Blog Posts

How to stop the UBER invasion of Europe

uberlogo_large_verge_medium_landscape

Its website makes UBER appear almost altruistic, there just to make your life easier by enabling you to use your smart phone to order and pay for a ride to wherever you want to go at a price you can afford. They are, they say, “better, faster, and cheaper than a taxi.”

 

Which is odd because what they offer sounds a lot like a taxi service.

Except…

…the cars aren’t licensed

…the drivers can be anyone

…insurance is hit and miss

But that just makes it all more exciting. As UBER puts it, “Welcome To Anything Is Possible”.  Like running a global taxi company while avoiding all those inconvenient things like being legal or paying taxes. Perhaps that ‘s always been the American Dream.

Am I rejecting reality one book at a time?

rejecting reality one book at a timeI’ve listened to forty-five audiobooks in the first thirty-eight weeks of this year.

I listen in the car on the two to three-hour drives that I make for work two to four times a week. I listen in hotel rooms I occupy for at least a couple of nights a week most weeks of the year. I listen when I’m trapped on a plane. I listen when I choose to eat lunch or dinner alone because the thought of spending another hour making conversation fills me with weariness.

I listen, in other words, when I don’t want to be where I have to be.

So what does all this listening signify?

If audiobooks are my refuge from a life I don’t want to live, wouldn’t my time would be better spent shaping my reality, rather than escaping from it. I could spend time in the hotel bar asking other guests about themselves and their families and their hopes and fears. I could talk to the person next to me on the plane. I could find new people to lunch with three times a week.

How to teach a young introvert

Featured Image -- 1877In “Suddenly it’s fashionable to be an introvert”  I discussed the campaign in America to make people aware that introversion is “normal”. The article I’m reblogging here continues that discussion, this time focussing on how  introverts should be educated.
I’m glad I didn’t grow up in an age when children did assignments in “pods”. This sounds like moving at the speed of the slowest individual. I’d have died of boredom.

Imagine if sports were taught that way. How would the natural athletes feel about never getting to deliver their best performance?

 

First Flight Out – Last Flight Back: why do I do this to myself?

lcy-ffolfbIt’s 06.20 on a Friday morning in early September. I’ve been up for two hours. I should have boarded my flight from Geneva to London City Airport fifteen minutes ago but I’m delayed by “Adverse weather conditions in London”. This means that London City Airport is shrouded in fog and planes can’t land because ground traffic is still directed visually from a control tower. Until the fog lifts, I’m stuck in Geneva.

As I sit drinking ok coffee from a disposable cup and eating croissant that any French-speaking country should be ashamed to serve, I find myself wondering why I do this to myself.

Walking the line between solitude and isolation

walking the line between solitude and isolationFor me, solitude isn’t about avoiding people or even finding peace and quiet. My head is a noisy place. Solitude allows me to listen to myself, to get my thoughts in order, to read books or watch film and then think about them afterwards. Solitude is like a good meal, its something to savour and it fills me with the energy to do other things.

When I return from a period of solitude, nothing pleases me more than to share with my wife all the things that have popped into my mind and see whether they mean anything.

Solitude is something I choose. Something that I can end at any time. Something that nourishes me and helps me to be a nicer person to be around.

 

 

 

 

What if the God I don’t believe in spoke through YouTube music videos?

god and youtube1Now I’m a card-carrying Atheist of long standing, but if I was of a mystical frame of mind, I would have thought that God was trying to speak to me through YouTube last night because the songs that hit me hardest were all about angels and God.

It started with Passenger doing a cover of “Angel From Montgomery” with The Once and Stu Larsen. I was entranced by the sense of being part of a jam session with musicians who seem to be making music for the joy of it. They sang about hope and how hard it is to sustain and prayed to be given an angel from Montgomery as “one thing to hold on to” because to “believe in this living is just a hard way to go.” Amen to that.

 

Conchita Würst’s win at Eurovision tonight depresses me

DENMARK-EUROVISION-SONG-CONTEST-2014_1399551974531205_v0_hYou either love the Eurovision or you hate it. Either way it can make compulsive viewing.

This year I thought the standard of song had gone way up. The entries from The Netherlands, Sweden, Malta (surprisingly) and Slovenia were all strong and I’m sure they’ll sell well but none of them won.

Once upon a time, talent being locked out of the top spot would have been attributed to block voting by neighbouring countries, regardless of song or performance.

This year it seems to me that the talent was blocked by the freak factor. Most countries voted for Austria’s Conchita Würst, a bearded transvestite with a good voice and an exceptionally ordinary song. There seemed to be a mania to vote for the “bearded lady.”

 

Solitude Rising: suddenly it’s fashionable to be an introvert

I'm not withdrawnSuddenly, it’s fashionable to be an introvert. So fashionable that extroverts want to know how to become one, preferably in a public ceremony with all their friends there to applaud their rebirth.

