Friday, 1 June 2018

Take or break

We’ve just had a Bank Holiday long weekend in the UK and hence I had time on Monday morning to have a lengthy chat with Tian Sern Oon – one of the winners of this year’s Queen’s Young Leaders award. After a very difficult childhood, Tian Sern has founded a business in Singapore to help support people suffering from poor mental health and to raise awareness of the issues related to mental well-being and the benefits of diversity, with a view to reducing the stigma associated with mental illness. 

He does not want anyone to suffer as he did (he grew up with a schizophrenic mother and succumbed to depression himself after his father lost his retail job during the global economic downturn). As you can imagine, he is a brave and inspirational young man.

There must be something in the air, across the world in general, as one of the other young people whom I am mentoring for the programme, Hauwa Ojeifo, is also trying to tackle the stigma of mental health in her country and region – she is based in Nigeria and she and I had a call early on Monday evening before I went to a meeting with fellow governors of my local NHS Foundation Trust (where the topic of mental health was also raised). It is humbling seeing what both of these amazing young award winners are doing to make the world a better place for fellow sufferer, those around them and the wider community. I am sure that I will be providing further updates on here about them and their progress over the next few months.

Mental Health Awareness Week occurs in May in the UK.  It therefore seems apt for me to write a piece about health and well being, and, given that I have just enjoyed a Bank Holiday break, I am going to focus on the value of taking some time off. A few years ago, when I worked for a large global organisation headquartered in the U.S.A., I first became aware of the difference in the approach to work absences and holidays around the globe – on paper my American colleagues had many fewer days’ vacation than those of us based in Britain, Australia or indeed in most countries. It should be noted that there is no statutory right to paid vacation in the U.S.A., nor is there a requirement on a private company to provide paid Public Holidays, although the majority of employers do. However, unlike the rest of us, the American based employees had a specified number of days to take as sick days each year and this was included within their contracts. It seemed odd to me to require people to take time off “ill” (even when they were not) – as that is how colleagues treated it – it was seen as a right to a few days off with no questions asked and, if all their days had not been utilised, there was a rush to do so before the end of each year.

Acknowledging that sickness is an issue at work is not a modern concept. In 1500 BC at least some of the workers who built tombs for the Egyptian pharaohs received paid sick leave and state supported health care

In the Bible, in chapter 13 of the Book of Leviticus, it is suggested that a seven-day period of isolation should occur for individuals infected with a skin condition. In Victorian times all policemen in England and Wales were offered free medical care, sick leave and sick pay (provided that they became unfit for service in the execution of duty) and, as from 1839, the Metropolitan Police provided pensions to officers with more than 15 years’ service who, after a medical examination, were deemed to be no longer fit for police service. It is interesting that just this week Uber has announced that it will give its European drivers access to medical cover and compensation for work-related injuries – it may be cynical of me to note that Uber’s appeal hearing in September, which will determine whether it can operate in the UK, will pivot on whether the company has become a conscientious business (it’s licence was withdrawn on grounds of “public safety and security implications”). Uber needs to demonstrate that is has changed its ways and is fit to operate – back in 2016 it denied workers’ rights to holidays, but this decision was overruled. Uber may have been short-sighted in more ways than one – but it is not alone. Many other organisations still fail to appreciate the value that having a holiday or period of rest from work can have on a worker.

The word “holiday” comes from “holy day” and from medieval times onwards they were days on which everyone, regardless of background, could rest. Once the industrial revolution had occurred, it became common for factories to have a week’s closure, during which period machinery was repaired. This holiday (known as the Wakes Week in northern England) was a time when typically a different town closed every week over the period from June to September and this became the start of what many of us now think of as having a holiday. An agreement for twelve days’ annual leave was introduced in 1907 and this increased to fifteen in 1915. Workers would scrimp and save to escape from their place of work, often going to the seaside. Holidays were traditionally unpaid – this made life very hard for low paid workers. In the UK paid holiday rights were finally introduced via the Holidays With Pay Act 1938, following a 20-year campaign for paid leisure time.

