Tag Archives: history

The legacy of Roger Bannister

Although it seems a particularly inappropriate time to say it, over the past few years I grew sick of hearing about Roger Bannister. Working in personal and corporate development, it seemed like every book or PowerPoint presentation wasn’t complete without a reference to the four minute mile.

As if getting someone in a suit to reach inbox zero was on par with breaking a time /distance record that had held since man developed accurate timepieces.

That record lasted less than 50 days before it was broken by someone else. The commonly held perspective is that once someone had proven it was possible, others could finally believe it and do it themselves. This is, of course, somewhat simplistic, as a group of runners were all hitting around that mark, but the story does have a nice ring to it.

For me, the real lesson to take away from Roger Bannister’s four minute mile was that he was an amateur. It’s hard to imagine in today’s world of professional athletes, where running or kicking a ball is a career in itself. That famous four minute mile run almost never happened because of bad weather. Harder to imagine is that Bannister came to do it after going to work that day and the success built on a training regime of sneaking in a mere forty-five minutes daily.

It’s not so much about proving something so others can do it. Instead, it’s having the grit and determination to do something yourself, even if it’s not your main priority in life.

 

Advertisements

The white sandy beaches of Fraser Island

Last night I had a dreams with three apparently memorable components. One was about bunking off work to go to a sixth form reunion, another was something very messy involving mashed potatoes and gravy and the last one was being back on Fraser Island.

I suspect it is in part a hankering for the sunshine as the autumn begins to encroach. I don’t feel like we had a particularly amazing summer weather-wise and as much as I find the changing of the leaves a beautiful sight, I don’t like that damp chill in the air when I get up to write at 6am. I want blue skies and warm sunshine and white sand. And peace. So it’s no wonder really that in my dreams I would go back to a place like this:

Lake Mackenzie Fraser Island

Now forgive the picture quality, because this was taken with my first ever digital camera, given to me as a parting gift from a dear friend before I set off to adventure around the world. This was back when 2megapixels didn’t mean anything to anyone but it was about the best you could get for under five hundred quid. Now you can get a burner phone with better. How quickly the world has changed in a decade.

I’m so lucky to have travelled to so many places and god willing I hope to travel to many, many more. For these are the places that are the source of my inspiration and the memories that I can keep returning to on the mundane, cold days to remind me of just how privileged I really am.

So this is a Throwback Thursday to sunshine, but a present day moment of gratitude.

A necessary hiatus

So, I have broken the cardinal sin of blogging: I have been inconsistent. It has been three weeks since my last post. I’m not sure what the blogging gods require in order to provide absolution, but let’s pretend it’s done.

Sadly, blogging would have been at the expense of something else, and everything I needed to do – all my other commitments – ranked higher compared to losing a couple of hours each week to maintain a consistent schedule. Of course, there was the alternative; churn something out on time at all costs, no matter how dreadful or false, knowing that only a handful of people read these anyway. Hi mom! Who am I kidding? There’s nothing in here interesting enough for my mom.

So, taking a break from blogging was part of a more sustained step back from social media in general. Why? Because it hasn’t been serving me. With the general election on this side of the pond and Hillary running for president on the other, I didn’t need the daily grind of news articles highlighting the general fear of women in politics. Yup, even though we’ve had the vote for ages, it’s still painfully obvious in the blatant sexism, objectification and willingness to throw in a nasty smear campaign. To be fair, that seems to be the tone of this election anyway regardless. It’s exhausting. And viewing it through social media such as Twitter (because I still believe Facebook to be the work of the devil so I don’t have to look at anything there), actually makes me less engaged, rather than more.

Because it actually encourages people to feel good about armchair politics.

To tweet their opinions, often brimming with 140 characters of righteous indignation, about a political candidate or a party when they can’t be bothered to actually join or donate to the party they claim to support. They don’t actually get off the couch and knock on doors, or get involved in any kind of political activism to actually change the world for the good of mankind. Yet somehow hitting send gives the brain the satisfying sensation that something has been done. In reality, nothing has changed. Even if you feel that you have shown some support, or awareness, the people who need that are unlikely to see it. Not like they would if you volunteered at your local food bank or soup kitchen, or actively put your ass on the line to improve race or religious relations in your community.

