Are you hiding your light under a bushel?

Undoubtedly, we are all guilty of seeing those we know through what can sometimes be a very narrow lens. That is to say a work colleague can remain just that, a member of a club or society can be similarly pigeon holed and neither escape from the field in which you first got to know them.
However, that means there are times when you realise that you have friends with real skills. Sometimes abilities you had no idea they possessed or had an interest in developing.

I should immediately say this isn’t a paid blog entry or any form of advertisement – it’s just a means of showing how those we think we know sometimes have the capability to surprise us with their talent.

deer1Some years ago I was building a team of consultants and was lucky enough to meet Jo. She was (and is) a feisty, determined and straight talking individual who was very good with people – exactly what was needed. We worked together for the best part of ten years before our professional paths separated and went their own ways.

Throughout that time, I learned a lot about Jo’s personality. Her love of Las Vegas, poker, dogs and found her to be the only other person I knew to have heard of Anastasia Beaverhousen.  Yet, despite this I had no idea she was (or wanted to be) a capable photographer. It would never have been something I would have imagined as interesting her. It just goes to show how easy it is to make assumptions about those we think we know.

poppyIt was only this year when walking through a tube tunnel under the river Thames (another story) that I realised Jo had an interest in photography.

It was some weeks after that before I realised quite how capable a photographer she was becoming. All of the images on this entry are Jo’s and are (to the best of my knowledge) all taken within a year of her starting to take images as a serious pastime.

For me is started to raise a question about what other skills my other friends may have. Also, had Jo not decided to act on her private interests in photography I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have seen some of these very pleasing, artistic, technically skilled and often thought provoking shots. I can’t help but think that would have been a great loss.

tree1It made me want to urge my other friends (and indeed anyone reading this post) not to hide their talents.

Even if it turns out you don’t have the skill you would like, it must be worth trying. Life is far too short to carry many things you would like to try ‘one day’.

So if you have a long-standing ambition to learn a new skill, develop a new string to your bow or just try something for the hell of it – what’s holding you back. Who know’s you may find something at which you are equally capable.

Jo’s work can be seen in more detail and better resolution at her website  – There are some beautiful shots there. I would encourage you to take a look and maybe take some inspiration to find your equivalent skill.

A change of season ?

As any fan or student of meteorology will tell you, winter officially starts on 1st December. I was reminded of that fact by a comment on the television this morning – that and the fact that the temperature has dropped suddenly losing the last mellowness of autumn.

In addition, I remembered that the last week in November was historically the traditional time for retailers to perform their last stock take before Christmas. That thought brought to mind childhood trips in to the local shops only to find a large poster on the door declaring ‘closed for stocktaking’. I don’t remember exactly when the practice went out of fashion, but it’s something that is no longer seen.

It was with those in mind that I decided a little personal stock taking would be in order. In recent days I have been more aware of a sense of isolation and a feeling of lacking purpose.  I say more aware because it has been a background  harmonic for some time, however in recent days it became the primary unbroken note.

A combination of factors has come together to create this perfect storm. None particularly problematic in isolation but as a translated Icelandic saying states ‘troubles hunt in packs’. Given the particularly high rate of depression experienced in Iceland, I suppose they should know.

I live some 80 miles from my partner and experience all the practical challenges of managing a long distance relationship – fairly successfully I think. Whilst we are committed to each other he has and values his own life and space. He has his own circle of friends and interests and is one of those lucky people who attract friendships with relative ease.  Whilst we are supportive of each other, I see him for a maximum of two days a week on average and my problem is with the remaining five days.

I have never been one of those people who attracts a large circle of friends. I have a small circle of close friends but over the past year the last of these has moved from the area. Email and text is of course possible, but I certainly notice their absence.

In past months and years I have filled my spare time with volunteering, things formerly known as ‘good works’ and hobbies. However, despite being worthy, valuable and filling time ultimately you are still on your own. So although I will still continue with some of these, I think it’s time they took a back seat and I focused on my own life a little more – sounds rather selfish, but it feels as thought that time has come.

As you can imagine, today has been something of a black and rather empty place although interestingly, blogging about the issue is rather cathartic. Hopefully this is just a passing front rather than a gathering storm. Time will tell.

Cum hoc ergo propter hoc: It ain’t necessarily so

Over the past week, I have received two unrelated emails which remind me how easy it is to accept unconfirmed but accepted ‘truths’ and how easily we can confuse cause and effect.

The first email asked for my view as a former theatrical ‘lovie’ on whether a strong amateur operatic group would be wise to perform Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess in 2015. A little confused I asked the sender why they were doubtful?

Porgy and Best Soundtrack

Porgy and Best Soundtrack

In their reply to me the author alleged that during their lifetimes the Gershwins had undervalued black performers, apparently supported a ‘blackface’ performance in Copenhagen and had offended Sammy Davis Jnr who refused to sing on the subsequent cast recordings. This so surprised me I called them and it was clear this was a genuinely held belief.

