Losing Hair – Hello 2012

The great rock on which we live has majestically completed another solar cycle, calling for equal parts celebration and pessimism by its inhabitants. Last night, I took part in much of the former, although the previous sentence implies the latter, somewhat, I feel. Truth be told, I’ve rewritten that opening sentence ten or more times. I am rusty. Still, nothing escapes the fact that it is blatantly and irrevocably 2012, and I hope you saw out the new year in style, whatever you got up to.

Pessimistic or not, a new year usually signals the need for change in some capacity. Last January, I lamented that I’d not made the most of 2010, and that ultimately it is our own responsibility to make brilliant the short time we have on Earth. Four paltry blog postings later, and here I am again, with much of the same message: make 2012 everything you want it to be.

On the whole, 2011 was quite a successful year for me. I started the year with a tour of the Americas and Australia, the photos of which I still yet have not finished uploading to Facebook. I visited New York and Florida for the first time (New York certainly made an impression, and is now one of my favourite places of all time), and returned home with a steady job, lots of responsibilities, and a learning experience that has (according to others) aged me beyond my years. I am thankful for my good fortunes, and I hope that things continue to get better for me, and for you, too.

Probably the biggest change for me in 2011 was perhaps the most arbitrary; I cut my hair. At its longest, it was perhaps half-way down my back, and I was immensely proud of it. I shampooed, conditioned, towel-dried and brushed it on a regular basis, to ensure it was always in good condition.

My hair has been long for most of my adult life. It was long, although not that long, when I went to university, and stayed with me throughout. Now that I think back on it, it was an enormous part of my identity. Despite having a very unique Christian name, I was always initially referred to, or acknowledged as ‘the one with long hair’. Of course, I’m not saying that my identity was nothing but an empty, yet hairy husk, but it at least felt like a huge part of who I was.

Then, last January, I sliced it all off. A number of events took place leading up to that, which made me feel like I needed to distance myself from who I once was, or at least the circumstances that had plagued the long-haired version of me. I felt the need for change, so I took the necessary steps to change something I had control over in order to effect such change. Do I regret it? No. In fact, I sort of prefer how I look with short hair. It felt like a sizeable change I had to make in order to close off one chapter of my life, and begin another one anew.

What does one do when starting anew? Well, I can tell you from my experiences (perhaps not the best example of what to do in such a situation) that you rush around trying to find proof of the permanent, unchangeable things that define you. You look to others, friends both new and old, for appraisals of who you are. Probably, also one of the most foolish mistakes I made, is to try manically to grab on to bits of who you once were, using the aforementioned methods, in some attempt to feel as if you’re not ‘losing yourself’, or some similar, silly notion. It is an extremely silly mistake to make. Just as the world turns, and the years change, we change too. It’s something not worth fretting over, as change isn’t always negative. Change is, well, change, and it’s foolish to try and resist something so inevitable.

Don’t be so hard on yourself in 2012. Don’t fret over your failures or your mistakes, by entertaining false notions that you could have done better; that in some alternate, parallel universe, some other version of you could have done it any differently. I tried to keep a mantra going last year: you are currently the best version of yourself, ever. It’s something I truly do believe in, although sometimes trouble does its best to make me forget it. We are the result of all of our experiences leading up to now. We have been tempered by time, if you will. What I’m trying to say, is that it’s silly to think about who you were, and to become obsessed with the idea of what you would have done, or rather, what you should have done. We are who we are, and while we may make foolhardy decisions from time to time, we mustn’t forget that we’re constantly growing, and constantly changing. Perhaps, then, we won’t be so foolish next time.

I’m not really one for resolutions, but in 2012, I’m going to be more accepting of who I am, and I pray that you are too.

Wherever you are, I wish you a fantastic New Year filled with joy, prosperity and love.


The Spark

Yesterday, I taught my dad how to copy and paste. Not Ctrl C, Ctrl V copy paste, but the simple ability to copy a bit of text from somewhere, and transfer it somewhere else, which is something we all take for granted.

