May to the summer solstice

It’s been a while since the last post in the midst of Covid-19 which has become the constant, a bunch of close ones and I have followed the doctor’s advice.

Stay healthy, maintain the distance, and make sure you make memories.

Making memories is what differentiates today’s reality from psychological isolation.

As a special friend described as we make more memories the distance works itself out.

With that, I discovered the invaluable constant.

Through my eyes, a number of things materialised over the past few weeks…

The comfortable space of just being, without obstructions from noise.

That comfortable space on the sofa, the giggles, the awe, the excitement, the unexpected dance, the beer out of the bag, the bag of chips, the walks, the SUPs, the sculls and the steers.

This is the story of the past six weeks.

April 2020, the month of coronavirus lockdown. My breathing exercises in spring views of East London, UK

I would like to start this blogpost acknowledging this has been one changeable mood kind of a month.

It begun in semi frustration and acceptance: this is what we need to do and we commit to it. Blindfolded into commitment, no questions asked. Then days, then weeks passed. The exhaustion of changing habits in and out of home. The disappointment of realising you can’t walk into this pub, or straight into the shop, they are either shut, or there is a queue. You can’t hug your friend or pat the back of your neighbour. And that cycle route you always thought as the best, is out of bounds, too many runners using the tow path and daddies training their little ones to cycle. So forced into rediscovering your vicinity in new conditions, you get to become the tourist again, and that is cool.

Then the important stuff happening unnoticed until you think there’s value in the time you have saved from travelling and all the social stuff you can no longer do. So talking to friends and neighbours you end up rocking up to a community space in a church build on the ruins of one that was built in the 1600s, thinking you’re not the religious type but there are enough Muslim kids and white working class families about to take the edge off.

Next thing you’re committed and talking to new people. That guy is familiar, of course he is in and out of my block, and we chat, I hear the news and off we go.

Those who are organising everything, early on in the outbreak, with little knowledge of the impact yet without hesitation, they set up shop quickly. They asked and got donations, listened unjudgmentally to the community’s input, and attracted people of all ethnicities and faiths to help. They reassigned resources quickly. The initial food was delivered to 40 odd people three times a week and now it has grown to double of that.

Today, the last day of April feels like a halfway point on a long holiday. It’s been thrilling, confusing, too long, too short, too busy, and now seems to be going too fast and to be true, I don’t want it to end yet, but I do want to be able to make plans for the future.

Somehow the reality is: I can’t, and none of us can.

As we will gradually re-enter a version of normality in the coming months, there will be plenty of vulnerable people who will still not be able to leave their home. This help will not stop with our needs being met, and not until they have their fully met. It has been challenging at times running up and down unfamiliar estates, motivating oneself to get out, cover up, do your deed, run home, take everything off, clean everything, shower. Yet it’s been worth it. The smiles, the chats, the waves, the odd requests, or the kind wishes and offers. It all makes it so special.

This month has also been one where I covered nearly 200km cycling. It’s not a lot, however in addition to my training, and the bursting energy of spring colours and smells, there was plenty of visual richness to record.

The blog and the photos are dedicated to the community leaders, and those who need their swift action. They are being both my inspiration and motivation throughout the past six weeks and the very out of the ordinary month of April 2020.

Canary Wharf

Even more so, this month I hope does not go by forgotten. Everyone has been affected by it and I purposely included the empty canary wharf development. No one is immune to this and I hope this chance for a level playing field is finally grasped like the breath of fresh air we so much need.

Squid, remodelling needs

In one of my last dissertation supervision sessions, my supervisor asked me which animal species are thriving at present?

I took a couple of guesses none of which were right.

I was trying to join the dots between his question and my dissertation topic, which was a comparative study between the political economy of the Sami and the Inuit. I just couldn’t see where he was leading onto.

Jonathan went on to say it is the squid. And the reason for it, is that whilst fishing has focused on other species, the squid had the opportunity to multiply in swarms.

He went on to explain that the obvious answers are not always the correct ones. I suppose he was trying to tell me by focusing on one thing we assume as the path to survival, there are emerging occurrences we leave unnoticed.

I since then took to noticing squid more often.

Walking down SE Division Street. Portland, OR, past Whiskey Soda Lounge with Tim, I took this.

In one way, the story is that of silver linings behind a cloudy day. We are seeing changes to our lives that we have not entertained in detail of how they will be affecting our emotional needs and resilience.