I am as guilty of this as anyone, of feeling this sense that hitting send means something real. I’ve faced up to the hard and painful fact it doesn’t. That I haven’t done anything other than opine. I’m doing here. The irony is not lost on me.

But that is the reality – harsh as it may sound – and in the current political climate, seeing more of it meant hitting the critical mass point to hammer the truth home to me. Some days, Twitter has been a downright angry place, and scrolling through my timeline feels like I’m being shouted at for ten minutes. What can I say about suffering in Nepal? Nothing, I live in one of the most tectonically stable countries in the world. I spent six months in New Zealand and a couple of hard quakes sent me running like a baby back home. What can I say about race relations in America? Nothing. I can have a vague sense of right or wrong, but I can’t feel like an opinion of mine would embrace the nuances of a situation when I’ve grown up without the weight of cultural history on my shoulders.

So, taking a break, assessing myself and my values honestly rather than in a way that simply makes me feel good and validated, was something I needed to do. Ultimately, I felt the need to write about it before normal posting resumes. If you’ve made it this far, then thank you for letting me share it with you.

On never being 37

This is a bit of a personal post, so if that’s not your thing, then feel free to head back off to somewhere else. Of course, it’s actually a post about avoidance and how the big events of our lives sometimes impact us in strange ways unless we realise it.

I am actually 37. Despite the title of the post, I didn’t get to skip the year. Aliens did not kidnap me nor did I get frozen in time. I have been 37 for many months, but from the day I turned 37, I started saying I was nearly 38. Not nearly 40, or some other universal milestone event. 38.

Why?

When I realised I’ve been doing it, it was immediately obvious. My mother was 38 when my dad died. His death was, hands down, the most monumental and life-altering moment of my existence. The effects of it have reverberated across my family and through the years. At the heart of it, I couldn’t imagine being so young and losing the love of your life. Losing, in the process, your own, in a very real way.

Being 38 has become symbolic to me of something deeper. Something terrifying. Something I am drawn towards and yet don’t really want to arrive. Something that is now, after months of saying that I’m nearly at it, I actually am beginning to approach.

We inherit the things that go before us, whether we want them or not. We can let them define us, or we can acknowledge them and accept them, before walking our own path. I am trying to cling tight to the idea of the latter, even as the clock ticks down towards a time that has become something of a monster in the back of my mind.

Awesome writing resource: Diversity Cross Check

I first heard about Diversity Cross Check on the Writing Excuses podcast (another amazing writing resource in itself).

So what is Diversity Cross Check? I’ll let them explain it for you….

Simple premise: You’re a writer interested in diversifying your characters, but you don’t share those experiences and you don’t want to offend anyone. A good resource is always those who understand firsthand what it’s like to live as such. So you visit the appropriate tag, find someone you’d like to work with, and contact them via whatever method they’ve provided.

How cool is that?

Often people lament about how little diversity there is in books. It seems an obvious thing to solve – write more diverse characters! Make them the protagonist! Avoid negative stereotypes!

It is easy, until you go to the next level down and start fleshing out said characters. Then you discover you have no idea what an Orthodox Jew would be doing at a certain point in their festive calendar – if you even know what that calendar is in the first place. Or the conflict a second generation immigrant from a specific nation in a certain city would be experiencing as they balance their new life against old world traditions and customs. Wikipedia can only go so far in answering these questions. It just provides more broad brush strokes for you to work with. The detail comes from those who live it.

The fear of accidental offence stops people from branching out from what they know. It’s limiting when it doesn’t need to be. Diversity Cross Check might be the best place to address an issue with a character you secretly want to write. Or it might ignite an interest in a minority waiting for someone brave enough to step forward and give them a main character voice.

Boys Books or Girls Books – Who Cares?

Having read yesterday about the young girl who asked a publisher to change a book because it was ‘for boys’, it made me think about my own Christmas shopping experience at the weekend. Specifically, Toys R Us *shudder*.

