Archives for category: General

I was visiting my mother the other day. She lives in a small town on the edge of Bristol in England, with a lovely high street of the usual shops and cafes you might expect to find.

At about 5pm on the Saturday I decided I would wander 5 or 10 minutes up to the high street to get a card and small gift. I know I was leaving it late, but I figured that they would close at 5:30 so I would be fine.

The shop I had my eye on closed at 5:15pm, according to the sign. What kind of shop closes at 5:15? It’s neither one thing nor the other. I reasoned that they probably said 5:15pm so they serve their straggling customers by 5:30 and close at the ‘normal’ time.

I tried the door. I was exactly 5:12pm on my phone. It was closed, and 2 prissy ladies were beavering away at the till. I knocked on the window. ‘Closed’, they signed. I pointed at my phone and their sign and walked off in disgust.

It drives me mad, that kind of thing. If you say you’re closing at 5:15, don’t close early. I went to my second choice shop, told them all about my experience – they closed at 5:30pm – spent my money there.

No wonder the high street is dying a slow death. Still focused on itself, and not us.

Advertisements

There are some excellent drivers around. A lot of drivers effectively do it for a living: couriers, reps, taxi drivers. Then again, a lot of us are really good drivers. Almost all of us are. We forget that we’ve been doing this for decades, some of us. Longer than any career many of us have.

One thing that amazes me about skilled drivers, in fact all drivers: the amount of journeys we negotiate with no trouble at all, no mishaps.

We’re all guiding extremely expensive killing machines, over a ton in weight, through busy rush hour traffic, often at high speeds on motorways, and we don’t even touch all the other cars milling around us like items, nor all the people, cyclists and other people using the same arteries as us. Amazing.

Most of us will only have a couple of accidents in our entire driving lives: thousands of hours behind the wheel with no more than a few seconds of difficulty among them.

So, the next time you think you’re not skilled anything, think abut your driving. You’re pretty adept at steering a dangerous piece of heavy machinery through a pretty complicated obstacle course, at speed.

One thing we can never really predict is the rate or pace that something or someone will mature. Whether it’s an idea, or a technology or a person, gauging both the acceleration and speed on an individual level is really hard to do.

Take people for instance. Occasionally we see examples of people leading the way in adult circles like politics or sport when they’ve barely taken a step into their teens. They look and behave like adults already. Then there are others who developing much later. And then you see the mass of people, in the main part of the bell curve, who mature at around the same time, the average time, though I dislike the use of the word average here.

When I think back to my own youth, although I earned the same legal rights as others when I became 18 years old, I was probably thirty before I really felt like I had life sussed and ‘got it’. Whether those of use who are later to things enjoy a longer, later period of being at the races before the inevitable decline towards completing the circle of life I don’t know, but probably not.

I think that the pace at which we mature is a function of both nature and nurture, but that doesn’t seem to make it any easier to predict who will mature faster. And then, when we come to the pace of maturity for things, ideas, technologies and so on, history and data can provide a guide, but a pretty unreliable one at that.

Governing a city or country and having responsibilities for shared resources like the planet tend to vary between the generations. For example, the sentiment among many teenagers after the Brexit referendum in 2016 was ‘we don’t even have a vote yet, and we’re inheriting a mess that will last decades. You sold us down the river.’

So it is with the current environmental hand-wringing, where it takes a 16-year-old Swedish girl, speaking perfectly in her second language – or third for all I know – to agitate us adults of voting age and / or governing authority for genuine change.

You have this catch-22 situation. Older people have the power, authority and experience to govern and things like the environment are less of a concern for them because they’re not going to be around in 25-50 years time. Younger people are the ones who will shoulder the increasing burden throughout their lifetime, a burden which might not be recoverable, yet they’re not ready or given the chance to govern. People look after their own interests; it’s a natural, in-built, protective mechanism.

Plus, people in power need to see a return on their policies within their governing term, otherwise they won’t be in power much longer. They’re therefore less likely to enact change that will bear fruit for future generations, in half a century’s time.

