Tag Archives: family

Smell the coffee, make a difference

If you click the picture a charming video plays. Please take a couple of minutes to watch. I think this makes an effective point, and one with which I agree. These days I make sure to spend time smelling the coffee, so to speak. For years I rushed, head down, trying to do good stuff. When my parents died I realised how much I had missed and how much I had made other people miss in my hurry to be good. In my hurry to be good I had been, perhaps, less effective. Now I take time to sit on my front steps and watch the birds in the sky and listen to their songs; I watch people as they hurry by, perhaps missing things too; I watch the clouds and wonder how to paint them properly and then go and try; I smell the earth. I still make a difference sometimes, and still try to be good: I work doing things I believe in with people I admire and respect, but I don’t do it exclusively any more. I also choose words for stories, colours for paintings, actually hear the music I am playing. My life is the better for it and I think I make a better difference now. Working smarter not harder is a cliche, but it is a cliche because it makes sense. I just wanted to share the point…If you have some interesting work, let me know. I am your woman.

 

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The Power of One

I am outing myself as an Only Child. Not only an Only, but also dual nationality and on the easy end of the autistic spectrum with synaesthesia thrown in for good measure. Good grief, I am even professionally interested in myself.

 

There are tensions and delights to be had from all the above. I am Irish/English, and until I started school at a convent where I lived in London I had thought I lived in Wexford with trips to Dublin. I only ever met Irish people and they only ever talked about Irish things. My streets were Irish streets filled with Irish people and Irish papers. We visited Ireland many times and it was where Family was and where Family happened. Good stuff was there. So………slowly realising we lived in London and I was a little bit English was a bit of a moment. And the accent! Well, that was finally knocked out of me once I hit Grammar School in the Shires. As a bright pupil I was lucky enough to have earned a proper education for which I am grateful, but no room for diversity back then! Conform or suffer, the stuff of Grammar and Boarding Schools throughout the  Counties back in the day, and I am not sure it has changed much.  I chose not to suffer. Well, not too much……….

That flaccid grip on national identity has an upside. As an Only I am not a natural joiner, I stand back and evaluate, I overthink, buying into something is not an easy gig for an Only and that apartness, the sense of being outside, brings strength as well as missed opportunities: strength to say no, to weigh up friendships ruthlessly, to maintain integrity and authenticity even at the expense of relationships or career choices – to maintain rightness. Juggling the Irish English that is deep inside is made easier by the lack of joinership – without that need to be within, to join, there is less of a sense of loss of identity as the roots are not firm but swim and sway back and forth under the connecting Sea. The downside is the crushing disappointment that can be had if what one has bought into is revealed to be corrupt or decayed. Childish disappointment in an adult can be corrosive. And that smug integrity can mean an intolerance for others who disappoint, personally and professionally. But, topically, this background makes it easier to understand current cultural issues: amidst the multitude of “communities” that take root around the UK many individuals claim to be ignorant of some of the dreadful things some people within those communities plan and commit. Nonsense. An entire community that can maintain its identity so precisely within another host community does so only by knowing what is happening within and either supporting it or allowing it and by controlling its members. I do not believe those protestations of innocence that are paraded on the tellybox when an atrocity happens. They are not credible. I was on the verge of radicalisation myself – although of course we didn’t know what that meant then –  as a young girl with family members in Sinn Fein when the IRA was casually sold to us as a romantic and necessary part of our culture. My apartness saved me then, and I am grateful for it.

I was “home” recently in Enniscorthy. Travelling alone allowed me to reflect as much as I needed to: I went to see family and friends, spent time simply watching and hearing the Slaney and listening to the birds and the horses, soaked up the familiarity of the places and enjoyed the simaltaneous detachment that is in the DNA of an Only. I watched and listened – something Onlys do a lot. My synaesthesia means that listening is an often joyful and often inadvertent experience, as well as sometimes complex and distracting. The sound of the horses hooves on the turf became a very visual experience for me, the birdsong I enjoy every morning provides a colourful backdrop to activity. I can be surprised by a visual experience from an unexpected sound or some music that I had not expected to hear – delightful, if a little unnerving at times! And Ireland has the best beach on the planet in Curracloe, and I spent time there too. My children all had their first experience of sand there as babies, deliberately.  Saving Private Ryan was filmed there. The fine pale sandy beach is in surroundsound and stretches away right and left fringed by the magnificent dunes and rushes, and the ocean, with its mauves and greens and blues rolls away to the horizon where everything surely falls off and magically glides back home………It fills the vision and the senses and recalibrates everything within a few short breaths.

