Closer To The Edge

Good morning Tash Appreciators!

I’ve been enjoying two-wheeled racing of a faster kind than usual this week after being captivated by the Isle of Man TT.

For the uninitiated, the TT is a week-long series of races on different classes of motorbikes. The main course – the Mountain Course – is around 37 miles long and involves riders screaming along normal roads, inches from curbs, lamp posts, garden walls etc, at speeds approaching 200 miles an hour. The fastest riders get round one lap at an average speed of over 130mph. To understand just how fast these riders go, you really have to see them:

The other night, I watch a documentary about the TT called “Closer To The Edge”. The film followed Guy Martin (some of you may have seen him in various programmes over the last few years) and his quest to win a TT.

Martin is entirely focused on racing. He’s very exact in how his bike is set up – which is understandable when there’s so much riding on it – and he distances himself from any kind of commitment in order to ensure that as few people as possible will be affected in the event that he is involved in an accident.

The reason that Martin takes such drastic action to avoid commitment is because of the other side of the TT – death. Almost every year, someone is killed while racing. According to Wikipedia, 242 competitors have been killed since 1911. In Closer To The Edge, Martin narrowly avoids serious injury when he crashes at 170mph and his bike explodes. In the same race, one of the other competitors clips a curb while going flat-out and is thrown about a hundred meters from the road, via a stone wall. His list of injuries seems to include every bone in his body but he somehow survived. As I was doing a bit of research about the TT, I read that someone died in today’s main race.

Every single rider I’ve seen being interviewed says that they know the risks and that it doesn’t put them off. That’s despite many of them having families. When speaking about a competitor who has died, almost all of them say: “he died doing the thing he loved.”

My question – and I don’t know the answer to it – is whether it is ever folly to do something you love? Is it possible to dare too greatly?

Most weeks, TF talks about living to the full and taking a few risks. Is that naive though? How many of us would roll the dice on our lives or livelihoods or happiness in order to chase a dream? If we would, how do we decide when the dream is worth chasing and when we’re better off accepting that some dreams don’t come true? What if the dream isn’t fully formed in your head but you know that you need to do something differently? These are questions which bother me incessantly these days.

As I say, I don’t know what the answers to these questions are. I’d be interested to know what you all think.

As one might expect of a section of the population who live life to the absolute limit, Tashes are commonplace among the motorcycling fraternity. It’s been a tough choice, but here are this week’s Tashes:

Glenn – the Biker – from the Village People:

Glenn Hughes of the Village People

And Paul “Senior” Tuetal, of Orange County Choppers and the Discovery Channel’s “American Chopper”:

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Have a great weekend folks. If you’re interested, the Senior TT (the main race of the week) is being shown on ITV2 at 9pm tonight.

What’s next?

Good Samaritans

Good morning Tash Appreciators!

I was out on my bike last weekend (fear not, this is not a cycling related TF) when I fell foul of some glass on the road and punctured a tyre. The scene at the side of the road was not pleasant:

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While I stood trying to look like I knew what I was doing, several other cyclists offered their assistance. Naturally – being a bloke – I assured them that I had the situation under control and bade them on their way. Some of these good Samaritans, however, saw through the facade and made meaningful attempts to assist me. As it happened, even with able assistance, my ineptitude shone through and I had to call for a lift. Incredibly, two people offered to pick me up and I was soon safe at home, hell-bent on becoming an expert in changing a tyre.

As it turned out, the good Samaritans were not just on the road up to Whitelees last weekend.

In the centre of Glasgow, as the iconic Glasgow School of Art seemed to be entirely lost to fire, members of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service worked tirelessly to save what they could.

I’m sure they did so at some risk to their own safety and you might think that, as soon as the risk to people had been reduced, the fire fighters would prefer to avoid any risk to themselves. Apparently that wasn’t the case. Even though the fire spread through the building from top to bottom, 90% of the building was saved; as was 70% of its contents.

