Category Archives: Out and about

Male and mature

At the end of the 1990s I took a job working in the Cambridgeshire Fens. I’d been told all sorts of horror stories about the people in that part of the world, all too shocking to repeat here and, as it happens, none of them true. But one observation from a local resident (not an ‘incomer’ as anyone who wasn’t born and bred there is known) was accurate.

I was three days into my new job and he said “Chris, you have the advantage of being male and mature.” At 45 years old, it was the first time I’d been described as mature (I took the identification as male as a given). I wasn’t quite sure what he meant with his comment until a while later when my work colleagues in similar roles would be reduced to tears by the behaviour of retired male councillors (at that time, many councillors in that part of rural Cambridgeshire were older and male…) My colleagues were female, often straight out of university, and those older men thought they had nothing to learn from a younger, female, generation of advisers.

I could only apologies for the behaviour of what I think are called ‘unreconstructed males’ – or male chauvinists as we used to call them – the type who still refer to women under 40 as ‘girls’ thinking (or probably not thinking!) it doesn’t sound derogatory or disrespectful – even though they wouldn’t describe men of the same age as ‘boys’?

So, if age and gender is an explanation for inexcusably bad behaviour at that upper end of the age range, can if explain (but not excuse) bad behaviour of men who may more accurately be described as boys – certainly in terms of their behaviour – being closer to 20 than 30?

I was thinking about this recently when talking to a female colleague about my experience of working with young women in comparison with young men. I advise young would-be entrepreneurs wanting to set up their own businesses and, almost without exception, age-for-age the women progress further and faster than the men.

My colleague, admitting to being something of an amateur psychologist, said that it’s recognised that in general women’s brain’s do mature earlier than men’s, with the male brain maturing on average at around 25 years. She used the example of F1 racing drivers to make her point; and I’m sure it wouldn’t take much to show that most shunts in motor racing involve younger, less mature, drivers.

I know I’m making gross generalisations here and, as the reconstructed father of a 27-year-old daughter I’m probably biased, but I’m not about to take up F1 grand prix racing just to prove my point.

 

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Swimming against the tide

Our local leisure centre is running a special offer – 5 days free use of their facilities. I won’t be making use of the gym – I’m more a running-outdoors-from-my-front-door sort of a person – but I’m using the swimming pool.

I’ve been in the pool before (and I once won 10 free swims in a local recycling competition – don’t ask) but otherwise I don’t swim there very often because it’s peak rate charges when I want to go and, to be honest, I find swimming up and down the pool a bit boring. Another reason I don’t swim there much is that I don’t fit into either of the groups of pool users that predominate first thing on weekday mornings.

There are the lane swimmers who plough up and down in their budgie smugglers (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, look it up) and the female equivalent, with their power drinks lined up on the end of the pool. I’ve never worked out why they need to rehydrate – swimming can exhaust me, but I’d never describe it as ‘thirsty work’. The other main group are the social swimmers – people who have reached a certain age and stage in their lives when standing in the shallow end of a swimming pool to chat with other early risers seems like a good idea.

I’m not knocking it – swimming pools are great places for socialising as well as exercise – but it does make me feel as though my swimming up and down is intruding on some not-very-private conversations. If looks could kill – they feel like daggers (or maybe in this context it should be ‘torpedoes’?) – I’d have sunk without trace without making it beyond 10 lengths.

Then there’s weekends and another group where I don’t fit in – young swimmers – with most of the pool taken up by young learners on one side and family fun on the other. Adult swimmers are squeezed into one lane in the middle so I accidentally ended up breast-stroking another swimmer while she stroked my back, also presumably by accident. I’ve just identified a fourth reason not to swim in a pool on a regular basis – there simply isn’t enough space.

And ploughing a lonely furrow is, er… lonely. It’s obviously more comfortable to go with the flow, but my upbringing tends to point me in the other direction – standing up for what I believe – even when this risks resistance and courts criticism.

My grandfather was a liberal MP so I know all about being in a minority. And while my Quaker upbringing has never resulted in discrimination of any kind, in my youth I was perhaps regarded as a bit unusual (as might anyone from a religious minority).