Now, I’m not going to find fault with them particularly, as they merely stock the toys that are made by various companies. But it was the first time I’d been in a toy shop in years, especially for such an extended period. The one thing that struck me was the amount of toys that were still ‘for girls’ – invariably in a garish pink – and others that were for boys (emphasis on farts and gore). I did, happily, see one science set with a cartoon girl on the front, but it should be noted, it was one in a very large number.

I get it, I really do. It sells. We live in a material world and that no longer just applies to Madonna. But it was somehow just really disheartening. I was looking at the really cool stuff and then getting a disappointing sense that it wasn’t for me. If I feel like that in my thirties, when quite frankly I don’t actually want to play Transformers*, then what message are we sending to young brains?

Luckily, my parents had the good sense to buy what I wanted and not force dolls and pink on me. Besides, I can remember it like it was yesterday. *ahem*

By the power of Grayskuuuuuuuull

By the power of Grayskuuuuuuuull

More importantly, they certainly didn’t make that mistake when it came to books. My sister, happily a my-little-pony-style-girly-girl who definitely went super pink when it came to toys, also got the gender neutral treatment when books were given. A good story is a good story. Books of facts and games are informative and fun, regardless of how you happened to be born. Books of adventure could be for us just as much as fluff and nurturing. And I get the distinct impression, looking back with my adult hindsight, that neither parent wanted us to grow up to be damsels in distress. They wanted us to be independent and successful; secure in ourselves.

So I guess I wanted to say a big well done to all those parents who are trying to bring up their kids to consider all the options because, sadly, you’re still fighting against the same tide my mom and dad were thirty years ago.

*This may or may not be the truth

My original 1980s Optimus Prime

My original 1980s Optimus Prime

Traveler’s nightmare: Thanksgiving in Miami

I thought I would do a special tbt today, in honour of the only time I’ve actually been in America for Thanksgiving. The holiday as a whole was amazing, but Thanksgiving, not so much. It’s easy to see why.

Thanksgiving is like Christmas. It’s a time to be with family. It is not a time to be a tourist alone looking for a restaurant that will serve you the closest thing to a traditional dinner. That is my strongest memory of Thanksgiving. The whole nightmare that was the restaurant.

But first, the positives. In November, when it would be grey and rainy and generally miserable back home in England, at least I was waking up to this view:

Miami Beach

 

So no complaints there.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Rascal House. Why? It was near, it wasn’t too expensive and most importantly, it was open.

It was also the worst experience I’ve ever had eating in America, and that includes the time we were accosted by a crazy lady wearing a wedding dress in a McDonald’s in downtown LA. True story. Who knew someone could care so much about chicken nuggets on their imaginary wedding day?

Anyway, the food was mediocre at best, and looked like it had been carefully plated from a distance of about six feet by someone with a slightly better than average pitching arm. It was the kind of food you poke at suspiciously when it comes out, making sure there are no nasty surprises underneath.

Perhaps the waitress delivering it – the one with the twitch and track marks of a seasoned heroin user – was another reason I was uncertain. In fairness, she looked like she wanted to be there less than anyone else in the room, and that’s saying something.

Waiting for my pumpkin pie (I wasn’t going to have anything else now, was I?) gave me even more opportunity to look around the room. The restaurant was actually rammed, but I’m assuming by the conversations I overheard that it was full of families who didn’t want to be with each other enough to cook and invite their relatives into their actual homes. Several arguments, a sense of seething animosity that cut through the air – it was like being in one of those hidden camera shows of the 80s, but with a stronger hint of desperation and danger.

The pumpkin pie, as it turns out, was not worth waiting for either. Forgive my British assumptions, but I thought it was meant to be sweet. And cooked.

Luckily, we could see the funny side (maybe the waitress did slip something into the gravy after all) and spent much of the meal in fits of giggles as we watched one disaster unfold after another.

The best bit of the whole day was grabbing a beer and watching the football game back at the hotel room. But it was certainly one of those once in a lifetime experiences.