Reflection

Before and after

As I sit here on a pleasantly warm and sunny evening in June, I feel, for the first time in a long while, a compulsion to write. This is unusual as it’s typically an emotional event that prompts me to fire up the laptop and start typing; tonight, I feel contented.

But why? We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, life as we knew it has been turned on its head and looks like being severely disrupted for many months to come.

That’s not to say I haven’t been thinking a lot about everything going on around me, just that where we are right now has an eye-of-the-storm calmness about it. The immediate panic-stricken response seems long in the past – even though in reality it was just a few months ago – yet we are far from out of the woods. However, like a toddler walking for the first time, the country is continuing to make small and tentative steps towards restoring life to how it was before. Of course, it might not be like before and I’ve lost count of the number of times people refer to the “new normal” almost to the point it has become a single word.

Newnormal.

I said I was calm tonight, but underneath I feel an underlying sense of unease. Despite the initial baby steps, the appetite is there to lift restrictions at an increasing pace. Once the flood gates have been opened, it’s going to take one hell of an effort to close them again.

Lots of the shops opened up again today and from the pictures online, it seems that thousands of people have been champing at the bit to engage in a bit of retail therapy beyond clicking on the ‘buy now’ button. Is it just herd mentality fuelled by targeted social media advertising or is there a sense of desperation out there from people to rediscover a little of what life was like before all this happened?

I wasn’t one of the thousands and not just because I was working (at home) today. If I’m entirely honest, there is a part of me that is thriving off life at present. Of course, I am devastated by the cost to human life that the world has experienced in the last six months. Easy to forget that every number is a person: a mother, a father, a daughter, a son, a friend, a lover and all those affected by death during these times will, no doubt, wish that none of this ever happened. In that sense, tonight’s words indeed should be taken in perspective and could be perceived as nothing more than some self-indulgent self-reflection. I beg forgiveness if this is how it comes across.

However, I want to tap into something bigger than my own feelings and I suppose I hope that by sharing, I can spark some thoughts in your own minds.

What was life like before?

Routine; busy; daily commute; traffic jams; swimming; face-to-face meetings; planes in the sky; family get-togethers; crowds at football matches; trips to town; rushing; school runs; plenty of pasta; cinema; beer in a pub; freedom to travel; life passing by; and traffic fumes.

The list could go on and these were some that popped into my head. You will see that some of these are aspects of life which I dearly miss but, equally, there are some elements of that life that I could do without experiencing ever again. I genuinely don’t miss the faster pace of life before; the tick tock of my natural metronome is more in step with the tick tock of life around me presently. And I like that.

That said, I do want (and need) to go swimming again and I long for a Sunday roast with all the family talking over each other at the dinner table rather than on a Zoom call. I want a beer in a pub even though a pint costs almost a fiver. I want to travel again. I want my kids to get back to school so they can see their friends and re-start learning in a classroom (or the playground).

Work is going to be an interesting one. Not just for where I work but for companies up and down the country and across the globe. Have we witnessed a seismic shift to virtual companies with almost no office estate? Will those of us who can work from home ever return to the office where we previously spent countless hours? How will we cope in a face-to-face meeting without being able to turn off the camera and microphone for an enormous yawn? Will people still need season tickets or has the daily commute by bus or train had its day?  

Time. I feel I have so much more of it than before. Time for family, time for oneself, time for reflection, time for hobbies, time to waste. Time is the commodity of greatest value that we all seem to have more of. Gone is the harsh 6.15am alarm – I haven’t set my alarm for months – and gone is my morning stomach ache from the mad rush corralling the kids so they are ready in time to leave for school. In fact, as I write this, gone is my cramping stomach altogether. Wow, that’s one I hadn’t clocked until now. The Buscopan will be going out of date!

Could some of this be the newnormal? Or is this merely a holiday from life before, with life after becoming much the same as before. Perhaps my eye-of-the-storm analogy is more fitting than I first thought and this is merely the calm in between before and after with not much changing after all?

I suppose what I want to say is that I hope some of this change is permanent; we should hold on desperately to what we currently have and value so dearly for there is every chance that it will be wrenched from our grasp before we know it and, over the years,  become nothing more than a distant memory. Remember when we baked all that bread? Remember when we went walking every afternoon? Remember all those films we watched as a family? If only we had time to do those things again…

Maybe this is why I have felt compelled to write this evening (it is still warm just a little darker); I want to capture this moment, revel in its calmness and hope that life before and life after are similar…but not the same.