For the past 20 years I’ve also been inspired to plough my own furrow by a great friend whom I met at a very low and uncertain time in my life. He took me under his wing and, as the brilliant networker and connector he is, he found me a job and helped take my career in a new and exciting direction for which I’ll always be grateful.

In the context of this blog post, for the past two decades I’ve seen this friend swimming against the tide – agitating and campaigning – to further his sincerely held beliefs about ways to change the world and make it a better place. It’s been frustrating to see the brick walls and brush offs, but I’ve always admired him as the grain of the sand in the oyster; the grit that creates a pearl. He’s like a terrier that won’t let go – it that’s not using too many metaphors in a couple of sentences.

I hope I’ll still be as tenacious as my friend in 20 years’ time – he’s 80. For now, I’ll keep swimming up and down the pool – at least metaphorically – risking upsetting people in the pursuit of greater causes.

http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2018/05/you-cant-please-everyone.html

 

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.

 

Uniform

Exactly three years ago, I posted a blog about male identity. It alluded to the importance of uniform in the working lives of many men. Even something like a suit can give self-confidence to the wearer and may instill authority and status in a business context.

All the more so when the uniform – like those of the emergency services – is also associated with an ‘important’ role, particular skills and expertise, and makes the wearer instantly recognisable in public places. As such uniforms may genuinely be described as life-savers in emergency situations.

Even work-wear such as a high-viz jacket says something about the wearer; I certainly tend to associate them with someone I assume knows more than me about the particular situation in which I find myself – whether it’s on a building site, in a traffic jam, or taking part in parkrun (at which I’m sometimes the high-viz wearer).

When I posted that blog in March 2015 we were about to get fleeces and polo shirts for the Shedders at The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead. Soon after the arrival of the bright red garments I realised that I should have brought them in much sooner. They’re practical – keeping Shed members warm, and their own clothes clean – but equally important I think, is the sense of ‘shared identity’ it gives the group. I’ve never asked, but I’d like to think that it gives wearers a sense of pride to be associated with others and, hopefully, a great commitment to the team effort.

Fast forward three years and this week I was talking about uniforms with a young person planning to ‘create a fashion brand’. We had an interesting discussion about the importance of labels – the literal brand. We established that designer labels, and people being seen wearing them, is about the wearer wanting to make a statement about themselves and to project an image (that may or may not be accurate).

We also concluded that fashion is a bit contradictory – while it unites people under certain style banners, those same people hope they’ll stand out in a crowd – so they want personal and group identity at the same time! We ended the conversation by noting that when a brand or style become too popular and the clothes become ubiquitous, there’s a natural (or is it orchestrated by the fashion industry?) search for something different. Note I say ‘different‘; fashion developments are not always new – as shown by the current trend for tears in jeans.

When the young entrepreneur works out what he means by ‘creating a fashion brand’ I think and hope he’ll go far. For a 20-year old who realised college was not for him he deserves to go far.

Men’s Sheds and male identity https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2015/03/09/mens-sheds-and-male-identity/

The Repair Shed www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed

The art of destruction

I was first introduced to the subject of this blog about five years ago with the words ‘get one of these babies and your life will change forever’. It sounds like a sales pitch (it wasn’t) but the claim was actually true.

If you’ve ever tried to dismantle a wooden pallet with a hammer and crowbar you’ll know the air turns blue very quickly. Bent nails (the metal kind) and broken nails (the human kind) are additional reasons to swear.

The Pallet Dismantling Bar ™ produced by Cargo Cycles in Norfolk was the tool that saved my sanity and many a pallet, fuelling my passion for making household and garden items from reclaimed materials – see https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/green-and-grey

At this point I should make clear I’ve not been commissioned to write this review and nor do I know the people who run the company (although I’m hoping to get to know them better in connection with my work as a trustee of the UK Men’s Sheds Association (UKMSA) www.menssheds.org.uk)

And it’s not just me that thinks the Pallet Dismantling Bar™ is a life-changer. Last September I helped run a UKMSA stall at the Festival of Thrift in Redcar. We were joined by 35,000 people interested in living lightly at a brilliant inspiring and life-affirming weekend. Find out more at http://www.festivalofthrift.co.uk/about-the-festival. Throughout the two days we had a steady stream of people with a passion for pallets and surprisingly few knew about the Cargo Cycles Dismantling Bar™. All that changed as we invited visitors of all ages – as the photos show – to dismantle pallets and discover the delights of using the right tool for the job. I wish I’d been on commission for the number of people who took details of the tool and assured me they would be ordering one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what are you waiting for? Go to http://www.cargo-cycles.com and tell them Chris Lee from UK Men’s Sheds Association sent you – your life with pallets will change forever.  Maybe see you in Redcar on September 22/23rd?

