You can’t beat a lovely looking natural Christmas tree.

These days, the argument over natural or artificial is an environmental one. The natural brigade point to the difficulties of disposing of an non-recyclable artificial tree. The artificial aficionados argue that their version lasts for years and years without having to uproot a tree every single year, and clear up after it as well.

As long as you’re buying from a source that is self-sustaining, natural Christmas trees win hands down for me. We get ours from Galway Christmas Trees, and I love the whole ritual of arguing over which one is the best, before we settle on our favourite, get it netted up and bring it home.

Not only is the natural look more welcoming, but the smell of it is great too. It’s like having a bit of forest in your own home. And, if you buy one that comes with a root ball, you can plant it afterwards and watch it grow – winner!

The phrase ‘to judge a book by it cover’ is a common one, and I’ve blogged before about how we should judge products by how good the accessories are, since they’re an intrinsic part of the product itself and the overall product experience.

I’m a firm believer in that you can judge a lot about a public place from the standard and cleanliness of its toilets. This is especially true of restaurants. If the toilets are not clean, what does that lead us to conclude about the restaurants’ approach to hygiene and about the kitchen in particular? Toilets are part of the product, the brand, the whole experience.

You can say exactly the same about pubs. I was out on a mini pub crawl the other evening. It was out in the country; we’re talking the deepest, darkest, quietest, most rural parts of east county Galway. Almost literally, the middle of nowhere. Some pubs you’d walk into, everyone would turn and look at you, and the decor was basic at best, very rough and ready.

The one pub that sticks in my mind? The one with the nice decor, the pleasant ambience, and, I have to say, the nicest toilets I have ever seen for a pub. Super clean, well appointed and with a recently applied expensive-looking tiling.

The pub that sticks in my mind is the one I will visit again. It got the whole product experience right, possibly without consciously trying to do, but by making an effort.

 

How to live a long healthy life, stimulated in both work and play, with a loving family and trustworthy, supportive friends?

I was watching this video recently from BBC Reel about a certain region of Japan where they believe they’ve found the 4 secrets to long life. It’s probably no surprise that the world’s longest living nation puts its longevity down to diet, exercise, the ability to help yourself and a mutual help system, otherwise known as a socialising – at least in my book.

Speaking of my book, what do I think the secret of a long healthy life is? I’m barely half way to the age of Japan’s famed centenarians, so I’m hardly an infallible data point. But anyway, I think the secret is to enjoy. Enjoy who you are, what you’re doing, and the company of those you hold dear.

The enjoying who you are bit I think is the most important element. Being comfortable with who you are, what you do well, what you do less well, what you like and what you don’t like. A key part of being comfortable with who you are is being easy on yourself. Give yourself a break. Being down on yourself is almost always counter-productive.

That’s why I always try to have a one word parting gesture when someone’s about to embark on something they’re looking forward to, and, if I’m honest, on something they’re not looking forward to: enjoy.

I’ve always detested the so-called Reality TV genre. Really can’t abide it at all. It doesn’t matter what topic: celebrities, regular folks, dancing, surviving, loving, hating, watching reality TV. I find it awful and depressing.

I think this is because reality is not real. At least, reality television isn’t real. It’s an edited down, souped up, hammed up, extreme version of real life. All the good bits, the dramatic bits, put together for our entertainment. Packaged up as real, but not really real at all; simply entertainment, of a type.

It doesn’t convey real life, and I don’t think it was ever meant to. Real life is running all the time, and has always run, and you simply can’t convey the huge periods periods of not much happening, periods of normalcy, not even with vlogging. Normalcy is not viewable as entertainment, not even if you attempted some Truman Show-type of constant coverage. If you did you’d get the view the camera gives you, not your view, the individual’s.

When I was much younger, well before reality TV emerged, I sometimes day-dreamed about what it would be like televising me driving on a long journey, exploring my musings and regaling myself and my unseen audience with my wit. How would that ever be interesting to others, even if you had the most charismatic person in the world, unless you presented the highlights?

You can’t ever replicate the individual’s perspective of the reality they see and experience. Maybe there’s a different format yet to be explored which will do justice to real life. But probably not.

The media’s obsession with bad news, or sensational news, means that it’s really hard to maintain a positive outlook and a sense of balance. This is because someone else is deciding which bits of the millions of bits happening in the world are worthy of making it through the funnel into the wider world.

Unfortunately, bad news, at least someone else’s bad news, sells rather well. Natural disasters, accidents, terrorism, politics; there’s not much uplifting in that lot.

My good lady sent me this great feature the other day, which I feel we all need. It’s from Bored Panda and the title says it all: I’m Honestly Fed Up With All The Bad News, So I Illustrated 50 Of The Best Ones From 2019.

The illustrations are in a style I love and each good news story is a great one that should go viral. It’s a serious antidote to all the FUD that threatens to cloud our view of the world. I’m not sure why good news is unfashionable, but it has been so for a while.

It’s really hard to pick a favourite, both in terms of illustration and news story; they’re all superb.

 

I used to think they’re were two groups in society, the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. It turns out there’s a third group.

I didn’t realise this, and I never heard the phrase before. There are the haves, the have nots and the have lots.

The have lots have loads of money, and can pretty much stay in a hotel any night they wish, and any hotel too. They can pretty well do what they want. So can we all, I might argue, but there’s always a fairly large ‘within reason’ hanging around. Money stops the vast majority of us doing literally anything.

