Driving me up the wall… Part 1

I blame my Gym Buddy, L.

She is prone to suggesting challenges that would normally be off our “sensible” radar.

I always accept her challenges.

I don’t know why.

Ok, we have completed bike rides and walks to supplement our regime of Yoga, Spinning and Pilates.

They are familiar activities and a walk in the park, literally.

But this time she suggested we tried out the local Colchester Climb Project near to where we both live in Essex.

It is a dedicated bouldering centre.

Bouldering is a type of rock climbing where there are no ropes, instead there is a foot of matting surrounding the climbing area to make falling more comfortable.

What an inspiring explanation.

Before I committed I suggested we visited the Centre to check out the facilities, the people running it and the climbing walls.

And secretly hoping it would scare us both off.

Our review resulted in us seeing a 10 year old girl behaving like Spider-Man (strictly Spider Woman) climbing up and down the walls without a care in the world at great speed.

We both sat drinking tea on the leather settees around the climbing area looking at other participants scaling the walls, with our hearts in our mouths.

Neither of us would admit to each other that it looked like a challenge too far.

We therefore signed up for the 60 minute Introductory Session a few weeks later and the dreaded day approached fast.

It’s probably best to tell you what happened in part 2 ….

Once you open the door …

I have had a week of the most amazing long conversations with friends.

I was politely advised this morning by my wife that I needed to stick to a day of silence for everybody’s long term sanity.

And to protect my voice.

On Fridays I often accompany my 93 year old Aunt Lil (I’ve posted about her before) to the local shops in town to get her weekly shopping.

After our shopping I was back at Lil’s flat for a cup of tea and the mandatory mince pie.

However I keep wanting to chat.

Asking questions and reflecting.

And following up.

Trying to be sensitive and not intruding.

This time Lil strayed into the subject of sewing machines (I am currently trying to get her sewing machine repaired and she was pleased that I’d finally, after a long time, booked it in for her).

However, little did I know what would unfold.

We had the history of her work career (she was a machinist).

Different employers, different locations.

How she had to walk to work, often in the dark, early in the morning, across desolate fields in East London, to the sewing factory, and, one day, injuring herself by walking into a concrete lamppost.

Hospitalisation was deemed necessary for a few days plus, apparently, some poor eye wound stitching by the nurse (resulting in odd shaped eyebrows – I’d never noticed) …it continued and continued.

We had stories about her evacuation locations during the war.

I really struggled at times between tears of laughter and sadness.

I was very moved by it all.

She then continued to unravel the detail, the stories, the matter of fact accounts.

Once you open the door you have to just hang on.

Different companies, different jobs, low wages, her “boy mad” mate who asked her along to support her at meet ups outside the local dance hall.

I think I’ve probably found out what really affects me the most.

It’s just the talking, the listening, the enquiring.

The exchanging of stories.

The time just passes.

Effortlessly and enjoyably.

And so unpredictably.

And no, it’s impossible for me to be quiet.

I’m just genuinely interested.

Perhaps I always have been but was afraid to ask the obvious question.

Just sharing thoughts, issues, different perspectives.

Just supporting by listening and trying to understand people a bit better.

When I was 18 I had no idea at all that it would be like this many years later 😎

It really is something quite special …

The trip into town …

I’d booked the exhibition tickets a month back.

I meet my friend Brian regularly to keep in touch and a “trip into town” normally takes us back to our days in business when we both worked together in the City of London.

We rarely talk about business.

We talk about our lives after business.

We talk about family, current events, we stray into politics, we share funny stories, we talk about writing (he’s a great writer).

It doesn’t really matter what exhibition/event we book.

It’s just another great opportunity to meet.

However he does his homework and reads up, in advance, on the exhibition background, history, future events.

It keeps me on my toes – I’d better read up too.

Time flies over the day as we chat and chat.

Topics at random.

Highs and lows.

Laughter and the occasional difficult moment where unexpected emotion might kick in.

And takes us both by surprise.

Another great exchange.

Another delightful, supportive, trip into town ….

Head in the clouds – Part 2

The electronic pager flashes and vibrates around my breakfast table.

I just about stop it falling on to the floor.

It meant it was time for my flying lesson and the pilot and plane were now ready.

My heart rate climbed a notch.

Well perhaps more than just a notch.

Mark was my instructor for the 30 min flight and I was wondering if he knew what he was letting himself in for.

Where do you live Steve?

“I live in Chelmsford” I responded.

“Ok we will have time to fly there and back, so I’ll take off and land the plane and you can look after the flying once we are up”

He must be kidding.