We’re currently changing energy providers, and as part of the switchover, my dad was e-mailed a link to a snazzy portal where he can log in and check his new bills from New Energy Provider PLC. The problem started when my dad had to take a reference number from the e-mail sent to him, and transfer it to aforementioned snazzy portal.

Fumble fumble, ruffle ruffle, went the clutter on my desk as my dad searched for a piece of paper and a pen. Considering how messy I can be, this was no small feat. I soon realised what dad was up to, and looked up from my book to see what the tumult was about. When I enquired as to what was going on, he asked me if I had a piece of paper where he could jot something down; something which he had in his e-mail, and which he wanted to put somewhere else.

I sat up, and got my dad to dig out the e-mail with the number he was searching for. Highlight the text you want to move, right click, then left click ‘Copy’. After then getting him to switch tabs (again, no small feat) to his portal login, I instructed him to right click inside the box where he wanted the text moved, then right click, then left click ‘Paste’.

That was when I saw it. Dad sat back, and his eyes widened, as his brain registered what he’d just achieved. “This is wonderful stuff,” he said. That was all he had to say.

My parents are quite a bit older than the parents of most other people my age. They’re not tremendously computer literate, which I think is partly why I developed something of an aptitude for computers and other systems/machines, after I was given a computer at the age of 11. I didn’t have anyone to show me how to use it, so I just had to figure it out myself. Still, ignoring all of that, just to see someone’s face light up like that was very humbling, especially a parent. Whoever you are, chances are your parents kicked considerable amounts of arse to provide you with what you have today. I know mine did.

Even as I write this now, I find it somewhat startling the number of things we take for granted, daily. Things that people weren’t able to do ten, or twenty years ago, or things that weren’t even possible thirty years ago. Things like moving a bit of text from one document on a computer, to another. It’s so easy to get lost in it all, and realise that for some, the world can be an expansive, confusing, and sometimes scary place. Then again, it must be wonderful to have so much yet to discover, and to feel that feeling of doing something you’ve never done before. I feel it less and less as I get older, but for older generations, it must be the other way around, surely?

Simple pleasures.

Eerie as hell, is what it is.

I was evacuated from my office today.

I’m from a leafy, fairly affluent area of West London. I’ve lived here all my life; I’ve grown up here, went to school here, and was lucky enough to find a job here when I left university. You could say, I suppose, that I know the area quite well.

I try to walk to work as much as I can. In most ways, the walk home from work is one of the most enjoyable parts of my day. I’m quite the people watcher, and there’s nothing more wonderful than ambling down the High Road, past cafés and shops, seeing people being people. Today was very different, however.

Just after lunch, I noticed a few police officers walking up and down the road on which my office is located. They seemed to be attracting a lot of attention. They’d go up to a shop, stand in the doorway, poke their heads in and wait for a staff member to come out on to the street. I’d seen all the news coverage from down the road in Ealing, so it was understandable that there would be a heightened police presence in town today. I acknowledged this, and got back to work.

An hour or so later, I received a text message from a friend. “My friend just text me this. Are you OK? Apparently the riots have already spread to Chiswick.” I looked out of the window, and replied back, assuring my friend that everything is fine. More work ensued.

A couple of hours after this, I received an e-mail from reception. They’d had a visit from a police officer, and had been advised to evacuate the building. Due to this, they’d be locking the doors at 3:30. We were all advised to go home.

Reacting to some rumours online (which after all, are just rumours), I decided to leave. I exit the office, then walk up and down the road, which is adjacent to the High Road. Everything is shut, save for a convenience store at the end of the road. A clothes shop had all of its stock pulled away from the windows, implying the police had warned business owners to prepare for the worst. I pass a café which is closing, with its staff congregating near the entrance. A woman says, “All we can do is go home and hope that things are okay tomorrow.”

