Thursday, December 30, 2004

Books of Influence: part three 

I never planned this as a mini-series; to begin with, I was just going to list a dozen or so books that I'd read as a child, maybe with a one-line explanation of the influence each had had. However, in digging through old memories, those single lines grew, as I realised the extent of their influence. They weren’t necessarily favourites – there were plenty of other books I might have enjoyed more – but what these have in common is that they gave me something that I carry around with me still today; they contributed to forming the person I now am.

I had to study Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre for my school O-level exams (the forerunner to the current GCSEs, taken at age 16). It wouldn't have been a book I would have chosen to read at that time; I think at that age I'd just discovered Asimov's Foundation trilogy (well, it was still a trilogy back then, anyway) which was much more to my immediate tastes. I struggled slowly through the opening chapters which had been set to be read as homework. I could at least recognise the quality of the writing, but those opening pages were hardly inspiring to a 15 year old boy.

Yet even in the apparent dullness of the initial story line, I glimpsed something new, something I'd never found before in a book. Written in the first person, this wasn't just a story describing Jane's actions and the events around her; as I read, I began to experience her world through her senses, experience her emotional responses. These weren't just one-word labels for feelings; the writing itself was an expression of feeling, and carried those emotions wrapped up within it. As with Chesterton’s book, I found experiences here that mirrored my own growing awareness of emotional responses to the world and the people in it.

Jane Eyre may have been a fictional nineteenth century woman whereas I was a flesh-and-blood twentieth century youth, but in spite of those differences, there was one thing at least that we had in common. At that point, neither of us had experienced adult love. And as the seed of love between Jane and Mr Rochester germinated and grew even before she was aware of it, so my appreciation of that love grew as I read. It hardly seemed to matter that I was reading from the woman's point of view; even though I'd never been in love, to my surprise and joy I seemed to have an empathic understanding of what it felt like. There was no “have to” about reading now - I was hooked and devoured the rest of the book over the next couple of weekends.

I felt something special when I'd finished - I'd seen deep inside another's soul, I felt that I understood what I had found there, and I felt a sense of pride in that perception. It seemed to me that there were few others in the class who appreciated Charlotte Bronte's writing in the same way; most saw only the story and missed the depth of emotions experienced by the characters within it. Maybe I was wrong in that judgement; maybe many others experienced that same emotional awakening but, like me, were too reticent to express it fully. But a comment one day from one of the girls in my class stuck in my mind. “You're not like the others, Borrows,” (at school, boys were invariably known by their surnames, even amongst friends); “you're different…” She said some more, but I was too embarrassed to hear. But I do remember the look in her eyes.

Was I innocent? Yes; naïve? – undoubtedly. Nevertheless, that story added significantly to my growing up.

Mind you, I still haven't got the hang of it. Either of growing up, or of love.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

No reason 

No reason. Only that my head has pictures in it today; pictures like these.
I love big skies, and these felt very big indeed.

[Easter 1998, in Cwm Llafar, North Wales].

Pictures day 

Some days are words days, some days are pictures days. Yesterday was cold, clear and bright – definitely a pictures day.

It must have been the first time for many months that I’d been out with the sole intent of taking photographs. A few miles away there's a little patch of woodland that's open to the public. It’s managed rather than natural – more of a woodland park than a real wood, but although many of the paths, ponds and streams have been designed, the landscaping is sufficiently subtle and sympathetically implemented that the end result is quite pleasing in spite of being largely artificial. At least it has it's origins in a real oak wood, and although entirely surrounded by housing, its future as a public open space seems secure.

The conditions yesterday were near-ideal for woodland photography; with most of the trees being leafless, shafts of low-angled winter sun were able to penetrate into the depths of the wood, catching highlights of frost-coated bark on a fallen log, a luminously mossy green tree stump, lush bog plants rising out of autumn’s leaf litter.