Type in “Introvert” on the books section of Amazon and you’ll find half-a-dozen gurus explaining the mysteries of introversion.  According to these books, we live in an extrovert-dominated world but that introverts can still thrive in it if they are true to themselves and understand that, even though they are not extroverts, they are still normal. Once they grasp this, they can wield a “Quiet Power” over the world – although I assume they would never tell anyone that they’d done so.

 

Learning to Let Go and Leave the Monkey Traps Behind

Corgi-10166-i Pirsig Zen Art Motorcycle MaintenanceOne image from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” stayed with me and became part of my personal navigation system: Pirsig’s description of the South Indian Monkey Trap.

“The trap consists of a hollowed out coconut chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be grabbed through a small hole. The hole is big enough so that the monkeys hand can go in, but too small for its fist with rice in it to come out. The monkey reaches in and is suddenly trapped by nothing more than his own value rigidity. He can’ t revalue the rice. He cannot see that freedom without rice is more valuable than capture with it.

My younger self went: “Stupid Monkey” and took great pleasure in identifying people who were clutching their handful or rice, unable to make the rational choice.

Of course, it turned out that I was a pretty stupid monkey myself. I still am.

“Byzantium”and “Let The Right One In”: European Vampire movies confronting monstrosity

Header  “In the modern world, movies provide the myths we use to interpret our lives and cinemas are the camp-fires around which we gather to pass on lessons and legends.”

I gather around a lot of camp-fires and I’m particularly fascinated by the many re-shapings of the myths concerning vampires that we use to help us understand our fears and our desires.

“My name is Mike and I am an audiobook junky”

Audio Books 2013I blame Nick Hornby , Stephen Fry and audible.com for my downward spiral into addiction to audio books.

In 2012,  exposure to Hornby’s “Juliet Naked” , told in three voices, convinced me for the first time, that not only could audio books be as good as reading a “real” book, they could be better.

Then I decided that I wanted to re-read the Harry Potter books. I had them on my shelves. I could just have picked them up and started reading like a normal person, but I let Stephen Fry tempt me. Fry was  BORN to read Harry Potter. Every nuance of British class structure, every sly piece of humour, every shred of fear and sadness and despair, became richer on his tongue. I felt like someone who was hearing music played for the first time and knew at once how hard it would be to return to reading the notes off the page.

What makes my  Buddha smile?

buddha with earphones and quote correctedRecently I’ve started to feel bombarded with messages to “Be Fully Present In The Moment”, focus on “The Here and Now” and abandon my, apparently unhealthy, habit of living mostly inside my head and “Join the Real World”.

Some of this comes from the self-help merchants who are trying to feed the apparently insatiable demand to provide the one simple message that will enable people to achieve happiness. Some comes from the attempts of Western writers to re-package Buddha to fill a perceived gap in the spiritual market as Christianity wanes in Europe. Some of it just seems to be a marketing ploy to get me to buy “experiences”.

The main effect on me is to make me grind my teeth in annoyance and mutter “If that’s what Buddha REALLY meant, he was an idiot.”

My Top Ten Songs of 2013

2013 has been a great year for music: lots of fresh voices with strong lyrics and rich sounds. Below are the ten I’d like to remember from this year.

1. Lorde: “Royals”

Original lyrics, unforgettable sound, “We don’t care. We’re not part of your love affair. That kinda lux ain’t for us. We need a different kinda buzz” could be the manifesto for a generation… or just really clever lyrics.

Social Media Explained

I saw this scribbled up somewhere and had to pass it on.

Enjoy.

Social Media explained

Montreux Memories

I first spent time in Montreux back in February 1988 when my company took advantage of the out of season rates to run a two week workshop in the  Hotel Suisse Majestic. Back then, this once grand Victorian hotel seemed to me to be in decline.

We ran our session in a  high-ceilinged ballroom with  huge windows looking out over the mist-covered lake. I was less than fully engaged in the workshop and found myself trying to imagine what the room must have been like when it was filled with light and decked out to delight young aristocrats traveling across Europe. I couldn’t quite picture it. I kept finding myself imaging the ballroom scene from “Dance of the Vampires” (also known as “The Fearless Vampire Hunters”) where Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate were dancing amongst the living dead.

It seemed to me that the Ballroom was emblematic of Montreux, once grand, now fading and rapidly becoming a seedy parody of itself.

Trying  To Live A Life Less Irritable

Anger has always been a vice of mine. Like Loki in the picture above, I’m likely to reply to “have a nice day” with “don’t tell me what kind of day to have,” even if I don’t say it out loud.

Anger is the easiest emotion for me to summon: always there when I need it and often when I don’t. My anger seems to be just below the surface of my life, a molten lake that I can tap into at any time to fuel my interactions with the world around me.

Anger makes me into someone I don’t like: a man with a hard face and a vicious tongue who hectors and bullies and who will not be appeased. Sometimes he’s a man who gets things done. Mostly he’s a man who hurts the people around him and makes things worse.

