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

Dancing on the Jetty

(Alternative silences)faenza

A warm 4pm sun slanted towards me as it prepared to set. The 27 degrees were made bearable by a speedy breeze. I stepped up onto the repaired jetty and began a casual stroll seawards towards its lamp bearing point. This is one of two parallel structures that sit about 200 meters apart astride the estuary of Porto Santa Margherita, Caorle near Venice.

I love this place.

I love the peace of knowing that to my right sat my hereditary home town of Venice, to my left, the  Gulf of Trieste and in front, beyond this pier, the relative safety of a calm Adriatic. I’m no seafarer, but if you want to wax and wane about green\blue salt waters, this is a good comfort-zone location to do it.

I was on a mission of silence. Part of a project to unearth a level of inner peace – something that has always eluded me.  It should have been easy to let the wind and lapping waters transport me someplace ‘else’ but to be frank, I’ve never been able to relax or to contemplate but a self-awareness crept up on me as I watched other people I could begin to take aim.

As I begun the stroll I was immediately struck by how many other people were passing their time on this same strip of concrete. A random cross-selection of Italy, about fifty people, was shuffling, marching, walking, swaggering and flouncing.

There was the noise of the seaside; birds, swans, wind, voices and the further I walked out, the softer they became. The shuffling sandals always belonged to people and of the people, this group of disconnects, I found four types of person, each embracing their own peace;

Western Guru, Fishermen, The Seaweed Community, The Observer’s Shadow.

When it comes to a calm the mind there’s no hierarchy and no space for judgement. Each has their own place along the jetty and whether that person is on a holiday break, a pause between bouts of depression, a child losing her inhibitions in the warm sun and a million other permutations. They are all valid.

What works for you

Could work for them

Or it may not.

If this silence is actually loud

There’s another version that will work

Your task is to find it and own it

And this is one thing you don’t have to share.

The first person was the Western Guru. 

Western Guru. Vuitton bag, Yoga mat and an Occidental sun

A European man sat facing the sea. Legs crossed lotus. His slim flexible frame sent a shudder of envy down my un-flat stomach. With his yoga mat and straight back it could even be that he wanted to be seen ‘doing it right’. I couldn’t decide if he was performing and wishing to be seen or truly building from inside. To offer the benefit of my doubt, I’d say that from his point of view the passing sample of public was an incidental thing. He could create an internal calm not despite, but because of the external sounds. Slapping waves, gull cries and even fighter jets on their way to and from an air display along the coast.

The more (confusion) outside: the more (controlled calm) inside.

It made me think that to assume a place of inner silence when already surrounded by silence, can for a town dweller, be rather daunting. But to be silent when surrounded by the familiarity of sounds and voices can enhance the peace.

And on I went along the path. I remember a brassy hook embedded in the sunken concrete that blinked up at me emblazoned TEMA FAENZA.

And so to the fishermen.

Mainly alone yet some in pairs, these men and boys enthuse about tackle and bait yet once they’ve cast the line, cloak themselves in stillness. Somehow the muted hubbub doesn’t affect the fish and a little like the Western Guru their actions are minimal and habitual. They do what they do and that is enough.  fishermen

Fishermen seem to know themselves. They appear self-aware.

Is their end game really to capture the flailing floppy fish or is the act of fishing the end in itself? I shifted focus to a tanned man with a simple rod and the ancientness of this activity came to me. Was this the beginning of humans discovering patience? When they accepted that the road to the goal of food required strategy and stillness and that this waiting time brought about the bonus of introspection and chill?

As I moved along the pier I noted that if a fish was caught it was the watching kids and adults that reacted in excitement at the capture. The fishermen remained stoic and controlled, as if the hook and haul was part of the process, not the end of it. Somehow even though hobby fishermen could undertake the activity without trying for a catch, the potential bite remains key. Even if the catch is in truth a secondary goal to the main one of carving out some ‘me-time’, to achieve moments of peace, the ‘wake-up’ jump-to-it moment of getting a bite is sewn into the process.

The Seaweed Community.

And on further towards the sea I went. To my right, on the large bank of sloping crane-planted rocks sat three young people and a dog. Here they shared a long, clumsily rolled joint. My first thoughts turn to the quadruped, barking his passive smoking way to dog-space. And as his bark subsided I confessed to myself that I never got this hippy thing. Personally I’m happier with the odd-un-shared Tramadol.

