Monday, 12 December 2011

Out with the old and in with . . . . .

Heck, I've not blogged for months - not here anyway. Let's change that right now. This 'Unlimited' blog has never been for the faint hearted. Or those that might be put off by the exposures and expositions it contains.

I'll be here at least weekly throughout 2012. so let's start today.

After 8yrs I'm finally off the pills. It's so convenient to pop one each morning to take the edge off the anxiety. I'd convinced myself that it was like adding 'Red X' to the petrol in my car; a little performance booster that did no harm and made the engine in my head run smoothly.

But surely if I'm to grow as a writer I need to feel more acutely. How can I truly observe and comment on the human condition if insulated from it? The pills had to go. Eight months of psychotherapy defragmented my thinking and took out all the damaged bits.

Next I discovered Moodscope. This brilliant (and currently free to use) web service asks me 20 pertinent questions each morning. The results translate into a graph. That graph plots my mood. It's academically robust and so credible. What is incredible though is the way it works. Or does for me anyway. The questions force me to think, albeit fleetingly about my well-being. My graph became more stable as my mood levelled out.

Next step, off the pills and in my case some quite interesting side effects. These have now passed so what I am feeling at the moment is what I really am - who I really am and more. It's quite exciting. It will give my writing in 2012 a human dimension that has thus far been suppressed. Watch this space!

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The end of the line, or the light at the end of a tunnel?

I'm very fond of my 87yr old uncle. We share a birthday and the prejudice and discrimination he has experienced in his life is one of the drivers of my own campaigning. He's gay, increasingly infirm but still up for a challenge.

Recently, he broke his hip and spent two weeks in hospital. Then, discharged before really ready he lasted a day at home before returning to the ward briefly, only to be discharged again. This time he was placed in an old folks home.

Dennis and I have often talked about old people's homes. His mother, my granny, died within days of being placed in one. It was not for her and so she opted out. I feared that history was about to be repeated. But, old folks homes have changed.  What I found when I returned from holiday and visited Dennis surprised me.

He's in a new home operated by Runwood. I'd heard they were good and I now I know it. Spacious, modern, efficient and with really nice staff, the place was not quite as I'd imagined it. Yes there is the inevitable lounge with loud TV and a row of drooping, dribbling old ladies, but there's also a lot more.

I took in a portable TV and popped to Comet to get the digital box I needed. One of the care workers set it up for us, finding a SCART lead because  I'd thought there was one in the box. They're going to spend time with him every day getting him confident on his feet and the plan is to have him home again within six weeks.

Like so many things, this was no where near as scary as I had imagined. Old folks homes don't have to be the end of the line. For some, they are the light at the end of a long dark tunnel!

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Hello darkness my old friend

I have been ‘out’ for years about the fact that I live with depression.  In common with many professional creatives the enduring, varying tension between my perception and reality fuels my quest for answers. And increasingly, the work I do is all about finding the answers that have eluded other people. Folk in a fix are often too close to their personal and organisational challenges to see the wider context. I live in that wider context.
Depression however place demands upon those it inhabits. It’s vital to manage pace, space and focus on just one race. What do I mean?
Pace is everything because exhaustion brings on self doubt, followed by the damp dark foggy cloak that takes you out of circulation. Mood swing bring highs that make me feel invincible. They are always followed by a fall into darkness.
Space is equally important. I live in the countryside surrounded by fields. My home phone number is a closely guarded secret, known only to immediate family. I can shut the door on my work phone, close the garden gate and isolate myself from the world. This means I’m not always accessible; tough!
And sticking to one race is also essential. It’s so easy to get distracted and flounder as a multitude of equally regarded goals seem to wriggle from my grasp. Focus is difficult, but not to focus means to fail.
Right now, with professional help, I’m five weeks without an encounter with the ‘black dog’ of depression. It’s never far away I know, but if I throw it the odd negative thought or lingering self doubt it seems content to leave me alone.
It’s strange to say, but when under control, it’s fine occasionally to say hello to the darkness. It is after all my old friend!

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Oh no, I'm getting old

I flew to Glasgow on Thursday for a couple of meetings. One was with an innovative, enthusiastic and clearly very able social entrepreneur. He and I going to do some business together, as well as some campaigning which will be huge fun.