Learning from living without writing

Yesterday, I drove home from Munich (500+ kilometres or 300+ miles) listening to an audiobook version of John Irving’s “Last Night In Twisted River” and one of the characters (not a particularly nice one) quoted ,Rilke, a rather intense Austrian poet who adopt the French-speaking part of Switzerland as his home, who once wrote: “If one feels that one could live without writing, then one shouldn’t write at all.”

The idea seems to be that writing, a lonely, isolating process that turns people into observers of life rather than participants, is not to be recommended as a path to happiness for most people.

I suspect this is true.

I’ve also learnt, over the past four months, that while I do need to live and love more, I will always need a way of siphoning off the noise in my head and exercising my imagination by writing.

Apple vs. Amazon? Not really. More like the publishing industry vs. readers and writers. But perhaps Harry Potter has the answer.

The US Department of Justice (DoJ) is prosecuting Apple, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Penguin for “conspiring to end e-book retailers’ freedom to compete on price.” The DoJ claims that “To effectuate their conspiracy, the publisher defendants teamed up with defendant Apple, which shared the same goal of restraining retail price competition in the sale of e-books,”

What that means in plain English is that Apple and the others adopted an agency model approach to eBook pricing that effectively guaranteed Apple a 30% margin and positioned the publishers to challenge Amazon’s push to grow the eBook market by keeping prices below $10, a pricing model which worked for Amazon’s margin but meant that the traditional publishing houses couldn’t make the profit they wanted on titles sold as eBooks.

How Much Money Is Enough? – not a question everyone gets to ask

What does money mean to you? Have you always had it? Never had it? Are you working your guts out to get it?

I work with a lot of people who come from families that have been middle class for so many generations that poverty is a concept to them, not  a memory. Few would describe themselves as wealthy. Most would see themselves as comfortable. All of them are working hard to keep what they have and get more. When I ask them why, it’s seen as an eccentric question. Sometimes they tell me it’s for their kids. Some use it as a way to keep score “He Who Dies With The Most Toys Wins”. Most do it because… well… it’s what you do.

My parents were both working people. They made enough money to raise two kids, run a car and buy their own house. They believed in the mantra “Out of Debt, Out of Danger”. They knew that debt could drag them into poverty and that once there, they would never escape. At the end of their lives they felt they had paid their way.

At fifty-five, I find myself asking a question that my parents would never have framed for themselves and which doesn’t seem to occur to my colleagues: “How much money do I need?”

Why I miss being part of a writers group

For a long time, in a different life, I was part of a writers list. We’d submit stories up to once a week and comment on each other’s work. I learned the basics of writing there from people who were kind enough to show me the errors in grammar and structure that marred what could have been good stories. I benefited from reading their fiction and their thoughts on writing. I honed my skills taking part in monthly themed stories and in producing flash fiction – 100 to 200 word stories with a beginning a middle and an end. I even committed poetry from time to time. There were arguments of course but I learned from those too.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was how hard it is to see a story just after you’ve written it.

Here’s me thinking I’m a dinosaur and actually I’m a visionary “Doing One Thing At A Time”

I’m not “always on” kind of person. I don’t have a Facebook account. I don’t use IM. My default status on my company’s Lync system is “Do Not Disturb.” I switch my mobile phone off at weekends and at the end of the working day.

My young colleagues struggle to understand how I survive like this.

I have grown used to thinking of myself as a dinosaur.

Imagine my surprise when one of my young colleagues forwarded me an article from the ultimate arbiter of intellectual caché in the business world, the Harvard Business Review declaring that the latest trend is monotasking.

Thoughts on ageing and dying now that I’m fifty-five

The old man I’d like to be

I turned fifty-five in January. I know the current feel-good advice is that age is just a number, that you are as young as you feel, that forty is the new twenty, that I have years of healthy, happy, productive life ahead of me and so on and so on.

In all probability, I have another twenty-five to thirty years to go.

With luck and money, I should be healthy and mentally competent for at least fifteen of those.

After seventy, my body will start to run down and there is an increasing chance that my mind will begin to unravel, slowly stripping me of all the things that make me me. I will become a faded photograph of myself, reminding those who knew me of who I was, reminding me of what I have lost and presenting the rest of the world with the old man I have become.

Sometimes I wonder whether I would recognise the old man I will become if I met him today and whether I would be proud of who he is and how he lives.

Eight Female Singers Who Caught My Imagination In 2011

Happy New Year and Hunting in the Snow

I am, at heart, a Winter person.

Spring tries too hard to be new and jolly. Summer is too torpid; filled with oppressively humid days that last longer than they should. Autumn’s fading beauty struggles to disguise the whiff of rot that taints it like stale sweat on a party frock. Winter is starkly honest, uncompromising and fundamentally magical.

It is Winter that transforms the world; stripping away the face-paint other seasons hide behind, to reveal the gaunt bone structure that is the true source of beauty.

