Friday, June 30, 2006

Plus ca change... 

"Most men would feel insulted if it were proposed to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and then in throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages. But many are no more worthily employed now."

Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Days of Innocence 

At the side of the road stand a boy and a woman I take to be his mother. Set squarely on his head is green school cap; a school bag is slung neatly over his shoulder. Very smart, he probably goes to a private school. He looks up at the woman with a smile that could be expectation, happiness, love – or most likely all three rolled into one – and in that instant, with his face shining in the morning sun, my mind clicks like a camera shutter as I pass by on my motorbike on the way to work, storing the image.

A scene that flashed by and was gone in just a few seconds, but the picture left in my mind is crisp, clear and full of meaning. The embodiment of childhood innocence; he looks as though I could be viewing him through a time warp back to an earlier age, a time before video games, before fashionable trainers; a time when schoolboys wore shorts all year round and had permanently grazed knees; a time of imagination and make-believe and toys that could be mended instead of thrown away and were all the more loved because of it.

Why that scene? Why did something in my subconscious notice and latch onto that image, which was after all off to the side of the road, not amongst the traffic where I was supposed to be looking? The movie of my journey to work would comprise thousands of frames, yet that one scene stood out.

Of course, I may be reading more into the scene than was actually there; all the same, it feels good to be reminded that there are simpler views of the world. Do you remember the time when all that mattered was whether the sun was shining, who would be coming out to play after school, what you were having for dinner? The simplest of things could give pleasure; they still can, given the chance…

Monday, June 26, 2006


I was brought up with a jolt today, hearing my own response to something someone said; it made me realise just how far I’ve slid away from what I once held to be a personal vision, a set of values which would light my way forward in this world of gloomy passages and dark corners.

Ten years ago, if you had asked me what was my vision for the future of leadership in organisations, I’d have had a ready answer. I’d have talked – with shining eyes and urgent voice – about a fundamental shift in values. about workplaces and organisations where personal growth is an equal partner with corporate success; where cooperation rather competition is the order of the day; where individuals matter; where long-term, long-distance principles of sustainability and stewardship outweigh short term monetary gain; where the good of the community and the good of the shareholder are one and the same thing because the shareholders are the community; where conventional business “success” is a by-product of all of these factors, rather than a short-sighted end-product. In short, I’d describe a move towards increased spirituality. I’d have qualified that by saying that such a move would have nothing to do with religion but would come about as leaders became aware of guiding principles which owe more to the yearnings of the human soul in its search for wisdom and righteousness (a great word, unfortunately coloured with overtones of religiosity) than they do to the relentless drive for the profit of the few.

Naive? Idealistic? Undoubtedly. Exciting? Compelling? You bet!

That’s what I would have said ten years ago. Such ideas were just beginning to surface then in the world at large; pockets of shared dreams and purpose and intent were forming, at least in thought and belief, even if they were at that time barely taking tangible form, and I wanted oh-so-much to be a part of it; to watch the seeds that were being sown germinate, to be one of those who would nurture them and see them grow, to play a part in changing the world…

If you’d asked me the same question yesterday – or even this morning – I’d have fumbled and stumbled and struggled to find a coherent thought let alone a coherent word on the subject. Whatever dream I had faded long ago; anything that might have nurtured it had been pushed aside by pressing realities of a workplace in which those ideals I’ve listed above would mostly be met with blank incomprehension. This morning, I hadn’t realised how far my frame of reference had shifted – what once I would have rebelled against and fought to change I‘ve now accepted as the norm, in just the same way as a hideous piece of furniture, walked past every day, loses its capacity to generate a response.

But that was this morning. Something happened to remind me that my frame of reference wasn’t always thus. Create a compelling enough image of what might be, and what is suddenly becomes tarnished and ugly by comparison.

The spark is bright, for the moment, but it is still small and flickering. Surrounded mostly by mediocrity; the image will soon fade again if I don’t take steps to reinforce it…

Saturday, June 24, 2006


Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~

We read that poem at school; it must have been when I was about twelve. I remember thinking at the time, with all the cutting wisdom of a twelve year old boy whose interests were dominated by science and engineering, what a load of drivel it was. I was still a few years away from discovering any meaning beyond the words that cover the surface of poetry; words that are like paint daubed onto an invisible object to give it a tangible shape and form.

