A Rock And A Hard Place

If you’ve ever experienced a “Presque-Vu”, and you probably have but without the fancy name, you’ll know the frustrating feeling you get when you’ve had a flash and found the response to a problem… you had it all the time, it’s there… on the tip of your tongue, the thought, idea or Seinfeld-like clap-back that’s been eluding you only for it to evaporate as quickly as it came. It’s so annoying when that happens but oh so gratifying when you manage to hold on to it long enough to exploit it.

But this isn’t about some miracle method for unlocking hitherto unused intellectual powers, I wish it was, I’d write a book or post a video on YouTube and make a fortune. No, it’s a five-minute read about how I try to access and engage an apparently rarely used cerebral function to counter a phenomenon commonly known as a brain freeze, a brain fart or if you prefer, a momentary lapse of reason, in an attempt to deliver a timely, ingenious rejoin, or crafty retort and save myself from a potentially awkward moment.

We’ve all been in a jam, trying desperately to stay focused and avoid the brain freezing at a time when you’re usual eloquence is needed most, haven’t we? Jams and freezes happen, the trick is to make sure they don’t happen at the same time, which generally means praying to the saints for a Geistesblitz and hoping you’re suitably prepped so as not to be seen as squirming by those in the team with less benevolent intentions.

Whether at home or at work, I’m an organized sort of person… a place for everything and everything in its place, even random chaos serves a purpose. I’m also a writer, which means I write things down, for inspiration, for later, or even for a smirk-delivered “Gotchaaa!” retort so, when I have an Alpha moment I make a note of it because the act of writing it down displaces the information from one part of the brain to another making it easier to recall on the spur, for example, when you need to ace during an important meeting.
(On a professional level, I also learnt a long time ago that writing things down is expedient. Apart from helping counter lapses, impress bosses and respond to curved-ball questions, recalling a choice piece of intelligence at the right moment can also be a deal clincher.)

But freezes will happen. I had a situation once, it was in a group conference call with a client. I had my “Stuff Happens” Runbook handy and was presenting my action plan when someone asked a “Yes but what if” question which caught me off guard. I could feel small beads forming on the back of my neck while my brain tried to formulate a response but instead of formulating it froze and the more I tried to articulate the deeper the hole I seemed to be digging for myself was getting before I finally managed to respond. Fortunately it was in a time before Zoom so no one could see my multiple face palms.


Putting the ‘Why’ and ‘What for’ questions to one side, part of the process of countering such momentary lapses consists of boosting your mental acuity. Personally, I find strengthening your mental acuity by creating associations is a good way to start. Being receptive to sensorial stimuli, exploiting Déjà Vus and interpreting cues, verbal or visual all help sharpen the mind as well.
You might think that training yourself to recall little bits of data in this way is a short term, albeit sweet victory and you might be right. You could also tell yourself that the steps taken today to sharpened your mind, for successful communications, are the first steps on the way to, if not neutralizing cognitive decline then at least delaying its onset.

To finish. Talking about Geistesblitzes and Presque-Vu (remember, a Geistesblitz is a flash of inspiration and a Presque-Vu, a frustration) might seem of little consequence in the greater combat for mental health but remember: Attending to both has the knock-on and not so incidental effect of keeping the memory intact and the brain active longer, small steps in the right direction towards remaining mentally healthy, don’t you think?

Posted in Everyday life, Motivational | Tagged , , , , ,

The Road Goes On: A Tale of Tolerance

Now that “flygskam” is a thing how can someone with sufficient social media “savvy” display a profile, during a pandemic, that openly declares their love of travelling? How can I proclaim having travelled to 36 countries, visiting approximately 140 cities and journeying, according to Tripadvisor, approximately 114,043 miles and look at myself in the mirror?

Mind you, I think Tripadvisor’s mode of calculating my mileage is way off the mark. It doesn’t take into account multiple trips to the same destination or different departure points, so for someone who’s relocated quite a lot I’m convinced my carbon foot print is a lot bigger but pointing that out is probably just making matters worse.

Under normal circumstances I’ll happily discuss my travels over a beer, I’ll even try to make a penny or two from them, but unless you start every conversation now with the appropriate nod towards climate change and the cultures you visit, then show awareness of your ecological foot print and criticize mass tourism there’s a fair chance that any discussion about travel will go south, no matter how many vegan craft beers you share.

To set the record straight, I agree that unless travel is essential, and by essential I mean a direct family member is gravely ill or has been stranded in some god-foresaken place somewhere, or there’s justifiable financial/legal/administrative reason, you should not be travelling. Everything else, no matter how you try to dress it up and justify it cannot be considered essential, certainly not a week’s breakaway holiday on a Greek island and believe me, that comes from someone with acute cabin fever.

