My Best Mate from School

I was reminded this week what a small world we live in. My eldest son walked into a pub and saw one of those photo collages that you see on the walls sometimes. You know the type – full of faces of regulars from the past and present. Images I would imagine, of trophy-winning football teams, darts triumphs and pool tournament heroes. Imperfect portraits of punters who have invested heavily in the livelihood of whoever owned the pub at that particular time. Anyway, my son looked at the photos and said out loud, a little excitedly, “My Dad might be in one of those…” An older man, same age as me in fact, said to the young man in front of him, “Who’s your Dad then?” “Paul Hatcher,” came the reply.”No way! I went to school with him. He was my best mate.”

My son was understandably surprised by this minor revelation. Not by the fact that I had a best mate at school of course but by the fact that he had somehow stumbled upon him in this very small bar in my home town.

Photographic evidence was produced and before long, they were both waxing lyrical together.

Why do I share this little story at all? Because, in a sentence, I was touched when the said Best Mate called me to inform me of this random rendezvous and we had the longest conversation we have had for many, many years. To hear him describe me as his “Best Mate” was a lovely testament to our genuinely long and lasting friendship. The fact that we have not spent any time together for the past twenty odd years suddenly seemed irrelevant. We’ve both been busy doing our own thing and yet to hear him speak like that proved yet again, how powerful a childhood friendship can be.

He was the consummate athlete – brilliant at any sport he bothered to pursue. I remember introducing him to squash when we were much older and wondering how on earth he could beat me so easily in his first ever game!

When we were eighteen, we went to live on a kibbutz in Israel, where his big brother was already establishing himself as a well-respected member of the community. I stayed for seven months while he stayed for a while longer. I then went travelling around the U.S. and Canada, eventually moving to London, and we slowly but surely lost touch, save for the odd exchange here and there.

Jim & I in Israel

For some reason, which if I am honest with you, I am still processing right now, just hearing him describe me as “my Best Mate from school” has provoked a response in me that is I suspect, giving me a whole fresh perspective on life. I have always considered him as my “Best Mate from school”, so hearing me say that out loud does not change anything. For many years, we were like brothers. We worked for the same newsagent at the local train station, delivering newspapers and when he got bored of the best job, I took over his coveted position of selling newspapers, sweets, and cigarettes (yes, cigarettes when I was only fifteen!) from the tiny kiosk on the London-bound platform. That was where I learned how to give change from a twenty pound note for the Daily Telegraph, The Sun, 20 Rothmans, a box of matches and a Mars bar in less than ten seconds!Jim & I

We played endless games of tennis at the local park throughout the summer holidays, his Mum bought our house, we lost count of the number of sleepovers we had until they morphed into all-night party sessions with a wider crowd of others, as we got older and worked and played increasingly harder.

He is one of the most naturally sweet-natured people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and I will always consider him one of my closest friends – however long it takes before we sit down together and remember life as it once was. Which reminds me, I really should go to that tiny pub and double check if I am in any of those photos.

And the moral of this story? I think you know already.

Memories are Made of This…

Apparently, there are three significant things that begin occurring when you start getting old. You begin losing your memory; you begin losing your hair; and the third thing is…I’ve forgotten!
Just to be clear from the outset here, I do not feel like I am getting old, even though I am most certainly, albeit rather reluctantly in the middle-aged category, despite my youthful looks and energy!
I have always been fascinated by the things we somehow remember as opposed to the stuff we simply forget. I remember watching a documentary many, many years ago about first memories and the typical age from which you can recall certain things. Afterwards, I tried to recall my very first memory and it was this: I was sitting in a high chair and there were a few people in the room. Someone was approaching me with a cake that had a lit candle on it. I checked in with my Mum and assumed it must have been my second birthday (the documentary said the average earliest memory that can usually be recalled is around age two.) I asked her, “But I could only see one candle on the cake. Did you lose the other one?” She replied, “No, of course not! It was your first birthday!”
I was impressed to say the least. The fact that most days I may go upstairs to get or do something and by the time I arrive there, I have completely forgotten why I went in the first place, or worse, come back down without even realising I’ve forgotten all about the original reason I went upstairs in the first place does not of course negate this brilliant feat of memory recall.
Where I do still genuinely excel is in the category of photographic memory. Now I don’t claim to be able to memorise telephone directories or reel off twenty-five digit codes a la secret agents old and new but I do recall with consummate ease familiar car number plates to such a degree that I will recognise a friend’s car instantly and in the past for fun, have called that person to enquire why they are speeding or chopping lanes so randomly. And pre-mobile-phone-address books, I would know virtually every contact’s number I needed without consulting my hard copy address book or Filofax. Perhaps this is where my memory works well with repetition, I forget.