You have to ask why these fire fighters would work so hard to save inanimate objects (however culturally important) when doing so might put their own safety at risk. The Assistant Chief Officer on the scene answered that question when he said:

“We are of course very conscious the Mackintosh is a world-renowned building that is a key feature of this great city, and that the artworks it stores are not only valuable but also cherished… We are acutely aware this period is the culmination of years of endeavour for students and that their irreplaceable work is inside the Mackintosh.”

I thought it was interesting – in a week when a substantial proportion of the population voted for the latently racist and patently hateful UKIP – that I saw two examples of people go out of their way to help people they didn’t know.

What prompted the help in these cases was solidarity among folk who have common interests in a particular sport and a particular city. More than that, the fire fighters also went above and beyond what could reasonably be expected of them just because they knew that the students had put a lot of effort into their work.

Leaving aside the policies of UKIP, an issue which bothers me persistently is the attitude or feeling which UKIP creates. All of UKIP’s policies seem to be premised on the supposedly shocking state of British Society – “Broken Britain”, as the Daily Mail likes to put it.

Sure, there are aspects of society which are objectionable, but when I see folk helping out others just because they think it’s the right thing to do, I am reminded that people are generally well-intentioned, pleasant and just like “us”. I reckon you’d have difficulty in finding a UKIP supporter with anything close to a positive attitude about society as a whole; they’d rather predict doom and poverty.

I’ll end this week’s TF with two photos. The first is of a “thank you” which was left for the fire fighters outside Glasgow’s Central Station:

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And the second is this week’s Tash – Charles Rennie Mackintosh – designer of the Glasgow School of Art.

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Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

Tick Tock

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

I was struck this week by the reaction of many people to the death of Bob Hoskins. Overwhelmingly, the first reaction of people mentioning the news was to describe his or her memories of one of his roles. That’s true for me as I immediately thought of his portrayal of Smee in Hook – a film that many of us remember fondly:

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Remembering Hook started me thinking about Peter Pan and J. M. Barrie’s story more generally. I have to say, I didn’t think too much about the plot when I was younger. My understanding was essentially: boy v. Pirate = good fun. It strikes me now that maybe I should take a closer look.

Captain Hook (his first name was James, you know) was a swashbuckling and cruel pirate. He plotted and schemed against someone who was a good 40 years younger than him. However, he was terrified by one thing: the tick-tock of a clock in the belly of a crocodile i.e. his doom:

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Before he died, Bob Hoskins gave his daughter 11 tips to follow in life, which she then listed on her website. These tips were: laugh; be yourself; be flamboyant; don’t worry about other people’s opinions; get angry; whatever you do, always give it a good go; be generous and kind because you can’t take it with you; appreciate beauty, take pictures and make memories; don’t take yourself too seriously; never, ever, ever, ever give up; and love with all your heart.

I think James Hook could have used those tips. Rather than using the tick-tock of the crocodile as a reminder that life is sometimes short and that he should get on with making the best of it, Hook became resentful and hostile.

As for us, regardless of whether we hear it or not, time is always ticking away. It may not be a crocodile that gets us but none of us will be here forever. I guess the dream we should all have is to move onto our last great adventure in the way which Bob Hoskins seems to have done. To do that, we should maybe remember something which J.M Barrie says in the book:

“Perhaps we could all fly if we were as dead-confident-sure of our capacity to do it as was bold Peter Pan that evening.”

I am aware that several Appreciators are having problems with confidence these days. They are wondering whether they should take the path which they know will lead somewhere safe (albeit somewhere where the may not necessarily want to go) or the path which turns away into the unknown. I would recommend taking a bit of both Peter Pan’s and James Hook’s attitudes into account when making that decision: hear the clock ticking; be conscious of the fact that we all grow up/old; but have the confidence in yourself to fly.

I think it’s time for the Tashes. The obvious example is Dustin Hoffman, in Hook:

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Usually, such an excellent example would suffice for one week. However, I was surprised to discover that J.M. Barrie rocked an absolutely superlative Tash, so this week is a double-helping of Tash-based goodness:

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Have a cracking weekend folks!