I have nothing against holidaying in the Greek Islands, Patagonia or wherever but just not during a pandemic. Every traveller probably has, or thought they have very good reasons for travelling… and let’s face it, who could have imagined back in January when booking that summer special discount vacation that it would coincide with a pandemic? Or that local government guidance would change while you were away on vacation? I mean, what would you do if politicians touted it as no more than a flu that would disappear with the summer heat? You’d book a holiday, wouldn’t you?

But it’s not a problem specific to one country, one culture or one ideology. No matter your country of residence, most if not all governments clearly had no idea how to manage a pandemic. Some reacted and resolved with varying results while others debated, and they’re still debating today, well into a 02nd foreseeable wave.

Crisis! What Crisis?

When I crossed the English Channel some 40 years ago, fresh out of college and on my way to a job in Munich, Germany I didn’t know and couldn’t have known that the trip would turn out to be an unexpectedly long journey. As well as being a deep-dive into a newly learnt trade it was also a bus meets bicycle head-on collision with the cultures of not one but of five different European countries that would vaporize a lot of innate cultural baggage, prejudices, misconceptions, that sort of thing.

Travelling across Germany later on, it was an eye-opener to learn of the country’s working relations with its neighbours. Putting past conflicts aside for the sake of profit, their interaction with each other was proof that things had moved on since the end of the second world war*.
(* That said, if Brits abroad are invariably seen as either something out of Downton Abbey or Peaky Blinders, I experienced firsthand a deeper, more visceral antipathy towards the Germans, first in France and later in the Netherlands generally among the older generations).

If I benefited from a border-free Europe to live and move around as it suited me, the flip side was that I occasionally got asked to explain why after crossing the channel on the odd occasion – oblivious that it was Europe in motion that got them there – English football fans¹ and the occasional stag party group² proceeded to embarrass themselves, a nation at home, not to mention the multitude of British expats and emigrants spread out all over Europe.
(¹ If it hadn’t occurred to me earlier to want to become some sort of an ambassador of anyt3q2hing good that was British then I guess the infamous football match at Heysel did it)
And that’s exactly why I try to avoid a certain type of holiday resort)

And talking of Europe in motion, what to make of all the trans-frontiers workers crossing international borders everyday without a second thought… or a passport? It took a while to set up, especially with the Swiss … but it was, and remains a work in progress and a structure continually being improved upon, and therein lies the substance to make sure it thrives, despite the occasional hiccup.

The Long and Winding Road

Seeing countries remove physical barriers while maintaining strong national, even regional identities was instructive but it was also a cultural wake up call to learn that people in Europe knew little of and cared less about life in Britain apart from the odd scandal involving a princess or a pop star.

The bottom line? That would be that no matter how certain nationalists or populist politicians try to spin it a go it alone “oven-ready” deal can never replace a powerful community agenda that has learnt not to forfeit the national identity, or sovereignty, of its members while pursuing a collective goal.

Little wonder then to read that in the wake of Brexit the Dutch government is looking to rethink existing alliances with the US and the UK in favour of ones with the French and Germans who continuing to refuse populist/nationalistic ideology are adapting alliances with neighbours, such as Germany, to counter the consequences of Brexit and consolidate a union in the face of ever evolving challenges.

That said, we all face challenges we need to overcome. Having relocated to the “Low Countries” less than two years after a second spell in Germany, I am beginning to understand why the Netherlands is renowned for pragmatism, directness, level-headedness and gezelligheid but here’s the thing. If a new project comes along, and it will, that requires a change of location then, pandemic permitting, the Netherlands will become just another stopover in a rather long European adventure, and another mythical tale waiting to be told.


Posted in Everyday life, Music, Social Media, Society | Tagged , , , ,

The Day The Music Died

How time flies when you’re so preoccupied with balancing working from home with staycationing, self-isolating, making sour dough bread or simply wasting time reacting to some “rabbit-hole” article you disagree with on social media.

An umpteenth article about pandemic induced staycations in the already overcrowded British Isles had caught my eye. It was about the plight of the ~18 million frustrated vacationers, and more who – every one of them, of course, with a valid reason for wanting to get some sun – was either heading for the coast or the mountains of Britain instead of the sandy beaches and nightclubs of Benidorm.

Helter Skelter in a Summer Swelter

I get it, I do. It’s easy for me – currently a resident of, and staycationing in an even smaller, more overcrowded little country some 270 kilometres due east of Felixstowe UK – to comment on images of the UK appearing on some foreign language news site especially as I too have little option but to head for my host country’s equivalent of the Cornish Riviera for any chance of getting a suntan this year.

Like I said, I get it. On the European side of the Atlantic the summer of 2020 was a series of intermittent and by European standards, brutal heatwaves punctuated by intermittent named storms and diluvial downpours so it was only natural to want to head for the nearest beauty spot for some quality time.

But back to the article. Were the shock images of piles of rubbish on beaches – depicting everything but the proverbial kitchen sink, including Decathlon discount tents – so different from what was happening in France, Germany or Spain? The inference was yes. Were the photos of tents in carparks, cars and RVs parked on small country roads – often to be towed away – and, and the inevitable hoodlum punch-up, duly posted onto FB specific to the UK? The inference was yes.

