It’s (hardly) Rock’n’Roll, but I choose to like it

UnknownI often spend months on end working away from home and staying in a budget hotel chain Monday to Friday. This statement alone elicits different responses. Some think that this is quite nice: no household chores; no cooking; no familial responsibilities. A strange new place to explore and the freedom to do exactly as you please. Others think that this is quite unpleasant: dining out at tables for one; not seeing loved ones; spending evenings in a bland room with only a small television set for company. A solitary and lonely existence.

Both viewpoints are of course completely valid. And completely wrong.

As I reflect back I can see that, especially in the early days, there were times when I felt aggrieved that I was obliged to be away, I missed family and friends and as a consequence became quite withdrawn and miserable. I ate alone in anonymous hotel restaurants, watched television in my room and counted the hours down to Friday.

More recently I’ve sought out colleagues to meet in the evening, avoided bland hotels and found family run eateries. I’ve made an effort to be more than a passing visitor and been rewarded with lasting friendships.

Often I use the evenings to run and swim, combating the tendency to gain weight when living this way. The extra time in the pool may not make me a great swimmer but I am undoubtedly improving. My runs let me discover a neighbourhood and help me feel a connection to this new place.

And on those evenings when I am alone with nothing to do I relish the prospect of reading a novel with a beer before an early night. Hardly Rock and Roll but I like it.

The only thing that has really changed is my attitude. I still miss my family, but being miserable makes it worse not better. I still crave company, but sitting alone in a room makes social interaction less likely. I still look forward to Thursday evening when I can pack my bag ready to go home on the Friday, but counting the hours down makes them pass no faster.

It’s all about choice. So much of life is, don’t you think?

I said can’t you see that this old boy has been a lonely?
If I could stick a knife in my heart
Suicide right on stage
Would it be enough for your teenage lust
Would it help to ease the pain? Ease your brain?
If I could dig down deep in my heart
Feelings would flood on the page
Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya
Would ya think the boy’s insane? He’s insane
I said I know it’s only rock ‘n roll but I like it
I said I know it’s only rock’n roll but I like it, like it, yes, I do
Oh, well, I like it, I like it, I like it

It’s only rock’n’roll (but I like it) – Rolling Stones

Silver Lining

m8Y2XvNTP735TMxklc55qgQ

These days I am spared the daily commute into London.  The occasional trips I now make serve to remind me that life is better without the 7.10 am from Swindon, even when things run smoothly.

Last week I only had to make the one trip. An 11.00 am meeting followed by lunch meant I could avoid the rush and get the first off peak train.   On my way to the station I heard on the car radio that there were problems but at the station I was assured that the 8.59 and 9.11 would be on time and the issues were resolved – they were just clearing up the backlog of trains.  So I cheerfully bought a ticket and presently got on the train which did indeed leave on time.

When we did slowly come to a halt I accepted that this was to be expected and there was little point in raging or stressing.  I had half an hour cushion in any case.

Eventually the train Supervisor made an announcement.

 On behalf of First Great Western I apologise for the slow running of this service.  This is due to congestion caused by an earlier closure of the line because of a fatality.  The line is now open but due to the backlog of trains we can expect a delay.  I’ll keep you updated.

It’s worth pausing to reflect on the cause of the problems – a suicide in Slough.  Not that long ago I might have moaned at how selfish it was to hurl yourself in front of a speeding express train during rush hour.  Now I am genuinely saddened that someone was driven to the point where suicide felt like their best option, to a point where they truly believed that their friends and family would be better off without them.  If you have ever stood close to a passing train you will realise that throwing yourself in front of it must take a huge effort of will, it isn’t a cry for help it’s a desire for oblivion.  I spare a thought too for the driver, powerless yet left with truly horrific memories and often feelings of guilt.

We did move forward very slowly.  My 30 minute cushion had been eroded but my client was understanding and we exchanged emails joking about my OCD tendencies when it comes to timeliness. Then we picked up speed and moved on, to palpable relief in the carriage.