Outside of the patches of bright sun, within the wood the predominant lighting conditions were still quite dim – but I had a new toy to play with. No, it wasn't Christmas present, I’ve had this for several months, but this is the first time it's been put to proper use. Handling a Benbo tripod (so called because of the bent bolt that holds it all together) has been likened to wrestling with a wilful octopus – loosened up to adjust, the legs and the central column swing free, seemingly at all angles, so that at times you’re convinced you're grappling with more than three legs – but having got the hang of it, I’m very, very impressed with the design. There’s something very satisfying about equipment that just works, doing without fuss exactly what it was designed to do. This piece of gear is intended specifically for outdoor use, on uneven ground, in the wet, in the mud – and it excels in these conditions. The design is so good it has remained essentially unchanged for nearly forty years. I loved it, I loved too the feeling of doing-it-right that comes with having the right gear, and to be truthful I also loved the feeling of “being” a photographer, walking around the woods with the tripod, camera attached, resting over my shoulder, intent only on observing and recording the play of light. I ought to get out and do this more often…

Unfortunately, I still live in the dark ages of film photography, so it'll be a while before any of yesterday's shots make it to these pages (if indeed they make it at all). In the meantime, this is from that same wood about ten years ago:

Monday, December 27, 2004

Books of influence: part two 

I had some pictures to post here today, but my ISP has problems - no ftp, so no pictures. (No email either. Grrr….) So here instead is another look back at books from childhood:

I must have been about 13 or 14 when I first read Orwell’s 1984. It was like no other book I'd ever read – instead of the hero triumphing over the bad guys, here, the bad guys drained every last drop of hesitant, would-be heroism from the good guy, leaving him empty, hollow, a nobody. It wasn't just that the bad guys had beaten the good guy – in the end they'd totally extinguished all the good in him – all of anything in him in fact. It was a chilling idea for someone who had grown up with an innate faith in the ultimate goodness of human beings; I revolted against Winston's betrayal of Julia, hoping for a reprieve, refusing to accept the awful possibility that he had truly given in.

That wasn't the only shock – 1984 was the first book I'd read that introduced the idea of sexual love. Only the idea, mind; the passages were hardly explicit, but to a 13 year old with a cloistered upbringing, even the reference to two people taking their clothes off and sharing a bed put this book into forbidden territory, and I hid it from my parents.

One scene more than any other sticks in my mind – the closing pages, and the very last lines in the book:
“But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.”
Many's the time I've come close to throwing in the towel over some dream, been poised on a knife-edge, about to give up, convincing myself that the plan was impossible anyway, it wasn't for me, it was beyond my capabilities, I never really wanted to do it anyway and I certainly didn't want to any longer. But in some last corner of my mind that hadn’t yet quite given up, I would see myself as Winston Smith, recognise my own self-brainwashing, know that to abandon my commitment would be to become the person that so offended my childhood sense of integrity.

I've even been there with this blog a couple of times, even planned to use that very quote to mark the finality of my submission to the oppressive power of circumstance, my betrayal of my own dreams; but although on those dark days I'd already passed beyond the stage of submission, I could never quite make it as far as loving the oppressor. Orwell's words would rise in my mind, serving as a taunt to prevent me descending quite that far.

Doubtless they’ll serve that purpose again some time.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Books of Influence: part one 

The trigger that set me thinking yesterday of Hiawatha is forgotten now, but it set in train a fruitful line of thought: what were the most influential books of my childhood?

Here are the first few; more to follow over the next couple of days.

Just William, by Richmal Crompton -
The real appeal of these books wasn't so much the rascally anarchy of schoolboys with grubby knees and dishevelled hair, forever getting up to mischief (although always with the best of intent) and dodging the wrath of their elders. It was the background to these stories that held my imagination: a small boy's dream of the world outside his back door as it ought to be; an idyll of the perfect English village set in an equally perfect English countryside - trees to climb, streams to splash through, woods to explore, a secret meeting place in an old barn, endless summer days...

Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome -
Without doubt my all-time favourite children's books; I read them all, most of them many times over. Unlike the William stories where the countryside was merely a backdrop, in these stories the surroundings came to the fore - the lakes, islands, hills, rivers, boats, camp-fires were main characters alongside the people. These were deceptively simple stories that didn't require acceptance of fantastically improbable circumstances - perhaps that was what gave rise both to the appeal and to the frustration: much as I loved the books, I also envied these children tremendously - their independence, their freedom, their environment, immersed in a simple, natural world. More than forty years on, my idea of a perfect setting for a home still derives much from the images created in my mind by Ransome's writing.