He sent me a text to say he'd be easy to spot as he was wearing a pink shirt. I still didn't spot him and had to ring him so that I could pick him out of the rather small crowd.

When we met I realised why I'd overlooked him in the airport arrivals hall. He's 25 and I was looking for someone twice that age! Over the next few hours I came to realise that youth was no barrier to this guy's considerable success. Over time however, I had clearly acquired a perception that to be successful you need to be middle aged. I'd assumed I was dealing with someone nearer my own age. Why did I feel that way? It rather pisses me off to find I have developed an ageist prejudice.

So, for the record - I now fully understand that you can be successful at any age. Mt next challenge is to appreciate that if people the same age as my kids can be very successful entrepreneurs,  then clearly my kids are no longer kids but fully functioning adults. Yes, I knew this, but somehow  . . . . . .  . . well you know what I mean . . . doh!

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Strut your stuff or peck someone's eyes out?

I find 'society events' rather annoying. Most of the people are nice, the wine welcomed and the canapes fill a gap, but there's something superficial about all the air kisses and polite smalltalk that leaves me cold.

Last night, Belinda and I were at yet another of these evening receptions. To be fair I had some very useful business conversations and caught up with some people I like and respect, but the evening had its moments.

However had I not gone, I'd not have experienced one of the most outrageous examples of what I'll call lily pad hopping. One particular old frog, a well known local PR grabbed me for what I initially thought was going to be an interesting conversation about a stage performance we'd both recently seen in Cambridge.

However, mid conversation she spotted someone she considered more worthwhile approaching. She simply walked away leaving me in mid-sentence.Clearly she'd made a quick assessment and decided that the other people were far more useful to her. I detest the superficial way people like this treat others. By only talking to who you consider to be the most useful person within grasp at any one time, you prove to the world that you don't actually care about people - just what they can do for you.

Ironically and unbeknown to her, I spend a considerable amount each month with an excellent London PR agency. They take me seriously and deliver astounding results. They don't take me or anyone else for granted.

How can we expect our Big Society to help the vulnerable up the social ladder when there are people already on the ladder willing to put people down to further their own upward progress? Perhaps life at the bottom is better after all!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Would you accept cash in a car park from a Serbian car dealer?

Well, I've just sold my 4x4 to a lady with a Serbian accent, who is buying it for a friend called Vlad. Deposit paid by credit card and the balance will be handed over in used tenners tomorrow.

My wife's response to the announcement that tomorrow we're driving two cars to a railway station to handover surprised me. 'It's probably drug money,' she said, 'or the proceeds from human trafficking.

My 'due dilligence' suggest otherwise. The buyer's Facebook profile shows a smiling middle aged lady holding a much loved dog. Surely a drug dealer would have a more sinister profile picture - perhaps something moody, with urban graffiti in the background and certainly dark glasses.

The deposit was paid via my website, which means I have the guys name, address, phone number and email address. Google reveals him to be a trustee of a Greek Orthodox  religious charity so perhaps not a man likely to be shipping teenagers over the North Sea to satisfy the sexual desires of London's coke fuelled city traders.

Am I naive, or do dodgy people carefully craft respectable online personas to trick people like me? If we all thought that, then nobody would trust anyone. Surely the default for us all is to be honest, trustworthy and decent. Tell me I'm right - please!

Monday, 30 May 2011

An outbreak of third sector cannibalism

I guess it had to happen. With funding cuts and the change in emphasis from 'gimme a grant' to 'how can I help you', cannibalism was perhaps to be expected. However rather  than the nice friendly mergers I was expecting, folk are fighting dirty. It's a shame.

To avoid compromising what is actually quite a delicate situation, I'll not name names; however if you can guess who I'm talking about feel free to tweet - as we now know - even super-injunctions can't stop that!

So to the story. Imagine two young men, let's call them Less and Able. They've moved around the sector for years, working together at least twice. Able is very good at his job, gentle and passionate about making a difference. Less is not quite so bright and struggles to to settle down - deep down he means well, but somehow, never quite has the credibility of Able.

Like the similarly named Biblical brothers, tension grew and Less had an idea. He accused Able of using information gained at a previous employer in his current job. He did this by 'tipping off' the former employer with whom ironically both had worked and arguable Less had abused more!

