I read a couple of mindfulness quotes this week and between them they have started to galvanise my thinking. The first was:
“Before you heal others, heal yourself”
and the second
“What you say you already know, listen and you may learn.”
Over the last few months, I’ve endeavoured to start writing something – anything – for this blog; it’s either been thrown away or just not been up to the standard I would like. More importantly perhaps, it’s not as fun as it was.
So I think I need to take some time to focus on myself – to try and find that inner calm once more.
But why the blog? Why didn’t I just not post anything? Well, that’s an easy one. I’d set this blog up to offer wisdom and inspiration – and it seems like I would be failing if I just walked away without saying something. But I don’t think I’m failing; I read somewhere that everything in life is a lesson that we can learn from – and this one for me is that I still have a lot of learning to do – and to be able to focus on that learning I need to step back from some things.
I’m not going to delete the blog – heck, I may return; or even repurpose – but I don’t know for now, just that it may be a while before I post something here.
So over the last couple of weeks there have been some big blockbuster things on the TV and in the movies – although to be fair I think this also true of almost any time. However, there have been two shows which fans have been waiting for and so yes, they have been a bit of a big deal.
With the film, communications went out to basically ask people not to spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it… and yet just over ten days after release I’m starting to see the inevitable posts on my social media feed – the memes that you will only get if you’ve seen the film etc. On TV, it was the Game of Thrones – and in this instance it hasn’t been a week and I’ve seen people posting things on it – including the BBC.
So far, I’ve managed to just about ignore the posts – but it got me thinking, especially as earlier in the week I made a reference to a 1973 cult film – which was pretty much a spoiler. So I’m not one to take the moral high ground – but that’s not the point of the blog.
What I thought was – when might it be acceptable to have a more open conversation with the film? Should you always start every conversation with “Have you seen… read… glanced… plan to…” and only then once the necessary gateway questions have been asked and answered can you actually start discussing the film/show/book?
And whilst that’s something that you can do with a face-to-face conversation, how should you proceed with social media – especially if you are character limited? Should you start “#<film> SPOILER…” ? But if the media posts your whole post anyway then it becomes really hard to avoid whatever you post anyway!
The other point is – is there a limitation when it becomes OK to talk about the show/film/whatever? One of my colleagues told me that he won’t watch the new Game of Thrones until the series has concluded AND he’s re-watched the previous series too. Also, in some cases a film precedes another – I discovered that the latest Bruce Willis film is a sequel to 2 films (I knew of one, but not the other) – so telling me about the second film is a spoiler; and telling me about the new film is effectively a spoiler to both previous films!
As always, I think there’s an element of personal responsibility. Don’t be “that guy” knowingly telling spoilers to people who might not have seen the film; don’t be afraid to say “don’t tell me, I haven’t seen it yet.”
Note: this is a bit of a rant and for that I apologise. But this is something that has been frustrating me for quite a while.
The Extinction Rebellion is still occupying central London as I write this. “Protestors” are threatening to disrupt the London Underground (having already glued themselves to the Docklands Light Railway) and I believe are still occupying Waterloo Bridge and Oxford Street. There have been many, many arrests – but in the main those who have been arrested have been released with nothing more than the lightest of wrist taps because the police are over stretched.
I say “Protestors” as I don’t believe that they were given permission for their protest – and yet everyone seems quite happy that London has lost an estimated £12 million in its London shops, police have had to cover the extra time required to shepherd and babysit these individuals, buses have had to be diverted and many have struggled to get to work.
My problem isn’t with what the protests are about. My problem is that (in my opinion) it is entirely pointed in the wrong direction – and moreover that I don’t think we will be able to resolve it by blocking major roads in the city.
As a global society we are wholly tied to the petrochemical industry. We use petrol and diesel cars to get everywhere; our power stations use massive amounts of fossil fuels – and even when we do move to the nuclear option we have nowhere to store the waste. When considerations for wind or water power is considered, the groundswell of opinion is simply “not in my back yard – it’ll spoil the view”. Even at the grass roots level (and yes, I’ll include myself in this) many of our toys, gadgets and geejaws are either 100% plastic, or have used some form of oil-based product to produce it.
Perhaps the point here is to look at what make up the biggest fuel users – which may be the number of lorries on the roads. What if all goods were to be transported using containers to small distribution points – then small vehicles could take them to their final destination. No lorry journeys greater than 60 miles? Why haven’t the protestors blocked the ports?
(By the way, the other option would be to massively tax petrol – but as this country already has something like 60% tax on it, I think we can wait for other countries to catch up on that)
I mentioned wind and water – what about people power? If we can store the power generated all we need to do is find some people who aren’t gainfully employed (I think we can think of some) and get them to pedal on bikes linked to the grid! No longer “time served” but “miles covered”. And for those who are somehow lame, we would have other machines that would use hand cranked pedals.
