Do the (Side) Hustle

Remember the 1975 disco hit The Hustle by Van McCoy and the Soul Symphony? The ‘song’ made No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts during the summer of 1975 and on the Canadian RPM charts. It peaked at No. 3 in the U.K., No. 5 in New Zealand, and No. 9 in Australia. It only made 38 on the French Singles Chart, confirming (in case it needed to be) that the French are different. The Hustle won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance early in 1976 and sold over a million copies. 

But wait, there’s more. This catchy but annoying ‘song’ has been featured in films including Stuck on YouVampires Suck and The Lorax, T.V. programmes— Shark Tales, That ‘70s Show, American Dad! and Futurama, amongst others. You’d have to say it was a whopping success despite only having three words—Do the Hustle! 

According to wikiHow, The Hustle is a “fast-paced partner dance, related to swing, and commonly danced to disco and modern pop. The dance involves four basic moves: stepping, twirling, chicken dancing, a move called ‘The Travolta’, and turning.” Then it was rinse and repeat until you drop. 

If you want a walk down memory lane and the chance to brush up on your hustle moves or try them out for the first time, you’ll find instructions in this incredibly cheesy short video. You’ll love it … honestly. Despite my cynicism, listening to it brought a fun flashback to my mid-seventies teenage disco queen. 

Anyway, despite a cursory search into the background of the dance, I couldn’t find anything specific. Presumably, it was a nod to the need to hustle to succeed or survive in the hustle and bustle of the seventies. It’s become much more sophisticated these days—it seems everyone has a side hustle—as a cheeky ‘must have’ accessory to one’s working life. Side hustles are flexible work that you do over and above your primary job to bring extra cash, get your creativity flowing or add purpose to your life. It could be taking up a new hobby, learning a new skill or using an existing one you want to ‘monetise’ at some point. Could even be volunteering for a non-profit you rate. 

As professional speaker and coach Alissa Carpenter says, “We all know Millennials love a good side hustle—to fuel their passions and wallets”. But it’s not just Millennials. It seems we’re all at it, including me; you’re no one if you don’t have a side hustle. It’s the ultimate put-down of our contemporary world: “What, no side hustle!”. I exaggerate, but the concept of the side hustle is endemic. 

I feel we need an updated version of The Hustle—Do The Side Hustle. What a pity Van McCoy died in 1979, shortly after the hit’s success, so he can’t do a side hustle of his own by remastering the original and raking it in. Clearly, it’s a great opportunity for some keen hustler.

Of course, it isn’t new. People have been forced or opted to take up additional burdens to make ends meet since Adam and Eve were ejected from Eden without notice. I’m sure they hadn’t had time to build up a rainy-day nest egg. People bandy the words around like membership of an exclusive club, but for people living on the margins, it’s always been an unwelcome part of their reality—the only way they can feed their families and survive. There’s also always been the darker side. I’m thinking black marketeers during war and rationing when fortunes are made by offering consumer goods that couldn’t be bought in conventional shops at exorbitant prices. The side hustle all too often comes wrapped in the trappings of despair, manipulation or holding people to ransom.  

While this type of side hustle is still shamingly very much part of the human condition, the trendy contemporary version seems pretty harmless. Side hustles, after all, make us better, more rounded, more connected, or simply wealthier people. Where’s the harm? Who suffers if you decide to set up an Etsy Shop as an outlet for your creativity? Or if I use all my waking hours outside work trying to become a best-selling author? Surely, it’s good to pursue the paths that make our hearts sing beyond the 9 to 5 grind. Why not use our ingenuity to make money on the hoof?

I’m a side hustler with the best of them, but there are issues. I’m about to publish a new book, and I’m running on fumes, trying to keep all the plates spinning. Side hustles can be hungry beasts sucking up all your best energy. In my day job, I run a design studio, which I own. As my book launch date looms, I’m not entirely clear which is the side course, and which is the main one as I scramble to keep all the plates spinning and keep my business dynamic whilst doing everything it takes to give my book its best shot. I’m blessed with high energy levels, but they’re not infinite, and I’m conscious of the risk of burnout if I keep the candle lit at both ends. I live alone, so it’s my call how I use my out-of-office time, but side hustles can short-change friends and family, stealing time that should be theirs. 

I’m all for putting time into hobbies and gaining new skills. You meet new people, expand your horizons, and potentially earn a bit of welcome extra dosh. I’ve met a wide range of like-minded people through mine, something I didn’t even consider when I started my indie publishing business with my sister. However, the statistics show that side hustles as a necessity are on the rise. According to CNBC’s Gilli Molinsky, “44% of people with a side hustle think they’ll always need it—and more are picking one up”. According to an April 2023 Bankrate survey of 2,505 U.S. adults, more than 39% have a side hustle to help cover living expenses rather than for discretionary spending. Half of the Millennials surveyed and over fifty per cent of the Gen Xers have one. 

The tragedy behind these stats is that too many people are going backwards financially, often underpaid, and coping with eye-watering costs of living hikes. Inflation at least seems to be under control (for now), but that only means commodities stay at the same high rates; they don’t revert to their more affordable pre-inflationary levels, so the cost-of-living hike is hard-wired in even though the curve has flattened (again, for now).

Anyway, I’m sure you get my point. Side hustles can be fun and richly rewarding on many counts for those of us lucky enough to follow our dreams because we can. They shouldn’t be a survival mechanism for people who have no choice.

P.S. Sorry if I’ve given you an earworm. If it’s any consolation, I can’t get the pesky Hustle thing out of my head either.

Serendipity rewards the prepared

When’s the last time you thought I just had one of the best days of my life? It’s easy when we look back to overload the scales with the things we’re not proud of or might do differently. Things that have caused us distress, harm or sorrow. Missed opportunities. Resolutions that didn’t make it to the end of January. The self-pitying seduction of the might-have-been is powerful.  

Everyone around me was weary in the run-up to the holidays this year. Not unhappy, just a bit over it. By it, I mean 2023. There seemed to be a sort of collective consciousness willing the year away—a profound desire to close the door behind us on a confused, conflicted and curiously flat year and move on to the undoubted sunlit uplands[1] of 2024. 

Human psychology is an interesting beast. Nothing changes with a new year. The seasons come and go; time moves inexorably on. A year is simply a construct designed to enable us to plan, record and be productive. There’s no alchemy about it. But the transition from one to the next has a symbolic importance that’s hard to ignore. It offers a valuable ‘moment’ for reflection and re-calibration. A holiday-induced pause (for those lucky enough to have them) to take stock and re-set, sometimes even take the extreme option of reverting to factory settings. 

Ringing in the new with a resolution or two is as engrained in humans as chewing slippers is in puppies. The Babylonians were the first people recorded as celebrating each new year through a twelve-day festival, Akitu, marking the start of the spring planting season. Akitu included making resolutions to their gods, like loyalty to the king, paying debts and giving stuff they’d borrowed back to their rightful owners. You’d have to think they might also have included the usual suspects. Stop killing so many ‘fatted calves’ so they could shed a few sheckles (Babylonian kilos). Spend more quality time with the family. Read a few of those papyrus scrolls gathering dust in the study. Re-gild and polish the chariot and get back into the racing circuit. 

New Year’s resolutions have been around since Adam was a boy. While they undoubtedly are an excellent option for some, I don’t go big on them because I’m a planner and a natural goal-setter. I enjoy the reflective time over the holidays, the headspace to go deep. I also like the feeling of optimism that is triggered by a New Year, which reinforces my commitment to pushing further.

But whether you’re a resolver or not, planning and resolutions only take you so far. Sticking rigidly to the programme shuts down the random twists and turns that become our tales of the unexpected. Those thrilling, surprising convergences when a heap of seemingly unrelated stuff coalesces as if by magic and makes something incredible happen. The times when you are looking for one thing and find something else entirely along the way. Being open to the unexpected.

At the end of October, I published a professional book—Brands with Moxie: Eight Steps to A Winning Brand. I was beyond delighted as this was the culmination of two years of commitment and hard work, which, at times, felt like a black hole sucking every fibre of my being into its relentless vacuum. It certainly hoovered up all my spare time. But it finally got done, and when the first copies arrived, I felt as proud as any new parent of my creation. I then, not unpredictably, got sick—or maybe I was just exhausted—and had some enforced time to ponder life’s big questions. This episode of navel-gazing confirmed what I’d always known. I want to write. More than anything. It’s my thing. I have a lot to say. I like entertaining people. I’m an essayist at heart. But the bonus was that I realised I had most of the content for another book comprising a non-fiction collection of opinion pieces in the style of and named after this blog—Never Succumb to Beige and Other Rules for a Colourful Life. It’s opinion meets autobiography meets history in a tongue-and-cheek way. It draws heavily on my not-uncolourful life experiences. I then worked like a demented being to finish it before the end of the year. 

This somewhat accidental book triggered a sequence of serendipity that makes me smile as I write. Serendipity is, of course, the beneficial occurrences and developments that happen by chance. Or, as American crime writer Lawrence Block said, “Serendipity is when you look for something, find something else, and realise that what you’ve found is more suited to your needs than what you thought you were looking for”.  

I decided early on to go the ‘indie publisher’ route and quickly realised success with the brand book would need coalitions of the able and willing. In this mindset, I amazingly unearthed a printer I didn’t know about in my own backyard with a business division supporting indies like me. I set up a meeting to discuss my brand book, but decided to also show the person I met my Beige manuscript. Her response blew me away—she loved it and thought it had broad appeal. She was also a fountain of knowledge about book publishing. From this one contact, others have flowed. I now have an editor and a top publicist who has agreed to work with me towards an April/May launch. I’ve also found new, like-minded people prepared to swop insights and discoveries. The happy dance goes on and on. 

