Tag Archives: NaBloPoMo

That was the month that was

Post 30 out of 30 for November’s blogathon. It’s an early one because I’ve got a busy day ahead. As always, I want to start this post by thanking you, my reader, for putting up with the daily bombardment this November. Your likes and comments are hugely appreciated and encouraging. I think I’ve enjoyed this year’s challenge more than any previous one. It’s seemed somehow easier to find inspiration consistently for things to write about. I know that I break all the blogging rules with the random nature of posts here, but it’s really interesting to me to see what topics catch the reader’s attention. Inevitably, and quite rightly, C. has once again (and has she has for 30 plus years) left me completely in the shade by being the focus of the most-read post this month. Whilst (of course) I loved writing that one (and the bruising has gone down remarkably quickly!), the post I actually enjoyed preparing the most was one of the least read. It’s hard for me to understand, but apparently the mix of Jose Mourinho, football, leadership and management are just not as interesting to other people as they are to me. Weird!

It has been good to get back to playing around with words and sentence structures through the discipline of Haiku, and it’s these posts that have generated some of the most feedback. The discipline of creating stories within a strictly defined 5-7-5 syllable structure appeals to my love of ordered creativity. There is a place for radical free-thinking that proposes new paradigms and challenges existing orders and forms; but most lasting change occurs through thousands of incremental ‘nudges’ against the boundaries of the way things are now. For me, Haiku is a useful discipline for codifying those nudges, and for stripping back thoughts and feelings to their essential core.

And then there are the posts from years ago that continue to get hits for no obvious reason, but which must be featuring in the algorithms that drive internet search engines. That can be the only reason why this one about a trip that Dan and I took to watch a football match in West Bromwich in December 2015 keeps popping up in the readership stats on a regular basis.

Anyway, as this post (and this National Blog Post Month 2019) draws to a close, it seems only fitting to finish with a Haiku. Thanks for reading. I’ll try not to leave it another year before posting again! (And you can see that as either a threat or a promise!!)

A blog post a day
Finding something new to say
Keeps boredom at bay

Almost didn’t make it today

It’s been a close shave today. 27 days in and for the first time this November, I almost didn’t get round to publishing a post. An unexpected call earlier this evening meant that I spent two hours away from the house (and the laptop) doing something infinitely more important. I’m actually glad that I was able to respond to that call and to be there when I was needed. Blogging is quite a selfish thing to do : selfish in my case because quite a lot of what I write is about me; and also because (despite all appearances to the contrary) it does take some quiet time, away from everything else, to compose a daily blog. It’s a privilege that I don’t take for granted, and I know that I’m lucky to have the time and space to be able to do it. But it’s also important to keep things in perspective. I really do this for me – and I’m incredibly flattered that one or two others read this stuff and occasionally comment on it. But it’s really not that important in the great scheme of things, and this evening has reinforced for me the truth of statements like : enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. None of us know what’s around the corner, and living life as fully as we can, day by day, is a goal that we should all strive to achieve.

Normal inane drivel will return to this blog tomorrow. Keep smiling everybody!

Strategic Planning (through the medium of poetry!)

Today saw the first of our Strategic Planning meetings in work. Our planning process starts in September each year and usually concludes with the final sign off of a plan and budget for the following academic year in March or April. It’s generally a helpful process and at least requires us to think about where we need to focus our time and effort to ensure that we deliver excellent teaching and cutting edge research. There’s no doubt though, that strategic planning also draws very heavily on game theory (in its broadest sense), where (in our case) the Faculty seeks to anticipate the expectations of the University and respond in a way that addresses those expectations, whilst limiting to the fullest extent possible any impact on our freedom to do what we would really like to do. Thus we negotiate and agree to generate a surplus of income over expenditure that meets our commitments to contribute to the core costs on the institution, within an overall budget that also allows us to invest in new posts, initiatives or facilities at a Faculty level without needing to go cap in hand to the University. Similarly, we adapt and translate institutional priorities and objectives into action plans that address what’s important to us in a way that satisfies the wider goal.

