Category Archives: Out and about

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?

 

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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.

Repairing the world

Who said “Waste isn’t waste until we waste it”?

Learning of this clever quote was one of many pleasing things I gained from an event in Cambridge yesterday which could legitimately be said to have a global significance. It’s not every day you can say that about spending nine hours in a church on a wet Saturday in November.

The man associated with the quote is Will.I.Am – someone I associate with a name which I regard as, er… unusual, and whose performances on ‘The Voice’ leaves me cold. In contrast, I’m impressed by his behind-the-scenes activities; the music-man-come- style-celebrity gives his name, time and money to many worthy causes. This includes an international campaign – Fashion Revolution – which aims to sew social, ethical and environmental responsibility into the fabric of the fashion industry.

The essence of the campaign is ‘telling the story’ behind the clothing items that arrive on our high streets and sell at rock bottom prices with, in many cases, scant regard for the people and processes behind their production.

For me, the story behind the product was also at the heart of my uplifting day in Cambridge. It was at an attempt on the record for the World’s Biggest Repair Café – a mass fix of pre-loved and still-wanted broken items – bikes, clothes, electricals, toys, high and low tech kitchen gadgets, gardening equipment, ornaments, phones, laptops, even an umbrella. We were seeking to mend more than 150 items – a record set in France in 2013.

I worked on eight items and was pleased with the result, though many of the fixes where a lot more straight forward than those of my fellow repairers working on more technical problems on either side of me.

There were two garden forks with broken wooden handles (with a combined age of 140 years!) and both deserved more TLC than I could give them in the time I had to work on fixing them. The older of the two was 100 years old – originally owned by the great grandmother of the little girl who attended the Repair Café with her mum. As the current owner said to me “I could get a new fork or replace the wooden handle, but it’s my mother and her mother’s hands that worked the soil with this particular handle – that’s what matters to me.”

Or the 40-year old binoculars case – a wedding present I think – the leather hinge between body and lid worn torn in two from regular use. This is now replaced with some new leather in a cack-handed repair which, while certainly not beautiful, will hopefully keep those binoculars protected for another 40 years.

Or the 25 year-old hand-crafted ornamental wooden horse and carriage from Russia. A cherished memento that needed some refurbishment – new reins for the horse, re-fixing the carriage harness, reconstructing the passenger’s parasol – it’s journey to be recalled and treasured, I hope, for generations to come.

Then there were the little food related highlights – the edible nuts and screws on some lovely biscuits, the wonderful free three-course meals served up from surplus food by Cambridge Foodcycle.

Most important for me is that yesterday was about keeping so many things in use for longer. The eight items I worked on had a combined age of over 227 years. “But did you set a new world record?” I hear you ask. It doesn’t really matter but, yes, we did – with over 200 items fixed – we well and truly broke it and so, of course, we now need to repair it…

Further photos at  https://www.facebook.com/roystonrepaircafe/photos/a.709787542553843.1073741847.168583403340929/709787559220508/?type=3&theater

Fashion Revolution http://fashionrevolution.org

My birthday bucket list – part 2

In part 1 of this bucket list blog post I wrote “doing one [activity] a week during August seems logical but it might not work out like that” and that’s just what happened. I was a third into the month before I seriously thought about any of the four items so it was time to do at least one of them. In the event, I did the first two in 24 hours.

First up was Hitchin Lavender, which I discovered is not actually in Hitchin. It’s just outside a place called Ickleford. It could be could be an idyllic rural North Hertfordshire setting if it wasn’t for the Virgin Trains sweeping by on the main line to Scotland every 30 minutes or so.

Our visit to Hitchin Lavender itself could also have been a quiet and relaxing experience if it hadn’t been for the visitors (us included of course). Little did I know that it had featured on BBC TV just 4 days before because of the dramatic growth in Asian visitors, following publicity on Chinese social media. This may have explained the loving couple being photographed waist-high in the purple stuff, but I didn’t ask (despite my surname being Chinese for plum).

