A Tale of Two Old Men

The other day, I went in to my local Costa coffee shop. As my favourite coffee shop chain, I was very happy when I discovered that our nearest one is literally a three minute walk away from our front door.

Working from home on a couple of intense, ongoing projects meant that I needed a change of scenery to help with some ideas. To be honest, even if I didn’t need the change or the ideas, I don’t usually require an excuse!

I got my coffee and looked around for somewhere to sit. Thankfully, it was early afternoon and not too busy.

I was about to settle on a spot near a window when I saw an old man respond to another old man a few tables away. The second man had been speaking with someone else and they had now left. He called across to the first old man (are you still with me?) and invited him to come and sit with him.

I only took notice because the first old man I had seen accepted the invitation and was vacating an even nicer spot for me to occupy.

I had barely sat down when I noticed a small sofa was also now available and I rather fancied that even more. (It doesn’t normally take me this many attempts to get settled!) Whilst it took me further away from the two old men, I was able to observe them without appearing to be nosy.

I couldn’t and didn’t want to hear what they were talking about but a good one hour later, they were still busy chatting away.

Normally perhaps, I wouldn’t pay much attention to such things.

That is what people do in coffee shops isn’t it? Chat, catch up…

Discuss a variety of things with each other, make each other laugh here and there.

It is in fact, becoming increasingly rare and we all know why…

We gave someone a birthday card recently that said across the front:

Dance like no one is watching,

Because they’re not,

They’re checking their phones.

So, back to my tale of two old men…

I marvelled at how one minute, one old man can appear to be looking a bit lonely and the next minute, he is engaged in a lengthy conversation with another person of a similar age (I have no idea if they are friends, acquaintances, former customer/supplier or merely familiar pedestrians on a village high street).

Maybe as I get older, I am learning to appreciate such mundane but I believe marvellous small things.

Maybe, as Remembrance Sunday approaches, I am once again reminded of the sacrifice so many made on our behalf, and am therefore noticing my older, fellow villagers more.

I know that sounds rather random but it’s not really is it? Not when you take a moment to consider how much older generations have been a blessing to us.

Perhaps I was also being reminded by the two old men that no smartphone, tablet or any other future form of electronic distraction can begin to compete against a spontaneous coffee shop conversation.

Ever.

 

Sometimes it’s Good to Shuffle

It was the introduction of the ridiculously tiny iPod Shuffle manufactured by Apple that first got me thinking about it.

The clue is in the name.

Namely, that every now and then, I could allow the music I had selected to play in a completely random order – aka shuffle mode.

Many people of course, far prefer the order they have already chosen for their music to be played back to them.

I think I sit somewhere in between the two preferences.

On the one hand, I really enjoy the random nature of shuffle mode – not knowing what is coming next, or as some people have described it, like having your very own personalised radio station, with no commercials, no DJ presenter to ruin the flow.

On the other hand, even if I haven’t played a certain play-list for some time, my subconscious memory knows what track is coming up next, within seconds of the current one ending. I love this feeling every time it happens and it is not restricted to music play-lists.

It can be applied to journeys that have not been repeated for years.

Or TV documentaries, particularly about history or sport. I can be watching something and of course, the subject interests me (otherwise I wouldn’t be watching – I cannot stand TV as mere background noise!) but I may not have thought about the subject matter for a very long time indeed.

Earlier this year, I watched the fascinating series called Thatcher: A Very British Revolution. During the episode concerned with the Falklands War, there was an interview with her Defence Secretary at the time, and I instantly knew his name long before it came up on the screen – Sir John Nott.

How did I know that? He has not been in the public eye for many years and with all due respect to his achievements, he was not exactly a high profile politician and disappeared from public life just a few months after the Falklands War was concluded.

Is it my photographic memory syncing with a memory for names? Perhaps.

Whatever it is, I am one of those people who love it when I instinctively know what is coming next – music or man, woman, date or action about to be revealed.

I am not saying this is particularly rare. I think a lot of people experience this as part of accessing their locked vault of subconscious memories that is so brilliantly explained by Malcolm Gladwell in his superb book Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

What I am saying is this: Sometimes it’s Good to Shuffle.

In other words, whether it is the music you’re listening to or the way you go about your normal, everyday duties at work or home.

Why not mix it up a bit and see where that takes you?

