Category Archives: Inspirational

Capital of, well, so much!

Royal Albert Hall, LondonToday has been another fascinating one here in London with a somewhat foggy start, on account of some fantastic food and the odd cocktail in Soho the night before, quickly giving rise to a cool yet revitalising jog around Battersea Park, with its incredible views of the power station and the rest of London further down the river.

Hyde Park, London
One of the many open green spaces in London’s Hyde Park

The number of spacious, beautifully green and tranquil parks here in the middle of the city is one of the perpetually redeeming qualities of London, and coupled with the centuries of history and rich culture really does make the city feel like a truly wonderful place to live and work. This view was reinforced for me during the day as I found myself with time free to simply stroll – a word and indeed action that rarely finds itself in use in my hectic life –  through Kensington, taking in the striking architectural presence of the Science and Natural History Museums, followed by a leisurely amble through Hyde Park, past the awe-inspiring Royal Albert Hall, and along the banks of the Serpentine, before jumping on the tube at Hyde Park Corner.

Imperial College, LondonThis morning’s first stop was Imperial College London for a lecture on Design Management as part of the MBA programme run at the school. I had contacted the school to see if it would be possible to visit whilst I was in town, as I had heard excellent things about their programme and was very pleased that it was going to be possible to actually sit in on one of the sessions. I was met by one of the Student Ambassadors, Masha, who came to the MBA course from a healthcare background, and found the session engaging, even feeling inspired enough to contribute on a couple of occasions myself.

Do Nation, London
Founder, Hermione and myself at Do Nation’s London offices

Next on the agenda was a visit to the offices of social, green sponsorship site The Do Nation, founded and run by my friend Hermione, over on Tottenham Court Road. One of the options visitors to my Iron Vet page have for supporting the challenge is to pledge positive actions through The Do Nation, rather than cash, thus helping to change the world one small positive action at a time. The Do Nation currently runs out of a pleasant, naturally well lit corner of the Wayra accelerator, a two storey space which is home to a plethora of innovative young businesses operating in the digital sphere, and the first impression upon entering is one of ‘Googliness,’ which apparently is what the people behind the accelerator (Telefonica, who own the mobile telephone network O2) were aiming for.

WayraI spent a couple of hours learning a little more about the running of a digital start-up and even had the honour of helping with some beta testing of a new website. One funny thing was that on account of me wearing a suit in what was otherwise a typically ‘starty-uppy’ office space (ie all jeans and casual wear), I suspect many of the people working there assumed that I was either an investor or official from Wayra, especially as they were due to receive a visit from a number of them that very day.

The view from the small tea shop near Carnaby Street.
The view from the small tea shop near Carnaby Street.

With a very business-centric day under my belt it was then time for a bit of simple R&R, and so I headed off to Picadilly to meet up with a friend, grabbed some tea in a super cute little tea shop just off Carnaby Street before hot footing up the Northern Line to get to an off-the-beaten-track Japanese Restaurant that literally served the best sashimi I have ever had, followed up by an amazing selection of Japanese ice creams. Truly incredible and yet another fantastic day, with London continuing to serve up treat after treat.

One Day. Two Very Different Organisations.

With another Windsor Triathlon under the belt today saw me pack up and leave the relative calm of Maidenhead for the altogether zippier pace of London itself, complete with obligatory traffic queues on route to my ultimate destination of Battersea.

My good friend Martin had kindly offered to host me in his apartment overlooking the currently-in-the-process-of-having-a-major-facelift Battersea Power Station, a breathtakingly striking architectural icon, with London to be my base for the next two days of my UK trip. The first challenge of the day, aside from driving there, which was slow but otherwise straightforward enough, was to find somewhere to park! London may have it’s charms but readily available parking options do not feature among them. After confirming that there was absolutely no street parking available in the immediate area, a series of exasperated text message exchanges between Martin and myself finally hit upon the option of parking at nearby Battersea Park, where I had the option of staying for up to four hours (at an exorbitant rate I hasten to add), giving me the chance to hop on a train to Victoria, meet Martin at his offices (Google), grab some food, take a tour and then head back to Battersea, keys in hand, to thus allow me to retrieve the car park access fob and thus be able to relax safe in the knowledge my car and worldly possessions were securely stowed away.

All the above went nicely to plan in the end and the fact that London is actually geographically relatively tiny became very apparent as my initial concerns about not making our agreed-upon midday meeting quickly evaporated as it transpired that Victoria was literally one stop along the train line. Simples!

