Category Archives: My love affair with…

My love affair with singing

I’d love to be able to say that my mum and dad met through singing in a choir together. The latter is true – they both sang with the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union (where my Mum would apparently swoon over principal conductor Sir Malcolm Sargent) but they knew each other before that.

A lasting memory is of my mum’s enthusiasm for Wednesday nights when us kids were put to bed by my dad and she went off to choir rehearsal. ‘Me time’ was how she described it and she always said that having one night a week to sing in the choir saved her sanity as a mother with four children!

‘Getting away from the kids’ was just one of a range of benefits given by choir members at Royston Choral Society when asked why they liked to sing in the choir (apart from enjoying music and singing). Other reasons given were ‘unwinding after a busy day’, ‘mixing with like-minded people in a friendly environment’, ‘de-stressing’ and ‘the drink in the pub afterwards’. I personally think the buzz when all the parts of the choir come together in harmony is pretty unbeatable.

My love of singing probably has a lot to do with my upbringing. Not only did my parents sing, but my three elder sisters used to perform in the folk clubs on Merseyside. We were also fed a diet of Jacqui and Bridie and The Spinners alongside Flanders and Swan. My own association with folk clubs is more for listening than performing; fortnightly I enjoy incredibly talented acts at the Royston Folk Club – there’s something about live music…

I sang in the school choir up to the age of 18 (we had a top tenor at our school so we ended up doing pretty advanced stuff, including St Matthew Passion) which makes it all the more surprising that I didn’t join the Royston Choral Society until 2000 – more than 25 years after leaving school.

I actually took it up during two decades when I was living with mental ill health. It’s well known that singing can lift the spirits, but it was more complicated than that. I had a fixture in my week – a bit like my mum’s ‘me-time’ – and I was surrounded by people who didn’t know what was going on in my head, so I had to act ‘normally’ – no sympathy, but plenty of support.

That original therapeutic reason for singing in a choir is, I’m happy to say, no longer necessary (or maybe it’s singing that’s keeping the ‘black dog’ at bay?) but I’ve stayed with the choir and, apart from one sabbatical term off, I’ve been a member for close to 20 years. I reckon that’s something to sing about!

For other blog posts in the ‘My love affair with…’ series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/my-love-affair-with

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My love affair with running

Last Saturday I ran my 100th parkrun. No big deal in itself – there are parkrunners who have gone well beyond the 250 mark and many who are much older than me – but I celebrated with a beer all the same. I’m not competitive, but my aim each Saturday I run is to be in the top third of all runners, in the top five for my age group, and to finish under 26 minutes. I’m pleased to report that last Saturday I achieved all three.

The magic that is the parkrun family and all it stands for (thank you Wimpole parkrun where I’ve run 65 of the 100) is just one of the reasons for my love of running. When I joined parkrun I was told ‘it’s not about the running, it’s about community’ – that says it all.

Next month is the sixth anniversary of my relationship with parkrun, but that’s just the last 6 years of almost exactly twenty years of on and off road-running. Just to be clear, my relationship with running has been solid for the past two decades (I’ve fairly consistently kept up four runs a week, excluding holidays) it’s the running surface that’s been on-and-off.

Like many, I started running for my health – in my case it was living with mental ill health and, while running wasn’t the ‘magic bullet’, it did get me out of bed when other prospects in those dark days were far less inviting. I was introduced to running by someone far better than I – he paid the price for his obsession and has since turned to successful race walking, which puts less demands on his knees.

There are objective reasons why running is ‘a good thing’ – uplifting our spirits when we’re feeling low and keeping our bodies working better (knees notwithstanding) for longer. It’s low-cost (only the price of a pair of decent trainers) and convenient – I can run any time of day or night on any day of the year – and I do! It takes you places you might never go and starts conversations with friends and fellow runners that would otherwise remain unspoken. On one particular run, many years ago, five of us talked about everything from God to guinea pigs in the space of ten miles!

When running alone I use my time for thinking freely, or doing the opposite. I often take out a problem I’m wrestling with and, by the time I get home, it either doesn’t seem so bad or I’ve sorted out something completely different. Some great ideas come when I run (well, I think they’re good, but many don’t seem so when I’ve warmed down). Then there’s my mindful running; identifying the sounds I can hear around me; focusing on how I’m feeling as the run develops (a bodyscan); or just concentrating on the metre ahead of me – striding with purpose, oblivious to pretty much everything else around me – the secret of some of my best parkrun times.