Moving to the High Road, things are quiet; too quiet. Things are eerie. There’s something a little odd about seeing fruit stall traders packing up their wares so early, their bare stalls a poignant indication that something is afoot. Shops are closed, mostly, and the pavements are relatively empty, as a result. Police officers are on every corner. I pass a shop with a board over the door, with a sign stuck to it apologising for their early closure. A local hi-fi store had ‘whited out’ its windows, while the owner of a nearby TV retailer stood at the front of his shop, Sellotaping bin bags to the windows there. Domino’s Pizza was boarded up altogether.

I don’t mean to make the situation here seem worse than it is. Indeed, there is no guarantee that anything will actually happen. For that, I think we can only wait and see what happens tomorrow. I’ve already pointed out that rumours are nothing but rumour. As I’m writing this, the sun is beginning to set, so I expect if anything is going to happen, this is about the time it’s going to kick off. Still, I can’t shake that feeling of walking home today. Even if no tragedy will befall our fair town this eve, we’ve all certainly been rattled.

To anyone in or around London, or indeed to anyone, anywhere that has experienced rioting, my thoughts are with you tonight. Stay safe, people.

Life Lessons from Escape the City

A few days ago, I had the pleasure of attending Escape the City’s fabulous Winter Party at Guanabara, near Covent Garden. It was titled, ‘Start Something You Love’, and featured a number of speakers who have all made a business out of doing things they love. Ideally, this is something I’d also like to take part in, beyond spending my days in bed watching Mad Men, so I thought it best I go along and listen to what they had to say.

If you don’t know, Escape the City is a great website set up by Dom and Rob, who I heard from fellow conference attendees are a bit like Ant and Dec. Essentially, Escape the City is a network of people wanting to escape their boring ‘city’ jobs and do something different (and hopefully more fulfilling) with their lives. It has great job listings, and a lot of wonderful advice from wonderful people who have successfully escaped the city. You should really check it out, if you haven’t already.

Before Wednesday, I’d never been to a conference at a bar before. I strongly recommend it. Speaking at the event was Lara Morgan, founder of Pacific Direct, a soap supply company she sold for some large amount of money. Also speaking was Zarine Kharas, founder of JustGiving, Al Humphreys, who successfully biked around the world, and Ed Stafford, who once walked the entire length of the Amazon. Al and Ed have since become professional adventurers, and now busy themselves with challenges great and small (walking a circuit of the M25 in Al’s case) and talking about them afterwards. While listening to the speakers, I couldn’t help but feel supremely privileged to be receiving advice from such learned individuals. I learnt a lot that day, and would like to share these insights with you all, which I hope will prove helpful in business, and in life.

So, here you have it. Enjoy.

BE A CHAMELEON: Know who you’re selling to. Whether you’re brokering a deal, applying for a job, or building rapport with great people (making friends), gauge who your audience is, and what they’re looking for. Be who they want you to be. I mean this in the best possible way. I don’t mean for you to become a pushover, and bend your will to the fancy of everyone around you. That’d be just silly. Instead, be who you are, but learn which side of your personality to have on show at any one time.

NEVER GIVE UP: This one is a given. It doesn’t matter if you’re starting a business, or trying to navigate your way through the Amazon Rainforest on your own. Don’t give up. Just keep swimming, and you’ll eventually win. At life. Or at swimming.

DON’T WAIT, DO ACT: Zarine Kharas admitted that in coming up with the idea for JustGiving, there was never a ‘eureka’ moment. We can learn from this. We’re all incredibly good at putting things off because it’s not the right time for action. Stop it. In most cases, that eureka moment most likely isn’t going to fly in out of nowhere and hit you in the face. This isn’t to say that favourable opportunities don’t appear; if they do, take them, but don’t get lazy waiting. Enlightenment is a process. Get to it.

