COMMENT : NO COMMENT

I recently offered a friend some advice on how to go about writing. I hadn’t actually been asked for this advice, but when they mentioned wanting to write I found myself slipping into advisor/mentor mode and sent them a lengthy email with my guidance. However, within moments of sending the message, I felt a certain regret panging its way through my innards.

Had my gesture been in some way arrogant? Was I trying to frame myself as an expert or an altruistic donor to look cool or was I trying to rebuild my ego to counterbalance the fact that what I have had published hasn’t sold particularly well?

I often find myself receiving advice and by and large – I DON’T WANT IT. It happens to us all and a good illustration of this is the life of a new parent. The arrival of a newborn is invariably accompanied by uninvited snippets of wisdom about which direction the child should be facing in the buggy or that the doting parent should keep talking to the baby while changing its’ nappy just to show approval of them having filled it (yes, this crap is true, I remember receiving it). I won’t dare to go into the Kingdom of breastfeeding because I know it’s a Pandora’s can of worms where I would not be too welcome, but any mother will know what I’m talking about. Please don’t listen to me…go here;

After coaching people for a number of years, I realised that I was doing much of this ‘giving’ to actually help myself. Like the proverbial snide jokes about psychotherapists being ‘crazy’ and in need of fixing themselves or entertainers putting themselves ‘out there’ craving applause and validation to feel they exist.

In the wake of the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, another friend posted their thoughts. As this person has many Facebook groupies I usually desist from commenting because, probably out of jealousy of their popularity, I prefer being on the fringe rather than among their gaggle of toadies. On this occasion however, I did add a comment because I was getting sick of seeing ‘solutions’ proposed by people channelling Captain Kirk’s universal sensibility but without his ability to implement it (his ability to bring peace to the galaxies is remember, pure fiction. It never actually happened, nor will it, sorry ‘bout that).

James T. Kirk

My comment, which was designed to be uncontentious, was in turn commented upon. It took a few days, but as sure as the sniper keeps on sniping and the swearer keeps on cursing; it happened. Although this person corrected me on a fact that had changed, their comment was right but irrelevant. I had included two examples and one was wrong, so what? My point was still valid.

The internet culture whereby people provide feedback and counter comment deeply irritates me. It is too easy to ‘call somebody out’ on a small error and effectively make them look foolish and by inference, discount their views. Troll Off and leave me alone.

On the other hand, much of the fault of ‘banter/trolling’ lies with the people that begin the pontification first. Particularly in troubled times they tend to write phrases that include the words MUST or SHOULD. These words look powerful; ‘We should all do this, you must do that …’ yet they are delivered in the hope that somebody else will pick up the baton, physically make it happen and then credit the inspiration back to the originator.

Yet, if anything proves that implementation is more vital than ideas, it is this fraction from the beginning of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.”

So, where are we now? If we are writing on a public forum, we’ve arrived at the point where it is necessary to cancel out ambiguities. You can only make one point and that has to be expressed in very simple Trump/Tweet terms. Aim for the lowest linguistic and intellectual denominator. This is neither the forum for creativity nor being clever.

The acronym KISS has never been more appropriate. If you break this convention somebody will slay you. For safety, add a third S for a second STUPID. Belt & Braces etc.…

If you are writing something personal, experimental or embryonic, keep it very private. I suggest (as I did with my friend in Para 1) to start a blog but ensure it cannot be shared or seen. Use it as your own heavily passworded journal. Keep it under your metaphoric mattress and tell nobody it even exists. That way, even if you die in the meantime, nobody will ever find out.

The best form of factual writing nowadays is academic. I have blogged before how challenging I found the rigours of this approach, but I am convinced that in this age of false news and peacock posturing opinion that academic research is the only way of finding the (near) truth. It’s not perfect as so many contradictory scientists have demonstrated during Pandemic 2020, but is preferable to the miasma of guesswork and leming / bandwaggon thinking that is choking our minds.

Thanks for reading. Absolutely no comment required.

Ends

Douglas Adams quote; https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/79195-and-then-one-thursday-nearly-two-thousand-years-after-one

Shut up photo: https://image.slidesharecdn.com/culturehackonglobalwarming-140609155045-phpapp02/95/lets-do-a-culture-hack-on-global-warming-7-638.jpg?cb=1402394091

Teaching IS doing.