Out of the Depths

Some times the writer part of me gets sucked so far beneath the surface that I’m sure he will drown.

Recently, work has left me with no time to write anything that doesn’t have a price tag associated with it.

I don’t mind. It’s work I enjoy and I’m well paid for, so I know I’m fortunate BUT…

… at some level I also know that I can’t afford to let the writer part of me drown. Without him I would be different, less, not me.

“And why do we fall, Bruce?”

When Bruce Wayne was a child he fell down a well.

When his father finally found him and rescued him, he asked

“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up”

NaNoWriMo is a well I’ve fallen into.

It’s clear now that I will not have a 50,000 word first draft of a novel done by the end of November. I have 7 days left and I have written about 12,000 words. If I can make that 17,000  by the end of the month. I will count it an achievement.

Keep Calm and Carry On – the English response to SSDD

There was a time that, metaphorically at least, I laughed in the face of stress. I was one of those “Joy of Stress” guys who leapt tough deadlines with a single bound. Of course, I had no life but I was having fun, or at least I thought I was.

These days instead of laughing in the face of stress, I examine it with the same “You’re STILL here?” resignation that teenage boys reserve for prominent zits.

Big Brother is Watching YOU Drive – across Europe from 2015

I just bought a new car. I was being walked through all the buttons that have been added or changed since I bought the previous version of the same car 7 years ago when a new button caught my eye. This button is an SOS button. If I crash or breakdown,  I press the button and the manufacturer can speak to me in the car, check out my position and send help.

I was bemused by this. I’m a low tech person when it comes to cars. I use a cheap portable satnav on the rare journeys where I need it and I don’t use a phone or an ipod or a laptop in the car so I have no bluetooth or wifi or gps gadgets installed.

At least I thought I didn’t

So how was the car manufacturer going to speak to me and how would they know where I was?

It turned out that the manufacturer builds a gps into every car whether you ask them to or not. With this GPS they not only know exactly where every car is but they can track where it’s travelled from and to and at what speed. The GPS unit links to the car’s sound system so the operator in the service centre can speak to me.

Biéler Exhibition in Bern – Vaud as it was 100 years ago

This weekend we went to see the “Biéler: Dream Reality”exhibition at the  Kunstmuseum in Bern.

I wanted to see his work because he is from the region of Switzerland that I live in and he focused on Swiss life as it was in one of the local villages.

Biéler was born in Rolle in 1863. AT 17 he went to Paris to study art at the prestigious Acedémie Julien. He was very successful in France where he was recognised as and original and accomplished painter of portraits.

His most famous works are realistic depictions of the life in the village of Savièse in Vaud. Im 1888 he had his first big sucess was a large format painting of  women in front of the church in Savièse. From 1900 to 1904 he focused on the painting the people of Savièse and founded an art school there.

I find these works quite beautiful. It is also fascinating to see how life was in this part of the world a little over one hundred years agao.

Biéler also painted symbolist works, some of which seem quite timeless to me.

An inconvenient imagination: “Healing Crooked” pops out of nowhere

Sometimes, inspiration is inconvenient.

Here I am, wanting my imagination to get on with finishing “Last Light” and get started on my “Blood, Flesh and Fear” my NaNoWriMo novel attempt but it completely ignores me and writes something else instead

I long ago learned that this kind of thing is my subconscious trying to tell me something so I roll with it.

Below is what seems to the be a slightly strange opening to a love story. I’ll let you know when my imagination shares the rest of it with me.

NaMoWriMo 2011 – I’m jumping into the abyss

I’ve been struggling to write recently. My time seems not to be my own. I wake up each day already late for something. Yet experience tells me that I write best when I’m writing under pressure. Put me in a quiet office with the whole day ahead of me and the screen remains blank. Put me on a plane or train with an hour to fill before I’m back at work and the words start to flow.

So, I’ve decided to jump-start my writing by attempting the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge of writing a novel in a month and blogging about it as I go along.

It’s insane really.

To reach the 50,000 word limit, I have to write more words in a day than I usually manage in a week.

Graffiti with Punctuation?

I just watched “Contagion“, Soderbergh’s realistic but remarkably unengaging movie about a global pandemic.

There was one line in it that made me laugh out loud. In an argument with a blogger/journalist who describes himself as a writer, one of the scientists says:

“Blogging is not writing. It’s just graffiti with punctuation.”

So here I am, shaking a spray paint can in each hand and wondering what to spread across my own personal graffiti space.

Chaplin Fresco Facelift for Vevey Tower Blocks

Vevey is a town of a little over 180,000 people, about 40% of whom are foreign nationals. Recently the town has been growing and the local authority have been renovating some of the  tower blocks that provide accommodation in what was once the industrial part of town.

But the local authorities went one step beyond refurbishing these towers; they decided to install Europe’s largest frescoes and pay tribute to Charlie Chaplin, who spent the latter part of his life in the town.

Breaking Einstein’s Speed Limit?