Although this happened quickly, it’s not as accidental as it seems. I have been writing for years, but not in a particularly joined-up way. I’ve ghosted a book on sales success, co-written a column—Sects in the City—reviewing business networking events and how to get the most out of them and clocked up several other decent notches on my writer’s headboard. But I’ve always seen writing as a ‘side hustle’. While I don’t intend to give up my day job any time soon, I’ve now got a way to elevate writing and content production to a central role in my business practice, and I have at least two other books ready to roll after Beige.

I’ve wished on many stars over the years but often struggled with the self-belief to reach up and grab one. Serendipity walks hand in hand with risk and trust. Without taking risks, you won’t grow; you don’t take risks without trust. Without either, the beautiful possibilities of the unimaginable remain in the wings, and you risk missing out on all sorts of good things. When I look back, the highlights are often the unplanned events and people that seem to have landed in my path out of the blue. Luck, you might say. Maybe. But serendipity has also been described as intention unmasked. I like that concept. This most recent demonstration of serendipity in my life is a long-standing intention finally unmasked. 

It’s also said that serendipity rewards the prepared. A bit like fortune favouring the bold. Fate is more likely to step in when you’ve already put yourself in its path. I was prepared for my brand book to be the change I wanted to see, and it’s doing everything I envisaged, particularly as the foundation for a new direction for my business. I was rewarded with so very much more.

So, I’m excited about what the New Year will bring. I’m moving forward with optimism and confidence in my plans. But I hope there will also be serendipitous twists and turns I haven’t planned for. Like the late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, I’m keeping some room in my heart for the unimaginable.

Best wishes for a 2024 journey that includes surprise, serendipity and adventure.


[1] Winston Churchill used the phrase “sunlit uplands” in his “their finest hour” speech delivered in the House of Commons on 18 June 1940, a month after he took over as Prime Minister leading an all-party coalition sketching a picture of an idealised or longed-for future time of happiness, prosperity, good fortune, etc.

So, you want to write a professional book?

Every seasoned professional should have their book, right? I read that in Forbes Magazine article back in the mists of 2016. For a moment, I was tempted to give it a go, but it wasn’t the right moment, and I wasn’t very filled with get-up, let alone go at the time, so I filed the idea in my rainy-day basket and got on with my life.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago. My get-up gene was flexing its muscles, and I was ready to have a go at something new. I have always loved writing — I’m an essayist at heart — this blog has provided the perfect vehicle for a bit of wry self-expression. I’ve written a swag of other stuff over the years, some of which has been published, some not. I had one of those ‘aha moments’ in this go-getting Renaissance.If life gives you lemons, make lemonade,I thought, closely followed by I’m a writer and know a thing or two about branding, why don’t I write a book about brand development

By way of background, as co-owner of boutique creative agency for nearly 15 years, I’ve worked with people and organisations of every type — start-ups, small businesses, corporates, leading charities, local and national government entities, and social enterprises — to help them create and manage standout, impactful brands.

I’ve also been on the other side of the equation. At the start of my career, I worked for two dynamic start-ups that became global brands. Their trajectory instilled a deep understanding of the role of a strong brand as a springboard to success. I’ve experienced first-hand the competitive advantage standout brands bring and the value at each stage, from business planning and development, capital raising and growth, to exit.

Combining this with my writing and comms skills, I figured I had the chops to give it a go. These combined lemons would surely make a lot of lemonade. My vision was to take what I know and create a practical, hands-on resource to help people shape their brand thinking and maximise their brand’s value.

I tried the book idea out on a few clever people, including my business partner and a trusted adviser. Not only did they encourage this rush of blood to the head, but Paul (adviser) with a love of brands and a lot of experience in developing them, offered to help review and shape the content. I also identified and tested the concept with target audiences, who seemed to think this could fill a gap in the market. Game on! In a tsunami of creative energy and determination, supported by a how-hard-can-this-be approach, I started scoping the structure of this new creation.

 Seriously, you start with a proven brand development process that’s worked for people and organisations of all sorts and you re-tread that into book format. A walk in the park you’d think. Think again. In some ways it was easy because I already had a structure for the book from the steps in our process. I’ve done loads of brand workshops in my time and a lot of reading around the subject so I wasn’t starting from ground zero. Despite my initial confidence and my starting knowledge base, it was remarkably difficult to take that and make it into a book. In my agency’s branding work, we do all the heavy lifting, whereas the book had the different focus of supporting people to do it themselves.  

Although I thought I had a lot of content, when it came down to it, there wasn’t much. At least not much that was usable — I couldn’t ethically include client case studies, so I had to find relevant examples that fit the narrative through the book. Luckily, I was able to draw on my experiences with branding the start-ups I’ve co-founded as examples and my varied career has kicked up a wealth of anecdotes and insights. Creating meaningful exercises that would push people’s thinking was a whole new world of pain, although once I got into my stride, I enjoyed compiling them.

Even for someone who enjoys writing, this was a beast. I struggled big time with the opening and rewrote that entirely many times. Paul was a rock throughout, reviewing each chapter as we went along — his feedback was on the money every time and kept me putting one word in front of another. I had some other very useful feedback from a couple of other people who offered to be ‘tame readers’.

Two years on, what can I say? It was hard. There were days when I viscerally understood the old maxim: the only way out is through. I bled time. Thinking about it, sometimes I just bled. I stalled a couple of times when I realised the latest rewrite didn’t cut it. But I come from a long line of brace-up and get on with it types, so I braced-up, got on with it, and the result is Brands with Moxie: Eight Steps to a Winning Brand. I was and still am thrilled to have finished the writing — it was one of the biggest challenges of my life, but in terms of my own standards, I nailed it.

 Writing it, of course, wasn’t the end of the story. It needed to be professionally proof read, designed and laid out. How convenient to have a creative team in my orbit! Even so, we had to find a creative direction for the design and overall look and feel of the book. Ultimately we went with a complex option which included a hand-painted illustration style. Nothing like making a rod for your own creative back.

Then there were other BIG decisions to be made. The first — and it was a doozie — was whether to go it alone or try and find a publisher. I did a lot of research into the pros and cons of each. Getting a name publisher to take you on has its appeal in terms of third-party endorsement and overall credibility. Publishers take many practical issues away but also take away a fair amount of control and earning potential. Many publishers also expect the authors they take on to have an ‘author platform’ — i.e. a ready-made, online following to boost the marketing.

These days, ‘Going Indie’ doesn’t have the stigma it used to — many leading authors self-publish, and no one is shrieking ‘vanity’ at them. Self-publishing on Amazon and or the other platforms is seductive. You’re instantly in the publishing business once you’ve got a complete manuscript in the proper format. The downside is that all the promotion and marketing is on you. Theoretically, you do better financially from any sales, but it’s not a level playing field.

Ultimately, what tipped me into the Indie camp was time. I don’t have much of it at this stage in my career, and waiting a further, possibly three years or more, after the two I’ve already sunk into writing and production, just seemed ludicrous in these days of convenience and instant everything—that’s if you even get accepted at all. It seems so random and a game with rules known only to insiders. So, Indie it was.

That decision made, I had to consider which platform to go with. I decided to launch on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, which is still the biggest and then add others once I’d got the hang of it. Next, what format was going to work best? Kindle only? Kindle and paperback? Hardback as well? Coming out of a creative studio, the book needed to be visually exciting, so a paperback version was a ‘must have’. I also opted for a simpler Kindle version. It’s ended up at 280-pages, so I ruled out a hardback version as it would have been too big and too expensive. Kindle and paperback are quite different propositions, which meant creating the book in two formats because the designerly paperback wouldn’t work in the Kindle world of ePub and the need to be responsive to different reading devices — each one needed discrete sets of skills to produce.

Then how would I sell it? Another curve ball and another war chest to find. I got help and took on experts to set up the launch campaign on Google and social media because these aren’t my bag.

Even with help, a lot of the publicity and promotional activities are on me. Shameless self-promotion doesn’t come naturally to everyone. I’m no exception. The brace-up conditioning I mentioned earlier walked hand in hand with the self-deprecating British thing. But for the Indie Publisher, it’s just part of the deal and I accepted that I would have to move out of my comfort zone and into this competitive arena to succeed. It’s also another time sink hole. 

What else? Well, for anyone who believes they have a book in them, here are my outtakes.

1.     If you know your stuff, you can write a book. Even if you don’t think you have anything special to say, you likely know more than you think, and your thinking and insights are different to anyone else’s.

2.     Although challenging, writing a book is a great way of reinforcing what you know and building confidence and self-belief. If you’ve ever suffered from Imposter Syndrome — I certainly have on occasion — it’s a great antidote.

3.     The first draft of anything is generally sh1t … so are the next xxxx … but digging deep gets results, and the satisfaction from finally landing it is immense.

4.     The ability to ‘slash and burn’ will become a top skill worthy of inclusion in your CV.

5.     However long you estimate it will take, quadruple it, then quadruple it again and don’t expect to have a life as your new obsession takes it over.

6.     It’s like living through a lengthy illness — you don’t realise how sick you are until you’re not, and it’s done.

7.     Procrastination doesn’t qualify as writer’s block. I dedicated a two-hour block early each morning and great chunks of my weekends to keeping my book moving. That worked for me because I’ve long been an early bird, and I could get stuck in before my colleagues arrived, and the business day took over my headspace. It really is a question of JFDI, baby!

8.     Loading a fancy paperback book into the Kindle Direct Publishing portal might make you lose the will to live. We’re experts at producing high-quality print publications, and it took us about six stressful attempts over a week to crack it.

9.     You need a great team around you and understanding friends and relation. Without expert help it would be a la big mountain to climb and I am eternally in debt to my team of understanding cheer leaders who offered unconditional support no matter what.

