A dumping ground

Some people are equipped for tidying up. I’m not. I like the idea and the promised calm of order, but rarely summon the energy to enforce it. Evidently, it’s less of a priority. However, I’ve drawn together the contents of my soon-to-be-defunct posterous blog, and also my (even more) rarely updated http://ourmaninthenorth.blogspot.co.uk/ . It’s all here. Piled high. Mainly shit.

A challenge to change – letting go

People describe me as laid back, someone who takes this in his stride. And that’s true. I’ve certainly done a line in appearing unflustered. Throughout my life I have had quite some success with an apparent lack of effort, a certain ability to get right result without breaking a sweat.

I guess I’ve been lucky.

But I’ve also made my own luck to. My decisions have played to my strengths and I have relied on a mixture of self belief and a fear of failure to push me on – that knowledge that one had been bestowed with a little talent and the shame of squandering it before those who have invested.

There was a brief time when I thought the luck had run out, when I’d reached the limits of ability. However, what that time really told me was I can be resilient, even when bricking it about the future. Most of all, I learned that I spend too much time having to have things just so.

I admit it: I’m a control freak. I have to have things my way. But, right now, I live in times of change and changing me – freeing up my prejudices – must be an option at the very least. I must relinquish some control in order to gain more.

Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis.

A new old post – bye bye posterous

So, I’ve recently learned that posterous is on its way out. The consensus seems to be that Twitter, having bought it last year, hasn’t been able to get it to make the case against Tumblr and so has used the acquisition as a soft landing for the developers. Fair enough; that’s business.

For me, that means that my little corner of posterous will soon be confined to history. I can preserve it as a zip file, and other sites (wordpress, I guess) will, unlike the three little pigs, let me in. I was hardly prolific there (though compared to here, my output was up there with the potboiler master, novel-a-year Dick Francis – his son was a teacher at my school).

So, I’m back, at the first place I started my mini venture into sharing thoughts into the void. I’ve created bucket loads of internet white noise on that Twitter. I’ll divert my occasional longer thoughts (for they are few) back here.

A trip back in time to the future – the optimism of modernism

Like many people I’m a magpie. Indeed, we live in a world where we’re encouraged never to sit still, never be satisfied with where we are, with what we’ve got. We buy into that – often literally – with a generic acquisition of what’s new. What’s silver and shiny. 

I’m no different. One of the biggest things we buy into is nostalgia. We long for golden era that went before, for times we’ve only ever heard about, read about or, most dangerous, the stories told by those who were there. So, we look backwards while thinking we face forward.

And I’ve been doing the same recently in a renewed interest the aesthetics of modernism. An era most celebrated from the post-war to its clumsy segue into postmodernism. There’s almost an Ostalgie, as the Germans would have it, for that spare, designed look made so famous by the likes of Dieter Rams.

Living in a1960s house I’m challenged by the British love of living for the cold, noisy houses of the Victorian and Edwardian periods. And, as much as I might complain about our unwillingness to shake off the past, I’m going to do that by going back to that future of simplicity, light and optimism.

But there’s unlikely to be a parking space for my nuclear powered flying car. Progress, eh?

A gap in the trees – seeing my career differently

I’ve previously had some experience of the world of coaching before. At the time, I had a sort of lightbulb moment – it was OK again to think about me and where I wanted to get to, rather than where I had been. Hastily over the last couple of years I’ve built up a strong enough picture of me to start to create an idea of where I want to get to. At least in career terms. 

One of the features of life at work is that we tend to have afairly binary relationship with it: good or bad. Mostly, it’s somewhere in the middle and we slope off at 5pm to another evening of our lives. When it’s good, it makes the early rise bearable; when it’s bad, we want to be anywhere else. Much of the time, this revolves around the perception of change: when it’s good, we are happy with the status quo and when it’s bad it’s often as a result of change imposed on us. change is always there, we’re just not always able to se it.