The Song of Hiawatha, by H W Longfellow - My older sister had a much-read, large-format, picture-book version of an extract from Hiawatha - part III, Hiawatha's childhood. (However it omitted the first couple of pages of the original text of this part. Clearly, the subject of Hiawatha's conception - even by as intangible a being as the West Wind - was considered unsuitable material for a children's picture book). She used to read me the story while I gazed at the pictures - tall pines, a moonlit lake, a life amongst the creatures of the forest.

Then one day my father brought home a brand new hardbound copy of the full work. There wasn't a lot of spare cash in our household when I was a child; presents were usually only given at Christmas and birthdays so that in itself made this gift something special. Up to that point I had no idea there was any more than the extract I'd read time and again. I lay in bed that night, absorbed in the mesmerising rhythms until my eyes could stay open no longer. I awoke later in the night, my bedside light still on, and read some more until, reluctantly, I turned out the light. As I read more over the next few days I was drawn deeper into this world where the boundaries between reality, experience and myth swirled together, impossible to separate; sensing, rather than seeing, meaning beyond the words themselves - my first true experience of poetry.

I spent some time today searching for that copy - I knew I had it somewhere. It had beautiful illustrations - just simple line drawings in the margins, enough to help stimulate the imagination, but not so much as to detract from imagination's creations. I searched boxes of books in the loft, in the garage, in the shed (and in so doing uncovered several others on this list) but all to no avail. Then my wife said "Have you tried P.'s room?" There it was, the book my father had bought me, now sitting on my own son's bookshelf. I should have known; most of my best books end up there. Currently my copy of Catch 22 sits by his bed.

The Poet and the Lunatics, by G K Chesterton -
"Chesterton ably illustrates his own premise that lunacy and sanity may just be a point of view... " (from the Amazon synopsis)

It was my father again who recommended Chesterton. He was thinking of the "Father Brown" stories, but our local library had none of those on the shelves, so I picked up this volume instead. I must have been 11 or 12 at the time, at that narrowing of the growing-up hourglass that marks a transition in ways of thought: the primary-coloured world of childhood fantasy already receding, yet adolescent exploration of my own perceptions only just beginning. Fresh ideas were germinating within me; they felt utterly unique: a creation of my own mind, exciting for their originality, yet bringing a kind of loneliness arising out of my frustration that I couldn't adequately articulate the notions that arose within. So it was with feelings of wonder, affirmation and relief that I read this book - here was someone whose mind seemed to work in similar ways to mine, whose thoughts I could follow and even anticipate. It was true then; the simple world of black and white, right and wrong, sanity and madness was not nearly so clear cut. Lunacy and sanity might indeed be just different points of view...

What books from your childhood had greatest and/or most lasting impact?

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Transforming the context 

I took my seat on the train, pulled my book from my bag and began to read. But an inner voice spoke, quietly insisting I put the book away and instead pull out notebook and pencil, and write. I hadn't a clue what I would write about.

Yesterday's dawn brought the kind of weather that drives thoughts inwards. Umbrella raised as a shield against the heavy grey hemisphere of rain, body muffled against the chill wind, head lowered, eyes on the pavement ten feet in front, shoulders defensively hunched in involuntarily submission to the weather's command; my world shrank to the small circle surrounding my feet.

I've had the same experience when in the hills; there, the lowered head can be a real necessity in response to the ferocity of the wind which drives the rain, stinging my cheeks and hammering on the hood of my jacket. But letting the world shrink too far like that isn't a good idea in the hills. With the base of the cloud far below, the world's circle is rarely more than a couple of hundred yards in these conditions, often much less, and it's imperative to keep track of where you're going. Consulting map and compass takes an effort of will to battle further with the elements; it's all too easy just to keep your head down, eyes on the ground immediately in front, and press on, blindly trusting the path to lead you.

The trouble is, in poor visibility on indistinct mountain paths it's easy to miss tracks off to the side, easy not to notice that the path curves off in the wrong direction, easy to miss that we've strayed off the path altogether. Paradoxically, having no path at all can be a safer option - at least when there’s no path, that forces decisions about where to go, whereas following a predetermined path leaves the decision up to the feet that have trodden it before.