(By the way. It dawned on me at this point that I must have an alter ego because without giving it a 02nd thought I’d been writing in French, my other tongue of 30 years or so.)

How do other countries cope? For example Spain. Is Spain so used to discount holidaymakers and their trash that they’ve dedicated the necessary budget, amenities and resources to clearing up after the hordes have left? The inference was yes. Is it a surprise then that cities such as Venice and Amsterdam are cracking down on a certain kind of tourist? The answer is no, not really.

The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether

Yes, I know. Finger pointing and all that. We all think we’re different, unique even but there I was, a “Brit”, reacting, in French, to an article on a French news site.

I know too, it can be cringeworthy watching the stereotype native English speaker boast their knowledge of foreign languages, dead or alive to a passive audience, worse still when it fails and then getting called out by a native speaker and not know it or adding some cool looking Latin text onto the front cover of a publication to impress an unwitting following only to find out from a scholar on social media that it’s total “gobbledygook“.

Yet there I was, an uprooted Brit, a migrant worker communicating in one of the languages I’ve had to learn to get by. And you know what? There’s nothing more appreciated by a native speaker than the humility of a non-native respecting the mœurs and usages of another language, and never treat someone as a “Foreigner”. You have to live somewhere else for a while to understand why.

The Jester and the Empty Court

Taking a break from social media, I was surfing cable TV late one evening when I came across the last ten minutes or so of some BBC documentary about Manchester, with music by the Buzzcocks and Joy Division. Neither band interested me then as now, I was more of a Clash and Cure fan myself.

What caught my imagination, though, was the portrayal of the desolation and of the dismal life in Manchester at the time. Mind you, it could’ve been Liverpool, or Bradford or anywhere in the UK in the late 70’s, early 80’s for that matter. I wouldn’t know. I’d already left the UK.

What also struck me about the documentary was the music scene. So many bands found inspiration in, and vented their rage and frustration at the many social injustices of the 70’s and 80’s… It was emblematic of the period.

…which leaves me wondering how any retrospective documentary, 40 years from now, would portray, emblematize even today’s globally connected society and a pandemic that has brought about so much change, everywhere, to a society certain thought would never change.
With no Woodstocks, Isle of Wights, Montereys or Live Aid concerts in packed stadiums anymore to captivate millions, or bands raging against the system (?), what image would today’s court jesters portray? What impression would they get in 40 years time? One of rage and refusal, or one of passive submission to today’s media tech giants? Goodbye mythical concerts, ladies, gentlemen, non-binaries, TikTok and Triller are proud to present 2020 in less than 17 seconds.
Certain references courtesy of:
https://donmclean.com/about-american-pie/ ; http://onanismoliterario.blogspot.com/ ; https://study.com/academy/lesson/the-system-of-doctor-tarr-and-professor-fether-summary-theme.html


Posted in Everyday life, Music, Society, Voyages, Work | Tagged , ,

Triggering Associations

The trigger happened one night as I was watching Raymond Reddington enthuse over a glass of Romanée-Conti in an episode of “The Blacklist“.

The name rang a bell and got me trying to remember where the Romanée-Conti Reddington spoke of came from. No, of course, it couldn’t be a Bordeaux, I mused, nor a Côte de Rhône and it certainly isn’t a Beaujolais (or was I confusing it with a Moulin a Vent?) leaving just the Bourgogne region, Burgundy if you prefer, as the place of origin.

What followed was a succession of memories of enjoying glasses of Côte de Beaune, Volnay, Côte de Nuits, Meursault, Pouilly-Fuissé, and many more, in fine company. Of course, one thing leading to another, all this musing was also triggering memories I wasn’t sure I wanted to develop and then I recalled a piece of wisdom from my wife.

Spousal Wisdom

My wife maintains that the object of an association is what it is, whether a glass of Volnay or Sting singing “Fields of Gold”. Regardless of the sentiment you attach to an object, it is and always will be just that, an object. That said, if you had the flair to choose it in the first place, why deprive yourself of the object’s excellence now because of a tenuous association with a period of your life you’ve since put behind you? It took me a while to assimilate this but I got there.

And Sting in all this? I have quite an extensive collection of music, of all sorts, 70s Prog Rock, Southern Rock, Soul, as well as a lot of nu-metal and punk rock stuff from the 2000s, and Electronic, lots of Electronic music but strangely and until recently, very little of anything from the late 80s and early 90s and what I have, notably Sting & U2, I wouldn’t play because of their association with that particular period of my life*…
(*During a recent house move and using down-sizing as a pretext, I threw out several post “Rattle and Hum” U2 CDs and if you’re wondering why I didn’t try and sell them, I did but at ~50cts the CD on Amazon a trip to the tip was the quick fix.)