So I have a small challenge for you as you consider your memories and the hopefully happy collection of images, smells, names and numbers – both recent and distant.

What is your favourite ever memory?
When was the last time you created a memory to even begin rivalling that favourite?
What memories have you yet to make?
How long will you give yourself before you forget your desire for those yet-to-be-made memories?
Making Memories

“Mindfulness” is all the rage right now and no doubt some are becoming increasingly cynical about the pressure to be so focussed on “being in the present moment” that it is very easy to miss the point altogether. What if we ditched that term and simply called it “Memory Making”?

How the Words of a Dying Man Could Save You

Today I listened for more than an hour to someone who was recently diagnosed with an inoperable, terminal illness and has been given only weeks to live. To be honest, I had never heard of him before one of the marketing experts I follow sent me an email about his situation. Persuaded by a close friend to deliver one last webinar, (an online seminar in case you’re unfamiliar) I listened to it live just this afternoon and was taken aback not so much by his material, because as both he and his friend made clear from the introduction, “What you will hear is not new but coming from this unique perspective, allow what you hear to be thought of in a new way.” No, I was taken aback by his willingness to make himself so utterly vulnerable, with emotions exacerbated by morphine and yet, still able to offer great wisdom in a way that truly resonated with me partly because of his use of a journey as a metaphor for life, which I love to ponder a lot.

He was extremely honest about the mistakes he had made and the things he is thankful for. In honour of his courage and genuine commitment to helping others, even during his literal dying days, the only other things I will post here today are the questions he posed for us all to consider and a link to the webinar itself, should you wish to listen to the recording.

His name is Mike Seddon and his friend helping him to deliver the webinar is Dov Gordon. If I didn’t think it was worth your time, I would not of course, have written this blog today. At the very least, I highly recommend you take time out to reflect on the five questions he got us to seriously consider:

1. “What’s My Why?” & “Am I Living It?”

Mike_and_Dov2. “What Does Success Look Like?”

3. “Am I Enjoying the Journey?”

4. “Am I Hanging Out With the Right People?”

5. “What Would Happen to My Loved Ones if I was No Longer Around?”


Safe is Risky

So Wimbledon is upon us once again. One of my favourite times of the year. Also, undoubtedly one of my least productive times! As I look back over the years I have watched this wonderful tournament, it has got me thinking about some of the greatest showmen in this beautiful sport. 

My favourite player ever was the super cool Swede, Bjorn Borg, who won the Men’s Singles title five times in a row in the late seventies. Of all the players of that era, Borg arguably solicited more cries of “Oh I say!” from the equally legendary commentator Dan Maskell than any other. I was almost in tears when he finally lost in the 1981 final to John McEnroe. 


Borg was a completely unique player. I can barely recall ever hearing him speak (he must have done press conferences I guess but perhaps I wasn’t interested in what he had to say as a kid) but the focus was always on his amazing ability to buck the serve and volley trend which was still dominant back then. He had a mystique about him that was almost mythical and his utter brilliance on the court and relative silence under pressure was his show if you like. I remember he had a tradition that from the first day of Wimbledon every year, he stopped shaving and so by the time, he lifted the trophy year in, year out, he would sport a classic blond beard alongside his long, rock star-like hair. It was a long time before anyone captured my heartfelt support again, until finally, the ultimate showman from Las Vegas itself, Andre Agassi blazed his way onto the scene.

Andre Agassi

So what is it about the showman? They say the public loves an underdog and yes, I guess we do. But we also adore a showman who displays scintillating skills – however inconsistently – that mesmerise us. In short, they are the sporting equivalent of our favourite TV and movie heroes who take us away to a world where anything is possible. Most of all, we love a showman who has learnt how to be consistent in the midst of their almost supernatural brilliance, because they provide us with even more occasions to celebrate than we imagined possible. People like Ronnie O’Sullivan in snooker, Andre Agassi, Rafa Nadal. Contrast these guys with others who won even more trophies but who somehow, relatively soon after their initial burst on to the scene, appeared to win repeatedly with almost robotic precision. So much so, that for many of us, there was very little to love. People like Steve Davis and Pete Sampras, or Michael Schumacher from Formula 1 racing.