10.  When your new ‘baby’ is finally born — the Amazon stork delivered mine yesterday — all the stresses and sacrifice melt in a surge of love and awe at the achievement. My colleague Katie Williams , who created the gorgeous design, and I were the proudest parents on the block, I can tell you. 

Seriously, it was an amazing voyage of discovery, growth, and affirmation and I’m so glad I stuck with it. It’s opened fresh thinking and reinforced the best of the old. If that weren’t enough, according to the Forbes article I referenced at the beginning, having a book makes you more cool at cocktail parties. That, of course, makes all the difference. 

Bouncing is what Tiggers do best

I haven’t posted a blog for a year. It’s not that I lack ideas, but when I get into any of them, I find myself curiously bewildered about what I want to say in this polarising world where every precious word can be someone’s micro-aggression, trigger, or unsafety. 

I don’t have a global following, so what I write isn’t likely to get serious oxygen, but it’s still depressing because I’m a Tigger type — it’s in my DNA. Remember AA Milne’s excellent Winnie-the-Pooh stories? (Are we still allowed to talk about these?) Pooh fans will know that Tigger is one of the animal characters in these stories who get up to all sorts of adventures and misadventures together. Tigger — unsurprisingly a tiger — is notable for his love of bouncing, which occasionally lands him in trouble with his friends or stuck up a tree he can’t get down from without help.

As a kid, my family used to joke about my Tigger tendencies as I bounced through each day — a happy little unit with a decidedly sunny nature who sang away to herself most days on waking. Like the unfortunate Elephant’s Child in Kipling’s Just So Stories (apologies if Kipling is no longer kosher either), I have “‘satiable curiosity” and am fond of shiny new things. I strongly lean towards seeing the good side of people and situations. Somewhat irritating qualities to the less Tiggerish in demeanour it has to be said. 

My Tigger gene has generally carried me through life with the wide-eyed expectations of a child in a sweet shop, helped by a succession of stylish rose-tinted glasses. Over the last few years, though, I seem to have acquired tinges of Tigger’s perennially pessimistic, gloomy and depressed friend, Eeyore the donkey. My vivid orange Tigger stripes faded like furniture left in the sun for too long. My bounce became more of a plod, and my enthusiasm for … well … pretty much everything, like my childhood dawn chorus, muted. 

It’s easy to blame everything on COVID, but that’s a bit of a cop-out. For sure, the COVID era has felt like a plague of locusts descending on the planet, consuming everything good and decent and leaving a miasma of misery, myopia and malice in its wake. It’s been a tough time on many levels, not least for owners of small businesses like me. The ‘global pause’ also saw the cancellation of so many rites of passage that bring humans together with some degree of harmony. Time has felt one-dimensional without them. We managed to flatten the curve of chronology even though we failed with the epidemiological one — COVID remains a Spectre at our feast, and chronology for a while morphed into one of Dali’s dripping clocks. 

I can’t blame COVID for everything. I can’t blame COVID for the results of my choices, tempting though it is. I can’t blame COVID for the gap the loss of my parents has left in my heart. Equally, I can’t give COVID credit for the good things that have happened — there have been a lot of those, and I’m grateful. I also am not prepared to give COVID credit for the decision a couple of years ago to adopt my sister’s favourite mantra, “Nothing changes if nothing changes”. Working on that basis, I made changes. I took back control and stopped being victimised by the times. My mantra has long been, “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it”. I realised I’d been merely treading water and started to strike out again with renewed determination towards my treasure laden ship.

The treasure I was swimming towards was purpose. The determination to re-invent my business. It was hard-hit during the pandemic and living on life support trying to sustain an outdated business model. It needed fresh thinking, so we defined an inspiring vision that would allow our Phoenix to rise in glittering splendour from the ashes of its previous incarnation. Nearly two years to the day, this vision is becoming a reality. I’m beyond excited and proud of the way it’s all coming together. I’ve written a book drawing on my professional expertise in brand development, which is being published next month, followed by the launch of an online learning platform by the end of the year. In my high-octane quest to re-calibrate and take our business into pastures new, I’ve been gobbling up apps and digital tools like the pursuers of wellness swallow Multivits. I’ve been at the edge of my comfort zone so many times mastering a heap of stuff, but l’m loving the journey.

Nothing’s easy, but it’s much easier when your gut agrees with your choices, and my gut is entirely in sync with this direction. It will allow me to focus on the stuff I want to do and not be a hostage to the place and time demands conventional businesses traditionally dictate. I’m not getting any younger, so this is a genuine need. It’s one thing I can unconditionally thank COVID for — we’ve all learned how to do things differently, and the pandemic accelerated the shift online by at least a decade, opening new ways of working and managing work. That feels a bit like freedom to me.

So, I’m happy to say Tigger’s back, bouncing around like a young grasshopper. The world once more feels like my oyster. Time has stopped dripping away. It’s not that I don’t care about what’s going on ‘out there’; I’ve just decided to stop letting the gloom darken my little corner of it. Our species has navigated into turbulent waters, but that doesn’t mean we must drown in the maelstrom. Life with purpose has always been a higher path. It always will be. Purpose gives our lives meaning. Purpose sees off pessimism. Purpose will get us through. My current purpose will keep me bouncing forward rather than up random trees I can’t get down from. 

I’m imagining the eye rolls of my family and the people I’ve lived with as I write. But hey, if I want to sing in the morning, I’ll sing. OK???

Illustrations from Winnie-the-Pooh books by E H Shepard. These are in the public domain.

Who will COP the flack if our leaders can’t agree?

With Cop26 underway, how do you feel? I’m a bit jittery — it’s so important, and I find myself moving from upbeat optimism to pessimistic defeatism in the space of a nano-second. After all, what are the odds that this Conference of Parties will ultimately achieve more than exhaling a lot of hot air? 

And yet they must, while the rest of us sit it out, holding our collective breath. The alternative is unthinkable. We, humans, are an increasingly fractious and divergent bunch. We squabble over which statues and people to cancel, ‘doing a Nero’ and fiddling while our world burns. Imagine how much worse these divisions will become if we don’t pull our heads in and find the global will to grasp the nettle and get ourselves off the horns of the climate dilemma.

It’s so easy to get disillusioned and question the point of individual action. And yet, every day, so many people and organisations demonstrate that we all can make a difference. We all do what we can as individuals, families, communities. But we need more. We need our global leaders to liberate the genie in the lamp and pull at least one giant rabbit from their magic hats. Where are Harry Potter and his “Expelliarmus” spell when we need them?

Wouldn’t it be nice if some high wizard could just wave their wand, utter the magic words, and hey presto, all the bad stuff like Covid and Climate Change, war, famine, and aggro of any sort are sealed back into the contemporary Pandora’s box we opened through our carelessness. So far, so good though — it does look like there are a few wins coming through. I’m keeping my fingers well crossed that hope triumphs over experience this time.

Do the Covid Shuffle?

“Did you have a good lockdown?” the wags are all asking since we moved back to Level 1. As if it really was a war. Maybe it was? Thinking about it, if it was a war, it’s still very much alive on many fronts. The phantom menace we’re ‘fighting’ — the pesky Coronavirus — still stalks the earth.

It’s still hard to take in. It’s as if a fictitious dystopian future has jumped off the page.Life BC seems to have happened in some parallel universe … far, far away. “Unprecedented” they say. Unprecedented, ‘they’ say a lot. It’s le mot du pandemic. The top cliché of our coronavirus times. In these times, our vocabulary has extended — flatten the curve, epidemiology, self-isolation, social distancing and bubble love. ‘Quarantinis’ replaced martinis for the fashionable set, and the WFM brigade came out of lockdown Zoomed-out, near Zombies reeling from Zoomchosis. You know the drill? All that pacing up and down the living room, head shaking purposelessly from side to side, unfocused eyes looking inward to some analogue paradise of yore.

Coronavirus pushed us to a locked-down standstill. A global pause. Emergency workers diced with death, the rest of us dug in at home and were forced to deal with whatever daily reality home represented. We got creative and entertained each other in profound and emotionally charged ways. We laughed We cried. We grieved. We rejoiced. We lost our jobs. We worried about our jobs. Our businesses. We valued things we didn’t before. We applauded new heroes. We teared-up as plucky, indomitable Major Tom shuffled his Zimmer-framed way back and forward across his garden earning staggering amounts for the British National Health Service. Those of us who could, counted our blessings.

We did the COVID Shuffle. That excruciating manoeuvre as you step off the pavement to maintain the requisite distance from an approaching person or bubble, whilst simultaneously smiling like the Cheshire Cat and offering hearty greetings to avoid causing offence. Also, to have a precious moment of human connection.

It’s a bleak time for the party animals in our midst — “introverts, your extrovert friends need your help” was one of the more entertaining and ironic truths coming through from the meme land. Life in the time of Lockdown was also something of a bonfire of the vanities. What’s the point blinging-up a storm to sit at home? Actually, I did smear a bit of make-up around most days — Zoom has a certain motivating quality on that score. Occasionally ditched the leggings for a skirt, or even a dress.

But hey, we succeeded. We flattened the pesky curve. For an intoxicating number of consecutive days, no cases at all — existing, new or prospective. “FOR NOW!” said our Prime Minister, another hero of the moment. Jacindamania isn’t only a New Zealand phenomenon. I know Aussies who’ve asked her to invade and spare them from the bigoted, climate denying MAN they’re lumbered with. How right she was as we now three new cases delivered to our doorstep by returning residents. This was always likely and wouldn’t be too troublesome if the border quarantine procedures hadn’t turned out to be a monster cockup. Jacinda and her plucky little team of five mission are now royally pissed at whatever ‘them’ was responsible. We’ve all eaten our greens and done what we’ve been told at … er … unprecedented cost. Why should other people be allowed to break curfew, even on compassionate grounds? Hey, ho, it is what is.

