Category Archives: Life Challenges

Healing and helping the community

Over the weekend Dee has been working at a nearby Mind, Body and Spirit event.  It’s been a really busy weekend for her, with a lot of visitors at the event and a lot of interest in what she does.  There were some amazing stands, from painted stones to clairvoyance, from reiki healers to magnetic jewellery, from artwork to numerology.  I appreciate that this sort of event may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but please read on, as I think you may be as moved as we were by what I’m about to share. 

One of the adjacent stands to Dee was for the Chakra Project.  We’d been admiring the hand stitched wall hangings for quite some time over the weekend, and spoke to the man running the stand, a man called Shah.  The Chakra Project is run by his mother in the Kashmir region of northern India.

Wall hangings of different sizes, yoga mat bags and individual chakra pieces are just some of the items made by the project.
In that part of the world, young girls are apparently not often formally educated, their life choices tend to be limited and many end up illiterate and unemployed.  Essentially, the Chakra Project teaches young girls how to do needlework to a high standard, as they make these wall hangings in a mindful way.  It takes months to learn the skills and colour schemes required. It gives them marketable skills, it gives them confidence and belief in themselves, it gives them job prospects: in short, it gives them hope.  

To my mind, this is a remarkable project, and one that is worth supporting.  One woman – Shah’s mother – decided that she wanted to try to make a positive difference to many other women’s lives, and appears to be succeeding. She founded the Chakra Project and is very involved in it. I think that is simply awesome. 

Oh, and have we bought anything off the stand?  Yes we have, and here it is, in pride of place in our quiet room. It looks and feels like it was custom made for the space.  In a sense it was, because it’s handmade with love and care. 

What a difference a year makes


It’s only just dawned on me that on this day (of the week) last year, I walked out of the doors of the company I’d spent more than 21 years working at for the last time as an employee.  I wrote a little about it in this article, and thought I should perhaps share an update.  

What a year it’s been! I took a short break including a few days holiday in Prague with Dee, before starting with my new employers. They are about 1000 times smaller in terms of manpower than the previous firm, and the two environments couldn’t be more different.  

Working at a small, relatively new company, there have been so many opportunities to do new things, to try new roles, to let my imagination run riot to create new services and products which might give us the edge.  For example, I got involved in writing the “screenplay” then filming and appearing in some marketing videos.  I’ve been to new countries on business for the first time, none of which would have been possible at the last firm.  I’ve delivered public presentations, gained two new certifications including one as a teacher, manned a stand at trade shows, appreared on panels of experts at information sharing events, carried out pure consultancy engagements and a whole host of other things.  These were all new experiences for me.  

Looking back at last year’s article I can see that I felt some trepidation about the move. I was worried that I’d become instiutionalised, too set in my ways, and therefore of limited use to my new employers.  It was all very new and quite scary, a massive leap of faith in my own abilities, and do you know what?  I’ve never looked back.  
This move has been so positive for me, it’s given my career a good push, it’s boosted my self esteem and self confidence, and it’s given me back a feeling of enjoyment at work that I now realise had been missing for a long time.  Simply put, it’s been a positive, life affirming, invigorating change, one I’m extremely happy to have made. 

You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it

So what’s my point, I imagine I can hear you asking.  It’s this: if you think you’ve gone stale at work, if you think you’re unemployable elsewhere, if you think you can’t learn new things, or experience new challenges because you’re “too old” or “too set in your ways”, then I have news for you: it’s never too late to change, it’s never too late to  take on the new challenge.  Yes it’s a scary thought, yes it’s a big leap, but live your life, don’t just accept your existence.  

Be bold, dream big, and follow your dreams.  As George and Marty McFly both said in Back to the Future: “You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it”.

It’s good to be complimentary

Ever since the Scottish Independence Referendum, through the Brexit vote and now with another election looming in the UK, my Facebook feed has been filled with people ranting and making angry comments about all manner of stuff.  Not just about politics, but it seems like nearly all walks of life and all situations are represented in these rants. There seems to be so much rage, but why?  