Now obviously there are tiers within tiers, and not all the have lots can buy a Premier League football club. But, it must be a funny feeling if you can do what you want, without compromise. How do you choose? Does it make choosing more difficult?

I like reading interviews with well known people when they’re asked the question: what is the best invention ever?

For me, the greatest invention of all time, as far as it impacts on my daily life, is the dishwasher. It’s a massive time-saver, time spent on that most tedious of chores.

I’m reminded of this every time my mother hosts a dinner in her apartment, because she doesn’t have one of these magical appliances. My mother would not be shy in using implements in the creation of one of her masterpieces. It’s not unheard of for one of her boys to come from the washing up into the living room to say: Look Mum, I found something in the kitchen you didn’t use!

I’ve briefly touched on the satisfaction of using this appliance before. You stack your dirty stuff, throw in a tab, set the program and close that sucker up. Return a couple of hours later and it’s all done, ready for you or an offspring to load the shelves and cupboards. You can also get cute and stack your dirty things in a way that makes it easier to put the clean stuff back. Awesome.

I realise that this is not the most earth-shattering or uplifting answer to the best invention question, but for me it’s one I’m thankful for every single day. Now if they could figure out a machine that will allow you to wash everything…

I’m often going on about time, what a precious resource it is, how it seems to bend with our mood or what we’re doing, so much so that I’m not going to link a few of my posts on it, since you’re probably finding the topic a little wearisome. Stay with me for a minute though.

I think we’re all conscious of the fact that time flies and our lives go past in a blur, a blur which accelerates as we age. If you think back to a thousand years ago, the year 1019, it seems an impossibly long time ago. That depends, though, on how you frame it. Think about your parents and your grandparents. Then think back another 28 or 38 generations, which doesn’t sound much. It’s not that far back, is it? Even though there are probably only 50 people on the planet who know their ancestors that far back, and they probably wear crowns in their day job, 30 to 40 generations feels like a short span to me.

It’s only when you work back in time and compare the paltry millennium to the creation of the solar system and the planets that you realise how mind-bogglingly massive the dimension is. One million years is about 40,000 generations ago, an incomparably vast amount of time. Trillions and trillions of seconds gone by, trillions more to come, each one elapsing in the blink of an eye.

We’re getting into the area of the infiniteness and indivisibility of time here, which usually starts to make my brain hurt, but my point here is that length of time and speed of time are indelibly coloured by our own experiences and perception of them. And that for me, is, if not quite a paradox, certainly interesting. Making a mental note to get out more…

What is the rule when it comes to using numbers in content? Should we use numeric symbols or spell them out? I don’t definitively know, but that won’t stop me offering some standards around which how I like to operate.

First things first: I think dates and big numbers should always be represented numerically. They’re simply too tiresome to spell out, unless for some quirky or emphatic reason. What I’m really talking about is the instances where we want to use smaller numbers.

1 example to start. It looks awkward if you begin a sentence with a number, unless it’s a bulleted or numbered list.

The key is consistency I think. If you’re going to use a small number a small number of times, spell the small number out. It can be quite emphatic and also easy on the eye. If you’re set on numerals, be consistent, but try not to begin sentences with a number. Here’s an example of a post I wrote where I spell out the numbers consistently and refer to dates numerically. Spoiler alert: you can’t click on that post until after January 1st 2020. I’ve never ever published a link to a document available in the future before, it feels slightly odd.

Where do you stop the bigger the numbers get, and how do you punctuate? I’m OK with seventeen. I’m also OK with twenty-three, if the context is right and there aren’t too many numbers in the content. What about one hundred and thirty-eight? It’a bit unwieldy isn’t it, and did I get the hyphen right? The higher the number, the more unwieldy, unless it’s a round number, naturally.

So, spelling out numbers depends on the 3 C’s: consistency, context and common sense. And would you believe it, according to this source you only need to hyphenate the numbers between 21 and 99, or twenty-one and ninety-nine. Technically, then, we’d write thirty-two million, seven hundred and ninety-eight thousand, four hundred and fifty-six, though why we wouldn’t put 32,793,456 is lost on me.

I saw an article on the BBC website the day, about polymaths: people who are great at more than one thing, and how they can help the wider community solve bigger problems.

I didn’t read the whole article, obviously, because it was too damn long. But it roused in me a feeling that I’ve felt for a long time. There are no polymaths; it’s a myth to think there are.

At least as far as regular people like me are concerned, that is. A genuine polymath is one in a million, so why would the other 999,999 of us see this as something to aspire to, something we can achieve?

Maybe, back in the days of the Renaissance, there were genuine renaissance men and women who led their field in a bunch of fields. But back then, there were far fewer people with the access to some of those fields, never mind the time or ability to excel at them. The competitive pool was so much smaller. I don’t think some the examples in the article are genuine polymaths either. Just because a Nobel prize winner can play a few musical instruments or paint a bit, it doesn’t make her or him a polymath. It makes them something else, someone who draws on modest abilities in other fields to feed their main specialism.

This idea, that today the polymath is to all intents and purposes a myth, and possibly an unhelpful one, is one of several topics I touch on in a book I’ve written over the course of the last few years, and which is currently being designed and laid out by a proper professional.

The article’s worth having a look at. And hopefully, the book too.