The sadness of the winter mow.

All things have their season.  Their moment in the sun.  As I drag the mower from my shed for the last time this year I glance skywards to see if I have the minutes I know I will need to finish the job before the heavens open and moment is lost to bleak rain.

The winter mow is not a happy ritual.  It is the closing ceremony to the summer’s games, a recognition of the inevitable onset of the new season, an acceptance of celestial supremacy.

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I rake crisp leaves and pine needles to prepare the way, each pile a palette of golds and browns.  The grass is studded with small and fragile fungi, damp with cold, mingling with the autumn fruits.  There is sun, but weak and low it is more of a privilege than a right.

The Hayter coughs then fires, settling to a steady thrum.  Together we lurch out as I engage the drive.  A warm October has fuelled a thickening of the grass which is eagerly consumed leaving ordered strips of  lawn, pocked with flattened worm-casts and fringed by a fine blend of ground grass and leaves.  Roses look on, once fat and splendid now withered-limp and mildewed.  I bump over fir-cones, hearing them vaporise in the blades like moths in a fan.

The job done, the mower is parked amid spiders, cans and tools.  I imagine it hearing me, its jailer, lock the shed and recede; knowing that the frequency of summer weekend visiting-hours will change now.  Frosts will come and days will shorten.  The wildlife know this and like me they head for protection.  As the engine cools its heart ticks, rapid at first then slowing.  Eventually to silence.

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Decisiveness; how it works, maybe…

I got to talking about decisiveness the other day.  I watched someone who generally does make good decisions being tortured by indecisiveness.  Weighing up pros and cons, reaching a conclusion and then acting on it can, for some people, be an intensely painful experience.  And it can defy logic – we’re all familiar with trying to help someone make their mind up only for them to choose what you think is completely the wrong thing despite the evidence.

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So what goes into making a decision and how might one be guided to making the right one?  Here’s how it works:

1. Choice has two paths: do something or do nothing.  Each of these is an active decision with varying degrees of impulsiveness with an outcome which will be either positive or negative.

2. Impulse is our on-board decision-making engine and its accuracy is determined by the amount of experience it has to draw upon.  Rely on it and you’ll get more positive outcomes than not.

3. Both impulsive and considered decisions are governed by varying amounts of desire and experience.

4. Desire and experience can easily get out of balance turning a good decision bad: too much desire & not enough experience = greed, ramifications, selfishness.  Too much experience & not enough desire = caution, deliberation, risk, regret.

This can be expressed in a formula for decision-making that looks like this:

q = ((c-e)xj) x (BS+BO) / o

where q = quality of the decision, c = cost, e = effort, j = joy, BS = benefit to self, BO = benefit to others and o = outcome.

Use this easy formula each time you feel a bout of indecisiveness coming on and you’ll be right every time!  To get you started, put it to the test on the important decisions that confront you as you travel through your daily routine:

- Getting dressed: Y-fronts or boxers?

- Sausage rolls: Wenzels or Greggs?

- Exercise: Go for a run or watch telly and drink beer?

- Music: Beyonce or Jessie J?

- Technology: Apple iPhone or Samsung Galaxy?

- Politics: Nigel Farrage or David Cameron?

I look forward to hearing from those of you who have turned their lives around (and those of others) with this simple idea.

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Human 2.0? Why it’ll never work.

Some years ago now and shortly after they were launched, I bought an iPad.  It was the earliest version and for a brief moment in time I was the proud owner of a new, the newest, technology format.

Not long afterwards the second and then the third version came out with cameras, retina screens and so on.  Now, many of the apps I want to use on my modest non-retina screen and IOS 4(?) no longer want to update, telling me in a rather patronising way to upgrade to IOS 6 or later if I want to be in the club.  I liked my iPad and was quite happy with the basic model but I’m able to use it less and less and soon it will become unusable due to its incompatibility with the very things it was supposed to be used for.

“Nothing is so easy that we do not appreciate it being easier” 

I heard a woman say that on the train today and elegantly put it sums up the problem.  We always want things to be easier, faster and better.  We, and the companies that produce our consumer goods are addicted to this cycle and I wonder how and if it will ever stop.

Strangely though, and somewhat reassuringly, human beings and the biology that goes to make them is steadfastly refusing to upgrade.  Our bodies are so Windows 95.  So Ford Anglia.  So Nokia 6310, so retro.

Humans were ecstatic when we broke the 4-minute mile in 1954.  Since then we’ve shaved all of 16 seconds off that.  Good, but no cigar. Instead of improving, human biology is actually getting less efficient as we succumb to clever viruses and the germs we find antibiotics for learn to ignore them faster than we can re-design them.

Efforts to update our bodies are at best temporary and in most cases epic fails.  I’m not suggesting we all turn into robots or terminator-style bionics.  No, I think of it the other way.  Let’s start a revolution against the pace of change and take a moment to enjoy the things we have or as John Lydon put it to Jon Snow this week “bloody learn to love each other properly”.

You can see the John Lydon interview  for now at least here:  http://bcove.me/fjzn8w3y

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The Move Partnership

This week I finally finished a new video for a charity called The Move Partnership.  It’s a mini-documentary about the work they do for disabled kids at a School called Lakeside.  I wrote about it before in “Why we must never take running for granted“.