 

How to stay healthier and happier for longer

In June 2016 I gave a TEDx Talk – ‘Male, stale and in a Shed’ with mixed success. Following that scary but exciting experience, I resolved to write a series of blog posts under a ‘No man’s land umbrella. The blog posts attempt to explore the issues in my short talk and, in particular, to try to identify the roots of my mental ill-health over the past two decades.

12 months ago I published the first of my ‘No man’s land blog posts and, although I only intended it should be a year-long series, the posts continue. The more personal they get, the harder they are to write.

One thing that writing and reflection has done is to help me identify what I think has worked for me in keeping at bay for the past two years what Churchill famously described as his ‘black dog’. There are three main ingredients in my recipe for staying healthier and happier for longer, the first is connecting…

Connecting with people – I used to say with like-minded people, but some of my most interesting recent encounters have been with people with whom I disagree but who are prepared to debate in a grown-up and respectful way. It can be scary but exciting to have your views challenged!

Connecting with places – I believe the need to belong is powerful for many people. It’s one I associate with places as well as people and it can be something as simple as going into town knowing I’ll probably meet someone I know. But it still took me around five years after moving from London to a market town of 17,000 to get that level of connection.

Connecting with our feelings – perhaps the most difficult for many older men. I try hard to fight an inbred tendency to supress emotions, particularly negative ones, and I avoid talking about my innermost concerns. I haven’t yet cracked it and I know I’m not alone. I organise school reunions and it was only six months ago that a friend from school days admitted to me something he’d told only his wife until then – that he’d been sexually assaulted when he was nine years old.

Then there’s creating… I most enjoy being in a Men’s Shed, or any shed for that matter, when problem-solving and being creative – it’s the closest I come to experiencing what they call ‘flow’. But that’s not what I’m talking about here. I mean creating stuff: making things; writing – stories, poetry; or cooking – creating a special meal, preferably to eat with others.  It could be gardening – growing plants of even creating natural colour in a garden, or maybe it’s artwork – painting or photography. It doesn’t have to be brilliant, but I think it’s important that it’s something that pleases the creator; something that matters to them. And if it pleases others, so much the better.

I once made a wooden case for carrying and displaying books. I still remember my mum – forty years ago – looking at it in wonder and saying to me and others present ‘He made this! He took pieces of wood and he made this!’ She was so proud and, looking back, so was I.

The last ingredient for staying healthier and happier for longer is carrying on… When older people say ‘I want to die’ I don’t believe them. I think when older people really want to die they simply stop carrying on – and do so. Until then there’s something – anger, curiosity, love or something else – keeping them alive.

Carry on learning: There’s a famous Gandhi quote… ‘Live like you’ll die tomorrow, learn like you’re going to live for ever.’ I love it for urging us to never stop learning new things – facts, skills, whatever. We know that learning keeps our brains ticking over and wards off deterioration. I’m learning to hula hoop – there’s no time to explain why I took it up and my longer term plans if I succeed. Suffice it to say I’m still learning!

Some years ago I read a book called ‘How to Age by Anne Karpf. I was struck by her observation that we talk about ‘growing’ old but ageing is usually seen in negative terms – a winding down rather than a process of growth and development. The University of the Third Age is the fastest growing community organisation in my home town and that delights me (I’m hoping a new Men’s Shed will come a close second) as they share that thirst for learning in later life.

Carry on moving: For me that means running and walking, for others it may be swimming, cycling, even dancing. It doesn’t have to be long, hard or fast – just regular and enjoyable (which raises the brain’s serotonin and lowers cortisol; good for managing stress)

My wife works in the NHS and knows the stresses and strains that afflict the service. As  a consumer of a full range of medications over the past 20 years – from Prozac for depression to Alendronic Acid for osteoporosis – I consider it my duty to try to now stay clear of the health service for as long as possible through self-medication with connecting, creating, and carrying on.