 

 

 

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Reflection

February

The best thing about February is that it is short.

Each year, this dastardly month is upon us and drags me down with its general misery. You’re probably thinking how immensely unhealthy it is to make such strong connections between months of the year and feelings of well-being. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what I find myself doing…

Last week, I spoke with a few colleagues in the office about this (searching for some solace to be perfectly honest) and was surprised how even verbalising the different months provoked in me a strong emotional reaction. Without much thought at all, I was able to place them into the following categories:

Positive – April, May, June, July, September, October, December

Neutral – January, March, August, November

Negative – February

On reflection, the good news is that I have only placed one of the twelve in the negative category and even better news that there’s only a couple of weeks to go before it’s over.

In the meantime, I will just trudge on through the mire knowing that March is just around the corner and then I can start shifting up through the gears into the long stretch of positivity from April through to July – even writing these words is lifting my spirits!

There is one very happy day in February and that is Valentine’s Day. I’m certainly not buying into the commercial extravaganza but it was on this day 16 years ago that I asked my girlfriend at the time to marry me. Fortunately, she said “Yes” and the rest, as they say, is history.

Maybe this month is not so bad after all.

(Yes, it is).

 

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Motivation, Reflection

Sew what!

As the days have got longer and with the weather kind, I have been spending more of my evenings in the garden cutting the lawn, tending to the plants or just sitting with a drink, relaxing.  Well, that’s my excuse for not writing in a while.

A couple of events earlier this week inspired me to pen something tonight.

The first was not so good. I happened to be at a desk that had lost its laminate edging strip along the part you would sit facing, thus exposing the rough chipboard underneath. In itself this wasn’t a problem as I have rarely found the quality of desk construction material to have a strong positive or negative correlation with my productivity. However, as I leaned across the desk to plug in the laptop, my shirt caught on this jagged surface and pulled a handful of threads leaving a series of tugged and uneven “tramlines” down the front.

Now I hate to spend money on work clothes – this shirt was a recent purchase and one of my smarter items of clothing. I was pissed off and let this nag at me all day. I even found myself absentmindedly picking at the lose threads in some of my meetings. Letting small things bother me is a recognised failing of mine but I couldn’t shake this and upon arriving home at the end of the day was still miffed, but at least I could now do something about it…

…so I got a very sharp pair of scissors and set to work trimming off the threads hanging from the front of my shirt, no doubt more prominent thanks to my fiddling. All was going well until I held the scissors away from the shirt to pull away the last offending piece of cotton when I felt the blade catch. Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been a problem but this was no ordinary day and these were no ordinary scissors – they were made in Japan, the Land of the Razor-sharp. In an attempt to finesse the ever-so-slightly damaged shirt back to its original state, I ended up poking a dirty great hole in the garment. Many would not notice some irregular looking stitching, many would notice a hole. Needless to say, my mood did not improve.

The second, and more positive, thing that happened was that I started listening to a podcast recommended by a colleague called Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast . This involved Richard chatting with some other comedians, probably at the Leicester Square Theatre although I couldn’t verify this from the acoustics alone. I had a flick through the guests and settled on Katherine Ryan, a Canadian-Irish comedian who lives in the UK. Stating the obvious, the conversation was very funny and helped to wash away some of my frustrations. I had seen Katherine’s stand up before but what I really liked was her humility, honesty and terrific outlook. In her own words:

“You can walk through life and just not really pay attention to the things that don’t matter. You really can and then you can be happy all the time.”

When I heard this, my initial reaction was this sounded like somebody who had everything they could ever wish for – she is an extremely successful stand-up comedian – but in response to being asked such a question we hear that she learned to be like this when she had absolutely nothing. In other words, it was a conscious choice and she used this to build her life.

I really wasn’t expecting to pick up something that I could use to improve myself and my reaction to the challenges that life throws my way, both big and small. As I dropped off to sleep, I thought to myself, “it’s only a fucking shirt, sew up the hole and forget about it.”