Then we stopped again.   The next announcement came

 …All lines are now open, there is congestion due to a backlog of trains.  All platforms at Paddington are full but as trains are coming out of the station they are freeing up platforms…

Surely that must mean we’d soon be moving on?  Once again there was a flurry of texting, but I sensed a general feeling of acceptance.  The issue was not one created by First Great Western and certainly not by the train crew who were busy helping passengers who had onward connections to make.

However we stayed where we were for a long, long time.

Around an hour after the scheduled arrival time I was reflecting on the stoic way that the passengers were waiting.  I couldn’t hear any angry complaints, most phone calls I overheard made light of it and that traditional British characteristic of smiling in adversity was coming to the fore.  Strangers were even talking, breaking the cardinal rule of public transport in and around London – under no circumstances must eye contact be made with fellow passengers.

A further announcement came

Once again I apologise for the delay to this service due to an earlier fatality. There is congestion getting into Paddington station. All the platforms are full and we are fourth in the queue.  Unfortunately a fire alarm has now been triggered and the station has been evacuated.  Therefore there can be no movement until that is resolved…

I was, I admit, getting a bit stressy.  Being over an hour late for an hour and a half meeting was bad form.  Worse still my client confessed that he had nearly asked to switch the venue but left it in the City as it was easier for me.  However I was deliberately trying to see the positives in the situation and not allow this to ruin my day.  It was important that when I did get to my client I was on good form.  Likewise the rest of the carriage seemed to be bearing up and the good old ‘blitz spirit’ was coming out in force.

Then the next announcement came.

We apologise for the continuing delay to this service.   I am pleased to say that the station has now re-opened.

Unfortunately due to the combination of issues many trains and crews have been displaced and are not where they should be.  Crews are only allowed to work for a given period before taking a break.  Many crews have reached that limit and so there is now a shortage of crews to move trains out of the station.  Therefore we are now waiting for fresh crews to come, or the break period to be over before trains can be moved and free up platforms.

For most people on the train that seemed to be the straw that broke them.  No longer was it ‘one of those things’ it was now ‘a bloody shambles’.  Train crew became ‘jobs worth’s’ in that instant.

I started to smile because it occurred to me I had found the silver lining.  Here was a clear demonstration that in being open and honest in his communication the train Supervisor had initially won the support of most passengers – but the last disclosure was a step too far.  It seems that generally being open pays off and sometimes discretion really is advisable.

The trick seems to be knowing when to fully disclose and when to be more circumspect.

 

PS  I was very late for my meeting but my client worked round it and we still managed a pleasant lunch.

PPS I tried to get to Town today and left very early to avoid a repeat. Arriving at the station there were  obvious problems.  There was a train at the platform and another outside the station.  The board simply said delays and suggested that slightly later trains were on time. I later discovered that due to a broken down freight train all services were in fact suspended.  After 30 minutes of waiting staff did finally advise us that there was little prospect of movement for at least another hour, then there might be slow running ‘due to congestion’.  Being a quick learner I took a refund on my ticket and am sat writing this in my sunny garden, another silver lining.

And it’s hi-ho silver lining
And away you go now, baby
I see your sun is shining
But I won’t make a fuss
Though it’s obvious

Hi Ho Silver Lining – Jeff Beck

Smile like you mean it

suru portraits 073

We’ve just returned from holiday and yes thanks, since you ask it was very nice.  We stayed in a large hotel complex and round the pool all shapes and sizes of humanity were on display in varying levels of undress.

It struck us how many of the young women who had enviable figures seemed unattractive.  One such girl with ridiculously long legs kept her boyfriend running round after her like a lap dog.  Others seemed to maintain a perpetual air of bored indifference, many refused to smile.   I christened these types ‘butter face’ (nice legs, but her face!).

Then there were others less obviously perfect specimens who seemed to be open and friendly, who clearly cared about and enjoyed being with their friends and family.  These were much more attractive.

