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! ūüôā

 

 

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!

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!

 

 

 

 

How to Deal with People Judging You

“I’m not interested in who judges me, God will judge me one day. That’s the only thing I’m interested in. What other people say about me, I couldn’t be less interested in.”

This is what Jurgen Klopp, said recently during a press conference, after being asked what he thought about being judged on how many trophies he may or may not win at Liverpool Football Club.

As you know, I am interested in football and the various lessons we can learn from it.  I have loved watching Liverpool since I was  a young boy. Now I find myself not only enjoying their highly entertaining brand of football but also loving the things that their manager, Jurgen Klopp, says at press conferences.

What I love the most however, is the way he treats his players, staff and the incredibly loyal, passionate fans.

He is famous for his exuberant celebrations, his sprints down the length (and on one occasion across the pitch) in order to embrace his ‘boys’ who play their hearts out for him, week in, week out. I think he acts like a wonderful father towards his players, who looks for any and every opportunity to celebrate what his children have achieved. He alway protects them, even when they make a mistake. He never exposes them or publicly rebukes them, unlike how Jose Mourinho would often do…before he got fired.

He does not deny that he will be judged. He doesn’t deny there is pressure in a high profile position like his. His secret I believe, is he doesn’t let it get to him because that is not where he places his focus.

“For me, it’s no pressure (to win trophies), it’s only opportunity.”

So my question to you as you think about this is: How do you think God (or any other word you may choose to use) will judge you? And then, how can you allow that knowledge to liberate you from the fear of judgement that may and often does come from your fellow human beings?

 

Frank Spencer Eat Your Heart Out

I have a confession to make…

I’m really not very good at anything that constitutes DIY. I really wish I was for all the obvious reasons. I mean I can put up a shelf, construct flat-pack furniture sometimes and just about change a plug.

So, with the simplest of tasks, I can do it myself but it will take time. Otherwise, I invariably make mistakes. I would amuse you with a catalogue of stupid errors but the truth is, my memory very kindly deletes them pretty regularly.

The example I am about to provide you with is not even truly a DIY task – I don’t think. You don’t call in an expert to bleed your radiators do you? Our radiators have been playing up of late – not good, given the sub zero temperatures we’ve been experiencing in our part of the world.

My son’s radiator was the worst culprit and we had already bled the radiator once but it was not functioning properly again. Time for me to step up and deal with this on a day when I had the spare time to do so.

I grabbed a flat head screwdriver (I do know what one of those is).

The last time we had bled this particular radiator – there had been some water involved… I remembered this, and so I prepared carefully and brought a small, glass dish. I moved a couple of bits of furniture out of the way in order to have a clear view as well as provide a specific space in case the water tried to repeat this act of escape. I felt rather pleased that I was taking precautions and not recklessly rushing in to this task.

Satisfied that everything was in place, and having taken the time required for me to avoid making any mistakes, I proceeded to unscrew the valve. Air soon began to hiss outwards, which I knew was a good sign. For some reason however, I wasn’t convinced this was enough and vaguely recalled that¬†the presence of a dribble of water would be an indication that the radiator was probably working properly again.

I loosened the valve further. Then a bit further again. Another revolution with the screwdriver and then…

Whoosh! The valve flew out with the same force of water that occurs when you put your finger over the end of a hosepipe (I have had that experience too).

Fortunately, the valve landed straight into the glass dish I had expertly positioned with my free hand to catch any excess water.

“No problem, it’s all under control,” I thought to myself.

I fished around for the valve and attempted to put it back into the tiny hole – and get the screwdriver on the end of it as quickly as possible.

At the same time, I had been using one of my fingers to plug the hole – for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, I could not keep this up for more than a few seconds due to the high temperature of the water. It was at this point that I feared that my fingers would get irreparably scalded… what was I to do?

The valve did not stay in the hole long enough for me to get a fix with the screwdriver and shot straight back into the dish.

Whilst all of this was going on and any kind of control was slipping from my grasp, the glass dish was filling up to capacity – rapidly.

Now what?

For a split second, I thought of those traumatic scenes in¬†Titanic¬†where the water is relentlessly pursuing Jack & Rose as they desperately try to escape. I pulled myself together – gave myself an internal talking to¬†and reached up to open my son’s bedroom window.

The dish was literally about to overflow – but I had seen the light… I took the dish and threw the water out on to our drive. And onto my car.¬† I congratulated and comforted myself that at least it wasn’t going to land on anyone.

As the splash reached my ears, I realised what I had actually done. What an absolute idiot!

The valve had still been in the glass dish!

Now my fingers really were going to need medical attention! Either that or I had to find something, anything to plug the hole at least for as long as it would take me to run downstairs, out on to the drive and hopefully, find the valve and pray it hadn’t somehow bounced off the exterior wall and crept in through the front grill of the car.