It has been proved that taking a break boosts productivity – in mid 1920s Henry Ford reduced his workers’ hours from six days to five and 48-hour weeks to 40 – and, as he anticipated, this boosted productivity. However, recent research shows that many workers today are not using their holiday entitlement. In the British Airways commissioned research it was discovered that in 2017 one third of British workers did not use their full holiday entitlement (relinquishing on average 4 days of paid leave). We have quite a significant problem in the global workforce now, namely “presenteeism” (where individuals come to work but, usually because of mental of physical health issues, they are unproductive despite being physically in the workplace). I see a close link between presenteeism and mental health (and in particular stress). It used to be said that the reason people suffered from stress was because their body kept repeatedly releasing hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin in response to a perceived threat – the “Fight or Flight” response – but this definition has now been adapted to include the aspect of “Freeze” where an individual is incapable of doing anything. This is an observed aspect of presenteeism.

Humans need rest, and in particular we need sleep – 15 hours’ sleep deprivation impacts responses as much as swiftly downing 2 pints of beer. Sleep is vital – admittedly we all have slightly different sleeping patterns and needs, but for most adults fewer than eight hours over a protracted period is harmful (if you sleep fewer than 6 or more than 11 hours on a consistent basis you should perhaps seek medical advice, as both are probably causes for concern). However, if you are a parent, don’t apply this rule to your children. There is medical evidence that proves that as teenagers our sleep patterns change – making adolescents naturally more nocturnal than adults, with their melatonin being released as late as 1.00am as opposed to the more conventional time of 10.00pm, and their being in need of a lie-in as a result. Melatonin helps us feel sleepy. One of the reasons why many of us have trouble sleeping is due to our use of gadgets such as smartphones and screens late at night. Many tech devices emit blue light and this inhibits our natural production of melatonin. So, if you want to help yourself sleep better read a traditional rather than an e-book before bed.

If you are at work and struggling either through feeling drowsy or because of the pressure you find yourself under, it is unlikely that you can escape for a nap or enjoy an unplanned holiday, however, there is no reason why you cannot take care of yourself. Get up and have a wander – it’s good for you and you will perform better afterwards. Going for a walk in a place where there are plants and trees is proven to be more restorative than having an urban ramble. Earlier this week, I took a member of my team for a walk during our one-to-one, rather than sitting and just talking in a room. We went to the Postman’s Park – a relatively unknown site in the City of London.  It is a surprisingly moving venue due to an unusual memorial erected by the painter and sculptor George Frederic Watts in honour of Heroic Self Sacrifice

It was built in honour of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. The memorial commemorates normal citizens who courageously gave their lives to save others. I love the fact their acts will now not be forgotten.  I also find visiting the memorial strangely therapeutic - it reminds me that my life is easy in comparison to so many others and that there are things that I, un-heroic as I am, can do to take better care of myself. You owe it to yourself and those you care about you to take care. Don’t be ashamed of wanting to take a break. Better having a break than becoming broken.

Photo by Bing Wright

Monday, 22 January 2018

Home grown - Day 54

Day 54 (Tuesday 23rd January 2018)
54 years ago, on 23rd January 1964, Louis Horst - a pioneer of modern dance died in
America. He started working in the world of dance when he agreed to a 2 week role as
conductor for the Denishawn company in 1915 (he stayed with them for a decade. Whilst
there, in 1916 he played the piano for Martha Graham's 1st dance lesson. A decade later
he accompanied her for her solo debut in New York and a dance and music partnership
was born - he remained her Musical Director until 1948.
Photo: Martha Graham performing to Louis Horst's music in Frontier
Today is my youngest son's birthday, it is also the final day of the Advent Blog series, and what a series it has been. We have read posts about love, hate, birth, death, success, personal awareness, family history, contentment, despair, change, learning, growth, laughter, perceptions, assumptions, tears and determination. I am always amazed at the sense of community and fellowship. It has been a joy acting as curator (I'm the lucky one, I get to read the posts first). Contributors have come from across the globe and their readers have been supportive and genuinely interested in what others have had to say. There have been some extraordinarily open and candid disclosures, about mental health, family deaths, and times of anguish and desperation - I know that these posts have helped others who are struggling, but who have not known how to or wished to speak out themselves. People have sent me messages asking me to thank contributors or simply to state that what they have read has made a difference. Thank you, each of you, for helping to ease the pain and confusion of others or simply for taking the time to create something that so many people have enjoyed reading. 