Ah ah I thought, there is a blog post in there.  Maybe you can think yourself pretty.  Maybe if you just adopt the appropriate behaviours and smile like you mean it then you become attractive.  Of course if you are too skinny or are overweight, have a genuine physical imperfection these won’t go away, but maybe most of us can and do look beyond such superficial things when really evaluating someone as a friend or partner.

Whilst we were being tourists, sunning ourselves in Greece my eldest daughter was travelling in the Himalayas. Trekking and working on a couple of community projects.  She returned the day after we did.  With tears in her eyes and a passion I have rarely seen she talked about the two sisters who had given her a henna tattoo in Leh.  The girls were about the same age as she is but there the similarities end.

As my daughter put it:

“While we were stressing about what outfit to wear that night, whether our A-level choices were perfect and precisely which new laptop to acquire these girls left school so they could support their families.  Day after day they sit on the hot dusty kerb.  They might not want to be in this situation but they somehow accept it, they still have ambitions but they accept that for now this is how it is.”

“We get jealous because someone has some ‘stuff’ that we don’t even need and these girls have nothing, they have the one set of old clothes they wear everyday. Their faces are worn from lack of care and sun. They were so happy and smiled so readily and they found genuine pleasure in talking to us about our lives. ”

“They wouldn’t accept a small tip, even knowing how little is is to us and how much it is to them.”

“They said that we are beautiful, but they are the beautiful ones.”

Yes.  That’s what I was going to say.

Save some face, you know you’ve only got one
Change your ways while you’re young
Boy, one day you’ll be a man
Oh girl, he’ll help you understand

Smile like you mean it
Smile like you mean it

Looking back at sunsets on the east side
We lost track of the time
Dreams aren’t what they used to be
Some things sat by so carelessly

The Killers – Smile Like You Mean It

One hand in my pocket

On the one hand it has been a depressing week:

Firstly I have been waiting to hear from a potential client regarding a pitch for a large project.  The pitching process took months of effort. I’ve been on tenterhooks and can’t settle, checking my email constantly.  I can’t understand why they are delaying the result and am starting to be convinced we haven’t got it.

Secondly I heard that a number of friends have lost their jobs. This made me very angry at the people that did this and I spent a whole afternoon in a bad mood.

The incessant wind and rain and ever rising flood levels (I live by the River Thames) has been a real worry. I am increasingly frustrated by the politicians who seem to offer nothing but platitudes.

Finally I have an injury and after 6 weeks of rest I am still only able to run 3 – 4 miles a day very cautiously.

On the other hand it’s been a good week:

Firstly I have been waiting to hear from a potential client regarding a pitch for a large project.  We did great to get through to the final round and learned loads in the process.  I had weaned myself off constantly checking email and being on tenterhooks has lead me back into bad habits, it’s noticeable how it distracts you and prevents you from fully attending to the here and now which I hadn’t really appreciated before.

Secondly I heard that a number of friends have lost their jobs, I was quite angry for a while.  Of course once I calmly looked at it I realised that raging is pointless.  Having compassion and finding ways to help would be more useful.  So I contacted them and offered to help.  By reaching out they know I care.

The incessant wind and rain and ever rising flood levels (I live by the River Thames) is a concern.  Yet there is nothing I can do about the weather.  Accepting the issue and getting on with what needs to be done in the short term is more productive.  And maybe if we keep the pressure on this will help the climate change naysayers see the truth.

I have an injury and after 6 weeks of rest I am now able to run 3 – 4 miles a day albeit cautiously.  If I do some cross training and keep healing I’ll still make a spring race or two.  And today a gentle 4 miler in a rare burst of sunny, calm weather felt just great.

I know which week I chose to have.  What will you choose?

I’m broke but I’m happy
I’m poor but I’m kind
I’m short but I’m healthy, yeah
I’m high but I’m grounded
I’m sane but I’m overwhelmed
I’m lost but I’m hopeful baby
What it all comes down to
Is that everything’s gonna be fine fine fine
’cause I’ve got one hand in my pocket
And the other one is giving a high five

Alanis Morrisette