On balance

After a hiatus of more than six years, I have returned to yoga.

I have been wanting to supplement my twice weekly swimming with some core strength and flexibility work for a while now. I did a lot of Bikram yoga before I left Australia and for a year or so after I arrived in London and have dabbled in yoga of the cooler (by that I mean non-hot) variety and pilates as well. I have always loved the intensity and mindfulness of these types of activities as well as the centered feeling that comes afterwards.

A bit of googling a few weeks ago yielded a great yoga/pilates studio walking distance from Gidday HQ so for the last three weeks, I have relinquished my unscripted and lackadaisical Saturday mornings in exchange for this:

  1. The alarm goes off at 8am – I know…on a weekend. I lie there for 15 minutes wondering why I am doing this to myself.
  2. Stumble bleary-eyed to the bathroom and, avoiding eye-contact with the mirror, splash my face with cold water.
  3. Brush/flatten ‘bed hair’. My bed hair is a remarkable feat of vertical engineering that occurs every single night.
  4. Put one load of laundry in the washing machine on the express cycle. I’m up, may as well be productive (so I can be lazy later).
  5. Have vegetable juice and a yoghurt. Sounds noble but it’s really all I can manage first thing/pre-exercise. Don’t worry, I make up for this later.
  6. Get dressed.
  7. Transfer essentials from my handbag into my backpack.
  8. Hang the wet washing on the airer.
  9. Walk to the yoga studio (25 minutes).
  10. Groan and sweat for one hour at the same time as working out how to actually ‘switch on’ [insert name of muscle I have never heard of]. It’s multi-tasking at its best peeps.
  11. Walk home (25 minutes – again).
  12. Shower. It’s a surprisingly sweaty business this yoga (and no I’m not doing Bikram or hot yoga.)
  13. Eat!

And that peeps, is my new Saturday morning.

I’ve followed this new routine for three weeks and on balance, the news is good:

  • Morning backache has disappeared and I’m feeling longer, stronger and looser-limbed than I have felt for years.
  • I’m breathing – deeply – again. And given my easily distracted disposition, I hope that I’m also reaping the benefits of a few meditative moments at the start and end of every class practice (and re-learning the lingo).

You may have noticed that I said ‘on balance’ and that is my struggle. Tree pose was never my forte and my balance, unlike a fine wine, has not improved with age. But I do my best to spread my toes and draw up and yet I wiggle and lurch about, falling on my a**e at least once a class practice. It is somewhat chastening but yoga is supposed to be about letting go of ego and let’s face it, a little less ego never did anyone any harm.

Coming down to earth – literally – also reminds me to pay attention to what I am doing, feeling and ‘switching on’.

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I actually fell out of Warrior pose yesterday trying to work out what to ‘switch on’.

But I am hooked and have booked next week’s class practice already – there is something about actually booking a place that makes me go rather than succumb to more than 15 minutes of wake-up wondering after the alarm goes off – and I’m hoping to bring a little balance and mindful breathing into the week ahead.

Wishing you all a peaceful and mindful week.

Namaste

No accounting for trust

I’ve been to a couple of events this week that have got me thinking about trust.

The first was called No Dust and was billed as an evening of conversation around the referendum outcome, admonishing us not to let the dust settle on Brexit. It was an evening of two halves with the first given over to the feelings the result evoked, high points (for me) being:

  • Annie King-Ferguson, a 16-year-old poet – she played an original song conveying her frustration at her ineligibility to vote and have her voice be represented in the outcome;
  • Andra Sonea, a Romanian technologist and blogger living in the UK who shared some parallels between the Brexit movement and what has played out in the country of her birth.

The second half was shorter with the best part being the three speakers who explored post-Brexit possibilities. This included reconstructing government and looking to digital technologies to define new paths for democracy. Both of these were with the aim of getting the entire nation to be part of an ongoing conversation about the future, not just whenever a referendum is called.

The evening felt quite unbalanced with litanies of stories and ‘evidence-producing’ over-running in the first half because people wanted to finish ‘their say’ regardless of time which left me pretty low on energy and enthusiasm for the remainder of the evening. It also left me wondering just how much was true, how much selective editing was involved and if there was actually anyone, anything or even anywhere I would trust to give me the whole story.