Rather than tell Less to piss off, the former employer stormed into the new employers offices demanding retribution. Ironic again as the two organisations work closely together with the aggressor in this case being the one with the most to lose - the supplier.

Able is now under investigation and I suspect, looking for another job. Less is hoping he'll go so he can feel more secure.

The trouble is that when people and organisations fight each other everyone loses. Less will become far less popular once word gets out that he's tried to 'eat' Able. The two employers are in a no win argument from which nothing good can come. And this is the so called caring sector, there to help the weak and vulnerable in society get along. What would you do if you found yourself caught up in a situation like this?

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Do you say it like it is or as people want to hear it?

I was asked by a friend to provide a character reference this week. The guy has become tired of running his own business and decided to apply for a management job instead. The job is in a sector he has empathy with but as he told me; ' I’m not fooling myself into thinking I’m going to get it, or that I’m even qualified to do the job but it interests me and I thought I've got nothing to lose in giving it a bash.'

 So was I right to refuse to provide a reference? It seemed to me that he was more interested in leaving where he was than in demonstrating, even to me, why he was the perfect man for the job he's after. Furthermore, knowing the person who is retiring and creating the vacancy, I just can't see my friend being happy moving into the empty seat. It involves too much bureaucracy!

Needless to say he's now quoting Mark Twain at me and accusing me of not being supportive in his time of need. My suggestion that he would do better to conquer his business challenges than run away and get a job touched a nerve. I'm probably now off his Christmas card list. 

What he doesn't know is that over the past 21 years of self employment and running my own businesses, I too have had the urge to run away on perhaps three occasions. I too have filled in application forms for jobs, not because I want them, but because the pain of self employment, right then, was becoming too much. For me, filling in the form was usually enough; I threw them in the bin rather than post them and felt better for the flirtation with change.

I know many people who have fled from the pain of their current situation rather than face and conquer it. In every case, they have come to regret the move. Some have even turned the clock back and gone back, others could not and became stuck and very unhappy.

So, would you have lied and written a glowing reference or would you have refused, explained why and recognised the subsequent rejection as the price you have to pay for being honest?

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A case of mistaken identity

I went to an Awards event last night. It was organised by a professional institute and so most people were wearing grey. Most also had grey hair and many were far older than even I am.

I saw someone I thought I recognised. He was sitting on his own reading the Awards booklet. From the top of his head, he looked very like a guy I know called John. John is someone with whom I enjoy lively banter whenever we meet, usually at events like this one.

I kicked his foot by way of jovial introduction and said something like; 'hi, what brings you here.' The papers fell into his lap and the guy looked straight into my face. I then realised it was not John at all. I glanced down at his name badge. It said Brigadier; it said OBE and listed lots of other letters too. John on the other hand would only have letters after his name if he saved enough coupons from cereal packets.

'Hello, my name is Robert and I thought you were somebody else.' I said, slightly embarrassed. 'Oh that's OK he said, my name is Barry.' Unusually for me, I did not turn this serendipitous meeting into an opportunity. I must be losing my networking touch!

Bu why is it that the older people get, the more alike they look?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Could someone please introduce me to reality?

Did you have a kaleidoscope as a child? You know, one of those tubes you peer into and twist to create startling, symmetrical patterns like the one here on your left.I did and spent hours looking through it, distorting things.

At times, life seems like that to me. In fact right now, two weeks into 2011 it feels very much that reality is being blurred into a series of confusing patterns. Is it the same for you too?

Perhaps I've had too many consecutive days of meeting bureaucrats, each recoiling from the dramatic change they face and have no influence over. Perhaps it's also because I've decided to stop working at the weekend and so am spending more time outside in my garden, on my tractor and generally connected with the natural cycle of seasons, climate and nature.

The landscape, bleak at this time of year, is bleak because it is this time of year. Leafless trees, sodden soil and frost browned grass. The other landscape is also very bleak right now. Job losses, budget cuts, tough decisions and inequalities - but are both equally real or is one an economic construct? Can we change the economy? We certainly can't change the climate - well not much.

and on a personal, micro-scale, just as one week 2011 seems filled with opportunity, so the next week it can look really gloomy? Now here I can make a difference . . .  . . .so will focus there!