…So what made me change and seek out choice music from the 80s and 90s? What got me willing to consider listening to early U2 once again? Spousal wisdom, and some help from my son.
My wife of now let drop that yes, while Prog Rock from the 70s is nice, my taste in music was a tad staid and needed bringing into the 21st century. So off I went and discovered a lot of new material complimenting material, mainly alternative, subculture, fringe music I’d, let’s say, “discovered” with my son on Napster, Kazaa and MySpace in the early 2000s.

Here’s the interesting part. The remark about my taste in music, albeit spot on, was an analogy. What my wife was getting at was, only seeking comfort or refuge in objects associated with happy periods of life, while rejecting others, music, places, etc., because of a less happier but now tenuous association is a sign that their legacy is still present and stopping you from moving on and sharing new associations, from the same excellent objects, with those around you today.

Trigger Me, Trigger Me Not

Tempted as I was to write off and bury the late 80s, early 90s in some bottomless pit along with a lot of niggly associations, as a plan that wasn’t going to work for reasons mentioned above.

Another option, poles apart from the first would have been to expose the whole shebang, place it in full view, like sticking some “F minus” school homework grade on the fridge door, forever reminding me of what I’d moved on from. It would also have had the effect of preempting, and neutralizing any fallout or attempted exploitation by others but would it have allowed me to move on? No, I didn’t think it would.

In the end, the solution consisted of confronting antagonists and protagonists from the associated past in a particular environment to see what, if anything, still triggered an emotion. Nothing did, at least not for this protagonist, effectively terminating there and then any residual link, bond, or association. The irony was though that during this “therapy session” new associations came about. A memorable site and a special occasion were just begging for a pleasant association…

… As for Sting. No, sorry. “Fields of Gold” never got a look in, maybe next time, who knows.

Posted in Everyday life, Music | Tagged , , , , ,

Coming to Terms with Mount Everest

Recognizing that we may not all become generals, CEO of a big High Tech enterprise (people with a singular mindset to begin with), or Junko Tabei doesn’t mean life is necessarily destined to be a failure. On the contrary, it’s synonymous with defining objectives, and how to reach them. It’s also a way of focusing on purposes and sidelining distractions.

That said if you do get the chance – and that’s the beauty of professional and social mobility – seize it. Don’t be afraid of succeeding, don’t be mean with the tactics and don’t be afraid of other people’s reactions either, you know, “You can please some of the people” etc & so on.

The following story is of an individual who on the face of it had everything to reach his objective but for an understandable, even honourable reason he turned back from a very difficult ascension.

It’s a lesson for anyone who, having everything working for them, e.g. a level playing field, a favourable position, resources, support… falters, doubts and considers abandoning so near to their goal, abandoning not because they encountered a superior force but because they’re not sure, something doesn’t feel right or they worry about consequences, in short someone lacking real motivation:

Victis Honor

A life-hardened firefighter from Chicago and an accomplished mountaineer, having successfully climbed several 7000ers in his time decided that he was ready for the ultimate challenge of every mountaineer: Mount Everest.

He trained in his spare time and eventually managed to join a team planning to climb Mount Everest. The time came and the team set out on their expedition. They travelled to Nepal, reached the mountain, set up base camp at 5400 metres. They negotiated the Ice Fall at 5500m, going good, and made it to Camp 1 at 6100m, so far so good. Next up was Camp 2 at 6400m, the firefighter from Chicago was crushing it.

Camp 3 came and the effort was starting to tell but the firefighter continued, drawing on physical stamina and mental resilience gained over the years. Camp 4 came and at 8000 metres the firefighter started to understand why it’s called the Death Zone, weather conditions were accentuating the physical and mental strain.

The firefighter was realising that despite being, as he thought, physically fit and properly prepared for the environment, he was reaching his limit and at 8000 metres the slightest error could be fatal. Defiant, the firefighter continued but at only 400 metres from the summit, he suddenly abandoned the ascension.

Distraught, physically exhausted and mentally drained he descended the mountain. Back at home he thought long about the experience and understood that despite all his physical preparation, mentally he just couldn’t pierce the psychological barrier those last 400 metres before the summit represented. He knew he would never go any higher.

Today, when looking at the traffic seeking to reach the summit of Mount Everest it might seem hard to grasp, dubious even, that a firefighter hardened by years as a first responder in Chicago, a seasoned mountaineer couldn’t find the strength to make the final effort and reach the summit of Mount Everest.

The firefighter spent a lot of time analysing and trying to figure out how or why he failed when others could do it and with time he came to terms with the fact that psychologically that was his limit, beyond which he would never go.

