Tag Archives: writing

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.

 

I write therefore I am…….

 

I sit in front of a nude page, stark and scary with no place to hide. I realise I have nothing to say but I type anyway, words falling like snowflakes

Down

To

The

 

Bottom

 

 

Of the

Page

 

Where They

 

 

Form

SludgeAndSedimentAndCongealDirtily

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hay Festival 2014

The Hay Festival couldn’t be more middle class if it changed its name to Pippa and married its cousin. And I love it. And if it becomes more Hay Market than Hay Festival at times, with the clear purpose of shifting tomes, then who cares? It delivers what it promises: a literary festival, a celebration, putting the word above all else and giving us all permission to sink into a proper vocabulary and literally indulge in wordplay.

 

I have spent most of this week sloshing around in mud listening to and talking with people who love words, people with something to say but who reached that point by listening to others and by reflecting and not by following dogma.  Joyfully reaching for the right words and finding them, hearing new ways of using them, turning context on its head and finding a new way to slip the surprisingly appropriate word prolepsis into general conversation – thank you Margaret Drabble! – has been a genuine inspiration.  Rustling about happily under the trestle tables in the Oxfam bookshop in the boxes filled with rummageable delights waiting in the dark to be found was the best time I have had in weeks. Possibly months. WarHorse and Michael Morpurgo  thrilled everyone, watching Marcus Brigstocke casually overtake a bunch of feathered aliens without a second glance on the path outside the Friends coffee shop was a little surreal, noticing the fact that we probably all had a proper education under our belts and were using it to good effect was a significant pleasure, and hearing children pronounce their words properly and insert the letter “t” in the right place was phenomenal! No extraneous or dropped aitches either, bliss! Not a baggy trousered foul mouthed rap artist in sight or hearing, and there were times when I was one of the youngest in the queue, and it is a long time since that happened………

Listening to a group of academics with serious life experiences attempt to shed light on prison life and its consequences – dear to my heart – it occurred to me that even in a room full of Telegraph readers, and I am one, the Grauniad Effect (my husbands media drug of choice)  was apparent. Most of us gave a damn, giving the lie to political drubmongers who like to insist on the differences rather than the similarities between groups of people.  That was also apparent in other conversations, and one that focussed on corporate greed was particularly pertinent. The workshops around Social Enterprise were a real pleasure and welcome at the heart of the Festival as a demonstration of how things can be done  ethically and well.

Downsides? Well……..I was unprepared for the ill mannered stampede of middle aged middle class audiences as they clambered over and around people to find their favourite seats! The wonderfully patient and charming stewards allowed those of us with mobility issues into the tents first to avoid catastophe – no-one wants Hay Headlines about mangled elders or the dissed disabled – but as soon as the hordes, or to use their title Friends of Hay (and I am also one) were released into the tents all Hell broke loose with disabled feet trodden into the dirt and bags ground into the floor as they shouldered and elbowed their way to “their” seats. Clashes were inevitable and there was,  I am sorry to say, a degree of braying involved at times. And although the lavatories maintained their dignity against all odds I did occasionally wonder, as I took my ease,  on  the number of buttocks that had been pressed against those seats during the week……..I was also a little alarmed to find I shared Jonathan Millers haircut and colour so startlingly that I wondered who had put the mirror on the table as I entered the bookshop……..

Being a seasoned Hay Friend I staggered my meals so that I ate between the usual meal times and avoided the crowds and it was very pleasant with all tastes catered for, although I did wonder if vegan and gluten free also meant salt and pepper free a couple of times as I searched for seasoning – but once I had found it the food perked up. In fact, the food even for us fussies was indecently good and I enjoyed it very much. Good choices, well prepared, charmingly served. The people running the show, from box office to stewards to food hall and more, deserve a medal!

The B&B, The Old Vicarage in Prestiegne, where I always stay was, as usual, perfect and this year they even have alpacas as well so I woke to the sound of sheep, alpacas and chickens and a real symphony of birdsong, and breakfasted brilliantly with a view over the fields and with the sound of a stream in the background. It couldn’t have been better. Best start to a Hay Day ever.

 

And now my Hay Days are over for 2014, but the mud is still on the car and my boots – and my jeans and my skirt and my jacket! And I have a fresh stash of books, images and memories and the certainty that words matter, that we can use them better, and that we should.  And I will plan for next year when I hope that we will make Hay in the sunshine and not the rain and I can rummage and read and rest and draw comfort from more wordsmiths. Hay Ho.

 

 

 

 

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!

Alan Bennetts People

I saw People by Alan Bennett last night at The National. I need to start  by saying how much I like Bennett – I have never previously read anything or seen anything by Alan Bennett that I haven’t enjoyed and was glad to have read or to have seen. And Frances de la Tour was the lead – how perfect! But……

There are times when I want a rant. I usually then go on  to have one, sometimes via blog, sometimes in person. I can’t remember ever writing a play in order to scratch that itch, but it is something I may well now consider. This play was a good old fashioned rant but not Bennetts Best Play. I felt, as I left the Lyttleton, as if I had just read a tetchy letter in the Telegraph – or perhaps more likely in the Guardian. And that would have been cheaper and shorter, and probably better lit. I am passionate about the National, about Bennett, and probably about Frances de la Tour – probably even about Peter Egan who I have admired for years – so I am not being critical of any of those as individuals, just about the entity that was the play. But I am not complaining, Bennett at his not-best is still relatively enjoyable, and the rant was worth having as the points made were good points, well delivered by Frances de la Tour and it was good to hear them being aired with such sharp skill, however patchy and at times blunted by the production that was.

