Seattle, London or Glasgow?

We seem to live in a world of measurement and accolades and we all are constantly asked by friends, families, surveys and even in job interviews to list our top three’s.

Top three skills, top three achievements are likely questions from a poor quality job interviewer struggling for questions to ask.

Tell me your three favourite places is a sure fire way for well travelled friends to trump your Scarborough , Skegness and Southend with their Malibou, Mauritius and Miami.

As a child, I remember ‘occasional visitor Auntie’ s and Uncle’s’ who would on various visits to our home would repeatedly ask me to list my top three subjects at school. Perhaps in the hope that one day one I would stun them and the assembled family with my answers and reel off English, Mathematics Religious studies rather than the usual respone of ‘er, dunno…let me think, woodwork ‘.

I also once had a slightly scary girlfriend who asked me to rank the top three meals that she cooked me. As her repertoire was actually extremely limited, and in reality really only consisted of about three dishes, thus was a challenging question.

It was a test of my diplomatic skills (that could probably have secured me a peace keeping role at the United Nations had I wanted it) , as really none of the said items were really likely to be on anybody’s list! Her cooking skills evidently had yet to peak at that tender age of 21. She did however have encyclopedic knowledge of the Bay City rollers…the 1970’s answer to Take That or Boyzone!

Much more recently in life in a random conversation with a stranger on a train, I was asked for my top 3 films. We were obviously generationally divided as my top 3 drew a blank from my fellow traveller and the look he gave me suggested that he thought I had just made up at least some of the names. Likewise when it was his turn, I tried to nod knowingly but I think my face said it all and I too drew a blank on his.

However as I have a wide demographic reading this blog, I will take the risk and share it here.

In reverse order…number 3 is Sleepless in Seattle , in second place Gregory’s Girl and in first place Sliding Doors. In some ways all very different films with their locations of trendy Seattle, 1980’s Glasgow and a Notting Hill ‘esqe’ London backdrop for Sliding Doors. But in some ways they are all similar films in their ‘feel good, people are kind, and life can be good to you’ kind of sentiment.

I know everyone wants to get different things from films…to be excited, to be scared, to be amazed, to be inspired and so on…..so from these three, probably not a tick in these boxes then….but to watch the final credits and feel positive about people, these truly are winners.

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Dressed for radio?

When I was twenty something, a good friend of mine, a housemate at the time, encouraged me to be a bit more altruistic in life.

They were actually sounds words of advice, and even though she and I lost touch , (and as non stalker in the world of Facebook, I have no idea where she is or what she is doing …but hopefully not a ten year stretch in one of ‘her majesty’s hotels’ for fraud or embezzlement) . Actually, I very much doubt it, her generosity and love towards her fellow humans always put her in a good direction in life.

In the UK, we often refer to prisons as Her Majesty’s Hotels!

I am sure she has gone on to do great things and motivate many others. Thank you Julia.

My friend was a planet saver, volunteer, befriender and the all round good person that many of us hopefully aspire to be but trip up at early stages and often give up. From her, I actually got sound and simple advice….do things for others that you are good at as you will have a much greater chance of longevity and success than trying to be something that you are not.

My interest, and potential future career at the time was in radio/sound recording and although a ‘sliding doors ‘ moment took me in a different career direction, but that move was to come in later years.

As indeed will come later a blog post on my sliding doors moment!

So armed with my ‘expertise’ in sound recording I volunteered at the local Talking Newspaper for the blind. Every week, we would have some ‘professional’ readers come to our little studio, and they would grandly and eloquently read articles from the local paper. This would be recorded, edited and then using fast copy machines, we had to make a 100 or so copies onto tape cassettes, and put them in special mail packets addressed for each visually impaired recipient.

It wasn’t a highly skilled task, but I was happy to do it, I really enjoyed the company of my fellow ‘technical’ volunteers and the artistic panache of readers.

The readers were very much of a higher standing than us, the backroom people.

The location of this branch of the Talking Newspaper was in leafy and affluent Guildford in Surrey with its grand houses , and in that area, some were the size of small castles! So our professional readers were mainly made up of retired professionals in broadcast, stage or public speaking who were plentiful in this rather well heeled area.

I was particularly in awe of one of them..a retired BBC radio newsreader from the era of when they read the radio news wearing full dinner dress. He didn’t arrive quite so attired for our recording, but he still had that aura about him. One of his sons is now a well known UK TV and film actor and whenever I see him, I always think with fondness of his Dad.

