And if so, why?

The beach and a day of quiet contemplation beckons . . . .

Monday, 19 May 2008

Spinning hits Norfolk

Years after everyone else, my local gym has bought a batch of reconditioned spinning bikes and launched some super Sunday morning classes.

It's supposed to be brilliant for runners so I signed up - to find I'm the only bloke doing it, so there's the added bonus of being surrounded by red faced women!

Yesterday, there was a perma-tanned, false nailed, heavily made up, blonde 40+yr old at the spinning class on Sunday - pretty gruesome for a Sunday morning - (well, she didn't do anything for me!) Although the rest of us were dripping sweat, her mascara didn't even run . . so either she's supremely fit or she kept the resistance on the bike to a minimum . . . perhaps I should try that too (cheating that is, not mascara!)

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

A difficult decision

Isn't it strange how a harmless oversight can lead to a massive conundrum? I popped into the gym today, on my way to a meet a senior public sector manager. My thinking was that a hard run on the treadmill would be brilliant preparation for the meeting.

But then things took a turn for the worse.

After chucking my sweaty stuff in my gym bag and enjoying a log hot shower, I found that I had packed a pair of my wife's knickers instead of my own more modest underwear. What should I do? There was no time to go home for a pair. I could wear my sweaty ones - not nice; go without - not comfortable; or wear my wife's knickers and hope I'm not in an accident and rushed to hospital.

Of course the risk of being exposed in A&E as a temporary cross-dresser was extremely slim. I am a careful driver and why should today be the day I get unlucky and end up on a stretcher. Logic said pop them on and laugh it off at bed time when she spots her underwear clinging to my bum.

I couldn't do it . . . . . so opted to manage without.

What would you have done?

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Do you follow or fight desire lines?

I've become fascinated by 'desire lines'. These are the paths that people create by walking where they choose, rather than where the planners intended.

When confronted by desire lines, you have too choices. Adapt to meet the demand or enforce a change of behaviour. In other words, make a path where people walk or use barbed wire to deter them. Which of these would you do?

Businesses are always encountering 'virtual desire lines'. These are those annoying instances where the customers don't behave as you expect. The successful entrepreneur recognises sees these as opportunities and responds accordingly. The fool takes it as a snub, erects 'barbed wire' and loses customers.

Once you start to think about desire lines you see them everywhere. What's more you will probably feel liberated enough to create some of your own!

Good luck

Monday, 14 April 2008

Why do we worry about the wrong things?

This is a picture of George Derbyshire. He's a super bloke who runs the National Federation of Enterprise Agencies. He also has a rather impressive beard. George and I both attended a conference last week and I could not help but compare his established facial growth with my own, rather newer version. In any competition, George would beat me hands down.

But only after accepting that I had grown a rather inferior version, did it strike me that on top, I have a full head of hair and George has gone bald. In other words, if you compare our whole heads and not just our faces, I've got more hair than he has.

This set me thinking. Why did I beat myself up about my less dense beard when actually I'm better off overall? What other examples are there in life where I and perhaps you, compare just one facet of ourselves that we're sensitive about and ignore the fact that in other respects, we're actually better off?

My conclusion is this: when you start comparing your performance with that of those around you, step back and take a wider view. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that when you stop focusing on detail, you find that you're actually better off than you first thought!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Atlas Shrugged - more than a good read!

I was introduced to 'Atlas Shrugged' by a millionaire who told me it's the only book he ever read twice. I now know why!

The book is a compelling read and the parallels with today's focus on political correctness and positive discrimination tells me that we're in great danger in the UK today of living out the book with all of it's dire consequences. Only yesterday I heard a senior NHS manager apologise for appointing a man rather than a women to an all male Board. 'The man was the best candidate,' she said, 'but if both had been equal, we'd have appointed the woman.'

We also have the National Union of Teachers calling for the nationalisation of Britain's private schools because it's not fair that the kids there stand a better chance.

I lead an anti-stigma project and also provide 'business support' to UK charities seeking to develop social enterprise. I know the paradox of equality, that is: the more you seek to include and be fair, the more you actually highlight the differences and exclude.