So, on reflection, it has been a sort of is a war. For more than two months, we sequestered ourselves in our home shelters while the Coronavirus sent its silent but deadly aerosols into our communities and ravaged our economy. Many of us wondered what will be left when the dust settles. For now, we Kiwis have won a battle, but the war itself rages on around the world and the breakout this week shows how easily we could get sucked back in. But it’s not just the pandemic. As we navel-gazed our way through the Lockdown fog, pondering the meaning of life the universe and everything, for even the most fervent deniers, it was hard to ignore the inconvenient truth that our planet and our lives are globally and intimately linked. And that our certainties can be upended in a heartbeat. We now understand in a visceral and undeniable way that there are bigger and deadlier risks on the horizon if we don’t dramatically shift our values, and how we live, spend and consume.

Countries are struggling to meet their sustainability commitments. People are worried — time is not our friend. It’s as if the Coronavirus has swept the lid off a contemporary Pandora’s Box and out has poured the sickness, death and other evils which have blighted the world while we watch the horror unfold with horror and incredulity in real-time on our devices. The gap between the super-rich and everyone else yawns like a gaping chasm that can’t be bridged. Extreme weather events get more extreme. It seems as if we’re fiddling while the Outback burns.

We make pacts with our higher powers that the future will be better. That sustainability won’t be thrown out with the bathwater. We talk about “the new normal” as if it’s a point in time we are waiting to arrive at. But there’s no pre-ordination involved. The new normal is a blank canvas waiting for our artist’s brush. The only question is what do we paint? Will it be a beautiful harmonious landscape? A primal scream? A world where no-one is left behind? I’m putting my money on the latter.

Crises serve up latitude to break moulds. To change the status quo. Shock allows for more shock. We’ve been through so much, what’s a little more if it turns this moment to benefit? As New York Times opinion writer Charlie Warzel put it, Right now, in the midst of a series of cascading, intersecting crises (racial and economic inequality, climate change, mass unemployment, a pandemic) what’s possible feels more of an open-question than any other moment in recent times.”

My sudden addiction to The Chase during Lockdown, did kick up a useful piece of trivia. Pandora’s Box didn’t only contain all the bad stuff. It also held Hope and we need Hope to soar around the world and work its magic. With hope loose in the world, I’m backing us humans to open our minds to the possible and make all the sacrifice mean something.

May we not live in interesting times

I’m sure you know the expression “may you live in interesting times”. This is sometimes referred to as ‘the Chinese Curse’. On the surface, it seems to be a positive wish, it’s typically used ironically with the “interesting” bit referring to moments when there is disorder and conflict rather than peace and stability. I should point out here that the cultural appropriation appears to be … er … not cultural … as there is apparently no known equivalent translation in Chinese.

Anyway, I’d say we’re certainly living in interesting times. In fact, you could likely put up an argument these are the most interesting times ever. In the proverbial sense, it doesn’t get much more interesting than the prospect of cataclysmic climate change that we’re facing, not to mention the seismic shifts going on in politics around the world.

In this sense, my last couple of months could also be described as “interesting”. I’ve been to three conferences focussed on sustainability and social justice issues, joined 40,000 others who marched to our Parliament building in Wellington’s Climate Strike, learned a useful new word,  Zweckpessimismus, and sung in a big production of Carl Orff’s immortal and highly bawdy Carmina Burana. You might struggle to see the connections, but ‘bear with’ …

With the exception of singing Carmina, which was tremendous, the common denominator linking the other threads was how easy it would be to get cynical and lose hope in the face of all the issues. For sure, the various conferences dished up some inspiring instances of people who clearly give a lot of damns doing amazing things, they also underscored a few home truths. While a lot of it was stuff I already knew, such as the awful state of our oceans with all that plastic choking the life out of everything in them and the shame of places like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it’s still shocking to listen to researchers who’ve seen these horrors up close and personal and measured the impact. I knew it was bad, but the scale is staggering. And that’s just the oceans!

I was a bit depressed at the end of this run of events, wondering if it really is possible for us to get the lid back on the Pandora’s Box we’ve opened. Wondering why so many people are still in denial that it actually exists, let alone has been opened? Then I came across the concept of Zweckpessimismus which helped me understand why so many of us seem transfixed like  deer in the headlights, unable to pull their heads out of the sand.

Zweckpessimismus is one of those complicated German compounds which translates as something like pessimism on purpose. In other words, the attitude of expecting the worst in order to feel relief when the worst doesn’t happen. This is undoubtedly one way of coping in a very uncertain world, but it seems like the sort of self-fulfilling prophecy that we should avoid like the plague.  Surely, we should be going hard out for the opposite — what can go right will go right?

Zweckpessimists, with their doomsday thinking are actually dangerous in these super-intersting times when we need hope and optimism above everything else. While it might be a wonderful feeling when you have expected the worst and it doesn’t happen, it is pushing out a form of negative energy that infects others with alarm and fear. Instead, let’s pool all the good vibes we can call forth to create an unstoppable wave of positivity to inspire our Simian ingenuity and creativity to find solutions. Perhaps then, the tipping point we seem to be reaching, will skew in the direction of a world we would like to see. Let’s opt for uninteresting times and be bored in perpetuity by the serenity of global peace and ecological abundance rather than the dystopian alternative that is the other option.

Coming back to performing Carmina Burana. It was a true celebration of what people can achieve in harmony.  Without blowing my own trumpet (both puns intended), it was a great night. Close to 2,000 people — audience and all the performers — left the concert on a high. This high — a palpable energy buzzing around the auditorium connecting us all — stayed with me long after the strains of the music were done. I hope that is true for others who were there. If we could always feel this way, how amazing would our lives be? Imagine the transformation that would follow if every Zweckpessimist out there expected the best instead of the worst. Someone should coin a word for that!

 

Counterfeit World?

Haven’t written a post for some time. When I turned 60 in March I came over all introspective and had an unaccountable urge to start writing my auto-biography. This was all going quite well until I got into a funk about how much of my life and times I actually want to share … honestly … and so I ‘pivoted’ (the moniker the start-up community apply to a whopping change of direction) and am now a funk-free zone.

However, today I read an article that actually made me get my blog groove back on. The article was about the fact that for several years, a number of the (credible) scientific community around the world have been testing the possibility that we are part of a simulated world. Oh great, another fear to be factored into the growing list. To be sure, this is not at all a new concept. In the seventies, I can remember reading sci-fi books like Counterfeit World (or Simulacron-3 as it was published, for some unaccountable reason, in some places) written by Daniel F Galouye in 1964.

Counterfeit World featured a total environment simulator created by a scientist to advance market research by reducing the need for opinion polls. The world’s  inhabitants are unaware they are only electronic impulses in a computer. As the story unfolds, the protagonist progressively grasps that his world is likely not “real” and struggles with inchoate madness brought on by this realisation. Well, you would wouldn’t you? Things get pretty nasty before they get better as the ‘gods’ controlling his  ‘world’ try to keep the lid on their unravelling experiment. I wonder if this fab little book provided inspiration for the spine-chilling gold standard for simulated worlds, The Matrix (1999)?

While I don’t actually believe that we are part of a simulated world, the fact remains that computer simulation has become a norm, even if we aren’t yet capable of creating actual populated worlds. As the article points out, since the 90s, computer simulations have been set up to try to get answers to Big Questions.  Questions like “What causes war?”, “How will climate change affect global migration?” and “Which political systems are most stable?” Does anyone else wish someone would answer the biggest question “How do I win Lotto?  … and please, I want more than the standard “Buy a ticket”.

As things stand though, computers aren’t really up to the job of mimicking the extraordinary complexity of our world. Or, at least, not very well. Anyone hear the “yet” hovering at the end of this sentence. I’m open to believing that someday they might be. That it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they could achieve a state of sophistication where they could create simulations of people in computer code who are to all intents and purposes just like you and me in the way they think and behave. Scary shit huh? But there are people out there — and not just ANY old people, people with the sort of credentials that give them a seat at the table  — who think this may already have happened, that we actually are living in a computer simulation created by a more advanced civilisations.

As far back as 2003, the philosopher Nick Bostrom suggested that if you can believe that we might one day be running many simulations from an anthropological point of view to better understand our ancestors and the history of our civilisation, it is logical that we are living in one of them right now. And why would that be? According to Bostrom, “If people eventually develop simulation technology — no matter how long that takes — and if they’re interested in creating simulations of their ancestors, then simulated people with experiences just like ours will vastly outnumber un-simulated people.”

This would mean that our current world could then just be one of many because any anthropologist historian wishing to get beyond The Age of Empires as a way of understanding the rise and fall of civilisations will make many simulations involving millions or even billions of people to assess all the possible scenarios. As tainted genius Elon Musk sees it, “the odds that we are NOT simulations are one in billions.”

While this sounds like so much more conspiracy bollocks, since 2012, at least some members of the scientific community have been testing Bostrom’s thinking, including a bunch of physicists at the University of Washington. I’m no conspiracy theorist and I’m too lazy to try and decode how they are going about the testing — and why bother? After all, if we are living in a simulation or controlled experiment, ignorance has to be bliss.

The sinister aspect to testing whether we are indeed a simulation and actually proving that we are, is that if we knew for sure we are living in our own counterfeit world, we would become pointless to our controllers and they would likely end the experiment. It’s like when new drugs are tested for efficacy. It’s important that the patients involved don’t actually now whether they’re on the drug or taking a placebo. If they find out, the trial loses its point and will be cancelled. As Green calls it, a ‘simulation shutdown’ would occur and then what would become of us.? I’d say, whatever the truth, let sleeping dogs lie!

