‘Had a bad day huh? Yeah, I get that . . . when I was in Auschwitz . . .’ And right there, all complaints melt away. I can feel holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku reaching out to me through history with his excellent The Happiest Man on Earth, a book published last year as he turned one hundred years old. Amazingly he spent his last days in Sydney, Australia, an exceptionally large stone’s throw away from me in Melbourne, last October. I feel quite honoured to have been on the same continent, but dearly wish I’d discovered the book sooner and made a trip to meet him. The book is that good. There is nothing more life affirming than stories of the worst, and best, of humanity. I’m listening to a Mads Mikelsen voiced narrator talk me through the tome, and am enjoying every second.
I’ve taken a break for the last month from lots of things. Instead, I treated myself to a little break in Europe, a chance to celebrate some freedoms, culminating in a belated 40th and 41st birthday present in racing a Lamborghini Gallardo around a track in Modena, Italy. It’s a beautiful, beautiful machine. For fun, I’ve been looking at prices in the UK. Amazingly, it’s not THAT bad! About half the price of those in Australia. Can I afford the petrol though, that's the thing! But a few laps laughing my ass off in a sports car in Italy was very enjoyable. Simple pleasures!
I was working nights throughout my European travels, the lovely Australian hours of 8pm to 5am. I’d sleep a great deal during the day, but had about five hours each day to ghost around Portugal, Italy, San Marino (I didn’t even know where it was!), Switzerland, France and Germany, reacquainting myself with friends I hadn’t seen in almost ten years . . . it was truly wonderful. Life affirming. Felt very grateful for seeing smiling faces. Listening to Jaku now is just the icing on a glorious cake. Jaku's message? Be kind and compassionate. Try to be happy. If you can't do that, be kind. Happiness will come.
Things may not always go your way (Arsenal . . . enough said) but it’s the reaction to the setbacks. Enough with this horseshit of believing there’s a masterplan and complaining of constant oppression and how unjust everything is. Vamos! The world is there for the taking. Perhaps stop though when you start thinking of taking over a country, eh?
Lying tennis champs and Prime Ministers make me sleepy. Well, at present, everything makes me sleepy; even waking up makes me yawn. With the adoption of a bi-phasic sleep pattern to retain Australian working hours from the UK (10pm-6am), I’ve also tried mid-morning naps, afternoon siestas, 40 winks before dinner, and quick snoozes afterwards. All in all, a lot of sleep. This from a person that never slept much at all. Patiently laying in my waiting-room of books was the phenomenal Why We Sleep, which has driven home the importance of this life-saver. Too early to call my book of the year in January? This from the very first page:
Routinely sleeping less than 6 or 7 hours (i.e. sleep deprivation) demolishes your immune system . . . doubles your risk of cancer . . . increases chances of Alzheimer’s disease, disrupts blood sugar levels to pre-diabetic proportions, increases likelihood of blocked coronary arteries leading to stroke, congestive heart failure and cardiovascular disease . . . is a contributor to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety and suicide . . . and is a proven recipe for a desire to eat, resulting in weight gain and obesity.
To reiterate, all that is in the first page. As the author points out, the maxim “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” is at best unfortunate. For years I subsisted on minuscule hours of slumber. I’d evolved, or so I’d thought. Turns out not. And if you think you’re in that camp, you’re not either. “The number of people who can survive on five hours of sleep or less without any impairment, expressed as a percent of the population, and rounded to a whole number, is zero.” Not a lot of wiggle room.
Makes me want to lie down just thinking about it. Whist I’m there, I’ve been chewing through Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning The Color Purple and the 110-year old The Secret Garden by Frances Hodson Burnett, both excellent. I’ve been out walking, taking photos and getting exercise as much as I can to help those nap times, and watching my beloved Arsenal appearance in the FA Cup was a sure-fire snooze fest. Hiding away in Wales, I feel a little removed from the world. And Australia was pretty far removed as it is! The antipodes have slowed down it’s PCR testing dramatically, pushing people to purchase their own Lateral Flow/Rapid Antigen Tests at $15 a pop. Remember the President that claimed his country wouldn’t have such high covid numbers if they tested less? Yup. Welcome to Australia!
Right. It’s bed time somewhere; time to celebrate. Sleep like your life depends upon it. 2022, year of the yawns.
Why is it so bloody dark!?! Ahem. Godzilla blotting out the light perhaps. In swapping my usual Australian Christmas by the pool for a few months back in Wales, I’m rediscovering Britain. They’re a fun people! I like the quirkiness of electing a randy chimp to run the country, it’s so zany! It’s like a war against cogent sentences.