Reaching this conclusion allowed the firefighter to accept that although he would never know the exhilarating experience of reaching the summit of Mount Everest he could draw satisfaction from the fact that 8000 metres was his new personal physical and mental benchmark. From that point on, he knew he could now go into a burning building or climb another 7000er knowing what he could or couldn’t do, which in his metier, and for his hobby was paramount. An honourable lesson in pragmatism, and humility…

… This could also be a story about finding one’s vocation and purpose in life. Reinhold Meissner aside, if most mountaineers reach the summit it’s because Sherpas guided them, Sherpas who, although having reached the summit so often they stopped counting, dedicate their life to making sure others can do so safely.

Credit. This motivational story is not entirely mine. I read about the firefighter a few years ago and hopefully freely adapting his story again here gives him due credit.

Details of Mount Everest route with kind courtesy of http://www.mounteverest.net/expguide/route.htm

Posted in Everyday life, Motivational, Voyages, Work | Tagged , , ,

Wish I could fly like… (Superman)

It’s true. When you settle down for the night and let the brain run free and process whatever tensions or issues the frontal lobe function had been suppressing during the day a portal opens up into the psyche. What follows is, more often than not, a weird hotchpotch of ad hoc, abstract thoughts and images that run riot before dissipating as the brain finally finishes defragmenting itself, letting you fall asleep.

One night, with my psyche trying to figure out which particularly elusive work issue was stopping me from falling asleep, not one but three ad hoc, abstract images – Lint from subconscious pockets and not really what you’d call profound– appeared. Gone, I thought, was any chance of finding an answer to the issue I’d since forgotten all about, not realizing that it was all part of the plan to coax the issue out into the open.

One image was of a humorist, Art Buchwald narrating his escapade in a New York taxi, another was a scene from a George Clooney film, George was expanding on how to pack a carry-on, and the third “image” was a comment by a woman* I’d read in a thread on Social Media that same day.
(* In her comment the woman explained how, when sitting on a train one day, preparing for a lecture, a man leaned over and started offering his “expert” (note the quotes) opinion on what she should say and how. As I understood it, the woman was an authority on her subject and with more pressing things to think about she let the incident ride sharing her story later in one particular Social Media thread to an audience, who promptly shared opinions and advice with her on how to counter such “misogynous” (note the quotes) intrusions in future.)

So how do these three elements from different media platforms, that decades separate, all come together? Well, they don’t and then they do… You see, they all had things in common, like Pulpits, and Dominoes, and Travel, plus some of what you might call “Maskirovka”.

Pulpits because the humorist, the actor and the lecturer all used their respective platforms to get their messages across, directly or indirectly, to partial or perhaps not so partial audiences…

  • The humorist through his op-eds in the now sadly defunct “Herald Tribune” commenting on everyday life, and haranguing politicians
  • The actor, through his various characters, speaking about intelligent, read considerate living
  • … And the lecturer, I never learnt her name, delivering lectures on her subject of (unknown) expertise, to an audience, there for the community spirit.

Dominoes for the cascade effect these events would or could have on others, for example…

  • The humorist who by saying “Thanks” to a 1970s New York cab driver (think it through) might just have got a) the cabbie to be a bit friendlier to the next fare, assuming that the fare wasn’t a total numbhead to begin with, and b) the cab riding/departure gate queueing/train commuting op-ed reader to remember to think more about causes and effects.
  • The time-efficient salesman who, speaking to life-hacking padawans, both in the auditorium and watching the film, about how to interact with others, seamlessly, with foresight and, I might add, elegance.
  • The lecturer who, through her simple comment in some Social Media thread, said more in 140 characters than others could put in a book about the need for empathy and consideration for other people’s comfort zones. She also got across that expertise is not the sole reserve of a certain gender, race, class (or caste) or age.

Travel? I’ll let you connect the dots. Maskirovka? Read on.

Lola (L-O-L-A), from Willesden Green

As the saying goes, it’s not about the destination. It’s about the journey, what you do, who you meet along the way and what you take home from the experience.

Once the physical journey is over and a distant memory, be prepared for the moment, never of your choosing, when, while attempting to elucidate angsts and issues, the Psyche will resort to all manner of images, memories, and conversations from a myriad of past and recent encounters and experiences in an effort to coax the Freudian worm out of the woodwork. Images of George Clooney fast tracking through some airport security check… the inside of a yellow 1970s Checker Taxi… some bridge somewhere (very symbolic), plus whatever you’ve looked at in Pinterest, are therefore all fair game in the nightly battle of Psyche versus Angst so you might as well relax and enjoy the show.

Posted in Everyday life, Music, Myths & Legends, Society, Voyages | Tagged , , , ,

The Opportunist and the Food Truck

So there I was standing next in line, in a queue of two, at the coffee machine at work explaining to a colleague what a Cornish Pasty was and where it came from when a guy comes up and, without a second thought puts a cup under the machine and goes to make a Macchiato.

