You don’t have to be an accountant to achieve career success

New research tells us that those from the upper echelons of society are most likely to secure the top jobs in Britain’s leading legal and financial services firms. It’s outrageous, sure, and we should definitely do something about it. But what we really need to combat is the bizarre notion that only lawyers, bankers and accountants can achieve career success. Continue reading

On the run

“Morning.”

I’d seen the chap in the green wellies way up ahead as I ran along the coast path this morning. And bit by bit, I’d gradually caught up with him.

“Morning,” he replied, stepping to one side of the path to allow me to overtake him.

He looked me up and down slowly, in the way that farming-types do.

“You alright?”

I tried to adopt the air of someone for whom it’s perfectly normal to run around the Cornish countryside while caked completely in mud down the right hand side of my body, from my ear right down to my trainers.

“Yup,” I replied. “Lovely morning.”

He glanced again at the blood oozing out through the mud from the large graze on my knee and dribbling its way slowly down my shin.

“Bit slippery out.”

“So I noticed,” I grinned, and limped on my way.

A quick update

To say that things have been a little hectic recently would be somewhat of an understatement. And they haven’t really calmed down, to be honest. So I guess I’m just going to have to live with this new level of frenzied activity. Which means I’m going to have to become a whole lot more disciplined about setting aside time to, you know, eat, think… and write! Continue reading

The tyranny of the training schedule

You might remember that I’ve rather rashly signed up to run the Somerset Levels and Moors Marathon. Well it’s now just a couple of weeks away, and I’m slowly tapering off my running so that I end up on the start line with at least some energy left. But while it’s been fun training for the race – and, hopefully, I’ll enjoy the race itself, too – I can’t help thinking that it has taken up a rather significant amount of time. Perhaps a little too much. Continue reading

Odd yet thought provoking quote #2 *

Quote

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a ride!'”

– Hunter S. Thompson

* I mentioned back in January 2012 that this might become an occasional series. Turns out I was right. But it is, admittedly, very occasional. Let’s try to ramp it up. Send me your quotes and I’ll post my favourites.

Why I run (or, more specifically, why I can’t stop running)

I think I’ve been rumbled. I thought I’d managed to hide it, but it appears that the cat may be out of the bag. At some point during the last couple of years, I’ve somehow become a runner. Not just someone who goes for a run from time to time, but an actual runner. A proper runner. With all the shorts, mud and chafing that comes with it. Continue reading

A sense of place

It’s the question that I dread above all others. A conversation starter that stops me dead in my tracks. Four little words that confuse and conspire. An innocent enquiry that sends me spiralling into an abyss of self-doubt. I’m thirty seven years old and I’m still not able to answer that most simple of queries: ‘Where are you from?’

I want to say that I was born in Suffolk, that I grew up in Dorset and that I went to university in Staffordshire. That I have lived in England, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. That I currently reside in Somerset but have no idea how much longer I’ll be there. But all that comes out of my mouth is ‘Oh, all over, really.’ And what I mean is ‘I haven’t a clue’.

We all have many attributes that define us, from our gender and our physical appearance to our taste in music and our choice of career. But our geographical heritage lies at the heart of who we consider ourselves to be. Whether we’re a northerner, a southerner, Yorkshireman, Cornishman, Liverpudlian or Bristolian, these are still the ties that bind.

I can see why this was such a big thing in decades and centuries past, when people rarely moved more than a few miles from where they were born. But in this age of cheap travel, insecure employment and wide-eyed globalisation, what does it mean to ask someone where they are from? Do we mean where they were born? Or where they live now? Or where they have lived for the longest period of time? Can any of us, in fact, now even claim to be from anywhere at all?

I think we can. But it’s not as simple as it used to be. Some of us have a clear idea of where we are from. It might, for a privileged few, be the ancestral family home in Oxfordshire or the Scottish highlands. For others it is the house in which we grew up and where our parents still live. Indeed, I have several friends in their thirties, all with houses and families of their own, who still refer to visiting their parents as ‘going home’.

Others of us, meanwhile, lead a more nomadic lifestyle, moving from place to place in response to the demands of family, career or simple curiosity. We collect addresses and residency permits like our childhood selves used to accumulate stamps or football cards. Some places pass fleetingly through our consciousness, but others leave an indelible impression on our soul. They become part of who we are.