Today's final post is by Gavan Burden, the founder and owner of Burden Dare. It's great to end on a post that, rather like the Series, is uplifting in parts, touches on some challenging subjects, will make you think, might make you smile and which offers hope for the year to come. Gavan is a lovely man and he is doing his bit to try and make the world a better place. As you will read below, Gavan is actively involved with a central-London charity that assists the homeless and those less fortunate than us. He is an effective and supportive mentor. If you want to know more, you can reach him on Twitter via @burdendare. Gavan lives in Sevenoaks and is a passionate supporter of the local cricket team, Sevenoaks Vine CC, where he chairs the Management Committee and, when asked, still plays for the Old Vines (the Club's over 40's team). 

I hope you have enjoyed this year's series as much as I have. Thank you for being here with me! I hope 2018 proves exceptional for you (in a good way) - I look forward to hearing about it.


Dawn, we see it as the awakening; a new day, with true blue skies, and a new beginning – and, most importantly, it always happens; always has, every day for billions of years.

Lavender Fields at Dawn by Antony Spencer
Did you know there are three types of dawn (four if you include false!) and broadly speaking they are defined by the amount of sunlight in the sky, so what you can see to do in it really. It’s interesting stuff this, it’s so normal isn’t it?
In science the three dawns are when the sun is 18o, 12o and 6o below the horizon, and from darkest to brightest they are: Astronomical (that’s a technical definition, it’s still darkness); Nautical (sailors can see the horizon); and Civil (deemed safe for us people to be out and about, doing things).
Before that there is complete Darkness; it is black, colder and frequently bleak when the sun is more than 18 degrees below the horizon, and that’s when the foxes come out to play. Have you heard them screech?
As I saunter towards the twilight of my own working life and the dawn of retirement (whilst being very grateful for the entrepreneurial opportunities life seems to have constantly offered me – GOYA as the trainers in Lloyds Bank of old said {Get Off Your Donkey}), I have carried out that age-old analysis of sorting out what “my time” will mean.
Last year I wrote about phase 1, the mentoring role I have with a charity working to reduce the cycle of homelessness by helping people into sustainable employment (update later), and this year I thought I’d write about how those foxes have clashed with phase 2, growing my own fruit and veg - except that really wasn’t very interesting.

Surprise surprise. The veg grew and tasted really lovely – far better than anything in a supermarket. Chillies, peppers, peas, marrows; beans were running riot; onions-a-plenty; spuds-u-like; strawberries – my word I will never buy any more from a supermarket; “That’s Life” carrots, and as for the tomato sauces and soups, well they were quite extraordinary and still come out of the freezer today. The only surprising thing was that I was surprised it all worked! (editor's comment - Gavan has shared photographic evidence at the end of the post)

Then I got a call.

What if you don’t ever see a dawn?
What if every night is just darkness followed by a befuddled fog?

What if prescribed meds combine with an innocent, but poisonous, cocktail of self-administered supplements to remove every thought from your mind, every hour from your day so that dark becomes light, yet light no longer exists?

This picture of drink and drugs used on the street was taken on 21st January 2018
What if you accidentally use the one treasured possession you have, a mobile phone, as a weapon?
What if you blow all your money, and some, without knowing you are doing it?
Can you imagine that? Can you imagine the chaos, and the conflict in your mind, of how far you have slipped down from the top of the well you thought you had reached?