And even better, put your music on shuffle while you’re at it! 🙂

 

 

A Birthday Treat to Treasure

It’s not often that you get to fulfil a boyhood dream with your own two boys.

Last Saturday afternoon, I was able to do just that by standing on the Kop at Anfield, home of Liverpool football club, and watch them win a thoroughly entertaining match.

It wasn’t my very first visit to Anfield. Back in 1995, Liverpool played Ipswich Town in the season that the latter were relegated. Unbelievably, Liverpool lost 1-0. It was very disappointing not to have heard at least one celebratory roar from the home crowd.

This time, I prayed it would be different. This time, I was standing on the Kop. This time, I had my boys with me and a lot had changed for Liverpool as a club since that cold. depressing January day in 1995.

Liverpool must have lost the coin toss before kick-off as they were attacking the Kop end of the stadium for the first half. Everyone knows they always prefer to capitalise on the passionate support of the Kop in the second half – especially if they are losing.

Five minutes before half-time, our dream really came true, when Sadio Mane scored right in front of us, to make it 1-0.

That gave us plenty to talk about during the break. Not that hadn’t talked constantly due to the sheer enormity of the occasion. This was a birthday treat to both Isaiah and David and the culmination of literally years and years of talking about “one day, we will go to Anfield and watch Liverpool play.”

One of my clients, Ali – to whom I will always be grateful – had managed to secure the tickets when they were released in July. Now, here we were, driving for five hours, then sitting in a Liverpool supporters’ pub a few minutes’ walk from the stadium, joining the increasing throngs of devoted supporters, hoping for a seventeenth Premier League win in a row.

Boyhood dreams. Where would we be without them?

I guess most of us have had boyhood dreams. Or girlhood dreams – even though you never hear women describe them like that as such.

The truth is I suspect, most of us have far too many unfulfilled dreams. As Denzel Washington has said on a number of occasions, “Dreams without goals, remain just that…dreams. And dreams tend to disappoint.” You can watch a brief video here of him speaking to some drama students about this crucial life lesson.

Goals of course, are what football is all about. and thankfully, this current Liverpool team are very good at scoring them on a very regular basis.

Leicester City – their opponents last Saturday – managed to score an equaliser just ten minutes before the match was due to end. This was not in the plan.

A draw is better than a loss of course but it is a big disappointment when you want to see your team win.

Liverpool won a penalty and then there was more drama as the relatively new VAR (video assistant referee) technology was checking to see if it really should be a penalty. To our huge collective relief, the penalty decision stood.

The whole of the Kop prayed and released their encouragement as Jame Milner – the oldest as well as fittest player in the squad – stepped up to take the crucial spot-kick.

We all stood, as we had done throughout the entire match. We watched as he ran toward the ball and calmly side-footed it in to the corner of the goal.

Anfield erupted pandemonium ensued on the Kop as everyone jumped up and down.

It’s actually not that easy to keep jumping up and down while you have each arm around the person next to you and they are doing the same on both sides. I thought I was going to crash into the plastic seat behind me as we all cheered, jumped, laughed and smiled.

It was enough to win the match and we were all so relieved.

Isaiah, David and I took our time leaving the ground, trying to take in all that we had witnessed. The fellow supporters on the Kop – young and old alike – this was their domain, their world. There were several people like us – not regulars but made to feel like one – as well as those who you could tell this was what they did every other Saturday afternoon.

It was indeed a birthday treat to treasure and hopefully, repeat in the relatively near future.

We couldn’t resist getting a photo together in front of the man at the centre of Liverpool’s revival – Jurgen Klopp – and here is a tiny clip of his unique form of celebration and thanks in front of the Kop and this time, we were there to enjoy it with him.

What dreams have you still got locked up, waiting to be realised? What’s the plan that could turn your dream into a goal to aim for and eventually become a reality?

If it’s anything like as satisfying as the one I’ve just described, the work involved will definitely be worth it!

Isaiah, my eldest son, made a lovely gesture the night before. He had ordered Liverpool football shirts for all three of us – from the era we each first started watching them on TV. I had not worn one of these since I was about nine years old. It even has a number seven on the back like Kevin Keegan! I never did manage to get a number on the back of my first one, so there’s redemption right there!

Hurry Up Or Else!

Last week, I was working with my friend Andrew in Albania again. During one of the sessions he was delivering, I was completely taken by surprise to learn that my primary ‘Driver’ is Hurry Up.