Hundreds of thousands (and possibly even millions) of words have been devoted to learned tomes and treatises on what constitutes the ideal approach to strategic planning. In my experience though, it’s possible to distil the whole thing down into eighteen lines of Haiku. You read it here first!

Strategic planning :
Work-based creative writing
With limited plot

SMART objectives and
Measurable KPIs
Risk missing the point

Budget projections :
Creating the illusion
Of fiscal control

Detailed data sets
Summarise past performance -
Focus on what's been

Future projections :
How do you rationalise
A chaotic world?

When it's all over
Plus ca change, plus c'est pareil :
It was ever thus.

30 years and not a single day of regret

I’m going to get in a lot of trouble for this post, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take.

In September, C. and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. I was the luckiest man on the planet on that day in September 1989, and I have been in number one spot every day since. In truth, we are the very epitome of the ‘opposites attract’ cliché. C. is beautiful, intelligent, gregarious, witty, and short. I’m quite tall. But it’s probably because we complement one another in terms of attitude and outlook that the last 30 years have been so much fun.

To mark our anniversary year, we are revisiting a load of places that have featured on our journey to date. So between Christmas and New Year we are making a brief visit to York, where we spent the start of our honeymoon in 1989 – only this time we are staying in a boutique hotel rather than the cheap and cheerful bed and breakfast that was all we could afford then. We will still though look out for the take away where we bought fish and chips with extra scraps before sitting in the dark and eating them under the slowly darkening sky.

Other things on the list include a walk along the promenade and out across the cliff top at Penarth; and KFC in the car at Roath Park Lake. This past Saturday, we revisited the first place that we ever went to on an ‘official’ date. At the time it was called the Mason’s Arms in Whitchurch, a suburb in north Cardiff. Quite by chance, our booking coincided with Beaujolais Noveau day – when that was still something of an event in the late ’80s. I don’t remember what we had to eat that evening, but I do remember that we were last to leave the restaurant and that C.’s eyes sparkled like diamonds the whole time that we were there. To be honest, whilst C. is as beautiful now as she was then, the former Mason’s Arms has – like me – allowed itself to slip a little in the intervening years. It’s now a Toby Carvery, and it’s not easy to recreate the romance of that first date when the table is a little bit sticky, and the lighting is so bright that you leave with a faint tan! What hadn’t changed was the magic of being in C.’s company – though the wine we chose this time was much better than the Beaujolais Nouveau that we thought we were incredibly sophisticated in drinking 30 years’ ago!

It was Groucho Marx who said : “Marriage is a wonderful institution… but who wants to live in an institution?” Well – any institution that provides as much happiness as being married to C. has provided to me, is well worth living in. Love you loads xx

What is going on with Christmas decorations?

I have had the great discomfort pain pleasure of spending time on each of the last two Saturdays in Christmas departments of retail outlets. Last week it was Harrods; today it was a large garden centre and shopping outlet to the north of Cardiff. I love Christmas, but I hate Christmas shopping with equal passion. Normally, however, the Christmas departments are just about bearable. I like the gaudy baubles for the tree; and the musical Father Christmases or Elves, with their festive melodies and over-the-top laughs. The bright colours and gauchely tasteless nature of Christmas decorations really appeals to me.

This year, however, something weird is happening. Last week at Harrods it was all pastel shades and muted colours – more like a high end paint palette chart than the gaudily bright colours that normally signify Christmas. Today, though, was even worse. When did swans become a Christmas decoration? And what have unicorns, mermaids and llamas (that is a llama in the middle of that tree, isn’t it?) have to do with the festive season?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all in favour of progress and change. I understand that the environmental half-life of tinsel is now just less than nuclear waste; and we need to wrap our presents in paper that can be easily recycled once it’s been ripped to pieces on Christmas morning. But there’s something surreal about Christmas decorations fashioned to look like rainbows. For myself, I’ll be sticking to traditional decorations that speak to the things that really matter this Christmas.