I also spent some time at my parents grave. No comfort there, I thought, just pain and grief. I was on the verge of an internal meltdown as I sat on the edge of the grave and ran my fingers through the pebbles and stones covering what remains of my parents. And then, a tiny dog appeared from nowhere. Genuinely, I was sitting in the centre of the graveyard and the dog had not been visible, and then he was, and he made a fuss of me and insisted on sitting on my lap and I had no option but to fuss him and talk to him. And slowly the world righted itself again and things came back into focus. Job done, he ambled off, only to return magically just as I was about to leave, insisting on a final fuss and chat. Small wonders make ones day. And as a wise friend said, The universe can be a calm and comforting place , the gentleness of its messengers can heal and support in the most unexpected ways.

So, in a circular way, we are back at Integrity and Rightness. A part of grief grows directly out of regrets: regrets for things done and not done, for mistakes that can never, now, be put right, conversations that can never, now, be had, and love that can no longer be shared or spoken.  However we treasure our integrity – my integrity – it will always fail somehow. And that is because we are all flawed and broken to some extent and we will forget to do things, or will choose activity that we later regret. And sitting there next to the place my parents now share as they shared so many years together before that, I started to understand it better. In the end we are all alone with our grief and our regrets as well as with our triumphs and achievements.

I feel grateful that things conspired to make me aware very early on of the Power of One. It made me a better leader and a worse follower, oddly both non-judgemental but also intolerant of hypocrisy, created in me an over-thinker but thoughtfully balanced that with a resilience and drive that has led me along a fabulously interesting and rewarding pathway. Not an easy companion but I hope a rewarding one for those who choose to be close to me, and I cherish those who choose to be so. Celebrating your own Power of One and connecting with that solitude that nourishes, you will discover the strength within. Trust me, I am an Only!

 

 

 

 

Coriolanus at The Donmar. A little closer to Heaven.

Shakespeare reveals us to ourselves relentlessly. Prepare for some pain and some joy: your Mothering will be exposed and scrutinised, your integrity questioned and your capacity for denial cruelly interrogated. Hear the words and witness the actors tears, smell the sweat, live the life. And exit powerfully uplifted and enriched.

Tom  Hiddleston is Coriolanus at the Donmar. He actually is Coriolanus. There was nothing he could have done differently or more that would have enhanced the role or created a more vivid or wounded picture.  From the moment he stepped onto the stage – a sparse stage managed with skill and infinite wisdom – he owned us. He was also surrounded by actors who almost without exception  understood the context not just of the words but of the building and the stage. His performance was breathtaking and mesmerising, his body entirely used up in offering us the internally broken son inhabiting the Warriors body, struggling with the effect of the power-ebb-and-flow and the political flexing of the ruthlessly under-educated and under-prepared.  Deborah Findlay touched chord after chord as the Mother. Josie Rourke has nurtured and created a piece of history.

A difficult play to stage, in  many ways, and more challenges at the Donmar than in some other venues because of the proximity. Startlingly efficient use of the space, staggering beauty delivered through blood and light, and a fearless viciousness allowed inside the audience space  created a wonderful Shakespearean intimacy that made it impossible not to engage. Apart from the eejit sitting next to my husband who fidgeted and looked at his watch throughout the performance and should therefore, of course, be slapped many times. He even managed to chew the lid of his cup and flap his programme about irritatingly while the play was on. I needed to ask him why he had bothered coming at all but didn’t trust myself not to administer the required slapping if  I spoke to him afterwards.  Regretting the missed opportunity even now – I suspect he still doesn’t know how close he came to off stage violence. The only jarring note on stage in the entire event was the first speaker, an actor trying a little too hard inside the context of this theatre, out-acting herself and creating a slightly discordant sound next to the exceptionally engaging and variegated performances of her colleagues, who managed to maintain their performances even when not centre stage without drawing attention to themselves or causing dislocation – one of the most difficult jobs on the stage. And a word in recognition of how very uncomfortable Tom must have been during some of the bloodier scenes, particularly the final scene – but worth it, Tom! Very very worth it.

If you haven’t yet been, just go if you can. I can’t say more than that.