Some of you may not be at all surprised, while others may be completely shocked – especially given that I spend a lot of time encouraging people to slow down and find some healthy balance in their lives. And well, stop ‘Hurrying up’!

Living in the countryside is supposed to be all about ‘peace & quiet’ and a great deal of slowing down, so I am satisfied that we have made the right decision moving to where we now live.

There are however, regular challenges for someone with the Hurry Up ‘Driver’. Things like drivers (no pun intended) of all ages, driving extremely slowly, especially when they arrive at mini or even larger roundabouts. I have written before about the art of roundabouts and how so many people don’t seem to get it.

Well here in the Sussex countryside, there are many people who don’t get it.

I am however, coming round to believing that they are crossing my path in order to help me slow down.

Just yesterday afternoon, I went off in search of some duck eggs at a nearby farm my wife recently discovered. Alas, according to the owner, the ducks are primarily concerned with mating between now and April and therefore, supply is going to be a bit sporadic it seems.

On the way back home, I pulled up behind a queue of cars along the country lane. This time it wasn’t someone dithering at a roundabout but a long trailer ferrying a large tractor somewhere. The trailer was so wide that whenever the road narrowed even slightly, the driver had to stop and allow the oncoming traffic to pass by.

Talk about slow!

Thankfully, I was not in a hurry of any sort and I attempted to use this as a bit of test.

I am happy to report that I passed (according to my own set of criteria of course) and happily ambled along until the very considerate trailer driver pulled over, put his hazard lights on and allowed the by now, very long queue of cars to overtake on a wider stretch of road.

The more I think about it, the more I strongly fit the profile of a Hurry Up. I could give you more but here are just four examples of my symptoms of the Hurry Up driver:

always skip through the adverts and never watch live commercial TV if I can possibly avoid it (doesn’t everyone nowadays?).

I will always try to choose the queue (on the road or my feet) that I think is moving the fastest.

When I rode a bike, whilst living in London, I would see the lights turn red for the adjacent set of traffic and then peddle as fast as I could, to see how much distance I could create between me and the cars coming up behind me.

I became an expert in knowing precisely which part of the tube train to get on in order to get off, bang opposite an exit (at many different stations) and be away, ahead of the crowd.

I must add at this point that for a season, this was an essential skill due to my role of camera assistant/delivery boy for a Friday night arts & entertainment programme called This Way Out. After the final edit had been completed in the offices of the London production company, I would be given the video tapes to be used to broadcast across three sub-sections of the South-East of England.

Normally, this was a simple case of carefully guarding them in my bag, travelling by train to the broadcaster’s base in Southampton and handing them over to the relevant staff.

The tricky bit came whenever the edit took far longer than normal and I was still expected to deliver the crucial merchandise on time. Failure would mean no programme that night – literally!

Most people would find that kind of pressure extremely stressful to say the least.

I on the other hand, LOVED it! I would deploy all of my ‘natural ability’ (now known to me as my Hurry Up ‘driver’), fly past the crowds on the underground – this being rush hour on a Friday night. I would then grab the first train I could board. Then straight into a taxi to the broadcaster’s station, and finally, run into the building and hand over the tapes.

The adrenalin rush of completing my critical mission in time was a regular highlight of my working week.

That was in 1990 and if my memory serves me, the latest I ever got there to deliver the goods was perhaps half an hour before transmission. No doubt the station boss would have instructed his team to start looking for something else to put on everyone’s TV that night, just in case I didn’t make it.

What about you?

Just to prove to you that I am learning to slow down, here is a picture of a T-bone steak I ate whilst in Albania, where I was forced to slow down to stand any chance at all of finishing it…which I did!

And finally, the day after I got home, I went on an early morning five and a half mile walk with some friends, that thankfully began just three minutes walk away from my house. Here we are waiting for breakfast to be served – the perfect antidote to the Hurry Up ‘driver’!

Come Sun or Cloud…

Given that I’ve not long been back from an extended holiday period in Italy, I found it interesting that I should have the following insight in my own back garden only a couple of days ago…

It is very simple and frankly, I’m amazed it has never occurred to me before but then that is the nature of some thoughts – one day it simply dawns on you doesn’t it?

Anyway, the other day it was shaping up to be quite a pleasant sunny afternoon. So I took my lunch outside, sat on a chair and picked the bits of meat and cheese off my plate. When I had finished, I realised it was a lot hotter than I had anticipated and removed my shirt, soon followed by the t-shirt I had on underneath also. I rarely miss an opportunity to maintain a recently acquired tan!