But I am enjoying myself, spending time with family, which considering the world at large, am pretty pleased with (as they bicker in the background, and I reach for my headphones like I’m fifteen again). Since this is the first Christmas I’ve spent in the UK in roughly fifteen years, I’ve tried approaching the place with a fresh perspective. Here are a few notes:
I shall continue to take notes of this peculiar species whist I’m here, although I’ll have to lift my head from books for that. Am just clocking over sixty books for the year, but stuck on Wiser for a while, exploring the scientific roots of wisdom, compassion, and what makes us good. A lovely book to take into 2022, I feel. I also got into some classics like Sense and Sensibility, Jane Eyre, Theresa Raquin, and childhood favourites like Anne of Green Gables and Charlotte’s Web, all pretty wonderful. Although the last few months have been a blur, there has been plenty of good bits. I was pleased to get out on the motorcycle a little before I finally sold it, and my fitness and weight have improved too. I had minor surgery which I’d been putting off, and although I still haven’t finished my uncle’s audiobook (two chapters to go), and I haven’t progressed in writing my third book (on leadership) whatsoever in the last few months, I am very happy and grateful with my lot. I am enjoying being home, spending time with friends and family. You never know how much you miss people until you can’t see them. Oddly here the conversation is less ‘oh my, hope I don’t catch COVID’ and more ‘well, when I first caught it . . .’ A different world to what we’ve been used to in Australia where Western Australia, a state the size of UK, France, Germany, Spain, Poland, Belarus and Italy put together, enters a four-day lockdown because of three cases. Yup, three. It's not all sunshine and cricket :-)
As ever, thanks for your love, friendship and support in 2021, it’s been entirely my pleasure. I hope to see many of you in 2022, all my love, Richard xx
Well, that was weird. Not Jeff Bezos weird, or giant cock in space weird – tautology? - but, you know, up there. Like a particularly racy lamb buna, the last few months need time to settle. In mid-September, I was given three pieces of news simultaneously: a gap opened up for surgery on a bone spur with a 6 week recovery; the bank was repossessing the flat as the landlord stopped paying their mortgage, leaving 8 weeks to vacate; and after my requests to leave Australia had been rejected twice, I was given exemption, and had 10 weeks to fu*k right off. And in the last two weeks, add a new COVID variant, changing rules for different countries, a missed flight, forking out for another flight, paying for a hotel in Doha I never got to stay in . . . it’s been . . . interesting.
There is an element of PTSD. In Melbourne we were graced with 267 days of lockdown since March 2020, the longest period in the world. I spent the majority of that living alone. Being amongst people now is just . . . weird. Don’t get me started on the jitters of being on packed flights, screaming at flight attendants “that guy coughed/went to cough/cleared his throat/looks like he might cough at some point, jettison him NOW!!” Twenty-three hours of flying later, am sure everyone was very appreciative of my vigilance.
Getting people together for a farewell felt odd too, let alone technically hard as everyone was scrambling to leave Melbourne (hmm . . . coincidence?) after finally obtaining their freedom. And if I caught COVID, then I couldn’t travel at all. So, like my 40th and 41st birthday parties, a farewell will have to wait. As for those wonderful people in my life that reached out asking why I was selling everything and whether they could help with storing or moving stuff, I will love you forever.
What now? Meeting friends in London, it’s a different world. The conversation isn’t about avoiding COVID, but what it was like when you had it. Australians would freak! Meanwhile, I’ll enjoy a Welsh winter with my family, working Australian hours (10pm-6am, yeah, I didn’t stop working) and trying to get any exercise I can in between whatever daylight, non-rainy hours there are. There ain’t many!
Plans for next year? Still, plenty of time to run for 2021, I’ll plan 2022 when I reach it. For those school-friends still in Wales, please say hi, would be lovely to catch up xx
It’s been a few weeks . . . but I see the light! With lockdown a sniff away as the country rapidly vaccinates, things are progressing nicely towards normality. I feel like coming out of a chrysalis, with Spring in the air too. But as one door opens, another closes. In August I received legal notice that the owner of my flat had stopped their mortgage, meaning the bank was repossessing. They’ve been very nice about it – as nice as someone kicking you out can be - but over the past five weeks of gleaning as much about the process as I can, the outlook is bleak for not-quite-my-Chez Reed.