The dog sits low on the stones between her left kidney and his left knee.

‘Off my head inside my head. Alone.’

Yet this group chill is shared by many and as I watch the humans giggle and move in slow motion I accept that this kind of shared space doesn’t have to be a bad space. Whatever these people are feeling, or think they are feeling, I can see that as the sun sets and the sea breeze blows, the reality of the situation really doesn’t matter. If you can slip into a moment and then let it slip away, what the hell?  After all, it’s a viable rehearsal for the great unknown. The giggles and whispers between the youths and the dog are certainly not silence, at least not in its literal format but the state of a different reality is possibly just as valid. I suppose the issue with drugs, apart from dangers, costs and social alienation is that they might take you further away from inner peace rather than nearer to it.

But I’m not the one to judge because my own peace is largely derived from being the passive observer. I’d like to be the invisible man. In fact not even that man himself, but his shadow. Reality not once, but twice removed.

The Observer’s Shadow.

Consider some facts;

I cast a shadow taller than I’ll ever be, yet he’ll never be anything other than flat and in 2D.


  1. I have tried yoga and meditation. I’ve even had an Ayurveda massage and disliked them all. I find that an enforced introspection can dig up those not-so-deep lying demons of failure, conspiracy of the system against me and lost opportunities. The shark-toothed bite of nostalgia can infect me with quaint smells and deep regrets. My past is one of cautious times cautious squared. The ghost of the mediocre scares me when my own silence is loud.
  1. I tried fishing too and despite the thrill, the idea of waiting Godot-like for a fishy end with a wormy hand and hook-punctured finger has no appeal. I’d be sitting on the edge wishing I’d brought my hand sanitiser. C’est la guerre.



I do find a peace in being the watcher. The one based on the periphery with licence to step in and step out in a heartbeat.

My silent place is derived from watching two or three people or ideas come together and curating the outcome.

I’m aware that this is very much an artist’s position. Watching, interpreting and creating. My own silent place kicks-in before the creation. It’s the joy of seeing connections, those already manifested and those yet to occur. The world recreates miniature works of art every moment and even if I’m no Da Vinci, I can still sense the silent rumble of things about to unfurl.

Swans in the sea, whatever next?




First Stand of The Tourister

 Maiden Flight of a Boy Alone 

As my father’s Super8 cine camera panned upwards from the family to my newly airborne plane they waved at me soaring skywards from Heathrow, bound for Venice to visit my grandparents. My father, a typical 1960’s dad, filmed every moment of take-off, nothing would be omitted. What he had missed however was the not insignificant issue that I wasn’t on the plane. They were blowing kisses at the wrong aircraft!


I, meanwhile was lost and tearful in BEA’s departure zone in Terminal 2. My flight had been delayed for two hours but as a VIP Junior Flyer I was ushered into an office. To an 8-year-old this was impressive and I actually thought we were in the control tower. Through the picture window I saw planes and baggage handlers moving in strange jagged dances across the elephant grey tarmac. I remember thinking that if I wasn’t so sad, I’d enjoy this scene. My view became overwhelmed by a massive PAN AM tail fin cruising past. It was so close I could see the paint break in the celeste globe where the rear aileron was hinged. It looked clean and dirty at the same time.

The control tower/office door opened and a pretty girl breezed in. Confident, tanned and switching from Italian to English effortlessly, she smiled at me. She introduced herself as Maria-Grazia. I remember her wearing white lace gloves. She was ten. For the first time in my life I felt a heat blush that bore no relation to the warm weather. Could I, at 8 years and 8 months be falling in love? The hostess announced that we’d be travelling together as VIP Juniors. My face cracked as a whimper escaped my mouth; what about my family? My grandparents are waiting at Marco Polo. MG looked at me with the gaze of a grounded angel ‘We’ll all be alright’.

Gloop gloop went my melting heart.