I challenge anyone, for example, to spend time in the wilds of Scotland and not develop a sense of awe at the majesty of nature. Or in Russia and not learn to reflect on the darkness of the human condition. Or in rural Provence and not long for the simplicity of a life built by one’s own hands.

Just as scientists can tell from our bones, our hair and our teeth much about when, where and how we have lived, the places we have called home all make a difference to how we think, feel and behave. We absorb a tiny part of that place’s culture, traditions and values, adding them to the ever-growing repository of ideas and attitudes that we call ‘me’.

So if you want to learn what makes me tick, ask me about the things that have influenced me the most. Ask me about the people I have known, the things I have done and the places I have been. Ask me where I have lived, where I have loved and where I have felt most alive. Just don’t, please, ask me where I’m from.

Climate Change: Actions speak (much) louder than words

As part of my drive to get fit and to be a bit more healthy, and as regular readers will already know, I’ve recently taken up running. When the sun’s out and I have nothing pressing on my to-do list, I like nothing more than to pull on my trainers and get out for a brisk jog through the countryside. But if the weather is bad or if I have lots of other things to do, my resolve tends to weaken a little.

This plays havoc with my training programme. Especially when I have taken the perhaps rather ill-advised step of signing up for a 10km rather hilly off-road race in just over a week’s time and, quite frankly, need all of the running practice that I can get. So while I started off with plenty of time to get in the desired mileage, with every missed run the amount of training I need to do before race day gets more and more. And the chance of me actually doing it becomes less and less.

For Red Dwarf fans, this will sound remarkably like Rimmer’s revision plan. When preparing for his astronavigation exam, holographic crew member Arnold Rimmer spends so much of the available time developing an elaborate revision timetable that he now has significantly less time for revision itself. As a result of which he develops a new, compressed revision schedule. Which means that he now has even less time. And so on. Needless to say, he fails the exam. Eleven times.

It also sounds very much like our current approach to combating climate change. We start by setting some impressive looking targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a point in the distant future. We then slump back in a chair and feel very pleased with ourselves, forgetting for the moment that setting targets is not the same as actually doing something.

So we make some plans. We analyse where our greenhouse gas emissions are coming from and who the main polluters are. We produce reports explaining what will need to change if we are to meet our new emissions targets. We even create depressing scenarios of what will happen if we don’t reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But still concrete action remains elusive.

Rather than direct our efforts to things that reduce our carbon footprint, we devote our time to finding ways to look like we’re doing something without actually having to make any of the difficult decisions. We develop complex emissions trading schemes that allow us to do what we’ve always been doing. We export carbon intensive activities to other parts of the world. We encourage each other to ‘offset’ emissions rather than reduce them.

And we get mired in arguments about technicalities. We go to great lengths to explain why it’s OK to continue to burn fossil fuels, while dismissing the potential of renewable technologies. We quibble with the way greenhouse gas emissions and atmospheric carbon dioxide are measured, as if the damage we are doing to our planet is but an artefact of the statistics we use. We wring our hands and question whether it’s even our fault at all.

Yet with each day that we do nothing, the challenges that lie before us become greater. We have more and more to do, but less and less time to do it. Our targets, once so full of promise, become a constant reminder of our inability to change our ways.

We cannot combat climate change by doing nothing.  We cannot hide behind our spreadsheets, our statistical analyses and our economic forecasts. We need to make difficult decisions. We need to change what we do and how we do it. We need to be willing to make sacrifices in the short term, so that we can ensure our longer term survival.

Our grandfathers knew all about hard work and sacrifice. Our fathers taught us that nothing good comes without great effort. But today we live under the fatal assumption that we can live without diligence and endeavour. That our technological prowess insulates us from the consequences of our actions. That our mastery of our world is such that the rules under which we have lived for millennia no longer apply. Well, we are wrong.

Whether it’s running, revision or reducing greenhouse emissions, unless we actually make an effort and do something, we have no hope of achieving our goals. Success does not come to those who sit quietly and hope for the best. Rather, it comes to those who have a goal and who give their all to achieve it. If we really want to protect our planet – and ourselves – from the ravages of climate change, we must all take action. And we must take it now.

Welcome to the microfarm

I’m always a little bit jealous of people who work full time as farmers, growers or gardeners. Sure, the pay is terrible and they can’t put things off just because it’s raining. But they get to devote themselves to what they love. They can do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, rather than putting it off for weeks at a time because other things get in the way.

