This could be the last time

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

In the past, TF has said that dealing with perceived defeat requires nothing more than picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and moving on. That’s too simplistic.

Let me give you two examples of what I mean – they’re both from The Shawshank Redemption. The story of Andy Dufresne’s  imprisonment after he was wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife has become a classic movie. You’ll also probably remember that the other main character in the film was Ellis “Red” Redding.

At first glance, you might imagine that it would be Andy who would have the most difficulty in dealing with his situation. However, he comes up with the phrase “get busy living or get busy dying”, which seems to give him the encouragement he needs to press on.

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Andy was faced with a tangible obstacle to his happiness – prison walls. In a way, a prison wall or another tangible barrier is easier to overcome than a mental barrier. It’s like looking into the abyss and realising that there may be a path around it. Knowing that there is something tangible on the other side of an obstacle can give a person hope that, one day, they will overcome. Sometimes, thinking to ourselves “get busy living or get busy dying” will be enough for us to pick ourselves up from whatever has gotten us down.

Red, on the other hand, had a different problem. After spending decades in prison, Red became – to use his words – “an institutionalised man”. He was faced with a physical and a mental barrier in that he had spent so much time in prison that his mind couldn’t contemplate anything else. He had stared into the abyss for too long and he needed more than self-motivation to help him survive his freedom. Many of us will have times in our lives when we need the support of others in the same way that Red did.

So what saved him? Well, Red’s thoughts after he left prison give us a clue:

“I find I’m so excited that I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel. A free man at a start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.

I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams.

I hope.”

Like Chris Moltisanti in the Sopranos, Red is looking at his future as a journey which he wants to start. Like all of us, he hopes that he gets to where he wants to go. However, crucially, Red has identified that seeing his friend is an essential part of that journey and, in a way, would mark the end of it.

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The point of these three editions of TF is that ambition and resilience are not all that’s required to be successful (in the widest possible sense) in life. The third – and perhaps most important aspect of success – is what old John Donne said: “No man is an island, entire of itself”. LCD Soundsystem put it another way in the TF anthem “All My Friends” (which charts a person’s life) by ending with the words: “where are your friends tonight?”

Like Red, the time has come for this Tash Appreciator to embark on the next long journey. Rather than simply being excited, it’s a fairly scary proposition and all I can do is give it everything I’ve got and hope that it turns out ok. Unfortunately, the start of the next journey means the end of TF, at least for now. Part of the reasoning behind this final TF has been to acknowledge the help and support that I receive from many of you – I really do appreciate it and I am lucky to be able to say that the expression on Red’s face when he sees Andy on the beach in Mexico is one which I understand and probably quite often mirror. I hope that in return TF has added something to your Friday mornings over the last three or four years.

Also like Red, I have plans to reach the blue Pacific ocean but, until then, I will make do with the blue of Blue Dog in Glasgow at around 9pm. I’m hopeful that a few of my friends will be there tonight – you are all most welcome.

I shall leave you with two things. Firstly, this week’s Tash, which of course is Morgan Freeman:

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And secondly, the question which I hope will continue to challenge all of us, regardless of whether TF is around to provide a weekly reminder:

What’s next?

Operation Zorro

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

Happy New Year to you all.

We all know that January is traditionally the time to set targets for the year ahead. For my part, I have/am committed to making changes this year. Not because I think what I’m doing now isn’t worthwhile, or because I feel like I need to “improve” myself, but because I want to set a series of targets and I will be delighted when I hit them. It doesn’t  matter what those targets are; all that matters is that I’ve set them and that I’m going to hit them.

To give myself a better chance of reaching my goals, I’ve been reading a bit about change. Although I risk incurring the wrath of Appreciators who are sick of hearing about cycling, I gained a good insight into the subject from Dave Brailsford, Team Principal of the wildly successful Team Sky. He describes his thinking as the “Triangle Of Change” and he says three elements are required:

1. You must be suffering enough, or the reward must be great enough, for you to engage with change.

2. You must believe that you are capable of change.

3. You must be committed to change.

What I take from this theory is that we won’t change simply because we feel that we should i.e. that feeling obliged to change isn’t enough. If we want to change, it has to be for ourselves. That seems healthy and sensible to me.

Although all three points of the triangle apply to me, I’ve decided to add another layer of carrot/stick. By sending out this TF, I’m also going out on a limb and saying that I’m committing to making these changes. This means that, if I fail, I’ll have to face you as well as myself. The added advantage to going out on a limb is that there’s a chance others will come out there with me.  It’s always easier to attempt things with the help of others.