When I left my last employer, I vowed never to leave go *from* a job, but to go *to* something else. With an attention span as short as mine (and even less desire to do something about that), I’m conscious that each day work is good is also the day it’s best to go off to something else. 

I spent an hour or so with a coach this afternoon and let out some of the contents of Pandora’s box. Amongst the self analysis and tricky questions, one thought appeared in my head: we need not to be looking at the trees, but at the spaces between them. In my mind, I see filtered sun and silhouetted trunks. 

In my heart, I know that change – wherever and whatever – needs to be something that I make happen. In my head, it’s down to me to keep moving my career on.

Aim for the gaps in the trees.

A whole year devoted to health – it’ s been too long coming

I am not alone in this. Neither am I original in the intent, nor the timing. Everyone’s at it. As the belt straining of Christmas passes into a new round of the Gregorian, so many of us are swept by the guilt of consumption and the wipe clean of New Year’s Day. We remember the exhortations of those whose virtue suddenly seems so much attractive through the fug of a hangover, and we resolve with a near religious fervour.

So, like I say, I’m not alone. As we ticked through the disappointment of that midnight, my plans were set in motion. It’s not exactly up there with the military 6 Ps (perfect planning prevents piss poor performance) but it will do. 

I’ve never knowingly been at a zero stateof fitness and weight before. Even some time out from playing hockey in my early 20s didn’t leave me in such a parlous state. But after the, frankly, shittest year ever on the health front for me and Mrs North, something has to change.

There are two objectives: get thin, get fit. 

For many determinedly and uncertain resolutioneers, these two are related causally. To an extent they are. But they’re also not. Eat well to get thin, train smart and hard to get fit. Oh, and fit this in round family life and a demanding job. That’s the toughest ask of all.

My ambitions are nothing radical, but they are tangible. Hard work is all that will take me there. Well that and a little bit of love for the outcomes. It will be tough and won’t come easy. But, unlike all the other previous “resolutions”, I am resolved in mind amd heart to make this happen.

I’ll see you when there’s less of me to go round. 

A Time to declutter, starting with my head

I possess a paucity of time. It is a function of the life I have chosen and place around me that for everything I do or want to do, there seems to be less time available to achieve anything. It is a function of me: I am at once interested, but not bothered; curious, but too lazy to enquire. My grandfather described himself as a sipper and taster of life. I am the same. Or Toad of the eponymous hall. Pulling down as the proverbial millstone, are all the things that interest me, that get me going, that make me who I am and who I seem to want to be. and yet I devote almost no meaningful time to any of them. I merely lick the veneer of anything, without ever knowing the taste of that underlying wood. In many ways, it’s the simple reality of a time in my life: new parent, professional career, locations of home and work and the gap in between them, the things I want to do.

But, there’s something else. At primary school, my teachers would say that I needed a bomb behind me to get me going. Once I understood something, the ennui set in, and I no longer had any desire to repeat for the sake of it. which is fine when all one has to do is pass exams. They’re all easy enough, requiring (as I found) the minimum of effort, and often less than that. But what do I know? Too little, it seems. I skate over things, preferring the easy option over the deeper, trying alternative. I find no pleasure in hard work, and often not even in the end result. Instead, my happiness seems to come from within and without: my imagination and the green grass over there, through the window.

It is evident that, in having created a life of specifically restricted time, more has to be done with less. For too long, work dominated my life, long days sapping my vigour for real effort. Now, the balance has shifted, but I find myself no less time crunched. One of my inherent fears is not having done enough with the time available. I share this with my late grandfather as I try this, touch on that and succeed at neither. Of course, I know that my expectations are too high and are not matched with the workrate I am prepared to provide in their pursuit. But this does not dampen a need to do things, to do them well.

I crave simplicity, and in so searching feel as if it’s got a whole lot more complicated.

A Riot of Our Own – is Riot Wombling the new Big Society?