Wag the (alien) dog?

I just read a wonderful hypothesis outlining a genius way of mitigating the threat of global warming. The hypothesis is that we need to invent a new and super-scary existential threat — like aliens threatening to annihilate the world if we don’t instantly come up with a convincing plan for drastically cutting emissions. Think about it for a moment, it’s a perfect concept!

The central tenet of this inspired piece of thinking is that we need a total “re-imagining” of the world political order. That business as usual just won’t cut it if we are to do enough, quickly enough. While that’s not exactly visionary — I could have come up with that bit — I wouldn’t in my wildest dreams have imagined inventing a threat from some green-minded ETs to get us fully focussed on the important stuff.  As far as I am aware, this let’s pretend it’s aliensthat are causing all the problems thing is genuine blue sky thinking by NY Times OpEd writer Farhad Manjoo.

But why on earth (pun intended) would we do that?  Well, according to the marvellously creative Mr. Manjoo, our current reality of fake news, alternative facts and outright, barefaced lying opens the door to bending the truth for the greater good. Let’s face it, playing ‘let’s pretend’ for something of paramount importance would be a refreshing take on the now seemingly acceptable art of the untruth.

In Manjoo’s Wag the Dog scenario (by the way if you haven’t seen this marvellous Hoffman/De Niro black comedy about a spin doctor and a Hollywood producer who fabricate a war to distract voters from a presidential sex scandal, you really should — it’s hilarious) the threat of an alien invasion is the lever to get humanity off its collective arse and working together to save it’s collective bacon. Imagine if you will, the world receives a tweet from the alien leader “We will boil your planet alive. Only a carefully designed plan for cutting and capturing emissions will save you now, suckers!” It might be a bit of a stretch that said alien leader has such a good command of the English vernacular. Maybe she was equipped with one of those Babel Fish so useful to travellers in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? You know the ones, when played in your ear, these clever fish will live there and translate any form of language for you. Yup, I believe everything I read.

All joking aside, we humans have always been stellar at responding to external threats. We’re not so flash at changing our own behaviours, particularly if it means trading off some of our comforts and taking decisions that will hit our wallets. But seeing off a threat from potentially “murderous aliens” to save the planet might just galvanise us.As Manjoo says, “Even for people who do believe in global warming, pretending that aliens are attacking the earth accomplishes a neat mental trick. It helps to frame the scope of the threat — civilizational, planet-encompassing — while also suggesting how we might respond: immediately, collectively and for as long as it takes.”

And it could work! All you have to do is consider the hysteria that broke out in the US on October 30, 1938, when a 62-minute radio dramatisationof The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells (confusingly produced and narrated by Orson Welles) was broadcast. Apparently even people who had never heard Welles reading the HG Wells story about invading Martians wielding deadly heat-rays later claimed to have been terrified. Welles used simulated on-the-scene radio reports ostensibly by the military and air force about aliens advancing on New York City to pep up the story. According to popular myth, thousands of New Yorkers fled their homes in panic, with swarms of terrified citizens crowding the streets in different American cities to catch a glimpse of a “real space battle”. While this over-reaction has lately been outed as largely urban myth it’s not hard to imagine something similar happening in our current reality. I’m thinking about the arsenals of special effects available to film makers that could achieve genuine mass hysteria and harness it for good. Sadly, it’s also totally imaginable that we could harness it for worse, but let’s give humanity the benefit of the doubt here and assume we’d do the right thing.

OK so this is just fantasy, but it’s the most engaging solution I’ve read so far. Let’s face it, if we hit or exceed two degrees further warming, the scale of potential devastation will be catastrophic. This is not something even progressive governments can tackle in isolation, however well-meaning. Mitigating climate change is no longer just one item on a governmental ‘to do’ list. If we don’t act now, it will become the only thing that matters a damn. The build a wall thinking, the isolationist ‘dwarfs are for dwarfs’ ignorance imaged in C S Lewis’s Narnia finale The Last Battleunderpinning MAGA and, slightly differently, BREXIT, will be patent nonsense in the face of what is to come. Go aliens — pretend or otherwise — save us from ourselves.

P.S. Farhad Manjoo’s articleis entertaining and (by my way of thinking) totally on the money if you have a few minutes to spare.

Statements of the bleeding obvious #201: Nice doctors really do make a difference!

It’s amazing how many times what’s billed as breakthrough new research really just confirms what we already understand from experience. Stuff like the fact that singing is good for us and can prolong our lives. That dogs and other animals lift the spirits of long-term hospital patients … as well as mostly everyone else. That laughter is infectious. That lovesickness is a genuine state.

OK, so we’re in an era where it’s possible and considered desirable to research esoteric and non-fundamental subjects. I’m cool with that — non-fundamental subjects like these actually make a lot of difference to our daily lives bringing cheer and happiness, often in dark times. So providing evidence that they really do achieve what  we intuitively feel they do is fab … even if the headlines they provoke seem more like statements of the bleeding obvious than radical insights into the  human psyche.

It most definitely is good to know that singing regularly could prolong my life — I do enough of it after all. It’s a bonus to know that, as well as the immediate buzz from   opening your larynx and letting rip, it’s a gift that keeps on giving in the all-of-life context. Also great to know empirically that my love of animals — near obsession it has to be said — is healthy. That bringing animals into hospitals is genuinely therapeutic and can bring comfort to people in pain or despair. Who hasn’t ever listened to a friend break out into a great belly laugh and  been been compelled to laugh too? Laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone … so true. And love sickness? Well, it’s been a while since Apollo fired an arrow into my tender  heart and catalysed all the turbulent symptoms I described in an earlier blog You Make Me Sick! But I haven’t forgotten the visceralality of it all — there’s no question in my mind, it’s a lurg just as debilitating as a fluey cold.

At the weekend, I read another about one of these completely unsurprising research findings. Can A Nice Doctor Make Treatments More Effective? Well dear reader, if you were in any doubt on this count, according to new research by Stamford University in the US, having a doctor who is warm and reassuring actually improves your health. REALLY? Who knew? Most of us I would have thought. I found this astonishing non-news in weekly round up of good news from the New York Times. It’s full of great stories and I love it.

Last week comes Romeo the Sehuencas water frog to my inbox. Romeo is a very rare creature. He was thought to be the last of his type. No Juliet to be found anywhere, let alone on ‘yonder balcony’. Day after endless day, sad Romeo croaked out “Juliet, Juliet, wherefore art thou Juliet?” from his home in a Bolivian museum. Actually what he said was, “ribbet, ribbet, ribbet …” but where’s the poetry in that? Cutting to the chase, biologists had pretty much given up their search in the remote and inaccessible areas of Bolivia where said Juliet might have been found. Then behold! There she was. Juliet the miracle frog — a potential mate for our lonesome hero. Being the only two Sequencas water frogs in existence, it was set to be a fine romance and I’d love to be able to say, “and they both lived happily ever after”. But even for a frog with only one possible mate, the chemistry still has to be right. Imagine the pressure! Without mincing words, would you be prepared to shag some random stranger to preserve our species? Fine if it’s George Clooney.  Not so fine if … well, the list is endless. But then again, unlike Romeo, no one I know is faced with the decision to take one for the future of our species and it’s easy to be precious when we’re in no imminent danger of extinction … unless we keep  messing with our natural habitat that is. All joking aside, a lot is riding on our precious frog prince. Let’s hope the chemistry is there and they soon start producing copious numbers of wee froglets to perpetrate their froggy line.

But back to nice doctors. Apparently the simple things a doctor says to you can have an impact on your health outcomes. Even a brief reassurance can relieve symptoms faster. The reassurance is more efficacious when it’s said in a kindly manner rather than barked out as a “you’ll be fine” afterthought when you leave the surgery. You can’t quite get away from the fact that the doctor has to be skilled and competent as well as nice. However, most of us have been on the receiving end of one of those grumpy types whose you mistake me for someone who cares demeanour is more likely to cause you to lose the will to live altogether than get well. Their cool indifference renders you as articulate as … well .. a frog .. when you try to describe the pain that was giving you hell until it magically disappeared nano-seconds after you made the appointment..

Anyway, the conclusion of the research was that doctors who don’t connect with their patients my risk undermining a treatment’s success. Apparently doctor-patient rapport is much more than the sum of it’s feel good parts. It’s a important aspect of medical care that significantly affects a patient’s physical health. Are you kidding me? It really does feel like a statement of the bleeding obvious that someone who is kind and sympathetic as well as good at their job is likely to achieve a better result.

The article ended by questioning what this means in the brave new world of artificial intelligence. AI opens the possibility of not having to go to the doctor for minor health issues. If interacting with a human being and hearing words of encouragement is part of the cure, this begs the wider question of whether our increasing isolation is actively bad for our health. As the opportunities and need for actually connecting with a fellow human in many aspects of our lives become progressively fewer, what collateral damage are we setting ourselves up for. Romeo the frog couldn’t help his plight. We can, and yet we continue to write people out of the script of our lives. When us humans humans actually get together face-to-face is, we open up the possibility for  laughter and  love. For conviviality and banter. We get to share the good and help each other through the bad times. You don’t need to be a Stamford luminary  to recognise that gentle and kind connections with other people — Doctors and the rest — are seriously good for our health and unkind, cruel ones are not. Comforting to know this is now “proven by scientists”.

 

Happy New Year … you’re under arrest!