The second was a networking event and forum later in the week where we asked whether it was possible to rebuild trust beyond the lies and scandals that have become our daily news fodder. The evening covered war, big business and finding purpose and the three speakers were invited to give a ten minute perspective before questions were invited from the audience. The pursuit of trust has become a vocal ambition for politicians, business leaders – in fact anyone with a public platform – and as with all big questions like this, there was no clear answer.

Add to this our tendency towards self-diagnosis rather than trusting the advice of the medical profession, our tut-tutting at Punch-and-Judy politics whilst hearing only the loudest or most familiar voice/s in the argument and our smug self-righteousness over stories of ‘privilege gone wrong’ (e.g. Ryan Lochte) like we all knew better than to believe his story. It seems that society’s latest scion is cynicism.

I don’t think that this is a bad thing. The amount of information available to us across a myriad of channels, apps and devices gives us unprecedented access to facts (and a whole lot more) right at our fingertips, letting us discover as much or as little as we wish to in the moment of our ‘burning question’. And a healthy questioning of the status quo seems to do some good. But how do we really know whether the information is accurate and/or complete…and when enough information is enough?

Which leads me to my question about trust.

The Oxford Dictionary defines trust as:

Firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something

But where does this firm belief come from? It seems to be a result of our past, coming from what we have experienced before and what we think we know. But it also seems to come with conditions.

I trust different people in my life for different things – to do this or be this or provide this and they no doubt trust me for some things and not others in return. For example, I trust some people to be on time while others I ‘know’ will always be late.

I also trust repetition. I trust that I’ll get paid each month yet given there have been times in my life where this wasn’t the case, what makes me trust this now, like it’s some kind of inexorable truth? For the most part it has to do with the fact that this event has been repeating itself every month for the last five and a half years.

I think trust is conditional and of the moment. I trust certain magazines and news sources but am not surprised when fault lines appear. I do not see trust as some universal panacea to righting the world’s ills. I am a cynic – or a realist – and my trust needs to be earned over and over again.

So we assign trust and the conditions that go with it as we define and refine our relationships with the world: With our family and friends, our colleagues, the organisations we work for and deal with and our paragons of both virtue and villainy.

But I’m still left with a question of accounting. Who or what should we trust in a world that provides more data and arguably more transparency than ever before but struggles with being accountable for telling the truth?

And how on earth do we judge when enough is enough – when it’s time to stop the fact-finding and trust that it will all turn out?

Much ado in July & August

The advent of the August Bank Holiday in the UK heralds many things. Holiday-makers return home sporting skin ranging from gently flushed to glowing bronze to fire-engine red. School starts again albeit in fits and starts depending on where you are and how much you pay. And the British Summer ends, folding its wings away to let September take flight.

I missed my July out and about update, overtaken as I was by my birthday-ing in Geneva at the start of August. As sharing July’s gadding about is well overdue, this post will bring you a double dose.

Let’s start with a Gidday First.

I had my first open air theatre experience at Morden Hall Park seeing a performance of Much Ado About Nothing. A beautiful summer day had segued into a lovely evening as we shared a picnic supper, made our way through a bottle of wine and watched a full male cast give their multiple roles and catchy ditties a hefty dose of ribald fun. It was full of hilarious moments and I felt that this was how Shakespeare was meant to be performed, to an appreciative audience in the open air without all the smoke and mirrors of modern theatre. I absolutely loved it.

Staying with the Bard, I also saw a live screening of Kenneth Branagh’s staging of Romeo and Juliet starring Lily James (you may remember her as Lady Rose from Downton Abbey). It was my first experience of the stage version versus reading the play/story or seeing it on film – interestingly Branagh’s interpretation had a black and white cinematic quality (nothing to do with being a live screening!) lending the story a 1950s feel. Lily James was an extraordinary Juliet and simply outshone the rest of the cast but for all that, I was reminded why the play, with all of its melodrama and outpourings of eternal love, was never my favourite.