And we flew. I relaxed into flight, MG’s kindness and two-years-more-on-earth maturity gave me confidence. The emotions stirred were the pure ones children can feel that usually only happen in books and movies featuring parks and sunlight.ren8

Her deep brown eyes switched from mine to the round cornered porthole ‘look’ she said ‘La Laguna’. Windows on both Port and Starboard displayed the deep oil green sea on which it felt like we were definitely going to land. There was no sign of ground anywhere. This scene, MG to my immediate right and sea filled windows all around has been a regular dream ever since. A serenity only broken by the bump and upward judder of the unexpected Venetian

At the journey’s end I won’t pretend we held hands, nor that I had the foresight to get her address (in the 60’s you swapped addresses and wrote to each other). As we stepped down the grey hot metal stairs towards our expectant high volume relatives we exchanged smiles and flighty heavy hearts of a love found, then lost forever.


She looked a bit like this:


Broad Mind:Narrow Vision

Three end of year thoughts (loosely held together by a tightrope walk)

December is odd. The London world whips itself into a frenetic state during the Christmas build up, falls into a lull on December 26th and then limps and sways before trying to launch​ itself anew in January. Talk is of healthy new beginnings and becoming something you are not. I find the situation illogical. We know instinctively that things works better if they have momentum behind them yet by speeding up then ramming the brakes we lose consistency and January is in fact a creeping, cloying, chewing gum on the sole kind of month.



Equally odd is that this pressure is self or rather socially, induced. There is no need for it.​

​Some years ago, the whole country would close down and people were obliged to spend long periods together. They had journeyed far and were able, if not in continuous harmony, to spend a prolonged time with near and distant family. But now,​there is no longer, especially within our growing city culture, reason to be shacked up and hemmed in by rarely seen and faintly loved non-nuclear relatives.

Shops and entertainments are open all but one day and not even the weather forces us to stay inside (notwithstanding the poor folk who’ve been flooded).

We seem to embrace a stressful break that we don’t really like for traditional rather than practical reasons.


One of my final ​acts of work during 2015 was attending a plan​ners’​meeting for a new educational programme. One of the topics debated was whether students that fail, or get a low grade, should have the opportunity to be re-assessed. ​

The main argument against was that it would be unfair to candidates who did well first time. After all, shouldn’t they be rewarded for hard work and application?

In favour of re-sitting was the point that if a learner can improve over time, they too deserve another ch​a​nce​. Then there were sub-arguments that maybe re-takers could pay, or have their maximum grade restricted (in order, I suppose to stop people from literally buying qualifications).

My jury remains out on this rather complex situation, but I was struck that even after many years and many tried and tested models of education it is still likely that when organising people get together they have a need to rewrite the blueprints. Plus ca change…




Yesterday my family and I ate in Wahaca, a Mexican style eatery on London’s Southbank. It’s a bit like a students’ union both staffed and frequented by the young and sparsely dotted with babies and parents. The food is ok, the service not. When our initial server was replaced by a more competent one, we asked him about his background and what he does when he’s not working.  He explained he was a graduate in English Literature and was working in a restaurant as he couldn’t get other work. He added that if he’d had his time again he’d have choosen a degree with more transferable skills. My heart sank. I always thought that being able to discuss, evaluate criticise and summarize (Literature students’ forte) were among the most valuable skills. It seems that is no longer the case and that employers are not so keen on creative thinking (potentially argumentative and individual?) people and prefer young minds that have been pre-moulded to fit the work ethic before taking them on and breaking them in/down.

This however does not explain why two young scientists I know are leaving their laboratories and switching to careers in law and accountancy. If these changes are for the money, then it’s a real shame that science does not offer them a proper income. It makes me uneasy to think that bright young minds are turning away from making the planet better and unless they’re idealists appear to be just following (albeit sorely needed) cash. It reminds me of the Dire Straits’ song Telegraph Road: ’ Then came the churches then came the schools, then came the lawyers then came the rules’…


In parallel with infinity

My name is Renato and I’m a comparer.


One of the pleasures in writing is that it allows the writer to highlight commonalities between places, things, ideas and people that appear to have nothing in common.

​I’m a fan of the world and especially the way it spins out parallels and incidents that almost, but not quite repeat each other. There’s something comforting in coincidence.​ This happened​ in a sad way this week when the fathers of two of my wife’s close friends died on the same day. The two men were not connected and neither were their respective daughters, the only link is my wife. The gents’ lives and deaths had nothing in common but somehow they have converged from parallel paths of life into a brief, grief arrowhead in my partner’s thoughts and feelings.