And yet, although I dismissed it at the time, the words somehow lodged in a quiet recess of my mind, patiently waiting for the moment to come when I would be ready for them. Every so often, something – usually patterns of light and shade – reminds me of Hopkins’ words; today it was light dancing among the silver birch leaves at the end of the garden.

Later on, I found myself suffering motorcycle withdrawal symptoms, having spent Friday working at home (I never thought I’d see the day when I actually missed the journey to work; I’d forgotten how addictive motorcycling is) so I went for a 30 mile spin through the leafy lanes of Hertfordshire. Enjoying both the power of the machine yet also the beauty of the sunlight filtering through the trees, with Hopkins’ words still in my mind it seemed I’d found a reconciliation between the two widely spaced ends of the spectrum that encompasses the person I am.

Not either or, but both and. Light and shade; adazzle and dim; swift and slow; motorcyclist and poet.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Mars & Venus 

This one's doing the rounds. You may have heard it before, but I hadn't and appearing amongst the morning's emails it brought a smile to my face:

A Spanish teacher was explaining to her class that in Spanish, unlike English, nouns are designated as either masculine or feminine.

"House" for instance, is feminine: "la casa."

"Pencil," however, is masculine: "el lapiz."

A student asked, "What gender is 'computer'?"

Instead of giving the answer, the teacher split the class into two groups, male and female, and asked them to decide for themselves whether "computer" should be a masculine or a feminine noun. Each group was asked to give four reasons for its recommendation.

The men's group decided that "computer" should definitely be of the feminine gender ("la computadora") because:

1. No one but their creator understands their internal logic.

2. The native language they use to communicate with other computers is incomprehensible to everyone else.

3. Even the smallest mistakes are stored in long term memory for possible later retrieval; and

4. As soon as you make a commitment to one, you find yourself spending half your paycheck on accessories for it.

The women's group, however, concluded that computers should be masculine ("el computador") because:

1. In order to do anything with them, you have to turn them on.

2. They have a lot of data but still can't think for themselves.

3. They are supposed to help you solve problems, but half the time, the ARE the problem; and

4. As soon as you commit to one, you realize that if you had waited a little longer, you could have gotten a better model.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Honesty without openess? 

The will to attempt to craft anything here has departed, at least for now, although I’m still hopeful of being reunited with it some day. On the other hand, saying nothing achieves nothing, while keeping posts sanitised achieves very little more than that, so I might just as well abandon yesterday’s intent after only 24 hours, be less picky and at least say something – after all, this is only a blog, no-one actually has to read it. Indeed, very few do these days. Most of the hits come from Google image searches (which may in itself be significant, but I’ll follow up that one another day. For example, Older but no wiser is the #2 hit for common newt, #6 for silver grass, #4 for glow, #1 for lyn idwal…).

I said I was keeping my mouth shut. It was getting worse than that; I’ve been censoring my own thought processes and simply avoiding pathways I didn’t want to go down. I’d take a few steps, see where they were leading, and deliberately back away again, leaving those paths untrodden. My rationale was that I’d tried them all before and they either lead nowhere useful, or somewhere unpleasant.

Earlier today, a colleague of mine showed me a PhD dissertation done by an acquaintance. Two hundred and eighty eight pages of it. I remarked that I couldn’t do that now (not that I ever did before). I may or may not have the capacity, but that wouldn’t be the central issue – I couldn’t do it, because to do something like that requires such a huge commitment, a level of dedication and drive I know I couldn’t sustain. There would have to be some purpose beyond the simple end product; it would have to be a stepping stone leading on to some greater purpose than simply gaining letters after one’s name.

But – and this is the point, one of those negative thoughts I‘ve been avoiding - I can no longer conceive of having a goal which would provide a sufficiently powerful pull to overcome the obstacles along the way.