Diabetes, then…..tch!

You have probably not been wondering where I have been as you have better things to do. After regular blogging there has been a pause, a whistling  tumbleweed silence unfilled by words or thoughts. I have missed you, though.

Like many women of what used to be called “a certain age” but is now called the New Forty I have discovered that  I am not a grumpy tired old bat, but that I have diabetes with a side order of thyroid malfunction and some yummy cholesterol. Well, ok, I am also a grumpy old bat, but I now have a lovely ready made off the shelf excuse for it and I’m not afraid to use it. With a vivid memory of the PMT I used to suffer, or rather my Old Man used to suffer, pre-menopause (men, look away now) I put the  recent irritability and low moods down to being a woman. Call myself a Feminist?! I should be ashamed, bringing dishonour on the lovely bright green dungarees I used to proudly wear in the 70s, with the universal Feminist sign all over the front. In case the short hair, dungarees, free-flow pit-hair and  belligerent attitude didn’t give it away.

So, the low moods, exhaustion and annoyance are the result of diabetes. Another confession: I used to be a nurse (technically I still am, which is scary), and I still don’t understand diabetes. I tried to convince the diabetes nurse that my blood sugar was raised because I have honey for breakfast and that the dizziness, fatigue and biting the heads off small children was probably because the Old Man was annoying. Which is true. But it wasn’t the reason that getting out of bed in the mornings was becoming less of a pleasure. I am a natural early riser, every morning, around 04.00 or 05.00 at the latest, up and at ’em, starting the day with meditation, focus, honey (of course) and tea – I love the start of the day. But in the last few months my mind has continued on the same plane but my body has been dragging behind whispering ” do we have to do this….?” and generally loafing around making my mind think twice. And when I was first identified as diabetic I dived straight into denial, taking to it like an old hand: it wasn’t diabetes because I eat properly/don’t smoke/it can’t be/I haven’t time for this. I thought that I could eat my way away from diabetes. Partly true, but a little optimistic I think. I think I thought I might grow out of it, like acne………

So on the whole I made a nuisance of myself avoiding the inevitable, bobbing and weaving to miss the headlines and warning signs, finding plenty of sand in which to bury my head and making a pain of myself.

Running alongside the diabetes was a serious dip in confidence. Hitting fifty (and the rest) can be a shock to the system, especially if the usual things all happen at once – and I can almost hear the rumble of agreement from other “New Forties” out there as you anticipate what I am going to say. My parents both died within a couple of years of each other (horrible circumstances, for another blog), I became disabled enough to need a blue badge, and the kids started leaving home/having babies/getting married/being grown up. And I continued to run the business and work hard. I wasn’t about to let grief, disability and pain, and the empty nest stop me! Oh no, because I am Superwoman, hear me roar.

Except I didn’t roar, I shrieked, snapped, snarled and moaned. I lost the ability to step away and see the bigger picture, and my assertiveness began to drip out of me and stain the carpet. I am used to achieving and have high expectations of myself, not unrealistically.  I know what I am doing and that bigger picture is what informs me. I always think my work is like being the conductor of several orchestras – the job is to lead, to show the tempo and understand the destination, and to make sure all the component parts get there at the right time and that any improv enhances the show. The energy and thrust needed for the business gives me energy, feeds me, and gives me purpose. And when all of those other things, those Life Events, converged, I lost the Kerpow Whoomph. I no longer really knew if  knew what I was doing even though I thought I knew that I did, I wasn’t sure. If you see what I mean! Where once I would have known with certainty when something was actually mine and the buck stopped at my feet, and when it wasn’t and that buck needed to be re-directed, I suddenly found it harder to tell, and started to think it was indeed all my fault, that I was wrong, it was me, and that I didn’t know anything. I think it is fair to say I was confused. But confused on the inside. My Fellow New Forties,  you know what it’s like – you are the one in the middle holding it all together. You have the reins, the strings and the plug that could be pulled and let it all swirl away, so you can’t let it go. So I didn’t, and the music played on. But I did shut down for a while, which is why I haven’t been here for a few months. It took all my energy to keep the plates spinning and I didn’t have any left over for Life.