Coincidence and synchronicity are weird concepts, but they take bites out of our daily lives and we all have tales to tell. It seems that the randomness of the universe, if not quite governed by such events is in some way influenced by them and via a chain of ’cause & effect’, influences new happenings that are meaningful to some people some of the time, but mostly meaningless to most of us most of the time. The moments can invoke both tragic and magical feelings. They can create great joy (as in this case of a boy being reunited with his lost cat), scrape the skin of sadness (as above) or subtly elicit a ‘hmm, that’s interesting’ reaction while the person muses on the moment or lets it pass.


It has surely driven some people towards organised religion and sent others off in search for inner and outer meanings. My own reaction has always been to hold onto the moment and try really hard to see what else is being suggested. There’s a moment of truth that lurks momentarily beneath the surface before it dives down to the deep dark leagues to hide forever.

In an evening in March 1983 I was walking along the river side in Salzburg. In this dark late winter a heavy object sped through my peripheral vision and caused me to sharply cower as it careened past my head, raised its chalky feathered neck, flapped four metres of muscle wing and proceeded to crash into a bridge 10 metres in front of me. The vast swan fell, tail first with a thumping splash into the river. I hope it didn’t die, but I think it did.

When I got back to my hotel room and put on my Walkman earphones (young readers, a Walkman is like a 20th century iPod) and returned to listening to the remaining third of Marc Bolan’s song ‘Ride a White Swan‘. This was a coincidence, I had been hearing a song about a swan and forgotten it. Now I found myself straining for the connection and spent the rest of the evening walking around the old town looking for the other half of the Swan’s message. I’m still looking.

​I like minimalism.

I prefer modern art in modern galleries to old art and old galleries.​I like exhibitions where the venue is as interesting as the exhibits. I enjoy modernity with wide white spaces, architectural use of natural light and I like the fact that modernism has the option to use minimal paint ​(or bronze or clay or Plexiglas) ​and allow​s​ the observer to ​fill in the gaps from the over flow of their mind. ​Modernism uses the power of ​​suggestion and it can be more stimulating than lots of detail chucked on the canvas by a classical artist flashing his/her dexterity.

In a similar tone, I like the idea of travelling light. ​Somewhere in the 1990’s, PUMA the sports kit maker, started offering more than running shoes and highly desirable football boots and promoted a capsule kit for the constant tra​veller. The idea was marvellous. A hand luggage sized suitcase housed a dark non-crease suit ( a real one, not a track one), a pair of trainers that were so black they were as good as formal, a couple of shirts (probably blue and white) and as I recall, a grey lightweight packable raincoat. I regret never having bought it because it seemed so simple, neat and complete and the word CAPSULE not only had a cool Starman / Space Oddity vibe but also suggested ‘ This is it, it is all you’ll ever need. You are now self contained’. Yippee.

So ​given all the above, WHY THE HELL AM I SO MESSY?

I love the simple neat tidy approach. BUT I CANNOT MAINTAIN IT

Simplicity suggests such great qualities; planning, forethought and because it narrows down the options it means that is less time to procrastinate and contemplate.

I have recently re-designed my business cards. I go through this ritual each year when my old cards are depleting and I want a fresher identity. I spend hours both online and doodling on paper in writing the same old self descriptions; Lecturer Teacher, Coach, Assessor, Hotel expert…etc.  I have invested hours in creating acronyms e.g. CAT for Coach Assessor and Trainer and then (with my daughter’s assistance) COACH, AUTHOR TRAVEL only to regret having gone to print because the final piece had too much detail and was too confusing, even for me.

In the case of the over-the-top business cards it’s perhaps a case of me trying to define a self identity. If you have just one job, it’s easy for a card to state what you do. But when like me, you have a fixed job and freelance in other things too, your job title (WHAT YOU DO) is less important than WHO YOU ARE. I’d love my calling card to represent a singular idea but as it represents me, and I do several things, I guess that until I become famous and everyone thinks they know who I am, I’ll go on spelling it out. But it could be a long wait.

And while I wait I come to an uncomfortable conclusion; the multiple job titles, the cheeky jibes at classical art, the scribbles, the tens of half started note books and ALL THE STUFF is, annoyingly, me. It is me because beneath the consciousness I know that I have more chance of triggering off pleasing random coincidences than if I succeeded in being thoroughly tidy.