Is this apathy? It certainly looks like it. A “So what? What’s the point?” attitude. I used to have so much energy and enthusiasm; my counsellor remarked on it several times. It was only a few months back that I remember a colleague saying “My God, that’s the first time I’ve heard Andy having a moan”. I still present a positive face to the world, mostly. But it’s a face that’s becoming weary and growing more cynical by the day. Its source is more habit than anything else.

But I do at least have enough pride left to feel shame at this mutation into a middle-aged, clock-watching, doing-just-enough-to-get-by cynic.

Mind you, to be fair on myself, there is more to it than that. For the perhaps first time in my life, I’m growing deeply worried about the future. Gazing into my crystal ball and seeing only problems, uncertainty, potential hardship and no resolution in sight. And the trouble is, they’re not things I can talk about here because to do so would encroach on others’ privacy.

To blog, or not to blog. That is the question.

No, in spite of everything, I’m not quite ready to pack it all in just yet. I just need to figure out how to be honest without being altogether open.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Keepin’ my trap shut... 

...‘cos I don’t trust what comes out of it these days.

Monday, June 19, 2006


A reminder to myself that there's a wider world out there than the twin sealed bubbles of home and work.

This particular corner of it - the Langdale Pikes - last visited in 2000 and well overdue for a return trip.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Darn. I just noticed that implementing a new (beta) Haloscan feature has screwed the "Recent Comments" section in the sidebar. No time to sort it out now though. So it's imperfect? I guess that just reflects life then. Hey-ho...

Update: Temporary fix applied. Inelegant, but functional

Bits ’n’ pieces 

The three days we spent in Yorkshire the week before last, learning about the Alexander Technique, were wonderful. Quiet, green, peaceful, and infused with simple wholeness and well-being. And grounded in practical reality too, which may mean I stand a better chance of holding on to the learning, even though we're now back in a world of bustle, noise, concrete and fragmentation. A few photos from strolls in the locality are on Flickr.

I’m getting to enjoy this bike. A 200 mile round trip to one of our other offices on Friday, to a sleepy spot in deepest Worcestershire with a journey mostly on single carriageway ‘A’ roads or, even better, quiet twisty ‘B’ roads – and on one of the most glorious days so far this year. I nearly melted on the way back though, crawling (relatively speaking) through the only large town on route and stopping for fuel with the temperature hitting 30degC. I know, I know, that’s nothing to what you desert-dwellers out there in the U S of A routinely tolerate, but here in the Old Country that counts as HOT, especially when you’re clad in full protective bike gear.

Saturday and Sunday were even hotter – which of course is why this Englishman, like a true mad dog, was out in the noonday sun. But all to good effect, since the carnival float we were putting together for the school where my wife teaches won first place - pics to follow.

It’s show time again, and evenings this week will be manic. Final rehearsals Monday to Wednesday, shows Thursday to Sunday. Why do I keep saying yes? Well, okay, I know why, even though it’s a struggle to fit it all in. I do it because I enjoy making music, I enjoy the sense of shared purpose, and most of all I enjoy those intangible moments when it all comes together and there’s magic which joins the singers, the musicians and the audience so that, for a moment or two, we experience together something that's wider and deeper that any one of us.

It’s all fun, it’s all worthwhile – and it’s also an avoidance strategy. Maybe not a consciously deliberate strategy (although it could be unconsciously deliberate, if you see what I mean), but keeping excessively busy certainly has the effect of avoiding addressing those Big Questions that don’t go away.

Monday, June 05, 2006


It was about nine months ago, I think, that I quit counselling. I never did complete that story here, did I? It’s too late now; if I tried from the perspective of today, it would be a different story. Whatever was in my soul then is not the same as you’d find there now.

Funny how things spring up on one unexpectedly, though. It’s many weeks since I attempted writing my “morning pages”, as prescribed by Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way”, so I took my notebook and went to sit in the sun at lunch time, exchanging the view of the inside of the office walls for the outside - and after half a page of incoherent nothing, found myself writing these words – just for me, for no-one else in particular (after all, that’s the point of morning pages) –
“What happened about all that counselling? What was the end of that? I miss the chance to meet with me…”
I miss the chance to meet with me; what a strange thing to say…

Saturday, June 03, 2006


What a difference to one's outlook being able to take a pre-breakfast stroll in surroundings like this makes!