So……..now I am diabetic and proud! I remember when I first became disabled, and I kept thinking “when this gets better I will get the bike out again” until gradually (d’oh!) it dawned on me that this was as good as it got and I was disabled. Diabetes received the same treatment. I have now reached acceptance and along with it the ability to take the advice and the pills, and I am living again. Maybe next time I have a Life Event you will be kind enough to send me a copy of this blog post so that I don’t waste too much time on denial and faffing. And, a bit like the Walking Stick club that I inadvertently joined – that band of walking stickers who with a nod and a smile, and a comment about the stick, offer unity and solidarity in disability – I have found a new club of diabetics that I hadn’t known existed. The more impaired I become, the more clubs I seem to be invited to join…….Happy Days!

Freedom fighters and terrorists

I was brought up in an Irish “community” which yo-yoed between London and Wexford – I didn’t even know I lived in London until I started school – I thought, if I thought about it at all, that we lived in Dublin. And the Convent did nothing to reduce that view populated as it was with weatherbeaten old Irish nuns and a few young and timid Irish nuns all of whom appeared to think Galway was the centre of the Universe, priests were Supermen, and who spent a lot of their time blushing. And using their ebony crucifix as a weapon of mass destruction in the classroom – I still have the migraines to prove it – but that is another blog entirely. Most of the Irish in that community had integrated well with the Brits, worked hard, played hard, were charming and funny, generous in the boozer, and made no trouble. Making no trouble was important: if you made trouble you were visible and if you were visible you were a target. I am old enough – just –  to remember the No Dogs No Blacks No Irish signs. I am young enough for that not to have hurt me as much as it must have hurt my Dad. Making no trouble also lost me most of my Irish identity at my Shires Grammar School where it was clear that British – or even better English – was the only way to be so that is how I sound. And then in the ’70s when some Irish people were committing appalling violence on the mainland sounding English was another good way of being invisible.  It is what it is.

We have heard a great deal in the past few months about “communities” responding to news of terrible crimes, the dreadful murder of a young man in Woolwich for example, a crime to which many of us, including myself, responded with anger, rage and a profound desire to show support and to evidence our own corporate abhorrence, a complete refusal to tolerate that kind of offence. For most of us the complexity of the West’s involvement with the Middle East was not relevant – one of our own had been violated and that was enough. It always will be. I was never asked, at any time, for my communities response. “Muslim communities”, “religious communities”, “local communities” were all asked for and gave their responses. Which was my “community”?

There is so much accepted wisdom about “communities” and the need to belong. Belonging to a community implies a committment, a shared identity, a shared purpose and some shared experiences. If those shared experiences, which are often deliberately re-told to include and sometimes encourage a shared sense of being wronged or misjudged by another “community” in order to consolidate the brethren nature of the group, are used by people with their own agenda, then we have “radicals”. Or, people with strong political beliefs. If these communities really do exist – and I remember with love my own splinter community in Kilburn where I felt safe and warm – then they will inevitably harbour dissent.

It is all in the words. Semantics rule. One mans radical is another mans believer; Freedom Fighter or Terrorist depends on where you stand when the landmine goes off.  If your community tacitly agrees that there is another community that oppresses yours, that there is a valid reason for dissent, then the people who resist perceived oppression will be Freedom Fighters, people to be if not feted then supported and protected. Our Own. The other community calls them terrorists. Whatever we call them they still kill and hurt people. The name does not mitigate the behaviour. There are many people today in the “communities” who are being asked for their views who make it clear that they do not know of anyone who is “radicalised” or a threat. Nonsense. I may not have known names or specifics as a youngster but I knew that there were people being hidden, supported, funded and fed by people who were good people, but who were supporting bad things because they were Ours. It is not possible to be even a small part of the group and not be aware of something. And that implicates the whole community. I remember my Dad and indeed our family being viewed with suspicion just for being Irish despite the fact that he was the least likely person ever to be a radical. Ever. The community was tainted.

Cards on the table: I support British troops to the max. My wonderful son in law is in the British Army and I don’t think I even have to add anything to that sentence. This piece isn’t about me, or him, or the British Army, or any communities. It isn’t even about politics. It is about perception. Perhaps because of my experiences I do not feel a need to belong to any particular group or community. That feels good. It means I am free to like anyone, or dislike anyone, based not on their community or group, their culture or their colour, their beliefs or their appearance, their criminal record, politics, height, weight, dis/ability, status or wealth but on their behaviour and their charm. That means I have a lovely eclectic collection of friends and acquaintances who give my life colour and depth. It also means that I would not shelter any one of them if I thought they had behaved oppressively or had hurt anyone. I don’t have to. I am free. I am free to love and support them whatever they do, but also free to disagree and not to feel obliged to shelter them if they do wrong.  That liberates both parties.