Well life moves on , and I have done a few other voluntary things since then including a spell as a hospital radio presenter…but my dress style never quite matched that of my original mentor!

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Exceedingly good cakes……..

If you live or have loved in the UK, (or possibly ex pat communities such as Dubai or the Spanish costas) , you will know that Mr Kipling bakes exceedingly good cakes! Not just because the advertising ‘strapline’ says this, but because they really are.

Mr Kipling alas is not a real baker but a fictitious baker invented in the UK in the 1960’s to support the evolving supermarkets.

Cakes had historically always been sold from small independent cakes shops or bakeries and Mr Kipling was devised by Rank Hovis McDougal, a large UK Miller and baker to create a brand for the supermarket shelves.

The reason for mentioning Mr Kipling is French Fancies!

I am not really one for lists of favourites…but I do have a league table of five various food inventions that are worthy of mention. At no. 5. Triple chocolate chip cookies – a slightly soft chocolate flavoured cookie featuring bits of white chocolate and milk chocolate. An amazing chocolate triple triumph.

No. 4 is Pork crackling (with apologies to all vegetarians) mmm, it might be 11pm but I could eat some now; ranking number 3, are baked crisps (for those in North America by crisps, we mean potato chips…whereas in the uk, chips are what you would call French Fries. Which in France are of course are just called Fried potatoes….and so on….. Anyway I have digressed…at number 2 has to be any cake containing marzipan… Battenburg and Simnel cake are two noble examples but far ahead, leading the no. 1 ranking…are French Fancies…..by Mr Kipling. The name has a slight hint of risque , or double-entendre but in reality it’s just a small cake. Albeit very nice being sponge cloth a fondant cream top and coated with soft icing. The whole thing is about 30% sugar!

I learnt only today that a special Christmas version of this is produced with frosted, sparky icing. It might only be March now…but I am getting excited already and look forward to introducing these into my life.

In recent weeks, for some bizarre reason I have had an immense craving for these…were it not for the fact I am male, and also aged well beyond pregnancy age, I would have been so convinced I was pregnant and showing signs of extreme food obsessions…

Have a good week…….

Just bee cause!

This might sound like a cryptic crossword clue but it’s not.

Waiting at London’s Kings Cross Station station for a homebound train to Yorkshire earlier in week I decided to buy some lunch for the train journey.

By chance I picked up a fruit drink sweetened with honey from a start up ethical company who are focussed on saving bees.

In fact so much so that for every bottle sold they plant bee friendly wildflowers and will also send you some seeds to plant them yourself.

How cool an idea is that!

Tap here to help!

The city of Bristol in the south west corner of the UK has got a lot going for it.

Lots of waterways and restored industrial buildings, elegant Georgian squares,

and more rejuvenation of old buildings into new residences and places for leisure than you would ever think sustainable for what is only the UK’s 10th largest city

Throw in some trendy pubs, innovative workspaces

and a lot of new building and you have the complete package.

But success is a magnet for both those who can benefit from a fast paced economy and those who just aspire to it.

There is a worryingly large homeless population on the streets who by fate, misfortune or poor judgement are on the wrong side of the success story.

I was in the city briefly this week and was struck by how there are people who will have (albeit to varying degrees) skills and talents that could play a part in this city, but are unused and not developed.

Why, well inevitably the homeless who are drawn here are caught in the trap of poverty, sometimes alcohol and substance abuse and are therefore marginalised. As we inevitably move towards a post Brexit Britain with a diminished workforce, we need our young people as contributors and when I see these people I don’t just see a scruffy, maybe unkempt individual but an unused talent and someone with something to give.

Bristol is trying to help..there are schemes where you can donate small sums of money to assist people getting back on board.

I commend these schemes as they are far more effective than direct donations of money to individuals.

The £3 less in my bank account won’t impact my life, but I hope how it is used will play a small but important part in someone else’s.

Read more on the scheme here.

But personal contact is important too… my daughter will often give a free coffee that she gets awarded by her mobile phone company to a homeless person. A small gesture, but human touch also goes a long way.

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Glass half full

The country singer Lee Ann Womack probably isn’t on any of my itunes playlists. However fate, a.k.a. music shuffle, determined that I would listen to her ‘signature’ hit “Dance” the other day.