The conversation stops and when amused looks are exchanged the guy realises his “faux pas” and apologizes. No big deal, I say, after all the guy is also a colleague. “No, no” he insists and explains how he’s embarrassed and how others are always telling him off for jumping the queue. Being the archetype passive-aggressive, queue-loving Brit that I am, I tell him the tale of the glass half full, the optimist, the pessimist and the opportunist, which I admit had absolutely nothing to do with queue jumping. I can see him suffering, and realizing that, in spite of the old maxim (that first impressions are invariably the right ones etc.), well, people might not always be what they seem to be.

But, you know. In essence, the colleague was right. Maybe there is a time and a place for temporizing and maybe explaining the origins of a Cornish Pasty in front of the coffee machine wasn’t the right time or place but then again maybe it was. This particular opportunist might have walked away without a second thought with his macchiato, had he not encountered this particular passive-aggressive, “I love queueing for a bus” Brit, but being an intelligent colleague (otherwise he wouldn’t have been in front of that particular coffee machine) I would say he walked away, Macchiato in hand, having just learned one of life’s little lessons.

El Jefe

Talking of life’s lessons… bear with me, I caught Jon Favreau’s 2014 film “Chef” on TV recently. It’s basically a story about a chef, his son and Twitter. It’s also a story, so the (Film) critics say, about the struggle between bottom lines and creativity, chefs and restaurant owners, artists and critics, etc and so on.

Being, amongst other things, a trained chef myself – I still have dreams about that period of my life and the scars on my hands to show for it – I enjoyed the film.


It resonated with me because I could relate to Favreau’s whole career trashing scene, the rejection, the depression, the soul-searching, his reinvention and the road trip with his pre-adolescent son. The fact that all this happened against a backdrop of Social Media chatter and Cuban music, including an excellent Latino rendition of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” made the film all the more “Resonant”.

While I never got to do the food truck thing, even metaphorically, and Vine/Twitter, Facebook & Co didn’t exist at the time, I managed to reinvent myself and forge a second, more intellectually rewarding career, I even did a road trip around England with my son.

If nothing else, the whole reinvention experience helps set things straight, put things into perspective and helps understand that success is momentary, subjective even, that wealth is relative and that, perhaps the most valuable lesson of all, past glories are not bankable, unless you’re a famous author. So, every time an opportunity arises, take it but remember that there’s a difference between opportunism and opportune. … oh, and next time you see someone temporizing in front of a coffee machine ask yourself whether that person is procrastinating or waiting patiently and while you’re doing that I’ll press that Macchiato button for you.

Posted in Everyday life, Social Media, Society | Tagged , ,

Social Media Detoxification, The Alfred E. Neuman Way

It’s been a while but here’s one for the new year… A few weeks into a new year, and a new decade, and there I was congratulating myself for having managed to avoid reading anything resembling a retrospective or a resolution when I came across an article from a noteworthy source touching on a subject resonating at the moment: The Woke culture.

It wasn’t that the article appeared in an oft-maligned, left-leaning media outlet that made it noteworthy but the person and the subject and seriously, had it been another I would have swiped left instead of double-clicking.

Speech is the picture of the mind

The noteworthy person delivered a speech in which he, although benignly, expressed his opinion about a current-day phenomenon and went where no man has gone before. He told his immediate audience, and those beyond who would listen, what he thought about the so-called “Woke” culture. It was just a shame that it was immediately lost in a mass of senseless, narcissistic, antagonistic diatribe from angry Twitterati devoid of any moral compass because it was one of those rare beacons of thought capable of generating empathy and introspection in the ambivalent ethereal milieu of Social Media.

He that is angry is seldom at ease

Finally, somebody of a certain standing had stepped up and put the finger on a problem, addressing, debunking even the core of what is wrong with this “Fast Fashion” attitude towards social awareness and the follow-on activism… don’t get me wrong, not all activism is wrong, it just has to be done right and why not with fun.

“Hell is full of good meanings and wishes”

The world is experiencing some very serious issues at the moment, we know that, but launching into something, on the face of it, impressively direct and decisive without thinking about the consequences or really knowing the catalysts and agendas, often hidden, is not going to be the game changer you thought it would be. Worse still, it plays into the hands of the antagonists whose goal is to undermine yours.

One thing is for sure. Feeling good after some well-meaning “Woke” style act may be soul-satisfying but it’s not in itself enough. You have to go and find out why a pipeline in North Dakota is so important and to who (good luck contacting the Bilderberg Group to find out).

“The best remedy against an ill man is much ground between both”

Finding out who drives such agendas often requires a skillset most of us don’t have, which reminds me. Whatever happened to the “Anonymous” hacking movement? At one time they seemed to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time. Through their Robin Hood type actions they brought to light things we might never have known about, which contrary to Wikileaks. 2.0 or Extinction Rebellion activists generated more sympathy than anger with the street.

An understanding of what’s not functioning with society is crucial, awareness of what can be done to make one’s own ecosystem a little more sustainable, reduce toxicity, be it physical or virtual (i.e. on Social Media) is something we should all be doing, whereas spouting inanities on Twitter or wherever really serves no one’s cause. On the contrary it has the effect of making a lot of people, not always the nicest, focus on the commentard rather than the message.

