Avoiding that groundhog feeling...

You could always sit and let life go past you in a safe and regular manner but perhaps it’s nice to just sometimes make things ‘happen’ however seemingly small. Life can be just too damn short…

There are several things I've done that sort of started with a chance happening and grew (in some cases quite literally!) from that point. Very often you look back years later and think "How on earth did I get into that?" Here's some things that stand out for me anyway.

Alternative modes of transport

As for many people, my first memory of encountering horses is of being bitten by one when forced to pat it as a child at an event somewhere? Can’t say I was ever a big fan and never had any interest in riding them, watching equestrian events etc, could just about tell which end you’d offer the carrots to and that would have been it quite frankly – always preferred motorbikes. To cut a very long story short – I slowly got interested in riding when watching my partner have her own refresher lessons as she’d not really ridden seriously herself since being a child.

In the end, I had my first riding lesson at a now defunct stables in central Leeds – it was a slow process and things never seemed to click but I was determined not to give up. As it happened, the closure of the original place led to a resuming of lessons at a somewhat larger establishment in Otley, West Yorkshire and something seemed to change once that happened. Again, slow progress at first but eventually my confidence grew, something not even dented by one their lovely animals galloping away with me and chucking me off.

I can now happily do all of the intermediate stuff (think that jumping will be a while yet!), but things are progressing. As ever, a great teacher helps and Jayne (Ruff) who gave me most of my instruction there really made a huge difference. Thank you.

Being regular visitors to the Lake District, it was perhaps inevitable that a visit to Cumbrian Heavy Horses would eventually happen? Once a common sight even in big cities, these breeds – Shire, Clydesdale and Suffolk Punch – have all declined in number as the modern way of life has seen the tractor and lorry replace them on farms and for moving loads around, the Suffolk Punch I believe being particularly rare. I was amazed further to see their biggest beast of all weight-wise… ‘Dingle’, a Belgian Ardenne. This young fella weighs a mere 950Kg and I have no doubt that he could probably win a tug of war with a lorry if he wanted to. Quite a beautiful animal to look at too.

In my case, we arrived on Tuesday (27th August) for a booked 2-hour ride. The others got their horses allocated and I looked up to see mine saddled up and waiting to go – possibly the tallest Shire I have ever seen – ‘MacLeod’.

Being on top of ‘Mac’ as he was referred to when walking felt something like being on top of a moving building, I can remember being somewhat higher than a two-metre high stone wall when I passed next to it.

The particular ride out described takes you up some quite steep tracks and you end up with stunning views South over the Kent estuary headed down well beyond the edges of the beautiful Lake District national park. There’s always a chance to get some trotting and cantering in if you can pass muster which I managed – the video below speaks for itself. What was amusing is that the agreed protocol was to walk the horse down to the bottom of the hill, turn, wait, then give it a pat and go. When outside, horses are much more inclined to follow their natural instinct than when operating in an arena environment. As you can see, I did indeed get our four-legged friend down to the bottom and turn him, we did stop and I was about to give him his pat when off he went straight into canter. It is Isaac the ride lead shouting “Wow that was huge” in the clip with me saying “That was an experience and a half” thus well-hiding a feeling of inner terror!

Well, will be a while before I do that again but like I said, “Would never have guessed in a million years…”



You are what you eat

“You are what you eat” is an oft-expressed phrase heard these days.

Well, probably some truth in it. I think that there’s certainly a recognition now that the food on offer in the UK wasn’t exactly optimal until relatively recently? It’s certainly the case for me personally that nothing beats the taste of food that you’ve grown yourself. Ok, it’s a little challenging to cultivate your own satsumas and bananas just yet here in the UK but even with a small garden and a bit of imagination, there’s plenty that you can manage to produce if you are prepared to experiment a little bit.

The key to growing anything is in not being afraid to give it a go – everyone’s available facilities are different i.e. different soil, facing of the sun, inclement temperatures etc. It’s also very much the case as a consequence of this that what grows well for you won’t necessarily work out for someone else and vice-versa – but you’ll never know if you don’t try.

Runner beans

I took this picture of what was then a healthy 8ft high tower of runner beans that had got going just prior to my going on holiday. Whilst it’s very charitable of your neighbours to water your plants for two weeks – I think it’s probably stretching it to ask them to keep them trimmed too? I returned to find a garden looking something like the set of a remake of ‘Day of triffids’, there were beans run everywhere (as apt a name for a plant as any could possibly be) and a general state of courgettageddon no doubt familiar to any whose made the mistake of turning their back on their plants for 5 minutes in the height of Summer – curcubit smoothies anyone?