The best tennis players in the world almost invariably practise what is known as “percentage tennis”. That is, a wide variety of shots that they know will serve them well overall, so long as they play their normal game. The very best players of today’s game like Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray aka The Big Four consistently play their percentage tennis but are good enough to take it up a level if they are losing or in a very close struggle against each other, and they can do so with some extraordinary shot-making and still win the crucial points they need to clinch victory.

What is fascinating however, is when a showman (let’s call them a “showplayer”) finds himself playing against one of the The Big Four for example. The only way they can have a chance of winning is if they play to their strengths. That is, non-percentage tennis. Shots that most players wouldn’t dream of attempting, unless forced to do so. This of course, is the complete opposite strategy to the top player. The French currently have these showplayers in spades and have always had one or two around at the same time. Henri Leconte was a fabulous example in the eighties. Yannick Noah was another, and the last Frenchman to win the French Open in 1983. Today they have Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Gael Monfils. They are like musketeers with a tennis racket and on their day, can beat anyone in the world. But this is where sadly, they fall down. Their brilliance is exquisite to watch but their inconsistency forbids them from achieving what their potential promised when they began their careers.

Jo-Wilfried-Tsonga-007In a match last month at the French Open, Andy Murray found himself up against yet another flamboyant Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy. The commentator, a former champion himself, Jim Courier, began to explain the dynamics of what this is all about, “Murray is the house and Chardy is the gambler. Chardy has to throw the dice because that is the only way he can win. They don’t keep building casinos because they think the gamblers are going to come out on top, but some of them do get the roll of the dice.”

So what of the Samprases and Davises of the sporting world? They knew how to focus on their work and perhaps that was the crucial difference when it came to total achievement by the time they retired from their chosen field. They saw it as their work, not merely a fun way to earn tons of cash and lap up the adulations of endless females. Sure they were not as entertaining as the other guys. But then they were not there to entertain primarily. They were there to win. And win they did. A lot. So much so that you could argue it even became a bit boring. This was one of the reasons why Steve Davis earned the nickname Steve “Interesting” Davis. During the nineties, when Pete Sampras dominated for much of that decade, I actually got bored of watching him win yet another consecutive Wimbledon Men’s Singles title. Three stroke rallies or less with the same guy lifting the trophy was not my idea of good sport, let alone entertainment.

For us mere mortals who have to carve out other, less glamorous, yet equally creative ways of earning a living, being entertained (when we’re not watching our afore-mentioned heroes!) and simply making a life for ourselves, we have to make a decision. Do we choose style or substance? Safe or risky? To win or to simply enjoy? Can we not have both? I think we can, if we choose wisely. As one of my favourite authors Seth Godin says, “Safe is risky.” Just ask or rather, watch the showplayers at Wimbledon.

Weeing to Win at Work!

I arrived a tad early for a meeting in Canary Wharf, London yesterday, and needed to use the toilet. The place in question was a nice restaurant called The Pearson Room, which is part of the Reebok Sports Club. The kind of place where fast-paced, high pressure bankers go to try and relax for an hour or two.

The toilets are impressive for one reason and one reason only. Directly above the urinals, the owners have installed a car racing, video game. Perhaps these are relatively common-place nowadays and I simply need to get out more but I was mesmerised instantly. I remember years ago, hearing about video screens inside toilet cubicles in Tokyo but I’ve never seen any myself. I don’t even like racing games like this. I never go to arcades and I am certainly not any kind of gamer at home. But this was something different. For the first time in my life, I actually wanted to stay at the urinal for as long as possible! If I aimed to the right, the car veered off to the right and likewise, if I aimed to the left…you get the picture. And then, just as I was beginning to take note of the speed, distance covered and all the other factors that are designed to heighten one’s enjoyment of such trivial pursuits, I began to run out of my personal, renewable, recycled, hybrid fuel…


Then it was over. I’m laughing to myself even now, wondering how on earth this could serve as any life lesson at all. It did made me think however, about the ever-changing world of our working environment, and then later that same day, I read yet another article in the Evening Standard about the “future of work” and how the drive for greater productivity is taking on more creative guises than ever.