He wasn’t.

Mark was flicking switches, checking gauges, pulling out choke levers, moving the pedals, pressing radio buttons, multi tasking like he was in a competition.

And that was before we took off.

The plane was dual control of course and Mark, once we had taken off, let me just mirror his control of the plane early on to show me it was all quite subtle.

I’ve never been accused of that.

“Can I take a few photos?” I asked

“Only when I take back control of the plane” he said with a smile.

I got us to Chelmsford and spotted a few landmarks that I recognised – then I banked the plane to the right, deliberately, then levelled out and headed back.

I was navigating of sorts, lining up icons on the display in front of me with something that looked like a plane.

He kept changing where the icons were …. almost testing my calmness and concentration.

When we approached the runway at Stapleford Aerodrome it felt like he’d shutdown the engine completely and we were floating.

Heart rate up a notch again.

No admit it , up quite a few notches.

Mark’s landing was superb.

The flight was a sheer delight and I understand why you can get addicted to this.

I have two friends, Keith and Martin, who are pilots and I appreciated for the first time why they enjoyed it so much.

Thank you Mark, who made it look so easy (and I know it ain’t) and to Andrew for such a thoughtful and surprising birthday gift ….

I am just so lucky….

Head in the clouds – Part 1

I am not normally lost for words.

The opposite in fact – I’m often told to listen more, talk less.

I’m working on it.

We were meeting for one of our lovely chatty breakfasts at the local flying club, Stapleford Aerodrome.

Andrew, my friend, had recommended this place some time back and this must have been our 4th or 5th visit.

That’s a lot of breakfasts.

It was the day after my birthday so it seemed a nice opportunity to catch up.

The breakfast was delicious and, unusually, the weather was bright and sunny after a few days of wind and rain.

After the breakfast we chatted, and chatted – we always do.

“I’ve just got to hand this envelope into the flying club’s reception – do you want to join me or stay here?” asked Andrew.

“I’ll come with you for a breath of fresh air” I said.

At reception the lady behind the desk asked me if I was “ the birthday boy”

I thought that Andrew had tipped them off and they were going to wish me (or, worst case, sing me) a happy birthday.

“Your flying lesson is in 45 mins” said the reception lady with a big smile.

I was lost for words for a moment.

“Excuse me, there must be some mistake” I said.

“No, your friend Andrew (now quickly disappearing out of reception) has treated you to a 30 minute flying lesson today”

It was a very emotional moment.

A mixture of “he’s set me up” and “omg what an amazing surprise”

I was quite overcome by the gesture.

I’m still getting over it.

I need to take you through the flight in a separate blog post – that’s why this one is Part 1 …

A blogger lost for words?

Yes, I really was.

You shall not pass …

My secretary, Val, had phoned in sick.

The temp agency we used in these situations responded immediately and Lisa, the temp, arrived at my office within 30 minutes.

I had a busy day ahead catching up on writing a key business report for my Chief Executive so I asked her to protect me from all visitors and phone calls until lunchtime.

The hours flew by.

The report was completed.

I eventually came up for air and opened my office door and walked out to see Lisa.

“Thank you Lisa for protecting me this morning – did I have any visitors?”

“Only one, a tall guy with dark and grey hair, in his fifties I guess”

“I blocked his path towards your door and he look very surprised, slightly stressed”

“Did he have a strong Scottish accent?” I asked anxiously.

“Yes that was him and he’s left you a note…”

The note read …

When you can possibly spare the time please call into my office.

“Was he anybody important?” asked Lisa

“He’s the Chief Executive Officer, so I’d better rush up to see him!”

The CEO’s secretary, Sarah, escorted me into his office and sat me down.

He slowly looked up from his papers.

A serious expression on his face.

“Who was that secretary who stopped me from getting in to see you?”

“She totally blocked the doorway and wouldn’t let me pass!”

“I’m sorry, that was an agency temp secretary, Lisa, who was covering for Val who is away sick today.”

He looked up, smiled, and said “Don’t say sorry, she was amazing!

I’d like you to give Sarah, my secretary, her agency phone number so she can protect me when she is away on leave next month”

I left his office with my heart rate very slowly getting back to normal …and thanked Lisa again for doing a great job!

The 365 Update …

We meet once a year in London.

Normally in November because D visits her family in Australia for a couple of months in December and January.

We used to work together in my Corporate days and we have stayed in touch via annual update lunches.

She never forgets to remind me that it might be a good time for us to meet up.

A text message always asks me for some free dates.