Those that can, do; those that can’t, teach – Man and Superman; GB Shaw.

After completing my teaching qualification I wrote a blog condemning the above quote that suggests people only become teachers if they cannot do anything ‘better’. 

This is a ridiculous notion when there are other more worthy occupations to be rude about such as restaurant critics (wannabe cooks), the mish-mash of malcontents who flail around for a critical voice on Trip Advisor and call centre operatives in cold-call mode. The genuine non-DOERS are those who behave as if they are doing something useful but really aren’t, they are the people who belong on Golgafrincham Ark Fleet Ship B.*

Teachers are absolutely not in this category. Their role is fundamental to human progress; teaching is doing because learning is the first step to everything. Anyhow, pedagogy doesn’t need my advocacy and has offered many adequate replies to the Shavian suggestion.

However, another perspective on Shaw’s words has come to the fore during this, the age of Covid and it is that there are many doers but they are badly undervalued.

Our society has long functioned with a twisted logic. We function in an economic paradigm whereby money, which began after all, as an alternative to exchangeable commodities has become god. It is odd that people who are able to earn money while they sleep are better off than those who get paid by time or output. This is not to say that wealthy people are necessarily bad but, and the people whom the government list as KEY, do not earn as much as those who can get the money system to work for them.

Coronavirus has shone a light on the importance of some of these hitherto hidden people and has challenged the prevailing economic model. Last night I saw a postal worker delivering mail after 7pm. I wished him a good evening and in the ensuing chat he told me he was taking all the overtime ‘he could get’ as it was financially beneficial. Noble as this might seem, is it right that this person was working sixteen hours each day while other non-key people don’t need to?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sleeping-girl.jpg

In the UK Government’s official Key Worker list (reproduced below) it is notable how often the word ‘workers’ comes up e.g. Food production workers…Transport workers …Utilities workers…bank workers. These are people that DO and we really ought to bookmark this for the Post Coronavirus Social Re-balancing plan.

When the ‘Key’ list was released some two months ago I scoffed at the inclusion of journalists. In fact, I would probably have included them in the Trip Advisor reject bracket, yet on reflection, my sneering was wrong. I feel that media often embellishes and whips up public fervour in order to sell their wares and some commercial TV companies unashamedly do this to protect their advertising income. However, having information and news delivered by newspapers and broadcasters that are regulated and scrutinised is better than what remains the wild west of data and (mis)-information; the internet. After all this time, the web is still the favela style corrugated roofed shelter for fake news, stalkers and hackers.

I anticipate a sense of disappointment on behalf of our new, albeit temporary, heroes because I doubt not think their rights and wages will improve. They deserve better but the world is not a generous place and the forecasted economic turmoil will, as usual, further distance the have nots from the haves. Plus ca change…

For an excellent perspective by a real journalist do read Sarah O’Connor. Weirdly, she’s not writing for Marxism Today or even the Guardian, but a literal bastion of capitalism; The Financial Times. 

She writes so well that I wanted to use her words to conclude this piece but the FT’s T&C’s are fearsome and as a lecturer and examiner I really cannot affored to be sued for plagiarism. Equally, how could I ever penalise students for cutting and pasting if I’ve been caught doing it myself?

The UK Government’s list of key workers

British postman in the 1950s. Two post deliveries a day including Saturdays and no van or hand-cart.

 

Frontline health and social care staff including the distributors of medicines and vital equipment

Teaching staff, nursery staff and social workers

People working in vital public services such as justice system, death registry workers, journalists in public service broadcasting

Government workers in local or national administrations in occupations needed to deliver the Covid-19 response and pay benefits

Food production and processing workers including sales and delivery staff

Transport workers operating services not shut down during the Covid-19 response

Utilities workers including all power, water, sewerage, chemicals

Postal workers, key telecommunications staff, bank workers

THE END

 Lichtenstein style picture with Buffet quote https://www.aliexpress.com/i/4000297349719.html

medical workers photo credit:https://www.bangkokpost.com/world/1900220/struggle-fear-and-heartbreak-for-medical-staff-on-virus-frontline

Postman; /bit.ly/1alhmZX

Failing Freedom of Outer Space= Losing the Plot on Planet Earth.

I think this ‘thing‘ is a bit like being in outer space.