Again as a global society we are massively over populated. Our housing density is probably greater than ever – and perhaps this is where we could make changes. All we need to do is have a people cull, like we do with the badgers! Oh, do you think people might have a problem with that?
But perhaps the other thing here is to stop building out of town shopping malls – or housing estates on “green field” sites. There are lots of buildings around this country that are lying derelict – perhaps these need to be repurposed. Some of the shopping malls could be reused as giant nurseries for growing plants more suited to non-UK weather or soil – year-round production of tomatoes (of course, what we should be doing is getting used to eating seasonal vegetables only).
The simple point is that we are in a position where most people won’t make a change – they will change when there isn’t an alternate option. The single use plastic bags is a good example – not everyone is carrying a reusable bag where ever they go, so there is still a demand for them. It is only when there are no bags that people will change their ways wholly and completely.
Even the eco-terrorists occupying London aren’t helping this – reports of campaigners taking taxis to get to the demonstrations because they might be late; celebrities flying in from other countries to campaign against… err using planes for trivial reasons… plus the amount of detritus being left by the campaigners (in reality, this should have been the cleanest demonstration EVER) all work against the lofty ideals that this protest set out to achieve.
The answers aren’t easy – in fact the answers are both very difficult and very hard to come to terms with. We are over populated, we are taking more from the planet than we can put back – and what we are putting back is nothing but rubbish… but right now we’re too hardwired to change.
Today on the Instagram #FMSPAD photo a day challenge was the prompt “OK”. In response I posted the picture above. A friend then added the comment “It’s OK to not be OK too.”
It’s a fair comment perhaps, but one that after contemplation one that I’m not really happy with. I know why the comment has come to be – but is it really OK to not be OK?
In previous posts I have made comment to the fact that we all wear masks and for some there is this feeling that they have to wear a “happy” mask to cover up the fact that they are not OK and that we should feel empowered when asked “you OK?” to say “you know, I’m not” and not feel like you are letting anyone down. Personally, I have no problem with people being able to say that they are not OK… but what’s the outcome of that? If I say “no, I’m not OK” do I feel better about it? Probably not because I don’t feel okay – I’ve admitted it so that’s one thing, but that statement doesn’t make me feel any better – I’m still not okay.
Whilst social media has now made everyone a “brand” in some way there is an increasing pressure for many to be like X – which may be wearing particular clothes, always the life and soul – or even just an oasis of calm… ALL THE TIME. Of course, unless there’s something wrong with your wiring you can’t be up all the time (something the Eagles sang about in their song Life in the Fast Lane) and that eventually you will crash. The brand that most of us will try to present is that show version – shiny, happy, awake, intelligent, funny… it is very rare for people to show themselves in any other way. Additionally, because everyone has a keyboard and an opinion (and because we use usernames rather than our own) some feel strangely empowered to bully and belittle others without thinking of their feelings. Sadly there have been too many reports of young people not being able to cope with cyber bullying; actually it’s not just young people; I’ve seen adults being bullied in this way too – and there have been many occasions recently where I have almost come to pulling the plug on certain routes just for the nasty chatter to stop.
But back to the point. It’s OK to be OK. “How was your weekend?” “It was OK, didn’t do anything much. Saw the inlaws Saturday, took my son to play football on Sunday” Actually, you’ve done something. It may not be the weekend that will become a blockbuster moment, but you did some things. Everyday, normal things. Like normal people do. It was OK, nothing special. “How was your weekend?” “Oh Friday night was awesome! Off the chart! We partied until 4am!” “Cool! So how was Saturday and Sunday?” “Recovered from Friday – didn’t do anything”. So here’s a question – which one of those two weekends was the better one?
Nothing in this world is ever black and white – there are always some shades of grey (or indeed other colours). When we’re not OK perhaps we need to reframe our mindset. So being not okay is OK, but if we can see how we can make our “not ok” just “okay” then we’re starting to be OK – and that’s enough.
There is a famous painting of the three vinegar tasters (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinegar_tasters) – each representing a different chinese belief path. Of the three the Taoist taster is smiling – recognising that the vinegar tastes exactly as it is supposed to. I mention this because years ago I listened to a someone who was trying to promote this. The example they used was that you had trodden in some dog poo – but rather than get upset you mentally said to yourself “I like this”. Now, years later and I still struggle to see how anyone can be happy about this – but perhaps now I can see some light on this. Whilst it’s OK to not be OK (I trode in poo and now my shoes smell), it’s OK because I can do something about it (clean the shoes, or even get a new pair… although that’s a bit wasteful. After all, it’s only dog poo).