We then meet up and have 3 hours of information exchange, amusing stories, recommendations on reading and films.

Both trying hard to not let our lunch go cold as the information flows back and forth.

She is bubbly, interested, a supreme listener and full of energy.

She reads more books, in more depth than me.

She sees more films of all types than me.

She makes allowances 😎

A review of our past year takes place minute by minute but is nicely topped up with a sharing of current perspectives and experiences from our busy and different lives.

A highly recommended annual event.

A bit like an automatic (and much needed) software update but much more fun.

I just need to remember a list of 4 or 5 highlights of my year so I can contribute to my side of the exchange.

And still gratefully reflecting on the fact that limiting to 4 or 5 highlights is still a real challenge – there is always so much more to highlight.

And for that I am extremely grateful.

Today was like a continuation from last year’s meet up.

Almost seamless.

Always enjoyable.

Thank you again D for that annual text message reminder ….

I am updated once more….

On the radar …

It was my birthday yesterday.

I’ve never been fearful of age – in fact I seem to positively embrace it.

I tend to confirm my age nowadays by taking my birth year from the current one but that’s not an issue.

My mental arithmetic is still good 😎

But yesterday’s birthday was something special.

Nothing to do with presents/gifts at all.

Although I did appreciate them (before I get into trouble!).

It was stand out special due to the number and care of the number of contacts I had with family and friends.

People who are often off the radar, due to their busy lives, just taking a moment to wish me happy birthday via social media, via text message, via a phone call.

People from Australia, Belgium, Canada, Greece, South Africa, USA and the UK.

Yes, I’m now quite surprised and humbled at the global reach.

I have been reflecting on why I am just so fortunate to be receiving this attention and care.

I hope it might be because I do try really hard to do it to others – just a moment of connection and support whenever the opportunity presents itself.

There really is no greater feeling.

Thank you … all of you.

There’s no grey …

I must be missing something.

I’m hearing more and more from people around me about how difficult it is keeping in contact.

“He/She never rings me, or sends me a text message”

“No point in me having a mobile phone, nobody ever calls me!”

Sorry to raise this but some of this is self inflicted.

I accept that we don’t all want too many contacts to manage, too many calls to handle, too many “friends” to look after.

But here’s the truth.

Do you want to keep in touch, yes or no?

It’s binary, it’s digital.

You either do or you don’t.

There’s no grey …

So decide what you want and make the effort … or not.

Contact those people you really want to connect with.

No delay, just do it.

Do it now.

Do it tomorrow.

And the next day too.

Use a text message to contact if it feels less embarrassing if they decide to ignore you.

Don’t expect the World to chase after you and seek you out.

Life’s not like that.

Don’t worry about rejection either.

Worry about not doing it.

I am blessed with contacts, friends, sources of support, numbers to dial on my phone.

I’m nothing special or super human.

I just care enough to want to make the effort.

I just keep at it, day after day, week after week, investing time, following up, remembering who’s on my list, treating it as important.

So if you really want to be connected to more people, or reconnect to those you have lost contact with over the years, just reach out and make the effort.

I do and I am richer for it.

Not wealth richer, but emotionally and spiritually richer.

You will be too… if you really want to be.

It’s a nice thing to do …

I’ve been thinking …. again.

Standing back and just observing life.

Working out a few things.

And talking to my daughter, J.

We do this on occasions, probably not nearly as often as we should.

We were talking about helping people out.

Accompanying friends to hospital appointments, dentist visits, giving them lifts in the car etc. 

Just being there.

Being available on the phone when needed, sometimes at the oddest times.

Sending a random, impulsive, supportive text or message to somebody who has been out of your sight for a while.

Setting up a future visit for a chat.

Something for you both to look forward to.

You can learn to get better at this but some of my friends seem to do it instinctively.

They reach out and support but certainly not for any personal return.

As J says “it’s a nice thing to do”

What a lovely way to describe it.

For the giver this support is amazingly rewarding.

For the receiver it can be amazingly helpful at a difficult time.

And sometimes at just the right time too.

Life is busy, we all tend to fill up our capacity, but we don’t always look out for those outside of close family.

We don’t keep check, not deliberately, but we just don’t.

Look at the list of your recent phone calls, in and out, look back at your diary.

Who did you call, who did you meet up with?

Who keeps in touch with you?

As the lady says ….. it’s a nice thing to do.

She’s right.

Trust me.

It is.

One warning though.

You need to be in a fit shape yourself to help others.

The demands on your time can be addictively flattering and demanding.

So you need to look after yourself, both physically and mentally, and know how much time you can give….. 😎