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27 May 2017 at 19:44

Ely CathedralApparently there's a statistically significant spike in people running marathons in years ending in a -9: 29, 39, 49, etc. The upcoming new decade is a spur to Get Stuff Done. 

I didn't consider a marathon (that came later), but I did have a bucket list of stuff I thought I should have done by the age of 30, and one of them was going travelling on my own. It doesn't really count as travelling - not backpacking across Mongolia exactly, but I did manage a solo cycle trip through Cambridge and Norfolk. 'Very flat, Norfolk,' as Noel Coward had famously observed, and that sounded good to me. And certainly that first day, cycling up from the youth hostel in Cambridge to a B&B in Kings Lynn, was exactly that. I followed the Ouse for much of the time, and marvelled at the enormous sky curving above me and the neat cuts of the ditches through the fens strobing past. 

By the time I was approaching Ely, I was ready for a break. I'd never been there before and was looking forwards to seeing the cathedral. And suddenly, sooner than I'd expected, there it was! It rose magnificent, square and imposing, from the flat countryside around, and I put on a burst of speed in my enthuiasm to get there. And it continued to stand there, equally square and equally imposing, but seemingly no closer, for the next half an hour or so. It was like a bad dream. I discovered aftewards that it's known as the 'Ship of the Fens', as it can be seen from so far away. 

Today we drove to Ely, so I was able simply to enjoy the sight of it as we approached. And as I stood beside it and gazed up at those magnificent ancient walls, I thought about those agonising miles so many years ago. And I remembered the moment when I finally arrived and cycled down the shaded leafy path that leads alongside the green to the cathedral front, tired and thirsty and dusty and completely happy.

It's not changed, you won't be surprised to hear. I have, but also I haven't. Ely Cathedral turned out to be just as good for my soul as it was 17 years ago.  


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26 May 2017 at 22:29

Apparently, someone fills their diesel car with petrol every 3.5 minutes here in the UK. That's a statistic that would have made me snigger yesterday, perhaps even roll my eyes at the human capacity for inepitude. 

Today, as I handed a mug of tea to the AA man, it just made me feel a tiny bit better. 

(He also told me that the other week he turned up to exactly this situation only to find it was another AA man. And also apparently the police are the absolute worst at this. Who knew?)

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25 May 2017 at 21:57

A truly magical day: the first in-person meeting of my inaugural This Book Means Business Mastermind group. 

It's a small group of four, all business owners with distinctive ideas and approaches, great expertise, and a vision for growing their business and transforming their visibility with the book they're writing.

We're focusing on four areas of development, along with the actual mechanics of planning and writing the book: personal, platform, network, and business.

I've been developing this idea for years, really: it's a natural extension of the one-to-one coaching I've offered for several years and the tremendous group energy and synergy of the prposal challenge and bootcamp. I knew it was going to be good, but as always I wasn't quite prepared for the magic that's created in the moment, in the shared space. Today it was made even more magical because we sat outside under the shade of a magnificent London plane tree. The dappled light and constant movement of the leaves above us, the tracking of the sun across the space, lent a gentle fluid energy to the day quite different from the elegant hotel meeting rooms or business venues usually used for meetings like this. 

It made me think that I should try writing outside and see what the effect might be...

plane tree

24 May 2017 at 22:42

Delighted to hear that one of my This Book Means Business bootcampers has taken the massive step of setting up a beta group to feed back on her book as she writes it. She got eight people from her target market in a room together, most of them strangers to her beforehand. She reports: 'They were all really positive about the book idea, had useful suggestions on how to tweak the content we looked at so far and good discussions over other wider issues... I tried an exercise from the book on them which was really useful to observe and have feedback from, and have given them some content to take away and read.'

Her advice?

'If you're thinking about a beta group I'd recommend it : )'

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23 May 2017 at 20:27

There are many days when I sit down to blog and think, 'I honestly have nothing to say.' 

It never stops me, obviously.

But there aren't many days, thank God, when I feel so utterly lost for words. On my daughter's 14th birthday, I woke to hear the news that in my home town of Manchester a man has walked into an excited, happy crowd of girls around her age wearing a bomb around his body and deliberately killed, maimed and terrified them.  

So the day she'd looked forward to for so long began with me having to explain why I was crying listening to the radio. And I'm haunted tonight now I've put my kids to bed by the thought of the empy beds, the families that will never recover from the gaping hole that's been punched into their lives.

As parents you spend so much care, so much time and worry, protecting your child from real and imaginary danger. It takes years and years of tiny endless acts of love - meals and snacks and washing up and wiped noses and midnight Calpol and tantrum-taming and party preparation and chauffering and skinned knees and homework and haircuts and sleepovers - to raise a child and it takes just one second for some mindless maniac to end it all. 

I am holding onto the faith articulated so powerfully by Archbishop Desmond Tutu:

Good is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.

But I cannot stop thinking about the dreadful, empty beds.

