A Right Card

Well birthdays come and go. This one went very nicely and quietly with only a little bit of unplanned adventure as we got lost on Northchurch Common in Ashridge forest in the rain. But it is a beautiful place and even in the cold and the wet the thrill of pretty much guaranteed dear sightings – compliment with a gorgeous Goldcrest, one of smallest and loveliest birds more than compensates.
As an aside, I am somewhat amused at the unusual quarters that birthday greetings come from these days. Apart from the now traditional swathe of Facebook posts my inbox was full of cheerful missives of Happy Returns reminding me just how many mailing lists I have managed to be on. It was be nice of course if I actually believed that The Who, Snow Patrol and/or Pixie Lott had actually taken the time to send me an email rather than just generated it via an automated system, and I guess if I strongly suspect that 1D fans (considering their likely demographic) are particularly thrilled anyway to get one even if they do understand that the blessed ones themselves had not pressed send (to be clear, Harry Styles did not appear in my in box in any form, I am just making a prediction here).
It is harmless enough, and I think clearly meant to make you feel closer to your artist of choice, but I do get enough junk mail as it is (those mailing lists again). The only interaction I have ever had with a recording artist was a recent Twitter conversation with Josienne Clarke about her and Ben Walker’s new album expressing my hope that since she had self-appointed herself as the ‘harbinger of doom’ the new album would have to be as depressing as the last one – well, after all this is Folk we are talking about. She assured me that it was, and indeed it’s a lovely piece of melancholy (‘Nothing can bring back the hour’ is the album, in case you are feeling too cheerful. Kind of sets the stall out from the title, don’t it? Just do not buy as ‘getting ready to go out’ music as it is more likely to make you want to crawl back into bed. And hide under the duvet).
The automate emails though did make me wonder about how easily we seem to be pleased these days and how little effort we make. It occurred to me that I have only given one friend an actual, physical, card this year – and that was because I could hand it to him. We’ve received more thank you notes from God children and the like for Christmas just gone (well behaved lot that they are – or at least well behaved parents) than I received birthday cards. I guess there is a good environment story in there, but it is not the same for me emotionally. After the age of 21, you’re lucky to get a text. Still, what things mean a lot to some people mean nothing to others. I recall with some pain one Christmas when my father took me aside to tell me that my mother had been upset because the card I had sent them had obviously come out of a pack. I was mortified, and I never made the mistake again. It was not that my mum wanted a particularly large or fancy card; she wanted a card that she knew I had deliberately picked for her, that I had engaged personally with the greeting. It mattered to her. It matters to my dad as well, so although my mother is no longer with us, it is still important to find the right card.
I do not have shares in Clinton (other card shops are available). But I do think that we should think a little more about what impact we have with each other in all of our interactions and if they are important tailor them appropriately.
I hereby apologise for all the times I have and will continue probably to get it wrong!


Many Happy Returns. Again.

I think it is a little sad that we do not celebrate our birthdays more, past the age of twenty one. I like birthdays. It is my day. OK, I might share it with a few million people worldwide, but generally it feels like it is my day, unlike Christmas or even Easter which are feast days for everyone that wants to partake of them. We get all excited about birthdays when we are younger but as time goes on we do seem to treat the next landmark as more of an embarrassment than something to celebrate.

Apart from the lack of an opportunity to have some fun I also wonder if it is a bit more serious that we do not celebrate each other getting a year more experience under the belt. I deliberately avoided the ‘o’ word there. The fact is that life involves being older. That is a bit of an inevitable event and we do not have much control over that. What most of us have some control over is how we react to that inevitability. I do not mean that we can stop growing up. The ‘growing old is inevitable, growing up is optional’ line on many birthday cards is pure nonsense. Of course you have to grow up, if you ever want to be fully functioning member of society. Which might explain a lot in some cases, as the point of growing up is about taking responsibility for – at least – your own actions and the consequences there of.

But you do not have to treat growing old as a slide into the grave. Age does not preclude you having fun or an attitude that allows you to discover the delight of something new, whether that is a new place, a new piece of music or a new relationship.

I remember, as I guess many do, being admonished to ‘act my age’. At the time, I think I understood that, but as time has gone on I am increasingly unsure of what that is supposed to mean. I look around me and see people of ‘my age’ acting in all different ways, from acting in ways I would love to emulate to ones that make me wonder just what kind of example they are setting to younger people. I have no intention of acting my own age in anyway other than what feels right for me. If I am physically capable of doing something associated with younger people I will still consider doing it. If I like Clean Bandit then I am going to listen to them, even if the next person on the generic mp3 device is Karen Carpenter (this can happen on my playlists). We gratuitously went to see the wonderful ‘Paddington’ on Christmas Eve and while we did find it odd that we laughed in lots of places that the kids didn’t we were not at all concerned that we seemed to have forgotten the apparently obligatory child or two.

I hope to keep not ‘acting my age’ for a good few years yet if I can get away with it, while understanding that increasingly it might look a little odd and I might have to work just a bit harder this year pounding the streets to hold back the waistline. I have given up on the hair. Again, there are some things we cannot control and those ones we need to let it go, together with learning in my case to love hats in the chillier weather.

So I am going to celebrate my birthday this year. All night partying is out (I’m saving that for another big party in a few years– advanced warning there folks) but a massive lie in and a really good meal out with the Lovely Wife is on the cards. Really looking forward to having survived another year and still be so blessed. Let’s be honest; none of us can guarantee next month, let alone next year so we might as well enter each new year with a passion to make the most of it and make each year better than the last, if we can (considering our circumstances) as no matter how old you are it is still filled with possibilities most of which we have never thought about never mind expect.