Now that the film is done, you can see the impact that a structured combination of education, physio and other activities can completely change the lives of severely disabled kids and in doing so the lives of their parents and carers too.

This video was produced pro bono via www.pimpmycause.org so if you want to support the charity you can do so by donating at www.themovepartnership.org.uk

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Paris review; more do’s than don’ts

Just back from a short break in Paris. It’s been quite a while since I was there and it was a most enjoyable refresh of a city with high scores on art, history, architecture, weather and food for any city in the world. I took a new camera with me too – a Sony A7 which underwent a rigourous trial and came through with flying colours.

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Staying on the edge of town (17th) albeit in a nice little hotel (Hotel de Banville) was probably a mistake as regular taxi rides into the more interesting areas proved expensive. Still, we digested plenty of good stuff and if you’re planning a trip, here are some do’s and don’ts:

- Visit Le Marais district – can’t believe I never went there before. Gorgeous little streets, cafe’s (Bar du Marche), shops and spaces (Place des Vosges). I can understand why French nobility chose to live there since the 16th Century.

- Have lunch in L’atlas, Rue de Buci it’s pure Paris and a seafood delight, fresh as you like and good value too.

- Drink chilled Bandol rose with your moules, just do it. I didn’t think I liked Rose till I tried this. It’s divine.

- Visit Galleries Lafayette and admire the glass dome but don’t buy anything. It’s very expensive.

- Go to the Musee D’Orsay and see the impressionists gallery.  Bet you’ll recognise something in every room.  Unquestionably the best art Gallery I’ve ever been to – there’s even a Frank Brangwyn painting there (Swansea boy) and free to all on every first Sunday of the month.

- Skip the vascular monstrosity that is the Pompidou Centre unless you want to see what a town planning disaster looks like.  Parisians hate it.  And while the sunset from the Georges restaurant on the 6th floor is excellent the food there is average.

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Obituary to “Pom” the cat.

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you we lost our 21 year-old cat this week. Romany Gypsy (or Pom as we called her) was a long-haired Siberian, black as pitch with luminous yellow eyes. Tetchy and independent, stylish and confident she possessed the royalty of Cleopatra combined with the attitude of Naomi Campbell.

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We got her from a rescue home and as cats go, she was a little cracker; feisty and loving in equal measure. She was completely fearless and when Leo, our enormous labrador joined us she was unphased; drinking from his water bowl as if to challenge his authority. Smaller dogs or visitors unfamiliar with her temperament got short shrift and withered before her hisses and snarls.

And judging by the chunks missing from her plumed bat’s ears she must have held her own in many a battle with local toms and foxes too. But still she came home.

She had an interesting vocabulary which ranged from the lightest and most delicate of “miouws” to a guttteral howl that was enough to wake the dead. After 20 years of listening I think I worked out what some of them meant:
“M’aow”  I’m hungry.
Ow…ow”  Fridge….Chicken.
M’aooouw”  I’m still hungry.
“Miaooow”  Have you no idea what time it is? Give me food!
“Mer-yiaow”  Feed me or I’ll pee on the bathmat again.
“Ow-ooow…”  I have nothing to do with the disembowelled starling in the utility room.
“Prrrr…”  That’s nice, but I’m still hungry.
And communication wasn’t limited to just noises either. She could get a message across with just a gesture too…
*glances upwards indignantly*  I’m not eating that.
*wraps tail around your leg*  I know the bowl is full but I don’t do Tesco value catfood.
*walks away twitching tail*  That’s as close to a “thank you” as you’re going to get.
*stretches, digs claws into carpet*  Humans can be sooo tiresome.

Cats are entertaining but they don’t make friends easily. That’s why when you do get to know one you miss them all the more when they’re gone.

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The secret to enjoying a game of Golf.

The Heydon Grange Golf club breathed a sigh of relief as the Griffith motorcade of sensible family cars rolled out of the car park late last Saturday afternoon in a cloud of fine orange dust drawing to a close the 2014 Griffith Golf Tourney.

Every year for about a decade or so my brothers and I have played a round of golf together.  In principle, it’s a family bonding exercise; we grew up together, schooled together, then raised families and explored diverse careers across three counties of southern England.  In practice however it’s a display of some of the worst golf by some of the most shameless cheats you’re ever likely to see followed by arguments and beer.

Now that our kids are old enough to play, we made up a team of seven. Well, six actually with one walker (me) as I was relieved of my clubs from my garage two years back by a thief and spent the insurance money on a flatscreen TV.  Last year I hired clubs for my annual game but this year none were available so I walked.  Determined not to let a small matter like not having any golf clubs spoil my day, I took my GoPro along to generally put people off and in doing so capture the missed putts, bunker fluffs and shocking drives for posterity.

While I set out frustrated at not being able to play, I returned to the clubhouse in high spirits after a good walk unencumbered by a golf bag, bronzed by the bright sun and invigorated by lots of fresh air.  The others meanwhile were hot, lank and belligerent after a ragged game of zigzags across the flinty fairways, alternating as they had for four hours between tall pampas and murky ponds.

This, it transpired, brought about an epiphany.  If you really want to have a good day out on a golf course just leave your clubs at home.

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