Scientists unwilling to play dice against Einstein

Back in 2008 the scientists at CERN seemed surprised by the concern expressed in the media that,  by switching on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC). they might create a black hole that would destroy the planet. In tones meant to reassure, the scientists explained that, while, in theory, they could create a small black hole, the chances of it staying stable for long enough to become a problem were very small.

This week the scientists at CERN were back in the news, this time facing a risk that they take much more seriously than the possibility of creating a black hole that will eat the planet. This time they risked saying the Albert Einstein may have been wrong.

Another night in Basel

Basel SBB Bahnhoff at night

The human scale of this place, the quite grandeur of the architecture, mellowed by years of practical use and rendered beautiful by skillful lighting, always lifts my spirits. I feel at peace here, even though I am a stranger amongst strangers, returning to my single room after eating accompanied only by Joshilyn Jackson’s (truly splendid) “Backseat Saints”.

When the Dementors come for you

When the Dementors come for you

The Dementors came for me this week. I’ve sensed their presence for a while now, like the promise of frost in the air.  Instead of facing them, I pushed my hands into my pockets, ducked my head and pressed on with life. I think that’s when they began to smile and call to each other.

I think it was my anger that gave them my scent, like blood trailing through water. In recent weeks I have become increasingly aggressive. I have been impatient with everyone, especially myself.  The angrier I got the more it seemed that I walked through gloom illuminated only by lightning bolts of wrath.

Barcelona – 3.00 am

nuba Barcelona

Nuba is a dimly lit glass cage, with blue lights that sparkle but don’t illuminate. It seems to have been built so that the young and beautiful of Barcelona can gather to admire one another. Young women with long legs and short skirts wander around the tables, offering drinks and cigars. The music was loud and persistent. The air was smoke-filled.

I knew at once that I didn’t want to be there. I was even less keen to be there when I saw how some of my colleagues, married men whose wives I’ve met, looked at the young women who had to do a Playboy-Bunny-Bob to serve them drinks or else place themselves even more on display.

I went outside to get some air. By now it was after midnight and people were starting to arrive at the bar. To gain admission, the two tall, slim young men in black had to be convinced that you were sufficiently beautiful to enter. I watched for a while as they judged the people who were waiting in line and realized that, had I not been part of a party, I would never have been permitted to enter nuba. I went back in and sat alone, drinking a glass of water.

One of my colleagues came to check if I was OK and invited me to sit at a table he was at with four of my colleagues.

“Do you want a drink, Mike?” an Australian colleague asked.

“No thanks,” I said.

“You look like ya need one.”

“This is not my kind of place,” I said, by way of explanation.

My colleague looked around at the beautiful women in the room and asked, “So what is your kind of place?”

Before I could give it any kind of thought, I heard myself say: “Home. With my wife.”

Truth, I’ve found, tends to be greeted with silence.

Bush and Blair changed the world after 9/11. I hope one day they pay for it.

A few weeks ago I watched as the town of Wootton Bassett paid tribute to yet more dead British troops return home for burial. The dignity of the crowd was impressive. The message of the hearses was unmistakable. We have arrived at a bad place through bad leadership and young men are paying for the mistakes made.

This week,  international news channels are pumping out tenth anniversary programmes with the theme: “How 9/11 Changed The World Forever”.

The one’s I’ve seen are heavy on visuals and short on reflection. This makes me angry. The lack of analysis, the refusal to learn will only result on more coffins in the streets.

3for2 at Waterstone’s is dead at last – now I can just shop for a great book at a good price

3for2 Photograph by Elizatbeth Ashworth

In 3for2  Waterstone’s, books were no longer objects of desire; they were commodities to stack high and sell cheap. As a customer I was encouraged, not to find the book of my dreams, but to find three books that I could take to the counter at the same time so that I would only have to pay for one of them.

Every book eligible for this offer (which seemed to be most of the ground floor) had been defaced by a garish orange sticker that announced to the world: ” I like this book, but not enough to pay full price for it.”  Or perhaps, “I could only find two books I really wanted to read but this one had a sticker on it so I took it because it was free.” It’s a close as a book store can get to asking a customer to say, “Supersize me”.

I believe that, to survive, bricks and mortar bookstores need to become the delicatessen of the bookselling world. They should be staffed by people who care and they should attract people who love books and want to find the best. The true joy of the bookstore comes from the browse; from finding something wonderful and new or finding something hard to get or just being able to pick up the book you’ve been waiting for and peruse it a little before you embrace it and take it home.

Adventures In The Habitable Zone – science, fiction and fairytales

“Goldilocks Planets” – searching the Habitable Zone

Today I saw a headline that said that Swiss scientists have found a potentially habitable planet called HD 85512 b. As I read the background information I heard the strident strains of a famous 1960′s TV program playing in my head and the following scene unfolded on the Bridge of a slightly dated Space Ship.

Adventures In The Habitable Zone

“Ensign, take us out of Earth orbit and set a course to HD 85512 b.”