Despite the fact that I can escape my house quite often, I always make the same return journey and come back home as if on a powerful elastic umbilical cord.

Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey to Screen in IMAX
https://cdn1-www.comingsoon.net/assets/uploads/2018/08/2001two.jpg

Although I’m fortunate to have people around me, the reduction in social interaction is reducing me. Conversations are snippets rather than true exchanges and when I find myself talking with somebody or rather, at them, it all gushes out in a stream of mad subconscious breadcrumbs. Having honed my listening skills over many years I was really good at paying attention and excelled in giving the opposite of a poker face. I now fear it’s slipping away. When Mandy and I go for a walk, I try to give good ear but am dreadful at it. If there’s a gap of silence I feel a need to fill it up as if it were a pothole that needs padding out with whatever comes to hand; mud, horse manure and dead hair for making up underwear; all this to avoid my mental wheel (which already has a rocky axle) from falling in to it.

Talking of vehicles, let’s launch…

I think that being in space is like this: 

You’re belted into a very small capsule and you can’t move. Even if you need to empty your bladder, you cannot ‘go’, you simply release.

There’s a round double-double glazed window and everything you can see looks like the 1960’s because that’s when space was invented. The sky, which is really just a lot of tiny zeros, is thoroughly black. Not even navy blue. Not even MIDNIGHT Black/Blue, it’s dead-panned black. And it’s not even the sky because it’s not above you like the real sky is. This thing is underneath you too and it’s around the invisible corners. If you’re lucky enough to be in a space station you have more windows but to be frank, the non-sky, which is the floor, the walls and by now, the inside of your mouth too, is still matt black. A forever deep blackness that knows no time lines or boundaries and ceratinly has no truck with doughnuts or tulips. Loads of sticky stars have been thrown at it and they conspire to give a false sense of comfort to suggest that we aren’t alone. But we are. Alone.

So, I’m strapped in this very confined metaphor, struggling to make it work and outside it is just this corner-less plate of zeros. Except, as I said, the stick-on stars but, and I don’t say this lightly, they’re nobody’s friend. Certainly neither yours nor mine. And let me tell you something else, all this stuff about them twinkling is a lie. The stars are actually a combination of shoddy time lapsed recordings of rude, hot and very loud implosions and explosions. Their only mission is to fry you if you come within a light year. Sparkling, cocky bastards; nothing more. Not your friends.

So, communication from/to this tin can is via a radio or perhaps nowadays, a video link like in The Big Bang Theory when Howard ‘Fruit Loops’, has his moment up yonder but like my walk in the park, it’s no walk in the park. Just crackles, beeps and sounds that remind us of dial-up internet or even…the Fax machine. Communication has been redacted and if only we could read under the blacked out lines, maybe we’d connect properly, like they did in the old days. Freedom to communicate has become a frozen FaceTime image. Over.

TV Classic The Big Bang Theory Howard Wolowitz Fruit Loops custom tee Big Bang Theory Shirts, Big Bang Theory Funny, The Big Bang Therory, The Big Theory, Simon Helberg, Howard Wolowitz, Froot Loops, Favorite Tv Shows, My Favorite Things

I read that Einstein said gravity bends space and because very large objects such as solar systems contain a lot of gravity (suns, planets, aliens etc) they wrap large hunks of it around themselves. I think this includes time too.

This makes me picture a journey that ends at the beginning, just like 2001 Space Odyssey.

So, when flying in my Covid capsule I can see space bending and mashing the freedom of being up and out there – with no obvious obstacles (other than Elon Musk’s growing pile of space debris) with the warm urine dampened space suit of my rocket confined prison. To hammer home the point, if I can leave the capsule to pursue the infinite freedom the lack of long term air suggests that freedom is neither attainable nor desirable.

So, back to earth and shut my mouth. 

I thought I’d do what my then children did some years ago and make a word cloud. The idea was to mix up 4 rock tracks about space to see what the consensus was. The result is quite interesting but not as I grand as I had hoped. When I listen to these tracks, which are all the same theme of being lost in space, I get a large hit of nostalgia. Consider these words by Matt Bellamy (MUSE)

Let’s conspire to ignite / All the souls that would die just to feel alive / Now I’ll never let you go If you promised not to fade away

How, I wonder can nostalgia be triggered for something one never experienced? How do words and music do this?