Google – Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory for the Digital Generation

I had the distinctly geeky pleasure of getting a tour around the Googleplex in California back in 2012 and so I had already witnessed with my own eyes the sheer joyful awesomeness that a Google ‘office’ embodies. It was with a similar sense of giddy toddler-esque enthusiasm that I jumped at the chance to tour the London offices (or should I say, more accurately, one of them) where Martin works. We met at the lobby of the fairly standard London office block opposite Victoria, where Google rents space, and headed up to grab some lunch at one of the several eateries found within the Google-sphere. From the minute I walked in it was clear that these were no ordinary offices, with a funky, coloured reception area leading through to one of the cafes, where we grabbed our respective lunches, me going for the healthy option of a delicious turkey escalope and roasted vegetables, and joined the assorted throng of young Googlers all doing the same. Sitting there in my jeans, red Vans, matching red Swatch and Superman T-shirt I instantly felt right at home among fellow nerds, the vast majority of whom would quite easily have been able to totally out-nerd me. I had found my people! Seriously, one of the things that is almost instantly apparent at Google is the relative youthfulness of the employees, with only a couple of guys that I saw clearly being over the age of forty.

With lunch eaten it was time for the tour itself. It would be very easy to get lost in Google given the apparently random layout that seems to have been applied but on reflection this is actually a misleading mis-truth, as it was simply the fact that there is no uniformity to the spaces, as the futuristic corridors open seamlessly onto serene coffee enclaves at one turn whilst guiding Googlers into engineer areas, where the real digital magic takes place on the other. Our first stop was such a coffee area, complete with free snacks, a heady array of fresh coffee options and a naturally lit seating area complete with fake grass that made one feel as though we’d happened upon a San Francisco version of Narnia. Fresh latte and yoghurt covered raisins in hand it was into the recording studio/ music room for a bit of impromptu drum and guitar action before checking out the games room, makers workshop, massage studio, more cafes and even a 1920′s style auditorium where tech presentations are given in some style. Oh, and then there was the informal meeting ‘room’ that is basically the back of a London bus. In the offices! Love it.

Dogs & Cats & Familiar Faces

Battersea Dog & CatsGoogle fix had it was back to Battersea to get myself settled before an impromptu, spur of the moment decision to pop in and visit the Battersea Dog and Cats Home, literally a stone’s throw down the road from where I am staying. After asking if it would be possible to get a tour ‘behind the scenes’ on account of being a fellow veterinarian, I was guided by 2007 London graduate Phil, whom I am almost certain I had met before, maybe back in the midst of our university days, hearing about the day-to-day work of the home and the impressive plans afoot for a major renovation and expansion, the evidence of which was already on show, as well as being heard. The Battersea Power Station project is literally set to transform the immediate area and it seems that the dog and cat home is to join in with this major facelift, which will see, in addition to new kenneling, a shiny new vet clinic. This comes after the addition of an impressively designed and very modern cat section, complete with central spiral staircase and glass kennels, with extensive environmental enrichment to keep the resident felines as happy and stress free as possible during their (hopefully) short stays before rehoming. Such is the small world in which us vets move within that it wasn’t long before I met a fellow Bristol graduate in the form of Claire Turner, who later informed me that I literally missed out on the excitement of an evacuation of the site due to a bomb scare! (Apparently there had been an unexploded WWII bomb found over by the power station, which would explain the presence of the police as I walked past en route back from the home. Exciting stuff indeed!)

So, there you have it. In the space of a few hours two very different examples of good work being done here in the capital, and an incredibly interesting start to my short stay in London.

Triathlon Coach Extraordinaire

My journey to Lake Tahoe in September would not even have gotten off the ground properly had it not been for the enlisting of professional training assistance, as provided by Trace Rogers of SuperTri here in Dubai. As motivated as I believe myself to be, I know full well that to get the very best out of yourself, there is no substitute for a knowledgeable and experienced coach.

Biography – Trace Rogers

Trace Rogers_coachTrace Rogers is the Founder and ITCA certified Coach of SuperTRI – a triathlon club with specialised training and Triathlon related services.

During her career as a Triathlon coach, Trace has had success coaching beginners all the way up to Ironman finishers. The highlight of 2012 was coaching the UAE National team into 3rd place at the World Biathle Championships. This included 15 individual podium places.

The highlight of 2013 was progressing a client who could barely swim 8 weeks out of his Ironman Race (Ironman South Africa) to the point where he finished the race in 13H33min (Swim time:1 hour 45 min).

Trace’s mission through SuperTRI is to ensure that all members get quality training at all times whilst enjoying every moment.

SuperTrisupertri.com

Wise Words from a Funny Man

Tim MinchinThe internet serves up a veritable daily junk food diet of funnies, thought provokers and, most of the time, total procrastination promoters, most of which get quickly forgotten once the initial entertainment hit has been enjoyed. Occasionally, however, something gets posted online that really resonates and whose message sticks with you. That was what happened when I clicked through and watched Tim Minchin’s commencement address to graduates at the University of Western Australia a few weeks ago. It manages to both entertain and deliver some really important messages in one bespectacled, flouncy haired hit. Well done that man! Loved it so much that I wanted to share it on my own blog.