Making a smoothie cocktail with Craken is my resilience recipe for the odd night now we are spending a lot more time at home. And enjoying it over a long video chat to the wee hours of the day.

We know in times of uncertainty there are certain parameters we can measure against, and work towards, to meet those needs.

 

Our needs are not only our own. They are universal values our humanity exists by. When these are threatened, or placed in new unfamiliar conditions, there’s a couple of things we can do to refocus.

The top ten commandments of emotional needs are:

Connection

Attention

Privacy

Autonomy

Security

Wider community

Friendship

Competence

Achievement

Meaning & purpose

The overarching point I see across the list of emotional needs, is intimacy.

Intimacy in a non sexual way.

But the space where two people connect over a unique shared experience that rings emotions of belonging, and trust, for both of them.

We are all interconnected. Even at times when we may feel that life becomes unfamiliar, rather than trying to regain a sense of control, our biggest strength may be in our capacity to reflect, learn and evolve.

I don’t know much, but situations like today’s offer a unique chance, that of a lifetime, to improve and rejoin community with renewed values of what we need and how to approach what we have and what presents itself before us.

 

Hiking in the UK

For outdoorsy adventurers, hiking is a much-loved choice of activity taken close to one’s place of habitat or place of visit.

The subtle differences between hiking in different parts of the world are on the type the equipment, the style of the hike like the intensity of the walk, and the distance covered. This reveals a lot about the flora and fauna, the weather conditions expected in general and the end objective for the hike.

This article presents a short oversight of hiking in the south of the United Kingdom, and towards the end of the winter. The overall equipment relevant message is to wear comfortable waterproof boots, bring a change of cotton t-shirts, carry 1-2 litres of water, prepare lunch snacks and carry cash for group saver fares, the pub lunch option and pub celebration at the end.

I have hiked in India, the Pacific North West in the US, in Scotland, in Bali, in Italy, in the Arctic part of Norway, in Morocco, on the north coast of Trinidad and in Tobago and in Fuerteventura and every single hike was different on many aspects.

In the south of the UK, hikes tend to be longer, often including a couple of very steep climbs up hills and the same dissent. The most recent hike took me up and down Pitch Hill in Surrey Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, twice climbed it on the same day, a near-vertical and rather muddy aspect, and over a distance of 30km round trip on foot.

Walking sticks were encouraged whereas in other parts of the world they are prohibited as it can attract lightning strikes in tundra conditions. UK’s well known cloudy skies, even in winter, require sunblock as there is still plenty of exposure doing outdoor sports to cause skin damage.

20 min stops every two hours are also encouraged to take in the views from higher viewpoints. In contrast, stopping for this long or any period of time longer to a couple of minutes, in the middle of the winter, in the northernmost part of Norway, will cause your body temperature to drop really quickly and dramatically and make the focus of the latter part of your hike an effort to warm up instead of watching the path or scenery. This can make the body feel very uncomfortable, and rather demoralising, in severe sub minus C conditions.

The photos in this post are from my hike in Surrey this week.

It looks mud messy but it was a great all round exercise. I could not recommend anything else more satisfactory to do outdoors this time of the year. Hiking engages people in community spirited discussions, recharges the body with a full-on exercise uptake, and in the UK, it is rewarded with log fires in the pub, local bitter brews, and new memories and vistas to take away.

American man

I grew up thinking of America as this homogenically superficial space fuelled by ignorance and ultra-arrogance imposed by the sound of mad dogs and gun shots in the background. A war within itself.


In the politics and economics of the past thirty years, the trajectory of individualism is a response to the controversy of sharing all, in post anti communism, Cold War era.

This skewed anti reality brewed the covering of the reduction of basic human rights, presented as anti-terror securities to the average folk, and messed up the minds and values of many alike. This was easily absorbed by a weak societal structure in the US that without free access to health, education or meaningful work opportunities, beyond the concept of self-sale, left people scraping by for the ‘mana’. The lack of cultural references, families or friendships providing emotional support systems can not be bought by insurance companies.

In adulthood, we are all paving our way on our own but the multilayered toxicity of American neoliberalism has easily spread a virus with the language of non sense – what people can’t understand conceptually, can’t analyse and therefore are open to manipulation, misinterpretation, abhorrent expressions – they don’t even make sense to those that speak of them.