Apparently, the UK achieves 30% less productivity out of its typical workforce than the U.S., Germany and France. Everything from what we still call “normal business hours” to where we actually carry out our work is up for grabs. Innovative firms are providing on-site conveniences such as free lunch orders, sleep pods, never-ending fruit bowls, musical instruments, pool tables and even, yes you guessed it, video games! Modern office buildings are being built that include roof terrace wining and dining, boutique bedrooms for those extra long deadline-defining days and spa treatment rooms to make it even easier to work, rest and play all in the same location.

creative office space 2

Companies like Google and Apple of course, have been doing this sort of thing for years and it’s precisely because of their enormous success that others are trying to adapt. Alongside this, there has been the increasing trend for people to work from home and dictate their own working hours accordingly. Whilst this has been welcomed and indeed, can very often generate more productivity, this latest round of ideas is all about trying to bring people together in the workplace. The key component behind this thinking was revealed by the single phrase. “Great people love working alongside other great people, and understand that successful teams are far greater than the sum of their individual parts.”

So how can we adapt accordingly, irrespective of whether we work from home most of the time, or we’re office-based, or on the road a great deal? Here are some personal ideas that come to mind:

  • Variety is the spice of life so try and mix it up in whatever way you can.

  • If you have a team of people who work for or report to you, how can you inject some fun into their normal, day to day?

  • What would your perfect day of work look like and how can you try to create anything that gets you near to that more often?

  • When thinking about the design or layout of your individual or group workspace, what else could you add that would help improve the overall productivity?

  • What would the females like to see in their individual cubicles?

modern toilet cubicles

You’ve Got Talent Part 2

A few years ago, I heard a fantastic speaker at a conference I was attending. The kind of speaker who one minute has you in fits of almost uncontrollable laughter, and the very next minute, pauses the way that a true professional (or total natural) instinctively knows how to. One of the many things he talked about that I have never forgotten is how he had no weaknesses. It sounded outrageously arrogant of course until he broke the pause with “but I have plenty of ‘non-strengths'”.

Subtle but I believe extremely significant shift in emphasis.

We all have talent right? But we can’t all sing. I for one, cannot sing like Susan Boyle, or anyone half decent for that matter. At age eleven or twelve, I was politely asked to leave the after school singing group in front of the entire class. The teacher, a very strict disciplinarian, was moving around the sound-proof music room, hunting down what she clinically described as the “howler in the room”. She inclined her ear down to my shoulder and the game was up. The truth is, I was only really interested in the girls in the group, not the music or singing. My lack of authenticity was bluntly and categorically exposed on the spot.

After the years of counselling following that traumatic expose (I’m joking of course; thankfully, children of the 70s were made of harder stuff!) did I ever sing again? Of course I did. Usually, only in front of an audience of one, and that was not always a human. I don’t consider my singing a weakness. But it is certainly a non-strength.

What is the lesson here then? If you want to unearth your true talent, you simply have to ask yourself one or two questions like, “What do I love doing?” Or “What am I actually really good at?” “What do other people tell me I’m good at?”

If for some reason, even those questions fail to unearth the thing that has thus far eluded you then ask yourself this. “What would I absolutely love to do?”


Acknowledge your non-strengths and from now on, call them precisely that. We all have weaknesses of course but for some of us, it helps to address them differently, especially if when you think about it, you could reel off a rather long list of them!

None of this necessarily has to do with your job or business but it could be. Who knows? Focus on your strengths and find a way to fill your life with those things, or that one single thing that makes you come alive. It is incumbent upon all of us to make the effort to find out what it is that we love to do. More often than not, that one thing will be something that after some initial practise and honing (depending on what it is will determine how long it will take to get really good at it) you not only love doing but you do it with the sort of consummate ease that almost makes you feel guilty. Some people call this operating in the ‘Grace Zone” – that place where you know that you know, this is part of your core being and that is why it comes so easily.

You’ve Got Talent Part 1

Okay, I admit it, I am a massive Britain’s Got Talent fan. And the reason is very simple. Despite all the dross, the time-wasters, unattractive strippers and a whole variety of other acts that I could happily live without ever seeing; I absolutely adore those moments – and there are usually at least one or two in every series – where a somewhat nervous, even trembling figure takes to the stage in the midst of uncertainty, sometimes even downright cynical, premature disapproval from the audience and then… whoa!