At the same time as moving out, I’ll be getting a bone spur on my foot removed too, which will make things tricky. And ruin my Steptember march for Cerebral Palsy – if you want to support a great cause, you can do so my donating here. Thinking I was doing pretty well for the first 19 days sitting at a not-too-shabby about 300kms, some son of a bitch has completed 5.8 million steps, averaging 244km a day. I assume “Tim” is a crack-cocaine addicted border collie on roller-skates.
In addition to walking lots, I’ve been working out every other day and running too. I’ve never worked so hard to look the same! I also had my very first COVID test 17 months into a pandemic in preparation for surgery on Wednesday. Not too bad, Reed! I restarted an audiobook for my uncle, which is taking time but is quite fun – there was too much extraneous noise on the first few goes so ended up having to redo the lot. If anyone wants a first listen, please give me a shout.
I don’t think I’ve picked up my camera in months now, but I have been reading a great deal: Richard Koch’s classic 80/20 Principle, a guide for concentrating on the 20% of activities that give you 80% of the value; Paul Carter’s outrageous stories from working on oil-rigs across the world; and The Road To Wigan Pier by George Orwell. The latter provides a glimpse into life in colliery towns, and kerrrist was it bleak! The galling thing is that in a hundred years, the same underlying problems exist: “even people on the verge of starvation can buy a few days’ hope . . . whole sections of the working class who have been plundered of all they really need are being compensated, in part, by cheap luxuries which mitigate the surface of life . . . it’s quite likely that fish and chips . . . cut-price chocolate and the movies . . . have averted revolution.” Netflix: proudly reducing public lynching since 2020.
The news in Australia remains rather tepid but it’s nice that we’re still making headlines on the world stage. As the PM agreed to buy submarines we don’t need from France, then instead bought them from the US in some kind of trilateral security deal with the UK, Biden gloriously forgot our Prime Minister’s name, as we all tend to. Nothing like signing a billion dollar deal only to be remembered as ‘that fella’. Magical.
Fecking lockdown . . . however! With all this alone time, it provides opportunity for reflection. After topping 203 days in lockdown since March 30th 2020 (510 days ago), and staring down the double-barrels of another thirty more, that reflection has gone into overdrive. I reflect so much that when the sun is out, I blind passers-by. I don’t moisturise, I buff. Women stop to adjust themselves in front of me (that bit isn’t bad, actually).
I remain though immensely grateful. Last week I had my second 40th in lockdown. I’ll celebrate that bastard one day! I was lucky enough to receive well wishes and kindness from friends and family, even seeing some in 3D and everything. And yesterday I joined an online quiz with friends to unexpectedly see my face in an Andy Warhol backdrop too. Again, so much to be grateful for, really made my day!
I’ve picked up two books recently: Essentialism and Daring Greatly, the latter by the wonderful Brené Brown, a brazen, funny, recovering alcoholic that specialises in shame research. As you can imagine, as shame covers the vast topic of vulnerability, she has a lot to cover. It’s refreshing when Brené dispenses advice yet openly reveals how she is still grappling with doing these things herself, that it’s a journey we all take, and we make the best decisions we can. If you’re a female, parent or human being, it’s worth a look.
Essentialism, by Greg McKeown, I picked up this morning, focuses on doing less. This seems counterintuitive in lockdown. We already do less! I mean, no cinema, no seeing friends, no going to cafes, no going to museums, no going . . . full stop! We’ve never had more time! Yet it’s amazing the time we squander. A common idea proposed is that if you reached the end of your days, what would you want your life to look like on reflection? . This book digs a bit deeper: if you’re viewing your world from the outside right now, with all the wonderful abilities you possess, what would you focus on? Equally, what would you not focus on? Do what’s important. We need to make choices. We need to choose to choose.
Regardless of lockdown duration, I don’t want to come out of this horseshit with nothing to show for it but a stench. Despite the difficulty, I want to flourish. I want to be the rose. You mean, prickly and very hard to manage? Not quite . . . ahh, you mean still covered in horseshit and prone to wilting often? In all honesty, am not sure this analogy works . . . prone to giving everyone a fungal disease? Forget it. You’ve become so annoying in lockdown, you realise that? Who me? Yes, you. Always you. Wherever I look, it’s you. You know what you need to do? Spend time reflecting . . .