Today, this translates into the extremist mini-anti-cultures surviving by a bashing each others’ existence in perpetuation.

Jamali Maddix got a few of them covered for Vice.

Bunches of incoherent folks at each other’s throats, caricaturing a very simple and singular dimension as a version of society. We can critique the social movements for not establishing fundamental change but they are not ripping cultures apart or marginalising what holds as a resource of existence to the average folk.

For many on the outside of US, the scene is hopeless and bleak. For many on the outside, we can’t help but romantisize for a mind shift by the immense phoenix like male figures that despite the union’s level of absence in communal conscience, they have held a string light for long enough to beam their connection with and faith in humanity and in hope for a realignment of the American dream. They have the knowledge that one’s resources are equally owned and interconnected by everyone on the planet. Physical and emotional cultural references matter, the intangible connections energise the common pool.

Ultimately, isolationists are believing that by fighting everyone off to protect their patch of land, they will not end up finding out they are fighting against themselves, which they know its not only unsustainable, but plain self destructive and stupid. Sum it up in the simple lesson of the flowers and the bees.

My gratitude goes out to the two American men that know too well where the concept of the American dream really can stem from and what it could really translate into in the daily routes of American self identification. It is a work that will take a generation or two, and these men hold the tortch for the way there.

Respect to Neil Young

Respect for Bernie Sanders

Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal with Them –

Source: Toxic People: 12 Things They Do and How to Deal with Them –

Christmas gift wrapped points:

They’ll be completely lovely one day and the next you’ll be wondering what you’ve done to upset them.

Toxic people have a way of sending out the vibe that you owe them something. They also have a way of taking from you or doing something that hurts you, then maintaining they were doing it all for you.

They’ll twist the story, change the way it happened and retell it so convincingly that they’ll believe their own nonsense.

Enough will never be enough.

Summary:

Short term ear noise for long term pleasures.

Please please please walk away and never look back. Whether that’s dumping them right before their birthday, not picking up their calls, leaving messages unread, or changing your flight destination to spend holidays away from them, and with normal people, you’ll feel much more better in the long run.

Getting together

Ray phoned up three days ago. We realised last time we saw each other was in November last year. A year ago, when I was frantically settling into postgraduate writing, him chatting away as I was writing one of my assignments. Then a brief discussion early in the year about our concerns for a friend.

Two weeks ago, I got an invitation to someone’s retirement drinks. Didn’t know what to expect, some old souls, maybe not. I was going to go anyway. Then Ray’s call meant he also joined in (he also associated with the retiree the same years I did), and to my surprise he went on to the next level dropping emails to some peeps from our then years.

I picked him up from his studio and we headed to the working men’s club in Bethnal Green, not knowing what to expect.

There were lots of familiar faces in there. More than we expected and lots of peeps we were really close to ten years ago or so.

Most of us were more or less the same but some material changes and a comfort you find in your own skin as you grow older.

My good pal complained about someone missing. I dismissed him saying that person would never turn up.

Then catching up with my old girlfriend and rusty soul, I turned around and the double take clicked me into frame. Our pal had turned up and I was so freaking happy to see him, give him a big hug and chat in all his awesomeness and full on honesty about how things around have been making us feel.

Walking back with my girl to the bus stop we reflected on how the night went. Our fears, uncertainty of what to expect after all these years and yet how grounded and sorted things felt.

We did pick a bone with someone, which was funny, and was extended with ‘well we’re all here now’ and a big hug.

That’s my take away from the get together. No words, promises, expectations or plans. We got together, each to our own, and found each other.

Breadcrumbing

It’s been a little of a tough time getting my head straight at a time of mega manipulation between a bunch of friends.

When someone constantly blames others, is interested in cheating dynamics, makes propositions outside core values and challenges common trust, directly or indirectly, despite how much you think the one receiving the short end of the stick cares about the other person, don’t they need to care more about themselves?

If someone tells it’s exciting to see others cheat, aren’t they laying the path to their own destiny?

If someone has abused and manipulated before, if they are stuck in the same low vibration, wasn’t it inevitable they would drag themselves through the mud again?

The toughest part of it is that peeps can see it from the start, and through breadcrumbing, they think it is not as bad, in fact they fool themselves to believe it may even be getting better.

My life experiences taught me one thing.