It’s 26 years since the Broadwater Farm riots. These took place in Tottenham. The Metropolitan Police shot dead Mark Duggan on 6 August 2011. In Tottenham. And since then, there have been riots in various parts of London, and the usual responses in Bristol, Birmingham and Liverpool. 

It would seem that little has really changed since the publication of the Gifford Report and, sadly, life has been lost again. But this time, there’s been a fight-back, a counter riot. Via the work of Dan Thompson, there’s already a revolution of tidying up – the Riot Cleanup; it’s participants are Riot Wombles. 

I suspect that the Tory PR machine cannot believe its luck: in one fell swoop it gets to be all tough on crime (instantly appealing to its vicariously violent Daily Mail fan-base) and also claim credit for the invocation of the Big Society in an easy-to-identify media friendly way. And, you know what, great. There are people out there who are showing that they give a shit. They do care about the world in which we live.

Trouble is, what the Tory spin machine won’t recognize is that these people would have done this anyway – people who care will always want to help. Of course, increasingly Twitter makes it easier for organisers and leaders to help us help ourselves.

So, once all the broken buildings, homes and livelihoods are off the news, and all the shattered glass has been swept away, what will change? I suspect that the brutally hard work of the likes of Camila Batmanghelidjh will continue unfunded and swept under the carpet. Leaving aside the bandwagon agitation of the likes of The Third Estate, these are the people who are at the height of these riots: the young, disaffected and disengaged. They are outside the regular social order, they are what Blair called the Underclass and what the Victorians called the Poor. They are the people we are frightened of and who we don’t understand.

Riot Wombles won’t make the slightest difference to them – I do wonder if freshly cleaned streets may just become a canvas for another smear of destruction. And here’s the problem with the Big Society: it’s got nothing to do with government, it’s already there and it’s already helping itself. But, for those who fall outside the normal social order there aren’t enough Wombles to sweep that problem away.


A mix of bingo and tits – why sanctimonious celebs still need the News of the World

Billy Bragg has written many great songs, all delivered in his distinct clarion style. Many continue to be as relevant as ever, with one of the songs early from his career currently ringing loud in our ears: It Says Here.

Sure, it speaks of a time when the “Tory press” was an identifiable movement, a blocker to the left’s attempts to advance. And, sure, the Tory press was really the Murdoch press, the News International machine that has come to dominate British media far beyond the old days of newspaper magnates. But it still has significance (even if that has gone beyond the Left/Right divide – see Tom Baldwin’s memo to the opposition front bench: http://order-order.com/2011/07/06/what-happened-to-baldwins-memo). And Bragg’s polemic seems so very appropriate, even nearly 30 years on.

As the News of the World has been forced into a kamikaze tailspin, we have seen a sudden politicisation of celebrity views. It’s funny, isn’t it: people whose professional lives necessarily rely on the exploitation of the wider populace have become vocal opponents that very exploitation that has actually been part of their careers. 

This isn’t an excuse of the ethics – or lack of – of the red top press in its insatiable need to sell more and more stories of celeb tittle-tattle, but the fact that, as outraged as Hugh Grant may have become on Question Time

or Steve Coogan getting all righteous at Paul McMullen on Newsnight

may be, the creation of the celebrity as we know it today, and with it the influence, money and lifestyle of that culture, has grown handsomely with the filth and fury of the tabloid press. 

But, rather than getting so conveniently indignant at the News of the Screws, ought we to examine both the willingness of celebrities to milk their public for all they’re worth and the rapid and rabid consumption by the people of so much of these celeb’s output. Celebrity Dancing on Ice, anyone?

And, of course, celebrity indignation and sanctimony seems only to have become conspicuous following the revelation that News Corp’s finest had stooped to feeding voraciously off the distressed voicemails left for an innocent.

So, should we align ourselves with Grant and Coogan to condemn the viciousness of the gutter press, or ought we to remember that they too are part of that cynical “money and numbers” game?