EXPERIENCE IS EVERYTHING: Another pearl of wisdom from Ms Kharas was that entrepreneurship is a skill. You can learn it, which I’m sure is a relief to many entrepreneurship practitioners and scholars around the globe. After being an entrepreneur for a while, it makes sense that you begin to know how it works. This can be applied to most things in life. Experience all you can, and keep at it. If something doesn’t work out, try and try again until you get it right. At the risk of sounding massively cliché, never give up.

KEEP BUSY: Al Humphreys let on that in his spare time, between his bigger adventures, he likes to keep himself busy with a series of ‘mini-challenges’. I’m sure many of us don’t have an insatiable thirst for endurance challenges, but it’s important to keep yourself stimulated to keep on top of your game.

MAKE LOTS OF FRIENDS (BE NICE): Ed Stafford was forced into some pretty sticky situations whilst trekking across South America. He was held at gunpoint, spear-point, and even jagged rock-point, I’m sure. When his original adventuring partner dropped out, he thought his journey was over. It probably would have been if it wasn’t for his capacity to make friends. His talk was certainly inspiring, so I’m going out on a limb here to say that Ed Stafford is an inspiring kind of guy. Assuming this is correct (which I’m sure it is), he inspired many to accompany him on his travels, and even recruited one South American gent relatively early on, who stayed with him for the remainder of his journey. He also ‘inspired’ the chieftain of a Native American tribe not to kill him, and instead hired him as a guide to help him navigate his way through a particularly treacherous part of South America. Just as Ed’s ability to make friends ensured he completed his trek in earnest, we too must not underestimate the importance of making friends. We never know when they could (literally or metaphorically) save our lives, so be nice.

DON’T BE EVIL: One of Zarine’s parting entreaties was a warning to not be evil. Lara Morgan also echoed this sentiment in her talk. Indeed, it is very important to treat others how we expect to be treated ourselves. Be fair and accommodating, and people will want to do business with you. Be cold and miserly and you can expect not to benefit from much of anything.

JUST (FUCKING) DO IT: Zarine Kharas, before exiting, joked about her most favourite of corporate slogans. I think this one is pretty self-explanatory. Go out there, and make amazing things happen. You have the power.

Well, that’s all, folks. Thank you to Escape the City, for putting on a brilliant night of inspiration and revelry, and thank you to the speakers for the much-needed kick up the proverbial. Thank you to you, also, for reading. I hope it’s been helpful.

Boring 2010: A Speaker’s Perspective

This weekend just gone, I gave a talk on a very brief history of the weather at Boring 2010. Inspired by Owen Billinghurst’s write-up of his speaking experience regarding fixing keyboards, I’ve decided to jot down some of my own thoughts on the conference.

It was brilliant, it was funny, it was weird, it was very cool, and it wasn’t the slightest bit boring. That’s my review. For a more comprehensive description of the day’s events, I highly suggest you look at Lucy Peel’s rather excellent blog post which features a run-down of all talks given on the day.

So, why the weather? It’s a bit of a long story. On arriving at the conference, I was questioned about who I was, and if I was a meteorologist, and why I’m talking about the weather. I’m not a meteorologist, and am by no means an expert on the subject of the weather. I do, however, enjoy a good yarn, such as the one I’m currently recounting.

I was originally planning on speaking about boring social media ad campaigns. Anyone who follows this blog will know that I have a keen interest in awesome online ads, and am generally a huge fan of web magic. I’ve also recently completed a dissertation on online brand communities on YouTube, so am quite into the whole digital thing. However, it did occur to me that a topic such as social media could potentially be far too interesting for a conference called Boring, so I decided against it.