“A man may cause his own dog to bite him”

From the safety of their futon, commentards may not even be aware of their own toxicity. They may even feel satisfied to think they’re neutralizing a snowflake. Chances are though, they’ve woken a troll with a dubious handle out trawling for data and in doing so, may find their own dog came back to bite them while they were logged off!

I’ll be honest. The metaphorical dog did come back to bit me once. Was it a big dog? No, not really and fortunately, it was several years ago when the toxicity level on Social Media was a lot lower and the blowback lesser than it is today.

The “Death in Paradise” Social Media Detox Diet ©®™😊

Tired of blowback? Tired of being muted or unfollowed, even blocked? Is Social Media fatigue setting in? Be like me. Firstly, swear never to get into another virtual mud fight with a pig, no matter how much lipstick it puts on. Then take a step back. It’ll take some knuckle-biting to resist the temptation of responding to some of the crass stupidity out there but if I can do it so can you.

So how about it? Feel up to slipping in an additional new year’s resolution on the sly about reducing Social Media screen time? All you need is to purge the system of any need for mind-numbing sound bite interaction with some of my ““Death in Paradise” Social Media Detox Diet ©®™😊”. Believe me. After a couple of episodes of EastEnders, RuPaul’s Drag Race (whatever floats your boat) or Death in Paradise, my personal favourite, you’ll start feeling a whole lot better.

At first, you might find the cure worse than the ill or find it (looks again at media article) “inoffensive tosh”, but tell yourself this. While you’re watching DI Mooney draw arrows on his whiteboard you not wasting your time on a bot with a dubious h@ndle. You’ll hate me at first but in the end, you’ll come around to admitting that it wasn’t that much of a cold turkey after all and gee, don’t you just feel so much happier now.

Proverbs courtesy of https://archive.org/details/acompleatcollec00raygoog/page/n23

(Many thanks to the University of Michigan for digitizing “A compleat collection of English proverbs; by Ray, John, 1627-1705)


Posted in Everyday life, Social Media, Society | Tagged , , , ,

Projections and Fireclowns

“Pondering on the state of the multiverse… I’m a wanderer on a path of my choosing, albeit full of twists, forks and turns. I like to consider my fate my own but in reality, I’m forced to recognize that if I’m where I am today, doing what I think I should be doing, going where I think I should be going it’s because someone or something pointed me in this direction…”

Back in the 16th century, an eminent English cleric wrote a poem about islands and bells, he wrote about a bit more than that but I’m cherry-picking. The reality is though, with all our technology we are struggling today to transform an abstract 16th century idea into reality. Whether we like it or not we are all parts of a bigger entity, I’ll skip the bit in the English cleric’s poem reference to Europe as it might be misinterpreted.

Fast forward to 1942 and the apparition of the first of an amazing literary trilogy. The trilogy’s premise and its Ariadne thread was that using history, sociology, and mathematical statistics it is possible to anticipate the rise and fall of a society, predict the course of a very large population and, bearing in mind the galactic dimensions of the task, consider measures and countermeasures that would, with a degree of mathematical accuracy, guarantee the resilience of said society.

Onto 2019. One part of what seemed visionary in 1624 and science fiction in 1942 has at least come to pass: we are increasingly interconnected and interdependent. In spite of the rebuke of a certain kind of globalization, the fact is, what happens on the other side of the planet impacts people in Rust Belt, USA. As long as Society is dominated by short-term politics and quick gain interests imagining any form of long-term vision for Society, and by extension Mankind, will be impossible, and the future(s) formulated by some astounding and visionary minds will remain as it was in 1624: Abstract science fiction.
Perhaps some brilliant mind, in the pursuit of their intellectual Holy Grail, is giving some thought to the question and in doing so has cracked the engima of what nurtures those mule/rogue elements that appear throughout history and disrupt apparently stable cultures. They might also be mulling over the root causes of social backlashes that fireclowns seem to flair and thrive on (and no, there is no elephant in this room) and if they are, now would be a good time to share their vision*.

* As entertaining as Nostradamus’ works were, I wouldn’t say he anticipated with any serious encyclopedic exactitude or mathematical precision any of the events that have happened since 1566.

From Trantor to the Middle Kingdom

In a world debating whether our future will be more Star Wars than Star Trek-like, but looking more and more like Blade Runner, a science fiction saga about academics plotting futures based on history is by today’s standards naive. Reading about one country’s plan to apply a social monitoring system is on the other hand, the future today. Plotting a roadmap for a population based on its social behaviour and using demographics, credit rating, consumerism, social media activity AND real-world civicism (aka Urban Pride … no, not that Pride) seems Orwellian but with a population of 1.4 billion and growing China puts the interests of the collectivity over individual interest. When China constructed the Three Gorges Dam, it weighed the collective pros and individual cons and went ahead. When China constructed a 254 square kilometre solar park in the middle of the Gobi desert, which although visible from space, isn’t quite in someone’s backyard either, they gave themselves the means so if they intend implementing a working Social Credit System, they won’t be coy about it.