I can only guess that CoronavirusC19 has triggered a sense of yearning and the mind turns it into a deep space exile. There is something about this present crisis that feels like being jettisoned into the nothing. We shall return, but it will be different but quite how different…

For what it’s worth:

My word cloud throws out: away, never, feels , arms, spaced, time, life, unreal which kind of creates the feeling but as random experiment is nothing insightful.

It includes lyrics from Muse: Starlight, Aerosmith: Spaced (2nd album dummy; Get Your Wings), Radiohead: Subterranean homesick alien and Mott The Hoople: Sea Diver. Obviously I could have used tons of Bowie lyrics (which I did twice in the body) and those who know me will appreciate I left out The Beatles’ Across the Universe and Elton John because I don’t like moist music. Purely my prejudices, nothing more.

I’m in love with my car but prefer wearing lycra.

(Picture above = Colours from a distance by Paul Klee)

Stream of consciousness with a smattering of structure;

Actually, if you know me, you’ll realise this title is ironic. Cars are not my thing but I found my self singing the song earlier today when I went out for another lockdown run. This was unusual because normally when I go out for a 3,4, or 5k run, my head tends to play back whatever music I last heard.

I wasn’t really up for a run today but I was faring better than expected and aiming for a decent time when I bumped into (at 2 metres distance) P and S whom I have known for years. Our kids were at the same primary school as theirs and they are also regular Park Run runners. I could have pretended I had earphones in and continued running with a polite smile but they are really decent people and the chance of a chat (and a breather) was not unwelcome.

This pause was a good learner too because usually when I run and I see groups of folk chatting at the Covidically correct distance (and therefore blocking both the path and the off-piste grass) I scowl internally and roll my eyes. This time I could experience what it was like to be stationary while the remaining inhabitants of planet Lycra went past and between us.

Squabbles between open space users have become fashionable of late. These are the factions that are moaned about and why:

  • Runners – Act like they own the place
  • Walkers –  Meander as if they have no purpose except to pick flowers of wild garlic and berries
  • Cyclists – Who really should be on the roads during this quiet time. 
  • Young Parents with buggies – behave as if they invented children and whose kids on scooters are wayward and probably transmitters of ‘it’
  • Dog companions – It’s good to let Rex off the leash, he knows his own mind and what he wants to sniff. The owners however, are just too distracted by other dogs to notice the other humans (although I can’t really blame them, the dogs are usually more amusing).

In short, just about everybody!

I am at various points in the week a member of all but the last two of these groups and don’t dislike any of them (except Mountain Bikers who ought to go over rough terrains or a cliff edge to justify owning an All Terrain Bike). It is however, weirdly easy to disassociate from who I am not at the particular moment. If I’m on my bike (a Brompton which Lewis refers to as a tricycle); I’m a cyclist, if I’m walking; I’m a walker. Perhaps each outdoor venture is a search for identity…(hmmm a topic for another day?)

The other thought is that social distancing in parklands is a good model for how we ought to manage ourselves when driving our cars. It has taken time for people to learn how to respect ‘the gap’ yet, by and large, we are learning to be thoughtful, more polite and to thank those who are courteous towards us. Surely, this is progress.


Finally, I’d like to share a tip. It is highly embarrassing when moving towards another person and trying to avoid a collision, you both go the same way and back again. I have found that if you look at their feet rather than the eyes, you’ll get a better idea of where they are heading. Somehow the feet follow the brain’s signals before the eyes do.

This also works when your are about to overtake somebody going in your direction. 

Of course, we could all just have a convention to stick to the left, but that’d be too easy.

Pictures: https://www.imj.org.il/sites/default/files/collections/klee-colors%20from%20a%20distance~LB92_25.jpg. Willi Baumeister 1925 (German), Läuferin II (Runner II), Oil on canvas, 120 cm x 80 cm.

Expression of Freedom

Some months ago I was contacted by a publisher’s agent asking if I would be interested in them publishing my next book.

I don’t know how they knew I had a ‘next’ book but was flattered because it implied they were among the select few who knew I had actually written a previous book. 

The notion that the request came to and not from me was exciting too until my inner cynic awoke and exclaimed ‘scam’! 