So what am I saying? It’s not OK to not be OK? Well, it depends on the mindset of the person. You can feel not OK – that’s a perfectly acceptable feeling to have, but the question that is then raised is – so what are you going to do about it? It may be that the answer is just to wallow in self-pity for a bit, then make a cup of tea and just get on with life; it may be to phone someone and get some help (and this is a perfectly acceptable response). From a positive mindset perspective, just remaining not okay is not okay; nobody expects that people can go from a negative perspective to a positive (an Eeyore to a Tigger to use an example), but you can at least go from negative Eeyore to neutral Eeyore, or even perhaps push to a Pooh (or even piglet) level of neutrality.
I realised as I was writing this how many analogies there are for emotional states – which is interesting in itself because it reflects that we do all have different attitudes to life; different perspectives depending on situations and circumstances. Whilst the infamous Leopard may have it spots, so we have ours – our responsibility is how we want to show those spots off.
It’s OK to not be OK; but it’s better if we can just get ourselves to OK.
A friend of mine posted a question on Facebook last week “name two things on your bucket list”.
Some people responded with items; I said that I was fortunate that didn’t have a list and that I was happy in the now.
In hindsight, I realise that this response was a little trite, so I gave it a little more thought. There are places and things that I have never been to or done – I’ve not been to Japan (but would love to go), I’ve not flown a plane as a pilot (more on that in a bit) and I’ve not been SCUBA diving outside of a swimming pool. That said, the list of things that I have done is (in my own opinion) amazing – challenges that I have completed, locations that I have seen and the opportunities to go to some amazing places. Some of the holidays I’ve been on were sold as “holidays of a lifetime” – so by that reckoning I’ve had multiple lifetimes already.
I also recognise that realistically I’m not a young man any more and that to some extent the “end” is probably closer now than the “beginning”. Typically, this is the driver for most people to create the bucket list; the response to what is the mid-life crisis of “what have I done with my life”.
Personally, I have a love-hate relationship with lists; I create them a lot (because I forget things) but I also worry when I haven’t crossed anything off them. So, the bucket list would be a huge problem – unless I actively did something that would cross items off the list. This then would drive the issue with bucket lists… when I am unable to complete the list I would probably look at the list and think “oh, I wish I’d…” and regret is not a positive thing.
Instead, I’ve taken the approach to take the opportunities when I can and not lose sleep if for some reason I can’t. Earlier I mentioned flying a plane. When I was a Scout, I went away for a weekend to get the Glider pilots badge. Over the weekend we learned all manner of things, but the high point was to get to sit in the pilot’s seat and actually fly. A few Scouts did get up in the air, but sadly for me the weather changed, and this became something that never happened – fortunately for me they gave me the badge anyway. Through Scouts (and from holiday opportunities) I have since flown in “proper” planes and have been flown in a helicopter (across to Lundy Island and over the Grand Canyon), but not in a glider and certainly not ‘driving’. But the reason why I’m telling this tale now is because I think it sums the reason up for not having a bucket list. I didn’t get to fly, which is a shame, but I do have a story to tell about the Scout badge I was given for not flying – and in some ways I think that’s a far more interesting story!
Ultimately, it’s the realisation that tomorrow is promised to no-one; and so, we should take opportunities as they present – and let go of the ones we couldn’t take – so that ultimately, we won’t say “I wish I had…” but instead “I’m glad I did…”
But before you all ask me questions about “Well we don’t have a chimney, how does he get in?”, “Isn’t that trespass?”, “Under Data Protection can we see the list?”, “What grounds do we have for appeal?” and other fun things, let me explain.
The big friendly red suited Santa came into being in the 1930s, thanks to the drinks company Coca-Cola and the artist Fred Mizen. That said, the artist Thomas Nast had drawn a black and white version in 1881 and you can see strong parallels between the two. Before then, there wasn’t a definitive Santa figure – but was someone drawn from a number of different pagan and christian backgrounds. Some might align Claus with the Norse god Wodan as he led the Wild Hunt through the season of Yule, others might align him to the Dutch figure Sinterklauss. The name Saint Nicholas was in fact a Greek bishop from Myra.
Saint Nicholas was also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker, and is the patron saint of so, so many things (you can read about him here), but it was his gift giving that brings us to the here and now.
I decided to write this blog as I’d seen on social media that someone had been asked by their 11-year old child if Santa was real. They had been told by some of the other children and the child had wanted to know “the truth”.