Welcome to Christmas for some people who have nothing.
I can’t help being astonished at the gulf that now exists between our parallel worlds; and so a New Year’s work begins to try to bring our normal to the world of those who feel, and seem, excluded.
The good news is that I know it can be fixed, given time and thought. And people, people like you and me.

Meanwhile Tom, my mentee from last year, has become a minor celerity: everything he touched turned to “gold”; a poster boy for the charity; he is a hit with his coffee customers; he has hobnobbed with Jeremy Corbyn in Borough Market; he has his picture on a packet of Old Spike coffee on sale in Sainsbury;
he has been on the 6 O’clock news (BBC) and in the Times (twice). He’s on his way now, he reckons he’s now at a Civil dawn; sunrise may well happen this year and then we will have a bright new star.
This never ends, does it?

( a few piccies of my veg)


Sunday, 21 January 2018

The Noise of Darkness: The Quiet of Dawn - Day 53

Day 53 (Monday 22nd January 2018)
53 years since the launch of TIROS 9, on 22 January 1965. It was the first weather
satellite able to provide pictures of the entire Earth. It orbited around the world
12 times per day and had a camera on each side with a wide-angle views so
every section of the globe could be seen twice per day. It proved a life saver
in 1966 when meteorologists used its real-time pictures in December 1966 to warn
the residents of the Fiji Islands of a rapidly approaching hurricane, providing
them with sufficient
 time to evacuate. (NB picture not taken by TIROS 9)
Today is the start of a very busy week for me. I feel slightly like it is the lull period before the next onslaught - it was my husband's birthday yesterday, my youngest son's tomorrow and then I have an Executive two-day offsite and an awards event to look forward to before Friday. I hope you have a good week ahead of you.

Today's post is by Perry Timms. I first met Perry when he was still working within corporate HR - he was Head of HR - Talent and OD for the Big Lottery Fund. It feels like a lifetime away, although he has not lost his energy and drive. Perry has run his own business (People and Transformational HR Limited) since August 2012. In October last year his book, Transformational HR: How Human Resources Can Create Value and Impact Business Strategy, was published and he is a well-known writer and orator. Perry is widely recognised as being comfortable speaking out for what he believes in. What is perhaps less well known is that he is sensitive, spends much of his time thinking and feels things deeply.

He cares about HR and its future. Living (and having grown up in) Northampton, he was until last year on the Committee and a former Vice Chair of the Northants CIPD branch. He enjoys socialising (with the right people) and football - he is a Northampton Town football fan. As you will see from the below post, he is passionate about music and is a self-confessed Soulboy. You can follow him on Twitter (his handle is @PerryTimms) or read his blog (on his business site), or his former blog (Adjusted Development). He is eager to connect with those with whom his words and thoughts resonate, and believes that it is possible to change the world..."one conversation at a time".


There’s a lot of talk of overcoming adversity, triumph and challenge that this marvellous series of blog posts has revealed.  I could sense how important the openness of the personal stories people have written about is both for them and others.  And how this series of posts was hard but necessary for some people to share.  I have quietly applauded all who have written for this. I have occasionally shared and commented on the posts.
And yet I’ve still been troubled somewhat.  A troubling that has been with me since 2016.  Maybe a little before then but amplified by socio-political events of that year and 2017.

I’ve seen the noise of darkness on social networks.  I’ve smelt the rotten decay of angered souls and lost minds.  I’ve felt the vicious attacks and utterly despicable words used by people and thrown like caustic liquid at the social media accounts of others.

In short, social media has developed a wretchedness that I’ve had to work hard at to shield myself from.

Not to shield myself because I want to stay “in the Shire” ignoring the imminent peril from Mordor.  

To shield myself from the feeling of despair that humanity is lost.  To shield myself from experiencing emotional trauma I could do without.  To shield myself from the distractions of false crusades I could never do good from.