Path metaphors for life abound. As I sat there on the train, parts of this one felt obvious: I could see myself muffled and shielded from a world that clamours to intrude on my inner solitude; a secret solitude created many years ago as a protective shield, living on although the need for it has long passed. Obvious too was the path itself: follow an existing track and all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other, repeating the actions of earlier travellers; break a new trail and you must be completely aware of your surroundings if you're not to fall prey to the briars and cliffs along the way.

Yet this metaphor also brought me something new, a message waiting to be revealed through yesterday’s urge to write.

In reality, I never go into the hills without being properly prepared – map, compass, appropriate clothing, emergency kit; all that kind of thing. Knowing I’m prepared for any conditions I’m likely to meet (and with sufficient resources to improvise a response to plenty of conditions that are unlikely but still possible) creates a very different attitude in me – not one of submissiveness to the conditions, neither one of dominance over them – that too would be dangerous; he who ventures into the hills without respect for them courts disaster, or at any rate a miserable time. Rather, when properly prepared, facing apparent opposition from the elements becomes a stimulating challenge; far from being an enemy, the conditions become teacher, coach – even counsellor on occasion.

Chris Corrigan wrote recently (on December 20; I can't find the permalink):

“When I was in university, I researched and wrote a paper on the James Bay Cree and their efforts to negotiate a deal with the governments of Canada and Quebec in the early 1970s. The deal, which became the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, was negotiated between communities of largely traditional indigenous peoples and two levels of Canadian government, with a very sophisticated industrial utility, Hydro Quebec, watching in the wings.

”In the paper, after doing scads of archival research at McGill University, my co-author Gary Heuval and I discovered that the Cree negotiators, all of whom were hunters, had actually viewed the entire exercise as a hunt for unfamiliar game in strange territory. To prepare, they readied themselves as they would have for a hunt, including consulting with the community about its needs, dreaming the territory, equipping themselves with the right tools and becoming familiar with this prey they were seeking. By adopting a traditional approach, they were able to negotiate a treaty and bring home what the community was requesting, as if they had spent a winter out on the land dreaming up moose and fish, and harvesting enough to support everyone.”

I'm wondering if I can translate my natural empathic response to the outdoors into a similar approach in the context of metaphorical journeys through life, in the same way that the Cree translated their approach to the hunt into a negotiation practice. The mountain path metaphor seems to stretch a long way and still hold water: some of my most valuable material possessions, in terms of what they mean to me, are the equipment and clothing that enables me to enjoy the hills and mountains to the full. Important too is preparation, an objective deriving more from appreciating the journey than it does from travelling any particular path, and flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. Valuable resources all; tangible and intangible.

The message to me seems clear: take what is known and works and apply it's spirit in the unknown.

I have some application to do...

And all this came from trusting an instinct, sourced deep within, to get out notebook and pencil and start writing, even though I had no idea what I was going to write about.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Been playing... 

I've been meaning to update the look here for quite a while, but never quite got around to it, until today. I'll probably play some more, but for now this will do.

The exercise reinforced something I discovered a long time ago about learning: self-confidence and belief in one's understanding of something, although not in themselves sufficient, go a long way to maximising the benefit of whatever knowledge one has.

When I started this blog I knew no HTML at all. I got a book, tinkered with the template once or twice - must be a year ago now - but didn't go any further because it seemed such an uphill struggle to get to grips with it all. Now, a year on, I know no more HTML than I did then, yet the knowledge seems somehow to have secretly migrated from an internal memory storage cupboard labelled "new stuff - use with caution" to a different cupboard labelled "old stuff - use anything in here freely".

I still know very little HTML, but without even using it, my belief about what little I knew changed from being it unfamiliar to being familiar. I suppose that's a long-winded way of saying it must have sunk in.

Do leave a comment if the new layout misbehaves in your browser; I wanted both main column and sidebar to be fixed width to accomodate photos, but couldn't get sideways scrolling to work if the user's window isn't wide enough. More to learn yet...