A quick and unscientific straw poll of colleagues produced two common themes (from those who knew anything of the opera). These were that the show ‘had no popular or well known numbers’ and secondly that ‘it’s rarely performed as it needs so many deep bass voices.’ Similarly, many (although not all) of the email authors views were repeated. Rarely had my gob been so smacked !

For the record I felt I had to put an alternative view of some of these beliefs and hold it up as an example of just how easily a belief can progress to an urban myth and then accepted truth. I spent some time researching the claims, none of which seem to hold water

During their lifetimes the Gershwins had undervalued black performers, apparently supporting a ‘blackface’ performance in Copenhagen and had offended Sammy Davis Jnr who refused to sing on the subsequent cast recordings.

In fact both George and Ira Gershwin were strong supporters of black performers. Indeed, apart from some very minor speaking roles this is an all black cast. Further the Gershwins personally insisted on the principal roles being played by black actors as part of the conditions of the production license. Finally, they consistently resisted the move to a ‘balanced ethnicity’ cast and a white recasting requested by the South African national opera during apartheid. Hardly the acts of someone undervaluing black performers.

As to the ‘blackface’ (non-black performers made up to appear to appear to be black) performance in Copenhagen this did take place in 1943. However, this was under Nazi rule and was an unlicensed production. For fairly obvious reasons the Jewish Gershwins had no part in the production.

It is also true that Sammy Davis Jnr didn’t feature on the film version soundtrack. However, this wasn’t due to a disagreement with the Gershwins but rather a contractual limitation between the film record company and the label to which he was signed at the time.

The show ‘had no popular or well known numbers’ and secondly that ‘it’s rarely performed as it needs so many deep bass voices.’

In fact there is only one bass part in the production with the rest being balanced across the usual vocal ranges. A charitable explanation may be a confusion with ‘Showboat’. However, it may equally speak to a stereotypical view that any black male voice must be a basso profundo.

As to popular or well known numbers, this is subjective. However, if you have heard of ‘Summertime’,  ‘I loves you Porgy’, ‘Bess you is my woman now’ or ‘I got plenty o nuttin’ then you may disagree.

So this experience put me on guard for the rest of the week . How easy it is for accepted truths to grow up with no real basis in fact.

Then today the second email apparently unrelated triggered a link to be formed in my mind at least. A friend had commented that they were feeling a little flat and down. As someone who struggles with aspects of their identity this anxiety had been seen as being caused by challenges they had faced earlier in the month.

Today’s email was brilliant in its simplicity. ‘Don’t necessarily link one with the other – we all feel flat from time to time – it’s part of the human function’. So simple, so obviously true, but so easy to forget !

Researchers and philosophers recognise this as the Cum hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. That is to say, it is easy to fall into the belief that because B happened at the same time or after A, that the first event caused the second. To quote Gershwin (again from Porgy and Bess) ‘It ain’t necessarily so’

Shang-a-lang a Holly-Nolly ding dong!

Anyone who has been reading or following this blog for any length of time may be familiar with my less than overwhelming enthusiasm for the festive season. (See Saturnalia)

However, once in a while something comes along which whilst not entirely changing your point of view, could be described as a refreshing change! One such thing is this year’s Christmas advert from Sainsbury supermarkets in the UK.

The  choice of a World War I themed advert may not have been entirely surprising given the emphasis on the centenary of the start of the Great War throughout 2014. However, having said that it eluded the competing retailers and advertising agencies leaving the field clear for this four minute gem.

The only branding in this piece is the name flash at the end of the video. Even that is shared with the recognition for the Royal British Legion. Furthermore, there isn’t a single piece of product placement – not even the featured chocolate bar.

The attention to historical detail is impressive and although there is an undoubted sentimentality it isn’t aimed at supermarket products (at least not directly).  Some have already indicated they find the advert distasteful apparently hijacking the historic events to boost Christmas sales. I for one don’t share that view.

Congratulations Sainsbury for taking the time to give this real production values, historical integrity and resisting the temptation to scatter it with subtly placed stock. Having seen the seasonal offerings from competing retailers, the risk was well worth taking ! A real Christmas present.

Adults must be escorted at all times.

I would be the first person to acknowledge that some adults carry out terrible acts against children. I also strongly believe that any civilised society should seek to protect the most vulnerable and unable to protect themselves.

However, I am starting to have a problem with a growing tendency to blanket ban single people without first trying more targeted or proportionate measures.

No singles please.

No singles please.

In the United States it isn’t unusual for some parks (or parts of parks) to be restricted as zones where adults can only enter if accompanied  by a child.

Whilst I do have a problem with this at an intellectual level, I can accept that a toddlers play area (where that is the only use) could legitimately be restricted in this way. However, I do struggle to accept being excluded from a public area maintained at public expense merely because genetically, through sexual orientation or just luck, I am not the parent or guardian of a child.

In the United Kingdom, the restriction has been relatively limited. Possibly the largest organisation to impose the restriction is the Legoland group of companies. Even here I can accept their business choice (although it isn’t one I would make in the same way myself).  With no disrespect to Legoland, I can’t imagine there are many single adults queuing to see the Castaway Camp or ride on the Duplo Viking River splash. In short, the venue is not merely primarily aimed at children but is exclusively designed for their entertainment.