Have a great Saturday everybody!

Can’t blog now, I’m in a meeting!

Roy Lilley is a management consultant who specialises in health policy. His Twitter feed is ascerbic, humorous and insightful in equal measure, and he pulls nom punches when it comes to unnecessary bureaucracy in the NHS and elsewhere. The poem above is taken from Lilley’s website and will – I suspect – resonate with anybody who has had the dubious pleasure of working in any large organisation. The curse of meetings is certainly not restricted to the public sector!

Earlier this week, the BBC reported on research conducted on the University of Malmo in Sweden that workplace meetings are now best understood as a form of employee therapy. They are places where people go to have their status reinforced or to voice frustrations and resentments. Whilst there are now generally more meetings in workplaces than ever, few decisions are made in them. Professor Patrik Hall, who led the research observes that meetings “are becoming increasingly frequent – as more managerial and ‘strategy’ jobs generate more meetings.” Organisations have seen the ratio of ‘doing’ jobs decline in proportion to “‘meetings-intense’ roles such as strategists, advisers, consultants and managers.”

However, it’s not just that there has been a proliferation of strategy-focused roles. To make matters worse, the new roles are “often not very well defined… [m]any managers don’t know what to do… and when they are ‘unsure of their role’, they respond by generating more meetings.” This can lead to negativity towards meetings, but this can be partly explained by the fact that the purpose of the meeting is rarely understood. If seen as a means of legitimising the role and authority of attendees and helping to assert a sense of organisational belonging, then it matters less whether the meeting is productive in its own right.

It’s an interesting perspective and one that I’m not sure that I completely go along with. I do though recognise the phenomenon of an increase in ‘directors’, ‘project managers’, ‘programme managers’, and the like leading to a growth in meetings, and demands on operational managers to provide data, information, and other inputs to ‘feed the machine’. The correlation between ‘meetings-intense’ role proliferation and stress levels amongst operational staff is an area that is ripe for further research.

In the meantime, I have to go now – I’ve got a meeting in five minutes!

Reflection on the UK/US politics in 2019

I’ve tried to steer clear of blogging about politics so far this year. The general election campaign in the UK and the impeachment hearings in the US are dominating the news programmes, and both stories are incredibly depressing. Last Saturday’s Haiku verses seemed to go down well with the reader of this blog, so I’ve used the format to give some form to my thoughts on politics in the UK and US at the moment. I’ve left them as a series, although each is also capable of standing on their own. They’re a bit downbeat and defeatist, I’m afraid, but that’s kind of where my head is with all this at the moment.

Politics '19
On the altar of ego
Truth is sacrificed

Liars parading
Feeding prejudice and fear
Stirring base motives

Immigrants are tarred
Remainers labelled traitors
Others all to blame

Votes can't fix this mess
However you cast your vote
Politicians win


How have we come to this?

Every now and then I stumble across something that makes me wonder how on earth we got to this state. Admittedly, this does happen more often now than it used to when I was younger; and I would grudgingly admit that I have recently become more grumpy about things that would have passed me by completely a decade or two ago.

Today’s double-take moment came with a Tweet that referred to today as “World Kindness Day”. Initially, you think : ‘Oh! That’s nice’. But then you think : what sort of world are we living in that it’s necessary to designate a special day to remind people to be kind? Surely kindness is as natural in the human condition as breathing? Who are these people who spend so much time being unkind that we need to have a special day to remind them that courtesy, decency and looking out for one another might be worth a try?

But then I thought about it again and it suddenly all became very clear. So much of our public discourse now is mediated through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like, and so much of the content on those platforms is nasty, brutish and short. It is much easier in 280 characters to launch an ad hominem attack on someone with whom you disagree, than it is to attempt to engage that person in debate. And the lack of forums in which people can properly engage with ideas rather than rubbishing the people who hold those ideas, has percolated into our wider public discourse. Worse than that, the ubiquity of social media and our obsession with it, means that all too often we walk around with our eyes fixed on our screens, so utterly self-absorbed that we miss out on the chance to see opportunities to be kind.