You know your gut instinct. Give as much as your soul can, keep your wits doing so and observe. If not much changes, and all you get is small words and smaller actions, you got your answer.

Love yourself and find someone who loves you as much.

Ode to Michael, Andreas and Kostas

I don’t believe in God, not in the traditional way anyway. But I do believe in the power of gratitude and appreciation towards people who have come to your life to reflect a mirror of your self, to ascent and revalue what you hold dearly inside of you.

I will begin with the story of how I met Michael. Some four and some years ago. Through a common acquaintance who knew I was visiting Portland, Oregon.

Michael is a philosopher. One who has jumped the academic ship to share his true passion over the community waves in that beautiful Pacific northwestern part of the world.

Throw Michael a dice and you’ll get the idea back kindly explored twice. His accessible, empathetic yet unafraid to challenge skill says as much about his heart as much as about his mind which is open, loving, honest and growing coffee fuelled day by the day.

I need not to say I feel fortunate to have spent some hours with him and his wife talking through everything and anything, tipping things on their head for the purpose of our own individual truth as much as for those around us.

Next up is Kostas. I met one of his closest mates some 25+ years ago, his wife around 3 years ago, so the journey to him is a little deflected by circumstance.

Kostas is a scientist, with a research project in Svalbard in Arctic Norway, an explorer and a dj by the day.

I will begin my journey with the most recent interaction, coming back from my rowing training to a text from Andreas saying tune in to this radio station, our pal is playing some music.

Kostas is the guy who managed somehow to dig the most beautiful sounding punk rock tunes right uplifting and melodic enough, for a two hour set on a Sunday morning. Towering at 6 feet, this guy curated a set through geography, turned political reflection, turned dedication to his friends. And all with the same passion as he talks about the intricate details of his research lab and in kindness and humour to his team and fellows.

And last but never least, is Andreas. My pal of a lifetime. The person that knows himself so well, that he understands me and is honest as much.

We met in Rebound, the then only dark wave club in Athens, still going with freakishly beautiful human beings rocking to some of the most etheric yet often screetching 80s sounds.

Andreas is kind and generous and has the ability to conversate with anyone whilst maintaining a uniquely unpretentious level. He knows his nuclear physics, no pun intended, and I’ve seen people feeling intimidated by him including my own father who has known him since I was a late teen kid.

For me in many ways I noticed how respectful he is of my partner avoiding to offend by calling or texting, and how subtly he presents he’s there when I’m on my own, not for his benefit, but for an upgrade to a reference point we may have discussed before.

Most importantly, I feel like I can be anyone and everyone around him. After all, I have grown up parallel to his own journey and we have seen each other grow up, change, contract and deconstruct over a fairly long time too.

I am so incredibly lucky to have him in my life.

My dedication post to the three men is made in honour of how I grew up by knowing them, and still grow today. Neither of them became who they are today because of their wives, mothers, other women in their lives. Surely their partners have supported their development, but it’s all down to those boys doing it alone and remaining truthful to themselves.

I know there is a lot of material about loving and protecting men out there, but unless they had looked inwardly, there is no way anyone could have done that for themselves.

Thank you for being you.

Consulting for the not for profit/civil society, some business development thoughts

Fourteen years of experience have brought me a number of realisations when working with clients in the third sector.

In development, the expectations are to build networks and to ‘cultivate’ the relationships. Then build a case for Support, aka business plan, for various programmatic areas stemming from the organisation’s theory of change.

It should be a straight forward mutually dependable action. You may have a highly skilled team, lots of contacts but outcomes are reliant on the exec team’s understanding of business development and willingness to incorporate in the day to day business outputs for it to succeed.

Grants and donors may be willing to support the cause however unless the programme teams have longer term plans and the exec team are open about discussing them with donors, there’s little scope for sustainable business.

Often, without integration, organisations suffer in the longer term.

In campaigning it is often hard to know how lobbying will affect policy. Excluding assumptions, teams know the topics and focus of the work, and may incorporate emerging trends an themes in the broader proposition. This is a inclusive way of indicating awareness of things businesses are talking about. This is paramount to bridging the slower pace of civil society to the faster paced corporate environment.

Organisational resilience can only successfully survive when the relationships, both internal and external, have a clear understanding on today’s expectations with an eye on spotting opportunities to lay the brick work for the future.