We often can’t change the things that happen to us each day but we are in control of the way that we react to these external stimuli. Be aware of what matters and what doesn’t. I have even found myself questioning whether something I thought mattered really did. It’s worth challenging yourself on that point as the fewer things that do matter, the less you have to worry about. Not sure I can be happy all the time but being happy most of the time is a prize worth aiming for.

The next time you splash water down your front when washing up, drop a glass, experience internet outage, hear someone say something stupid, run out of milk, bite the inside of your cheek when eating or catch your clothing on a piece of furniture just stop to think about how you will react.

In many cases a simple “so what” will do.

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Fun, Photography

Introducing…Hazel

Hey guys! Nattoben has let me guest blog on his site and I have to say how great it is to be here.

So, let me introduce myself. My name is Hazel and I’m a 15-month-old Jug (that’s a Jack Russell and Pug cross for those of you who are wondering).

Like most Jack Russells I love going on walks and chasing small animals in the park. I have been trying to catch blackbirds over the last few weeks but just as I get ready to pounce, they fly up into the trees. There are also some really big birds in the park that are called crows and although I like to chase them they make me kind of nervous, rather like they are eyeing me up for a meal when it should be the other way around. When I am lucky, I see my best friend Bo. That’s Big Bo and not Little Bo. I like him as well but he is not my best friend. Anyway, Bo is a huge dog but he’s very gentle with me and even lets me lick his teeth. The only time I can’t play with Bo is when he has his ball with him. Then, he doesn’t even know I am there until I try to steal his ball and he growls at me. I wonder if Bo is reading this blog?

Like most Pugs, I looooove to eat! I will do anything for a “treatie” as my owners call them. My favourite treatie is cucumber, especially slices of the mini ones because they are just so juicy and sweet. I get some cucumber at night time when I go outside to toilet just before bed. I say go out to toilet but recently there is a cat that likes to visit and it drives me mad. As soon as I have my cucumber, I go racing up the garden to bark as loudly as I can at this big ball of fluff that sits on the fence looking down at me. It has recently started to poo in the flowerbed which is disgraceful! At least I leave my poos on the grass where everyone can see them. I also get a slice of cucumber when I come in again. It’s a bit of a rigmarole as I have to sit in my bed and shake paws with my owners before I get the goodies but, as I said, I will do anything for a treatie.

I also like sleeping. My favourite place to sleep is on the sofa. My bed is nice but the sofa is the best and sometimes I can squeeze up next to my family when they are sitting there looking at screens.

When I was a very young puppy I used to chew lots of things and was always being told off. Now that I am a big girl, I don’t do that much anymore but once I get a dirty sock in my mouth there is nothing that will prise open my jaws. You can’t beat the sweaty smell of feet. I have even learnt how to steal them from the washing basket which is a fun game for me but apparently not such a fun game for my owners.

Well, my paws are getting tired now so I’m going to finish up and go to sleep. Great meeting you all and hope to be back on here soon.

All my love,

Hazel  x

P.S. These glasses aren’t mine, just something that one of the boys stuck on my face for fun. I didn’t mind, really, and think they make me look rather intellectual.

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Reflection

Imagine

While I was writing How short, this life? I found out that a dear friend of ours had passed away. Well, just about one month later, his funeral took place. Despite the sadness of having to finally say farewell, the service was also a happy one where his family and friends shared their memories and celebrated his life.

A week later, and I have been reflecting on those eulogies. In one of his finest songs, Imagine, John Lennon sang  “Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can.” Of course, nobody at the funeral talked about material things, the house where he lived, the type of car he drove, the clothes he wore. Rightly, they were about the person, his life, his achievements, his loved ones. When life comes to an end, the legacy will almost always be the intangibles or items with high sentimental value: a conversation; a chance meeting; camaraderie through work or volunteering; a cherished letter, picture or video. Most of us would give up everything we own to keep our loved ones with us on this earth. His brother summed up what he thought about his older sibling as “Splendid. He was a splendid chap.”

Hopefully, I have still got a long way to go before my final breath but I am clear on how I want to be remembered and would be very satisfied with the word “splendid” when people talk about me. We spend so much of our lives chasing the money and fretting about keeping up with the Joneses but how much easier would it be if you could recondition yourself to be satisfied with what you have got? This isn’t about shunning basic needs and for those unfortunate to have very little, what I am writing may come across as idealistic or the thoughts of someone with clearly not enough to worry about. What I am trying to say is once you have attained a reasonably comfortable standard of living with a roof over your head and food on the table, be thankful and try to avoid feeding an insatiable appetite for more and more.

In the Japanese animation Spirited Away there is a character called a Hoshigari (ほしがり) that gets its energy by satiating the appetites of the greedy who, in this case, keep asking for gold which it conjures up from its hands. In the end the Hoshigari turns on them and starts to eat up the very people it gave the gold nuggets to in the first place. It’s a poignant message in a film well worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.

I certainly don’t want to get eaten by a Hoshigari and so the next time I feel a hankering for something new I will channel my energy instead into imagining what I can do towards becoming a splendid chap.

That feels like a much better use of my time.

 

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Motivation

I’ve got sunshine

For those of you in the UK, you won’t need reminding that our weather can hardly be described as the best in the world. Sure, we don’t have to deal with extremes of temperature, typhoons, monsoons etc. but there is a distinct greyness about our temperate climate. However, with the rough comes the smooth and every once in a while there are days that make you feel good to be alive.

Off the back of recent memories of the “Beast from the East” which was just about a month ago, we have entered what looks like a pleasant period of unbroken sunshine. And what a difference it makes. I go for a walk most lunchtimes to get away from the computer screen and give my body a well needed stretch. Today was like being in a different country. People were laughing, smiling, dancing, running around and generally looking like they had awoken from hibernation. Gone were the scowls, the grim hooded faces with shoulders hunched forward against the wind and rain. Manners returned,  a couple of times strangers nodded at me knowingly as if to say “I know, it’s just great isn’t it?”

I listened to a podcast on Freakonomics Radio called Why is My Life so Hard? which explored why most of us think that we face more headwinds and obstacles in life than others, causing resentment. Conversely, we don’t appreciate the tailwinds that help us along the way, leaving us ungrateful and unhappy.

I often moan about getting wet during my cycle to and from work and wondered if my perception of this followed the Freakonomics proposition. Shane Lynn who is a data scientist has done some analysis of this and I was surprised with the results. Admittedly, I was looking at London, the closest major city to where I live and the best performer in the UK, but his work shows that just eight percent of commutes are “wet commutes” whereas equivalent analysis for San Francisco, Rome and Madrid shows wet commutes on 5.7, 5.4 and 4.6 percent of occasions, respectively. If you said that I would get wet just 21 times in 261 commutes I wouldn’t have believed you! If you live in Glasgow, then your perception of getting wet all the time is a little closer to the truth although still only 94 times in a year, just over a third of commutes.

Since listening to the podcast, I have been much more aware of the tailwinds when they arrive and have learnt to really appreciate them while they last. I feel like I have one at the moment and the sunshine is helping to power me along. The headwind will come eventually but I will try not to get resentful.

In the meantime, time to get another cold drink…it’s been a scorcher!

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Japan, Motivation, Nature

How short, this life?

Around this time of the year people all over Japan are on the lookout for the sakura cherry blossom which comes into full bloom between the end of March and the very beginning of May, depending on where you live*. The celebration, called hanami written using the characters for “flower” (花) and “watch” (見) involves groups of family, friends and colleagues gathering together under their favourite tree to enjoy meticulously prepared food and (more than) a few drinks.

What surprised me the first time I experienced  the cherry blossom in Japan was how soon after coming into full bloom did the petals of these delicate flowers come fluttering to the ground like confetti at a wedding. It is for this reason that hanami is so hard-wired into the psyche of the Japanese; it marks not only the beginning of the new year for schools and companies but also serves as a reminder of the fragility and fleeting nature of life itself.

There has been plenty put out there about how much time over the course of a typical life we spend working, sleeping, eating, washing up, cleaning or even on the toilet.  However, I came across a graphic on a website called WaitButWhy which represents a 90-year life as a series of weekly blocks. There’s not that many of them – 4,680 to be precise.

I have had times in my life when I have been looking forward to something in the future or longing to get over something unpleasant in the present. The weeks have disappeared, sometimes turning into months.  How often have you said to yourself “I wish this week would pass more quickly” or “I’ll just get this month out of the way and then I’ll…” or something similar?