When I am travelling by air, I end up listening to a lot of my music that I have amassed in iTunes.

The lyrics are powerful with the underlying message of grasp opportunities that present themselves and never fail to be in awe of the world!

November in northern europe can be a very grey and dreary month and just as Lee Ann was telling me ‘if I get the choice to sit it out or dance ‘, that I have to take the ‘dance option’ , I was presented with the most beautiful sunset from the aircraft window.

So lesson 1 noted, enjoy the world!

And of course you don’t need to be at 30,000 feet in the sky for such opportunties. Every park or garden offers us the chance to appreciate autumn colours and the changes in nature around us as it prepares for winter.

But this was just a mere pre cursor to what happened the next day.

I witnessed for the first time in my life, someone responding to a heart attack victim …I know both the responder and the person having the heart attack….someone you would not categorise as high risk..a young Mum, healthy eating, healthy living, non smoking…… but sometimes these unexpected incidents do happen. Fate, or God (and I have the greatest and equality of respect for those who share my faith, or have none) decided that this first aider was there and had the courage and training and strength to give both CPR and use the defibrillator (that again thankfully was nearby) to bring her back to life, and keep her alive for some 15 minutes until the ambulance arrived.

I am in awe of that man and what he did.

And my New Year’s resolution (but effective now..) is to get expert training and develop those same skills myself.

Not the usual content for my blog but a very positive outcome and a lesson learned that we are all vulnerable.

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New tricks for old dog….

You cannot teach an old dog new tricks is a well used idiom in the English language.

I am not sure if it exists in other languages but it probably translates quite well as compared with more confusing expressions such as ‘this is the exception that proves the rule’ , or even more confusingly ‘pardon my French’ uttered when people are indeed not speaking French, but speaking English, but with words you wouldn’t want your mother to hear!

The etymological origins of this are quite interesting in that way, way back some French was used in England and occasionally in error people would intersperse English with some random French phrases and then realise their error and apologise for it.

It is true that it takes longer for an old dog to learn new things, but it is not impossible, and the same for us humans. At one time there was almost an acceptance of once beyond a certain age, you really don’t do new things or make changes other than really radical things such as changing the day you go to Aldi from a Monday to a Tuesday!

If you think I am joking, I am aware of elderly couple who recently took this dramatic move and it was such a big thing they felt it merited being broadcast to all interested parties via a Whats App group message and then the services of a family member who happens to be trained counselor to assist them through their trauma!

But it seems we are as a nation and a generation getting better at doing new stuff.

Running clubs have new members joining in there 50’s, 60’s and 70’s in part helped by the popularity of Parkrun – if you are not familiar with the concept of Parkrun….Google it.

TV cookery programmes such as Masterchef and Bake off have inspired countless thousand to be more adventurous in (or even just find…) the kitchen.

And then there are the thousands or indeed tens of thousands of people writing – whether they are novelists or just simple bloggers…more than ever thoughts and ideas are being translated into the written word.

The opportunities to do new things are endless…ok, some of them are very expensive and costs and time exclude these for many people.

For me I would love to learn to fly and really hope that one day circumstance will allow this but that certainly is on the ‘one day, but not now list’, but meantime for all of us the chances to learn and enjoy unmeasurable new things are boundless and very accessible.

So, Carpe diem !

….and one day you will remember this blog as your starting point for learning Latin !

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You may be recycling more than you think…

My early memories of recycling as a child in the UK in the not very environmentally focussed 1970’s were confined to old newspapers collected by the scouts to raise their funds,

returnable lemonade bottles returned by myself to raise my funds

and my parents ever growing compost heap to raise the local methane levels.

Fast forward over the next few decades and then there thankfully was more awareness and opportunities culminating in the increasingly normalised approach we have today.

Yes, in most residential districts (but it does surprisingly vary in scope even from municipality to municipality in the UK), you will find an array of recepticles outside houses on ‘recycling collection day’ for glass, paper, cardboard, tins, some plastics and garden waste.

That’s all good stuff and how it should be…but what really encourages me now are the other activities. We are turning old and unused industrial units into homes, old railway lines into bridleways, footpaths and cycle tracks and this is not just in the countryside ….you don’t get more city centre than the Hi Line in New York where an old railway line has created a fantastic inner city walkway, garden and general leisure space.

