Friday, 29 May 2009

Big dreams

One of the guys in the office furtively ushered me over to his desk a few weeks back, like a little kid wanting to shield from the gaze of the masses and direct sunlight some very rare Panini football card. Anyway, I drifted over expecting him to show me a pic of some electric-blue, turbo-charged gas guzzler, or a picture of Miss Venezuela 2005. You know, standard boys’ stuff. No, in his hand was a photo of a castle. A castle he was thinking of buying. Now, I’m sure he’s very good at his job and had aspirations beyond the two-up, two-down in the suburbs. But a castle? Was he about to rob a bank or something? He said he’d been searching online for castles for sale in Scotland for some time with enough land on it for him and his family to eventually set up some sort of subsistence living cum business based around fishing. The price tag? Too many noughts for me to remember. But all he now needed to do was convince some of his very rich friends to invest in him.

And it didn’t seem to come across as a pipe dream of a thirty-something year old just going through a fad. He’d done his research and spoke with such candour and wide-eyed excitement that you could picture it all as if it were the shiny red bike he’d been promised for Christmas. True, it may well turn into that fad and for a second or two it kind of sounded a bit “very crazy”. But before long, I found it refreshingly so. Something kind of cool to shoot for.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Walking on Air

Many years ago I was sitting on the London Underground, thumbing my way through a freebie magazine that I picked up outside the station. It was the kind of mag filled with a whole pot pourri of information. You know the sort: goth band after goth band doing the student bar circuit, waiting for their big break; cheap deals to Alicante and anywhere more sophisticated; spare boxrooms for rent in 3-storey hovels. I’d managed to get my fill of the publication in the time it took for the train to get from Oxford Circus to Tottenham Court Road (which, for those who aren’t familiar with the Central Line, really isn’t that long at all). However, as I got up the last page of the mag grabbed my attention. Every week or month (however often this freebie was thrown together) there was a feature on “somewhere in the world”. I’d flicked through many of them in the past, but for some reason this one stuck in my mind: Gili Air.

Maybe it was being surrounded by upside-down smiles on the Tube, or the underwhelming UK summer temperature of that day. Maybe it was perfect escapism for a student too lazy to find a summer job. But I was drawn to this island off the coast of Lombok in Indonesia. The photo was classic picture postcard. No, it was more than that - it was like some airbrushed epic MGM production staring right back at me. All sunshine, palm trees, blue sea and unspoilt dreams. As I hit the streets, I ripped out the page and tossed the rest of it away.

I knew at that moment that I had to go there. More than any place before or since. It took me a few years. I can’t remember how long - maybe five years, maybe more. Regardless, I kept that page safe before resurrecting it for a backpacking trip over ground across South-East Asia – starting in Bangkok, ending in Lombok. After about five months of travel and heaven knows how many years of mental processing, I arrived at Gili Air.

And as I sat outside my hut, beer in hand and watching the sunset, I pulled out my picture. There I was in this low-tempo, no car space that I’d first come across on some drizzly London afternoon.

It hadn’t been the most extravagant or world-changing goal ever. And to be honest, neither had it kept me awake at night nor necessarily given me comfort in those darker moments. But it was always there. Quiet but there. And that evening, sitting on the porch of my hut, I just smiled and thought: “Nice”.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Things aren't like they used to be...

“Kids today – they’re getting worse and worse…It’s such a dangerous world these days…In my day, this would have never happened…” I’m not ever going to deny that there are big issues in this world. Big, bad, ugly issues.

But if we only view a Hammer House of Horror version of the world (at the expense of the Disney classic, perhaps), it’s no surprise that we end up skimming over the better bits of our time here. As far as I’m aware, in Western countries you don’t get a hand chopped off for stealing apples anymore. Nor is it the norm to send kids down chimneys or ban people of a certain race, creed or gender from having access to certain types of public facilities. Yes, yes, yes, social equality and justice is yet to be accepted as a God-given right in many parts of the less enlightened globe. But at least there are people willing and able to stand up for the rights of people they’ll never even meet. And change still is gonna come...