Anyway, I hope that you have had the chance today both to do something kind, and to be on the receiving end of a kindness.

Almost didn’t make it today!

There’s always one or two days in any November blogathon when I almost don’t get around to posting something. So far this year, it’s been relatively easy to carve out some time to sit down and compose something – admittedly with the help more often than not of the monthly Action List that has been a source of inspiration to me this time around. Today, though, was a long one in work, compounded by the fact that I am just over half way through a cold that – uniquely in my experience – is revealing itself one symptom at a time over a period (so far) of about 5 days. Initially, I had the headache and general lethargy; this was followed after about a day and a half by a sore throat, which then resolved itself only to be replaced by sneezing and (today) a streaming nose. J., who is a couple of days ahead of me with this, reassures me that once the nose stops, I’ve got the chesty cough to come, but that should then be more or less it. The annoying thing about this slow-release virus is that it leaves you feeling tired and run-down but never actually so unwell that you can justify taking time off work! If it needs a name, then the Boss Virus would definitely do the job!

On the plus side, the emergence of cold virus symptoms is all the excuse I need to crack open the Olbas Oil and start on the licquorice cough sweets. Apologies, therefore, to anyone who has the misfortune to meet me in person over the next two or three days – you’ll almost certainly smell me approaching – Pigpen-like – before you see me!

Pigpen – the Peanuts character whose aura announced his arrival well before he was seen!

A virtual meeting

Day 5 Challenge : meet somebody new and learn something about them.

This is quite a tricky one for somebody who leaves the house at 6.40am to drive to work, spends all day in the office, and then gets in at 6.30pm in the evening looking forward to something to eat and a bit of R&R time before bed. But then I remembered that this challenge is as much about the blogging as it is about the lived experience. Blogging is the ultimate virtual activity – so I have chosen to ‘meet’ somebody virtually. And no – I haven’t joined downloaded a dating app! Rather, having consulted a list of people linked to 4th November, I have gone back to the seventeenth century and have chosen to learn something more about Mary, the first British Princess Royal and the Princess of Orange, who was born on this day in 1631 in St. James’s Palace, London.

Mary was the eldest daughter of King Charles I and in line with acknowledged practice in Europe at that time, she was lined up for marriage in a way that was all about politics and diplomacy. Charles initially sought to arrange a marriage to her cousin, the first in line to the Spanish throne; and subsequently, she was connected to the Bohemian royal household. Ultimately however, at the age of 10 years old, she was married to William II of Orange, although it appears that their union was not consummated until several years’ later. William died in 1647 just days before the birth of the couple’s son Willem (later William III of Orange). Willem was brought up largely under the control of influence of his father’s mother and brother, and Mary herself struggled to be accepted in her adopted home in the Netherlands. Her loyalty to her brothers (the future King Charles II and the future James II) did not go down well with the Dutch public, and there were rumours of an affair between Mary and one Henry Jermyn, a member of James’ household. It was only with the restoration of the monarchy in England, and Charles accession to the throne, that Mary’s stock rose within the House of Orange. She returned to England in September 1660 but died just three months’ later, apparently of smallpox (the disease that had claimed her husband 13 years earlier).

I am indebted to that font of all knowledge (and saviour of secondary school pupils across the world) Wikipedia for the biographical information that features in this post.

I am also reading Simon Jenkins’ excellent historical primer, A Short History of Europe : From Pericles to Putin. It’s a fascinating chronology of the history of the political and geographical entity that we now recognise as Europe, but which was for much of its first two thousand years, wracked by internal division and warfare, and the constant threat of attack from the Ottomans in the east. I highly recommend it as an accessible and eminently readable introduction to intrigues, alliances, betrayals and deceptions that forged the nation states of modern Europe. Jenkins’ own mischievousness is revealed in the subtle references to the UK’s current wrestling with its future relationship with the EU, counterpointing the modern day turmoil to equally turbulent events throughout the continent’s history.