However, recently, several establishments with a much more mixed environment have moved to impose a broad brush ban on single adults. One example (although not the only example by any means) is Puxton Park near Minehead in Somerset (UK).

A somerset grandfather who had previously attended the park with his grandchildren is reported to have returned at a later date on his own to see an advertised falconry display only to be turned away as a single male over fears of pedophilia risk to children.

In a rather clumsy statement from the park’s managing director, this exclusion was defended on the following grounds:

“This has been blown out of all proportion. The main aspect not being reported is that Puxton Park is predominantly an attraction for children aged 0 years to 7 years with 90% of the park dedicated fully to child’s play, which is not suitable for lone adults.”

“Some adults may be interested in our falconry department and we offer falconry experience days which are open to all. We have not set out to discriminate against single adults but we take child protection extremely seriously.”

“We would rather be over zealous when unaccompanied adults visit us armed with cameras than put children at any potential risk. Even schools follow similar policies with regards to the photography of children.

Our members fully support our decisions and we have received nothing but praise for our policy including positive feedback from a Child Protection Specialist, who commended us for our child protection principals.

Within seven years we have only had one complaint about this policy from the gentlemen last week.

At the time of setting the policy the other parks within the area had a similar stance to us. I have spoken to two or three similar client-based parks this morning and they still have the same policy as we do. I’m not going to name names as it’s unprofessional of me to do so.

In light of this coverage we will look at what other parks are doing with their admissions policy, speak to our customers and review.”

An interesting perspective, however am I the only person to be uncomfortable with the apparent alignment of being a single male with being a higher than average pedophile risk?
I am at least reassured that Mr Mead recongnises his actions are over zealous but regret that he feels a blanket ban on all singles would be more appropriate than (for example) a ban of photography in or near the children’s play area(s). If you wish to implement a ban at least make it evidence based, proportionate and fair to the individual. This blanket ban fails on all three fronts in my view.
Whilst not doubting the sincerity of this apology, it does seem half-hearted at best. Although 90% of the park may be child centric clearly not all of it is. I wonder how many 3- 10 year olds will be queuing to sample the local cheeses in the farm shop or attending the £340 falconry exhibits. The assurance that these are open to everyone certainly runs contrary to the reported facts and seems arbitrary – some might even say discriminatory.
I certainly wouldn’t hold this establishment up as the sole poor implementation of this policy, but it appears to be one of the least well nuanced.
Have we really reached a point where anyone over 30 who for what ever reason is childless is not only to be pitied but also treated as a probably criminal? Puxton Park and those who follow this rationale we all deserve better !

I am a rock, I am an island

It’s sometimes odd to me how two apparently unrelated thoughts can suddenly converge to reinforce a common theme. One such example happened to me today.

I was considering how well a friend of mine had done in fighting against some compulsive behaviour issues – far better than the person concerned recognised themself. It struck me as slightly odd that they couldn’t see the extent of progress I saw. At the same time, whilst flicking through 200 tv channels of not very much, I stumbled across a story relating to stones in death valley reportedly moving of their own accord.

In recent years any serious follower of land speed records will have become familiar with the area of death valley and its use as a super-flat, super-clear raceway.

Creeping rock tracks

Creeping rock tracks

However, that isn’t strictly true. Across the vast dry river beds there are strewn a large number of rocks and boulders scattered at apparently random intervals. Each of these rocks leaves a snail like trail tracing its progress across the desert floor, although interestingly, nobody had ever seen these rocks move.

For many years, a range of competing theories was put forward as to the cause of these mysterious trails. Hurricane force winds, flash floods and even alien visitations have been put forward as causes. The biggest mystery however, was that despite the best efforts of many observers, the stones never appeared to move.

However, in what has been described as the most boring experiment in the world, scientists placed GPS tracking devices on the stones and waited to see what phenomena was responsible for the ghostly tracks.

The mystery as to the cause of the tracks having been solved and the transient ice sheets responsible filmed only one question really remained. Why hadn’t this been seen before?

The answer appears to be partially due to geography. The lake beds concerned are at least an hour from main roads and cross poorly maintained and often hazardous terrain. The visitors to the valley had usually chosen to avoid the worst weather conditions which is precisely when the phenomena can be most easily observed.

However, even then, the distance between the rocks and the introduction of water and/or ice means there is often no available reference point against which to measure the rocks progress. With such incremental movement it’s hardly surprising that a positional change had been missed.

Whereupon, the problem of my friends resistance to recognise progress came back in to sharp focus. Could it be that their progress lacked the available reference points in the same way as the stones did? It is too easy to say they were too close to see the strides they continue to make. However, with this answer at least a strong possibility it did reinforce my role as acting as one of those points of reference.

It also reminded me of a Buddhist commentary on (of all things) glacial erosion. The former Dali Lahma Thubten Gyatso is alleged to commented: ‘If a glacier which has no free will or self-determination can transform mountains, just think what man could achieve’