One of the first things that will support Radicalised people – people passionate about a cause –  to stop doing bad things to other people is for them to see those other people as people and not part of a group or community. Oppressing people will never relieve the oppression of another group, it will just complete the circular journey of hatred. But those groups will resist – why would they give up the power they have? It is in individuals that the answer lies. That means you and it means me.

Did You Marry A Coffee Table?

You marry someone mostly because you love them – they appeal to you, look good, fit with your tastes and lifestyle –  you want them. Much the same reasons you used when buying a coffee table. You know where they will fit into your home, your style, your image and your dreams.

Once that coffee table is in place, though, if it is a quality table, a good one, one that needs little attention other than the odd wipe or squeeze, doesn’t need to be moved about too much because it fits where it is, perfectly, you probably don’t pay it much attention. It fits it, looks good, gives you pleasure just being there, does what you expect it to do, doesn’t have any features that require repair, and no bits drop off.

After a while – sometimes a long while – you might notice almost by accident that it looks a bit faded. Perhaps it has started to peel, isn’t as shiny, has lost its gloss.  Perhaps it doesn’t fit in quite so well with the rest of your lifestyle – you look at it more closely. The rest of the room has moved on, the walls are a new colour, the floorboards have a new varnish, your tastes have changed a little. What were you thinking when you bought that chintz sofa way back? Chintz? Who does chintz any more? Thank goodness you replaced it with that handsome new brightly coloured modern sofa! Where does this quality but old coffee table fit these days? It has stood where it is for the longest time, has held your coffee cups and plates, your pretentious coffee table books, had stains wiped up, has tolerated the dogs using it as a back scratcher and the cats using it to sharpen their claws, has supported the babies when they cruised the furniture as they became more independent, has blended in with the various morphs of your home, has never mentioned those times when you dumped rubbish on it or kicked it in temper, and has never complained or asked for anything. It was just there, doing what it was expected to do, strong and dignified. Durable.

You take a long look at your table. You can’t remember what it was that you liked about it way back then, can you? Has it always had those great big feet? When did it develop that slight list to one side? Did it really look like this when you brought it home? At what point did it begin to look out of place in your house and start to chip? What to do? It obviously doesn’t fit in any more – it is shabby and too old, it needs repair and looks damaged. Those cups and plates you kept leaving on it have left their mark and isn’t that a crack where you deliberately threw your bag onto it that day when you were tired and irritable?

Well, if you value quality, enjoy reliability,  value trustworthiness, love steadfastness,  perhaps you need to step back and think. That table has been there throughout all the upheavals, the changes, the fads and fancies, the tempers and the frustrations. It bears the scars of your annoyance, and of your carelessness. It is still strong, still there and still yours. It may not be perfect, it may not be as beautiful as it once was, but isn’t that partly because of you? And isn’t imperfection also part of its charm? If it were perfect, perhaps you would also need to try to be perfect, and how would that work out?!

What is it that it needs to be what you want it to be? Some attention? Some loving caresses and nourishment? Some repair and rest? Can you offer it those things? Because if you can, you will be rewarded with a handsome, supportive, reliable, durable, quality table that actually puts your modern new stuff to shame just by being quality and dignified. And administering those remedies could be a joy in itself, part of that healing pathway that you can both savour and enjoy, knowing that when it has finished you both know it will not cease – that you recognise that in fact if you had administered that amount of care in the first place, as a matter of course, there would not be as much damage as there was. True, if the table had been able to tell you it was in need you might have listened; if the table had just once raised a voice to say it was starting to list, starting to deteriorate, you might have heard. But you  might not, and besides, tables don’t talk, and you knew that when you brought it home.  You knew what you had back then, you just forgot over the years.

If you don’t get a move on and give some of that nourishment and care you might find that someone else appreciates the properties in that table that you have forgotten about and finds they have the time and energy to deliver nourishment and affection, and will reap the rewards. If you cast off that table, send it to the second hand shop, or worse, simply allow it to continue to subside, you will have lost a real treasure. And there is little if any possibility that you will replace such a find.