Of course, it’s easy to get sentimental about something you love. It probably won’t sound sincere from me, so I urge you to read Running Free by fellrunner Richard Askwith. The book’s sub-title is A runner’s journey back to nature and, to quote the publicity blurb: Not convinced running had to be all about pounding pavements, buying fancy kit and racking up extreme challenges, [Richard Askwith] looked for ways to liberate himself. His solution: running through muddy fields and up rocky fells, running with his dog at dawn, running because he’s being (voluntarily) chased by a pack of bloodhounds, running to get hopelessly, enjoyably lost, running fast for the sheer thrill of it…. Running Free is about getting back to the basics of why we love to run”

https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Richard-Askwith/Running-Free–A-Runners-Journey-Back-to-Nature/16498647 (order online through Hive and you support local bookshops)

For my other ‘love affairs’ in this series, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/category/my-love-affair-with

My love affair with books

In the last three weeks I’ve read a John Grisham bestseller (Camino Island) and been to see a stage play (84 Charing Cross Road) both set in the world of bookselling, which partly explains this blog.

But books (and I mean real books) have played an important part throughout my life.

I grew up surrounded by books – my parents were both avid readers and book buyers; we hardly needed to heat our house as the walls were so well-insulated with shelves of books. I inherited from my parents a reluctance to get rid of books once read, and the Little Library outside our house today is the way we currently share unwanted, but not unvalued, paperbacks with passing readers.

Professionally, I spent the first 17 years of my so-called career selling books around the world – by direct mail, to bookshops and distributors, and at events. This was the heyday of ‘alternative’ ‘radical’ ‘community’ bookselling. It was (still) the days of the Net Book Agreement – before discounting and downloading from the internet changed everything to book prices and any sense of a level playing field. Even in those days – nearly 20 years ago – they were talking about the death of the printed book but here we are in 2018 and that’s still not the case.

When we first arrived in Royston – a market town of 15,000 people – we had two bookshops, now we only have a very niche bookseller and, Tesco, if you call them a bookseller. The nearest independent bookshop is 12 miles away (whom I support by ordering my books online through Hive who make a small % donation from each sale to my nominated bookshop).

On the subject of real books, you’ll not be surprised to hear that I’m a fierce opponent of e-readers. Yes – they are great for storing and reading hundreds of books the instant you want to read them on a device the size of a slim paperback. Yes – they save the trees that go into making printed books (but use other precious, less recyclable resources). Yes – I’ll probably have to get one when my eyesight needs large print, but, but, but…

My dear old mum used to go into bookshops, open a hefty new hardback and sniff inside the spine. I don’t know whether this was a version of glue-sniffing, but you can’t do that with a Kindle.

http://www.facebook.com/MillRoadLittleLibrary

https://www.hive.co.uk

My love affair with TEDx

I don’t know when my romance with TED Talks first started – I’ve been a fan for decades although I’ve never let it become an obsession. But my love of TEDx  (or little TED as I call it) started in 2013 when I helped to organise a TEDx gathering in Bedford.

TEDx is the independently organised offspring of big TED. If you haven’t already flirted with TED Talks, they’re a vast collection of 18-or-less-minutes talks – presented direct to camera in front of a live audience – on every subject under the sun, and probably some on the sun itself. Discover them online after reading this blog post and your life will be changed forever – just like when you fall in love.

After Bedford, I attended TEDxChelmsford twice, giving a talk – Male, stale and in a shed – in June 2016 and watching others go through the same ordeal a year later. I’ve also been in the audience at TEDxNorwichED (ED indicates the focus for the talks was education in its widest sense) twice – most recently on April 28th 2018 – which is what has prompted this post.

As readers of this blog series may remember (I try to forget it) my appearance on stage in Chelmsford in June 2016 was not without incident and it spawned a new series of blog posts which continue to this day. To cut a long and painful story short, in the middle of my 14-minute talk I dried up on stage for what seemed like an eternity but was probably only around 10 seconds.