I’ve experienced a lot more dark noise from my social networks than I have enlightened joy.  So I’ve withdrawn.  Many will have noticed this, some might have been pleased by this.  Some will wonder why.

It’s because I don’t want to be party to more noise and I want to be choosy about when to shine some light.  So that the light hopefully becomes more valuable, more unexpected and pleasant and has more warmth.

The dark noises would say to me:
“You’re a coward”“You’ve gone cold on us”“You don’t care anymore”“You’re not here for us”“How can you learn if you don’t face that which you disagree with and enter into debate?”“Echo chamber - pah.  You’ve regressed into an adult version of your playground gang”“You have a duty to bring about balance”“Don’t go, we miss you”“So all that evangelising about social networks - it was fake wasn’t it?”

Fuck that.  All of it.

I’ve withdrawn more because I care more. I care more about myself, my sanity and that of those who have come to mean the most to me.

So the light voices will say

“It’s nice when you appear”“I value it because it’s not there so often”“You make me think”“It shows I matter, that’s important to me.  I thought I was just another number in the network”“You seem gentler, more thoughtful, I like this”“Just what I needed right now”“Cuts through the crap”“Different”

And they’re my hopes, and aspirations and wishes and dreams for how I want to be perceived on social networks.  

Not ubiquitous, or constant.  Not reliable or ever present.  Not just there. Not too easily dismissed. Not overplayed.

Not noisy.

I adore a singer called Maxwell.  He came out in 1996 with Urban Hang Suite - one of the most defining soul music albums of the 20th century.  It - and he - were adored and lauded. Championed and extolled.

He followed a couple of years later with the album Embrya. It wasn’t adored - it was different, more esoteric.  

He then released Now, equally, not adored, a return to rootsy gospel soul-funk.

He disappeared for a while.  We missed him.  Then we forgot about him.

Then he came back.  BLACKsummer’s night.  One of the most eagerly awaited returns I can recall.  I loved it.  It still wasn’t Urban Hang Suite - nothing ever will be.  But my goodness did I value his return.  I recalled why I loved Urban Hang Suite and him.  Why I was moved at the concert I saw him perform at the Royal Albert Hall.

I was glad he was back and I was glad he was quiet for a long time.  It gave me time to appreciate him even more.  And he hadn’t returned; he was new, different.  Confident in his new self and his new music.  He followed up again blackSUMMER’S night.  Again, no Urban Hang Suite epoch-type moment, but continued worthy music and writing.

Maxwell resisted the urge to become noise, or disappear completely.  He was choosy.  Circumspect. Wiser. Warmer.

He had peaked at Urban Hang Suite, but that was OK.  We all have that.  

I’m using Urban Hang Suite now as “my finest moment”.  

I’m not going to destroy myself trying to recreate that.  I’m just going to continue to experiment and find my BLACKsummer’s night.  

So we can appreciate each other still. If you want me to keep creating Urban Hang Suites, we might have a problem.

Because there’s loyalty in this too.

Loyalty appears to be when you stick with people even though they haven’t captured that first moment of excitement and bliss, that wow and that spark.  I don’t think you can ever “be” that person again.  You can though continue to have worth and value, merit and impact and appreciate people for that and not what you liked at first.

I’ve seen loyalty and I’ve seen the opposite. I’m OK with it.

If you liked my Urban Hang Suite but haven’t like anything I’ve done since, that’s OK.  We have memories.

If you’ve never even liked my Urban Hang Suite then I hope you still enjoy the Smiths or whatever you’re into.  I didn’t write to please you anyway.

If you liked my Urban Hang Suite and even welcomed my disappearance or quietness and you like my BLACKsummers night “new me”, then that’s why we’re cool with each other.

For Dark isn’t a colour to me - it’s noise, coldness and rejection.

Dawn is musicality, warmth and welcoming.

Thank you Kate, all other authors in this series and thank you Maxwell.