Atlas Shrugged ends with the lights going out in New York. Let's not let that happen in London!

There is now a website to explore; take a look!

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Stuffing Stigma

I led a successful bid for Lottery funds to continue an anti-stigma campaign I launched last year. It's part of the Rethink/Mind/Mental Health Media 'Moving People' project and will I hope form an innovative, Norwich based link in that bigger 3yr campaign.

As is always the case when it's my initiative that has led to something happening, the process of 'letting go' as others become involved is painful. I'm very good at seeing opportunities and grabbing them. I then become very protective and finally, recognise that actually the project has to become what others feel it should become.

The challenge for me always comes at that point when others can clearly see that what is actually needed is a little less extreme and revolutionary than what I've been advocating. (I exaggerate for effect - always - then become entranced by the opportunity to surprise!).

Chatting with the Chairman of our local Mental Health Trust yesterday, over a milky Starbucks coffee, it became very clear that Stuff Stigma now had to become less maverick and more mainstream. The imminent appointment of a Stuff Stigma Project Manager also suggests that soon it will be time for me to slip from 'activist' to 'mentor' role - stepping back and supporting someone else who will be having all the fun of changing public attitudes to mental ill health.

Perhaps it's my age, but I find I'm becoming much more comfortable with the model I've developed. It works like this:

1. See a gap or opportunity
2. Challenge, provoke, irritate and eventually get something happening
3. Involve those who work in the same 'space' as the project I'm incubating
4. Invite those showing an interest to shape the project and align it with their own
5. Step back and then out, to do it all again somewhere else

As far as Stuff Stigma goes, I'm going to be very involved in some of the outward facing elements of the project. Specifically annual conferences, mass participation events and a book I'm writing about prejudice.

The 2008 conference focuses on empathy and how to do it . . . it's on ay 31st March and you can book your place via

It's free to attend and will be fun - I promise

See you there!

Friday, 29 February 2008

A chav for two days

One of the benefits of driving a Nissan X Trail is the car you get to borrow when yours is in for a service.

Yesterday I swapped my sleek, sophisticated X Trail for the ultimate chavombile, complete with chucky roof bars, running boards and a back seat, convenient for servicing firm breasted blonde hitchhikers.

It's a motor that had me fighting the urge to blow £10 at Argos on a gold bracelet and chest medallion. It's also a motor that did not meet the approval of the lovely young lady on the security barrier at Norfolk County Council.

She was clearly the kind of person who would normally swoon at the site of a tanned, muscular chap like me arriving in the ultimate fun 4x4, but somehow the charm opportunity passed her by.

'The car park's full,' she said, 'you'll have to go away again.' This was somewhat inconvenient as three people were waiting for me inside the building for some high-powered negotiations. I had to ring them from the roadside and explain that short of parking on a double yellow line on the main road outside, they'd have to re-schedule the meeting and find a venue that allowed visitors to park.

Rather like the car, her willingness to screw up the Council's business by turning away visitors with important meetings, left me speechless.

The three folks I was to meet are now scheduled to come here in a few days time. I'm tempted to give my PA a high-vis jacket and clipboard and have her turn them away at the top of the drive, 'as our car park is full'. That however would be rude and unlike Councils, I don't do rude.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Just because it's there . .

I try to challenge every convention, if only to explore the fringes of normal behaviour. However, when given a tray of food on a plane on Sunday afternoon I ate it without really thinking. Yes, I was a litte hungry, but sausage and mash in a plastic tray at 35,000 feet does little to stimulate the appetite. I followed the herd.

12 hours later I realised the mistake I'd made. Food poisoning is not nice and having one toilet and the urgent need to both sit on it and lean over it at the same time is even worse.

Now, 36 hours later I am beginning to recover. To eat again and feel as if I might manage to live beyond the weekend.

Of course the airline will say it's pure coincidence and perhaps it is. It might have been something else that struck my wife and I that night, even though I very much doubt it.