A talk with my family about the conference and boring things got me thinking about the weather. My basic understanding about the topic was that it was quite often used as fodder in small-talk situations. I then started researching the topic, and its etymology and history, and soon realised that it’s actually a lot more interesting than we give it credit for. As I said at the conference, we’re very much a nation of small-talkers. On the whole, I’d say we’re generally happier to make small-talk with a creepy person who strikes up a random conversation, rather than make excuses before they pull out a shiv, rubber mallet, or some kind of prosthesis and bonk us over the head with it. Of course, I’m making a sweeping generalisation here, and apologise if I’ve offended anyone. In many cases, I’m often the creepy person who starts conversations with strangers, and must implore you to understand that conversations between strangers can be really, really great. We will never discover this if we don’t break out of conventional habits of small-talk, however. It was my hope that my talk could illuminate some further understanding into a mundane topic, which would give everyone listening something novel to speak about, the next time they crack wise about the weather. Who knows where the conversation could go next!

That was what I would have said if I had any real experience with public speaking, that extended beyond school elections, GCSE English Speaking and Listening Assessments, and a brief stint as part of Richmond Student Council.

Overall, the day was brilliant, and I don’t think I’ve had so much fun in a long time. Personal highlights for me were Lewis Dryburgh’s sentimental talk about car park roofs, Peter Fletcher’s tale about his first year of recording his every sneeze, and Dave Green’s extremely funny bit about weird snack foods and Chinese take-away menus. These were just personal highlights, however. It was a real joy hearing everyone speak, and I was extremely impressed by the quality of all given talks, and the animated way in which everyone made a collection of very boring topics into the most interesting and joyous conference I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. Everyone should be really proud of themselves, with an extra large hat-tip going out to James Ward and his organisational prowess, without which none of this would have been possible. Thank you all.

I’ll (hopefully) be seeing you all again at Boring 2011. I honestly can’t wait.

Demo 2010: A mostly peaceful student protest.

Having just returned from today’s demonstration in London, I’m shocked but not quite surprised at the media coverage of the event, which is primarily focused on the violence that took place at Millbank Tower.

From what I saw, the march was a peaceful one. Arriving a little after the scheduled 11:30 meeting time, I was met by a huge throng of students stretching in all directions along Horse Guards Avenue. After a little help from some stewards, who pointed me towards the students who had come on the behalf of my former university, we stood around chatting, waving flags, and occasionally chanting slogans.

We eventually set off towards Parliament, moving slowly, but hollering our slogans passionately. As we passed Parliament, I saw that some students had decided to turn the march into a sit-down, which was nothing out of the ordinary. We then passed Millbank Tower, where a large group of students had gathered, with some protesters entreating us to stand, in solidarity, outside Conservative HQ. This was before anything got out of hand, and before any windows were broken, but ushers were still trying to get people to continue on with their marching.

After a while, we came to a halt in front of a large screen erected in front of the Tate Britain. On it, we saw a projection of NUS head honcho, Aaron Porter, shouting about something I was sadly too far from the screen to hear. From there, my small band of protesters I’d been marching with made attempts to double-back on ourselves. However, some were slightly scared by the raucous crowd circulating in the general area surrounding Millbank Tower. As a result, we decided to hang back for a short while, purchase some lunch, and then return to Horse Guards Avenue in greater numbers, joined with others from the same Students’ Union.

In a nutshell, that’s what happened, at least to us. A recurring thought amongst my peers was that there was no sense of elation when we reached the end of the march. The crowd petered out, with some protesters going home, and others going to board coaches to transport them back from whence they came. It wasn’t unsatisfying, it was just a little empty. So many Unions from across the country worked tremendously hard, along with the NUS and UCU, to coordinate today’s protest, and for what?

There are blogs emerging that advocate necessary action as opposed to “a dour rally like a ticker tape parade for the homecoming queen”, justifying what happened by claiming that some riotous response was to be expected. In my personal opinion, however, what took place was a bit rash.

While it is in the interest of students to draw attention, and perhaps make attempts in illustrating their ire towards the proposed fee increases, I don’t think that smashing bricks through car windows, and drawing on walls is the right way to garner such positive attention to our cause, and to bring about change. Believe me, I’m as angry as most about the proposed increases, and Nick Clegg’s colossal U-turn on his policy to abolish fees, but I think what happened today went a considerable way to undermining what thousands of well-wishing students set out to achieve.