I saw a post in December that said their were four stages of Santa:
You believe in Santa Claus
You don’t believe in Santa Claus
You are Santa Claus
You look like Santa Claus
As I said before, I like to think that there is such a thing as Santa Claus – and that actually there is the potential for Santa to live in all of us. Whilst there is that Karmic book of Good and Naughty, the spirit of Santa is one of benevolence to our fellow people. It’s about the magic that comes from this time of year – the fun, laughter, decorated trees and the sharing of food. Whilst the presents are a part of this, they shouldn’t be the focus – after all, it’s not the season of “I hope it’s not socks”.
So if you do think that your child is moving to stage two (and obviously too young for stage three), then there’s no right time – but I think it’s not about “lying” to the child. This is a tradition that has spanned back many, many hundreds of years, with a fascinating array of sub traditions which have mostly fallen by the wayside (things involving shoes and and pieces of coal spring to mind).
I certainly think that there’s plenty of time to grow up and just treat each day as a normal one. Until then, do you want to be part of Team Santa?
(the diagram above will link to a PDF version of the map, but no walking instructions)
Key and walking notes:
GREEN numbers are the walking tour
BLUE numbers are optional diversions
YELLOW Arrows are other things but will take you off in a different direction.
As a general rule, it doesn’t matter which side of the road you decide to walk down – just take care when crossing the road as the cyclists will weave between the taxis and buses.
And whilst I have stuck to the main cardinal points (North, South etc), London is slightly twisted, so NORTH should be North West, EAST is North East, SOUTH is South East and WEST is South West.
Start at Bond Street Station (1) and make your way to Oxford Street. First, turn LEFT (WEST) and walk down to SELFRIDGES (2). There are some Christmas things inside and there is a christmas shop too.
Diversion 1: If you continue down Oxford street you will arrive at Marble Arch. The Winter Wonderland Fun fair is just opposite on Hyde Park.
Back on Oxford Street, head back (EAST) towards Oxford Street. The lights down New Bond Street (3) are quite pretty too. At the Junction of Oxford Street and Regent Street (4) you will turn right (SOUTH) onto Regent Street
Diversion 2: Turning left (North) here will take you to the BBC Radio and TV station. It is visible and generally only takes a couple of minutes to get there. The Regent Street lights do extend all the way up here and as the roads are quieter this may be a better location for the photos!
Back heading South on Regent Street you will arrive at LIBERTY (6).
From here you can either: Continue down Regent Street until you see the sign for CARNABY STREET, OR: Walk along Great Marlborough Street around LIBERTY and onto CARNABY STREET.
This year’s lights along CARNABY STREET (7) are lyrics from the Queen album Bohemian Rhapsody. Walk SOUTH At the end of Carnaby Street, turn RIGHT (WEST) onto Beak Street and rejoin REGENT STREET. Follow this round to the lights of PICCADILLY CIRCUS (8)
I’ve made a note of REGENT STREET SAINT JAMES’S (9) because I thought the lights were quite pretty – and also because:
DIVERSION 3: there is a Christmas tree where the road intersects Charles II street. (10)
DIVERSION 4: From Piccadilly Circus, walk WEST along Piccadilly to Fortnum and Masons
DIVERSION 5: Continue to Green Park Station and catch the No. 9 Bus. It will take you past the Albert Hall and onto Harvey Nichols and Harrods, which look quite impressive.
From PICCADILLY CIRCUS (8) head EAST along Coventry street (12) to LEICESTER SQUARE (13) where there is a Christmas Market. Just before Leicester Square, by the M&M shop is the Swiss clock; if you can catch it on the hour you will be rewarded with an amazing chime sequence!
DIVERSION 6: Just North of this is Chinatown which is quite interesting to see too.
From Leicester Square, continue EAST and onto the CHARING CROSS ROAD. Turn SOUTH and follow this round to TRAFALGAR SQUARE (14).
Couple of fun facts for Trafalgar Square:
In the North corner(by the statue of King George IV) are the reliefs for the official imperial measurements
The Equestrian Statue of Charles I in the roundabout is the centre point for all measurements to London
What was the smallest police station in London is still here, although it’s now a cleaners cupboard (it’s the round structure in the South east corner)
The lions paws are actually modelled on cat’s paws (Landseer had never seen a lion)
The crossing lights to the south were changed in 1992 as part of a Pride celebration and were never changed back.
This is possibly a useful end place for the walking tour. From here you could go:
Under Admiralty Arch and along the Mall to Buckingham Palace
North West along the Strand and up to Somerset House (where there is an ice rink)
East along Northumberland Avenue, walk across the Golden Jubilee Bridges, cross the Thames to the South Bank (where there is another much larger Christmas market).
South along Whitehall, past Downing Street and the Cenotaph and onto Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament