Archives for category: General

The other day a friend of mine told me about the secret parking space he’s been using for over a decade. It’s a free, unmetered secret parking space. It’s in a major city in Ireland, right in the city centre.

You know these are gold-dust, right? It’s not just the convenience, the time-saving benefit and the lack of cost. It’s the knowledge, being in the know, having the inside track. My missus and I used to have a free spot in Dublin city centre, about 20 years or so ago. It was 5 minutes’ walk from Trinity College, which – if you don’t know your Dublin, is pretty darn central. Now development has absorbed it and it is no more.

I used the new secret parking space for the first time recently. It’s no more than 5 minutes from the thick of things. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a frisson of excitement using it. It’s like putting one over the system, legitimately. I wonder if it’s a small bit like being a member of a secretive club?

Passing the secret on to someone else is extending to them the bond of trust you only extend to a few chosen ones. Every additional person who knows about the secret parking space diminishes the chances of it being free the next time you want to use it. And if it’s like an Irish secret, which means you only tell one person at a time, then soon the network effect means that it’s no longer secret. Then it’s only a matter of time before the authorities close the loophole.

For now, though, it’s a precious commodity, with real, tangible value.

 

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All of us are one step from the grave. We’re one heartbeat away from death. The Vice President is one heartbeat from the Presidency.

One turn the wrong way, a moment’s loss of concentration, or perhaps a case of wrong place, wrong time and it’s curtains. Goodnight Vienna. If that doesn’t push you to live in the moment I don’t know what will…

Actually, perhaps this will. We’re also one step away from winning the lottery, getting the all clear, seeing our efforts paying off, being really happy at seeing the joy of someone we love or respect, sneaking the winning shot, or reaching someone influential with the right message, the right offer at just the right time.

You might say we’re all one step from the great, as opposed to – or in addition to – one step from the grave.

When my Dad died, about 12 years ago, there were a number of pieces of paperwork we had to complete. I say paperwork because the forms we had to fill in were just that, paper.

Dad was truly pre-digital. He didn’t have a mobile phone, an email address or an online bank account. He didn’t have anything digital. Heck, the guy didn’t even own a pair of jeans. When he died, we wrapped up his affairs in a 100% offline way. And that was it. He generated no more paper. He didn’t write any more letters.

Nowadays a good portion of us are digital. I’m sure you are, reading this blog post. When you die, what will your digital death be like? Will someone set up your email out of office for you? ‘I’m sorry, but Paul is not in a position to reply to your email, ever. You see, he’s dead.’ Will someone close your Facebook account, your other accounts, your online subscriptions? Will they even know where your passwords are, if you’ve committed them to offline or online sttorage somewhere? There’s guy I’m connected to on LinkedIn who hasn’t just retired. He died along time ago, and I get his work anniversary notifications, which is a bit surreal.

Your digital death extends way beyond your physical death, perhaps forever. When you die, you’re not just in our hearts and minds, you’re still around in the ones and zeros.

‘It’s better to give than to receive,’ or so the old saying goes.

Many organisations and institutions rely on donations to fulfil their role in society, even for their survival. A regular donor is worth their weight in gold. Their donor lifetime value is often a very sizeable sum.

And then there are the high net worth individuals who give vast sums. They are of course the holy grail. In very many cases their donation results in something being named after them. The Smith Room/Building/Wing/Stadium/Institute/College; the list of possibilities is long. For the donor this is rewarding and gives them the public acknowledgement and legacy that they probably feel is a fair reflection of their generosity. And why not?

Then there is the other type of donor. The folk that don’t need for there to be a connection between them and the thing that their donation is funding. Anonymous donors are the truly special breed. For them the satisfaction of giving and the knowledge of the benefit it will provide is enough for them. They’re happy to play second fiddle to the receiving organisation. For them the shadows and the light under the bushel.

Anonymus donors have a special kind of nobility.

The traditional approach to work for the vast majority of us, at least since national governments have been putting proper welfare structures in place for their people, is that we work for 40 years and then we retire, with a pot of money to sustain us, theoretically, for the rest of our lives. It’s the occupational pension, as opposed to the state pension which kicks in beyond a certain age.

Another school of thought has emerged relatively recently, namely that we should take regular long breaks from work and work until we’re older, enjoying these mini-retirements when we’re younger and healthier. Proponents of this version of the work/life balance call the traditional approach ‘the deferred life’, because you’re working hard and putting your life on hold until you retire. All your free time is pushed back to your most aged and infirm years. We’re living longer, which is a bonus but we’re also working longer to support the longer retirement too.

I must confess that I’ve had a few of these mini-retirements, in some cases before they were even thought of as such, but that was probably more down to indolence than good planning.

Of course, the $64,000 question that everybody asks is this: ‘how do I amass the $64,000 I need to live well without earning for a year or so?’ Clearly there are two barriers to being able to do this: money and flexibility. You need to have the moolah to bunk off every few years and tick something off your bucket list. You also need to have a work situation that allows you to do that, in the form of either an understanding and forward-thinking employer or your own business.

As many of us are faced with the prospect of working into our 70s to recoup the cataclysmic pension losses of 2008, the idea of mini-retirements and mini-returns-to-work seems more attractive with every passing month.

When I compare my generation in the developed world with the generation above us, by which I mean our parents – and I realise I’m generalising the generations here, I see some opposite dynamics in terms of when you’re on the swings or the roundabouts of life, on the peaks or in the troughs.

A friend of mine has a saying. Our parents, he says, were hard in, easy out. We are on the other hand, are easy in, hard out.

What does he mean by this? Well, it’s a factor of economic prosperity, economic swings and demographics. Our parents – I’m middle aged so assume I’m talking about the generation who are currently 70 and over – had a fairly tough start to working lives once they left school or college. These were depressed economic times and they had to graft for a long time to get on the ladder and work there way up it. Now, having worked their allotted time, and with their occupational pensions intact, they can enjoy their retirement and spend their grey pounds/dollars/euros. Hard in, easy out.

Our generation on the other hand, well we had it easy to start with, certainly compared to them. Some of us stayed with steady jobs, some of us dabbled in the dot com stuff and perhaps started our own businesses. Then there was the huge economic reversal of a decade ago, from which some countries are still recovering. For a lot of us there have been underpayments or non-payments to our pension pots, which have compounded the issue by performing badly or in some cases disappearing altogether. Add to that the huge hammer blow of an increasingly large and ageing non-working society, with an increasingly smaller group of younger adults to prop it up, and you’re talking retirement ages which seem to go up a year every year. The net of this is that we’ll have less of our lives left to enjoy our retirement, even with the increased lifespans. Easy in, hard out.

And what about the generation we’ve given birth to and raised, the millennials? They’re almost certainly easy in too. Hopefully, if we can continue to improve our global lot without blowing ourselves to smithereens, they’ll be easy out. I’m not particularly confident of that though.

These days when you ask an English person how they are, you still hear something along the lines of ‘Not too bad, can’t complain.’ I don’t think you hear it from the younger generations.

When I use the phrase I often add the comment, ‘much as I’d like to’, with what I imagine is a dry, worldly smile. I probably look like I’m in pain, which I guess would give me something to complain about.

For a lot of us English folk though, being ready to complain seems to be our default position. I guess that’s why we attract the ‘whingeing poms’ sobriquet. The phrase- can’t complain, not wingeing poms – is a pretty old one, so perhaps it originated from a time when, for most people, actually there was quite a lot to complain about. It also reminds me of the joke about the elderly Jewish gentleman in hospital. ‘Are you comfortable?’ the nurse asks. ‘I make a living’, he replies. He might as well have said ‘can’t complain’.