So much of it seems to be about First World problems. You know what I mean – too much salt on their chips, not being able to find the right colour tie to go with their shirt, not being able to find the exact flavour of coffee they want in a store with 25 different types on sale.  
In the grand scheme of things, with poverty, hunger, lack of safe drinking water, homelessness etc globally, why are people sweating the inconsequential stuff, and why are they getting so angry about it? 

I’ve just come back from a trip to the Middle East, and one thing that struck me was that, irrespective of who I was meeting, people were unfailingly complimentary before the meeting ended: even the staff in hotels, car drivers etc were friendly and polite to a level which is unusual here in the UK – in my experience at least. What was odd – and bad I think – was that I found it so difficult to be as polite in return, particularly at the end of meetings. In the UK, behaviour like that is seen as “over the top”, “too much”, “sycophantic” or plain “ass-kissing”.

But here’s the thing. Why is that? What’s so wrong with telling people how much you’ve enjoyed spending time with them, how you appreciate them taking time out of their day to talk to you?  I’m getting better at it, but will no doubt have to remember not to do it here in the UK as it’s “just not done”.   Isn’t it better than calling people out on things like their looks, their fashion sense, their choice of music – whatever doesn’t meet your standards.  
A little kindness costs nothing, and it makes the giver and receiver of those words feel better. Surely that’s a really good thing? 

Is it a good time to call?

Back in the days before mobiles, texts and such like, nearly as far back as 2 channels and black and white TV, I was raised to believe that phoning someone after say 9pm or before about 8am was intrusive and rude. Worse, it typically signified bad news: the death of or critical injury to someone close.

I know that if I get a call out of those “normal” hours, I get quite anxious, fearing the worst.  It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it feels quite stressful until I answer the call.  


When staying in hotels, I’m always surprised when I hear phones going off in other rooms at all hours of the night. Does it mean that the participants are on different sides of the world? Or insomniacs? Or just need very little sleep?  The fact that I hear the phone ringing is enough to wake me and disturb my sleep, which is rude enough.

Whenever I’m away from home Dee and I talk regularly, but are very cognisant of the time difference. We speak and message just after we’re both awake, and just before we go to sleep, as well as at other times when we know we’re both awake. We have two clocks in the house, one showing UK time and one for the time zone wherever I am.  That way we can maintain as normal a conversation and dialogue as possible, without disrupting sleep.  It’s one way that we stay connected, that we maintain our close relationship, that we stay together.  Services like Skype and FaceTime also help with staying close, which has to be a good thing, right?  

Just because the world is an increasingly connected place, does that mean people should call whenever they feel like it, irrespective of time? Isn’t some down time, away from technology, a good thing, a desirable thing? If there was some way of setting your phone to not receive or make calls between certain hours, would that be a useful feature? 

I’m guilty of spending too much time with technology too sometimes, sitting with a really good book in one hand but distracted by the glowing screen of my phone in the other. I need to physically say to myself “put the phone down and read your book” but the temptations and distractions are huge. 

Maybe I’m getting older, and losing touch with how these barriers have shifted. If that’s the case, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to convince me that removing the social norm around phone calls is a good thing.  

How thought provoking do you want your films?

The other night Dee and I sat down to watch a DVD. It was the film Eye In The Sky, and we’d bought it on the strength of Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman being in it: it’s generally difficult to go wrong with either of them. We didn’t even read the synopsis on the back.


**** SPOILER ALERT! *** I’m going to talk about the film in a little detail now, so if you don’t want to know what happens, best stop reading now!  

The basic premise of the film is that the UK and US governments have been following known terrorists for some time and finally have them in their sights in a house in Nairobi, Kenya, and a Kenyan army force is on standby to try to capture them.  There is an armed drone in the skies above, and it is relaying images back to teams in the UK and US. 