“Aye Aye, Captain. It’s 36 light years aways. We should be there in 20 minutes.”

Science Officer Spook’s eyebrow rose in surprise. He turned his tall lean form towards his Captain, a short but wide man who sprawled in his slightly too large command chair with a lack of grace that could be acquired only with a lifetime of practice in watching TV while eating Pizza straight from the box.

Why Harry Dresden Makes Me Cry

It’s embarrassing to admit but, for the past week, I’ve had tears in my eyes while reading “Ghost Story”, the latest in the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

I’m not usually a tearful kind of guy. “Ghost Story” is an action-packed supernatural mystery thriller, not a tear-jerker. Clearly something else is going on here.

A novel is nurtured in the imagination of the author and blooms in the imagination of the reader. That my imagination produces such a melancholic bloom is a sign that my subconscious wants to tell me something. This doesn’t happen often, I have a very understanding subconscious, so when it sends me a message, I do my best to listen.

The Tao Of Not Doing Twitter or Facebook

Twitter, Facebook and Tao

Tao also teaches that flow experiences produce happiness. Tao encourages “Being Present” in the moment as a way of overcoming the artificial divisions between mind and body and entering the flow of the universe.

My happiness depends upon focus, concentration, and challenge.

That is why I don’t use IM or push email, or Facebook or Twitter during the working day; they disrupt my concentration, causing me to crash out of the flow into a pleasure-denying cognitus interruptus.

David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith Prepare To Declare War On The Young

Tory Leaders

The man who leads the country with the man who leads the think tank

The looting in the current UK  riots shows a disregard for the law that is not so much criminal as completely amoral. This is a generation that feels deprived if they don’t have latest phone and coolest clothes. Social mobility has come to a stop. The economy has died. The currency is worth nothing. Parenting has been nationalized. Education is failing. Those most motivated to serve their country are being shipped out to support America’s war on terror.

The recommendations that are being presented as response to the riots are part of the new Tory ideology that  Iain Duncan Smith’s right wing think tank has been working on since 2004. It translates like this.

  • Britain is broken.
  • It lacks moral fibre.
  • Poor parenting and years of flabby, liberal, multicultural Labour rule have allowed people to lose sight of their duty to each other and their country.
  • We must fix it through zero tolerance of those who think and act differently than us and by using the law to re-impose the moral values and disciplines that will restore the Britain that we (the old-Etonian upper class) believe everyone should live in.

An Evening In Paris

I’m in Paris tonight. Sounds exotic doesn’t it; maybe even romantic. Except this is a business trip and I’m staying in La Défense.

The business trip part means that I travelled here from Switzerland at the close of the working day, arrived at around 21.00 and worked with the team until midnight on the presentation that we will make tomorrow at 10.00.

The La Défense part means that I’m not really in the Paris of your imagination with medieval gargoyles looking down from Notre Dame to Belle Époque grandeur that seems approachable simply because it is so familiar.

La Défense is SimCity with a French accent. It is a temple of commerce with huge ego buildings rising up like Superman’s crystal palace, vying with one another to be the tallest or the most dramatic and dwarfing the tens of thousands of people that Métro disgorges here each day.

Swiss Government Apologises For Imprisonment Of “Deviant” Young People Without Trial Or Appeal

One aspect of Swiss society that surprised me is the strong pressure on people to fit in. It’s a small country with even smaller Cantons. Everybody knows everybody else, physical and social mobility is low by comparison to the UK. To get along with your neighbours you have to follow the rules.

I’ve often wondered what happens to young Swiss who don’t follow the rules.

Today, I found out what happened to them between 1942 and 1981: they were locked up like criminals without having committed a crime, without trial and without the possibility of appeal or judicial review, using a process called Administrative Detention.

Tempus Fugit -especially when you’re on vacation

It’s been more than five years since I last had a summer vacation of more than five working days. This year I decided to take three weeks off. Whem I was planning it, it seemed a vast swathe of time. I was going to get so much done: write some stories (note the ridiculously optimistic use of the plural), catch up on all my admin chores, read half a dozen books and still have time to do some travelling with my wife.

In practice, not so much of that happened.

In the first week, I discovered how tired I’d let myself become and how hard it was completely to switch work off. For example, I’d finally arranged to go see the last Harry Potter film and I spent the hour before the performance pacing the street, pitching a bid to a client in a conference call. For the second week I left my phone and laptop behind and headed for Stresa on Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy.

Farewell, Harry Potter

I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since 1998 when, based on word of mouth recommendations, I picked up the first two books, “The Philosopher’s Stone” and “The Chamber of Secrets”, together. After that I was hooked. I was one of the many who pre-ordered the hard back versions of the books from “The Prisoner of Azkaban” onwards.

As Harry grew older, the books became longer and darker and we waited for more than a year between them. For the first seven years of this century, reading the Harry Potter books became a ritual for me. I would make sure that I had a day’s leave when each book arrived so that I could dive right in and then I would carry the book with me everywhere until it was consumed and I was left hungry for the next one.