A writer pauses. The signals will go either from hand to brain or soul to hand. Only the spark can guess it's own direction.

The Portrait of a Writer Vivan Tjitejian, 1957
Haroutiun Gakentz
National Gallery of Armenian, Yerevan http://100years100arts.com/en/

‘Ah yes’ I thought, they either want money from me or they want to steal my ideas and publish them under another name. I’d been here before and although the alarm bells weren’t peeling in a high decibel panic, they did tinkle like a pillow muffled alarm clock. 

However, I investigated the message, the sender of this message and the publisher behind it and was relieved to discover this was not a scam. I spoke with the representative and learnt that they produce academic material for a growing readership base in the Far East. 

The agent duly sent me the guidelines for writing a book proposal and explained that I needed to produce the chapter headings and detailed synopses along with all the other stuff (my profile, really life experiences etc). In short, I had to write a book about writing a book. They would then let me know if I could write for them. 

At this point my keenness hit the wall. I had just completed a year of academic study and had found the style required stultifying and difficult. Although I was glad to have completed a third of a Masters, the idea of being tunnelled in yet more academic research and writing did not appeal. Even my dreams reflected this. I dreamt of missing deadlines, of leaden doors slamming above me and of trains pulling out of stations with me left on the platform. My anxiety levels rose whenever I thought of producing this proposal and for the sake of my wellbeing; avoided doing it. 

And then I was set free.

A footballing friend called Tom (an extremely good footballer as it happens) told me, among his other his social media followers, about his forthcoming book. I called his publisher them to ask for their own multi paged, civil service style proposal forms. The submissions editor patiently listened to my ideas and asked how far along I was with the first draft. ‘First draft? I thought you’d want a full proposal before I begin any kind of draft at all.’  

She told me that, unlike the academic publisher, they don’t work ‘that way’ and what they want is for writers to write their stuff and then they’ll decide if they can use it. ‘Sorry to disappoint you’, she said, but I was not disappointed in the least because she had in fact liberated me from the sturdy cage of logical planning to the welcome wilderness of getting on with the writing. 

Once again, I can do what I like; write and change, delete and add and allow the shapes to appear. Planning is of course important, but I know I am more effective when motivation and creativity kick off the process and the planning follows.

Retro Planning can be effective too

I realise this means I may embark on a wayward project but quite frankly I am more relaxed with the idea of being able to meander and create rather than conforming to a preordained structure, even if it’s one of my own design.

Thomas has Cooked his goose

The collapse of Thomas Cook is the culmination of a long running series of events. Many hard working and well-meaning individuals have lost their jobs and their clients have lost money and well deserved holidays. It was predicted many years ago by travel industry luminaries, yet nobody had the will or expertise to deal with it.

Over the years, people have invested in the heritage of Thomas Cook without efficiently examining its present and/or future performances. Thomas Cook’s investors bought into it not because of its attributes but because of its reputation and vast (deluded?) client database. ‘The collapse of Thomas Cook’ will become the topic for many business studies’ dissertations. The kaleidoscope of errors covers all areas of management and for students looking for examples of ‘bad this and disastrous that’, it is truly fertile ground. I have been in the travel industry for over 40 years and have had occasional dealings with the company. The random observations that follow are simply personal, truthful reflections. I’m neither mourning nor gloating, just sharing what I saw.

Wax your feathers keep away from the Sun, he might give energy but he’s the one who’ll melt your dreams should you fly too close and bread in your hand will end up as toast

In 2011, a senior TUI manager told me that they could ‘finish Cooks off’ whenever they wanted. Some three years later and after another massive bail out, the same person told me they no longer needed to wield the sword of Damocles because Cooks were still on the same suicidal path and the new money was not going towards changing their business, just juggling debts and lining pockets. They took the money and stood still. Of course, cash was spent on a new logo and no doubt some wonderful think tank weekends for their executives in glamorous places but it would have been the same under performers that had always sought comfort by thinking well and truly inside the box.

Throughout 2015 and 2016 I was on a travel industry education committee tasked with developing vocational training. Cooks was represented by three managers. During a coffee break, I was talking to a director of a major Cooks’ rival whom I also knew through my work in education. They told me that Cooks’ presence was somewhat arbitrary because their influence on the group was now so weak and their attitude so inward looking that the other delegates conversed with them only out of politeness.

