I Didn’t End Up Where I Expected

Apologies for the slight delay in delivering this post to you today.

The truth is, I felt a bit bereft of ideas so I decided there was only one thing for it…

A morning walk up on to the South Downs, despite the frost and freezing temperatures.

I’m so glad I did it, even though there was a point, on a long, drawn out steep incline, where  I began huffing and puffing a bit – realising I am not quite as fit as I was the last time I came here in September. Back then however, I was accompanied by a band of brothers who love walking together once a month.

Somehow, it is simply easier when you have people in front and behind you.

But it didn’t take long for the glories of rural, winter scenery to help me maintain my motivation.

I pressed on, sensing that it wasn’t too much further before the ground would plateau out and the worst part of the walk would be over.

It is always well worth the extra effort of course. If only for the views across the hills that begin to reveal themselves. The ageless fields in the foreground, the magical mist hovering over the land beyond and the clear blue sky providing a beautiful back drop.

Once I got to the top of the hill, I was instantly reassured it had all been worth the effort. An appreciation for the beauty of creation – right on my doorstep – and the resolve to do this more often echoed in my mind.

I then began the descent – but down a different route, although I felt sure, very similar to the one we had all taken in September.

I recognised some of the beautiful country houses and was convinced where I would end up.

But no, it was not to be.

As in life itself, you often learn many, many things about yourself and others and you think you are going to get to a certain destination.

Somehow, and you may never discover how, you end up somewhere different. It may be very different indeed to what you expected.

Or, as in my case this morning, I didn’t end up where I expected but it was only about a quarter of a mile to the east.

I doubt very much if there is anything significant for me in that slight miscalculation.

It didn’t hurt me, It didn’t upset me or annoy me. It didn’t even confuse me.

I simply accepted it.

I did however, walk a lot further than I think I would have done if everything had gone to plan.

I still don’t know how it happened.

Next time I may take a map or more likely, I will simply look for clues and enjoy the views.

 

Trust the Signs

On the first day in Tirana, Albania this week, I decided to walk back to my hotel for lunch. Partly because I wanted the exercise of a brisk walk through the city and also because I love the challenge of remembering a route.

I was staying in a new hotel for the first time and so was unfamiliar with the short drive to the office in the morning. I therefore paid much closer attention than normal in the back of the car, while we spent much of the time in the relentless, rush hour traffic of Tirana.

So, when it came to walking back to the hotel, I was up for the memory challenge!

It wasn’t that difficult to be honest. I had a pleasant lunch and then looked forward to the walk back – this time keeping a look out for the various landmarks I had taken even closer notice of an hour or so before.

What struck me about this exercise was that the landmarks – let’s call them ‘signs’ for the purpose of this blog – were not always obvious at the large junctions, where I had thought they might be. Or rather, I had tried to notice something at a certain junction but in fact, the ‘sign’ I did recognise came after I had made the decision to turn right for example, at a set of traffic lights.

The mural I had registered in my mind only appeared a bit further along the road – not at the corner.

If you’re anything like me, you want the signs to show up and point you in the right direction when you expect them or would like them to be there. You probably don’t know or can’t remember what that sign looks like but you hope to recognise it when you see it.

In life however, the signs usually show up when they need to be there – not necessarily when you expect or prefer them to be there.

Sometimes I find at least, you need to be prepared to go with your inner sense that “this feels right”. Soon after, you very often see that yes, it felt right for a reason. The sign you were hoping for does indeed show up – just not where you thought it would be.

With or without an active, daily faith, the reality is, we all have to live by faith one way or the other.

Faith in our subconscious memory, faith in our ability to find our way back, faith in that often dormant ability that enables us to be as good as we can be – if we learn to trust the signs.

 

 

 

When I Woke Up, I Couldn’t See!

One morning, when I woke up, I couldn’t see.

I called out to my Mum (I was only about eight years old at the time!) who came in to see what the matter was.

It turned out, I had conjunctivitis. The nasty pus that comes with it had effectively congealed over my eye-lashes and therefore, I could not open my eyes in the normal way.

Imagine for a second, if you woke up one morning and the effect was permanent!

As Helen Keller famously said, “The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.”

At the beginning of this year of all years – 2020 – why not look around you and begin to imagine what could be a reality at some point during this year?

Could it be the realisation that your life is far more impacting than you previously imagined?

Perhaps the reconciliation of a relationship that you need to see happen?

Maybe that creative idea you’ve been putting off for so long has finally clambered its way to the top of your To Do list?

Whatever it is, let’s all do our best to ensure that when we look back on 2020, we can confidently say it was a year when we really pressed in to our vision for life and all that can happen within it.

 

 

“This Story Has Obvious Motion Picture Potential…”

I haven’t always had a study but now that I do, I never want to be without one.

Having only recently furnished it with a couple of pictures and most of my favourite books, it finally feels like a home from home.

A place of peace.

Somewhere to work, write and read.

 

As I embark on rewriting a novel I wrote almost twenty years ago, this is crucial for me at this time in my life. Needless to say, the original draft did not get published (even though one well known literary agency was initially very enthusiastic, while someone else in America offered me a contract with the unforgettable words, “This story has obvious motion picture potential…”. Sadly that ‘offer’ turned out to be a scam).

I eventually gave up on it and continued in my day to day life, occasionally wondering what might have been.

Recently however, I have been doing a bit more than merely wondering what might have been and actually returning to the novel that took me two years to write (early mornings before work and late nights after putting young children to bed).

I asked someone to read it and they eventually came back with some honest feedback, which confirmed what others had said, and made me realise how much I wanted to not simply leave the manuscript as it is, gathering dust, going nowhere.

Some things in life are better left alone. Acknowledge what they were, be grateful for the good they ushered in and then move on.

Other things deserve a touch of resurrection.

A fresh breath of life, perhaps with far more maturity attached. Maybe a more secure and stable structure could make a huge difference and who knows what that could lead to?

For me at least, I can apply that to the novel as well as my life in general.

What about you?

 

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!

 

 

 

 

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.