The suspects then move to another part of Nairobi which is effectively a no go area for the authorities. Further surveillance reveals two men putting on explosive vests and preparing to move out into the population.  It is only possible to follow one target with the drone, so if the bombers move out there’s a choice to be made of who to follow. The drone targets the premises they’re in, and a calculation of likely collateral damage gives acceptable figures.  

Then, a young girl appears and sets up shop selling bread her mother has made, right outside part of the target building. The collateral damage calculation shows she is likely to die.  

And here’s the crux of the film, one which they draw out very well, looking for approval from various government departments, the military and all interested parties.  The question is: do you take the opportunity to kill known high level terrorists you’ve been chasing for 6 years along with two imminent suicide bombers who are likely to kill 10s if not 100s of people, but it also means an innocent young girl will almost certainly die? Or do you hold back, and save her life at the expense of unknown numbers of others.  

The film presents good arguments for both decisions, as there is merit in both. There are also arguments to be made against both. Things like – if they let the bombers walk, when they detonate their vests they will be blamed, but if the US and UK kill an innocent girl then they are likely to stir up anti-Western feeling. And where does the law sit on this, with two nations launching a lethal attack on the home soil of a third, friendly, country?

I wouldn’t necessarily rush to watch the film again, but it certainly provided a lot of food for thought.  What would you do? What choices would you make?

Remember the past


I’ve not seen much in the press or online reminding us that today, the 27th January, is Holocaust Memorial Day.  I know it’s the same date every year, but am surprised that there’s not been much about it in the media. Yes, there have been other stories, other news items, other events, but surely there should be more said and done to mark this day?  

I’d like to ask you to take a moment or two to read this story from the BBC website today.  It’s short, it’s simple, and it is a stark reminder that now, over 70 years after the event, there are still people alive who not only witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust but also survived them.

I visited Auschwitz in 2014: what I saw there still haunts me to this day. I’ve visited the Holocaust exhibition at the Imperial War Museum in London, and I’ve visited the Holocaust centre in Oslo.  I’m not Jewish, and I’m not using these visits as some sort of voyeuristic endeavour.  I’m just human, trying to figure out how one person or group of people can treat another like that.  I read about those times, about the events and the actions of men, to try to understand, to make sense of it all, and I can’t.  

I also can’t understand why more isn’t being said or done to stop such actions taking place again.   There’s a plaque in Auschwitz which says:

He who cannot remember the past is condemned to repeat it

I believe that was originally said by Santa Ana after The Alamo, but in these days where a US president is talking about building a wall to keep people out of his country, where there’s a suggestion of having a register of muslims in that supposedly secular country, that statement is more powerful than ever.  

From this side of the Atlantic, what we’re hearing from some in the US is similar to the rabid nationalism that emerged in the 20s and 30s and which finally gave the world the Holocaust. Far from looking to embrace the rest of the world, to be more inclusive, some in the US government seem to be moving to a more isolationist stance of “America first and stuff the rest of you”. I’m worried by this apparent approach, that the lessons of history, that the events which unfolded at Auschwitz and other camps across Europe, are being forgotten or ignored. 

The voters in the US elected an outsider, someone without any of the political baggage that many of the other candidates on both parties had, and that choice cannot be changed.  But those same voters (and those who voted the other way) can and should hold their administration to account, can speak out when policies or actions are being decided on which are not in the best interests of the world or which, worse still, disenfranchise, alienate and segregate others purely on religious, political, gender or other grounds.  

Just because someone doesn’t hold the same beliefs, or have the same ancestry, or skin colour, or whatever else, that you do, does not make them a bad person.  Whatever happened to “love thy neighbour” and “innocent until proven guilty”?       

Today, perhaps more than any other day, we must not forget where that road leads.  We cannot allow the Holocaust, or anything even slightly resembling it, to be repeated, ever.   

Remember the past: do not repeat it