Take another look. Remember. Your old table bears the reminders of happy times and sad times, both of which matter if we are to grow and learn. Nourish what you have and delight in the result.

Life and Business and a Major Thank You……

Going into the New Year I need to offer a Huge Thank You. A Thank You so huge it has its own postcode, so warm you will need to wear sunscreen to carry on reading. I want to thank all the people who have been so marvellous, so warm, and so caring while I was unwell in the last few weeks. Life and Business, eh? Always something to learn……..

My Old Man took me to see the new Bennett at The National on Saturday as a celebration of the fact that I am now able to both go up and down the stairs, and cough without passing a kidney and half a lung. A measure of how ill I was is that we had tickets to see Fiona Shaw at The National in December and I couldn’t go. A measure of my wonderful Old Man is that he chose also not to go. He also chided me very gently, reminding me that it isn’t worth it, for continuing to work as much as I could, doing all the things I was able to do without being seen in public – it was not a good look. I found having a head the size, shape and texture of a football was surprisingly repellant and I found a good use for that spare hooded jacket we have lying around. (It had fallen into dis-use as we were all too scared to use it in case a Tory MP started to hug us.) Given that I also lost my voice and most of my hearing the work I could do was reduced to that which could be done remotely, and that I was glad to do. Those who know me will know that I will be working until I peg out and belong to that merciless club formed for  the Workaholics among us. He was, of course right, but please don’t tell him that!

So, I am now able to get up the stairs to bed – comfortable as the wonderful recliner is, there is no substitute for a bed – and able to speak and hear again. Hurrah! And the most wonderful thing to emerge from the last few weeks is the certain knowledge of who my friends are and who I can trust, who has warmth and humanity within them and who has not. Not a bad lesson to be learned! I am grateful to all of you – you know who you are! – who were kind. I cannot believe, incidentally, that my eldest daughter spontaneously did the huge pile of ironing that had mounted up and which she knew would be bothering me. Ironing!!! Blimey! Thank you!

Given the lessons learned I should fess up and say that the lessons I have learned have not surprised me, they have simply confirmed for me what I really already knew and shone a light on those people I am so lucky to know and lucky to have met. I am a reasonably tough and ruthless woman with a sound and hard business head, but I know that underpinning all the ruthlessness, all the toughness, all the business decisions, there has to be a purpose and a warmth. Without that scaffolding the rest is worthless, its value is brittle and cold. Those of you who follow my posts, and those of you who know me,  will know how much I value the heart of a business, the beating heart that informs the purpose and the ethos of an organisation. You will also know that I view success from a sideways perspective, not solely in terms of P&L (only one of the tangible range of measures of success) as much as in the balance of achievements, the path that is developing, and the ability to survive. Life and Business are not too different (for me they happen to be the same thing….): they both need purpose, a raison d’etre; they both need  planning and effort but also the ability to take an unexpected turn, to field a curve ball, to take a punt; they both need some tough decisions to be taken sometimes; they both benefit from a firm but loving touch. They both need the interactions of the people inside them in order to survive. It is not good enough for a business to exist, it also has to have a reason to exist and a benefit to the communities it touches – that includes the workforce as well as those who use its services and the wider environment. No namby pamby soft centred rubbish here – those who don’t pull their weight need to be managed – but rather a holistic view of business as a force for good and for change. The Big Issue is successful for that reason – Richard Branson is  a man I admire for that reason!

Life is packed with lessons to be learned, adventures to be had, and achievements to be made. Even the hardest, most punishing of experiences is an adventure and an opportunity to learn – often those are the very best opportunities to learn. So, Thank You kind people for re-affirming my already warm and appreciative view of you. And thank you, too, to the others outside of that circle for, well, for the same! A lesson learned is always worth learning!

Happy New Year to all of you. Here’s to more adventures, more lessons, more warmth and more achievements.   Here’s to 2013!

Sick Organisation Syndrome…..or SOS

I have wittered on about integrity, honesty, openness and trust recently, and with good reason. Organisations operate in very specific ways: as businesses, as workplaces, and ideas-incubators and as generators, and unless they incorporate – and I use the word deliberately – all of those qualities and attributes they will inevitably develop Sick Organisation Syndrome. The signs are easy to spot: a haemorrhage of good people, lack of respect for those left behind, fear in the workplace, and lack of trust from other organisations which can lead to a reduction in the pool of potential partners as well as isolation in the sector. These signs and symptoms drip directly from the top – if the top is infected the organisation will also be infected – and other organisations fear the contagion. It is a potentially fatal disease.