I sat there for a good while, truly appreciating a bit of sunshine and thinking about a specific situation I am facing.

With my eyes closed, I was deep in thought when the sun went behind a cloud. At this point, I invariably grab my prescription sunglasses and ascertain how long the sun will be absent. If it’s a huge cloud, I normally go back inside and return to whatever I was doing before lunch.

On this particular occasion, the cloud was not too big and so I waited, sunglasses having been returned to the table.

Ever since I can remember (probably beginning in the famous, seemingly endless Summer of 1976) I have loved the feeling of the sun eventually emerging from behind a cloud and the sheer warmth landing perfectly on my closed eyelids.

It is almost magical and I love it every single time.

This time, when it came, I suddenly realised something that went deeper than my eyelids.

It went all the way to my heart.

Things can be extremely difficult when there are clouds in your life.

Sickness, relationships, business, work (or lack of). Anything that is causing delay and the ensuing frustration that follows can be tiring as well as a source of great stress and pain.

But when the sun finally comes back out, all the darkness can be left behind. Not always easily forgotten for most of us but bask in the sun long enough and it becomes easier to imagine a brighter future. Remembering how good it felt can help you to patiently wait for it to return yet again.

And it will. Always.

Come sun or cloud – and there will always be plenty of both – it is a wonder of creation. You can only do what you can do and then you simply have to wait.

(This is not my back garden!)

And the best bit of all is, you don’t have to go to Italy or anywhere else to have your eyelids licked by a ray of hope.

Simply look up, close your eyes and be encouraged when the warmth comes.

 

 

 

 

One of the Biggest Honours I Have Ever Had…

Almost one year ago, one of my best friends called me and said, “You know Tash (his eldest daughter) is getting married in Tuscany next August?”

“Yes, I know. You told me a few months ago,” I replied, instantly wondering why he was reminding me.

“Well what you don’t know is you’ve been on a shortlist of four and she’s been asking God for a sign as to who she should have to officiate at the ceremony.” he went on, my curiosity climbing higher and higher. “And she believes she’s had a sign and she wants you to do it!” he exclaimed.

I laughed out loud, and continued to laugh for the rest of that day. And for a good number of days after that.

The plan was as follows: the engaged couple – Rob & Tash – were going to ‘do the legal bit’ in a London registry office shortly before flying out to Italy, and then have a full-blown, Christian ceremony in the middle of the beautiful Tuscan hills surrounding the medieval town of Volterra.

I was highly flattered, honoured and massively excited at the prospect of marrying my friend’s eldest daughter and her beloved fiance, who I had not even met at this point.

I have led plenty of church meetings in my time but this was going to be a first, and I was thrilled at the prospect of such a task.

Come the day itself, there was all the usual last minute rushing around, changes of plan (except for the ‘main plan’ of course) and the wonderful sense of building anticipation.  In a bid to remain highly organised,  I wanted to remind the groom’s sister to step up to perform her reading as soon I had finished the prayer that would end my Address. I thought I spotted her, and so went to give her the gentle reminder.

“Remember to come up and do your reading as soon as I finish the prayer then, yes?” I quietly said to the increasingly nervous-looking lady. Her reply surprised me to say the least, “Er…I’m not coming up anywhere, and I certainly won’t be doing a reading,” she said in that hushed tone that carries with it an air of assertiveness that tells you there is no persuading this person.

It quickly transpired that this was NOT the groom’s sister. In my defence, I had only met the lady in question briefly the previous evening – but still, it didn’t bode well for other things I would have to remember… I comforted myself with the fact that it would be hard to make the same mistake with the bride and groom.

Thankfully, the service went wonderfully well. A truly beautiful version of Amazing Grace was played – the sound was heavenly and I was almost overcome with emotion before we’d even started!

Here’s a snippet of the Vows that my wife tried to video

Tash, the bride – a truly beautiful person, inside and out – and her dashing groom, Rob, were brilliant throughout. The day eased into the evening reception at a wonderful villa nestled in the Tuscan hills, just outside Volterra. The sky was one of those ‘Artist’s palette’ perfections that you truly marvel at – I paused during one conversation to point out the sheer beauty of it.