I deserve a medal. Number of days without mass genocide: 14,966 days. That doesn’t actually seem that long, does it? Maybe it’s the Olympic games, but certainly there should be some convivial hoopla for containing one’s ability to just march to the capital, Canberra (for those that forgot) and mow down the uselessness. I see the dichotomy, of course. I’ve never liked the thought of killing lambs or pigs or doe-eyed cattle, humans should fall into the same vat (not literally). Although I also don’t want to eat humans, let’s be clear about that, there’s just so many of them. I’m thinking more along the lines of population control, just thinning the herd. A little trim now and again. There are numerous measures, like use to society, perhaps a values-based system or which football team you support. I’d start with anyone within the top 7 of last year’s Premier League table. Just an idea, nothing to do with Arsenal’s miserable 8th place finish. There are one or two issues with this plan, of course. The vegetarian diet doesn’t provide a lot of energy. I probably don’t have the strength to swing my katana I don’t even possess. I’d have to settle for mildly verbally haranguing them and then going for a lie down in a dark room to recover. Then listen to The Smiths
I rewatched The Matrix a few days ago, and missed the bit where they liquidated the old and infirm, feeding them to ourselves, much like we did with cattle until mass-disease sparked a thought that this wasn’t the best idea. The fact that up until the disease someone thought this was acceptable, is beyond me. Cloud Atlas cites the same morbid future, and I’ve been reliably informed that Soylent Green has the same dystopian outlook, set in the very distant future of 2022. Fu**!
In other uselessness news, the Australian government have announced a huge rollout of Pfizer and Moderna. In September. We do of course have vague small numbers of the sought-after Pfizer vaccines, but these are busily being distributed to those in their 30’s in the Australian Capital Territory (a tiny place that houses our capital, Canberra, in case you forgot already, and where hope goes to die). Whilst protecting the capital seems like a good idea, they currently have zero active cases. And it’s been doughnuts for the last week. Their last active case? 30th April. What’s even more irksome, is the well-known fact that no one in their 30’s lives even lives in Canberra (that’s the capital). There are old people, middle-age old people, and any children are born like Benjamin Button but just stay old. They’re effectively born wearing beige cardigans. It’s bullsh*t. Burn the place to the ground.
Melbourne is currently enjoying Lockdown 6.0. Not having any effects whatsoever. I’m fine, really. Where is Canberra again? I forget.
Not that I’ve had time to watch any of it, but I love the positivity (less the COVID positivity) seeping from the Olympics. Heroic tales and achieved dreams. Of course, there is plenty of heartache to go around, but amongst the huge wins is the first Philippine gold medal at an Olympic Games. Ever. I’ve never given much thought about how life-changing winning a competition can be: sure, there’s a medal, and if you’ve been lucky enough to get sponsorship, that’s great too, but largely I figure you’ve got there off your own back with a support crew you’ve probably had to pay for yourself and a huge amount of self-sacrifice.
For renowned athletes like Andy Murray or Novak Djokovic, winning an Olympics medal, one would imagine, is a bauble amongst the masses. But what of Hidilyn Diaz, a Staff Sergeant and Airwoman for the Philippines Air Force? Well, things are a bit different. Winning gold in weightlifting, she took home an incredible $650,000 in prize money from the Philippine Sports Commission and private donations. On top of that AirAsia offer her free flights for life, and she has also been given two houses. And a condo. And free petrol for life by one of the fuel companies in her home country. A national hero, undoubtedly numerous celebrity endorsements will increase her reward too.
I love stories like this. It ticks a lot of boxes. From a woman that in successive Olympic Games was second to last, didn’t finish and then won Silver last time out, finally winning gold must have been pretty sweet. All this despite being implicated in a supposed conspiracy to topple the country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, and deluged with threats as a result. That was only two years ago.
So, no complaining and bitching this week (I know, habit of a lifetime, gone!), no snide remarks at useless politicians or debacle vaccine rollouts, just admiration for amazing athletes, and more importantly, amazing women. Having just finished Women and Leadership by Julia Gillard and Ngozi Okonko-Iweala, women put up with a lot of shit. The book is a who's who of incredible women leaders. For any male readers (or readers, actually), this is an eye-opener to sexism and gender bias that often passes us by. We must do better.
When an Aussie politico on live tv said ‘the vaccine roll-out is a fu**ing shit-show!’ it made my week, I have to admit. There are other highlights too, which is a beautiful segue into more good news: grey hair is reversible! Apparently, anyway, according to the ABC. Sure, we’ve known for years that stress or extreme fright can startle grey hair from passivity, but I had no idea that reducing stress may diminish silvering too. So, if you’ve got plumage like a battleship, those dark brown locks may just be around the corner (in a bottle, probably).