Before you light your torches and get angry, let me explain myself. Most of those (at least in the blogs I’ve read) who claim that what happened at Millbank Tower was a just response, also claim that action on this scale was essential to possibly highlight students as a ‘force to be reckoned with’, who will accept nothing other than a complete reversal on economic policy, and the elimination of these preposterous fee increases. While it is necessary to make a bold statement, with something perhaps greater than a march, there are still a few universal truths we need to remind ourselves of. No matter how much we desecrate his party’s base, David Cameron will still be our Prime Minister at the end of the day. Nick Clegg will also remain our deputy PM, and will be sure to still behave as any other politician would do so in his situation. This is a sad state of affairs, at least on the behalf of students. Still, cry as we might, we are restricted within the confines of a system these men control. Rather than rebelling against it in the extreme, my suggestion is that we play ball.

Today’s march was meant to be an exercise in unity; a stand in solidarity to show that we, as students, can stand together, and be angry about spending cuts, and fee increases. However, by staging something like Millbank Tower, all we’re doing is showing the general public (who far outnumber us) that we’re a bunch of hoodlums who can’t follow basic instructions and simple marching etiquette. At the end of the day, it’s their money that will go some way, whatever happens, towards subsidising our degrees. I’d argue that it’s in our best interests to show that as a nation of students, we’re deserving of such subsidies, and ideally, towards a free education. If we had the general public on our side, the government would really be soiling themselves, as today was a chance to make people more powerful than any of us sympathetic to our cause. Sadly, that’s not what happened.

Imagine what the news reports would have been like if this would have remained a purely peaceful protest. Like, if any news outlets didn’t have any violent tales to spin out of proportion. I think I’ve made my point already, but please, do ponder this before you go to sleep tonight. What would tomorrow’s headlines have been if Millbank Tower had never happened, and what effect would this have had in rallying positive attention towards our cause? Riddle me that.

MOVEMBER: It’s Happening!

It’s that time of year where men all around the world make a solemn pledge to grow their facial hair, no matter how embarrassing it may seem. For the uninitiated, Movember is a movement (I don’t use the word lightly) created by the Prostate Cancer Charity, where men (and women!) attract sponsorship to grow (or support someone growing) a moustache for the month. It’s a great deal of fun, and it’s for an excellent cause. Prostate cancer ruins the lives of men, often requiring frequent hospital visits and painful treatment procedures. It also kills one man every hour in the UK. Something clearly needs to be done, and hats need to be tipped towards the Prostate Cancer Charity for creating something so quirky and fun, which people generally want to associate themselves with.

It is Sunday 7th. I am well aware of this, but I began my own fundraising efforts yesterday. I did start clean-shaven on the 1st, but for some reason did not document this. Just as well, I suppose, as it wasn’t too pretty.

If you’re a man, or a woman, who isn’t involved yet, then I urge you to do so. As with any good cause, raising awareness is a key factor in helping overcome whatever we’re battling. If you haven’t already, head down to the Movember website and sign up, even if it is to post pictures of your barren mug, which is perhaps punctuated by the odd sprout of facial growth. Believe me, you won’t be the only one.

Alternatively, click below to view my ‘introduction video’, as it were, where I bumble my way through a somewhat painful shaving experience. You can also visit my Mo Space (the ‘space’, I feel, is somewhat vital to avoid infringing copyright) which I’ve lovingly shortened to bit.ly/moaris.

Also, Mo Bros and Mo Sistas, if you are in on it, I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below. Feel free to share your Mo Space links, too!

Well, ladies and gents, this is the start of a wondrous journey for me. It’d really mean a lot to me if you could spread the word about my mo-growing efforts, and of course, to my fellow participants, the favour shall surely be repaid. The best of luck to all of you!

May the mo be with you!