And there are lots for visitors from near and far to see. Yes, you can gather lavender (paper bags and scissors provided) for a fiver and visit an attractively small one-room museum, but you can also buy anything and everything to do with lavender. You can, of course, have a nice cuppa (I was surprised not to see an Ickleford Lavender Cream Tea) and you can even do yoga classes. I was impressed – as much by the entrepreneurialism of the owners as the size of the lavender fields. I also learnt, despite six years of commuting in to London, that the lavender fields are visible from the train.

Without a pause to consider which bucket list adventure to pursue next, a good weather forecast for the night – dry and clear – made it an ideal opportunity for sleeping under the stars. And not just any stars, it was the weekend for viewing the Perseid meteor shower promising 100 shooting stars every hour between 11pm and 4am. That morning I’d reclaimed an 8ft x 4ft wooden pallet from the builders next door – so my bed was sorted. Clearly choosing that day for my ‘night out’ was, er… written in the stars.

That night I lay on my pallet wrapped up in a sleeping bag with a tarpaulin to keep me dry from the dew (it didn’t). I’d like to report I lay back wide-eyed with wildlife sounds around me to be treated to an astronomic lightshow overhead. I wasn’t. The sounds were more man-made – motorbikes and cars on the A505, planes (Luton and Stansted airports are just 40 minutes away). Soon after settling down, I did see one shooting star out of the corner of my eye. I was then so intent on seeing more… I soon fell asleep as light clouds came across to deny me a real spectacle to sleep through.          

Next was Scott’s Grotto and it surpassed its low-key billing. You may remember, I’d been ‘finding time’ to visit for 23 years, and it was well worth the wait. An unassuming entrance – no neon lights and even the small official lamp post sign was unreadable – was easily missed.

If the word grotto conjures up images of Santa and his little helpers, well there was no Santa (but a very friendly and helpful guide) but there were plenty of little elves – rushing up and down the underground tunnels, flashing torches and knocking a shell off the wall in the process. It will take more than a lively child or two to damage the six underground chambers – the grotto has been there since 1760. And there were literally thousands of shells, flints and bits of coloured glass left lining the walls when they were gone – a truly impressive display. Like the lavender field’s proximity to the commuter line to London, I realised on leaving that I’d been driving regularly within about 50 metres of the entrance to Scott’s Grotto for the past 15 years. And did I mention the 18th summerhouse on the same site I’d also overlooked?

Watch badgers: Badgers permitting, this was potentially going to be the most exciting item on the list for me. I’d only recently discovered it was possible to do it through the local Wildlife Trust.

We had to wait a good few weeks to get to the front of the queue, but the visit was everything I hoped it would be. We entered the hide (glass-fronted from floor to roof) just as it was getting dark. As the natural light went down the show began across a natural floodlit stage. All it needed was Carnival of the Animals playing in the background. Rats were the warm up act – scurrying in and out from under the hide to eat the food the Wildlife Trust put out each evening. The scene was set for the main act – ahead stage right we could see what looked like a pathway down to the badger set. First a couple of rabbits with walk-on parts crossed the field ahead.

20 minutes in, the first badgers appeared – lolloping up the pathway towards the hide, in twos and threes. We didn’t know how many to expect – there were eventually ten. In between two appearances (the badgers were scared off back to their set, but not by us) two foxes ambled across the stage. The whole evening was brilliantly choreographed – not 100% natural but wildlife as close-up as possible, the wildlife relaxed and apparently oblivious to the audience (or playing to the gallery?) A great night.

Finally, I didn’t tell you that while waiting our turn for the badger-watching, I’ve added a fifth activity to my birthday bucket list – learning to hula hoop. I spent some birthday money from my mother-in-law on a hula-hoop which comes in six pieces making it easy to store and carry – very smart. Several YouTube videos later…

I’m still useless at hula hooping or however it’s described. Much to my annoyance, my wife is an expert. Once I’ve caught up with her, I plan to use a bike wheel rim for a real workout. I don’t know whether it’ll work but, in case it does, remember you heard about it here first.