Sure, there are tensions in this world but Northern Ireland has come along leaps and bounds, South Africa continues on its long road of reconciliation, the Communist block has collapsed and welcomed personal freedoms and the US answered “yes, we can”. Don’t get me wrong, there are many, many issues that we need to address and ones that are getting worse. Pollution, the destruction of our planet, the globalisation of terrorism, to name but a few. But there are many bright spots to think about along with the shades of grey. You can but hope.

Thursday, 21 May 2009


"Smiling is infectious. Please pass this on."

Twenty year plans

Kind of dove-tailing with my last post “about the future” is a conversation I had a couple of nights ago. I was chewing the fat with friends when one of them asked: “Where do you want to be in 20 years time?” The question kind of threw me. For many, this is a simple enough question – they can answer to the finest minutiae as to what street they’ll be living in, what they’ll be doing and with whom. Most of us have certain expectations in life – marriage, kids, a home of our own (or absence of these, if that’s your choice/expectation). And many of us assume that we can get to these points in a “it just happens” kind of way.

But for grander plans (not that these aren’t grand enough), sometimes it takes a little more. For all my best intentions, though, I’ve never been seen as one that plans much beyond my lunchtime. I know the value of a 5-year plan, in fact a plan of any sort. But I’ve struggled. Sometimes that reflects a stage in one’s life. Sometimes just choosing to block it out. It’s laziness. It’s fear.

Still, looking as far out as 20 years is a scary one. It’s all so unpredictable. To me, it’s like the weather. You can guess with some degree of certainty whether it’ll be fair or foul tomorrow, maybe until the end of the week. But what about in a month’s time? Or a year? Okay, there are always seasonal patterns to work with, and from a life-pattern perspective, I’m guessing that translates to the wife, kids and white-picket fence picture. But life doesn’t walk in a straight line. Well, that’s my excuse anyway…

To be honest, it helps to have some focus. True, worrying in the present about something that may never happen obviously drains your energy from the here and now. But drifting down some proverbial windy river in a canoe without an oar is a bit too random as well. I once heard a Chinese saying that went something like: “If you stay on the same road you’re going to end up where you are heading” – a statement of the obvious but with some value. The last thing you want is to wake up one day, believing that everything has passed you buy and wondering where the hell all the years went. So I’m biting the bullet a bit and dipping my toe in again with this planning lark. Still, 20 years time...Crazy….

Monday, 18 May 2009

Looking into the future

I was muddling through my emails a little earlier today and fell upon a message from FutureMe. Or rather it was a message from myself to me.

About five years or so ago a friend introduced me to the wonderful Future Me website. In a nutshell, the site allows you to compose a letter to yourself which then gets sent out at a later date specified by you. You can write whatever takes your fancy - I prayer that the new rather dashing chap in accounts finally notices you; a rave about how incredibly happy you are at this moment in time and wondering whether your new fly-fishing hobby will still be the love of your life in a year's time; a rant about taxation; or maybe some real or metaphorical shopping list that you want to have completed within a certain timeframe. Do what you want. You're the only one that's going to read it. Bottom line, it's little old you from weeks, months, years back talking to the older you today.

It's like a message from a time capsule, where someone that really, really knows you well (in fact, better than anyone else in the world) has chosen to disclose everything to you. So treat yourself to a message for your birthday, for New Year's Eve or, better still, some absolutely random day in the year. Then you can say: "It's so good hearing from you..."

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Cheer up

In a world filled with makeovers, nips and tucks, lypo-this and botox-that, I fell upon a charming little comment today:

"Cheerfulness can make any face look beautiful. It is an inexpensive way to improve your looks!"

