Complacency

We have a local supermarket that we only visit in a food emergency. Do you have one like this? You don’t shop there regularly, as you get both better deals and better service elsewhere.

supermarket_shelves

This particular shop is a disgrace. It’s many years since I worked in the retail industry, but even what I learned then if put into practice now would radically alter the shopping experience of customers. When you walk in the door, you can’t help but notice that the windows have been cleaned, but the aluminium surrounds have possibly never been touched with a cleaning product. The curled up welcome mat should be binned. The basket holders are invariably empty, prompting to you collect one from the nearest overflowing stack at a closed till. They once had a competition to win a TV, which was perched on the only available table they could get their hands on – the one with the wonky leg from the staff canteen no doubt – you daren’t get too close incase it fell on you. The floor is manky, and I mean proper filthy. I remember an Assistant Manager in another chain in the 1990’s having us nightfill boys on our hands and knees with scrapers ensuring the floor was free of random debris, dirt, stickers and chewing gum – this local shop almost seems to wear this detritus as a badge of honour.

I could go on…

Why has this shop let itself go so much? When it opened it was beautifully presented. Does the store manager not walk their floor? Do they think customers don’t notice? I think the answer to the problem is simple: complacency.

They are the only reasonably large supermarket for 8 miles. They rely on the fact that a lot of locals either can’t or won’t travel the distance to their nearest competitor.

Well, I’ve bad news for them. They’ve started building work this week on their newest competitor, and it’s in the same town. Time to up your game, I think. Anyone who is that complacent deserves to go out of business.

Ask yourself this: are you constantly trying to ensure you meet the needs of your customers? Are you providing the best service you can? If not, your competitors are getting closer – in some cases, quite literally.

Image credit: Mary Hutchison.

The Road

“What’s the bravest thing you ever did?
He spat in the road a bloody phlegm. Getting up this morning, he said.” – Cormac McCarthy, The Road. 

It’s odd to review a book that you’re actually in the process of reading, but I’m finding this one so compelling that I don’t want to wait.

barren_tree

The Road, presents a vision of a post apocalyptic future where a father and son journey south across a barren ash filled landscape. Along the way, they encounter very few other travellers (‘bad guys’ and ‘good guys’), who they are instantly wary of – in a post apocalyptic landscape devoid of other life, humanity seems to have resorted to cannibalism.

“You have to carry the fire.”
“I don’t know how to.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Is the fire real? The fire?”
“Yes it is.”
“Where is it? I don’t know where it is.”
“Yes you do. It’s inside you. It always was there. I can see it”

We the readers don’t know much about the ‘man’ and the ‘boy’, or indeed what caused the apocalypse. We know that the ‘wife’ or ‘woman’ left the family early on into the post apocalyptic world, we presume to kill herself away from the plight of the man and boy. We know they journey with only the possessions they carry in their bags or shopping trolley. We know they have a gun with only two rounds left in it, to use ‘when the time comes’. Every day is a struggle for food and survival. Every day is a love story about father and son.

You have my whole heart. You always did.

McCarthy has a beautiful way with prose, that is not pretentious or indeed overly simplistic. I’m reminded of the great quote from Pascal “If I’d had longer it would have been shorter”, as he seems to wonderfully convey the required sentiment easily, without resorting to unnecessary verbosity (unlike me!). What interests me here however is that on the face of it, it’s a really dismally bleak subject to read about – yet it is utterly compelling as a book.

By day the banished sun circles the earth like a grieving mother with a lamp.

I was fascinated to read that the book is widely hailed as one of the most significant environmental books, as it sets out an environment where the biosphere has ceased to function. It’s a chilling prediction on what could happen if we don’t curb our excess of our natural resources.

Perhaps in the world’s destruction it would be possible at last to see how it was made. Oceans, mountains. The ponderous counterspectacle of things ceasing to be. The sweeping waste, hydroptic and coldly secular. The silence.

The book raises interesting questions about our behaviour post-apocalypse. In the absence of food, what would you do to preserve life? When all around you seems hopeless, what does it take to make you carry on?