I have also decided to give this project a name: Operation Zorro. There are three reasons for this: it makes the whole thing “real” rather than just some jumbled ideas; Zorro has many qualities which I admire (the wiki page refers to him being a superb athlete, acrobat, tactician, horseman, swordsman, marksman, unarmed combatant, well-educated, wealthy, master of stealth with extensive scientific knowledge and advanced gadgets. No-one sees him coming); and, crucially, Zorro rocks a Tash:

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Just one last point. I heard a quote (I don’t know where it originally came from) just before Christmas and it’s been buzzing around my head ever since:

“A year from now you’ll wish you’d started today.”

I’ve started already but you can start today, if you want.

Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

2014 and beyond – Part 1

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

Welcome to the penultimate Tash Friday of 2013 – the first of a two-part Christmas Special. I’ll preface this week’s TF by saying that it may not seem all that festive but, fear not, it’ll all work out in the end.

I’ll start this week with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, which was sent to me earlier this week:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I know that many of our number have faced points in 2013 when they have felt very much like their faces are marred with dust and sweat and blood and when they can taste defeat. However, at the same time, the way in which those same people have conducted themselves after those points confirms the truth in what Roosevelt said.

Roosevelt was 42 when he took office: the youngest ever President. Becoming President  also took him by surprise as he was sworn-in following the assassination of President McKinley. He must surely have felt at times that he was out of his depth.

However, just like all of those Appreciators who had to battle to get through 2013, Roosevelt did more than just survive – he thrived. His success was complete when he won a land-slide victory in the 1904 general election. Naturally, for a chap who was made of stronger stuff than the Average Joe, President Roosevelt wore an absolute stoater of a moustache:

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The lesson which I will be taking into 2014, and beyond, is that our character is strengthened by adversity. This year may have been pretty rough, but as I will set out next week, there is plenty to be hopeful about as we head towards the New Year.

Just to finish this week, when I was reading up on Roosevelt, I found an interesting quote from Vice-President Thomas Marshall, who said after Roosevelt died in 1919:

“Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”

I thought that was great.

Have a great weekend folks!


History repeats itself: first as tragedy, second as farce.

Bonjour Tash Appreciators!

The BBC has just finished a mini-series about the “Masters of Money”. It was in three parts and covered the theories of Keynes, Hayek and Marx. The facial hair alone tells you they’re interesting:

John Maynard Keynes:
Friedrich Hayek:
Karl Marx:
The point of the programme seemed to be that the problems with the economy are more complicated than just stimulus v. austerity. Apparently both have advantages and disadvantages. Whoddathunk. It also followed the current political agenda whereby the issues that no-one wants to discuss are ignored and we just argue about whether history tells us to spend or save in times of economic strife. The main subject of this debate, the Wall Street crash, followed years of hardship, not the most prosperous time in human history. It’s arguably not all that relevant and by focussing on it we ignore other issues where debate might be useful.
One area where there is no debate is the seemingly unchallenged view that benefits for those who can’t be bothered working should be cut. “One Nation”/”The Big Society” apparently means a choice between working for crap money or being left to fend for yourself. It’s maybe an attractive idea to cut benefits altogether but, if you look back in time, we’ve been there and done that – it doesn’t work. 
Back in the 19th century, politicians weren’t as media-savy and they said exactly what they were doing. Just like today, they tried to split the poor (those on benefits today) into the deserving and undeserving. The deserving got help from their local parishes (local authorities today) while the undeserving were sent to the poor house (prison today). Things only changed when Rowantree and the other enlightened men of the time took matters into their own hands and provided jobs in newly invented factories.  There followed an industrial revolution and Britain’s economy led the world.
Another example where the UK is possibly blinkered is the EU. You can expect to be laughed at if you even mutter the word “federalism”. Again, if you look at the 19th and 20th centuries, history tells us that we are infinitely better off together than apart. I seem to recall a similar scepticism across the Pond but, if you forget the Civil War, that worked out pretty well. 
There are other examples of us ignoring history but you get the picture. What we do next is a tough decision, but we do ourselves no favours by allowing the debate to boil down to spend v. save. We’ve been dragged into circular arguments about narrow issues when we should be thinking on a macro scale – like Marx – and actually having a useful debate. Over to you to work out what you think.
Have a great weekend folks,