Two burly, unsmiling cops barge into my office and stride purposefully to my desk. “Frances Manwaring?” the taller and meaner of the barks at me. “Er … yes,” I say a little tremulously, wondering what they want. “Frances Manwaring, you’re under arrest. You have the right to remain silent … ” As the cop reels off my Miranda rights, I wonder if I’m in the middle of a nightmare. I pinch myself to be sure, but voice drones on…

OK, so I didn’t get arrested — just wanted to build the drama of the piece. But seriously, it was how I imagined things might have gone down if my business partner hadn’t gone to collect our mail from our PO Box on Tuesday. This is a rare event — nothing of any use comes by snail these days so weeks can go past without either of us stirring our stumps to go and pick up whatever dross has gathered dust. In this case it had been only been a relatively short gap since the last visit and that only because I’m in the middle of a transaction in the UK with an antediluvian, seemingly technophobic insurance company for whom physical mail, for some unfathomable reason, is the only way it will communicate.

Anyway, back comes John with a bundle of letters, mostly bank statements and the usual junk promos. While we’re on the subject, what is it with banks? Mine seem hell-bent on squandering whole forests by continuing to send paper statements, even though I’ve opted for digital versions more times than Kim Kardashian changes her handbags. But I digress — back to the main event. Because I’m hoping to find a reply from the annoying UK insurer, I don’t just lob the whole lot into the recycle bin as I often do. Thats an inspired decision as it turns out. Irritatingly, the hoped for insurance missive isn’t in the stack. Instead, lurking amongst the wad of bank statements, is a formal looking item with “OPEN IMMEDIATELY!” emblazoned on the envelope. How intriguing I think … how very Alice in Wonderland. Then I notice the Ministry of Justice crest and figure it must be something follow up from the Jury Service stint I did in early November. Being a complaint sort of person (!), I open it immediately as instructed without any concerns. But a brief first scan of the the short letter almost stopped my heart.

Nothing magical about this missive! Turns out it’s a summons to appear in court on Thursday at 11am. I’m reading it on Tuesday at about 4.50pm, so the imminence is pretty alarming. Has to be a mistake I think. Must have read it wrong. Reading it again does nothing to alter my first impression — it’s definitely a summons and it’s definitely addressed to me, so not a case of mistaken identity. And the heinous crime that requires my presence in court? A speeding infringement from mid-2016. The letter contains a helpful, but not very imaginative infographic (being MD of a creative agency, I’m quite up on what makes a good infographic) depicting the scary steps involved in the apocalypse triggered by this infringement. If you don’t pay the fine instantly, you get a reminder and some grace to stump up (Step 1). After continued ignoring of reminders (Step 2), the up the ante with a summons to court (Step 3). Failure to appear leads to arrest (Step 4).

Poorly rendered though this infographic is (note to self – send our credentials to MOJ and see if they need a new creative agency), I’m now more than a little freaked out. Us head girl types don’t get summoned to appear in court, it’s just not in our DNA! Anyway, it’s now 4.59pm and I panic dial the Ministry’s 0800 quicker than you can say Great Train Robbers to see WTF is going on and what I can do about it. I thank my lucky stars to find someone still taking calls (at a government agency) after 5pm and I have a very convivial conversation with this saintly person who clearly doesn’t think I’m an axe murderer. Having cleared that up, we quickly cut to the chase. The problem turns out to be a timing issue. I’d just moved house at about the time it happened, so didn’t receive the original fine notice (thanks whoever moved into that house after me and didn’t forward my mail). Then I didn’t notify my change of address to the powers that be before the reminder was sent out, so I also didn’t receive that (another heartfelt thank you to the new incumbent).

It was a little un-nerving how much information about my movements my new BFF was able to access while we were talking. I did vocalise somewhat stridently (not too stridently as I didn’t want to get offside with MOJ) my disappointment and surprise that only the one reminder appears to have been sent, and that there had been no subsequent communications until this summons to court more than two years later. In any case, I had to agree it was a fair cop as I hadn’t sent the change of address out immediately and it was therefore on me that the documents never found me. As you can imagine, I threw in a few mea culpas at this point. I’m sure youll be very happy to know that all it took to fix the problem was a credit card and $60 of creditworthiness. I certainly was! The irony of it all was that the original fine was only something like $12, the rest being penalties and court fees which couldn’t be waived because of my failure to notify change of address. However, she assures me I dont  have to make an appearance in court appearance and the long arm of the law wont be reaching out for me and we’re done. Phew!

Later, I pondered the astonishing amount of effort that goes into a minor misdemeanour when so much other big crime goes unchecked. That’s a story of its own, but there’s another side to this issue. I’ve moved several times in the last few years. I’m pretty diligent about sending out change of address notices to people like the Transport Authority, and I genuinely thought I had notified them all after that particular move. Apparently not. Some time ago I decided to get around this by using my business PO Box as my personal address to avoid all the hassle involved.

But my point is how easy it is to get offside with the law. Many people less advantaged than me also move a lot for all sorts of reasons, including financial or family difficulties. Many more have temporary addresses or no address. For sure, a proportion of these won’t own or drive cars, so won’t be in line to clock up traffic offences. However, I’m sure many of them do and I wonder how much of our policing time is spent arresting people who, like me, didn’t ever get the fine notices in the first place? Being generous, I’m sure most of us would actually stump up, particularly as they offer payment terms.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not arguing with the law. Curtailing the speed at which people drive makes us all safer and I do try to stay within the legal limits. I’m sure there are recidivists who never pay and deserve to be prosecuted because they clearly don’t care about the consequences. However, from this experience it’s easy to see how quickly things can escalate and suddenly you’re in trouble. I’m sure I wouldn’t actually have been banged up, but I might have landed a criminal record if I’d been convicted. I ended up thinking there but for the grace of God go I if John had postponed his trip to our PO Box by 2 days. Timing is everything! Happy New Year indeed.

Ghosts from Christmases past #2: Hip hip hooray!

Spending Christmas in hospital would not high on my Dear Santa wish list. I apologise in advance to all those dedicated and wonderful doctors and nurses who are rostered on through holidays to look after the hapless hoardes who are ill or break themselves at Christmas. Nope, those guys do a heroic job. But hospital at Christmas – it’s just not living the dream is it? It has to be said, I have been one of the hapless Christmas A&E admissions, having snapped my Achilles tendon on holiday on Christmas Eve a few years ago and I was truly grateful (a) that it happened in the early morning so I wasn’t competing with all the drunks that clog the system later in the day/night and (b) that those dedicated and wonderful types were with great good grace (amen) to put this Humpty together again without any kings’ horses or men in sight.

Still and all, a festive hospital visit is just not anyone’s top choice as a holiday destination. And yet, fifteen years ago, it actually was. I needed what is amusingly referred to as ‘elective surgery’. Elective because you can, in theory, choose whether to have it or not, and when, as the condition doesn’t need to be dealt to at a particular time — i.e. it isn’t life threatening. The whole elective thing is laughable. Big yeah right! In many cases there is a choice, but that happens when your surgeon accepts that your pain is so extreme that you’d likely go insane if you had to bear it for a nano-second longer.

To give you the back story, I had both hip joints replaced in my late thirties. I was unusually young, but by no means unique. There were a number of things wrong with me each one of which on its own wouldn’t have been much of an issue, but collectively combined to wreck the joints. Because of my age, my surgeon held the surgery off as long as he could because he was worried about future complications — the prostheses only last so long and there are only so many times you can effectively replace the replacements because apparently you run out of femur to play with (sorry if this is a little close to the … er … bone for some). It was all about probabilities. How long the replacement joints would last, how long I would live If the first was shorter than anticipated and the latter longer, I faced seeing my life out in a wheel chair. In any case, my condition deteriorated at a rate that would have made an Apollo Space Craft seem laboured. Movement became very limited, quality of life nose-dived and ultimately the pain became so bad he relented. I had both of them ‘done’ within a year of each other. Happy days!

Anyway, the ops were a tremendous success. I got my life and mobility back, the pain was miraculously gone and I was a happy little camper. Then several years later comes ‘The Fall. Before you get worried about my state of innocence, I don’t mean fall in the Biblical sense. No, my fall was getting a bit carried away at an al fresco party and missed my footing in the dark on the edge of some concrete circle we’d turned into an impromptu dance floor. Seemed like a great idea at the time. Wouldn’t have been too big a deal if I hadn’t landed so hard that one of my prostheses came loose. Back to limping, pain and the certainty of more surgery.

This time, there was no question of the surgeon putting up a fight — the revision clearly needed to be done and it was only a question of when. Luckily for me, I have a private health care plan which meant I really was in a position to choose a time that would be the least disruptive to my life. The first slot that my surgeon could offer was just before Christmas, meaning I would be in hospital for Christmas and Boxing Day. The next option was weeks away and, once I’d thought about it and got over the poor me aspect of it all, the Christmas timing was actually ideal. The private hospital I went to was very close to my house, so easy for family visits and minimal unscheduled time off work.

In all seriousness, apart from the fact that undergoing surgery of this sort is not a walk in the woods, once I’d got over the immediate effects of the anaesthetic and the post op trauma had passed, it was actually quite fun. I had a lovely big airy room on the corner of the hospital all to myself. The nurses were a great bunch, some were old friends from previous incarcerations. I think they were grateful to swop stories with someone who was under 85 to be honest as they dropped in more than was strictly necessary and we had a lot of laughs. It didn’t stop there. I had had more visitors than I probably would have had at home, and I didn’t have to lift a finger on the festive cooking front. The food wasn’t half bad, particularly a pretty yummy (for an institution) roast turkey dinner on the big day, washed down with one of those cute little miniature bottles of a hearty red and the decorations were pretty flash. Best of all, I didn’t have to suffer through all the endless repetitions of canned Christmas music. By the way, does anyone other than me find the whole idea that Santa sees you while you’re sleeping and knows when you’re awake a bit creepy and stalkerish? Anyway, I was out by New Year and well into the familiar rehab routine.