Speaking of favourites, the return of the fabulous Paco Pena to Sadlers Wells with Patrias was quite different from the high energy flamenco shows I’d seen before. His tribute to the impact of the Civil War in Spain was reflective and haunting and I left the theatre incredibly moved by the beautiful music and poignant story-telling.

I returned to Sadlers Wells a few weeks later to see Vamos Cuba!  I was looking forward to being energised by sexy Cuban rhythms but instead of a slick high-octane show, it was bland and limp and actually felt a bit under-rehearsed. I was bored through most of it and struggled to stay engaged – unusual for me. It was very disappointing.

I had a musical foray of a completely different kind with the Sacconi Quartet, a chamber music group who manage to pierce my heart and capture my imagination every time they play. They were as brilliant as always, playing with their usual passion and intensity. However, they had a male soloist join them after intermission and I felt like that got in the way of the music. I experienced the same reaction earlier this year with another quartet I like so I suspect it’s more to do with my preference for ‘unaccompanied’ chamber music rather than the quality of the singing.

I do like a great female protagonist so I took myself off to see the movie Maggie’s Plan starring two fabulous women – newcomer Greta Gerwig and Oscar winner Julianne Moore – and the rather fabulous-looking Ethan Hawke (forgive my objectification peeps but really…*sigh*). Gerwig plays Maggie, the woman with the plan, as adorably gauche while some of the film’s most hilarious moments come from Moore’s world-weary Georgette. The movie wasn’t on wide (or long) release but it’s an absolute delight so if you get the chance, I’d recommend you see it.

I was also thrilled to snap up a Bank Holiday deal to see Sheridan Smith in the musical Funny Girl (see my reaction  here). It was extraordinary and wonderful and all of those great things.

And last but certainly not least, I discovered Divergent. After a run of average-to-good reads over last few months, I was overdue to be blown away and I fairly inhaled Veronica Roth‘s dystopian tale of rebellion and belonging. It follows a similar plot to The Hunger Games but I liked Divergent more, particularly the use of the factions – Amity, Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless and Erudite – and the underlying thread that a little bit of each is the key to humanity. I’ve heard mixed reports about the movie but I’m much more interested in seeing if the second book, Insurgent, is as unputdownable as the first.

So that was July and August and as we leave the heady ‘hot’ days of British summertime behind, September beckons with promises of coloured leaves, cooler mornings and the hope of an Indian Summer. I’ve got a few interesting things booked but like always I’ll be working hard to make the most of whatever opportunities appear…and keeping my fingers crossed for a deal or two.

Have yourselves a fabulous September.

Boudicca

Real-life female protagonist Boudicca overlooks the River Thames from her chariot (in the shadow of the tower of Big Ben).

Funny girl with star power

I went to see the West End version of Funny Girl last night.

For those of you who don’t know, it’s the semi-biographical rags to riches story of American actress and comedian, Fanny Brice. I’ve long been a fan of the movie starring the inimitable Barbra Streisand and ever since this latest run in London was announced, I have been keeping an eagle eye out for a deal.

So yesterday, I battled the Saturday evening throng to take my seat at the Savoy Theatre (itself a Gidday first).

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Savvy (or should that be Savoy) topiary on arrival.

I felt excited and wondered whether the show and its star, Sheridan Smith, would live up to the hype. And boy oh boy, it did!

Darius Campbell played the smooth yet hapless Nick Arnstein sympathetically – he filled the theatre with rich, sonorous tones like velvet. And the rest of the cast were brilliant but it was Sheridan Smith who stole the show.

I’d seen Smith previously in a couple of television dramas – The Accused: Stephen’s Story in 2012 and The 7.39 in 2014 – and had been seriously impressed by her acting chops but I had no idea just how far her talent stretched.

Smith filled the stage with her presence, flinging her tiny frame into the gauche mannerisms and Brooklyn twang of the unpolished Brice. Her timing was impeccable and, ably partnered by her cast mates, she gave us plenty of laugh out loud comedy moments. She played Brice as the pushy, domineering, larger-than-life character that I remember as being really irritating yet she gave Brice a heart-melting pathos in the second act as she faces the price of her success.