My lingering question is this: why do we expect a 'proper' meal on a plane when actually, a few museli bars or similar would bridge the gap, not fill the plane with awful food smells and be a lot easier to store and serve hygienically.

Health vs Wealth

I’ve just come back from a week in Morocco. Part of the holiday involved a two day guided trek through the mountains with our luggage aboard Nellie the mule; (a strange name for a Moroccan mule, perhaps more for our benefit than the mule!)

We stopped overnight in a remote Berber village. The houses were made of earth, there was one light-bulb hanging from the ceiling of each room, no heating and the only washing facilities were the small tap on the wall beside the squatter toilet; even when given its morning rinse with water from the stream, this was not a nice place to linger.

Dinner was a tasty tagine, filled with fatty lamb and vegetables. The bread was unleavened and everyone dipped into the food with their fingers; there were no plates, knives or forks. Afterwards I slept fully clothed (it was cold) under a couple of heavy blankets.

At first appearance, this way of life is primitive if not squalid. The family we stayed with did have a TV in one of their rooms and also a Nokia phone, to save the stroll down the earthen track to the shop where there was a payphone. What struck me above all else was that the people here were extraordinarily content.

TV and the occasional trekking tourist clearly illustrated the material comforts of life in nearby Marrakech and beyond. Teenagers here wore jeans, T-shirts and if they were lucky trainers too. The basics of life that I take for granted, central heating, power-shower, dishwasher etc were totally lacking. The washing machine was a bucket and board on the roof of the house. Others did their laundry in the stream that ran through the village.

Our guide Abdou summed up the philosophy of the place. He sees overweight, unfit Europeans almost every week of the year as he introduces them to his traditional way of life. He said that all the material wealth in the world was of no value if you were not healthy. People here don’t drink and few smoke. They go to bed soon after dark and get up early to work at their self sufficient lifestyle. In their villages of 3-400 people, they know and respect all of their neighbours. People have time to talk and as we walked, everybody we passed stopped for a chat. Contrast this with Holborn tube station at 10am on a Monday morning, when people spew forth in their thousands onto Kinsgway like wet cement out of a pipe; grey, cold and miserable.

Who has the best life? The London commuter or the Berber who only strays from his village once a week to go to the market in his nearby town? Whose life most closely matches that for which we are best suited, physically and psychologically? Who complains the most about his lot? Who takes the most Prozac?

Like you, I don’t want to give up every material comfort to live a basic, back to nature, existence. That’s too big a step to take. However, I return to the UK determined to seek greater simplicity and to listen more closely to my instinct. Simple is good and striving for more ‘stuff’ does little for your long term health.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Buy a slice of me for your living room wall!

According to 'The Times' earlier this week plastination supremo Gunther von Hagens is planning to sell resin mounted slices of his body donors to the general public. He rightly pointed out in the interview that if you tired of your novel artwork, it would be appropriate to have it cremated and not chuck it in your black bin. After all, whoever heard of disposing of the dead by burying them!

He later told the media that this was a misquote, but not before the Bishop of Manchester got hot under his dog-collar and protested loudly about the Bodyworlds exhibition about to open in his city.

I've got to know von Hagens reasonably well over the five years since I signed up with him as a body donor. I have also accompanied him to his factory in China and watched his team of highly skilled anatomists preparing donated bodies for display.

I don't for a moment really think he plans to sell body parts to the general public. But if he did, would it really matter? If in 50 years time someone could entertain their friends and shock the postman by fitting my preserved right arm as a door-knocker, then who am I to worry?

Given the choice between cremation, burial or being recycled as a teaching aid or even as works of art, the latter is surely the most appealing. It makes such sense to be able to continue to contribute to society in a positive way long after your death.

You can join me by signing up here!

Thursday, 31 January 2008

SAGA SCAN - Is there something I don't know?

Today's post revealed a tastefully assembled, personally addressed invitation from SAGA to enjoy being CT scanned at the bargain (but only if I book within two weeks) price of £530.