Now that we’re in the hiatus between Christmas and New Year, there’s a bit of time to ruminate about stuff. This morning, in one of those desultory conversations one has with friends and family, my mother and I somehow meandered into comparing the vintage of our artificial joints. Tragic, I know but hips seem to be our family thing. We’ve all had them done. Big difference is when they were done; grandfather (late eighties and only one), father (early eighties and only one), uncle (well into his sixties and only one), mother (both — late fifties and early sixties) and sister (mid-fifties — one so far, but counting down to the next). Then there was me in my late thirties, not sure what happened there! Anyway, my mother’s first prosthesis is a venerable 25 whereas mine is a stripling at 20. No-one really knows how long they will last because everyone’s activity levels are different. Equally the vast majority of the recipients of artificial hips are quite old and so it’s difficult to measure average lifespans as the first one generally sees them out. However, 20 is thought to be a pretty good age, so mum and I were musing how much longer ours would hold out.

We also reprised a regular foray into imagining what our parallel universes would have thrown up  if this amazing technology had not been available to us. To be honest, It doesn’t bear thinking about. If we’d been born before the middle of the last century, we’d both likely be cripples, even if either of us was still alive.Early attempts at hip replacement were carried out in Germany in 1891 using ivory to substitute for the femur head. These were attached with nickel-plated screws, Plaster of Paris and glue. Hmmmm. Not surprising this approach didn’t take off. The pre-cursor to current techniques was pioneered in 1940 in South Carolina by US surgeon Dr Austin T Moore who performed the first metallic hip replacement surgery.  A more sophisticated version – the ‘Austin Moore Prothesis’ — was introduced in 1952 and is apparently still used occasionally. Like modern hip implants, it is inserted into the medullary canal of the femur, and depends on bone growth through a hole in the stem for long-term attachment. Another apology here if this creeps anyone out!

It’s always so tempting to think about the golden age that we perceive existed in our grand parents’ eras. Apparently, every generation since the newspapers rolled off the early printing presses felt this sort of nostalgia for imagined glories past, underlined by a fear of change and what it means for the future. Every time I get caught in this sentimentality for the halcyon past, all I have to do is think about my great good luck in living now and being on the receiving end of the incredible medical science and technology that is our norm. Even with all the problems we’re facing as a species, I’m grateful from the bottom of my soul that surgical advances have allowed me to live a full, pain free and normal life. When I think of Christmas miracles, my hospital experience in 2003 would have to be one of them. If we can achieve all this, surely we clever, inventive Simians, can find the tools to figure out the other stuff. Hip hip hooray to that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ghosts from Christmases past #1: What a cracker!

Earlier in the week I did one of my favourite parts of Christmas — delivering Christmas gifts for my (Moxie’s) Wellington-based clients. While I was arranging my gaudily sequined Christmas hat as jauntily as I could and wondering whether I could still get away with this look, I had one of those incredible déjà vu moments as I remembered a ghost of myself from a Christmas past.

Thirty years ago, almost to the day, a lovely friend Daniella and I, resplendently festooned in Miss Christmas costumes, were hauling sacks of giant Christmas crackers around the streets of the City of London. We were delivering the contents of said sacks to commercial real estate agents and the crackers were a promotion to announce that the owners of one of the city’s newest tower blocks had decided to break down the floor space into smaller units for rent. Well, dear reader, what a buzz! Everyone was thoroughly into the festive spirit (some literally) and we turned heads, stopped traffic and generally had great banter with the people we passed. Lot of ‘you better be good for goodness sake’ sort of jive. It has to be said, the hats were coy, the skirts short, the heels high and the legs long. Of course, the clichéd red velvet and faux white ermine outfits had their own tacky but exotic allure. In these highly PC days donning we then this gay apparel might appear like the ultimate in objectification. Back then, we just saw it as a bit of harmless fun — it was for my business, no-one forced us and, in any case, we probably thought we looked ‘hot’ and enjoyed flaunting it. A whole topic for a different blog!

This cameo role was related to a business that I tried to help a friend’s son Ralph get off the ground. He’d already started it, but it wasn’t gaining traction beyond his immediate locale. We called it Absolutely Crackers!and the giant crackers for the city building were one of our biggest successes. In its short life span, Absolutely Crackers! really rocked the corporate promotions market — we made bespoke, weird and wonderful crackers for a range of iconic brands including Arsenal Football Club and top end chocolate manufacturer Charbonnel et Walker. Then there were the sumptuous crackers designed to match the splendour of art deco Pullman Carriages on the Venice Simplon Orient Express.  Fillers for these were white silk evening scarves for men and exquisite hand-painted ones for women from VSOE’s merchandise range. For a city broker, crackers made from the Financial Times were the perfect accessory for their annual bash.

The jewel in our crown was creating the invitations to CBS Records (now Sony Music) Christmas party in 1988. I don’t recall how we got in front of CBS — might have been via my then husband who was involved in music sponsorship — but we put together a very ambitions proposal for they invites which they, somewhat amazingly, accepted. In retrospect, they probably went for it because we ludicrously under-priced the whole gig.

The theme for the party was ‘Old English’ and, let me tell you, these weren’t just any old crackers. No, no, no, these were masterpieces of ingenuity and engineering. What we proposed, and they ultimately got, were individually boxed crackers — we designed a sleek triangular box to make them easy to post or courier to the who’s who of the musical world that were on the invitation list. In keeping with the theme, the crackers themselves were made from a beautiful burgundy and gold paisley patterned paper and the gifts were boxed miniatures of Glen Fiddich. Nice touch we thought even though Glen Fiddich is clearly not English. Nor is it even that old, having been founded in 1886, but good luck getting boxed miniatures of mead! Anyway, CBS seemed to agree that the single malt met the spirit … hem hem … of the occasion.

So far so good. The glory of the piece was the invitation which was hand-written by a calligrapher using medieval ornamentation on the lettering and then reproduced on parchment style paper. Most sane people would simply have rolled the invite up inside the cracker. Not us! No, we figured that to be authentic, they needed something else. So the invite was rolled, tied with red satin ribbon and then sealed using a custom designed CBS seal and traditional red sealing wax. The scroll this made was glued to the top of the cracker and the finished articles looked amazing.

And that’s where the wheels fell off. We had to assemble 350 of them. Anyone like to hazard a guess how long it takes to hand seal 350 parchment invitations? What calibre of satin ribbon can withstand the heat of the sealing wax being dripped onto it? No clue? We didn’t either. I can remember sitting at home at my kitchen table, the ceiling paint slowly blackening with the somewhat greasy smoke from the melting wax, my fingers progressively covering with Band Aids as the skin reddened and blistered, and the frustration grew as each ribbon sample melted down. I think we finished them off in the Board Room of my day job. (Happily I had a great boss who thought the whole cracker madness was great fun and might even have been the genius behind a device that got created to allow us to make about 10 ribbon seals simultaneously.) Anyway, the crackers were a huge hit even if we made no money out of them (on account of never having done anything like this before — has anyone?  — and not being able to price them effectively). But hey, luminaries like Mick Jagger and George Michael got our crackers … and what price a few first degree burns between superstar friends!

But how did crackers get incorporaed into the Christmas lexicon in the first place? It’s not like Matthew’s Gospel told us of wise men bringing gold, frankinsense, myhrr … and … er … crackers. You can sort of understand where Christmas trees and all the Easter paraphanalia like eggs and bunnies got adapted from the pagan festivals the Christian ones replaced. But crackers were unashamedly commercial. Wikipedia (bless) tells the story of how one Tom Smith was first to market.  He apparently created crackers as a development of his bon-bon sweets, which he sold in a twist of paper (the origins of the traditional sweet-wrapper). But the novelty wore off, sales of bon-bons slumped, and Smith sought new promotional ideas. Apparently, he added the “snap” when he heard the crackle of a log he had just put on a fire. The size of the paper wrapper had to be increased to incorporate the banger mechanism, and the sweet itself was eventually dropped, to be replaced by trinkets. This new product was initially marketed as the Cosaque (i.e. Cossack), but quickly morphed into the onomatopoeic “cracker”. The other elements of the cracker we all know and (many of us) love —the gifts, paper hats and mottos — were all introduced by Walter Smith (Tom’s son) to differentiate their product from competitors who’d grasped the opportunity and got on the cracker bandwagon.

Back to Absolutely Crackers! Despite the genuine success of some of our promotions, the cracker empire never eventuated. Behemoth’s like Tom Smith still dominated the retail market and made it pretty much impossible for us to succeed. Without cracking (sorry couldn’t resist it) the retail market, relying on promotions was too random as they didn’t happen evenly during the year. Our vision was to make the cracker a ubiquitous part of the corporate party circuit, not just at Christmastime. Instead we coped with high stress peak times during October – December which, fun though they were … and they were … were also unsustainable. In any case, as with CBS, we didn’t really know how to price the jobs properly and lacked the confidence to just think of a big number and double it, then double it again, so we didn’t manage to build any reserves.

We did try quite hard to get into the ‘high end’ retailers like Harrods, Fortnum and Mason and Asprey but other independents peddling top of the line product, had got to them first. Asprey in particular offered eye-wateringly expensive crackers at around fifteen hundred quid for a dozen. Think gold plating and diamonds designed for wealthy Saudis! We didn’t have the working capital to really get stuck into this level of ostentation. In the end, we decided to throw in the towel and, with extreme regret, closed our little factory unit outside Hereford. I re-focused on my day job which likely pleased my long-suffering boss, and Ralph went off to study drama.