What a moment of utter surprise and joy when that person opens up their lungs and bellows out an incredibly divine singing voice, or a dance that leaves you completely mesmerised, or the magician who leaves you gasping for any clue as to how he or she did what they just did.

Arguably, the most famous example of this came in 2009, when a rather eccentric, middle-aged lady from somewhere in Scotland walked on to the stage and announced her name. Susan Boyle defied the vast majority of the total venue and TV audience (including yes, that poor, somewhat foolish, young woman who appeared to visibly sneer before a single note had been sung) and delivered the finest and undoubtedly most surprising audition ever heard, anywhere. I don’t need an excuse to remember that magical moment but in case you do, here’s the link. And look out for Ant’s wonderful remark to the camera after those glorious first few notes.

I believe we all have talent. You have talent. I have talent. The problem is often how to unearth it and then an even bigger problem is how to nurture and develop it. In Part 2, I will elaborate on why it is crucial to focus on your strengths but for now, here are some questions for you to consider:

What makes you come alive?
If you didn’t need to get paid, what would you absolutely love to do for a job or have as a business?
Who do you respect and admire in the marketplace the most and why?
What would you most like to achieve as a result of your ideal work?
What is stopping you from pursuing the thing you’d most like to do?

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads.
Erica Jong

Change is Here to Stay


I recently coached a group of corporate executives on the subject of developing resilience when going through change. During my preparation, I was reminded of just how much choice we have when it comes to the nature of change. We can choose to embrace it. Or we can choose to fight it. The problem with the latter approach is it achieves nothing more than the illusion of defiance. Change happens whether we embrace it or not. And if we don’t, we simply get left behind, wondering where on earth our long lost “Land of Nostalgia” has been transported to.

That is not to say that all change is good. In recent years, I have had to deal with and adjust to massive change that many would argue has not been a good thing at all. But therein lies the secret of change…

…Change is a constant, both positive and negative. Like the sun rising and setting, it waits for no one. Our circumstances may not change the way we want them to and almost invariably, not as fast as we would like either but I’m not really thinking about that kind of change right now. I’m thinking about the kind of change that we didn’t choose. The kind of change that is going to massively affect our work place, or our personal space, the place where you are most comfortable and are very or at least pretty happy with thank you very much. The place where you have hung that oft-quoted adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The trouble with that thought however, is that no one said it was broke in the first place. It was simply time to change, even if no one in particular planned that change.

Speaking of which or rather, whom. Who decides this stuff anyway? Some may point to the Creator of the Universe, or some great architect of constant change; others may claim it is all in the karma that surrounds us; still others, it’s all random acts of kindness as well as plenty of not-so-kind stuff going on. Either way, assuming by now, that you don’t really want to be one of those people who are stubbornly digging in their heels, desperately seeking solace away from the change that is relentlessly looming over you, here are some ideas that might help you in your transition – however unattractive the prospect of change may currently feel.

  1. Don’t let what you do know stop you from discovering what you don’t yet know. Even if you do really know that the status quo in any part of your life is actually really, really good; never, ever take it for granted. From there, never stop building, investing, exploring and discovering stuff you didn’t know before.

  2. Visualise what you want rather than worrying about what you fear. This is huge. I heard someone say recently that he could never be a hipster, so instead, he had decided to become a hopester. I think that is genius. Choose to be a person who is always hopeful. Obviously, we can all hope for whatever we want but if we don’t actually do anything about it, the hope will eventually expire and we will simply end up hopeless. Which is why the act of visualising is so important too. However you choose to process your dreams, without goals, they will always be just that – dreams.

  3. Be confident in your ability to ride out the change; especially if no one expects it to be a pleasant journey. Think bereavement, separation, divorce, bankruptcy. It is difficult indeed, to even consider embracing stuff like that but this is where the power of change can be demonstrated most powerfully. Think about it. Your life, however insignificant it may feel to you, is still a part of history. That is, the story of time and space and all that has ever taken place. So make it your goal, your driving ambition with every last ounce of all that you have within you to finish your story well. I don’t have space here to elaborate but in today’s world it takes a couple of clicks and you can spend hours being inspired by endless stories of the good and the great, as well as the lesser known and almost anonymous heroes who have all somehow, against seemingly overwhelming odds made it through in the end.