In addition, let me tell you tha this pint-sized lady has a serious set of pipes. Taking on songs made famous by Streisand – People, Don’t Rain on My Parade and I’m the Greatest Star – is no mean feat and Smith was absolutely magnificent in making them her own.

The show finished, the cast emerged for their bows and Smith, clearly emotional, got a standing ovation. It takes something quite special for me to leap to my feet at the end of a performance and I clapped and clapped and clapped until the stage finally emptied.

As we all flooded out onto the street, the signature tunes and Smith’s showstopping voice stayed with me with the defiant strains of Don’t Rain on My Parade playing over and over in my head all the way home.

Funny Girl is playing at the Savoy Theatre in London until 8th October so if you want to see this musical marvel for yourself, I’d advise you to get a wiggle on

Happy telly

There has been much excitement at Gidday HQ today. Yes peeps, the ultimate in happy telly – the Great British Bake Off – is back. That’s ten whole weeks of signatures bakes, technical challenges and showstoppers to look forward to.

Yippee!!

So this afternoon I raced home from work, got two loads of washing on and with dinner done and dusted, I curled up on the comfy couch just in time to enjoy the opening sequence, the white peaks of the marquee sweeping into view amidst swathes of green and accompanied by the familiar tinkling of the GBBO theme tune.

Week one was Cake Week and the twelve contestants (I always think that thirteen i.e. a baker’s dozen, would be more appropriate) whipped – and in a lot of cases rewhipped – their way to a drizzle cake, produced a passable batch of Jaffa cakes and showcased the art of mirror glaze.

There were winners and grinners, triers and even a few fliers with Candice piffing her genoise sponge across the tent. The first Star Baker was announced and someone else’s spatula was despatched to the back of the GBBO cupboard. It seems that a nice weekend in the countryside (albeit a rainy one in what amounts to a big tent with nineteen strangers plus a film crew) and a judge’s nod to being one of the top twelve bakers in the nation pales quite a bit against the ignominy of being the first one to leave.

It’s probably a little early to be laying claim to my favourites but cool Selasi (could he be any more laid back?), pragmatic Jane and brave Benjamina were the ones that won my heart this week. How did they fare? Well there is a strict no spoilers policy here at Gidday from the UK so my lips are sealed. Unless of course there’s cake involved.

Speaking of cake, I pushed the boat out for a birthday bake earlier this month. A forage through the pages of my More Secrets From The Beechworth Bakery cookbook unearthed a recipe for Dutch Apple Cake so I set forth, wielding my spatula and turned out a veritable treat…

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My delicious Dutch Apple Cake: full of sugar and spice and all things nice and fattening!

…which was rapidly demolished by my workmates the next day.

Just when I was thinking my hips were safe again, there has been talk of an Office Bake Off. And next week the Great British Bake Off brings us Biscuit Week.

Hmmmm. Shame that.

Drunken monkeys and solar panels

I am a curious person. I’ve mentioned it before, this tendency to lose myself in the pursuit of interesting things. It becomes a bit like the proverbial rabbit hole as I follow some convoluted thread through not only my regular ‘haunts’ but also to new and inspiring sources that I inevitably add to my ‘follow’ list.

This week’s haul has been particularly rich in the ‘how interesting’ department so here are a few of the titbits I loved the most.

The smell before the storm

I love that smell just before a storm hits. It’s a really clean, slightly metallic smell that heralds the impending downpour. Well according to my regular dose of Mental Floss, that smell is caused by electrical charges that break down atoms which then reform into nitric oxide. This reacts with other chemicals in the atmosphere to create ozone which causes the ‘chlorine’ odour.

However, I question the chlorine claim. After all, I swim a couple of times a week and believe me, that pool smells like chlorine. Maybe a lifetime of swimming has made me less sensitized to ozone’s more fragrant charms. Or perhaps there’s something familiar and comforting being triggered in my brain. In any case, it was one more conundrum solved and led me to ponder whether more storms would help to fix the hole in the ozone layer.

The drunken monkey hypothesis

Flipboard is a great app that allows you to choose what types of articles you’d like to receive and I love dipping in and out during my commute. This week I found my way to a piece in Esquire that delved into the origins of alcohol consumption. It appears that this goes well beyond the human condition and was critical for our predecessors’ survival.

