Running and giving – marathon displacement activities

25 04 2010

Millions and millions are raised for charities each year.

For most of us our attention is drawn by the huge media spectacles – sports relief, children in need, the London marathon.

More and more I am feeling myself wondering if this is all just a massive displacement activity.

I’m sure that the hundreds that will be running the London Marathon on behalf of cancer charities do care about the plight of those suffering  but why not do something more relevant to the illness. A sponsored bed bath marathon, for example. The truth is that those raising the money don’t really care how the money is spent. I’d be surprised if the participants have much idea about the structure of the organisations they are running for. How much of the money raised goes to research, salaries, administration and the like.

To a large extent they are running 26 miles in 4 or 5 hours so that they don’t have to think about these things! They can drag themselves around the streets of London dressed as the back end of a pantomime horse, send off the sponsorship money and forget about the charity for another year. They have done their bit!

And the competitive element, particularly amongst the celebrities in the television spectaculars. It used to be acceptable to sit in a bath full of baked beans but now it is necessary to cycle across Europe by way of the international rugby stadiums, waterski across the channel or canoe up the Amazon. While it was heroic and glorious for Phidippides to run 26 miles to tell of a crushing naval defeat Eddie Izzard feels compelled to ape this effort by running 43 marathons in 51 days!

The point about the marathon is not that it is impossible but that anyone can do it! It isn’t that it is easy but it is just at the end of what can be achieved with some discomfort but without having to change your life. This makes it the perfect displacement activity.  Those sitting at home watching will be in awe of the sweating staggerers as they head up The Mall will be back at work on Monday none the worse for their exertions.

Endurance events have replaced genuine heroics. Climbing Everest cost Sir Edmund Hillary his life but now Josh Lewsey can set out in his footsteps for fun – and for charity – of course.

Charities have been very good at letting you do what you like doing, like running, and pushing the boundaries just enough so that even though anyone can do it the coach potatoes are impressed enough to dig deep into their pockets so that they can avoid doing anything at all – by raising themselves off the settee long enough to dial the freephone giving line they have done their bit too!

The charities have been so good that if I wanted to run a marathon just because I could, I would feel guilty that I wasn’t doing it for charity!

But the runners are doing something – however tangential to the needs of the sufferers – to raise money to be spent even though they know not where. How much more of a displacement activity is watching these spectaculars, picking up the phone, donating an easily affordable sum and thinking that’s good enough.

You can read more from Karen and other fantastic writers at

Why didn’t anyone tell me?

14 04 2010

A number of my blog posts have been written while I’m on the train. I enjoy train journeys;  speeding through the countryside past towns that I never have and never will visit gives a sense of place without actually having to visit Croy or Larbert! I fancy taking a long train journey one day, through Canada or travelling on the Trans-Siberian Express perhaps.

For today, however, I turn up, early, for the 10:31 Bridge of Allen to Glasgow Queen Street train. There isn’t a train station in Crieff, which is a shame, and the parking at Perth is appalling so I have taken to driving the 15 miles to Bridge of Allen whenever I take the train to Edinburgh or Glasgow.

I am always early for trains. I envy the traveller who has the confidence to stroll onto the platform and straight onto the train seconds before the train pulls away. I am not that person and spend at least 10 minutes shivering on the platform waiting for my train.  And so it was today. I arrived at quarter past ten and planned to catch the 10:31.

As I climbed the stairs from the car park the 10:16 to Glasgow pulled into the station. I asked the guard whether I could buy a ticket on the train and he answered “not today but you can pay at your destination.”  The sun was shining and I didn’t fancy queuing at the ticket office in Glasgow at the end of the journey and so i decided to get my ticket from the machine at the platform, sit in the sun and catch the 10:31 as planned.

The ticket machine was out of service so I had a smile to myself that I was still going to have to queue at Queen Street. I sat on the bench and looked at the departures screen.

No 10:31 to Glasgow.

I waited for the screens to rotate through the cycle of announcements but when the departure screen returned to view – still no 10:31 to Glasgow.

The next screen to show said “Monday 12th April to Wednesday 14th April a special timetable is in operation on all routes. ” I looked again and, since I travelled this way often, could see that the special timetable was the old timetable with the single omission of the 10:31 to Glasgow!