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Good Fight 

"We must never stop dreaming. Dreams provide nourishment for the soul, just as a meal does for the body. Many times in our lives we see our dreams shattered and our desires frustrated, but we have to continue dreaming. If we don't, our soul dies, and agape cannot reach it. A lot of blood has been shed in those fields out there; some of the cruellest battles of Spain's war to expel the Moors were fought on them. Who was in the right or who knew the truth does not matter; what's important is knowing that both sides were fighting the good fight.

"The good fight is the one we fight because our heart asks it of us. In the heroic ages - at the time of the knights in armor - this was easy. There were lands to conquer and much to do. Today, though, the world has changed a lot, and the good fight has shifted from the battlefields to the fields within ourselves.

"The good fight is the one that's fought in the name of our dreams. When we're young and our dreams first explode inside us with all of their force, we are very courageous, but we haven't yet learned how to fight. With great effort, we learn how to fight, but by then we no longer have the courage to go into combat. So we turn against ourselves and do battle within. We become our own worst enemy. We say that our dreams were childish, or too difficult to realize, or the result of our not having known enough about life. We kill our dreams because we are afraid to fight the good fight."


"The first symptom of the process of our killing our dreams is the lack of time. The busiest people I have known in my life always have time enough to do everything. Those who do nothing are always tired and pay no attention to the little amount of work they are required to do. They complain constantly that the day is too short. The truth is, they are afraid to fight the good fight.

"The second symptom of the death of our dreams lies in our certainties. Because we don't want to see life as a grand adventure, we begin to think of ourselves as wise and fair and correct in asking so little of life. We look beyond the walls of our day-to-day existence, and we hear the sound of lances breaking, we smell the dust and the sweat, and we see the great defeats and the fire in the eyes of the warriors. But we never see the delight, the immense delight in the hearts of those who are engaged in the battle. For them, neither victory nor defeat is important; what's important is only that they are fighting the good fight.

"And, finally, the third symptom of the passing of our dreams is peace. Life becomes a Sunday afternoon; we ask for nothing grand, and we cease to demand anything more than we are willing to give. In that state, we think of ourselves as being mature; we put aside the fantasies of our youth, and we seek personal and professional achievement. We are surprised when people our age say that they still want this or that out of life. But really, deep in our hearts, we know that what has happened is that we have renounced the battle for our dreams - we have refused to fight the good fight."


“When we renounce our dreams and find peace, we go through a short period of tranquillity. But the dead dreams begin to rot within us and to infect our entire being. We become cruel to those around us, and then we begin to direct this cruelty against ourselves. That's when illnesses and psychoses arise. What we sought to avoid in combat - disappointment and defeat - come upon us because of our cowardice. And one day, the dead, spoiled dreams make it difficult to breathe, and we actually seek death. It's death that frees us from our certainties, from our work, and from that terrible peace of our Sunday afternoons."

Paulo Coelho, from The Pilgrimage.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

A web of twigs? 

Fred over at Fragments has a post that sent me rummaging through the photo store and bookshelves – the former to find this illustration of an unusual optical phenomenon…

…and the latter to dig out a book entitled “The nature of light and color in the open air” by M. Minnaert. The English translation I have is dated 1954; the original text is earlier even than that. But I don’t suppose the laws of optics have changed much in the last half-century.

The picture wasn't shot looking through a spider's web, just an ordinary tree under these peculiar lighting conditions. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any explanation of the phenomenon in the book yet. I’ll let you know, Fred, if I find one.

The credit for the photo, incidentally, goes to P, one of my sons. Here's the uncropped shot to see the full context, taken on the descent from Ben Nevis a couple of years back:

Through the nadir? 

Did that sound miserable yesterday? It wasn't meant to, but reading it back today, it ain't exactly bouncy. D'ya think? Did it sound like a "poor me" statement? It must have been the low spot of this bug I'm fighting. Dashing around yesterday trying to get Christmas shopping, but not really functioning. My first purchase was okay, but after that it was downhill all the way - I must have dithered for nearly half an hour over something as dull and uninteresting as socks. (And no, they weren't Christmas presents; I'm not that sad). Brain was just running at quarter speed; by the evening it must have nearly shut down altogether.