Thanks for the Memory

Spending time with one of my God children and his siblings and family this weekend set off a series of thoughts about memory and childhood, and what a weird wee beastie that thing actually can be. On discussion with the Lovely wife later it was a thought we both shared. Why do we remember some things and not others, and what is it as a childhood memory that makes it persist when hours and days and years have been consigned to the dustbin – or at least filed away somewhere in a safe place in the archives of our brains (and, as we all know, the safe place is the one place we will never find again, that’s what makes it safe. There is a story in that somewhere.)

Now, I do not mean bad memories. I think that we all understand that when something caused us pain or intense embarrassment it burns it on our psyche in a way that can never really be removed, and I know we all have plenty of those. Let’s not give our own memory trolls anymore ammunition.

No, I’m thinking of the good nostalgic memories, things we look back to fondly, although perhaps with a bit of confusion.

For example, it is about a year since my Nana passed away and needless to say she has been in my thoughts. Some of the best quality time I had with her as a child as I got to spend the autumn half term with her in her caravan at Blyth on the North East Coast, sometimes with Mum, but often just the two of us. I have more happy memories of this then I really should have as Blyth in October – let’s be honest, anytime – is the back end of beyond and no one would ever suggest going there for a holiday.

But there are so many good memories. Windswept walks on the promenade, empty of course, and the drowned bandstand. The weird Bill and Ben (as in Flowerpot men) sculpture in the park (as this is the late 70s mercifully un-vandalised – I bet the poor things are not there now). The newsagent halfway along the three mile walk into town from the largely deserted caravan site, responsible of course for sweets, but most importantly the place I found my first issue of Doctor Who Weekly (issue three as it happens but I was always a bit late to catch onto things).

What amazes me is all these things are incredibly, well, minor and frankly (Doctor Who weekly aside) naff (good underused British word). It goes on. There was a little cinema in Blyth and I went there a lot. But the only movie I remember seeing there –well – was… Roger Corman’s ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980). Never heard of it? Not surprised. Roger Corman made a successful career of ripping off major hits with a lookalike on a minimal budget. Spielberg does ‘Jurassic Park’, Corman does ‘Carnosaur’. Most of the movies are truly terrible, but hey, who cares. He was not trying to win BAFTAs. ‘Battle’ is actually rather good in places – it is the magnificent seven in space, and has a decent cast, although I just love that Robert Vaughn is in it playing exactly the same role that he plays in the classic western. I bet he was grinning all the way through that. I love jobbing actors who can laugh at themselves.

But why is this special movie to me? Well, I think it must be that I was on holiday. In itself it is not memorable or even any good, but it was watched at a time I was feeling relaxed and happy.

Not a revelation really but, and here is my long winded point, if we want children to remember things I think that the aspect of game and the fun is all important. I’m a bit with Mary Poppins on this. My friend’s kids have special names for places in the landscape around where they live and you just know that in thirty years those places will be clear in their memory and strong in their association to happy times. I just wish I could apply this to everything I do, not only when we are on holiday as maybe we could retain even more of the richness and uniqueness of life.

You’re the Best

A lot of last week – time, energy and brain power – was spent on one of those corporate external trainings where a mixture of exercises, buzz words and diagrams attempting to make you see the world differently – and, in theory, operate differently and better than you have been. Now, some people, myself included, have a tendency to roll eyes, groan (not again, twenty plus years of this for goodness sake!) and already begin to write off the effort as a waste of several work days on something you are going to then shove in a desk draw for the rest of eternity – or rather until the next records purge.

Most of that is true.

Not all of it though. The reason why big companies pay vast amounts of cash for this kind of training is because usually at the heart there are some powerful and good ideas. It may be the perspective that to really understand something you need to hear it about eight times (I think that is pretty true actually), or the ‘S’ bend as people adjust to change of any sort (look it up). I found Benjamin Zander’s talk on possibilities very affecting, even if he is quite abrasive as a speaker (maybe that is the point, unlike a lot of this ilk he does not want you to love him) – the concept of how to capture in young people ‘the light in their eyes’ as they finally grasp a little of the possibility they might be, and the attitude to treat any setback without an Anglo-Saxon expletive but rather with a ‘how fascinating! I wonder why that happened?’ has certainly stuck in my head (but while I cannot play music, music speaks to me).

So anyway, we go back to the latest lot of stuff. And I found some of it pretty useful – none of it is earth shattering, it never is. But sometimes it is the obvious stuff that needs a little reminder every now and then. Every time I go into Wilkinson’s I’m reminded that an awful lot of people need a remedial course in manners (and before I am accused of my Waitrose orientated middle class bias here, let me say I don’t see the same thing in Iceland and the staff, bless them, are the ones that get upset by people’s impatience).

So this time the big old new thing for me was this ‘Best ever’ concept. Put bluntly, the idea is that everything will work better if you treat every interaction as the ‘Best ever’ – considering the circumstances. Or, try and make the best of any interaction you might have. Try and make it good for both of you. Smile and chat with the person on the till. Do not scowl at the Inspector checking your train ticket. Shake the hand of the traffic warden giving you a ticket. OK, I’m pushing it on the last one, and actually it is not always about being nice to people, but making the most of each opportunity.

Sounds terribly fluffy… And I guess it is, but it is also quite fun. I’m writing this on my way to Brussels having consciously tried to apply this to my experiences at security; at passport control and in the lounge. I’m trying to make it feel like a fun adventure rather than just another slog through the Channel tunnel and it is kind of working. Mainly I think because it makes me feel positive, when naturally I am a glass half empty person. And if I can keep it up and this kind of attitude can be perpetuated – well, happiness is overrated anyway. I am not sure it is every achievable. But as someone pointed out to me some years ago, is it better to yearn for happiness that may never be attainable then to be perfectly content with where you are?

And as people deserve references:


and http://www.ted.com/talks/benjamin_zander_on_music_and_passion?language=en