He knew only that his child was his warrant. He said: If he is not the word of God God never spoke.

It’s been turned into a great film, which I’d heartily recommend (I know, I know – I’d have been better talking about this yesterday than Katy Perry!)

“How would you know if you were the last man on Earth?” He said.
“I don’t guess you would know it. You’d just be it.”
“Nobody would know it.”
“It wouldn’t make any difference. When you die it’s the same as if everybody else died too.”

Nicola and I are reading this, and have had a number of conversations about this one point: Does the man display a great courage to strive on and find a way for them to live despite the apparent bleakness of their situation, or does he rather display cowardice not to end it? He has a gun that could put an end to their suffering, yet they journey on. What do you think? Answers on a postcard (on in the comments) please!

“Listen to me, he said, when your dreams are of some world that never was or some world that never will be, and you’re happy again, then you’ll have given up. Do you understand? And you can’t give up, I won’t let you.”

Image credit: Feldbum, made compellingly bleak by me 🙂

Katy Perry: Part of Me (seriously…)

Be yourself: everyone else is already taken. – Oscar Wildelollipop

Seriously?! Seriously!? Are you seriously going to write a post about Katy Perry: Part of Me? Well, yes. If only to show that not all the films I watch are worthy of attention. Some clearly are utter dross.

In one of those mad moments, I decided to watch Katy Perry: Part of Me. It would be really simple to say “well, there’s 93 minutes of my life I’ll never get back”, or “that film was so dire I actually wanted to eat the iPad I watched it on”, but that wouldn’t tell the whole story.

In Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted, there is a scene when Vitaly the tiger finds his confidence again, and opens the new production of the ‘animal only’ circus. What follows is a fabulous display of lights and acrobatics from the animals set to Katy Perry’s ‘Fireworks’. The sentiment behind this song is ace – you have something great inside you and you should let it shine out. All good so far. As we like this song at home (we have a 3 year old – we like singing – we like Madagascar – bear with me), I thought I’d find out a bit more about Katy Perry, so watching her documentary on the train to Livingston one day seemed like a good way to deal with the tedium of train travel. On reflection, perhaps train travel isn’t so bad. Normally, train travel doesn’t make me want to eat the iPad.

I’m undecided about Katy Perry. She seems to have at heart a great simple idea: be yourself. Unfortunately, much of the time watching this documentary, I’m not sure she knows exactly what this is. There is a scene when she visits her grandmother. You’re left wondering if they have ever actually met before. She places great faith in her wardrobe designer, who seems to make creations for her that are individual, but I’m left thinking these creations only serve the purpose of trying to be individual, rather than anything else. She seems to be genuinely interested in her fans, and encourages them to express themselves, but to what end? I’m not sure the guy dressed as a hotdog will look back at his on-stage moment with Katy Perry with pride, or maybe I’m wrong? She also seems to have musical talent, and a good ear for a tune, that and the might of a record label and production company getting successive songs to number 1. Like her or hate her, you can’t deny that she’s successful.

The documentary follows her during a gruelling tour, which it captures quite well. You do get to see her genuinely struggling with the monotony to touring, and the difficulty of overcoming her own feelings in order to perform. This is painfully painted on her face as she waits in the wings to go on stage at one point. It also charts the breakup of her marriage to Russell Brand, but you’re left thinking there’s obviously a great deal that they glossed over – in fact, ‘gloss’ probably sums up this movie exceptionally well.

Why on earth did I choose to write a blog post about it then? Hidden in amongst the bubblegum dross of Katy’s life on tour was a gem of a quote from one of her fans:

“Katy teaches me to be myself: Everyone else is already taken”

Of course the learned amongst you (or those of you who know how to copy and paste into a search engine) knows this to be a quote from Oscar Wilde. Tragically, neither Katy Perry, her fan filmed giving the quote, or indeed her producer thought to reference it. Shame.

In our quick fix culture, Wilde’s sentiment is welcome relief. Media bombards us each day to conform to the latest ‘must have’ or fashion, so having the confidence to do your own thing is sound advice indeed.