From Métro, Boulot, Dodo to Pecheresse on the beach

Recently my life has been what the French call “Métro, boulot, dodo” which roughly translates into “Subway, work, sleep.” At times like these, when the pressure is high and getting through the day is an achievement, it’s possible to lose sight of what makes life worth living

The Joy Of Buying Summer Books

Bahnhoffstrasse is the poshest shopping street in Zurich and my favourite place on Bahnhoffstrasse  is the Orell Füssli English Bookshop: three floors of English books. On Saturday we spent a pleasurable couple of hours searching out the books that we will read this summer. We split up, the better to cover the ground, and met periodically to compare acquisitions and confirm choices.

“Raineth The Red” by Martin Millar – a new story on the web

I’m a fan of Martin Millar’s books, especially the Kalix werewolf stories. He also writes some stories of fairies (not the nice kind) in the modern day, most notably “The Good Fairies of New York”.

He has just posted a new Fairy Story on his website. You can find it here “Raineth The Red”

Finally, social network sites I see the point of

I was greatly surprised when I finally came across two social network sites that I actually enjoy being a member of: goodreads and LibraryThing.

As an avid reader, Goodreads is my natural home on the Internet. Here I can rate and review the books I read, check the reviews and ratings of books before I buy them, take part in discussions with other readers, interact with authors and follow the reviews of readers with similar tastes and interests.

LibraryThing is an online book indexing tool that enables me to track and tag my books. It’s easy to use: you just enter the ISBN or the book name or the author name and the book cover and the book details pop up. You can them add them to your library. You can add tags to the books. You can rate them and you can write reviews of them. Afterwards you can sort books by author, tag, or rating and you can see how the book was tagged and rated by other users.

Trigger For A Story

Today, I started to write because I heard a voice in my head saying: “The doctor will see you now.” and I wanted to see what happened next.

I was about to have one of those “Where on earth do these ideas come from?” conversation with myself when I realised two things: the first was that I’d used my own name for the main character. This hadn’t been a conscious choice, so what kind of choice was it and why had I made it? The second thing I realised was that the idea hadn’t come out of nowhere, it had, indirectly, come from a poem by Remittance Girl that I read a couple of days ago.

Blogging Into Silence

On a good day, this blog get thirty hits. On a slow day, maybe five hits.

So why am I still here?

What is the point of blogging into silence?

Perhaps it doesn’t need to have a point?


Woulda Coulda Shoulda – Didn’t – So What?

I am seldom a “Right Here! Right Now!” kind of person. I grew up as a delayed-gratification, my-future’s-so-bright-I-gotta-wear-shades sort of person and I’m in danger of becoming a “woulda,coulda,shoulda,” revisionist, revisiting the paths not taken and projecting myself to a different future. I understand that life is full of “Sliding Doors” moments when circumstances shift the course of our lives in ways we will never be aware of. There’s nothing I can do about it. As Dilbert once said, “Shift happens”.

Leaving Auckland

So, I’m heading back to Switzerland after two weeks in Auckland. Most of the time was work, either in the office or my hotel. I was too tired to travel far but I walked a lot of downtown and the harbour. I’m left with a pleasant impression of Auckland. It’s a working city that has style. The food is good and very varied. The culture seems much more multicultural than my experience of Sydney. Everyone I met was friendly and open. It would be an easy place to live.

The Sinister and Dexter Me

In Latin, left is Sinister (making me sinister-handed) whereas right is Dexter (making everyone else dexterous by comparison).

It’s claimed that left-handed people have greater access to the right-hand side of the brain, making them creative, holistic, non-linear thinkers, prone to expressing their emotions in colourful ways and often brighter than the people around them.

In other words, left-handed people are weird, loud-mouthed, annoying and unrepentantly different. No wonder they are only 12% of the population, any more than that and the world would be in chaos.

I would like to live a left-handed life: hanging out doing cool creative stuff for the fun of it. Sadly, I live in a right-handed world that expects me to be dexterous: starting in the morning and working through to the evening, taking a logical, disciplined approach to my work and gaining a sense of satisfaction from my ever-diminishing To Do List.

Not being dexterous is inherently sinister.

Fading Away

It seems to me that my sense of self is a little fragile at the moment. It is fuelled less by desire and more by anxiety. I have strongly ingrained patterns of behaviour that I see as going a long way to defining who I am: focused, problem-solving, solitary, comfortable (or at least, not uncomfortable) in living and working in a society that is not my own. Recently I’ve been analysing those patterns from a different perspective and not liking what I see. The same things that make me successful at work, effectively isolate me from the world and free me from the need to be socially and emotionally involved.