Tim Minchin’s commencement address,

University of Western Australia, Perth

(upon receiving an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters)

September 17, 2013

 

“In darker days, I did a corporate gig for a big company who made and sold accounting software.  In a bid I presume to inspire their sales people to greater heights. They forked out twelve grand for an inspirational speaker who was this “extreme sports” guy who had had a couple of his limbs frozen off when he got stuck on a ledge on some mountain.  It was weird!  Software sales people, I think, need to hear from someone who has had a long, successful and happy career in software sales, not from an overly-optimistic mountaineer.  Some poor guy who had arrived in the morning hoping to learn more about sales techniques ended up going home worried more about the blood flow to his extremities.  It’s not inspirational, it’s confusing.  And if the mountain was meant to be a symbol of life’s challenges, and the loss of limbs a metaphor for sacrifice, the software guy’s not going to get it, is he?  Because he didn’t do an Arts degree, did he?  [laughter]  He should have — Arts degrees are awesome, and they help you find meaning where there is none.  And let me assure you, there is none.  [laughter]  Don’t go looking for it!  Looking for meaning is like looking for a rhyme scheme in a cookbook — you won’t find it, and it’ll bugger up your soufflé.  If you didn’t like that metaphor, you won’t like the rest of it.

 

Point being, I’m not an inspirational speaker, I’ve never lost a limb on a mountainside, metaphorically or otherwise, and I’m not here to give career advice, because I’ve never had what most consider “a job”.  However, I have had large groups of people listen to what I say for quite a few years now, and it’s given me an inflated sense of self-importance.  So I will now, at the ripe old age of 37.9, bestow upon you nine life lessons, to echo of course the nine lessons and carols of the traditional Christmas service, which is also pretty obscure.  You might find some of this stuff inspiring, you’ll definitely find some of it boring, and you’ll definitely forget all of it within a week.  And be warned, there’ll be lots of hokey similes and obscure aphorisms that start well and end up making no sense.  So listen up, or you’ll get lost, like a blind man clapping in a pharmacy trying to echo-locate the contact lens fluid.  [turns around]  Looking for my old poetry teacher…

 

Here we go!  Ready?

 

One: you don’t have to have a dream.    Americans on talent shows always talk about their dreams.  Fine — if you have something you’ve always wanted to do, [funny voice] dreamed of, like in your heart, go for it.  After all, it’s something to do with your time — chasing a dream — and if it’s a big enough one, it’ll take you most of our life to achieve, so by the time you get to it, and are staring into the meaninglessness of your achievement, you’ll be almost dead, so it won’t matter.  I never really had one of these dreams, and so I advocate passionate dedication to the pursuit of short-term goals.  Be micro-ambitious – put your head down and work with pride on whatever is in front of you.  You never know where you might end up.  Just be aware, the next worthy pursuit will probably appear in your periphery, which is why you should be careful of long-term dreams — if you focus too far in front of you, you won’t see the shiny thing out of the corner of your eye.

 

All right? Good!  Advice, metaphor — look at me go!

 

Two: don’t seek happiness.  Happiness is like an orgasm.  If you think about it too much, it goes away.  Keep busy and aim to make someone else happy, and you might get some as a side effect.  We didn’t evolve to be constantly content.  Contented homo erectus got eaten before passing on their genes.

 

Three: remember, it’s all luck.  We are lucky to be here.  You are incalculably lucky to be born, and incredibly lucky to be brought up by a nice family that helped you to get educated and encourage you to go to uni.  Or, if you’re born into a horrible family, that’s unlucky and you have my sympathy, but you’re still lucky — lucky that you happen to be made of the sort of DNA that went on to make the sort of brain which when placed in a horrible childhood environment would make decisions that meant you eventually ended up graduating uni.  Well done you for dragging yourself up by your shoelaces, but you were lucky — you didn’t create the bit of you that dragged you up, they’re not even your shoelaces.  I suppose I’ve worked hard to achieve whatever dubious achievements I’ve achieved, but I didn’t make the bit of me that works hard, any more than I made the bit of me that ate too many burgers instead of attending lectures when I was here at U.W.A.  Understanding that you can’t truly take credit for your successes, nor truly blame others for their failures, will humble you and make you more compassionate.  Empathy is intuitive, but is also something you can work on intellectually.

 

Four: exercise!  I’m sorry, you pasty, pale, smoking philosophy grads, arching your eyebrows into a Cartesian curve as you watch the Human Movement mob wind their way through the miniature traffic cones of their existence.  You are wrong, and they are right.  Well, you’re half right — you think, therefore you are, but also you jog, therefore you sleep, therefore you’re not overwhelmed by existential angst.  You can’t be Kant, and you don’t want to be.  Play a sport, do yoga, pump iron, run, whatever, but take care of your body — you’re going to need it.  Most of you mob are going to live to nearly a hundred, and even the poorest of you are going to achieve a level of wealth that most humans throughout history could not have dreamed of.  And this long, luxurious life ahead of you is going to make you depressed.  But don’t despair!  There is an inverse correlation between depression and exercise.  Do it!  Run, my beautiful intellectuals, run!