People are so dependent on supermarkets these days that a whole part of the fun of raising something from scratch has been erased from the psyche. As I said, there’s always a great sense of achievement when shoving your hands in the soil and watching the seeds you’ve sown and tended to sprout their first leaves and get going.

Nothing ever beats that final taste that’s for sure…

Run for your life

I guess that you can't go through your entire life without trying to do something to try and keep in shape?

I was never a couch potato but certainly no athlete either. I first got into taking exercise more seriously when working at Ericsson about 15 years ago. It was the first time in my life that I’d been working sitting at a desk all day (as computer people often do!) and I quite quickly developed a feeling of lethargy and a general lack of motivation and drive. In the end, I started going once a week to the local council gym near the Warrington office where I was based. Despite moving all over the place since then, it’s a habit I’ve not lost and as you get older – you realise that’s no bad thing. I found more recently that doing organised classes is much better than relying on your own motivation and attend several each week.

Likewise, when going on holiday (for a ‘rest’ – yes don’t say it), you’ll often find something that has been organised locally. I have to say however that I had never experienced anything like something I attended during a visit to lovely Ambleside in the Lake District (view up North over Windermere shown below).

Workout Warriors is run by Ursula (Brendling) and the classes often utilise the local ‘facilities’ – thankfully, I didn’t have to do press-ups in the stream as per one of her pictures on the site. In my case, it was merely a matter of running up Loughrigg which was a first for me. Ursula has a brilliant manner and it was all very enjoyable. Certainly made a change to sitting in the 'Golden Rule' which I have to admit is one of my favourite pubs of all time.

On a more serious note however, exercise has its proven benefits and even if you can manage just 30 minutes’ walking a day, it’s a lot better than what many others will do, might not quite trigger an endorphin ‘rush’ but will certainly make you feel better and you’ll probably see any awful lot more going on in your local environment than when sitting trapped in your car in traffic.

Lake Windermere looking North towards the Fairfield Horseshoe

Develop some hardcore project management skills!

I put on a number of concert 'events' of various sizes between 2000 and 2006. At the time of writing this, the 10th anniversary of the final one has just passed and it made me think about putting the different shows on and all of things that had happened since then. This particular all day event was probably the second biggest and looking back now, was definitely the one that sticks in mind as my favourite for lots of reasons and it certainly reminds me of a very different time of my life

I guess there's a very long story behind all this...? Since the time of doing these concerts, i've met a lot of self-employed people working in all areas. It's hard work. Being involved with the music industry is an experience of many parts. Quite understandably, people get a glamorous view of what they see on stage in front of them, regardless of musical genre or the actual size of the gig. I saw a very different side, most musicians do it because they love it, and of course love don't put food on the table or pay the bills and many give up in the end due to the harsh realities of trying to eke out a living. Equally however, many performers will say that it is that same 'hunger' that drives them. For that, and anyone else earning their own way - you have to pay them a healthy respect.

My role was to make the whole thing happen, no mean feat either. So the title here? What's a project anyway? Well, by definition a project may defined as being "A set of deliverables produced in a timely fashion (i.e. to a fixed schedule), to a given cost and to an agreed quality". This description encompasses the famous 'triple constraint' that all project managers have to work to. Clearly, the London 2012 Olympics didn't exactly stick to this if you start looking at the finances but they certainly delivered on time and without any perceived failings performance-wise, whatever your own views, no-one can dispute that it was a massive project.

So what was there to think about for myself when putting these shows on? Scheduling, bands themselves, negotiations, transport, getting the back-line together, sound, lighting, printing tickets, flyers, posters - distributing tickets, flyers, posters, contingency, food and heaven knows what else... You always worried that something might go wrong that you hadn't thought of (it did in this one but the problem was mercifully rectified by a stroke of luck as it happened and believe me, I was actually quite good at contingency planning!)

Someone said to me many years ago, "It'll all drive you mad but you'll stand there at the end of the night on the stage looking at a big crowd having the time of their lives and you'll think to yourself 'I did that' and do you know what? That's exactly what I did.

However small, do something different and organise something!

PunkFest @ The Cockpit, Leeds, Saturday 5th November, 2005

PS: I am going to resurrect some archive stuff from these shows in the near future, please feel free to come back and check it out