The first step towards well-being and cure is for the organisation to recognise the symptoms and seek medical help! People in the workplace who are often the first to spot the signs and suffer with them will already be flagging this with their teams and their bosses. They will have seen the haemorrhaging, have heard the fall-away of other organisations (it sounds like a CLANG and there may be some swearing involved!) and will be feeling the fear. More often than not at this stage the bosses will have their fingers in their ears and be singing La La La La La to avoid facing the inevitable – and that is because at this stage some drastic medicine is probably needed. There is a risk of amputation in some areas, and certainly for some the medicine will taste very very bad. Bosses may even try to simply apply sticking plasters to the affected areas and offer placeboes in  order to put off the inevitable need to think clearly and take direct action. It is very likely that those in powerful positions will be contributing to the spread of disease and resisting the cure as they are comfortable with their own sickness and besides, they have health insurance……..

At the point at which the bottom line begins to drop noticeably and the clanging becomes too noisy to ignore the bosses will smell the infection, they will be scenting each other and identifying the source. This is not easy! The source is often a carrier without the fear of infection and hiding in plain sight, with a healthy visage and no visible signs of disease. And the carrier has often, like many bacteria, bonded invisibly to the other bosses, binding them tight with the implied promise of a better smell, a healthier outlook to match their own and a better bottom line. Difficult to resist, especially in the face of all that infection and sickness and despite the fact that the one offering the cure is in fact the source of the disease, hidden in plain sight! There is also the possibility that the carrier knows where another carrier is hiding, out of plain sight, and the risk to that alternative carrier is too high for them to chance breaking cover by exposing the source. Business can be a mucky affair.

There are now a limited group of medications available if this sickness is to be cured properly, lastingly, and with a full recovery. And it will take a person with cojones  – or nothing to lose –  to administer it. This person needs the experience to detect the disease and its source, the knowledge to understand what it needed, and the skill to administer the cure quickly. Too late and the outcome is the inevitable, but possibly prolonged and agonising, death of the organisation. Too timid and the one administering the medicine risks contagion and the same fate. Administering the cure is sometimes best done by a confident and reliable group, who can share the risks and share the fallout, diluting the risk of contagion and offering a wall of strength if the source resists. If you like, one to hold the legs, one to pin the arms down, one to cover the face to reduce the risk of droplet infection and another to jab the cure in. The source will not survive…….

If this happens and is successful, there will need to be a period of rehabilitation and recuperation, some R&R, some integrating of the organisation that remains. The gaps left by the amputated source(s) will necessitate a morphing, will change the shape of the organisation – there will be different strengths, different objectives, better appreciation of what works and what doesn’t, and a newly charged energy and direction with a leadership that is genuinely healthy and has clear vision. Those who remain standing will have a keener appreciation of what they see and will be better able to support the newly minted objectives, to support the healthy and exciting leadership on offer, and to contribute to the recovery.

Do you have a healthy and fit organisation with clear, safe, leadership, shiny objectives and a motivated and fearless workforce? If you have, cherish it and nurture it, reach out to colleagues to keep them well, keep those clearly signposted pathways of communication clear of debris and germs and safe to tread, keep the conversations going so that potential ill health is easier to identify and easier to flag.  Make sure, however well the organisation is now, that you are prepared for sickness, have a medicine cabinet stocked with remedies and a skilled medic on hand just in case.

If you suffer with SOS you have two choices: bail or find a cure. Make sure, though, that you can tell if the situation is curable before you choose an option. Are the doctors listening? Is the source too embedded to be shifted? Is the cure too late? Or is there time to get the emergency services in on time and with the right meds? If you care about the organisation, if it worth saving, get the life support machine cranked up and plugged in and try everything you can to revive it – but be prepared to switch the plug off if needed. Sometimes that is the kindest act of all.

The Family Way

Thank you Nicola Horlick for once suggesting we could have it all. No advice about what to do with it all once we have it, but hey ho, that’s liberation for you.