I said above that modern spaces with their cooling beams of whitish light allow the inner imagination to flourish and in some cases this can be true. But it’s when you stand on a middles ages river bank beneath gothic spires, wood beamed building fronts, ancient mountains and Mozart’s music chipping around from a chocolate box shop that you know you’re a little nearer to bringing parallel lines to a point of convergence.

Why Travel? (The Psychology of Travel Part 2.0)

I was talking with a nervous client who was minded to cancel her trip. If you work in the travel business you’ll know that cancellations are not good. They equate to lost earnings, angry suppliers and the client’s exponentially growing disappointment as invariably they forfeit an unhealthy financial deposit. It’s a lose-lose situation.

The Hanging Monastery of St. George's | The Judean Desert Valley of Wadi Qelt, Israel

I decided therefore to try a new approach and to find out if I could convince her to carry on with the trip. This was not to be a sales ‘pitch’, in fact I’ve not used any selling techniques in years because the last thing you want as a professional is to be accused of having persuaded somebody to do something or go someplace they don’t want. People turn on you and blame you and make you feel like a criminal.

I’d rather do no business at all than earn a commission and get yelled at for my troubles.

Anyhow, I digress. This was not a ‘cowboy client’ but a woman with regular pre-travel worries that stemmed from the fact she had arranged a holiday for her party rather than work out the purpose of the trip ( Yes, even a holiday needs a purpose).
What follows is a synthesis of my findings from listening to her. You’ll recognise some of your own angst in this list.

The first thing when contemplating a journey is to decide if the trip is to provide rest and to recharge your batteries or whether it’s to explore and discover. I suppose it comes down to the age-old TOURIST Vs TRAVELLER debate. I confess that I have been known to rather snobbishly curse the tourists among us mainly because I see myself as a traveller but when I analysed my own travel patterns, I realised I was not as intrepid or as adventurous as I liked to believe. The reality of course is that most of us seek a combination of rest and stimulation. Except people that go on cruises, they just want to eat yet pretend to themselves the calories consumed are necessary to give them the energy to run round Civitavecchia or Oporto before they miss the boat. Literally.
Once the main reason is known, you can build a travel plan. Below, I include two approaches, but you’re welcome to mix/match, pick and choose. It’s not definitive.

Aim; to rest and relax.
1. Select a ‘solid’ base to vacation in. You’re not minded to travel outside the gardens / grounds / compound and will need to know that everything is on site. For example, if you want to lie by the pool you need to know about the availability and costs of sun loungers, towels, shade, bars, bar staff and so on. Basically, can you vegetate with ease?

2. Close off all temptations and external influences. Perhaps Sharm El Sheikh or Dubai will suffice because beyond ‘your’ resort is desert. Then more desert. Some sand. A camel train (although that could be quite interesting hmmm…) and more sand. I know that there are some great activities to be done in the wadis and on the dunes, but stick with it; I have a point to prove.

Wadi Methkandoush, Libya

Fantastic photo from:


3. Ensure a routine can be easily established. I know this is bit like being in a hospital, but if you can find a place where meal times are narrow and the distance from your room to the restaurant/bar is short, you’ll soon become a happy tanned zombie.
4. After 25 hours you’ll feel at home. You won’t be mentally or physically challenged and provided you can hide from other guests you’ll be well set-up to chill out. Even in the heat.




Classy Cruiser photo:

Aim: the feed the mind, the soul and ailing body
1. Select a ‘loose’ base to vacation in. You’ll want to travel outside the immediate location and will need to know what can be reached on foot with ease. If you want to explore ancient archaeological sites you need to know opening times, transport options and the downside of getting it wrong. Could you end up stranded? If so, will this be an adventure or an obstacle? If it’s an obstacle – think again. Perhaps you need to be on a cruise ship after all.
2. If you location is ‘loose’, you’ll need to be solid and emotionally self-sufficient within yourself. We’re not talking Bear Grills here, but I once got lost in the amphitheatre of Pompeii in August. I was a tour guide having lost 52 passengers and had ripped a knee cartilage running around in 35 degrees. I cried. I am not Bear Grills and I now watch adventurous stuff on YouTube.
3. Enjoy the moment. I know very little about mindfulness and the awe of nature has only hit me once. It was in the American Rockies. Jet lagged, I fought off the fatigue by skiing. I went up the mountains at Copper Mountain, fumbled off the chair lift and was positively amazed at the panorama. But that was it, first and last time I could say ‘awesome’. In fact I didn’t say ‘awesome’ because in the 20th century nobody did.