Truly moving, as well as hilarious, speeches were made; the cake was cut (after having been made before our very eyes); the stage was set for the first dance at around midnight, accompanied by a great two-piece band who had flown in from Canada, and the party truly began. At the point where they played Sweet Caroline, the bride’s entire family were all dancing at the front and, for a divine moment, it was as if they were in a kind of ‘wedding heaven’ – inviting anyone who was there to partake in their unbridled joy.

I’m glad to say that many of us did and it was genuinely wonderful.

I was further heartened by the several times people told me how lovely they thought the service had been, when normally they couldn’t wait for that part to end, and to get on with the reception.

Best of all, (for my ego at least!) the groom told me later on, that a number of different people had asked him in all seriousness, “Where did you hire that Ibiza rock star vicar from?”

Our two weeks in Tuscany before the wedding had obviously helped with the so-called Ibiza look and as far as the rock star bit was concerned, I was glad I had chosen not to hire a dog collar for the day.

It was definitely one of the biggest honours I have ever had.

Will it be a one-off? Probably… but I’m open to offers!

 

 

 

 

Develop and Deploy

Well, I survived. No, it wasn’t anywhere near as physically demanding as last year’s adventure in the highlands of Scotland but it was not easy either. I should have guessed by the slogan on the website ‘Develop and Deploy’. I am fascinated by so many military things but when it comes to actual deployment, I find myself wondering what on earth I was thinking! I had to constantly remind myself, ‘It’s not meant to be easy. No pain, no gain’ and all of that.

James Ray, the hugely likeable, charismatic but also naturally contemplative leader and founder of 4MUK– the organisation that organises these Extreme Character Challenges in the UK called it a “self facilitating journey”.

In other words, this was going to be a classic case of “however much you invest in the process, you will reap a huge personal dividend.”

As with before however, I can in all integrity, only reveal snippets of the experience as one of the primary drivers of all XCC experiences is the element of surprise and how you as the individual deal with that challenge that is suddenly looming in front of you.

I prepared as meticulously as I knew how and was feeling very high levels of excitement and anticipation all the way to Liverpool Street Station. After a couple of cryptic clues to oil the wheels of wonder and intrigue still further, we were finally given a platform number and six minutes to get on the train.

Despite my preparations however, a great deal of this went out of the proverbial window after the first RV point. I can’t exactly tell you why but suffice it to say, when I look back, a lot of life simply does not pan out the way we planned does it?

The question then becomes, ‘What are you going to do about it, and how can you work towards turning it around as a positive?’

As ever, there was a lot of walking but this time, it was mostly warm and sunny – always my preference – in contrast to freezing fog, wind and rain.

There was however, plenty of water involved and surprisingly, I loved every minute of it! Many of you will have hopefully read my blog about what it felt like to complete the Blenheim triathlon and how much pain that put me through. My attitude towards swimming has never been the same since and this held me in good stead over the course of this leadership challenge, put it that way.

Another obstacle that I think I can reveal to you was a herd of steers who didn’t take too kindly to our gang of five ushering them away from the gate we needed to access. Our elder statesman, Geoff (see below) took charge at this point and bravely came through the gate last and survived.

Along the way, we shared stories of our lives and the journey we have been on until this point. In the midst of the struggles and potential sources of stress, this is the ultimate leveller and instigator of true camaraderie, heart to heart intimacy and is always my favourite element of experiences like this.

In our group alone, we had a man who had raised £20,000 for international charities on two different occasions and is now energetically raising money for a defibrillator to be installed outside their local convenience store.

Another guy who survived being blown up in his military truck that landed nose down in the road and lost none of the men under his command. His latest mission is to help rescue 1000 addicts off the streets of Brighton.

Someone else who left their native country because some bad people were potentially coming after his Dad and therefore him also.

I could say more but that would involve revealing things that are not so obviously anonymous.

What I will say is we all went in at the deep end, shared our hearts as well as our hurts, and this always helps the next man to step up and be honest and vulnerable.

Finally, we stood in a circle of five and stepped into a metaphorical but equally, very real arena where we declared our dreams, plans and intentions going forwards and why they mean so much to us. Our small band of brothers then challenged us, forcing the questions that we often refuse to ask ourselves.

‘Why do you want it? How much are you willing to give? Tell us the plan and when you are going to deliver it? Is that realistic? Who else is going to help you?’