What’s next?

If at first you don’t succeed

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

I had not intended to follow up on last week’s TF straight away but I had also not expected the reaction that I received. The people spoke and their answer was:

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Here are a few examples of the responses (I have paraphrased in places to take out some of the stronger language):

“Re TF, what you are doing is laudable but nationalism is not something that can be argued dispassionately. It’s a matter of faith. Your average nationalist cannot be shaken from the belief that he is right (he loses his ability to reason when he cedes his individualism to the “nation”). Folk lamenting the lack of debate are missing the point: nationalists cannot debate. They look for arguments supporting their prejudices (same as folk who deny global warming).”

“It’s a disingenuous debate and I’m saddened by your willingness to try to take the politics out of an inherently political debate. There is no independence on offer, stop pretending that there is.”

“I know you are trying to broaden it out but the issue of the day is whether we have an Independent Scotland or not. I don’t think your thing is impartial because it implicitly accepts the premise of Nationalism. You’ve been beaten in the dressing room.”

“This weeks TF is a real self indulgent effort…”

There were other comments too and I’m grateful to everyone who responded.

The point about faith is particularly interesting. In a world that is only able to operate thanks to logarithms and science, faith can be seen as a synonym for irrationality and as something that is unhelpful when it comes to decision-making.

I can see the merits in that point of view, but if our lives were ruled by logic, would it not be a terribly lonely and uneventful place? Would we risk heartbreak by entering into relationships with people who, at least at first, are strangers? Would we have children? Also, to what extent do we base our “logic” on notions that we don’t fully understand? For example, how many of us use modes of transport that rely on the internal combustion engine or aerodynamics without really knowing how or why they work? How many of us understand how and why modern medicine operates? These are all things I don’t understand but in which, I suppose, I have faith.

It’s also not accurate to say that only a “yes” vote is based on faith. A “no” vote will also involve faith; just a different kind. I also don’t accept that we can’t have a conversation which involves faith. I think that we need to tailor the way we talk to each other in order to take into account where folk are coming from.

To conclude, I don’t think that we should go into the voting booths on 18 September and make a decision based on faith alone. After all, we wouldn’t get on a plane if it’s wings looked a bit rickety and we wouldn’t take medical advice from a doctor who was drunk. The point I’m trying to make is that faith does have a part to play in the independence discussion.

For the sake of offering all points of view (and to preempt this being thrown in my face), I’ll leave you with a contrary view from this week’s Tash: Friedrich Nietzsche

“Faith: not wanting to know what is true.”

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Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

People of Scotland, lend each other your ears

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

For once, the subject of this week’s TF is not a Tash-toting festival of humanity (although, of course, such a person will be included) but is a topic that will impact many of us and generations of Scots to come. This week, I’m talking about the referendum which will ask whether Scotland should be an independent country

I must say from the outset that I will not be offering my view in relation to the referendum. My aim this morning is to offer a way for us to have civil and constructive conversations about our hopes and fears for Scotland in the future. It’s important that we have these discussions now because the way in which we talk about the referendum will shape how we talk about Scotland from 19 September onwards.

To start that process, I invite you to consider this Commitment to Respectful Dialogue.  Some of you may have seen this in The Herald and The Scotsman a couple of weeks ago, and many of you will recognise a few names amongst the signatories:

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A group called Collaborative Scotland presented the Commitment following a series of meetings which took place over the last 6 months or so. The meetings, which were chaired by John Sturrock QC (an internationally recognised facilitator of constructive discussions and negotiations), gave those who attended the chance to test the theory behind the Commitment. The meetings were specifically not an opportunity to debate the referendum but were an opportunity to talk about how we have conversations about the future.

The magic of the process was that when the 50 of us sat down in groups to talk about our aspirations for Scotland, we discovered that the hopes and fears that we have in common are far more numerous than those that divide us. During our conversations, it was generally impossible to tell which way others would vote and, tellingly, that didn’t seem to matter.