Interested in more? See Walk and Talk below;

4. Hold the thought and use it more often. I have stayed in my travel comfort zone for many years. I know though that if you push and nudge just a little, the spirit of adventure can grab you and colour in the smallest of experiences. I know it, but I don’t do it, but I’m a writer and have licence to pretend on paper.


TALK & WALK​ a snippet borrowed from my own past:​

AS you walk across the park take a moment and stop a while. Look at a nearby curled leaf, either on a plant or on the ground. This is a time to simply contemplate on that leaf and nothing else. My inclination is to look at the leaf and compare it to my own life,​to think of its journey from uncurling damp green birth to powdery death via a series of dehyd​r​a​tions and crumblings.

The aim, and god knows I too find it hard, is to forget the metaphors and comparisons and to get into the moment for its own sake. By walking places you get the chance to touch it all.

Souvenirs Remembered – My List (From Toblerone to Jenga)

A popular way of supporting and jogging memory is to write things down in lists.

Shopping lists, To-Do lists, Guest Lists and Checklists are among the first to come to mind.


A list is a thing of simple functionality, it is succinct and clear. The list’s downside however is that it can soon become complicated when you tick off items, make notes, add pictures or squiggles and highlights.

Rather than copy out a new refined list the temptation is to hold onto the original one as it begins to feel like a fifth limb. We rely on it rather than replace it as it develops an almost talismanic importance representing something greater than it really is. It takes on the status of a blueprint and we get the sense it can be used repeatedly by yourself and by others. Just look at how the simple spreadsheet, itself a list-like entity, has evolved through being an electronic cash book to being the basis of infinite volumes of changing data.

At the point when a list is copied and shared its importance grows and it becomes what scientists call a taxonomy. The word grew out of Biology where (people like) Darwin began classifying species and connecting them with their respective paths of evolution. (I am guessing you can call the Periodic Table a taxonomy too as it presents and classifies the elements in an organised format).

The Taxonomy concept spilled out from mainstream science and into the social ones. There are taxonomies of food ingredients, genres of rock music and the well known taxonomy of learning (developed in the 1950’s by American Educational Psychologist Benjamin Bloom. (Some good information can be found here’s taxonomy overview).

Bloom’s taxonomy is often drawn as a pyramid yet one day, whilst I was gazing at one, my mind drifted and in front of my eyes, his diagram metamorphosised into Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – another well known Tobleronic model that deals with a different but not too distant topic.









…And both together…

bloom & maslow

I realised that the use of graphics in these two supposedly simple items was beginning to create confusion.  If you search them out on the internet, you’ll find a plethora of convoluted, added-to and manipulated triangles and  3D pyramids. I have shown simple versions from decent sources above, but the truth is that it all becomes a bit muddy – and I haven’t even mentioned Mind Maps yet (sermon for another day).

All these distractions were making me forget what’s important in these list/diagrams; REMEMBERING STUFF.

These two models each have a solid base/foundation/springboard. The idea is that once you’ve grown beyond the base, you progress upwards until you reach your top state of well being; Creativity / Self Actualisation.

An alternative to layered Triangles is engineering’s path of progress; flowcharts. Although a flow chart looks like a series of random shapes and lines we grab from the top of our computer page, the shapes actually have proper meanings and indeed, have their own language. E.g. a horizontal oval means both ‘start’ and ‘end’ and a diamond shape means ‘decision’.

As soon as I discovered that these were more than nice shapes I felt uncomfortable using them because I sensed I was somehow the ignorant non scientist defiling a system that had clearly supported legitimate engineering for years. Perhaps I’m being too considerate, but I feel wrong in using something incorrectly. ‘’Better off’’ I tell myself, in coming up with my own way of listing things.

Another thing that dissuades from using Geometrics and Flow charts is that their upward pointing triangles and arrowed movements imply a one way street, that you can and must only progress. If I know one thing to be true, it is that the term ‘two paces forward and one pace back’ is neither niche nor known to a select few – WE ALL KNOW IT. Life and all the things within it are not linear. We need not so much a model but an attitude that allows every line in a list to be able to precede or succeed any other line.  It can happen by design or by random happening.