First, I ran to the bathroom to get a towel. Then I ran downstairs to get a bucket; might as well get two things while I had left the room. I used the bucket to capture the water while I tried to figure out if the towel would work.

In between trying to position the bucket in order to capture the water (I challenge any DIY expert to do this easily) and shoving the towel over the hole, I had to empty the bucket out of the window at least twice before I was ready to make my move to retrieve the valve.  The whole time, aware that I could be washing the valve further and further into the outer reaches of the drive.

Eventually, I was at least partially satisfied that the towel would indeed stem the relentless mini-tsunami for another few seconds. I made a dash for it and ran outside, ensuring I put the front door on the latch, lest I lock myself out and slowly watch the house become a real-life disaster zone.

Miraculously (I did pray on the way!), I spotted the valve on the drive within seconds and raced back upstairs, clutching it in my hand.

Even more miraculously, I was able this time, to push the valve inside the hole and screw it back on in record time. I say record time but of course, as I explained at the beginning of this confession, a normal person would have fixed the radiator, run a bath and be halfway through Lawrence of Arabia in the amount of time it had taken me to get this far; or so it seemed.

Crisis finally over, I began the clean up operation in my son’s room, all the while wondering whether I should tell him anything at all about this. I figured it would make a pretty funny story and good job too, because by the time I had almost finished, save for a couple of dirty towels and a bucket and mop at the bottom of the stairs, he walked in through the front door and asked what had been going on.

The life lesson for anyone who needs it (I freely admit, I am probably the only one who needs the lesson),,,

Wait ’til your wife gets home.

Just so there’s an extra pair of hands you understand…

Nothing to do with who knows the most about ‘bleeding radiators’…

Frank Spencer

The MeAttitudes

Blessed are the arrogant, for theirs is the kingdom of their own company;

Blessed are the superstars, for the magnificence in their light, we understand better, our own insignificance;

Blessed are the filthy rich, for you can only truly own that which you give away, like your pain;

Blessed are the bullies for one day they will have to stand up to themselves;

Blessed are the liars, for the truth can be awkward.

The words above are written by Kendrick Lamar, the American rapper and are sandwiched between two tracks on the new U2 album Songs of Experience.

When I first heard them, I loved the way that a small part of Jesus Christ’s famous Sermon on the Mount – known as the Beatitudes – had been adapted for our times and in such a way that you cannot possibly listen to the words and not be challenged; just as the original message was a challenge, as well as an encouragement, to the people 2,000 years ago…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
¬†¬†¬†¬†for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Reading these verses again now makes me think of how relevant this message is today Рirrespective of what you believe or think about Jesus. And irrespective of what you believe or think about Kendrick Lamar, the man has delivered an extremely insightful, dare I say, prophetic perspective on so much of how the world we live in today is controlled.

Me, myself and I are usually the only ‘three-in-one’ people we often consider in our daily push for prominence. Like so many things in life, we all too easily miss the good stuff because we are too consumed with possessing what we think will make us happy.

Which leads me nicely to the original Greek meaning of the word¬†blessed.¬†The Greek word¬†makarios¬†means to be blessed, to be¬†happy to the degree that you are so completely content, that you do not need anything else at all. The island of Cyprus was once referred to as ‘Makarios’ because it was believed that if you were fortunate enough to live there, you would never want or need to leave its shores.

So, my question is this: Where do you currently stand in relation to the MeAttitudes… or the Beatitudes? And are you happy?¬† Is there anything from either list that you aspire to?¬† Why not take a few minutes to contemplate these powerful verses?

P.S. If you want to listen to Kendrick’s words, they come at the end of the track¬†Get Out of Your Own Way¬†and then go into the intro to¬†American Soul¬†from the album¬†Songs of Experience¬†by U2.

It’s Not Always As It Seems…

My wife and I have been away for a few days this week, celebrating our first wedding anniversary as well as her 40th Birthday.

Whilst enjoying the stunning views from a hotel bar (see below), my wife suddenly exclaimed and we both observed something rather unusual…

St. Ives 2

…to our left, the gentle waves were clearly lapping towards the right, but strangely to our right, the waves were gently lapping towards the left – moving in the completely opposite direction (see below)It took us some time to figure out why this was so. We moved in our seats so that we could try to look around the central pillar but couldn’t ever see the point at which the water moving in opposing directions met.¬† We talked about the possibility of it being a sort of mirage or optical illusion… we tried to work out the science and guessed it might be something to do with currents?

PicShells

Do you have any idea what the answer to this scientific/visual anomaly was?

My wife’s second exclamation of the evening was the solution and we fell about laughing for a fair while, reflecting on what ‘donuts’ we were.