It rained last night and the wind was strong enough to wake me - a rather turbulent night, matching my sleep. Together, though, wind and rain have swept away all of the external and some of the internal cobwebs - today the sky is a deep radiant blue and the air so clear that every detail of colour and texture, every twig and leaf stands out in exaggerated relief. With the low winter sun, it would be a perfect day for photography.

Head is still fuzzy and brain struggling up to about one-third speed now, but being miserable just isn't on the agenda on a day like this.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Hello, world 

Time passes. Days fill with the stuff of living – work, shop, eat, sleep, pay the bills, feed the cats; that kind of stuff. Not much writing though. Why do I feel such an urge to write when I have nothing to say? Perhaps to say “this isn’t the way I want it to be, I don’t want just to live boring routine, I want to communicate, to share, to be heard, to listen”. (Note to self: examine that last statement more closely – I have a nasty feeling I’m more interested in being heard than in listening). Or just to say “Hey, world: I’m still here y’know”

But is that true? That stuff about wanting to communicate? Is it just a fantasy? Isn’t the way that I live only that way because it’s what I’ve chosen? I make choices every second – to go with the flow of routine or to cut across the stream. Striking out across the current seemed to hold promise, seemed like a good idea at the time, but it’s hard to maintain and I’m not a strong swimmer (metaphorically or in reality). So I rested for a while – for much of the last few months in fact – and let the stream take me again. From where I sit now I seem to have come full circle; in a job that could be the same as the one I was doing 20 years ago; in relationships that have ebbed and flowed and settled into safe, non-committal convenience; with vague notions of desires for change, fuzzy ideas of my purpose here on this planet, but neither of those mature past the first few faltering steps. I’ve reached an equilibrium, neither hot nor cold. You know those questionnaires that ask you to rate your feelings on a scale? Customer satisfaction surveys, that kind of thing. If 1 and 6 are the extremes of the scale, I’d answer 3 or 4 to every one. Middle of the road, neither one thing nor the other. No passion.

No passion? What about all those things I claim to love doing – climbing mountains, taking photographs, making music? I’m not doing much of either of them; that doesn’t exactly reflect passion, does it?

Maybe I need something external to kick me out of this rut. I guess it’s the old problem – ruts just get too comfortable to take the trouble to get out of them. I need to find a cliff edge.

Oh, yeah, right – I nearly forgot. There might be one of them racing towards me quite soon; I’ll find out in March if I’ve still got a job, along with a few thousand others. Big, big cut-backs at work. And if I still have a job, in a few years time it’s going to be moving a couple of hundred miles away. Maybe that’s a big enough cliff edge.

Don’t get me wrong - in many ways it’s actually quite an exciting prospect; an expenses paid relocation to a beautiful part of the country. Much nearer those hills and crags – cragging on a hot summer’s evening after work; weekend strolls in the local hills; only a couple of hours drive from something bigger. I’m not against the idea; it’s just these months in limbo that are hard.

I wasn’t joking when I said that I’d forgotten – big as that cliff edge might be, it really had slipped my mind. Nothing I can do about it right now, so there’s no point in taking much notice of it.

Strange; only a few days ago I was feeling so full of energy. It’s all dissipated now. I suppose that’s the effect of the bug that I’ve picked up from somewhere. Why should a virus have such an effect on thought processes? On feelings, even?

Hey ho… I’ll go and take my fuzzy head away and sniffle somewhere else now. Like I said, middle of the road – no great thoughts, nothing to excite or entertain or inform you.

Hey world, I’m still here.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Does soil love flower? 

Does soil love flower?
Soil embraces seed;
Secure in it’s dark, dank crevices,
Seed gives birth to shoot.
Soil nurtures, nourishes shoot;
Without soil, flower’s promise lies stillborn;
Only held by soil’s supporting hand does flower stand proud.
Does soil love flower?

Ah, but soil’s love knows no volition,
Soil just is:
Earth being earthy, no more.
Yet also no less: pure, perfect earthiness.
Does soil love flower?

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

How could I have forgotten? 

How could I have forgotten how engaged I once felt by the idea of helping people improve their effectiveness in organisations? How could it have slipped my mind how much I wanted to become involved in generating energy, banishing fear, spreading support and liberating creativity in the workplace? When did I lose touch with the power and humility and affirmation of making deep connections, of taking and honouring risks of sharing oneself with another?