And so here it is: JENGA LISTING

My Jenga Listing is simple. You write your list in the knowledge that whatever it pertains to is like a tower of Jenga blocks. Because the blocks (words) are obliged to move out and up (the rules of the game) the best you can do is control them with dexterity and move them with minimum of damage. At the beginning you can be a bit cavalier and concentrate on compromising your opponent but as the game moves on and the tower becomes more fragile, you have to be careful and gentle. Stopping is not an option because like life itself and whatever you happen to be listing it is always in flux.


It’s less of a model and more of a mindset. You can present the words how you want; pencil on paper or stylus on touch screen  it really doesn’t matter. The important point is to know that it’s not sacred and can be moved around or struck through at any time.

In the next section I’ll discuss how listing and taxonomies relate to travel.







“My List” the Killers (Sam’s Town)

Let me wrap myself around you

Let you show me how I see

And when you come back in from nowhere

Do you ever think of me?

Your heart is not able

Let me show you how much I care

I need those eyes to tide me over

I’ll take your picture when I go

It gives me strength and gives me patience

But I’ll never let you know

I got nothing on you baby

But I always said I try

Let me show you how much I care

Cause sometimes it gets hard

And don’t she know

Don’t give the ghost up just clench your fist

You should have known by now you were on my list

Don’t give the ghost up just clench your fist

You should have known by now you were on my list

Don’t give the ghost up just clench your fist

You should have known by now you were wrong (on my list)

When your heart is not able

And your prayers they’re not fables

Let me show you (let me show you)

Let me show you (let me show you)

Let me show you how much I care oh

Souvenirs Remembered Part 1

I watched a child gathering shells, ignoring the low level ripple waves lapping her tiny feet and ankles.

She kept the complete ones, Featured imagediscarded the cracked ones and then replaced some of the complete ones with better specimens.

A small child’s search for the perfect shell encapsulates many things. The first is an innate need to find perfection, the ultimate shell, the one that makes all other shells shrink away, contrite and defeated. This shell, at least until another comes along is the most shapely and colourful there ever was.

The shell’s glory however lasts until a sibling snatches or smashes it and all that lingers is a memory, but what is the actual memory the young girl will keep? The moment of find/capture or the sibling’s smash that in a moment defines the fragile nature of souvenir and memories.

I believe this is a deep down reason that the increase in dementia is becoming such a concern. There are broadly two types of memory, the physical motor /muscle memory that comes from habit and practice and the one that dwells in our dementia prone brain. The latter scares us because once our memories have gone, so too have our stories and it is stories that are the backbone of human communication. Without them we live in the present tense.

In the context of Leadership, memory of processes, methods and culture can often live more in the heads of its people than on paper and even if it is properly documented i.e written somewhere, it can be ignored. When people are hard at work they don’t always have the will or the time to break away from the doing to see how they’re doing it. Therefore, if people leave, a part of the group memory disappears, the story shortens, less is known and the diminish begins. It may be known as process or method, but it’s really a Group Memory that is leaving and becomes vulnerable to change. The change ultimately could even be positive but for the people remaining, nostalgia suggests the change is a negative.

photo ref; Fornasetti

The changing nature of shade

A fragment of the paradox of travel.

The words below are a distillation of a conversation I had with a relucant holiday maker. It was clear to me that her motives for holidaying were confused and as she talked of The Sun, she meant compromise, losing out on choice and many other things.

Chase the shade
While it creeps to sun
Its nature is that of shift

A temporary respite that cowers
From the open sky

Some spend lives in his pursuit
And yet once they buy him and the right to hug him
They hide

A planet in imbalance
Eyes blink
And lids begin to burn


The Paradox of Travel

DeChirico Departure (2)In the next few blogs I am re-presenting my thoughts on the logistic contradictions and emotional upheavals stimulated by travel. These ideas were part of a ‘Psychology of Travel’  seminar series I gave to various business people, organisational developers and university students. Some of lesson two was even used with teams of forensic accountants and personal investment bankers in a bank in Milan (but not necessarily an Italian bank…) on the very eve of the recession. They had just seen millions of their clients’ Euros vanish and I introduced them to calmness through a coaching style, but more of that later.