Why didn’t anyone tell me?

Surely the guard must have known that in not getting on that train I was destined to wait a full hour on the platform for the next one?  And, more generally, why didn’t anyone tell me?

Then I thought about this. With the3rdi magazine, blogging, tweeting and the like it does feel like I am plugged into The Matrix but since I hadn’t actuually booked a ticket in advance, I don’t read newspapers and don’t watch TV, how on earth were Scotrail supposed to tell me anything?!

I used to run an internet retail business and the phrase “Why didn’t you tell me?” was used by customers who failed to recieve their goods…customers who never left a telephone number, never read their e-mails and mistyped their addresses when placing their order and then wondered why we hadn’t been able to let them know when problems arose! I felt that my life had come full circle. I was the out of touch customer!

And more than that – I had missed my once in a lifetime opportunity to stroll onto the platform and straight onto the train. My big chance to look cool and laid back and I blew it!!

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On my journey home I did get onto the train just seconds before it pulled out of the station. – by virtue of running from Central Station across Glasgow to Queen Street, racing through the ticket barriers and leaping through closing doors – definately not cool!

You can read more from Karen and other fantastic entrepreneurs at

What is leadership? What makes a good leader?

8 04 2010

When asked “What is leadership?” or What makes a good leader?” we all have an opinion. We might not agree with each other, although our survey this month indicates a fair degree of agreement as to the qualities a leader needs, but we are each clear in our own minds what leadership is. But it is a term that we do not very often use in our everyday lives.

When we talked about the collapse of the banks we talked about failure of management and not failures in leadership, though maybe we should have. We do talk about business leaders but really only as a vague collective. More often we use sporting terms, such as ‘captains‘ of industry. When we talk about our own work we don’t often refer to leaders in the workplace, we have supervisors and managers. In our own lives we rarely think of ourselves as leaders. I have a dog and I am more often led than I lead! With my son I try to act as a positive role model and offer advice and guidance but do I think in terms of being a leader? Probably not.

But there are two areas, both in the news at the moment where the term leader is most commonly applied and accepted.

The first is in politics and with a general election looming we are going to be hearing a lot from the leaders of the four main parties (yes, four..I’m in Scotland!) We refer to the Prime Minister as leader of the Labour Party, David Cameron as leader of the opposition and so on. These are the accepted terms. They are not managers of their respective parties but leaders. So what do we expect from our political leaders? More and more there seems to be a triumph of style over substance. Gordon Brown is urged to appear happier, resulting in the disasterous youtube grinning video. David Cameron has his portrait airbrushed to remove any blemishes to his complexion, resulting in him looking like a gameshow host. And with televised debates planned for the current election campaign, with questions and answers prepared in advance so that the leaders will have their answers readily to hand, the appearance of our leaders on the screen is set to become even more important.

We know what we want in a leader, you can check the survey to see what we all thought, but will we judge our political leaders by those criteria? Or, worse still, will we vote for the one who will offer the most to us as individuals without considering the bigger picture? And there is more and more talk of the benefits that might be gained from having a hung parliament – which means not having one single clear leader. Is this a sign that we want a more participative style of government or an indication that we don’t trust any of our leaders to lead alone.

The second common usage is in the church. We do talk of church leaders. Vicars and priests lead their congregations. The Pope is leader of the Catholic Church. We don’t think of them as managers of huge mulitinational organisations, which churches are, but as spiritual leaders. In religion even more so that in politics, people put there trust in their leaders. So what should happen when there is a failure of leadership. Putting aside the actuality of the child abuse that went on in Ireland there was then a failure in leadership in dealing with the horrors that had occurred. A failure in leadership that is continuing in Ireland and extends to the very top of the church. The loss of credibility sustained within the Irish church has stemmed from a lack of leadership, moral and practical. And is it right for one leader to to critise another in the way Anglican leaders have condemned their Catholic counterparts in Ireland? I think so. If we look to spiritual leaders for anything in the world today it is to speak out against abuse and the perpetrators of abuse wherever they see it, whether in far flung corners of the globe or right at home.

And I suppose there is a third arena where leader is used and that is in columns like this. I call this piece an editorial each month but columns such as this are called leaders and their authors leader writers. The leader sets the direction for the journal and I look forward to continuing to do so for the3rdi magazine.