 

Five: be hard on your opinions.  A famous bon mot asserts that opinions are like arseholes, in that everyone has one.  There is great wisdom in this, but I would add that opinions differ significantly from arseholes, in that yours should be constantly and thoroughly examined.  [laughter]  I used to take exams in here!  It’s revenge.  We must think critically, and not just about the ideas of others.  Be hard on your beliefs — take them out on the veranda and hit them with a cricket bat.  Be intellectually rigorous.  Identify your biases, your prejudices, your privileges.  Most of society’s arguments are kept alive by a failure to acknowledge nuance.  We tend to generate false dichotomies, then argue one point using two entirely different sets of assumptions, like two tennis players trying to win a match by hitting beautifully-executed shots from either end of separate tennis courts.  By the way, while I have science and arts graduates in front of me, please don’t make the mistake of thinking the arts and sciences are at odds with one another.   That is a recent, stupid, and damaging idea.  You don’t have to be unscientific to make beautiful art, to make beautiful things.  If you need proof: Twain, Douglas Adams, Vonnegut, McEwan, Sagan, Shakespeare, Dickens, for a start.  You don’t need to be superstitious to be a poet, you don’t need to hate GM technology to care about the beauty of the planet, you don’t have to claim a soul to have compassion.  Science is not a body of knowledge, nor a belief system — it is just a term that describes humankind’s incremental understanding through observation.  Science is awesome.  The arts and sciences need to work together to improve how knowledge is communicated.  The idea that many Australians, including our new P.M. and my distant cousin Nick Minchin believe, that the science of anthropogenic global warming is controversial, is a powerful indication of the extent of our failure to communicate.  The fact that thirty percent of the people in this room just bristled is further evidence still.  The fact that that bristling is more to do with politics than science is even more despairing.

 

Six: be a teacher.  Please, please be a teacher!  Teachers are the most admirable people in the world.  You don’t have to do it forever, but if you’re in doubt about what to do, be an amazing teacher.  Just through your twenties, be a teacher.  Be a primary school teacher, especially if you’re a bloke — we need male primary school teachers.  Even if you’re not a teacher, be a teacher.  Share your ideas, don’t take for granted your education, rejoice in what you learned, and spray it.

 

Seven: define yourself by what you love.   I found myself doing this thing a bit recently where if someone asks me what sort of music I like, I say I don’t listen to the radio because pop song lyrics annoy me, or if someone asks me what food I like I say I think truffle oil is over-used and slightly obnoxious.  And I see it all the time on-line — people whose idea of being part of a subculture is to hate Coldplay or football or feminists or the Liberal Party.  We have a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to stuff — as a comedian, I make my living out of it.  But try to express also your passion for things you love.  Be demonstrative and generous in your praise of those you admire.  Send thank-you cards and give standing ovations — be pro-stuff, not just anti-stuff.

 

Eight: respect people with less power than you.  I have, in the past, made important decisions about people I work with — agents and producers — big decisions, based largely on how they treat the wait-staff in the restaurants we’re having the meeting in.  I don’t care if you’re the most powerful cat in the room, I will judge you based on how you treat the least powerful.  So there.

 

Nine: finally, don’t rush.  You don’t need to already know what you’re going to do with the rest of your life.  I’m not saying, sit around smoking cones all day, but also, don’t panic.  Most people I know who were sure of their career path at twenty are having mid-life crises now.  I said at the beginning of this ramble, which is already three and a half minutes long, that life is meaningless.  It was not a flippant assertion.  I think it’s absurd, the idea of seeking meaning in the set of circumstances that happen to exist out of thirteen point eight billion years worth of unguided events.  Leave it to humans to think that the universe has a purpose for them.  However, I am no nihilist, I am not even a cynic — I am actually rather romantic.  And here’s my idea of romance: you’ll soon be dead.  Life will sometimes seem long and tough, and God, it’s tiring, and you will sometimes be happy and sometimes sad, and then you’ll be old, and then you’ll be dead.  There is only one sensible thing to do with this empty existence, and that is, fill it.  Not “fillet”, fill it.  And in my opinion, until I change it, life is best filled by learning as much as you can about as much as you can, taking pride in whatever you’re doing, sharing ideas, running, being enthusiastic.  And then there’s love and travel and wine and sex and art and kids and giving and mountain climbing, but you know all that stuff already.  It’s an incredibly exciting thing, this one, meaningless life of yours!  Good luck!  And thank you for indulging me.”