The image on the right was – in fact – a reflection! It was not a window at all, but a mirror!

In life, there are many occasions when things are not as they seem.

There was the once famous anti-racism police poster from the 1980s below Рread the caption for details.

anti-racist Police Poster

Then there is the story told by the late Stephen Covey of him sitting behind a man on a bus who appears to have no control over his young children. Finally, he asks the man to try and keep his children quiet. The man politely apologises but explains they have all just left his wife (their mother) in hospital, where she is dying of advanced cancer.

I am sure that we all have our own collection of stories where the situation turned out to not be quite as we first thought.

It may be a message you have received and for some reason, it comes across as rather hostile instead of the warm and friendly tone you are accustomed to. Or perhaps you see a situation unfolding and you make a decision based on your skewed perception.

Things are not always as they seem and, invariably, we may do well to reserve judgement until we know for sure in which direction the water is really moving.

The School Must Need Fumigating!

This week, most children and teachers went back to school, and not a day too soon most parents will declare!

Most schools however, opened a day early for an INSET day.

If you’re anything like me, the first time I heard about this was when my daughter was due to start school. I was convinced people were saying, “Tomorrow is an¬†insect¬†day.”

“The School Must Need Fumigating!” I said to myself and believe it or not, a long time elapsed (I can’t remember precisely how long) before I realised that it is in fact, INSET (In-Service Education & Training) day.

Since then, I have had the privilege of going to my former secondary school to speak about the benefits of creating a coaching culture in school on an INSET day, and there were definitely no insects there – at least not in the main hall!

I found this short video entitled What Do Teachers Do on School Inset Days?

Sadly, no one confessed to what I used to think they do.

Perhaps I really was the only one?

 

Divide and Be Conquered

I was in a team meeting the other day and a challenge to the banter that was being banded about came from a new member.

All it came down to was this: in a previous organisation he had worked in for some time, the staff members joked a great deal about “the guys in sales…” (or whatever department was different to theirs) and before long, he realised that the entire organisation or so it often appeared, was very divided in their thinking.

Silo mentality on steroids some might say. At least that is where you eventually end up.

pit-rase-against-race-religion-prejudice-ahainst-prejudice-divide-and-conquer-we-must-not-let-that-happen-here

Everyone in the team meeting took a few seconds to digest this challenge. and whilst there is always going to be someone else in another department, we thought carefully for a few minutes about how we could adjust our language.

So instead of something like, “The media guys really need to get their act together because their lack of speed is a real problem for us…”

How about, “What can we do to help the media guys so that we are all on the same page?”

Choose to unite as much as possible or divide and be conquered.

It’s not a difficult choice really.

From Uganda with Love

There’s something special about travelling to a very different country and I have always loved it. Whether it is the sheer chaos of taxi drivers literally falling over themselves to grab your bag at the airport arrivals or the desperately poor condition of the roads, or the seemingly endless army of roadside vendors attempting to make a living by selling their wares to what must be an average of maybe one car in a hundred?

Uganda has all of these exciting, terrifying and desperately sad signs and so much more to make you feel like you truly have landed on another planet. It is hot and humid all year round, hovering around 30C.

Not only are the roads littered with potholes the size of bomb craters but there really are no ‚ÄėHighway Code‚Äô rules that anyone abides by. On a single lane two way road for example, if a driver is running out of patience, they will simply create a third lane ‚Äď dodging the oncoming traffic.

The ubiquitous motorbikes (affectionately called ‚Äúborda bordas‚ÄĚ due to the suggestion by the locals that they were universally used by people crossing borders into Uganda) that serve as an alternative taxi for many people are even worse. If they get bored (maybe this is the real reason they are called borda bordas!?) of sitting in the perpetual traffic jams, they will simply ride up the pavements ‚Äď usually reserved for pedestrians but woe betide if you should try to protect this piece of concrete for yourself and your fellow walkers. They will simply ride right up behind you until you move aside through fear of them catching your heel.

Kampala traffic

On my first night in Kampala, my friends and I were walking down the said stretch of pavement and whilst on this occasion we were not accosted by a motorbike, we were confronted by the sight of a baby girl, simply left in the middle of the pavement. It was impossible to tell you this baby girl belonged to, whether a parent or guardian had simply popped into a shop and would be back soon or if the truth was a whole lot worse.

I am here in my capacity as a part-time fund-raiser for my favourite charity, Viva. Next time, I will explain a bit more about what they do and why I have come to Uganda.

For now at least, let me leave you with my favourite bumper sticker ‚Äď of which there are an enormous variety ‚Äď which said: ‚ÄúNo condition is Permanent‚ÄĚ.

Wherever you are this morning, be encouraged that just as the people of countries like Uganda, there is always a way forward.