Despite this, I loved Christmas crackers  long after Absolutely Crackers! went to the big Christmas party in the sky and have re-prised my cracker making skills for family and friends on many occasions over the years. To me, specially designed crackers are like icing on the cake of my table setting themes. I also found them to be a very personal and loving way of wrapping carefully chosen gifts. I guess my feelings about table settings and crackers were akin to the way others offer love through food. However, it’s increasingly hard not to be sickened by the overt consumerism of this time of the year. All the advertising for too many things we don’t need and there’s no place to hide behind the knowledge of the damage we consumers have wreaked on our environment.

Apparently there’s a memorial water fountain to Tom Smith and his family at Finsbury Square in London. Perhaps this is another monument that ought to be removed? Crackers may well be a beautiful augmentation of the Christmas table and add some fun to the moment. But it is only a moment and they are just another layer of landfill when it all comes down to it and we need more of that like we need to colonise Mars. Well actually, we probably will need to colonise Mars if we don’t stop creating landfill like crackers, but I’m sure you know what I mean. I’ve stopped making or buying them even if I have to psyche myself to step away from the tantalisingly presented boxed sets in stores and mourn the creative opportunity loss for my table decorations.

Having said all that, all that remains is to wish you a cracker of a Christmas and a very happy New Year full of peace, joy, hope and love.

Riding the kindness wave

Don’t know about you, but I’m sick of the barrage of negativity that bombards us from all the news channels. I want to feel uplifted not besmirched when I think about our species and what we’re capable of. That doesn’t mean I’m for buying my head in the sand — I’m not hermit material, nor do I want to retire to an ashram and … er … I’m not actually an ostrich. In any case, as part of the ‘global village’ it’s my duty to be at least a bit informed about current events and geopolitics and form opinions and be part of the whole thing.

Yet there is just so much vileness, violence and vitriol splattered around these days, it’s easy to get cynical and despairing. Caring detachment is apparently the answer. But it’s hard to stay above the tantalising awfulising that vomits forth from so many channels. It’s all so ‘dialled up’ and following every sensational utterance of the Trumps of the world has become a new sport, if not religion. All that’s needed is an internet connection and a screen of some sort and hey presto, you’re plugged in and the ‘interwebs’ pedalling the good, bad and the ugly is your oyster. Lies, damn lies and fake news abound. We get trapped in our echo-chambers. For us liberals, it’s hard to ignore feeling that the barbarians are at the gates and our legacy to future generations could all too easily be a burned-out world with a broken eco-system.

So what can an individual do that really makes a difference worth a damn … other than vote of course! Well, lots to be honest. The possibilities are endless, but one option that’s really taken off is the concept of creating waves of energy to achieve positive reinforcement. Literally, spreading good vibes. Think about it — we plant trees to offset carbon emissions. Why not apply that thinking to offset hate, bigotry, misogyny, racism and all the other isms that have re-reared their ugly heads so forcefully around the world in this era of uncivility? The idea is that kindness — appreciation and caring for one another — in deed, in word, in thought or intent  — changes individual lives. Collectively, it can transform the world.

Clearly, orchestrated action is not a new concept. We apply it in all sorts of practical ways like several people lifting a heavy object on the count of three.. A rapidly growing number of people believe that this type of concerted approach can lift the world. Waves of Kindness is a movement where people take a moment at 8am and 8pm daily to form a complete and tangible wave ring around the world coming from a conscious state of unified kindness.

If that all sounds a bit ‘woo woo’ then perhaps a more accessible option is World Kindness Day that’s coming up on November 13. WKD aims to highlight good deeds in the community focusing on the positive power and the common thread of kindness which binds us. It’s intended to be a day that encourages individuals to overlook boundaries, race and religion and celebrate commonalities. Two thousand and eighteen is the movement’s 20th anniversary — it was initiated in 1998 by a coalition of kindness NGOs around the world and is now observed in a number of countries including Australia, Canada, Italy, India, Japan, Nigeria, UAE, Singapore and the UK.

Embarrassing that New Zealand isn’t yet on this list — shame on us! Having said that our inspiring Prime Minister Jacinda Adern included this sort of thinking in a speech at the UN a few weeks ago, and my home town  — NZ’s capital city Wellington — is celebrating its inaugural GKD this year. Better late than never!

People observe WKD in all sorts of ways. In Australia for example, it’s made it onto the school calendar of 9,000 schools and there are “It’s Cool To Be Kind Awards”. Activities include handing out kindness cards, staging flashmobs and concerts. WKD is also on the radar of individual non-profits such as Life Vest in the US and there’s clearly a big appetite for finding the international kindness taproot. Life Vest’s film Kindness Boomerang went viral, receiving more than 100 million views and coverage in serious media outlets such as TED, NBC, CBS and Adweek.

If you’re leaning towards joining the kindness wave, you might also consider becoming a Raktivist — the random acts of kindness movement might be more your thing. Much more of a JFDI individual approach without all the group hugging and collaborative stuff. According to the site, Raktivists are kindness ambassadors who live and breathe kindness, share knowledge and lead by example. Apparently you can tell where they’ve been because they leave a trail of ‘warm fuzzies’ in their wake.

I subscribe to a number of international media. One of them actually has a Week In Good News that you can sign up for and it’s great. Last week, from this and other sources, I learned that lavender is being mooted as providing a natural alternative to chemical anti-depressants, that Chinese workers has managed to save an old bear that had fallen into a reservoir and was close to drowning by scooping him out using an industrial digger, a woman who had been saved from a house fire by her cat and how a blind climber conquered Everest and went on to co-found a non profit to teach outdoor skills to others with physical challenges.

There are plenty of genuinely moving, uplifting, inspirational things going on every moment of every day, everywhere. I strongly believe positivity breeds positivity and the only way we’ll make change happen is if we believe we can and infect others in our orbit with this belief. Positive energy is infectious and it’s a virus we should be keen to share. Hope really can triumph over experience if we let it. Where we are now it seriously needs to! They used to say you need to be cruel to be kind. I’d say it’s more a case of you need to be kind to be kind.

 

 

Smile … an everlasting smile

I smile a lot. You might even say I’m a positive little joy germ … I’ve even been known to sing first thing in the morning. I see this as a great way to greet the day, others find it annoying. But I can’t help it, it’s just how I am. My rellies call me Tigger after the irrepressible bouncing tiger in the AA Milne’s wonderful Winnie the Pooh stories. Hopefully you get the picture? I’m one of nature’s smilers. Or at least I used to be. Life kind of got in the way for a while there and it felt as if Tigger had bounced up one tree too many and got stuck. Happily — smilingly — Tigger’s back bouncing around on the ground searching for adventure.

But my point? Other than smiling, walking is one of my great joys in life. When I walk I think, I process, I solve problems and dream up ideas. Some people smile while they dial. Me, I smile while I walk. Weird you might say, but why not? Walking makes me feel great, all I have to do is leave my house to do it. I usually walk in glorious places which make my heart sing and, even better, it’s usually free. What’s not to smile about? So what if I look like some scary humanoid version of the Cheshire Cat to the rest of the world?

But I think smiling’s great and an encounter I had a couple of weeks ago is a perfect example of why. Picture the scene. I was striding happily along the waterfront near my home, inhaling the beauty of a glorious day and enjoying the antics of the canines on parade. I’m wearing scabby old exercise clothes, but I figure glam shades, some violent red lippy make up for that … and the beaming smile. Of course, most people scuttle away when this apparition goes past. A few manage a muted ‘Hi’ in response to my breezy greeting — usually this comes with all the enthusiasm that you might put into acknowledging a slimy thing that’s just crawled out from under a stone. Sad … as he who should not be named would say.

Why are people so afraid? That a smile is the façade for an out of control lunatic? That they might somehow get caught up in my life if they smile back? That I’m on the make?Makes me think I need to carry a placard, “Really it’s OK. I’m smiling at you because I’m having a Zip-A-De-Doo-Dah day. I’m high on the sun, the sparkly sea, all those wonderful dogs, the way the rhythms of walking make my body feel and, by the way, I would like to share my joy with you.” Don’t other people feel the same?

Imagine my surprise  when I find a kindred spirit in amongst all the avoidance — another happy smiling face. I see her dog first. I love dogs (in case you missed that) but there are some breeds I particularly like and hers happens to be one of them. Patrocles (as I find out he’s called) is a liver spotted Dalmatian that would have given the leads in 101 Dalmationsa run for their money in terms of street appeal. I turn to compliment the women on the gorgeousness which is her dog and ask if I can pat him. That’s when I really clock her. She’s staring out over the water with a radiant smile that would make Julia Robert’s best look dim. I take it she’s as intoxicated by the day as I am. She turns to answer my question … our eyes meet … and we share a ‘moment’ as we acknowledge that we both get it. That whatever else is going on in our lives (and it’s not been a good year on a number of counts in mine) we’re smiling because right now, in this moment, the world is a wonderful place. Even Patrocles is smiling!

Anyway, after mouthing platitudes about dogs and the loveliness of the day, we have that conversation about why people look away when you smile at them. Then, a little reluctantly it has to be said, I walk on. But somehow, I can’t let the moment pass and turn back because I want to tell her she’s made my day with her beautiful energy. It’s the same for her she says. I pat the pooch again and continue on my walk feeling good at having had such a random and uplifting encounter.

It really did make my day and I’m still smiling thinking about it. Was such a good reminder of how much we can influence our world through the energy we bring and the simple gift of an open and genuine smile. So smile people, because nothing shakes the smiling heart and remember that happiness looks gorgeous on you. As Chris Hart said, “All the statistics in the world can’t measure the warmth of a smile.”

So get your smiley face on and dazzle everyone you meet. Tough shit if some people think you’re deranged. You’ll have a great day and hopefully also make those of of the people you cross paths with.

Happy World Smile Day!

(5 October 2018)