So what does this have to do with you? Well, I know how many of you read TF every week and I suspect that many of you would find the conversations which I observed informative and inspiring. I also know that many of you are influential within your work/social circles and it strikes me that, together, we could spread the Commitment to a wider audience.

After all, on 18 September, we will be given the opportunity to shape Scotland’s path for centuries to come. We should take that opportunity to act as positively and constructively as we can. For my part, I’m planning to help host a conversation in Glasgow, and if there’s an appetite for it, I will invite all of you to come along.

I’ll therefore leave you with a link to the Collaboration Scotland website, where you can sign up to receive further information and offer your support to the Protocol; a request that anyone who might be interested in coming along for an evening of conversation in Glasgow sends me an email; and a quote from this week’s Tash, Mahatma Ghandi:

“We may have our private opinions but why should they be a bar to the meeting of hearts?” 

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It seems that every week that passes, this question becomes more important: what’s next?

Have a great weekend folks!

For the makers, the doers and the savers.

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

This week saw the UK’s Chancellor, George Osborne, deliver his budget for the coming year. In the main, the headlines in response to his speech were taken up by better-than-predicted economic growth; an increase in the amount of money that an individual can earn tax-free; and an increase – to £15,000 – of the amount an individual can put into an ISA (a savings account) tax free each year.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne

Mr Osborne said:

“We’re building a resilient economy. This is a Budget for the makers, the doers, and the savers.”

Before I throw my thruppence (soon to be known as the pound coin) into this conversation, I should be clear that I have a leaning towards egalitarianism and am therefore biased in this debate. That being said, I question whether this really is a budget for the makers, the doers and the savers.

In the UK, around 1.4 million people are employed in jobs that pay the minimum wage. If you’re over 21, the minimum wage means that you will earn at least £6.31 per hour, or a little over £11,000 (net of tax) per year.

That may sound acceptable but numerous employers disagree. They pay their staff a Living Wage, which is £7.45 per hour generally and £8.80 in London. The Living Wage is calculated by considering what a person must earn to have a minimum acceptable standard of living. On that basis, Mr Osborne is allowing 1.4 million people to be paid a wage which doesn’t even provide the most basic standard of living.

So why is this the case? Well, one answer to that question is that increasing the minimum wage by 39% in London and 18% everywhere else (i.e. to the level of the Living Wage) would be difficult for businesses to support. That’s all well and good, but I wonder whether, after a disastrous few years for our economy, our focus should be on things other than the concerns of businesses.

Last Friday, former Labour MP (he was an MP for 47 years), Tony Benn, died. Some will not have agreed with his politics but something he said has been on my mind this week:

“We are not just here to manage capitalism but to change society and to define its finer values.”

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I don’t have an issue with Osborne crafting a budget to support the makers, the doers and the savers, my issue is that he simply isn’t prepared to do it. He qualifies all his efforts by first testing them against their effect on business. If he really wanted to change society and help those who  make, work and save, he’d pay them a wage which would give them a minimum acceptable standard of living, and then some.

In the end, this all comes down to justice, and whether the notion of justice is a pipe-dream that can ever come true. I say  that it can, if we want it to.

This week’s Tash believed in justice, even when it was difficult and involved sacrifice and compromise. He may be a fictional character, but I still rate him higher than many of our real politicians. I give you Commissioner Gordon, of Gotham City and the Batman trilogy.

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Have a great weekend folks!

What’s next?

Protest

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

On Tuesday of this week, the Scottish Parliament passed a Bill which will allow same sex couples to marry. The passing of the Bill means that Scotland is catching up with England and Wales, where same sex couples will be able to marry by the end of March.

The rights of gay communities around the world are in sharp focus at the moment, particularly as the Winter Olympics formally open in Sochi today. The homophobic laws and attitudes of some in Russia (particularly President Putin) have attracted a great deal of criticism.

Some say that politics has no place in sport and there is merit in that point of view. After all, athletes cannot control the laws of the places where they are sent to compete. However, it’s also true that sport is a leveller and can be a real-life example of many of the qualities of human nature.