You see, while modern life finds us all looking for ways to reduce our caloric intake, our primate ancestors found feasting on over-ripe (and therefore fermenting) fruit an excellent way to get the energy needed to swing from tree to tree all day long. Add to that the need to survive by hunting and gathering enough to eat and you’ve got yourself the perfect excuse to booze all day, every day.

I wonder how much booze my fortnightly online grocery shopping would permit me. Not much I suspect.

The pyramid inside the mountain

Flipboard also led me to BBC Future piece on the ancient pyramid beneath a mountain – well, actually underneath a tiny hilltop church in Chohula in the Mexican highlands. The article reports that the pyramid is four times the size of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. I’ve been to Giza so I can only imagine how huge this one must be. Chohula was described by Cortez as “the most beautiful city outside Spain” and the BBC article reports that there are over 500 tunnels to be explored.

Mexico has been on my travel bucket list for some time but fell away as I started to read more about China and the Silk Roads cultures. However, an archaeologically-inspired visit would be an amazing thing to do. So much to do, so little time (and money).

*Sigh*

And last but not least…

The car that gives back

There’s been a lot in the press about self-driving cars and I had my first Tesla close up a couple of weeks ago at their showroom in a local shopping centre. While there was no test drive (or test no-drive as the case may be), I did think that the Model S was very nice indeed.

But Tesla are not just applying their energy breakthroughs in the automotive industry. Via this week’s Springwise newsletter, I learned that my very own hometown of Melbourne may have their first sustainable suburb in new development, YarraBend. Applying Tesla’s technology may mean energy reductions of up to 34% with the developers also suggesting significant decreases in water usage (43%) and landfill (80%).

Before I moved to London in 2004, I read about an initiative to place solar panels on the roof of Melbourne’s Victoria Market in an effort to power the surrounding suburbs. I felt a little swell of Aussie pride that Melbourne continues to champion ways to address some of our critical climactic challenges.

So there you have it – my top four commuting gems from this week. It’s certainly been a rich vein so I hope you found something here to pique your curiosity.

47: Some ups and downs

Since my last post, I’ve had a birthday – number 47 to be exact. As is my usual birthday habit, I decided to take a long weekend and explore somewhere new – the last few years I’ve been to Stockholm, Ghent, and Barcelona. This year, another adventure beckoned.

I have known Swiss-S for about 15 years – we worked together in Melbourne and have ridden the rollercoaster of expat life in London at overlapping points in time. A couple of years ago, I watched him exchange I-do’s with Prosecco-G in a small Belgian village and now they live in Geneva with rescue dog, R. At his 40th birthday drinks do earlier this year (Swiss-S that is, not R), we agreed to ‘make a plan’ so at a dark and excruciatingly early hour last Saturday, I boarded a plane for Geneva. Here’s how things went down.

After a quick trip from the airport on the Swiss-ly efficient and air-conditioned train (it’s about the only air-conditioned thing in Geneva), we had a hello ‘coffee and chat’ before Swiss-S and I wandered down to the lake.

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An aaaw-dorable local family takes a dip

Next we headed to the Old Town where we climbed the 150-odd steps to enjoy the views from the South Tower of St Peter’s Cathedral…

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View from the South Tower, St Peter’s Cathedral, Geneva

…and then climbed down and back up the North Tower to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.

We also visited the archaeological exhibition beneath the cathedral – I know it’s not for everyone but I’m fascinated by old stones and stuff.

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Old monk’s cell beneath St Peter’s Cathedral, Geneva – must have been a small monk.

After such exertion, it was time for a pick-me-up so we headed to a rooftop bar to check out the view again before heading further around the lake to pay homage to the Jet d’Eau with a dash along the old stone pier beneath its spray.

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Evening number one started out with a drinks cruise on the lake, a very pleasant way to enjoy the warm weather, clean air and magnificent views. Each ticket included two drinks and at first, we got a bit excited when we saw that cocktails were included.