  4. Let go of the stuff you can no longer control and focus on the stuff you can, namely your attitude and determination to overcome. There is an ancient phrase “more than a conqueror” which rendered in the original Greek, reads hupernikao. I used to tell all three of my kids when they were very young, “You can make it! You are hupernikao!” until one day they said it was simply too embarrassing hearing that in front of all the other kids at the school gates or the sports field! overcoming-obstacles-quotes-1

  5. Don’t shut down your emotional response to change but don’t be controlled by your emotions either. Depending on the level of trauma involved in your change, if you don’t let your emotions out on a regular basis, they are going to come out anyway, invariably when you least expect or want them to. In other words, if you need to do some serious crying, and in you’re in a safe place to do so, don’t let the curse of the stiff upper lip win the day or else you will find the tsunami of tears will  break out one way or the other, on a day of their choosing and you won’t be prepared.


Passion Gets the Job!

Rafa Nadal passion

Way back in the early 1990s, there was a superb tourism commercial for Spain. Lots of fast paced music and rapid montages with a single sentence spoken at the end…”Spain; passion for life.”

I have never forgotten that forty second film and it isn’t because I absolutely love Spain. The last three words are what it is all about for me. Passion for Life. Fast forward to just the other day and I was sat at home watching the latest TV instalment for Alex Polizzi fans – this time a search for a Head Chef to take on the demands of a gastropub in the Forest of Dean. The basic format of the show is there are three rounds of interviews – largely comprising cooking some pretty amazing dishes – involving three chefs in each round. So, nine applicants, whittled down to a final three on the last day. The chefs, ranging from experienced men who have been cooking all over the world right through to a few very young men for whom this could represent their opportunity to step up and make their mark in the world.

The owner, a very passionate, animated, even rather cantankerous man of Greek descent, was clearly looking for someone who would share his passion for the rich, local flavours that could be conjured up in such a way that their local customers wouldn’t know what had hit them.

In the end, it came down to two relatively young men with enormously contrasting styles for the owners to choose between. One had worked in restaurants practically his whole life, having been taught by his father, himself a head chef in their own establishment, and had then gone on to work in some fine dining places himself, including running his own restaurant. The other contender was from a small Welsh town, with not many nearby culinary attractions but had been beavering away, developing his skills to the point where he had created enough confidence to even apply for such a role as this. Both were clearly fantastic chefs and both badly wanted the job. But one wanted it more badly than the other, and it was his obvious passion not simply for the food he was preparing but also the opportunity and the prize that awaited him should he win the competition that separated him from the other man. This other man said he wanted the job, and even did his best to convince the owner when the latter asked to speak with him privately – desperate to suck out whatever passion he could see into, despite the ostensible laid back attitude that was on display.

When all was said and done, the dishes had been cooked, the full service evening had been delivered and had been enthusiastically consumed by the invited guests. It was now time for the decision and despite the natural talent of the man who had been cooking his entire life, and the consummate ease with which he appeared to do everything, the job went to the lesser experienced, you could even argue, less naturally talented chef. And the reason was very simple. The owner needed to see at least the same level as passion as he had for his creation in order to trust that he was leaving the all-important food in good hands.

But this young man from Wales who demonstrated passion also did something else which the more naturally gifted chef failed miserably to do. He followed the brief to the letter and this included detailed costings of every dish he had to prepare because he understood that you can have all the talent, skill and yes, even passion in the world but if you haven’t got the numbers right, it aint going to work as a business. The other chef was so ridiculously laid back that he literally guessed the cost of each dish. He may well have been accurate (although his figures were challenged at least once) but it was the lack of diligence that cost him the job, as well as his perceived lack of passion.

Diligent chef

An old proverb says “diligence is man’s most precious possession” and this is arguably true. But hard on the heels of diligence has to be passion because that combination alone can supply you with the tools with which to turn your passion into something truly amazing and beautiful for all the world to see and enjoy.

And for any of those old enough to remember it or even those who would simply love to know why on earth I have never forgotten that film, here is a link below. It could be the best forty seconds you spend today!


The Difference Between a Fox and an Email

The other evening, I was out with my youngest son, and our two year old dog, called Molly. Molly is a cross between a Lurcher (who are invariably made up of all sorts in themselves) and a mixed Terrier. That combination of breeds simply means that fundamentally, as a sight hound, she will seek to run like the wind after anything that moves. Anything that is, that looks remotely like a fox, squirrel, and especially a cat. She will bark, growl, whine and/or strain at the lead to such an extent that for a couple of seconds, she is walking down the street on her hind legs only! When it comes to other dogs, she is bizarrely selective. Some dogs can provoke a “Scooby Doo” response where her legs are desperately trying to enable her to take off but are simply paddling the ground; while others will barely generate a second glance.