Further information

Hitchin Lavender goes viral in China  www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-england-essex-40878901/hitchin-lavender-farm-experiences-huge-growth-in-international-visitors

Shell-lined grottoes are not as unusual as you might think  http://www.blottshellhouses.com/Products/Homes_and_Antiques_%20Sept%202013%20%20Cilwendeg.pdf

My birthday bucket list – part1 https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/by-birthday-bucket-list-part-1

Bucket list photo gallery https://www.facebook.com/leeinroyston/media_set?set=a.10155175734702104.1073741827.684052103&type=3

Men’s Sheds tread lightly in Redcar

Credit: Tracy Kidd Photography

It’s said that men talk shoulder-to-shoulder, not face-to-face. This is confirmed by Shedders, mainly men of a certain age, for whom gathering in Men’s Sheds – community work-and-play spaces across the UK – means purposeful tinkering and friendly chat, well-oiled by tea.

Some of that magic will be revealed over the weekend of 23/24 September at the Festival of Thrift in Redcar – a celebration of living lightly, saving money and cutting waste. Organisers are expecting over 35,000 visitors to the free event over the weekend, and you’re invited to be one of them.

This is the first year the UK Men’s Sheds Association (UKMSA) has been at the Festival and it comes with a warm welcome from Festival Director, Stella Hall. “The Festival of Thrift is about building creative community together – and it’s great that Men’s Sheds are doing just that! We welcome the UK Men’s Sheds Association to our event and hope they will inspire a new generation to get involved.”

Throughout the weekend, UKMSA members will be sharing their skills and expertise in the Stable Block. Men, women and children can discover how to turn a wine bottle and pallet wood, into a wall-mounted candle-holder. Most Men’s Sheds make pallet wood products and some will be displayed with a chance to make simple items and have a go at dismantling a wooden pallet safely.

There will be a #FuninSheds photo competition for festival-goers with great prizes for three lucky winners. For crafty visitors, there’ll be demonstrations of pyrography (the art of decorating wood by burning the surface) a display of walking stick handle decoration, and lots more.

Further information:

Go to www.menssheds.org.uk to find your nearest Shed and advice about setting one up if there isn’t one nearby

For a BBC Countryfile profile of the Boughton on the Water Men’s Shed www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q93p9u6pl88

Discover delightful ways to have fun with thriftyness http://www.festivalofthrift.co.uk/workshops

For photos of some of the stallholders at the Festival of Thrift 2016, go to https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2016/11/21/green-and-grey-a-christmas-gift-guide

Counting what counts

Last Friday I found myself staring at a quotation on a hotel wall at 7.30am. I was about to enjoy a community breakfast meeting that I attend each month at the same hotel. I’ve seen the quote many times before and I like it almost as much as a full English breakfast, even though it’s widely mis-attributed (including by the hotel) to Albert Einstein.

The correct attribution for ‘Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted’ appears to be William Bruce Cameron. The first reference found is as recent as 1986, but that was 30 years after Einstein’s death in 1955. That doesn’t matter to me – it’s the insight I value – but I expect it would bother Cameron.

A day after re-admiring the quote, I had its significance confirmed at parkrun – a free timed 5 kilometres run involving over 1 million runners of all ages and abilities across the UK every Saturday morning at 9am, not to mention a vast army of volunteer marshals. The big thing for me about parkrun is (apart from it being independent of government and the 2012 Olympic legacy) that, as is always emphasised, it’s a run not a race.

We’re also told that parkrun is all about community – everyone supporting each other – it’s not about the running. But last Saturday for the first time in four years and 64 parkruns I forgot to take my barcode – essential for getting a time for my run. In my 15 + years of off-road running I’ve only run competitively on three occasions – I run for fun, not to compete with myself or anyone else. So, I was taken aback by my reaction to discovering (after my 5K run) that the time wouldn’t appear on my personal parkrun profile.

I was surprised to be bothered about not being able to get my parkrun time, although I think it was as much annoyance about my own forgetfulness. Then I remembered that William Cameron quote and I realised that what really mattered was running around a beautiful National Trust estate on a sunny Saturday morning in August with 350 lovely parkrunners.

More on measurement https://enterpriseessentials.wordpress.com/2014/05/08/measure-what-matters

Discover parkrun at www.parkrun.org.uk