The joy of small things long forgotten

15 02 2012

This morning I was waiting for the train as usual. Well, not quite as usual as I was leaving from Congleton station but that isn’t relevant for the current story.

As I sat in the cold waiting for the train to Manchester a small boy and his Dad came onto the platform. The boy had a huge smile on his face and, after a short time, he said, Dad, I’ve never been to a train station before”. A few moments later a Virgin express train sped past and made the whole station shake. The boys face lit up and the smile almost joined both ears!

Later on the train a second, slightly older boy, got on with his grandfather. They were travelling to Manchester and then were to catch a second train to the airport and then a bus onwards to his Gran’s house. They were going to go swimming in the afternoon and returning to Poynton in the evening. I know that as he was talking excitedly about this big day out – 4 trains and two buses!

In contrast, the prospect of 3 trains and a car journey over the next 6 hours in order to get back to Crieff had been unattractive to me. Had been.

These two small boys, their days full of new adventures had forced a re-think.

How many times have I travelled by train? Hundreds. I actually really enjoy train travel but confess that the pure joy of being transported from point to point with the landscape moving past the windows, the excitement of arriving at the destination, had been lost over the years. Now, I don’t expect to step on the Bridge of Allen to Queen Street tomorrow with real joy in my heart but my experience today has made me think.

Most of the things that we do everyday we have done every day; done them hundreds, maybe thousands of times before. We sleepwalk through much of our lives, never noticing the myriad of things that have become mundane with the days of repetition …. the emotionless mediocrity of day to day living. Seeing those boys getting so much joy from things that I hardly notice, and sometimes even resent, has made me think that it doesn’t necessarily need to be that way.

Remember that first train trip? For me it was travelling from Halton/Widnes (incidentally the station where Paul Simon wrote Homeward Bound) to Lime Street to see Father Christmas in Lewis’s, Liverpool. Remember the first time you picked and ate strawberries? They still taste that good if you give yourself chance to taste them!

So I’m going to try to reconnect with my younger self and fill my own life with the joy of small things long forgotten. In the words of the madly optimistic character from The Fast Show, “Int life brilliant?”

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I have seen Boris Johnson naked.

12 02 2012

The new way to introduce yourself at business meetings seems to be “tell us an interesting fact about yourself that no-one would know”. This has happened to me twice in the last two weeks. I’m sharing this with you so that you can be better prepared than I was.

The first time it happened I learned that a senior colleague was addicted to angry birds and that another had skied for Scotland. I freely admit that I panicked and confessed to having a piercing. This revelation was greeted with a stunned silence rather than by the smiles of approval with which the other contributions were received.

I thought, hoped, that this experience was a one off. I’d never been asked to be interesting at meetings before and imagined that I wouldn’t be asked to be so again. I was wrong. Yesterday it happened again. I was third in line for this ordeal so had a few minutes to think. In theory. In practice I heard the first woman say that she was a fully qualified football referee and the second that the Beatles song, ‘I saw here standing there’ was written about her mother when she was going out with Paul McCartney! Follow that!

Actually, to digress, this isn’t the first time I have been upstaged by Paul McCartney’s girlfriends. In the mid 90’s I was a speaker at the International Womens Day Conference held in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall. I was third up. First was Dame Jill Knight and second was Heather Mills, later to become Heather Mills-McCartney. She stood up and talked through her life to that point, including abuse, homelessness, amputation, failed relationships, all of it – warts and all. Bearing in mind that the conference was themed “Women in Business” her soul-bearing was not what anyone expected. When her talk finally came to an end there was what felt like a decade of silence before anyone clapped while we all gather our wits, un-dropped our jaws and decided how best to respond. My first thought was that she should probably be sectioned, the second was, “How am I going to follow that?” I am pretty sure that my talk on “Women in Technology”, thrilling though I had imagined it would be, paled in comparison.

To return to the point, all I could think of to say was that I had recently performed a stand up comedy routine and am seriusly considering a suggestion that I do so again at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. I agree, not that interesting. On my journey home I racked my brain to come up with interesting facts about myself so that I wouldn’t be caught out again and, since I suspect that this method of breaking the ice at business meetings might be flavour of the month, I suggest you do the same.

So:

  1. I have sky-dived from 25,000 feet
  2. I designed my own celtic knotwork armband tatoo, which is now, permanently, on my left upperarm – much to the disgust of my mother
  3. I sailed a boat around the Mull of Kintyre in the midnight moonlight and saw the sun rise alongside two humpback whales
  4. The CEO of Microsoft bought two of my sculptures and they now adorn his house in Palo Alto

and 5. Yes, I have seen Boris Johnson naked.





Determinedly unpatriotic

6 02 2012

Why am I expected to shout for Andy Murray simply because he is Scottish?

Last week I found myself listening to Andy Murray playing tennis against Novak Djokovic. I don’t know either of these men personally and I’m not especially fond of tennis but was alerted to this particular game by the twitter frenzy that accompanied the match. I don’t think that many of my fellow twitterers knew either protagonist and I don’t see them tweeting about tennis at any other time than when Andy Murray is on the court.

The cause of the hysteria is that he is Scottish. Since I live in Scotland I was expected to join in. Truth be told, from what I have seen of Andy Murray on the television, he seems like a thoroughly objectionable young man; always screaming and grimacing on court and having apparently been subjected to a complete personality bi-pass off it. On the other hand Novak Djokovic is always charming and entertaining when interviewed. On balance, therefore, if I were inclined to cheer on either of these two strangers, I would lend my support to Mr. Djokovic.

This reasoned argument counts for nothing in the face of patriotism: defined as love of one’s country, identification with it, and special concern for its well-being and that of its people.

My dislike of patriotism is likely to be challenged repeatedly this year. Today marks the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne. The year will be full of invitations to glory at this relic of empire. I wish this 85 year old woman no harm, but neither do I wish her to reign over me or celebrate her privilege.

The Olympics will offer the greatest challenge. The media are already using 2012 as shorthand for the Olympic Games of 2012, implying that this festival of hopping, skipping and jumping is the preeminent event happening this year, and the thought of Boris draped in the Union Flag sends my blood cold. I do enjoy many of the sports that make up the olympics so I will be watching for long stretches of time but I find the flag waving distasteful. Pierre de Coubertin didn’t intend for the Olympics to be about nationalism. Before  the 1908 games, coincidentally also held in London, competitors took part as individuals and not as representatives of their countries. How much better to be able to cheer on splendid individuals from across the world rather than feeling obliged to cheer on whoever is wearing a British vest.

And my dislike of patriotism isn’t frivolous. The frequent exhortation to ‘support our troops’ serves only to mask the illegal wars that have been waged by the British Government. The individual men and women who are fighting overseas may behave well or badly, possibly both. It must be possible to question their individual or collective actions without being considered as somehow disloyal.  Raising these matters is unpatriotic but the alternative, condoning illegal action simply because it was done under the flag of the country I happen to be born in is much worse.

As I sit here in the sunshine on a glorious Scottish winter sunshine I feel lucky to have been born here in Britain at this time. But that is all it is, luck. I could have been born anywhere and at anytime. There are good things and bad things happening in Britain and we should be free to expose both without prejudice. Some British people have done some wonderful things, some have done truly dreadful things and many have done terrible things in the name of Britain, its empire and it’s advancement. The glory or opprobium should lie with the individual not with the collective.

So in the face of all of the challenges facing me this year I remain determinedly unpatriotic.