As I finished the first paragraph of today’s post, I received a telephone call from the son of a dear friend of ours who has been in hospital recently. It was not good news; he had passed away after 92 years on this planet, that’s 4,784 blocks. Listening to some of his stories, he made the most of his life and the time he was given. None of us really knows how many blocks we will be blessed with, so make each one count.

I know that I’m going to.

*****

*You can plot the progress of the sakurazensen cherry blossom front on the Japan National Tourism Organization website

 

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Motivation

I get knocked down so I get up again

I have just come to the end of a pretty stressful chapter in my career. Not because of anything going on in the job itself, which I have been enjoying immensely for the last year or so, but because of the nature of my employment being fixed-term with a clear end date.

Today, I am writing about  Personal Resilience, something which I think is a vital life skill.

Much has been said about entrepreneurs who have failed many times before coming up with a product or business model that delivers success beyond their wildest dreams. The former UK Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

It is very rare in life to breeze through every challenge sent our way. Those who give the impression it is easy are either exceptionally talented but more likely masking the hard work and soul-searching they have been through in private to get to where they are.

I remember the first time I was unsuccessful with a job application – it was for graduate entry into the UK’s Civil Service – and it felt at the time like the world was falling down around me. Roll on almost twenty years to this latest challenge and I still experienced moments of self-doubt and the inevitable deflation from yet another “thanks but no thanks” but surprised myself with the resilience I showed, picking myself up time and time again until I landed a permanent role.

So what changed? I think it was a shift in my focus towards being in the moment of the job application, the selection test or interview and away from thinking about the spoils of victory or the disappointment of defeat. It also helped not to take rejection so personally. The recruiter will often already have an idea of the type of person that they want in their team and if you don’t match that profile then it’s not your fault!

Some of you will recognise the picture of the T-1000, a shape-shifting android assassin from the film Terminator 2. In the film the T-1000 experiences countless acts of violence  and each time re-forms, stands up and keeps on going.

We’re not androids and human feelings make it all the more difficult but the next time you get knocked down, think of the T-1000…

…and get back up again.

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Nature, Photography

Up close and personal

I recently found an old Canon camera lens my late grandpa used in the 1980s. It was a pretty decent one by all accounts – or at least that’s what my online search told me – so I thought I would buy an adapter ring and try it out on my Nikon DSLR. What I didn’t know was that to use the lens properly I needed to have purchased a higher-end adapter with a built in correction lens. I could, however, use it for macro shots which led to some surprisingly good results.

Through being forced to look at the world in extreme close up, I gained a different perspective. The picture above resembles a Japanese pine tree clinging on by its roots to the edge of a cliff as the sea crashes into the rocks below. The plants in the picture are actually weeds: petty spurge, moss on a brick and purple-leaved oxalis corniculata in the background. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have given it a second thought before ripping them out of the ground but thanks to an inherited lens and an under-researched purchase I was able to capture this delightful scene.

It’s the same in our lives. Too often we tread a familiar path, stick to a routine, pass by without noticing and in doing so miss out on small moments of beauty that make it all worthwhile. I’m not saying go out and buy a camera and an old lens. Just try looking at something or someone from a new angle or with a different focal length.

You might be surprised with what you discover.

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Nature, Photography, Relaxation

Spring is on its way!

So, I’m in my forties and this is my first blog post. Shame on me…

That’s not to say that I haven’t been writing – it takes up more of my spare time than I would care to admit – just moving my writing online is something that has taken me a while to convince myself to do.

Today at 1615 was the Vernal (or Spring) Equinox , hard to believe with some patches of snow still on the ground, stubbornly hanging around as a reminder that it’s not yet time to put away the heavy coats, hats and gloves. The picture accompanying this post was taken before the most recent cold snap but the hint of warmth from the sunshine partially obscured by the branches of the tree in the foreground felt very Spring-like to me which is why I am sharing it with you now. It also makes a change from the daffodils that are the image of choice for this season.

After I took this picture, I closed my eyes and stood still for probably no more than a minute, filling my lungs with the cold and fresh air, enjoying the subtle warmth of the sun on my skin. Despite new technology making us more productive, I have never felt so rushed off my feet. It is these little moments that are worth grabbing and holding onto.

Through my posts here, I want to share with you the joy that the simplest things can bring to our lives. I hope you enjoy reading about them.

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