Social monitoring for data mining purposes is already in place in a number of so-called Liberal countries, and a profitable service industry it is too. What distinguishes China’s Social Credit System from other countries’ social surveillance systems is the sheer scale of the project. Although not completed, given the resolve of its architects it will work, solving in the process a number of “ancillary” issues such as the pollution created by 300+ million vehicles on China’s roads, a problem that makes similar issues in the UK or Paris look pale in comparison.

Whatever your opinion of a culture with a history of leaders for life, indifferent to the concerns of the individual and a vision that now goes beyond a five-year plan, China’s intention to engineer and I mean engineer, a long-term plan for their society is, whatever the outcome, the closest I think we’ll get to any realworld equivalence of the Society Isaac Asimov wrote about.

Posted in Everyday life, Society | Tagged , , , ,

Air Travel: Chasing Elusive Miles… and Smiles

On a recent flight back from the States I half-heartedly listened to the Delta captain as we approached Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, half-heartedly because like most frequent flyers I’d heard it before and was busy stuffing things into my backpack.

As usual, the captain thanked the elite status, the first class, the business class, the gold card frequent flyers etc. This time though, I heard him thank one unnamed loyalty programme member in particular who apparently had accumulated so many flying miles it reminded me of George Clooney in “Up in the Air”.

The speech was, of course, the standard sales speech destined for those in economy class listening and longing for access to airline lounges, accelerated boarding, upgrades, more leg space, extra drinks, better food etc. and after eight hours wedged in a cramped main cabin seat, I for one was listening, even if it was half-heartedly.

On the Run

Economy class is a melting pot of travellers. There are the explorer level frequent flyers, like me, who never seem to make it to the next level; there are business travellers, professionals from cost-conscious tech companies, i.e. me again. There are the people who want the prestige of flying a brand at the cheapest price possible and there are the folks who just want to get from A to B.

Whatever the reason, whatever the constraints, people like me will continue flying and no matter how much lawmakers talk of banning short-haul domestic flights, as is currently being debated in France (link in French), airlines will continue exploiting the demand and offering affordable air travel until such time as market trends, or legislation, force them to rethink their strategy or go out of business.

♪Have Your Passport and Baggages Ready♪

Airport authorities, operators and airlines probably are dedicating the necessary time and effort managing today’s problems while planning for the future, e.g. by adding more planes during peak periods; building runways and terminals, (Heathrow); whole new airports (Istanbul), or connecting intra-city airports serving as mega-hubs such as London or Moscow.

So with all this AI assisted efficiency why are flights invariably late or delayed? Most delays are minor, generally 10 or 15 minutes, occasionally by 30 or 45, sometimes… even 90 minutes, which if you’re in transit is panic guaranteed. I even had a flight cancelled in 2003 because of a Tornado in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Delays are disruptions you take into account when booking a flight, e.g. avoid 60-minute layovers because you never know. The disruptions you can’t anticipate though, and the ones that require all the phlegm and forgiving of a Swami, are the flights that just don’t turn up, no replacement, no word of explanation, no apology, nothing. This happened to me on a B.A. flight to London in February 2018. It was the one trip I had to honour and needed to get London on time for and the plane was three hours late.

B.A., with their market dominance and quasi-monopoly of flights to the UK – and no, Ryanair is not an option – had one job to do: Get that one plane to London on time so I could fulfil a family obligation and BA failed. Frustrating as it was for me, it was nothing more than an operational glitch with one of the hundreds of planes they had flying that day. Consequently, and because business is business, I now only fly B.A. to the UK if there is no alternative or on company-paid trips.

The debate though is whether delays, of human origin, happen because a) there are so many planes flying flight controllers can’t keep up, b) planes are taking longer to reach destinations because they’re flying slower than 40 years ago, or c) planes are bumping into one another manoeuvring at gates because airlines rush to get their planes back in the air and making money.

Speak to Me

But if there’s one thing that could lure a delay weary economy class traveller like me into paying more it’s more leg room. Believe me, I’ve been tempted, and still am, to pay extra to fit my 1m86 frame into a ~20-inch wide seat with ~7 inches extra legroom premium economy sized seat. In fact, that, plus access to airline lounges, was the real reason for chasing elusive miles and smiles.

But now it seems I might not have to anymore. Airlines, like KLM, are realizing that while elite products are attractive, the bulk of the profit may come from selling add-ons and extras to travellers like me who consider travel time part of a journey and are willing to pay to make the journey that little bit more enjoyable. Yup, I think I’ll add some lounge time to the our next flight. Indulgence? Oh yes, summer vacation starts with the flight so why not indulge yourself.


Posted in Everyday life, Voyages | Tagged , , ,