This drastically contrasts with my interactions with Cooks in the 1980s and 90s. During this period they were a wonderful client of mine. My business is a specialist hotel finder, particularly of Italian hotels. Italy was such a key destination that the Cooks’ Piccadilly office had a dedicated Italy desk and happily they gave us a lot of business. This meant that at least once a week I would stroll from our HQ in Regents Street to Piccadilly to deliver the clients’ travel documents. I remember there was always a feeling of arriving somewhere special and it was a privilege to go through their doors. The interior was modern (for the time) with banks of booking agents behind their airport style desks. Yet the Italy area was away from this functional zone and comprised two large dark mahogany desks. The visitor could sit in a green leather Chesterfield and with a true travel expert, go through their travel arrangements as if they were planning a 19th Centuryesque Grand Tour. Style and substance coexisted and it was still impressive.

This genteel corner of tradition however was on the wane. Even by the mid 80s IT had taken a firm, claws-first grip into the under SPF protected skin of the travel industry. Mr Cook had brought discovery to the kind of people who wanted adventure with comfort. The attraction in early tourism was cerebral and cultural with a safe pioneering feel. Cooks the company had every opportunity to maintain this niche but the myopic management opted to go big and inevitably bad. I am sure that many of their latter day clients that went on cultural tours still enjoyed them but the reality is that there are so many excellent specialists in this field, Cooks won’t be missed. Equally the bucket and spade end of things won’t really miss them either. Cooks was among those that helped regular people discover the thrill of leisure travel and to create a kind of travellers’ democracy. However, the IT mobsters have made it oh so easy for people to fly to the sun that they no longer need Cooks to be their Icarus.

An originator has melted its wings and finally crashed. The short term outcome is repatriation and chaos, the long term outcome will be less choice for consumers and a hike in prices. Book direct by all means, but remember you’re one step nearer the flame and there’s nobody there to shield you.

Photo; Jacob Peter Gowy (c 1615-1661), The Fall of Icarus (1635-7), oil on canvas, 195 x 180 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid. Wikimedia Commons

Seasons of Summary

It’s that opposite time of the year again. For most people going about their daily lives the longer days and expected sunlight create a natural momentum and a flow of movement. If people are going to exercise at all, this is certainly the time. Just look at the available number of cycling, running and walking events and you’ll see that spring into summer is flex time.

For many students however, the opposite applies. It’s a case of heads down over the laptop, writing out index cards, slurp a warm drink, procrastinate a little, sip a little more, realign the pencils and hunch again back over the laptop.

As an examiner it’s an odd summer for me because for the first time in 6 years I’m not on the cusp of marking any papers at all because this time around; I’m the student!

I’m finishing off a 10 month course in educational assessment and although I do not have to sit exams, I do have a long report to research and write up and from a seasonal perspective; it feels wrong. I wrote an essay over December and January and found it much easier to lock myself away, pull the curtains and do what was required. The winter months feel like a much more appropriate time to spend indoors and think.

I suppose it has to be this way because the academic year runs from September to June (and nobody’s rushing to change that in a hurry) and we in the system have constructed a necessity for assessments, tests and all other Systems Of Summary to come along now, like a pan national swarm of full stops.

I’m not offering any change or amendment, but I am saying to students and parents do remember that teachers, moderators, invigilators and examiners know what you’re going through. We live through it ourselves each year and remember our own time at the sharp end. We are in fact still there because your success it ours. Educators do it for the vocation and the desire to help. If things go wrong the Sunday Mail will be quick to point and blame and quite frankly, even when things go well, they’ll do the same.

Take it from an insider, your teachers are better than ours were. What you learn is useful and of great value and a secret that others may not like to share; there’s no immediate rush. There’s always tomorrow. See a poor result not as a sign that you’re not up to it but that you’re travelling at a slower pace than the system wants, but you’re still travelling. If you can extract some enjoyment from the subject, you can definitely make it and even if you don’t like it that much, with time you can still arrive.  

YOU MAKE AN OLD MAN VERY HAPPY

Walking Football 3 years on.

