Category Archives: Inspirational

Islay Marathon

Excuse me, but were you guys at the UTMB in Chamonix?” I’d noticed that the young lady and gentleman – although from his very bushy beard it was difficult to be sure of his actual age – sitting a few seats over from us were wearing trail shoes and a trucker cap respectively, the latter sporting a logo that looked from a distance very similar to that of the UTMB. “No,” they replied in warm, broad Yorkshire tones, “but we are on our way to a race on Islay.

 

The race in question was the annual Islay Marathon, 26.2 miles/ 42.2km, that starts in the tiny little seaside village of Portnahaven, jutting out into the North Atlantic from the Scottish island’s west coat, hugging the coastline as it passes through sleepy villages like Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich, rewarding the effort with heavenly aromas of fermenting malted barley from the distillery, before turning inland at Bridgend and an almost straight-line towards Port Ellen and the finish, taking runners up and over the famed peat moors, the source of Islay whisky’s world famous smokey flavours. I hadn’t even realised that Islay held a running event let alone a full marathon and given that I had well and truly recovered from the exertions of the North Downs Way 100 the month before and was thus feeling the “run love” again, I listened on with a mix of interest and envy as our evening time Islay-bound ferry-mates told mum, dad and myself about the race. Mum and dad were already thinking “uh oh” as soon as the word “marathon” had been muttered and so were not in the least surprised when I casually enquired as to whether it might still be possible to take part, ignoring the fact that it was already about 9pm with the race due to start at 7am the very next morning. I’d all but tempered my excitement at the prospect, and the sheer ridiculousness of the thought of just doing a marathon off the cuff, when it became obvious that the organisers were not contactable at such a late stage and we wished Ben and Tammy luck for the next morning.

 

Well, I actually can’t race as I’m injured,” said Tammy, “so you could take my place if you fancied.” Cue internal eye rolls from both parents as they instinctively knew what the next morning was going to see happen. “Really?! Absolutely! That would be incredible!” It still remained to be seen whether or not I’d be permitted to take another runner’s place at the twelfth hour – according to most races’ regulations such a move would be squarely against the rules – but nothing ventured, nothing gained and the worst that could happen was that I simply got to watch a race that I hadn’t even realised existed a few hours before. With that in mind, arrangements were made to meet Ben and Tammy down in Port Ellen at ungodly-o-clock in the morning, from where we followed the official race minibus to the start, leaving my folks to enjoy a holiday lie-in and relaxed start to the day, with plans for me to catch up with them after I’d (hopefully) chalked up a marathon.

 

Ben and Tammy were up in Scotland from their home in Rotherham, from where they’d driven their awesome little camper van, stopping at several points along the way, including the day before in Glasgow to take part in a very fast Park Run. They were very clearly outdoor enthusiasts and loved to explore, having driven around the fjords of Norway earlier in the year, and accomplished runners to boot. As we made our way over to Portnahaven, chatting with an ease of old friends, I joked about whether Ben was intending to “do a Killian,” referring to an account I had read of famed trail-runner, Killian Jornet smashing it on a big run to take the win the day after having run up some mountain just for the fun of it. Little did I know at the time given how self-effacing and modest he was but that is exactly what Ben had in mind. He was here to race and, if things went well, win.

 

Island life is such that communities are small and tight-knit. So it was on Islay, with it clear that most of the runners and supporters gathered in the small village hall that marked the start of the marathon knew each other well. However, as we had experienced from the very start of our trip through Scotland, the openness and friendliness towards visitors was genuine and effusive. Of course it was nae bother for me to substitute in for Tammy and so with that concern dismissed in a wee instant my number was pinned to my shorts and it was countdown time to the race. I figured that I might run for the first part of the race with Ben but with the gun fired and the race afoot, all I saw was Ben streak off like a gazelle at which point I parked that idea right in the “err, nope” file. Yep, Ben was definitely here to race seriously and the next time I’d see him was at the finish line.

 

Given that I had absolutely not trained specifically for this race, had absolutely not run it past my coach – in most cases very much a sackable offence in coach-athlete relationships – and it was, after all, a marathon and not just a quiet little Sunday morning pootle round the park, I had resolved myself to taking it easy and intended to focus mainly on enjoying the views and atmosphere of this unique experience. What a way to get an intro to the island and to see it up close and personal. I have always loved that about running, whether an organised event or a casual, self-motivated jog: it is a simple yet hugely effective way to just explore a place. All that’s really needed is a pair of runners and a sense of adventure and curiosity.

 

One thing that is abundantly clear about the Scottish islands, and Scotland in general, is that it is not very built up. In fact, most of it is wide open countryside. Islay is no different and aside from the occasional car passing – primarily supporters of runners and soooooo polite – and the hardy souls cheering us on at the simple aid stations, it was the cows and abundant sheep who were our main onlookers, the latter taking in the sight of these odd bipedals shuffling past with the kind of quizzical looks on their faces that I am used to seeing from people when you try to explain why it is you enjoy running ultra-marathons.