I appreciate that I’m perhaps idealising the horticultural life a little too much here. I also recognise that such a career has more than its fair share of ups and downs. But in the last couple of weeks, I’ve tried to introduce some of this ethos – of working to the plants’ timescales, rather than to my own – into how I relate to my own little patch of earth. I’ve stopped thinking of it as a tatty greenhouse and a few raised beds, and started thinking of it as a micro-farm.

I started off by making a list of all the jobs that need to be done at the moment. And I mean everything that needs to be done, not just the things I want to do. Even things like emptying the slug traps and weeding around the shed. Needless to say, it was a fairly long list. And I’ll keep adding to it as successional batches of seeds need to be sown, seedlings need to be potted up and shrubs need to be pruned. (I’ve got my list on a little A4 whiteboard, so it’s easy to keep it up to date.)

My next step has been to devote an hour each morning, as soon as I’ve got back from walking the dog, to working through some of the tasks on my list. So far, this ‘little and often’ approach has been rather enlightening, giving me a real feeling of satisfaction as I storm through the huge number of tasks that have been bugging me for ages. It also leaves the weekends, which I’d usually use to try to catch up on absolutely everything I needed to do in the garden, for larger projects, like building a new cold frame.

I’ve now got all of my seeds planted, except for the ‘sow in mid-May’ ones, which are on the list for this week. Here are just a few of them.

Seedlings

The courgettes and squashes are just starting to sprout their first proper leaves, so they’ll be off out into one of the cold frames soon, to toughen them up prior to being planted out into the garden.

Courgette seedlings

In addition to my regular range of flowers, fruit and vegetables, I’m trying a few more exotic things. Below are dahlia seedlings, freshly pinched out to encourage them to be short and bushy rather than tall and lanky. (My garden, being long and narrow, has the characteristics of a wind tunnel.) I’ve read in James Wong’s book ‘Homegrown Revolution‘ that you can eat dahlia tubers, so I’m keen to try this out. At James’s suggestion, I’m growing cucamelons, electric daisies, inca berries, alpine strawberries, elephant garlic, quinoa, mooli and watercress, too.

Dahlia seedlings

I’m also trying to give my regular outdoor vegetables a bit more of a chance against the slugs by starting them off in little plugs, which I’ll plant out once they’re a decent size. And with the winter here lasting until about two weeks ago, planting out directly hasn’t really been an option. I can sow a second batch directly into the beds now, though, and can see how they compare with the plugs.

Vegetable seedlings

I have a slight tendency to focus on my vegetables at the expense of my other plants, so I’ve been careful to look after the non-edibles, too. For example, I’ve trimmed the dead leaves off my ferns and have potted up the little offshoots that have sprung up.

The ferns

I’ve also taken the significant step of pruning the older stems off my Euphorbia rigida, a rather messy job that I’d been putting off for several months. Needless to say, once I’d found my gloves and dug out the secateurs, the pruning itself only took ten minutes. The feeling of achievement that accompanied it, though, lasted significantly longer.

Euphorbia rigida

Ditto for having tidied up and potted on the various Euphorbia and Hebe cuttings that I’d accumulated at the bottom of the garden. I’d taken loads of cuttings about two years ago, potted them up and then left them to go feral on the gravel between the willow hedge and the shed. I’d felt really bad about neglecting them, but clearly not bad enough to actually do anything about it. Well, now it’s done. I had to ditch some of them but the rest are looking good, even if I do say so myself.

Hebes

I’ve even made seed bombs.  Yes, seed bombs. I bought a book on making wildflower seed bombs (‘Seedbombs: Going Wild with Wildflowers’, by Josie Jeffery) some time ago, together with a bag of clay powder that has been sitting in the living room ever since. So one morning last week, I put on an old jumper and got my hands (and the jumper, the shed and the dog) dirty making seed bombs. (And yes, I was careful to use native, non-invasive flower seeds.) Here are some of my inaugural batch.

Seedbombs

And here’s my first test subject, nestling into the bark chip underneath one of the apple trees by the vegetable garden. I’ve also cautiously ‘planted’ a few on some of my regular dog walking routes around town, so that I can see how well they fare. Exciting stuff.

Seedbomb

So while I’m not a farmer and probably won’t ever be a farmer, I’m trying to bring a little of the farming ethos into my life. Nothing excessive, just a small amount of planning, a tiny bit of coordination and a little hard work every day. Welcome to the micro-farm.