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.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Life in Chiaroscuro - Day 52

Day 52 (Sunday 21st January 2018)
52 - the age at which Harry Houdini died - by this time he had amazed and baffled people
in much of Europe, Russia and the U.S.A. On 21st January 1903 he escaped Halvemaansteeg
police station in Amsterdam. 1903 was the year when Houdini really became an icon - he was
already known for being good at escaping handcuffs but he now began to make a name
for breaking out of jails. he also managed to break into a safe for a Moscow locksmith
(who had been trying to do so for 14 years) revealing a treasure trove of jewels and
earning Houdini $750 for 9 hours work (a significant sum at the time).
Today is my husband's birthday and we are going out for a family lunch. His mother is coming to celebrate with us. She is finding life without her husband very hard. Death is, in so many ways, so painful for those of us left behind.

The post you read today is by Jacqueline Davies. It is open, honest and at times a painful read (as well as being the second post in a row with a wonderful poem  written by the contributor). Jacqueline says much about herself below, so I will only say a few words... Some of you may remember Jacqueline's Call To Arms in the final post of last year's series. At the time of writing last year she was the Master of the Guild of Human Resource Professionals (@GuildHRprofs) and the first openly lesbian Master of any City of London Guild. She was also the HR Director for the FCA (the regulatory body for much of the Financial Services industry) - a huge and demanding role. In her post she made a statement of the role of HR that has resonated with me this year, we need to be:
"standard bearers for the best of what it means to be human. To hold ourselves and others to account and to be provocative when we see integrity or conduct threatened."
I genuinely believe that HR as a profession is in the best position I have ever known it to be in. Increasingly leaders, colleagues, clients and the communities in which we work are becoming aware of the importance of culture and conduct. That does not mean we should be complacent or smug - someone in HR clearly turned a blind eye to inappropriate behaviour in Miramax when Harvey Weinstein was at his most predatory. We need HR to be the moral compass (it is no coincidence that a compass is the symbol of the HR Guild here in the UK) and to ask the difficult questions. Since leaving the FCA Jacqueline has teamed up with Tania in their own business consultancy and I think you can tell from its name that she will not be shrinking from facing things head-on - Audacity Associates. In addition, she is an advisor to the Henley Business School, a Governor of Middlesex University and Chair of the National Skills Academy for Financial Services. You can connect with her on social media - her Twitter handle is @JacquelineLD.

The beautiful Chiaroscuro paintings and photographs used to illustrate this piece have all been selected by Jacqueline.


The Italian’s use the term Chiaroscuro to describe scenes painted in ‘light-dark’, how tonal contrasts are created to provide shape, show character and tell stories.
Life in Chiaroscuro

Seven years ago my mother died. More precisely, I gave my consent for her life support to be switched off, then she died. This decision has weighed heavily with me, replaying while I wait for sleep and returning at dawn before I can crowd it out with plans for the day. This isn’t a post about grief, it’s a post about how we can re-mix the colours on our palette to make sense of living with both darkness and dawn. How I’ve learned that a ‘Chiaroscuro filter’ can distinguish the things that matter from the beautiful, daily distractions that fill our life’s canvas.

You see I lost my Mum some thirty years earlier. She disappeared inside a black cloak of depression. Up-to this point, she loved us unconditionally and taught us how to love back. As we progressed though high school, quite suddenly everything changed. She was unable to go out, unable to get up and when she did was so heavily medicated that when we looked into her eyes we couldn’t find her. This would mean returning from school never knowing if she would be in the kitchen or in bed or if the paracetamol packets would be empty. My father, a steelworker worked around the clock. My younger sister and I found coping strategies. I had wanted to be a painter, but being the oldest, I took charge and I followed my father’s lead; I dropped Art, working relentlessly until I could flee to university. I didn’t stop; travelling like a train through a tunnel, on and on while decades flashed by through the half-light.

The Young Singer by Georges de La Tour
Then, just before I turned 40, the same age Mum was when she became ill, I sat in the hospital, holding her hand and let her go. Just a year before, I had become a Mum and the wonder of holding a new life while letting another go, meant that even the most brilliant moments were outlined by loss.

I took a year out from paid work but I didn’t stop. We moved house, I also took on the Chair of a national charity and wrote a book. I then returned to work and ploughed on. Alongside this, becoming ‘THE BEST MUM I CAN POSSIBLY BE’ became my chief preoccupation. As any new parent will tell you, our radiant daughter brought a new type of light into our lives. It was initially, searing, so bright, I had to blink through the first year learning to adjust to the profound joy and then to the greying fear that arrived. Fear of loss, fear of repeated patterns, fear of not knowing what to do next. Learning how to live with this felt like picking glass splinters from my heart.

Madonna and Child with St Anne by Caravaggio (c1605-6)

Some seven years later, I sat still in a hospital bed watching the sun rise and fall through an oxygen mask. Pneumonia had pressed the pause button on my life. A close friend, shared a conversation with her husband that stopped me in my tracks; ‘your on the top of our list to go first because you’re living faster than anyone else’. In the year that has followed this I’ve stopped permanent work and started painting again. I’m learning to slow down, middle age is helping. I’m learning to look, to see darkness and dawn as an artist might. Noticing the line and shadow in the everyday and being able to distinguish what really matters and to teach this art to my daughter.

Photograph of an apple by Jimmy Wen

I wrote this poem to make sense of things.

Three Daughters

After you left us I waited,
Holding your hand until the silence
Holding my breath until
       the sun came up again and I could escape outside
Gulping the new morning air
And watching the circling gulls
       shrieking their songs of loss and longing, high above the hospital car park

I mostly remember your hands
How they put plasters on my grazes
Turned pages at bedtime
       stirred pots, brimming with love
These are my hands now
Life hardened palms
Stretching out to reach my daughter
       to teach her how to hold time
       and when to watch the sky.

Detail from "Rest on the Flight into Egypt" by Caravaggio (c1586)

The Mother Song, written and performed by Andrea Menard