 

About 10km in I became aware of a runner closing in on me and we fell in together, chatting for a large part of the course until he initially hit the wall and urged me on, catching me up and then forging on himself at my insistence as I hit the wall near the end of the race. Up from Edinburgh, where he was studying Engineering, Rory had, much like Ben and Tammy, figured that coming over to Islay for a marathon sounded like a fun thing to do and we passed the time discussing everything from triathlon and running to the merits of opting to study renewable energy generation over oil and gas. Marathons are long enough that most runners do, at some point, find themselves butting up against their limits and, ultimately, having to push through them to the end. Whilst obviously an individual sport, it is also one of the most collegiate activities I have enjoyed, with distance runners some of the most considerate, polite and friendly folks you’ll ever meet. We look out for one another regardless of whether it’s the first time we’ve ever met or been lifelong pals.

Islay Marathon views
A stunning day on the island for the marathon, which took in some incredible vistas.

Whilst feeling overall more rugged, windswept and open than Mull, where we’d been prior to heading over to Islay, there is a real beauty and gritty tranquility to Islay. From long sandy beaches, buttressed from the punishing Atlantic swells by hardy dunes, to cute, sheltered fishing ports, populated by the sporadically bobbing heads of seals popping up to see what the humans are doing, up to the vast horizons of the peat moors stretching towards the central hills, the island has a raw energy that is seductive. The colours are an artist’s dream, with the palette smoothly transitioning from emerald green and turquoise of the sea, through dusky yellows, shades of green that span the colour wheel, interspersed with deep browns, verging on black, that make up the sharp lines of peat banks cut into the earth, and spotted with regal purple hues, darkening as the heather stretches itself off into the distance. The problem with running in beautiful places is that the temptation to stop and snap pictures is often too overwhelming to resist. Maybe this is one of the reasons I will probably never win a race – I am just too susceptible to the seductions of the landscapes through which I travel.

 

One feature of Scotland, and especially the West coast, that is all too easy to overlook and forget about is the weather, specifically the fact that it rains. A lot. We were, as it turned out, extremely fortunate on the morning of the race, with the skies gradually darkening, the winds building but ultimately remaining dry until the afternoon, long after the final runner had crossed the finish. The line itself was in Port Ellen, immediately outside Ramsay Hall, an impressive khaki-coloured stone building, named after the family who, in the 19th Century, owned many of the estates in the south of the island, and with fine views out over Kilnaughton Bay. Finish lines, regardless of the size of a race, are always the epicentre of energy and their atmosphere relies in large part to the enthusiasm of the gathered supporters as well as race organisers. In spite of it’s minnow status the Islay Marathon managed to pack in a lot of enthusiastic excitement at the finish and I heard the pounding music before it came fully into focus. It was a finish line I was more than happy to see as the final third of the race had certainly tested my mettle and I was very much in favour of stopping the running by then. Ben and Tammy were already present, Ben having smashed the previously long-held race record by storming home in an incredible time of 2.5 hours, which is just phenomenal! Even more so was the fact that he looked as though he could easily have popped back over to the start and done it a second time. Truly a gazelle in a Yorkshireman’s clothing. He was helping out the race organisers by spotting who was approaching the finish from afar, using a pair of binoculars, thus enabling the MC of the race to offer up some personal facts and encouragement to runners as they closed the gap on the finish and a well earned rest. He then, at the end, cemented his nice-guy status by jogging out to meet the final runner and ran the final stretch with them, peeling off to let them experience the actual finish line solo. A fitting end to what felt from the start like a real family, community affair.

 

The Scottishness of the whole morning extended beyond the finish line and into Ramsay Hall itself, where we were treated to a veritable smorgasbord of delicious food, libations and the attentive focus of volunteers eager to make sure we got something warm and nourishing on board. I caught up with Rory over a cup of tea and congratulated him on a fantastic last-minute finding-of-form as he posted an impressive sprint into town, and once feeling as though my legs and I were on friendly terms again hopped in the car, driving the few kilometres back up the coast, past three of the most famous Islay distilleries – Laphroag, Lagavullin and Ardbeg, next to which our cosy little AirBNB rental was situated – to pick up my folks and return to the hall in time for the prize-giving ceremony. We have family connections on Islay and it had occurred to me that there was the possibility that I might well be running alongside people to whom I have a familial connection unbeknownst to either of us. Dad had spent many of his summers as a boy in Port Ellen itself and it was clearly a wonderful trip down memory lane as he pointed out landmark after landmark that in some cases had changed little whilst in others significantly, but overall had been parked in something of a suspended animation. It is ultimately the people who make a place what it is and we found chatting to locals and visitors alike at the hall as relaxed and natural as if we’d been part of the community ourselves all these years. We even picked up some information about the whereabouts of our family members, whom none of us had met before, through good old local knowledge, info that proved the key to meeting up with them, Cilla Black long-lost relatives reunite style, that very afternoon.

Islay Marathon people
Running attracts some wonderful people, all out with the same crazy goal in mind.

The reason that the Islay Marathon even exists is to mark the memory each year of a member of the community, Menzies MacAffer, who had served in the Royal Marines and was himself a keen marathon runner. His brother spoke a few words on the day and handed out the prizes, which in addition to a lovely glass trophy also included a bottle of local single malt whisky – what else?! Whilst the main prizewinners took home a large bottle of Ardbeg each, each and every finisher got their own trophy and a small, or wee, bottle of Ardbeg whisky themselves. A lovely little touch and a very special way to kick off our visit to this very special island and corner of Scotland.

Final Race Time = 3 hours, 44 minutes, 42 seconds

More information on the Islay Marathon, including how to enter can be found on the official website at http://www.islaymarathon.co.uk/

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.”