In “Up In The Air”, George Clooney gives a speech about imagining that your life is a backpack and that you have to put in it all the things you value. The more you put in, the heavier the burden, the harder it is to go anywhere. Relationships are heaviest things in the backpack. He starts off by recommending that people travel light  because movement is life but by the end of the movie he starts to question his assumption that travel is freedom and life is a bag full of burdens and wonders whether travel is a refusal to stay still long enough to understand how empty our lives are.

An Unexpected Stay At Singapore

Travel never quite goes to plan. I should be in Auckland about now but instead I’m just about to leave my hotel room at Singapore Airport. I missed my connecting flight by thirty minutes and had to wait twelve hours for the next one.

The upside is that I got a few hours of sleep in a real bed and a long hot shower. The downside is that my only change of clothes is in my hold luggage that I don’t have access to.

So now I have a new “Hard Rock Café Singapore” t-shirt and a day’s growth of beard. Add in the leather jacket,  boots and a not-quite-clean-enough jeans and I look more like a backpacker than a consultant.

Anyway, on my flight to Singapore I indulged my inner video junkie and watched all the movies that my wife would probably pass on.

Here’s what I remember:

Thoughts From A Plane – that’s still on the ground two hours after I got on it

I figure that how I behave when confronted with the prospect of 20+ hours isolated in a steel tube will tell me something about myself.

Should I plug myself in to the movie stations and see how many I can watch before I arrive and how many I can remember afterwards?

Should I try to fall back to the luggage option and see how much sleep I can get?

Should I be diligent and power up my laptop and work?

Should I be creative and push to finish one of the stories that are currently in limbo on my c-drive waiting to find out how they finish and what they mean. Makes me think of myself as a work in progress, waiting to find out how and when I will end and whether it will have meant anything.

The one option not on my list is to talk to my fellow passengers and make new friends or new business contacts. That says a lot about me, I think, and not necessarily something good.

“Oh Get A Grip” an Internet Gem

“Oh Get A Grip” is my favourite blog on the internet.  The blog has six regular writers. Each week they pick a theme to write about. Each writer has their own day for posting on the theme and a guest rounds off the week on Saturday. This means that there is something new every day and that you start to see the different ways in which each author approaches the world.

Last week was one of the best weeks I’ve seen. The theme was parenthood.

Eat, Play, Love: 5 days in Tuscany

Perhaps it’s because I’m an atheist, but I never understood the “Pray” part of “Eat, Pray, Love”, so I’ve created my own version, “Eat, Play, Love.” In Lucca we did all three and I feel stronger and happier for it.

Seriously? – Battling Swiss Cows?

battling Swiss cowsI’ve lived in Switzerland for ten years now, ample time to assimilate you might think, and yet some things still remain passing strange.

This weekend, 12,000 people (a huge number by Swiss standards) turned up to watch cows battle for the title “Queen of Queens”.

Amanda Hocking – a self-publishing success story

Amanda Hocking

Amanda  Hocking is the world’s top-selling ebook author and she got there by publishing herself on Amazon (and writing books that lots of people love to read)

Say it with… words – getting love on the page

So why do I now find myself wanting to write about love?  I think it’s because I’m getting old.

At fifty-four, I’m old enough to know the pain that comes when someone you love dies. I’ve started to understand that every important connection I have to someone-else is cemented by love or its shadow, hate. I’ve realized that the only achievement that really matters to me anymore is to find a way to express the love that I feel. The more of life that I see, the more astonishing it is to me that love exists at all and the more I value the achievement of those who find and sustain it.

I now see that my “only misery is real” argument is flawed. If you accept the concept of “real” writing, as an authentic attempt to explore the experiences that define us, then love should be high on the lis. The capacity and need for love is a fundamental part of who we are.

Keeping Sight Of Yourself

I think few of us see as ourselves as we really are.

When I look in the mirror, it takes an effort not to see what used to be there or what I told myself was there or what other people told me I would become.

Our brains are hard-wired for facial recognition. We process faces faster than any other image, recognising friend or enemy and rapidly reading their emotions. But this processing speed is gained by not really looking. The image we process is partially produced by our imaginations filling in the gaps. We see what we expect to see and we believe it because we’ve seen it with our own eyes.

What we see is reinforced by what Lou Tice of The Pacific Institute called “Self Talk” the story we tell ourselves about who we are. Self Talk is about belief rather than fact. It is an interpretation rather than a reality.

Epic Fail?

There was a time when square-jawed heroes would look their (all male) team in the eye and say, “Failure is NOT an option” and no one would laugh.

Failure was for wimps.

Not any more.

Now, for many of us, the opportunity for failure is constant part of our daily lives.

Failure is something we have all experienced. Success is just an urban legend.

Starting Again

For the past decade or so, I’ve been writing fiction under another name in another genre.

Now I am starting again, with a name that no-one recognises and with no community to fall back on.

It feels a little exposed and a little isolated. It’s also quite exciting.

I’m taking this as a chance to take a fresh look at my writing: why I write, what I write about, what relationship I want to have with my readers. I want to set my imagination free and I want to engage with yours.

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