It’s an experience you don’t easily forget, so I was with the presenters of their TEDx talks every step of the way as they went out under the spotlight – in front of 450 people at TEDx NorwichED, and literally thousands following the live stream on YouTube (so no pressure then, as they say). Scary stuff indeed, particularly as the idea is that you speak without notes (and most didn’t have slides as a prompt either)

I take no delight in reporting that, of the 30 speakers, at least half a dozen lost it like I did in Chelmsford (and more probably came close to it). This is no criticism of the speakers or their preparation for the day – it’s just something that happens. And each amazing one had their own technique for recovering – from admitting their mind had gone blank (with some skilfully making a joke of it), to pulling a small list of prompts from their pocket, to looking at a friend on the front row for a verbal prompt.

I am delighted to say that these very natural and understandable hiccups mattered not one bit. The audience in the hall was with them 100%. If anything, the vulnerability of the speakers endeared them to us all the more; our admiration grew for their bravery – and the applause and cheers rang out at the end as it did for all the speakers.

Which is why I love TEDx. The strapline for big TED is ‘ideas worth spreading’ and we got loads of inspiring ideas at TEDx NorwichED. But for me what mattered as much was experiencing the sense of community, the togetherness, sharing a thirst for learning about ways we can make the world a better place. And that, in my book, is a brilliantly worthwhile use of a very wet Saturday in Norwich.

A spot of bother https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/a-spot-of-bother-no-mans-land-1)

 Male, stale and in a shed – the edited version https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ1e8FVcWEo 

PS The wonders of editing – if you think that the big TED talks look slick and professional, apparently even those speakers are known to lose it mid-presentation.

 

My love affair with Twitter

In 2012, when I was new to Twitter, I was advised that the usual pattern of adoption, if that’s the way I wanted to go, would be along the lines of:

Denial – I don’t need it or want it – a waste of time

Curiosity – I wonder what they’re all talking about

Ah-ha! – I can see this could be fun

Obsession – I know it’s probably not the best use of my time, but…

Like breathing –  It’s a natural and welcome part of my daily life

14,000 tweets later, I feel it’s time to take stock and decide whether I’ve been wasting my time on Twitter for the past 6 years. I have no doubt my wife would have a three-letter-word answer to that – so I don’t need to ask her opinion.

As Valentine’s Day approaches I have to admit, I love Twitter. I feel I’m somewhere between the obsessional and like-breathing stages in my… I refuse to say ‘journey’ because I can’t stand the over-use and abuse of that word.  So, what’s behind the love affair?

I have Twitter to thank for introducing me to Men’s Sheds and Repair Cafés – in the same week around five years ago. Both have made a massive and positive difference to my life in the real, rather than the virtual, world. I am the first to admit that most of the ‘best ideas’ I’ve developed in recent years have their origins in the Twittersphere. I am regularly inspired by the creativity and humanity of so many people out there – it gives me hope for the future (just as the nastiness that is undoubtedly out there also gives me cause for despair).

Despite the ongoing romance, I feel in control – both limiting the messages I choose to see and the amount of time I spend viewing and, when I want to, responding to tweets. I ignore the etiquette of following people that follow me – I’m quite selective about the people I follow (I flirted with Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt but he was making me ill). I have a personal rule to follow no more than 50% of the number following me, so I get to see a reasonable range of tweets from those I do follow.

Like breathing, being part of Twitter is a daily pastime. Unlike breathing I can live without it – and do so when on holiday – and my mobile phone (much to the annoyance of some members of my family). For me, Twitter is a major source of news, comment and analysis and, for my paid job helping young people start businesses, it’s an essential tool for helping me to accumulate a steady stream of free business start-up resources that I drip-feed to over 150 young people every fortnight.

I personally regret the increase to allow tweets of up to 280 characters. As someone in marketing for 40 years, I liked the greater discipline to write clearly and concisely imposed by the old 140-character limit. But the new limit does potentially facilitate more meaningful exchanges. I’ve recently been party to an interesting conversation with similarly-minded people on the portrayal of older people in the media (and what we ‘should or shouldn’t’ be able to do as we grow older).

Finally, who follows me and how others respond to my own tweets, retweets and comments on others are, in my view, a real and meaningful barometer of what ideas and views (mine and those of others) strike a chord within the part of the Twittersphere I choose to inhabit. The fairly instant feedback is something that, after a 40-year career in communications, I value or, dare I say it, love.

See this wordsmith’s blog on the power of the Tweet  https://prism-clarity.com/2017/12/finding-story-part-3

www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed  www.facebook.com/RoystonRepairCafe