This week I picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, focusing on the very smallest components of our daily lives, how we form instantaneous impressions when meeting a new person or confronting a complex situation, how packaging impacts our purchasing choices and how we know someone is a liar. Gladwell consistently sits me on my arse and has me muttering, ‘well bloody hell! That is fascinating!’ every few pages, which would be immensely annoying for anyone within earshot. Thankfully as Melbourne embraces lockdown number five (five, FIVE!) I’m not torturing anyone with my constant exclamations. Apart from you, obviously. Although this is a ‘snap-lockdown’, I had no expectation of this lasting five days, and this morning there are murmurings afoot to lengthen it. As my American friends said, ‘you’re in lockdown for 18 cases?! Americans would fu**ing riot!’ We’re very meek, risk-averse lambs down here in Australia, what can I tell you? We have a grand total of 911 deaths from COVID, contrasting to Americas 630,000 deaths and 34 million cases. (America has roughly 15 times the Aussie population, and 700 times more COVID deaths). Apropos of nothing, the UK had seemed to turn a corner, reaching only 1,300 cases a day on May 1st. Many a pint was quaffed. They’re now sitting at a not so pretty at 54,000 cases a day. Why? Delta strain and humungous football crowd gatherings, probably. Still on track to release all restrictions on July 19th? Abso-sodding-lutely!
So back to my favourite news of the week. Many years after giving up the throne of being an ineffectual opposition leader, the ex-Labour head-honcho sent lips-flapping for calling the Australian vaccine roll-out a fu**ing shit-show on live television. If he’d have grown a spine a bit earlier, he may still have been leader. Still, his comments were very well received by at least me. “Scott Morrison (our Prime Minister, for now) is missing, you want to put up posters like the neighbourhood cat, 'has anyone seen Scott Morrison?' No wonder people hate politics, when the people you pay to do the job don't want to do the job . . . the political class are letting down the punters.’
Yup, that pretty much sums it up. Grey hair is reversible, eh? Huzzahh!!
Having clicked over 100 books on self-improvement and leadership, the latter a role I’ve worked in for over a decade, I figured I'd write a leadership book of my own. This may take a while! What the hell is a leader, anyway? We’re all leaders, whether inside of work or outside, and being a parent is a great example. When your kids are young, you tell them what to do, and as they get older, you yell instead. At some point comes the tough explanation of ‘why?’ and you have to relay it in terms they’ll understand, like the back of the hand! (jokes!) If you’re very lucky, you’ll set an example, hopefully a good one. Maybe they’ll want to be ‘just like mum/dad!’ Now that could come from daily tongue-lashings and career advice – ‘so . . . my moon and stars, my apple of my eye, what do you want to be when you grow up? You can be anything! You can be a doctor or a lawyer . . . anything!’ – or it can be that you’ve inspired them. That’s leadership. Taking people on a journey, inspiring them to be better.
Sometimes I come across a passage in a book, ruminate on it, spill tea all over it, forget about it, come back to it, wonder how that tea-stain got there, and ruminate more. I love those head-nod passages of text where you realise, I’ve done that – shit! Bridgewater, one of the most respected and successful investment management firms of all time was started by Ray Dalio, and his Principles (over 200 of them) are echoed from the top-down throughout his entire company. Here’s one:
“Don’t ‘pick your battles.’ Fight them all. If you see something wrong, even something small, deal with it.” Dalio’s point is that small things that you let someone get away with can lead to bigger problems, more serious divergence from the desired behaviour. Show courage, speak out, don’t let people off the hook. Ask the important questions, don’t take their word for it, independently check for yourself.
I love this a lot; it specifically targets your integrity. This is the extension to the argument that the standard you walk by, is the standard you accept. If you see something, say something. The more we let accountability and responsibility slide, the less complaints we have when that person impacts us instead of our colleague or neighbour. It doesn't mean jumping onto social media platforms to argue why BTS will never usurp Take That's place in my heart, I've found.
Reading for this week: Think Again: How to reason and argue by Walter Smith Armstrong, teaching the fundamentals of reasoning and how to see the fallacies in arguments (definitely a ‘I’ve done that – shit! type of book) ; Robert Sutton’s Weird Ideas That Work, which needs a ‘could’ in there somewhere, as innovation ideas include hiring people you don’t like and defying authority/processes – genuinely some bloody good advice in this book, which may also get you fired; Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, an oldie but a goodie focusing on the smallest components of everyday lives such as the instantaneous impressions you get from the people or when confronted with a complex situation under stress. The trick, as I’m hoping to find in the book, is when to trust that first impression. Put $50 on black, now, now now!!! . . . oh, red . . . farkkk!!!
Writing and writing...