Now I expect I will  be castigated for criticising a National Treasure, much as I am sure some will castigate Bennett for doing the same, albeit in a much more structured way than me.

The Accidental Buddhist

How are you doing? Do you sleep well? Do you manage to hold all the boxes in your life inside the one container that is you? It isn’t easy. We all have to find our own pathway to peace.

A few months ago I was casually clicking about, as you do, on the laptop in between doing more meaningful stuff (I bore easily!) and I started to read a blog about Buddhism. To my astonishment I recognised myself. Raised a Catholic, and now a Buddhist. I was a little surprised……….

For a few years I have been doing what I discovered to be meditating – spending time focussing on nothingness and depth, breathing, and looking straight ahead reasonably fearlessly. Re-aligning myself, if you like, every day. I fell into doing this after a turbulent period, a time when I was not sure if I knew who I was or what I wanted to be, if I had any meaning. Very selfish! It took me years to realise that in fact being centred and sorted was the best thing I could do for my family, friends and colleagues.  I accidentally started to meditate while taking a break from paid work some years ago to re-evaluate things. I had come to a full stop and needed to do some real things like painting pictures, writing poems, playing some music. During those activities I found myself lifted into a new place and a new way of thinking and it was apparently and very naturally simply because I was deliberately creating things – I began to think around corners a bit, think not harder but better, with more colours and less white noise. I had to let the colours and words in my head out of their boxes in order to create the things I wanted to – needed to – create. There was no option – it was a simple need. It was accidental. I now make time to do this, often just before sleeping, but sometimes at work, or I pull the car over into a parking space and tap out, and it happens anyway when I am painting or playing music. I make the time. That isn’t always easy either: washing piling up, letters to answer, work to be done, people to see. But the best way for me to manage all that is to make the time for the tapping-out-thing.

Accidents are such a huge part of what we do – the incidental or accidental conversation, the inadvertent over-hearing of a radio programme that chimes with you, meeting someone at a conference or dinner. The excitement of knowing that most of what happens is by virtue of accident is truly liberating! And this from a woman notoriously wedded to GANTTs and action plans, who examines all the What Ifs with a fine toothcomb. Who knew!?

A large part – the largest part –  of my drive at work, before and after my break, has been around respect, dignity, Human Rights, giving a damn. When I began reading – accidentally – about Buddhism I realised that I had been practising the basics of Buddhism for years. Accidentally. I don’t think the diagnosis of Buddhism made a difference to what I was doing, but stumbling across the name for how I live was extraordinary. And I don’t want a cure!

What works for you? How do you re-arrange the shelves in your head so that they fit?

What if…….oh, well…….

Your Start-up – know yourself and succeed!

When we started our Company we knew it had to be based on values and principles. We are not Richard Branson and don’t want to be, although we admire him tremendously. We started our organisation because we believed in better: better quality, better services, better lives. The advice below is very pertinent for companies of all sizes, and especially for those grounded in health and social empowerment. This is the approach we took. We made deliberate decisions about the kind of work we would take, the kind of factors that would lead our decision making, and the limits we would self impose so that we could better manage our work and our priorities.

Adapted from “Four Things to Get Right When Starting a Company” by Bruce Gibney and Ken Howery: “As a start-up gets off the ground, it has a short-lived opportunity to decide how it wants to do business. With each new hire company culture becomes more entrenched and somewhere after two dozen employees, it tends to cement. Establish a set of genuine values before your start-up gets too complex. Articulate a coherent philosophy about who you are and how you will work. Also be clear about who you aren’t and what you won’t do. This will make decisions easier and ultimately improve results. Rather than analyzing each new decision afresh, you’ll have a common foundation from which to make them. If you don’t do this deliberately when your organization is young, the culture will (often rigidly) form itself.”

We knew we wanted to be small, in control, and able to choose who to support, and who to challenge. The rest takes care of itself, once you understand your own drivers and the context of your start-up.

Good Luck with your venture. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

An old blog of mine…….strokes, death and the aftermath.

I was looking through some old postings and re-read my blog from over a year ago, written when my Mother was dying as the result of a stroke. I need to finish the blog – it was interrupted by the need to be with my Mother, and then  to repatriate her and arrange the funeral, and then to have a period of planned insanity. I will complete it soon. But I wanted to share it again, first, because it is so different from  how  I usually am, and the many responses I had to the blog when it first appeared made me realise that we are all “different selves” when confronted with death and suffering, or with neglect and idiocy. And I was made forcibly aware that it doesn’t matter who we are, what we do for a living, how much money we have, how bright or otherwise we are, or who we know – at heart we have that turbulence and pain right at our core and it is how we manage it that matters.

http://daughterofastrokepatient.wordpress.com/

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