Readers will know that in 2016 I started playing walking football (WF). Three years later I’m still playing. It began as an activity for people aged 50+ and has expanded so much that there are 1000’s of WF teams throughout the UK and Europe.

https://www.imagekind.com/Soccer_art?IMID=9b45c8da-3bc5-4386-acf6-4de08ca15392

At Barnet Football Club we have 2 weekly sessions and there is plenty of opportunity to take part in competitions too. I, however, do not get involved in these. A practical reason is that as I have not yet retired, I do not have spare time during the week.  The second reason is that I do not like the way that competitive games make me behave. I took part in a tournament last June and I played quite well. My team got to the semi-finals and among my team mates, developed a reputation for being a pragmatic, no-nonsense player. This is code for saying that I kicked opponents and demonstrated toughness and gamesmanship. My colleagues liked it and to be honest, I enjoyed their plaudits. However, aggression is a bad, if unapparent trait in me and considering I once ruptured my ACL trying to foul somebody, I do not wish to tap into it again. Also, it is not how a middle aged person should behave. Absolutely. Not.

I took up football again because I wanted to get fit doing a sport I love and to make new friends. Whenever we play I spend much of the time laughing out loud and enjoying the fact that the many errors we make are funny. I know I look foolish trying to do something I couldn’t even execute properly in my teens but I’m amused that my brain still imagines me doing a back-heel, even though my chocolate knee crumbles each time I pivot on it. Last year, two teenage footballers were watching our slow clumsy efforts through the fence. As I trotted towards them to collect the ball, one of them called out ‘’Scuse me, are you playing Walking Football?’ After I confirmed her suspicion, she turned to her conspirator and gleefully told her; ‘You see, they’re meant to be slow. Dummy!’

This filled me with joy. The idea that two people were mesmerized not by our prowess or rugged mature looks (yes, somebody did suggest this) but by the fact that we reminded them of their parents or quite probably; their grandparents but doing things parents and grandparents simply do not do.

Our football group is diverse. We have a men with new hips and knees, a female (although once upon a time we had more), a typical ‘London’ racial mix and some younger men that contribute towards the evening with passion and energy. The group, however, has changed. As recently as last summer we had four or five other, much better players all of whom have moved on, I understand, to higher planes of walking football. On one level I prefer this because as one of the better Mediocres, I look better by their absence but I am also disappointed to have learned that these people, all of whom I like, have rejected the pleasures of playing among mixed ‘talents’ and are aiming towards excellence.  

1973; our knees could bend without snapping

Walking Football has done a strange thing; it has brought back dreams to some ageing men. When we began I was enchanted by the notion that I could once again play the sport until I die. Something that abandoned me in the 1990’s had returned and I had my chances again. I love buying boots and other bits of kit and feel a real sense of recreational purpose. I did not however dream of being a champion. When I sat down to write this piece I was minded to be critical of those who have moved on but in writing this I realise it would be churlish to deny them their fantasy. After all, why should their dream be less valid than my non-dream?

So I say ‘go for it boys, just don’t get hurt’.

Duck Billed Platitudes

For my sins I was scanning my Facebook page and was found by a video of an Australian male offering unique advice on how to expand ones consultancy and coaching business. Like any sucker that momentarily forgets that an advertiser is only promoting for his own benefit, I watched 2 minutes of his pitch. Idiot me. This now means that Facebook have told this person I am interested and now I’m sure to get all sorts of unsolicited messages.

The video was captivating to start but as soon as I heard him saying that people like me adopt a marketing plan based on hope rather than strategy I realised that this youthful wide boy was making wild assumptions as well as being patronising and incorrect. His one astute comment; that freelancers are deeply interested in doing what they do was nullified by the claim that freelancers do not want to invest in building their passion into a proper business because they just want to do their work. His whippersnapper error was thinking that we come at it without experience or market knowledge. I turned off realising that nothing is new.

Over the last year I have faced several challenges in business but have come through them. My colleagues and I have achieved this by being dogged, persistent, flexible and above all, client centred. We have also reminded ourselves that rules are there to be adhered to only as far as the letter is concerned and that their spirit is not so important. Like the Video Boy above who pretends he is in it to help others, rules are only really there to benefit the rule makers. We cannot break rules, especially moral ones and those that are bound by law, but with experience we can learn to manipulate them. Having just Googled ‘How to get more coaching and consultancy clients’ I have found several organisations that offer the same as Video Boy and at a glance (I refused the cookie assault option) most appear to be fronted by young sales people of the same ilk that used to sell double glazing, used cars and Encyclopaedias. Not only is nothing new, but it is clear that selling services and products is still being done in the same old pushy style as ever before. Tap into peoples’ frailties and convince them that as it was you that guessed their weaknesses, you can fix them.