It is, I suppose, an example of using a negative phrase to reinforce a positive sentiment. I used to date a lady from the US who when she saw a handsome man would whisper to me ‘not too shabby…’

To give another example, my wife hates it when I describe a meal as ‘not bad’, ‘not too bad’ or even ‘not bad at all’. She doesn’t accept my protestations that they are all complimentary, as dictated by the tone I use to say them. To us English folk, not bad is good, not too bad is very good and not bad at all is very good indeed.

 

There’s a phrase that’s been around for a long time. It’s ‘ready and willing’. You’re prepared to do something and you want to do it too. It’s pretty important for our own initiative and if we’re to get other people to work with us too.

We can’t be ready and willing all the time though.

It seems to me that ready and willing is not enough after a while. You can’t just be ready and willing, you’ve got to be ready and winning as well. You’ve got to be making progress.

Is easy to be willing if you’re winning. If you’re not ready and winning, even if it’s baby steps, small wins and other examples of forward motion, it’s very difficult to stay ready and willing.

As an aside, and in the interest of full disclosure, this post came about because I overheard a conversation between my daughter and a friend whose first language wasn’t English. She said ‘ready and willing’ and the friend asked what ‘ready and winning’ meant. Close, but not quite…

 

I’ve been travelling on Irish trains for 10 or 15 years. On the whole they’re reasonably comfortable and reasonably reliable, and quite expensive, perhaps because there’s a lot of fixed assets to maintain and a lot of staff mouths to feed. It being a state body, I imagine there’s a quite a lot of fat on the business that can’t be easily trimmed.

Irish Rail trains have these automated train announcements for their inter-city routes. The announcements come on at various points in the journey. I thought they were perhaps driven by GPS, so that when the train was a certain distance from a station, this triggered the ‘in a couple of minutes we’ll be in X’ announcement, and so on.

I don’t now think this is the case, because the announcements have been coming in at oddest the times, for quite a while. Recently I was on a Dublin-to-Galway service that was announcing we were coming to the various stops before we got to them – which is good – while we were at them – not so good – and after we had left them – not good at all.

Also, Irish Rail would do well to listen to the announcements of other operators like Gobus, whose messages are much more friendly and positive rather than negative. Irish Rail announcements have rather too much ‘don’t do this, don’t do that’ about them. What’s wrong with saying ‘please avoid sitting in pre-booked seats’ or ‘please keep your feet off seats for the next passenger’? It’s less negative and conveys the same request. Theirs comes across as a bit semi-state and antiquated to my mind.

Finally, before I fall off my soap box, there are ticker tape-style notices on each carriage which display what the audio announcements say. On one of them, there has been a typo – an extra space like this  ‘please do not put your  feet on seats – for years and years. It must appear on every train, on every route in the country. You can’t tell me no member of Irish Rail staff has never noticed it and thought to get it fixed? It’s the detail that counts in the service business.

I’ve spent a few days clearing out and cleaning up the gardens and inside of a house we own in Ireland’s fair capital. It’s been years since a major revamp so the opportunity afforded by a break between tenants was welcome.

Part of this job involved removing a lot of used and partly used paint cans from the shed, abandoned by the previous tenants who, presumably, didn’t fancy the expense or effort of doing it themselves.

Ireland is pretty good when it comes to waste and recycling. We can recycle most things, and the local municipal tips will take large things like furniture, appliances and so on. One of the few things they don’t take for free are paint cans. For that I had to go to a special waste area where I was charged 70 cent per can. I emerged €13.30 lighter from the experience, but at least I had done a small part to make sure the contents were being disposed of in the best way possible.

I also had a large old plastic container of engine oil, mostly full. The plastic was free to recycle, but the cost to me to empty the oil into a large tank of similar oils was €3.50. I should point out that if I had brought 20 other oil containers the total charge would still have been €3.50, but I didn’t know that until I got there. What’s more, the oil took 10 minutes to empty out.

Add in the €5 for fuel for the 30-mile round trip and the out-of-pocket cost to me is approaching €25. This doesn’t include the depreciation to the car of about the same as the fuel, and the much larger opportunity cost associated with my time.

The cost of being ethical and living responsibly can still be considerable.