A list of possible reasons for taking this bold step is thoughtfully included. Three of the eight reasons apply to me. I have a family history of poor health (well early death actually), I suffer from stress and drink alcohol - and of course I'm over 50, otherwise they'd not have mailed me in the first place.

This all suggests that I've already got one foot in the grave and who knows, a CT Scan might help me predict when the other foot will follow.

SAGA are good at helping the over 50s feel their age. However, as I'm currently training for the London Marathon, manage my stress pretty well and rarely drink more than two glasses (OK large glasses) of red wine a night, it might be safe to keep the £530 and invest it in something else. Some red wine perhaps!

Now if the hospital gave you a CD with images of your guts, brain and breakfast that you could have printed out and mounted on the wall, I'd be there like a shot. It'd be rather cool to have a 3d image my brain peering down at me from the wall.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Always start with something familiar

I attended a meeting of the excellent 'Norfolk Network' last night; something I really should do more often. The speaker was Ben Finn, who with his twin brother created Sibelius software. They then sold the company in 2006 for £13m. No surprise that he was a very relaxed speaker!

I'd heard a number of composers I know talk about Sibelius software and knew that it was used by some of the very best (John Rutter for example). What I had struggled with was to really understand what it did.

Ben started his presentation by describing his product as 'word processing for music'. It was at that point that the penny dropped and I realised what it was really all about. He went on to talk about the functionality of the product in terms I could readily translate into Word functionality. (Furthermore, just as you can convert voice to Word with some software, so too with Sibelius can you input with both kinds of keyboard - either the one with letters and number or the one with musical keys!)

The message I share with you from that evening is this: when describing anything new, your starting point has to be something familiar!

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

I've overcome a major inhibition

One of my failings is that I think too much. I delve too deeply into things that frankly are not that important. My brain races round, consuming valuable processing power in trivia.

That said, sometimes this deep thinking helps me banish a spook. This time, I've overcome my anxieties about my beard. Basically I've grown one!

I always thought this was something I'd not be manly enough to achieve and so, apart from a rather sad moustache a few years ago, have always been clean if not recently shaven.

Now I have what started out as designer stubble and has grown - in fact it's taking a life of its own and I can't stop admiring myself in shop windows - much to the amusement of shop workers!

What's really helped me over the inhibition is that someone I know who gets 5 o'clock shadow before breakfast has just given up growing a beard as he said it was too dense and bushy.

Yippee I think, so here is yet another example of the Goldilocks Theory. That is: you can have too little, too much or find that actually what you've got is just right!

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Marathon build up

I'm running the London Marathon this April. It's my second time and this year, I plan to be better prepared for those 26.2 miles. It's fair to say that last time (2006) I was not nearly as fit as I am now. It took me 5hrs18mins to complete the course.

James my trainer has written my training schedule on my office whiteboard and it looks daunting. I'll be running at least 22 miles a week between now and April. Some long runs, some short fast ones, plus of course a couple of trips to the gym to work on my core body strength and do some weights.

I'll be raising money for Rethink, the mental health charity. I Chair a regional group for them and see first hand the huge positive impact they have on people living with poor mental health and their families. You can sponsor me here if you would like to help!

There must be something in me that makes me take on these crazy challenges!

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Waves of enthusiasm

It's 1030 on the first morning that most people are back at work. My inbox is pinging with invitations to avail myself of countless opportunities. Some are obvious, others obscure. All are intended to get someone else's New Year off to a promising start!

What is clear is that after a week or more of self indulgence and expense, many people are anxious about their ability to earn the money they need to make 2008 a success - in their terms. Of course for those of us who are self employed, January is also the month in which we have to pay HMRC a wad of tax and in my case, it's also the month I pay over all that VAT that has been sitting in my bank account creating a false sense of financial security!

My plan is to let these waves of enthusiasm wash over me. I know where I'm heading and do not want to be distracted by others who see me as a 'hot prospect' for their New Year sales drive. Furthermore I am not going to leap into the fray myself. I've enough on this month without adding to the workload by chasing wild geese!