The questions are rhetorical; I know the answers, although I didn’t know that I knew until something caused me to ask the questions.

It’s obvious now; when beliefs I hold to be important, values that I hold dear, things that are a deep part of who I am are politely sidelined, treated as inconsequential, ridiculed even, or merely met with blank uncomprehending looks - when that happens, then I express those values less and less; they are driven inwards and shrink as there’s nothing to nourish them save my own belief in them. When banging your head against a brick wall yields nothing but pain, the instinctive solution is to stop. The blazing flame of passion dies away until it becomes just a flickering candle, sheltered and kept hidden from the world by a protective cupped hand.

But the candle didn’t go out.

I spent the last two days with some wonderful, inspiring people; we were together, 120 of us, on the first two days of a leadership development programme that runs for the next six months. They didn’t know they were being wonderful and inspiring; they thought they were just being ordinary. We took some risks; we were willing to be ourselves; we were willing to expose, each of us, mostly to complete strangers, something of our fears, our frustrations, our anger, our hopes, our weaknesses, our strengths, our desires. No, we didn’t bare our souls completely – these were mostly just glimpses, corners of the curtain that shields our innermost selves lifted just for a moment, but they were enough, I felt, to see something of the vulnerability of the person perhaps not usually apparent in the workplace.

It wasn’t only those things that were present that set the tone and made this event so unusual; it was also what was absent. No posturing, no showing off, no put-downs, no battles for position in the pecking order, surprisingly little blame of “them”. Perhaps we were all too shell-shocked from the announcements a week ago of massive job losses across the entire organisation. Or perhaps it was the almost complete lack of any hierarchical clues – it’s the custom at these events to go informally dressed (not that our organisation sets great store by formality – suits and ties are a rarity, even among top management, so that every day looks like dress-down Friday). But regardless of dress, I couldn’t help but wonder if people adopted a different persona in the workplace; whether being here amongst peers gave them the freedom to drop their guard and be more authentically themselves, without having to conform to any expectation of how a leader should behave.

But I digress. The bottom line: it was good, very good, to be reminded of things that matter to me, to spend time with people for whom these things matter too. To know that, in spite of some remarkably insular and task-focused thinking in my immediate working environment, in the wider organisation, I fit, I have a place – my thoughts, feelings, opinions, values are respected, often shared.

I’m not alone. I may even have something to give.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Glad to see we’ve got our priorities right 

You may have noticed, I usually steer clear of political blogging. I figure there’s enough of it about and there’s nothing I’ll say that hasn’t already been said at least a hundred times, probably with far more eloquence, wit, sarcasm or irony than I’ll ever manage.

But this little storm in a teacup has me wondering just what on earth has happened to any sense of balance. So he’s had an affair? If every MP who’d had one resigned, there’d be precious little left of parliament. So he might have used his position to fast-track a visa application? In terms of the harm done (as distinct to the rules broken) that’s about on a par with personal use of the office photocopier. Yet conducting an illegal war is fine, just dandy.

I’m not condoning Blunkett’s alleged actions, but one fast-tracked visa beside thousands unnecessarily dead? Glad to see we’ve got our priorities right. It’s stupid name-calling games like this, indulged in as a form of sport by all sides, that turns me away from any thought of involvement in the political scene.

“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Saturday, December 04, 2004


For Photo Friday

(or, if you prefer...)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

So we’re mainstream now 

From a BBC news item:

'Blog' picked as word of the year

“The term "blog" has been chosen as the top word of 2004 by a US dictionary publisher.
Merriam-Webster said "blog" headed the list of most looked-up terms on its site during the last twelve months…".

I just can’t resist pulling this bit out:
“Merriam-Webster said "blog" was the word that people have asked to be defined or explained most often over the last 12 months.
The word will now appear in the 2005 version of Merriam-Webster's printed dictionary.
However, the word is already included in some printed versions of the Oxford English Dictionary.
A spokesman for the Oxford University Press said that the word was now being put into other dictionaries for children and learners, reflecting its mainstream use.
"I think it was the word of last year rather than this year," he said.”

Sorry US, we’re ahead of you… :-)