With barriers broken down by all that had taken place before, these men were driving each other deeper still, towards the destination that lies inside the heart of every man if he has the courage to confess it and dare to be challenged.

Develop and Deploy‘ is the headline for this experience and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who like me, needs that push to go further and for longer.

Where Did You Say We Are Going?

As a child, I am sure I asked this question many times – especially on a Sunday afternoon – when my parents would take my brother and me out on a “drive in the country”. So often, (at least during the football season) all I really wanted to do was sit in front of the TV and watch The Big Match.

I am now wiser and older, and well aware that those country drives almost certainly distilled in me a desire to simply get out and about, and I can say I owe a debt of gratitude to my parents for facilitating a genuine love of the countryside.

So when it comes to going anywhere, I almost invariably get pretty excited and nowadays, if there is any ‘non-essential sport’ on the TV, I can record it!

As I write, I am preparing to go an another XCC (Extreme Character Challenge).

Many of you will recall my epic adventures in Scotland last year that I aptly called The Hardest Thing I have Ever Done in My Life.

Well, in just a few hours, I shall be meeting up with a friend I made on that trip last year, and we are going back for more…

Thankfully, not more of the same. No, this time, we have been told to meet at Liverpool Street Station at 18.00 today. That is all we know for now. No destination details, nothing. We have been told to bring our passports but I suspect that it is a ruse to throw us off the scent – who knows?

This is billed as a Leadership Extreme Character Challenge with the heading – ‘Develop & Deploy’. We know there will be water involved at some point – hopefully looking down on it from the side of a boat as opposed to looking down at it from fifty feet above, before being told to step off backwards a la SAS Who Dares Wins!

Either way, I am truly excited, simply because of the inevitable anticipation that begins to brew in my belly. I love the sense of adventure, without necessarily having to be braver than I think I can be in order to enjoy the experience. The guys who are leading us know what they’re doing, and one of them is more than eighty years old!

Having said that, if you don’t hear from me in a week or so with a review, then send out a search party, beginning at Liverpool Street Station…

Dress For Where You’re Going Not Where You Are

Like all good, reasonably experienced Brits, I pride myself on being prepared for any weather eventuality. It feels like a huge risk to me to travel anywhere without a jacket or jumper – even if the current weather forecast is very warm.

Yesterday, I was in Edinburgh to see a client, and as usual, I expected the weather to be decidedly cooler than it was going to be in my native Brighton. For the first time ever, we sat outside and sure enough, it was truly warm – and I wished I had worn a short-sleeved shirt!

We spent our entire meeting in the beautiful sun – a first for me in Edinburgh.

As I relayed my slight regret at not wearing a short-sleeved shirt, my client had a familiar tale to tell about needing to grab a raincoat to avoid getting drenched on the way to the airport recently, knowing that it was very hot (with no rain!) where he was travelling to.

All of this reminded me of a long weekend trip I took several years ago, with a business partner at the time. He arrived at the Virgin Atlantic check-in desk, only to be told that his wife’s French passport wasn’t valid for travel to the U.S.

Agonisingly, they had to miss the flight, go to the French embassy and apply for a new biometric passport and hope against hope, get it issued the same day.

Just before they arrived at the embassy, he took his wife aside and they found somewhere to get changed. He told her they needed to “dress for where we’re going, not where we are.”

The shift in their mind-set – merely through dressing smarter – gave them the confidence boost they needed. In fairness, it was only his wife who needed the boost as my friend is an outrageously confident person almost all the time!

It was literally impossible to get the passport issued the same day – given the lateness of the hour but due to their persistence and sheer determination, they did receive unique favour and got the new passport first thing the following morning, and showed up at the conference we were all travelling to just a day late.

How about you? How does your dress code impact your behaviour or attitude towards others?

What do you think about when you get dressed to go somewhere?

Perhaps take a minute next time you’re preparing to go out and consider if you are focussed on where you’re going as opposed to where you currently are.

If you don’t tend to ‘dress up’ unless it’s absolutely necessary, why not turn it up a notch and see how it affects your outlook. If you’re looking for some extreme inspiration, then check out this interesting article on how men dress.

Conversely, if you feel lost outside of your suit or other, formal dress code, how about seeing if dressing down for the day injects a little more of a relaxed attitude.

Whatever your preference or style, why not simply take a moment to consider where you are going as opposed to where you currently are.