Male, stale and in a Shed https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZ1e8FVcWEo

No man’s land https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/?s=no+mans+land 

Shedloads – a gift list for book (and shed) lovers

There are lots of jokes about a man’s relationship with (his) garden shed. Much is jovial and harmless banter, some has a more sinister undertone; the isolation and escape of a garden shed is not always ‘a good thing’.

This selection of books is a bit of fun for Christmas and beyond. Tossing the odd shed fact – mostly trivia – into a conversation can also be a useful opening for talking about Men’s Sheds – communal workspaces that are keeping men healthier and happier for longer – one of my passions (see www.menssheds.org.uk).

Fifty Sheds of Grey

‘Hurt me!’ she begged, raising her skirt as she bent over the workbench. ‘Very well,’ I replied, ‘You’ve got fat ankles and no dress sense.’ Colin Grey’s life was happy and simple until the day everything changed – the day his wife read THAT book. Suddenly, he was thrust head-first into a dark, illicit world of pleasure and pain. This is the story of one man’s struggle against a tide of tempestuous, erotic desire and of the greatest love of all: the love between a man and his shed.

A Hut of One’s Own: How to Make the Most of Your Allotment Shed

Allotments are places to grow food, but they are so much more than that. They are also places that encourage spontaneity, exploration, learning, sharing, restful activity and camaraderie. This illustrated book is a celebration of the allotment hut – their architecture and design, their uniqueness.

Men and Sheds

One of the more arty titles on offer here – striking black and white photos and a running commentary feature men and their sheds in a variety of guises. From a workshop of strange inventions, to a chapel and the home of a milk bottle collection, to a cinema. I like it because the men and shed get equal billing and the personalities of both shine through.

101 Things to do in a Shed

Published in 2005, by design this little gem has a much older feel about it from the use of rough paper with brown tint (light sepia?) to the simple Look & Learn style line drawings. There really are a wide range in the 101 project ideas contained within 128 pages. Members of The Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead can confirm its status as a how-to handbook if you make some allowance for instructions and illustrations that don’t always tally with each other. But such shortcomings add to the charm of this ideal stocking-filler for dads and lads.

A Shed of One’s Own

The sub-title for this book – midlife without the crisis – is a giveaway that this book is not really about sheds but more an amusing survival guide for men at an age and stage at which a shed for escaping to becomes increasingly appealing.

This is for you if you show symptoms such as shouting at the radio, getting angry about littering, and developing a passion for trousers with elasticated waistbands. It’s probably not for you if you’re trying to buy a Shed.

Shedworking

Written by a man with a mission – to convert the world to the delights and convenience of working at the bottom of the garden in a ‘shoffice’. This is part architectural guide, part tour of famous sheds, part how-to handbook, and part supplier catalogue. Illustrated throughout with full colour photos, this is a beautiful book for coffee tables everywhere (including in sheds).  http://www.shedworking.co.uk/p/buy-book.html

The Joy of Sheds

Another tongue in cheek collection of facts and figures (some famous, like Edvard Greig, Snoop Dogg, David Gilmour of Pink Floyd fame) associated with sheds around the world.

A selection of headings for short chapters give you the idea: Sheds in Music; Sheds at the Movies; Shed Art. One of the most intriguing chapter headings is ‘Hidden in a Shed’ which demonstrates the fact that they can harbour pretty much anything and everything.

The Shed

An early addition to the Ladybird Books for adults series. Well observed and a stupidly simple idea to appeal to people of an age to remember the originals. The idea – take the cover picture add a text that says “Using your shed as an office is called shedworking. Bunny works from his shed. He is a freelance cow-whisperer. At least that’s what he tells his wife. Bunny is unemployed” If you’re giggling, this is one for you.

All books (except Shedworking) are available online through Hive Books (www.hive.co.uk).

Hive are recommended for three reasons: their books are often cheaper than you-know-who; they pay UK taxes and, importantly, they support local bookshops. As someone who spent the first 15 years of his working life in book publishing this is important to me.