Fox crossing the road

Well, on this occasion, she saw a fox jogging across the road and pulled so hard on the lead that not only did she almost pull my son over, but her leather collar snapped and she was off to the races! Fortunately, the modern day fox is still very cunning and hid somewhere, and after just a few minutes, Molly very obediently returned to us once she was satisfied the fox was nowhere to be found.

And what, you may well be asking, is the point of this little anecdote which, if you are not a dog lover, carries precious few, relevant lessons. Well I beg to differ. Because the next day, I decided to perform a brief experiment on Molly. (No animal was harmed during the course of this experiment of course!)

I was walking along the street with her alone this time. Instead of reassuring her that there were no foxes behind the bush, or cats, or squirrels for that matter; I decided to try something different. I have to confess that if I’m a tiny bit bored, I will occasionally tease her by saying, “Where’s the fox/cat/squirrels?” Upon hearing anything like that kind of question, Molly begins whining and performing her now highly amusing hind leg-walking, circus act. But this time was much more interesting. Instead of mentioning foxes, cats or squirrels, I said, “Where’s the blog?” Followed by, “Where’s the email?” And finally, “Where’s the hookoo?” Her reaction to all three of these words (and yes, hookoo is a brand new word I have just made up) was identical to her now normal reaction.

What does this prove you may ask? Well apart from the obvious lesson that a dog can’t tell the difference between a fox and an email, it does of course prove that it has nothing to do with the actual word but rather the tone of voice used to communicate that word. If I had simply been talking to myself (which I am known to do from time to time, especially if I’m really bored) and happened to mention out loud, “Where’s the email then?” referring to some long-awaited email that still hadn’t shown up in my inbox, would Molly have started walking on her hind legs? I don’t think so.

What can we humans learn then, from the hopeless ignorance and overreaction of many of our canine friends? I would like to suggest at least five things in no particular order:
1. It’s all in the tone – I have spent a lifetime trying to learn this and it just may be that a dog has finally given me the revelation of how significant this can be in every aspect of life. The way you say anything is so much more important than even the words that come out of your mouth.
2. Assuming most people are able to distinguish between certain words better than most dogs, it is always worth taking a breath before reacting to what you think you heard. You never know, it may be that the tone wasn’t wonderful but the actual word the other person used wasn’t meant to be as offensive as it sounded. After all, you don’t really want to lose your lead or rather, your rag, and tear off down some dark alley do you?
3. It’s out of your control anyway – the vast majority of the time that Molly wants to chase down another creature, she is not able to because of the lead and the weight holding on to that lead. The irony is, when she is let off, out in some field or on the beach, she simply runs over to play and either spends a few minutes chasing around, or being chased, or simply returns from an indifferent encounter. So recognise when you have no control and don’t give in to an overreaction that will serve no one except the pharmaceutical companies when you are forced to take medication due to the cumulative effects of stress.
4. Enjoy the walk – wherever you happen to be and whether you have certain constraints on your movements (time, financial, physical, emotional etc.) or not, take time to enjoy the walk and become one of those people who genuinely “Walks their Talk”. Eventually, you won’t have the lead holding you back and guess what, you won’t want to waste the time you have by barking after any individual who happens to be annoying you. You can learn to appreciate others (warts and all) and simply have fun chasing, even sniffing (but not in the way that dogs do!) or rather, learning about other people.
5. Invest your energy in the good stuff – I love watching Molly racing up and down the beach, trying to catch those tiny birds that skim along the surface of the breaking waves. By the time we get home she’s ready for a good, long nap, having poured out all her energy on something that she certainly enjoyed but was never going to come away with anything except her own contentment.
Learn to invest in things that will profit your life properly, not synthetically. What I mean is this: look for opportunities that will generate a potentially rewarding return on your emotional intelligence, not necessarily your material possession. Take time out with someone you’ve been meaning to catch up with forever. Enjoy rather than endure some things you have to do, simply because you realise it’s going to feel better during and especially after it’s finished. Most of all, understand that the best things in life are not things at all.