If you like Katy Perry’s music, you’ll enjoy this 93 minutes. If not, then avoid at all costs… You can watch it via lovefilm.com, or (heaven forbid) get your own copy of it from Amazon.co.uk.

Image credit: natalia love.

footnote: normal service (or decent choice in films to talk about) will be restored next week…

One for the road…

I love cycling, and I love social technology, so something that brings the two of these passions together for me is instantly going to grab my attention. A few months ago I was introduced to strava.com – for technological reasons, it’s taken me a while to get into it, but I can now say with certainty that it’s changed my life disastrously for the better!

phone_in_asphalt

Let me be clear about this from the outset – I’m a very mediocre cyclist. I love cycling, but I’m not particularly fast at it, or indeed very able when the hills get high. For many competitive cyclists their aim is to see how fast they can get over the hill – my aim is simply to make it over the hill without having to get off and push! I try my best, and love every minute of it, but I don’t think Sir Chris or Sir Bradley have anything to worry about from me!

A long time ago, I used to be in a cycling club. Now, virtually all of my cycling is done as a commute to and from work in Glasgow city centre. Quite a number of people cycle the same route, or indeed parts of the route I take, and you can’t help but wonder how many others cycle it at different times from you. This naturally gets you thinking about how long it takes them, and I suppose how you compare?

Enter strava.com. Strava is a social network for sporting activities. Armed with a gps device (or your smartphone) you simply record the details of your ride or run and upload it to their site. It then shows you the details you’d expect – route on a map, time taken, average speed, maximum speed, altitude climbed etc. If you run or cycle and carry a smartphone in your pocket, you’ve now got to wonder why you use any other means of tracking your activity. With the advent of bluetooth 4.0, you can now effortlessly connect cadence, power and heart rate sensors to your smartphone too, so getting detailed stats of your activity is pretty simple.

Here’s the clever techie bit though – strava.com is a community of people uploading information about their activities. You can see how you fair in relation to others covering the same ground as you. Users have defined ‘segments’ of routes that they (and you) travel on, so you can easily compare how you did on various sections of your ride in relation to other people that ride or run the same route. For the competitive, there are even league tables for each section, so you can be your very own local ‘King of the Mountain’ (KOM) compared with the other cyclists that have ridden the same route as you.

It’s social too – you can follow other people on the site to get updates on their adventures, or if you’re into the competition then you can track your nearest rivals whenever they post an improvement. Despite riding to work over the winter, I’ve only started using the site last week, but if you’re interested in seeing my progress you can find me here.

Sounds good, eh? So why did I describe it as changing my life disastrously for the better? Well, looking at the league tables for most of the segments that I ride, I place between 100th and 198th – the KOM needn’t worry there then. Tragically for me though, on some of the segments I seem to do a lot better – 9th in one, and 6th in the other – which got me thinking – could I claw back a few seconds on my nearest competitors…?

Game on. 

Image credit: m.aquila.

Footnote: if this can be done for cycling or running, imagine what this could do for other avenues of life too?  I know a lot of educators read this – imagine a social network for curricular progress and achievements?

 

Injustice

First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me. Dietrich Bonhoeffer

sold_out

We see injustice all the time – it surrounds us each day, in the lives of those we pass by or those we walk alongside. What do we do when we injustice? Do we speak out? In a society obsessed with the individual and material gain, it’s easy to overlook the plight of others.

image credit: Jeremy Brooks.

 

Boldness, genius, power and magic…

Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it!
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now! – Goethe / John Anster (discuss!)

crossroadsYou are standing at a crossroads in life. Behind you is the experience you have gained in all that you have done so far. To the left and right are both encouragement and caution, tugging at you in equal measure. Ahead? Well, ahead lies whatever you choose it to be.

I always find it amusing that people wait until the 1st of January to make a resolution for change – why then? If you want to make change in your life, then now is the right time.

Be bold.

Image credit: Swamibu.