I think this is why we’re starting to see the kind of language among younger people that incites civil disobedience. We’re approaching one of those inflexion points.

There’s a scene in the film Jack from 1996 where Robin Williams plays a child in a prematurely aged man’s body. After describing why he was late for something – I haven’t actually seen the film but I remember this scene just from the trailer – using words and hand gestures to describe his visit to the toilet, the lady he’s talking to says ‘well that’s more that I needed to know.’

There are of course many variations on the TMI or Too Much Information phrase where we reveal too much personal information for the comfort of whoever we’re talking to.

I heard one the other day, used by one of my sisters-in-law and I expect you’ve been using it yourself already. It’s the act of ‘oversharing’. I thought this was hilarious, and it describes exactly what’s happening.

Our social adroitness attunes us to what is acceptable in terms of sharing information on ourselves. For some people who don’t have the social calibration set quite right for a given situation, this balance between sharing too little and sharing too much is a hard one to strike.

It has its parallels in work as well, by which I don’t mean social interactions between the individuals in a company or companies, but more the exchanging of information between people as part of a deal or project.

You can share too little, or undershare I guess – which doesn’t seem to attract the level of opprobrium that its generous counterpart does – or you can overshare, providing the other party with more than is useful for them, forcing them to waste time getting to the good stuff.

When I look back on individual short-term events in my life, or over long-term things like career, health and so on, I find that I have allowed external factors to shape and evolve me. I have on occasion rolled with the punches, got caught up in the forward momentum and gone with the flow.

I’ve not been in control. I have allowed the focus of control to be external of me, rather than internal to me.

I think it’s important to level-set every so often and endeavour to take back control. Take back control in everything from individual decisions to relationships with other people or entities and to strategy for companies and organisations. Not at the expense of others, that’s not what I mean here. I mean to be active, positive, current, engaged and decisive.

Yes, an important part of assessing our strengths and weaknesses is also assessing the opportunities and threats that are outside our control. Yes, sometimes we have to play the hand we are dealt.

But, if that hand is not what we like, or has developing into something that we don’t like, do we have the option to walk away, and play another game? A game that gives us back control?

It’s about options, isn’t it? If it is, then it’s about taking back control, because without it our options are poorer and more limited.

Most people are either short on time and long on money, or they’re short on money and long on time.

If you’re the former, it’s because you’re busy and / or important, and while you have plenty of disposable income you don’t have much time to dispose of it.

If you’re the latter, you’ve bags of time on your hands but your lack of money limits what you can do with that time. Both scenarios seem to me to be deeply ironic yet are classic examples of what life is like in the real world of limited resources.

The holy grail is of course to be long on time and long on money. I’m reliably informed that this is known as a financially comfortable and healthy retirement, a concept that feels very distant and remote to me. Then there’s winning the lottery or a similar kind of windfall, which is the short cut, at a distance and remoteness that tends to zero probability. And yet we play it, eh!

Unfortunately, I seem to be spending a good bit of my time in the lower quartile, the bottom left box of your management consultant’s two-by-two matrix. Yes, that’s the short on time, short on money variety. Dashing around the place developing business, creating projects, getting things off the ground, doing good things, for no money.

Yes, I’m happy, and lucky, I know. But a bit more of both wouldn’t go amiss, I promise.

To hyphenate or not to hyphenate, that is the question. Whether ’tis nobler in the mind…sorry, bit of a tangent there. But, it’s a good question. When you’re using phrases like much appreciated, well versed, often forgotten and so on, when should you use a hyphen and when not? Here I’m really talking about attaching adverbs to verbs. There are many other instances when you have to decide on a hyphen, or not.

Tricky one, but here’s my rule of thumb on it. Could be wrong, but makes sense to me. When you’re using the supine – that’s the passive bit of the verb, but it applies equally well to a part of the verb like occurring, as in often occurring – in a verbal sense, then I don’t use it. When you’re using the supine in an adjectival sense, then I do plonk in a hyphen. It’s as much about directing the reader as anything.