We’ve seen in the past that sport can be an ideal opportunity to challenge inequality. Think of Jesse Owens in 1936 (when Owens confounded Nazi propaganda by winning gold in three sprint events and also in the long jump) and in 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a fist in the air for Black Power (they said at the time that it was for human rights in general and that is reflected in the human rights badges which they and the Australian athlete, Peter Norman, wore on their jackets):

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Given the iconic pictures which resulted from Smith and Carlos’ stance on the podium, it can be no surprise who this week’s Tash will be. This is Tommie Smith these days:

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It’s not just people on the big stage that can be a catalyst for change. We all can be. Indeed, if change is ever to happen and take root, it has to happen at a local level as well in full view of the public. To conclude this week, I thought it might be useful to give an example of an individual who took a stand in a more personal way. This is a letter which Bertrand Russell sent to Oswald Mosley, the founder of the British Union of Fascists, in 1962:

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I really appreciate the terms of this letter: it’s polite, concise, yet emphatic. I would urge everyone who discusses issues like gay marriage, or anything where people have strong feelings, to take the same approach. It’s not often that one person is always right or always wrong and the chances are that the person you’re talking too has something interesting to say, even if you disagree with most of their views.

Have a great weekend folks!

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 2

Good morning Tash Appreciators!

Welcome to the last TF of 2013.

Last week, we looked back at this year and I said that adversity drew out our true character. This week, I’m going to challenge everyone (especially myself) to take our experiences of 2013 and use them to make 2014 count.

In order to look ahead to 2014, and beyond, I’d like to pose one question:

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My honest answer to that question is that I haven’t got a clue.

Not having an answer to that question doesn’t mean that I’m not ambitious or that I don’t care, it just means that there is a wide world out there and I don’t yet know where my place is within it. I hope I’m not the only one who feels like that; I suspect I’m not.

I also don’t mean that I feel lost or down about life – quite the opposite, in fact.  It’s just that, for too long, TF has been about “keep going”. Keeping going is all well and good, if you know where you want to go but, if you keep going without a thought as to where the final destination is, are you not lost? From now on, I’ll be thinking to myself: what’s next, what’s next, WHAT IS NEXT?

This week’s Tash (Samuel L Jackson in “Coach Carter”) was a leader: he  was able to encourage those around him to listen to their better angels. In order to draw out a member of his team, he kept asking him “what’s your deepest fear?”

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For a long time, the young man had no response until, one day, he came up with a secularized variation of a quote from Marianne Williamson. I’ll give you the full quote and you can choose to take the word “God” as meaning whatever makes sense to you:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves: who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

In 2014, and beyond, I’ll work out what’s next and TF will shine. Consider yourselves liberated to do the same.

Have yourselves a thoroughly wonderful Christmas and hopeful, happy, New Year.

What’s next?

It’s that stage of proceedings

Good morning Tash Appreciators,

It may not quite be panto season yet, but we seem to have reached the stage of proceedings where we take a slight pause from the action to make some shout-outs. Feel free to whoop loudly if you, or someone you know, is mentioned…

This week, a steady trickle of Movember-related Tashes have been submitted for TF’s consideration. Here are a selection of my favourites:

From the world of professional sport comes a Tash which must surely have been on the go for some time.  This chap is a South African rugby player who has played for the Lions in the Super-14 and, more recently for the Glasgow Warriors. I think this effort may take some beating:

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From across the Pond comes a Tash of a sweeter kind – a sugary effort from the stupendously named Glory Hole Doughnuts in Toronto:

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Last, but not least, comes another offering from Scotland. I am reliably informed that this chap is known for smashing his way up and over various high mountain passes around west central Scotland. I also hear that the shape of his Tash is the result of exhaustive aerodynamic testing – a man must be aerodynamic, after all. Mr Russell Bridges, take a bow, sir:

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Thanks for all the submissions and #keepgoing to those taking part in Movember.

Have a great weekend folks!

#keepgoing