An Adventure in Albania

Since October, last year, a friend of mine and I have been delivering a rolling leadership development programme, every quarter, to two teams at a micro-finance bank.

I love every minute of it, and it is my privilege to help business-minded people become even better at what they do.

Our most recent trip took place last month and it was a bit different to all the other trips we have taken. For me at least, it was more like an adventure in Albania.

I arrived late on Saturday night as my usual Sunday afternoon flight had sold out.

One of the bank’s drivers, Ershan, met me at the airport and off we went for the usually half hour drive to the hotel in central Tirana.

On this occasion however, once we arrived near the outskirts of the hotel, there were police roadblocks, lots of noise, and people wandering around in a not very organised fashion. By the time we got to the hotel, it was way after midnight and the journey had taken twice as long as normal.

The hotel we tend to stay in is situated right in the middle of the part of Tirana that contains all the government buildings. What I did not know until the following day was that there had been anti-government protests raging since February and another major march was planned for the coming Monday night.

I was given strict instructions to not leave the hotel under any circumstances, as the march could turn violent as people were becoming increasingly angry with the government as the Prime Minister, Edi Rama, faced accusations of corruption.

On previous trips, I have walked from the office back to the hotel and it takes about twenty minutes. It’s a pleasant walk, and I love taking in the sights, sounds and smells of a very different, foreign city. Walking back today was not an option. Plus, the rain was relentless.

I got into the car and we set off for the hotel.

The driver, Baksha, is a pretty old man I would say but very alert and as it turned out, very fit. He was becoming increasingly frustrated with the road blocks, hindering the normally straightforward journey to the hotel.

Then I saw something I have never seen before in all my various travels.

A man was riding a bicycle but because of the rain, he had one hand on the handle bars while his other hand held on to an umbrella! Then I saw another man and another. Clearly, this is something they do in Albania.

(This is another man on a bike with an umbrella, taken while I was eating some lunch. It’s actually a screenshot from a video I made – hence the poor quality!)

We went round and round the various blocks, trying to find a sides street that wasn’t blocked.

Eventually, I suggested to the driver that he drop me off anywhere and I would happily walk. I had a rough idea which direction I needed to go in. He nodded but I had no idea how much he understood my walking fingers.

He found a car park and then got out with me. I tried to explain that I would be fine.

He was having none of it. He took off in front of me and I had to walk very fast just to keep up. The main roads were deserted – due to the roadblocks and the impending protest march coming down them I imagined. The rain was cascading down and bouncing off the retail awnings but he wasn’t interested in getting even a minor bit of cover under the new but admittedly, small umbrella I’d only bought the day before.

We passed some familiar cafes and I once again, said I would be fine from here but no. I was beginning to realise he must be under strict instructions to deliver me right to the door of the hotel.

We came to the government buildings that had black marks all over them, where Molotov cocktails had been thrown on the Saturday night, when I had struggled to get to the hotel. TV crews were everywhere, with their OB (outside broadcast) vans strewn with cables and booms all over the place. We went round the corner and the driver turned to look at me with a big smile and said, “Hotel!”

“Thank you so much!” I said. It is a very humbling thing when you want to express genuine gratitude but are severely restricted by a language barrier.

I hadn’t realised quite how close my hotel was to all the action. It was literally about thirty yards from where the march would be commencing.

Later that evening, all I could hear were the loud hailers no doubt condemning the Prime Minister for his alleged crimes. Firecrackers kept going off. At least I hoped they were firecrackers and not gunfire. I’ve been within close earshot of gunfire before in my life but that is another story.

We delivered the workshops later in the week at a different hotel in the coastal town of Durres, which was lovely. Amongst other things, we taught them the importance of story-telling as leaders. I modelled this for them, revealing some very personal things about me that none of them knew. I wanted to demonstrate that vulnerability is a strength – when the time and place is right.

After they had been given some time to prepare, they followed suit. They were honest, vulnerable but triumphant in the midst of what could easily have been written off as tragedy for some of them. There were some tears, laughs and by the end of the two days, my friend and I were emotionally exhausted.

The two teams had bonded like never before and loved the challenge. We had loved facilitating a safe environment and I don’t mean simply away from the protests of Tirana.

It was a wonderful time. The sun even came out for us during those two days in Durres, where before it had been as rainy as elsewhere. We shared a drink on the terrace at the end of the day and I took a moment to reflect on how very fortunate I am to meet and work with the wonderful people of Albania.