A couple of examples might help. ‘Thanks, that’s much appreciated. It’s well thought out’ Appreciated and thought are verbal, so much and well are simply the adverbs, as in next to the verb.

‘He gave me a well-intentioned slap on the back’. Here, gave is the verb, and well and intentioned describe the slap, so they’re used adjectivally, so I hyphenate them.

‘Often fired, sadly missed.’ Bit of autobiography here. This sentence is actually engraved on a bench in the bowls club where my late father used to play. Here, both fired and missed are verbs, not adjectives, so no hyphens. Both clauses are a clever play on words, when you think about the context, eh? I can’t claim ownership, my youngest brother coined it.

So, with this poorly-exampled post, which I’ve often considered but never put down in print, I’ll take my well-earned but seldom-occurring leave and promptly sign off, until the next time.

Electric Picnic closes the summer festival season, and is the largest in Ireland. In this last in a 3-part blog series in praise of the event, I focus on the people.

People come in all shapes, sizes and ages, and to a degree the same can be said for EP. There aren’t supposed to be kids from 13 to 18 there, but you see a few of them. The main demographic is 19 to 35 without question. There are a few young families there, but there’s also a surprising number in the 45 to 65 range too. If you can do 20- or 30-thousand steps a day in fields, and probably a good deal less if you’re not a culture vulture, you’re young and healthy enough for EP. You get the socio-economic panoply attending as well; it’s not confined to musos and hippies.

Drink is freely available, and according to my more savvy festival friends, drugs are too. I’ve never seen anyone supplying or receiving, but I’m not in the particular demographic and I’m not in the market. You do see a lot of people the worse for wear from both groups of stimulants, but trouble is very hard to find. You can be jumping up and down in a packed arena and bump into someone, and it’s all very good natured. A mutual apology is usually forthcoming.

Environmentally, of course, these types of events are an unnatural disaster. I don’t know where to start on this. One of the most ironic moments for me was watching a video in the middle of The 1975’s set where we were encouraged to consider civil disobedience since governments had failed to response adequately to the environmental crisis. ‘We’re producing too many greenhouse gases,’ said the screen on the main stage, which was probably burning 1.21 jigowatts of energy a minute in front of 30,000 people consuming their drink from a plastic cup.

EP is making an effort on the enviro front, but it needs to do so much more. A truly great weekend though, if that doesn’t sound too flippant a sign-off.

In this second in a 3-part series in praise of the Electric Picnic music and arts festival in Ireland, I look at accommodation. And what a choice there is. While your ticket entitles you to put up a tent in ‘general camping’, there is a large array of additional options.

It all depends on your preferences for comfort, company, noise and location. You can bring a motor home. You can opt for eco-camping, as well as family camping. You can take one of the several ‘glamping’ options with the common denominator being that the accommodation is ready for you when you enter the festival, and you leave it set up when you head home. This makes an awful lot of difference to the amount of gear you need to transport to and from where you’re sleeping. But it come at price. There are lots of different sizes and types of tents and huts, from the functional to the fairly luxurious.

These posher camping options also come with better toilet facilities, showers, and are generally located closer to the action so you’ve less distance to trudge to get to the entertainment and sustenance.

We went with a modest pre-erected teepee-style tent in the glamping area. It pretty much doubles your entry ticket, but it’s worth it, especially if you’re the wrong side of 40 and can’t be bothered to slum it any more. It was also a mere 5 minutes’ walk to the main site, which is very handy if a change of weather calls for a wardrobe change, an occupational hazard at the end of August/beginning of September.

As you might expect, the nicer the accommodation, the nicer condition the place is left in when you leave, and the less of a hammering the site takes. I’m told the general camping is like a war zone on a Monday morning, and I’m inclined to take people’s word for it. I simply wouldn’t go if all I could get was general camping. I’m not 20 any more.