Its not just about ‘practical re-use of items’ or a breaking down to raw materials when things are too old to fulfil their original purpose. Sometimes the new life can be as an art form. Even old London tube trains can become an artistic canvas!

Not to be outdone, with ideas for new uses for old things, easyJet the low cost airline have an old bus literally attached to the front of their HQ building to create more meeting space.

And on the subject of airlines…how about this as a ‘feature’ for your hotel entrance…

But the best and simplest of all are the charity shops that fill our high streets….old clothes, old books, old music are all recycled to new owners with some money made for a needy cause along the way and delighted new owners buying at low prices. And it really is a win, win. Often these shops are staffed by volunteers and they will be from a wide sphere…retirees wanting to give back to the community, others who find it an opportunity to engage in a lower stress environment than the conventional workplace would allow and actually a whole raft of other reasons.

So remember when you give to or buy from a charity shop, the benefits are spread widely.

Giving, buying, sharing…it’s all about showing some love for the world and treating it with dignity.

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The biggest gift, the lowest price

This is not my first post about Parkrun, and normally I might be a little wary about focussing on this personal interest of mine too frequently ..but for this particular post..I make no apologies.

Parkrun, for those not in the know is a weekly timed run in literally hundreds of locations across the UK and beyond where those of every ability from first timer to experienced athlete can walk or run a 5k timed event in their local park and measure their personal progress week on week. It also has a huge band of volunteers and provides a unique opportunity for particiption and social interaction. Unlike a race which has only one winner, in this event everyone achieves from it.

My local Parkrun in Huddersfield, Yorkshire also from time to time acts as a platform for other organisations to spread the word on what they do. Yesterday my own running club were providing volunteers for the event

and we were joined by a group from Organ Donation who help promote this vital service.

This wasn’t a PR person doing a recruitment campaign..we were honoured to have several people with first hand experience of how life changing organ donation is.

We had the personal story of Lydia Beckett. Lydia shared with us how a literally life changing decision made by somebody else changed her life and that of her family.

Click on the hyperlink highlighted to read her story..but don’t just read it, please commit to being an organ donor and most importantly tell your family. The UK moves to an opt out system from 2020 so this means it is even more important to make your family aware of your wishes to ensure these are fulfilled.

The greatest gift anyone can give is life…I sincerely hope that none of you reading this will end life prematurely….but one day for all of us life will end, and before this happens we can commit ‘at no cost to us’ to give the greatest gift of all when our time is over.

If you only ever share or repost one of my blogs…please make it this one. Not for its artistic style, prose or any such reason, but that this one single action could change somebody’s life. See links to social media at the bottom of the page.

Your action in encouraging others to sign up could change a life. Now how wonderful a thing is that to be able to do today!

Click here for UK info.

I appreciate that many readers are from outside the UK, so please check on the internet for how you can pledge in your country.

Thanks for reading my blog…

Carpe Diem

To the non Latin speaker, this is probably a fancy fish restaurant in a trendy part of town, but to those who have learnt a few such useful phrases of this ancient language, it of course means seize the day. To regular readers of my blog, I am a big exponent of grab it while you can…for anything in life ….as we never know what’s around the corner in terms of health, opportunity or just ‘stuff’ that can throw a wobble into life.

What is ‘it’?…’it’ is doing things that enriches your life and hopefully others as well….and that doesn’t always involve spending money. Unless you live in a hermits cabin, generally there are things out there in the world that are waiting for you! Be that volunteering, walking around in your countryside or city, trying new foods, feeding the ducks,or just engaging with different people.

I do realise I am very fortunate in that I have a job that takes me to different places (..and not many people have that opportunity) This week work took me to the UAE and it gave me the opportunity to catch up with a friend and former colleague recently relocated and living there. Now if I had to nominate a role model for my philosophy of life….. it is her! She is already one of the most well travelled people I know, and in this new geographic position she can weekend in India, take a short trip to Nepal or even get to the Far East…which becomes not so far east anymore! From updates I have already had when she first moved it seems she really is grabbing every opportunity not just to travel, but to explore the new city she lives in, make new friends and that’s four legged as well as two legged as she has found a dogs home that wants volunteer walkers! So already now she has just about every weekend and holidays allocated to something new. Anyway we managed to find time to meet up between work and her travels. So research was done to find somewhere new to go. Where did we find ourselves? …on Happiness Street…which I think says it all!