This is all because I was recently asked why I was now using Travel as the metaphor when hitherto I had been known as the person that talks about Football. Regular followers know that I believe that any set of metaphors, so long as they are universally understood, are a tremendous way to nudge understanding, ‘buy-in’ and all the good stuff that goes with ‘special interest’. Communciation has to be intelligent but not shrouded in a complex academic style and my aim as a coach / trainer / teacher is always to help the other person improve their understanding and thence their performance. As the person nearly said; Use clever words simply.

And so…

Travel, according to the OED is defined as ‘going from one place to another, especially over a long distance.’  I’ve opted to add ‘either directly or via other places’ because the directness or wavyness of the route is a big pointer in determining whether the voyager is doing it only for purposes of being at the (final) destination or whether the act of travelling is of value in itself.


Journey metaphors are liberally applied in life. We all do it and it’s everywhere. It can refer to a chunk of time such as our journeys through childhood or adolescence, it can be a segment of experience such as a journey to gaining a qualification or coming to terms with an emotion such as grief or heartbreak. And it can apply jointly to emotion with experience;

‘Losing “is all part of the journey of being a winner”, said Brendan Rodgers… After his team suffered…against Aston Villa …the journey ahead of Rodgers appears similarly exhausting’ 

So, while I write nominally about travel, other journey types rear their heads and the multibiguity is deliberate and to be embraced. What is important is the sense that travel/ journey has the potential to help people to grow and better themselves. Experiences on the move and in new places seem to magnify in significance, burn deeper in the memory and retain greater colour. Being away helps us to reflect on our life back home and gives us the capacity to compare and to see ourselves with a degree of objectivity that we simply cannot get by staying put.

Travel also brings on rushes of adrenalin, heightened awareness and a sharper mind. Somehow being on the move can shunt our brains into a more acute and functional mode and we become better primed to learn and experience new things. The traveller develops a kind of 360 degree vision and our more animal instincts begin to awaken.


Unless it’s a commute or a chore of a work trip, travel is usually something people look forward to. It’s not Time Travel exactly, but it has the nature of the future as it is a collection of unknowns that lurk ahead of us in spaces and places that are even more beyond our control than our comparatively safe daily lives. Travel can be exciting, fearsome or a shifting, churning  mash up of both.

And here the Paradox begins; Travel is something we crave but yet it can push us away too.

It is often portrayed as an end in itself, as a goal and as an ambition. ‘I want to travel’ people say. The counterpoint however is that travelling, or being ‘about to to travel’ exposes hundreds of fears. Fears of risk, separation, melancholia and let’s face it, the fear of death. Just about every mode of transport has its own related ‘sickness’ and there is something deeply unnatural in moving speedily about the planet. Travel probably appears on every bucket list and most of us can name that special place we want to visit. It’s intriguing to think that the human desire to explore and delve has never abated and that our curiosity, even in an age when we have instant sight and sound access to so many locations propels us to want to be there in the flesh. There’s a pathological need to trigger touch taste and smell plus the metaphysical impulse, that feline sixth sense that is generally quashed and shunned by logic and scientific reasoning.

Going back to human beginnings, as our ancestors walked away from Africa they did so slowly ( and in the pursuit of food and new, safe land. It was travel, but not holiday-like. They went in search of water, food and later generations sought out farmable land. It was all territory and war and basic hygiene factors to just survive. Travelling would have been a gross inconvenience and until it was necessary probably happened very little.

I imagine that people would surely have visited other places, greener grass and all that, but I presume that if they didn’t have to move the whole tribe, they didn’t. A day long excursion ‘over the hill’  would have been likely, but if you’re hunting and eating, sleeping and reproducing you probably didn’t have much leisure time and until your base was coveted by an enemy, you’d have probably been happy to stay where you are.

So although travel excites and stimulates, the worries and concerns can oblige the traveller to steep herself in deep organisation, to obsess over ticket management, set an array of alarms and become a control freak that shouts and bosses her companions. Nerves take over and tempers fray. The fun of anticipation seeps away and the trip shifts from an adventure to an endurance test.

What created the paradox is also what created the modern concept of leisure travel; Speed. The speed of travel has surely provided the impulse and ability for us to vacate our homes for short and long breaks. The umbilical stretches like a rubber band and we go away knowing we’re going to be pulled back. The ticket is always a return one.

We leave home knowing a return is a guaranteed part of the package and that we are not migrating, but observing.