Some years ago I asked a psychologist friend what she thought of Neuro Linguistic Programming (a.k.a. NLP) and she replied ‘same old wine, new bottles.’ Nowadays you’re more likely to hear people discussing CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and believe me, it is once again that same soured vinegar but now it’s in biodegradable bottles.

Last night we dined in a very pleasant Indian restaurant in a London suburb that served delicious subcontinental dishes in small portions and labelled them ‘tapas’.  It reminded me of Cuisine Nouvelle from the 1980’s and more recently, Balti style Indian food which still exists but has, I am reliably informed, retreated to Birmingham.

My point dear reader is that as we creep over the calendar border into a new Anno Domini, you should eschew resolutions and avoid pressurising yourself just because other people are telling you to. By all means pick a new name for what you are selling and begin a new health regime but do it when it suits you, not when the media and pushy sales people from Slimming World or WW decide you should.

Change and improvement is always possible and even when it seems improbable, it is worth trying but to give yourself the best chance; do it when you want to.

Remember; a carrot is worth more than a stick because it helps you see in the dark.

carrot-stick-article

CREDITS

This is not the video I saw, but it is similar: https://milliondollarcoach.com/events-aus/

image; https://medium.com/@Bravado/on-closing-week-quotas-and-pushy-salespeople-8204164b3ee

image: http://www.mcpheeandrewartha.com.au/motivating-employees-carrot-stick/

Run to and run from but don’t run there.

I have been running for almost a year now and like most people that have taken up the activity, I find the arrival of the winter evenings with their wind and rain rather off putting.  Although I successfully ran through last winter, it still looms like a rude giant that places his pock-marked face right up to mine and dares me to ‘have a go’. LA BAGNAIA

Of the various winter running strategies I have come across, the one that currently appeals comes from a conversation I had with a friend. He told me that he has taken to thinking about blue skies. This is not a re-hash of noughties’ blue sky thinking or any other management school hyperbole but is something literal.

He confided that each day he thinks of a simple and good thing to get an appreciation of life and a blue sky, when it’s here is wonderful. I have invested much time over the years in seeking out deep meaningful clues (to life). I’ve had temporary successes like when I began my ‘silence project’ two years ago, but little has endured and I think the reason is that I sought out obscure ideas because they felt clever rather than simple ones. The idea of ‘think of something good’ now appeals because it is just so straightforward.

A few weeks ago I went to Tuscany (see my previous blog) to attend a UNESCO tourism event. I have been to many exhibitions over the years but due to the fact that the invitations have become fewer, I now value them much more when I get the chance to attend.

As I checked into the hotel (Hilton’s La Bagnaia Resort near Siena)

scenic view of the field from the road
Photo by bruce mars on Pexels.com

I was told both good and bad news. The good news was that the resort had a gym and the bad news was that it is 1.5 km along the road. I had brought my sports gear and wanted to run but was put off by the fact that the gym was a five minute drive away. I realised however that I could run to the gymnasium, do more running there and then run back.

It was Friday evening in early October. As I left my room and stepped onto the cobbled yard I was struck by how temperate the weather was. There was a pleasant caress of warmth accompanied by a hay like aroma that reminded me of somewhere I had never been. I walked downhill through a stone arch and began to run. It was easy to begin as the descent continued and the scenery was ancient and calm. To one side was a manicured golf course which although pretty and green is a manufactured construct that bends nature to reinventing itself in the name of a rather pompous pastime. The other side was more natural and rough and the high hedge along the route obscured me seeing over it. I had to be careful with the running as the country road had a grass margin that was as bumpy as the pot-holed road and I am always aware of the risk of twisting an ankle. I managed however to grab a few upward skyward glances and noted the friendly deep blue above.

After 9 or so minutes I approached the building that housed the gym and realised I did not have enough time to run in the gym here and then get back so I eschewed the indoor facilities and completed my 3km by running back to the resort. I found it amusing that because I had run to and from the gym I had rendered its existence rather pointless.