Yes, it's simple (probably even oversimplifying) and obviously it won't work for all people in all situations. Still, isn't nice to get back to basics once in a while? There's more to looking good than chucking money at a situation.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Something for the weekend

I was sitting at my desk on Friday afternoon, winding down and looking for a way to kill time when a colleague stopped at my desk to basically wind down and kill a bit of time as well. As we mosied through our plans for the weekend, we chatted about gym routines, his crazy fitness regimes and the all-action races that he now likes to compete in. As we chatted, another guy stopped at my desk and joined in the conversation. He too had this crazy affliction for intense endurance racing and was also doing one of these races over that weekend. As they chatted away about the merits of different energy bars and elastic strappings, I had nothing of value to add whatsoever, and for a split second felt a little jealous/unworthy/lazy (fill in the gap). Neither of the guys was gloating. It was just the way things were. This was their bag. After both had moved on, I realised a couple of things: 1) Comparison is indeed the mother of all misery (a phrase I fell upon sometime in the past and still like), and 2) I should see what they’re doing as a source of inspiration either to do something myself (but not necessarily of that ilk) or view it as a way in which I can appreciate these guys more. In other words, just leave the ego at the door, please.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

If it ain't broke...

A fair few years ago I was flicking through a random business-related magazine. I wish I could remember what it was, what the articles were about or why I was reading it - clearly it was that exciting. Anyway, in between snoozes I fell upon a comment made by a company CEO or a Professor of something or other (sometimes I find detail so over-rated...). The phrase in question was: "If it ain't broke, break it." The reworking of a chronically over-used line wasn't enough to keep me engaged and I filed the mag in the waste paper bin.

But over the years that phrase has had a habit of popping into my consciousness when I least expect, like some syrupy boy band rendition that you ignored at the time but now happily tap away to as it's ripened with age and isn't full of cheese after all... Indeed, the phrase in question has made me think a lot about those good old "comfort zones".

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not the type that's had an epiphany telling me to sell up all my worldly possessions, renounce capitalism and build myself a treehouse in the Amazon (though there's nothing wrong with anyone taking that route, and maybe I'm limiting myself by assuming I'm not the type...). No, it's the idea that maybe sometimes you don't realise how much you really are coasting along, however natural it feels. Playing and 'clocking' the same video game over and over because you know you're good and you can; having your Friday fish dinner because you quite like it and always have fish on a Friday; every Saturday night hanging out with the same crew that you have in the same bar for the past many years. We all have our own conventional and random versions of the above.

Sometimes change for change sake is good, sometimes change for change sake is rotten. So I'm not suggesting this will work for everyone in every circumstance. Sometimes there is no need. But having myself tried to recollect what I did of value over a couple of samey years earlier this decade (years which personal evidence suggests never actually happened), I realised that once in a while it's worth thinking about shaking up the cosy, 'nice' little existence. Or at the very least consider ways of taking things to the next level. My approach is evolution not revolution. But if you prefer, go at it with a hammer...

Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Not that I want to have a run on death-themed blogs, but this one is going to be the third one associated with the subject in the last two months (and that's without even mentioning Jade Goody!). Trust me, I will return to my more irreverent self very soon but I thought I'd touch on the subject again as it's been a strange couple of weeks for me.

Firstly, two weekends ago my former boss lost her brave five-year fight against breast cancer. And then only last Friday, a friend took her own life. My boss was a very strong-minded, extraordinarily bright and passionate individual, who declined certain medical treatments early on, which may or may not have made a difference. My friend was cool, glamorous and gorgeous, but clearly was more of a tortured soul than any of us knew. The former was 55, the latter was 33.

While, in my head, I had originally set out to consider their relative states of being in their final days, the choices we make and the luck that life pitches at us, I think I'll keep the blog at a more simple level. No judgements, no "what ifs", no regrets. Just a special acknowledgement. You may or may not believe in an afterlife or in reincarnation, but one thing's for certain, there are friends and families still here that have been left with not only gaping gaps in their existences but also many fond memories.

So it's just really for me to say: "We'll miss you, Rima and Eve."