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22 May 2017 at 16:45

It's glorious today. My office window is wide open, and all day the cooing of wood pigeons, the rumble of trains and the rustle of the sycamore just outside have been my soundtrack. All soothing, gentle summery sounds. And then a bee got in. 

It was quite tense for a while - a large bee getting crosser and crosser, hurling itself repeatedly against the pane of glass that DOESN'T open, while I tried to persuade it up to the open section and freedom. (I don't know which of us was more keen on this outcome.)

To the bee, the glass it was battering itself against looked like the only option. It had no way of knowing that the unpromising strip of plastic just above was the way out. So it kept on battering, until it was so exhausted that it fell to the floor. At which point I summoned up the courage to trap it in the classic glass/cardboard combination and take it outside. I don't rate its chances: it's still lying there feebly. (But at least I don't have to watch it die now, or risk stepping on it in bare feet.)

If you're battering yourself against the wrong pane, it may  be the solution is closer than you think, just the other side of a little bit of lateral thinking. 

21 May 2017 at 16:55

Love this. Jamie Byng, CEO at Canongate publishers (he was in the year below me at Edinburgh University - I try not to think about that too much) is putting his famous head of hair on the block. He's raising money for The Howard League for Penal Reform, and to encourage Canongate fans to put their hands in their pockets, he's promised to go under the knife with a graduated series of cuts (by which I don't mean layers). 

Jamie Byng haircut

He's currently 5% of the way to his target, £50,000, so the long locks look safe for now. But I'll watch this one with interest... (and yes, I donated - seemed only fair having had such a good laugh about it!)

20 May 2017 at 20:39

A thoughtful and thought-provoking comment on yesterday's blog from Susann: 

'It depends a lot on what you actually do with your screen. Blogging is OK, in my opinion. But I've noticed that I spend a lot of time reading useless "news" or scrolling Facebook - and there are so many other, useful, things I could spend that time on.'

I think that hits the nail on the head for me. The purposeful habit of daily blogging feels like an entirely positive thing. But the way that I can lose myself down virtual rabbit holes for vast swathes of time does not.

It's like the difference between planning and cooking a balanced healthy meal from scratch and absent-mindedly ploughing through a family-sized pack of cheesy puffs - they're both food, technically, but one will nurture you and the other will turn you into a malnourished lardball. 

Like 'food', 'screen time' is too blunt a definition - much of my screen time is life-enhancing. What drains me is the Junk Screen Time. 

Just like you konw your junk food weakess (sour cream and onion Pringle, anyone?), you almost certainly know what constitutes your big JST addiction. I know I do. 

Food for thought. 

19 May 2017 at 22:36

I had a fascinating conversation this morning with one of my bootcampers in our one-to-one session. She's worried about my daily blogging habit (and to a lesser extent the running). 

'You need rest days,' she said. 'You need days when you put all the screens away and just disconnect.'

I genuinely can't remember the last day when I didn't check a screen. And I've no plans to break the blogging streak (251 days and counting). I don't feel it's impacting me negatively in any way, but then maybe that's the whole point about screen culture. Maybe I don't even realise what it's doing to me.

Certainly the idea of a day completely unplugged from all screens made me feel odd. Slightly panicky. Which is interesting, and piques my curiosity.

The consistency and discipline of the running/blogging streak is working for me. But I think it might be interesting, and still within a broad interpretation of the rules, to schedule a blog or two over the summer and take a totally screen-free day while we're on holiday. The fact that I can't quite imagine what that would be like makes me think it's probably a good idea.

I remember a friend who deleted his Facebook account when he realised that, sat atop a rock watching the sun set over the sea before him, he was thinking not about the pure experience but about how best to compose the photo and post he'd put up as part of his carefully curated digital self. 'Look at my wonderful life.'

It's a sobering thought. We spend so much of our day staring at a screen: are we starting to see the world and each other through a screen too?  

18 May 2017 at 19:09

Google LensHere's one of those bits of tech that you're almost surprised doesn't exist already. Just as Shazam tells you what a song is when you hear it and sends you to a buy link, and QR codes allow your phone camera to 'read' a URL, soon your smartphone will be able to tell you what it is you're looking at, and give you some ideas for what to do next. 

With Google Lens, you just point your camera at whatever it is you want to know about and Google's AI assistant will interpret it, and offer information and ideas for next steps. This article in Pocket Lint suggests some applications, my favourite of which is simply to point your phone camera at a wireless code to have the option of joining the network without the tedious business of keying it in. 

The marketing implications are enormous: imagine being the first retailer listed when someone takes a picture of a nice handbag they spot on a fellow-commuter's arm, or a suggested local repair service if someone's taking a picture of their damaged car. 

Couple this with the announcement from Amazon that Echo will soon have a camera and be able to offer fashion advice, and it seems the next Big Thing will be computers looking at us and our world and giving their recommendations on where we go next. Given where human thinking has brought us, that might not be such a bad idea. 

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