Cards on the table and no fudging the age thing: I am about to become a grandmother for the first time. I am at an agreeable age for grandmotherhood – not too young so that I have to find excuses for grandchildren and not too old to enjoy a bit of energetic childcare. Of course, my daughter thinks it is all about her, but as all other grandmothers will know  – and as we speak will be nodding wisely – it is about us. I am an incredibly lucky woman. I have a gorgeously  lovely husband, beautiful and diverse children (and the ones who have partners have chosen terrific partners), a great house and a job that I am enjoying to bits, capacity for choices about work and a room of my own which houses my piano, paints and canvases, banjo, books, and other bits and pieces that keep me very nearly sane. It is also right next to the kitchen………. I have a good life. And into that life another life is about to step.

I remember as clearly as if it were last week the births of each of my children. I remember that my Old Man watched the World Champion Athletics on the telly in the labour room as my son was being born, and that in frustration at my pains at one point he grabbed the TENS machine and turned it up to full strength. I can feel the collective winces of all those women who have used TENS. Yes, ladies, I did hit him once I had been peeled off the ceiling. I remember on another labour day the midwife going to fetch a beanbag to support my back thinking Molly wouldn’t be arriving for a while and Molly arriving almost as soon as she had left the room, and my sight taking a brief holiday as my blood pressure hit the roof. I remember my firstborn experience: a patronising junior doctor leaned over me and reminded me sharply that I had “precious cargo” inside me. I told her I had, until that moment, thought it was a bag of f***ing sugar and was grateful to her for pointing out my mistake. I can be a little irritable. (Memo to self: try to remember not to piss off people who are either preparing my food or delivering my care……) And my lastborn – an enormous baby of almost ten pounds who decided to get stuck with her knees around her ears and attempted to arrive bum-first. She was my little Caesarean, as she is fondly known. All different from the word Go, and so different now. I wonder what this first grandchild will be like? So many genes to choose from!

Whichever genes are uppermost, whatever shape, gender, pedigree or colouring my grandchild turns out with, she will have a particular advantage: an extended family who will love her and care for her, and for her Mother and Father, whatever happens – and no mistake, we never know what is going to heppen; a family who will nurture her talents and indulge her fancies,  notice and enjoy her quirks, and cherish her forever. I am reminded today of all those who do not have what we have and in my own fortunate world I regret those lost chances for those lost children. Wherever you are, and however you live, perhaps you could join me in supporting Barnardos  http://www.barnardos.org.uk/   , CAFOD  http://www.cafod.org.uk/ , Fund It (because arts and culture are also important to children) http://www.fundit.ie/browse/ , Save the Children http://www.savethechildren.org.uk/ , the NSPCC http://www.nspcc.org.uk/ , Action for Children http://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/ , Demelza House http://www.demelza.org.uk/home/#,  the Big Issue http://www.bigissue.org.uk/    and UNICEF http://www.unicef.org.uk/UNICEFs-Work/. Please feel free to add some more to this list.

As I grow older I realise that, in almost every aspect, there but for the grace of God (and for those atheists among us, there but for the grace of Circumstance) go I. And you. I have been privileged, genuinely, to work with some of the most vulnerable and abused people in our society, and there is a mere hairs breadth between us. Don’t ever think, as I have heard people say, “I would never allow myself to sink so low”. You simply do not know what you might do given a particular set of circumstances, most of which are not within your control. And most certainly the children who are there have not chosen it.

I “have it all”, and I am grateful. I do moan a little about how to manage “having it all” because it is damned hard work, but I don’t moan much. I know how lucky I am, and I also know that having it all has been my choice. Having a first grandchild on the way, from a dearly loved and cherished daughter and her lovely partner, has reminded me of all that I should value, and of all that is missed by some. It hurts me deeply to know that my own parents, who died within the last few years, will not see Mollys baby, but  it is wonderful that all my In Laws and her fathers family will be here to see her and that she has such a loving and diverse family to join.

As the Big Issue says: a hand up not a hand out.  Supporting organisations who support people to move up and out of their circumstances rather than simply throw money at them, who return the power to where it belongs empowering individuals to regain control of their lives, is the best possible way to return some balance to society and promote success.  We will support and cherish our grandchildren but, as with our kids, we will expect them to work and share the jobs out, to earn what they have and to remember to value it. That way they will be less likely to take it for granted or chuck it away, and will be more able to face the inevitable challenges along the way.

I look forward to meeting our new family member. It matters that while doing so, I also remember others. Loving my babies makes loving other babies so much easier, and not taking action is not an option.

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