Socially acceptable drug addiction

…one bottle of Valium, which I’ve already procured from my mother, who is, in her own domestic and socially acceptable way also a drug addict – Renton, Trainspotting

pill_man

Four months lost from work last year didn’t just give me issues with anxiety or crush my confidence – it also gave me a drug addiction which I’m delighted to say I’ve now managed to overcome – unlike a huge number of people that each day struggle with an addiction that they would give anything to leave behind them. It’s funny when you are looking to help resolve a problem you are facing at the time, how little we look to the future problems the ‘cure’ might bring with it!

I read a report in September 2012 claiming that one in seven Scots is prescribed anti-depressants, I could’t quite believe the number – 1 in 7! Is this down to our willingness to over-prescribe, or our ‘fix it now’ culture? Are we more depressed as a nation than others? Can it be attributed to our climate? The more I thought about it though, the more I am convinced that a significant number of them are probably trying their best to get off them. For most, it takes a huge amount of time to release themselves from the grip of craving the drug – halving the dose, putting longer and longer between doses until you can finally claim to be ‘clean’. For others, they simply can’t give them up, so addicted are they.

I loved Renton’s quote from Trainspotting when I saw it at the time, but never considered that at some point I would find myself in the ‘socially acceptable’ camp!

I’m now free of the addiction, so goodbye Citalopram – goodbye random nausia, insomnia, wild nightmares, whooshes, dizziness and hearing loss. Hello clarity of mind, self-determination and 2013.

Image credit: takgoti.

What’s your Christmas movie?

Leon the Snowman: Why the long face, Buddy?
Buddy: It seems I’m not an elf.
Leon the Snowman: Of course you’re not an elf. You’re six-foot-three and had a beard since you were fifteen.

Everyone has their favourite Christmas movie. For some, it’s an integral part of their advent preparations sitting down to watch that all time classic that sums up Christmas for them, or conjures up some fond memory of Christmas past.

A film that has quickly become a favourite in our household is ‘Elf‘. Not quite ‘It’s a wonderful life‘ I know, but it’s up there! I’m not sure whether it’s the utterly preposterous storyline, the schmaltzy romance or the hilarious Will Ferrell that makes this film, but if you’re looking for an hour and a half of festive cheer, then look no further.

You can watch Elf right now on Lovefilm.com, or get your hands on the physical media from amazon.co.uk.

I was torn between a number of different films to recommend during advent, as Home Alone and Die Hard would be up there too as my all time Christmas greats. Or what about years of sifting through the Radio Times at Christmas to see if The Wizard of Oz, The Sound of Music or Where Eagles Dare were on yet again…?

What about you? What would be your curl-up-infront-of-an-open-fire-by-the-twinkling-lights-of-the-tree-movie?

Image credit: knitting iris.

They’re with us

On a regular basis I now pass underneath the Erskine Bridge, and it reminds me of a laugh we used to have at the toll booths whenever we drove over it years ago.

It’s a really simple thing to do, but when you drive through a toll booth, simply pay double the fare and say that you’re paying for the car behind you – “They’re with us” – even though they are a complete stranger. It was always really funny and heart warming to watch the look of incredulity on the face of the driver in your rear view mirror as they drew up to the booth intending to pay, only to be met with the toll booth operator telling them that their friend infront had paid for them.

We may not pass through many toll booths now in our lives, but why not consider doing something similar? Paying for the coffee of the person behind you in the queue at the coffee shop, or staff canteen? Buy two tickets at the vending machine and hand one to the person behind you in the queue? Simple things to make your day a bit brighter, and to give a complete stranger a lift or a laugh.

Image Credit: irrefutableundeniable.

The verge of success

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. – Thomas A. Edison

In a society that seems to yearn for instant gratification, there is something wholesome in the opinion of Edison in relation to work. When media constantly bombards us with people that have achieved, it does us a great dis-service by overlooking how they got there. Edison was convinced that he learned more by getting things wrong, than by getting things right. I think we need to celebrate failure far more than we do. How do you regard failure? How do those around you regard it? Are you encouraged to fail? Eric Schmidt encourages his staff to ‘fail quickly, so that you can try again’. Is this something you’re encouraged to do?

People can be put under enormous pressure to succeed, but when the pressure is released and they are allowed to fail, chances are they are more likely to succeed.

Image credit: hanz.gerwitz.

 

 

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