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They may look harmless (as well as cheap) but after one, we realised that these were pure alcohol (there was no mixer included in that one glass!). Sensible Swiss-S purchased a bottle of something soft with our second round so we didn’t end up pie-eyed on pouches. It probably goes without saying that we were really ready for dinner by the time we disembarked.

Day two took an international turn with a trip into France to Chamonix. Our first order of business was a trip up, up, up the mountain (two cable cars and an elevator) to Aiguille du Midi to admire the panoramic views of Mont Blanc.

This is a picture of the information board showing the view from the lookout…

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…and this is what we saw.

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‘Limited’ visibility – don’t worry, we were warned when we bought our tickets.

Nevertheless, we rejoiced in the snow…

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It was actually snowing as we stood there – but it had to be done.

…stepped out into the void…

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You can just make out the cliff face beneath our feet. It must be super freaky when you can see everything below.

…and had a rather pleasant lunch at the highest restaurant in Europe.

In the afternoon we took the train up another mountain to see the glacier and visit the ice cave

Did I mention that there are 430 steps down to the ice caves? Oh yes, and that means 430 steps back up. After yesterday’s cathedral climb and a morning at altitude, we were completely done in when we finished here – a crepe and coffee pick-me-up was essential before the 90 minute drive home. Lucky for us we also found one of Prosecco-G’s mixed CDs to keep us entertained on the road.

Evening number two proved rather festive with a boozy barbecue at the apartment. And at midnight, my big day arrived with a ‘happy birthday’ and a few surprises from my fabulous hosts.

After all the food, fresh air and alcohol, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I slept very well that night.

August 1st is Switzerland’s National Day (nice of them to do this for my birthday, wouldn’t you say?) and with a festive feeling still in the air, we all piled into Prosecco-G’s Beetle and headed to a local winery for brunch. I had raclette (among other things) – it was delicious!

The afternoon was spent driving around the area, admiring the scenery and making the most of the warm sunny weather.

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Once back in town again, it was an ice-cream by the lake with Swiss-S and R to cap off a chokkas weekend. Then there was just enough time to pack, freshen up and head to the airport.

So that was my sensational Swiss celebration – full of fresh air, glorious scenery and plenty of laughs and good times with my fabulous friends. Not a bad way to birthday, I’d say.

Wonder what I’ll get up to next year?

Timing is everything

The last few weeks has seen my work life taking revised shape under our new owners. There have been calls and meetings with a variety of people as we work together to take next steps – confirming where documentation is available, discussing projects’ status and making a start on connecting the right people across the new organisation.

There’s also been the additional challenge of extracting both the knowledge from being in the business for five and a half years and what I’ve learnt in my role over the last two and a half years. You don’t realise how much you know and do in your job until you are asked to share it.

But just as things were getting on a roll, I was struck down with a stomach bug and have spent most of last week feeling unwell, sorry for myself and a bit frustrated.

My intention in sharing this is not to elicit sympathy (although any offered is always gratefully received). Rather it’s to set the scene for what happened next.

After a couple of especially unpleasant days, I’d managed to get myself to the doctor to confirm that it was just a bug and that it would pass. My first venture out in three days left me feeling shattered and I was just looking forward to lying down in the coolness of my flat again. As I opened the front door and prepared to step over the post, thinking I’d get to it later, I noticed a small yellow envelope on the door mat.

Intrigued, I picked it up and opened it to find a card inside.

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It was from Mum and had travelled all the way from Australia – with its poignant and perfectly worded message – to arrive on my door mat at the very moment I needed it.

It took me back to a post I wrote last year about what I like to call The Butterfly Principle – about being ready to emerge and take flight despite an uncertain future – and it reminded me to cut myself some slack and use this time to restore myself to full health. After all, when the next opportunity comes calling, I want to be ready to make the most of it. And as it’s not clear exactly what it will look like, I need to stay curious and energised as it takes shape.

Because quite frankly peeps, I’m rather feeling partial to something fabulous.

But wait, there’s more

On my last visit Down Under,  Dad & B introduced Lil Chicky and I to Geocaching. It’s a bit like orienteering which I used to participate in pretty begrudgingly on school camps and throughout my Brownie years. You use a GPS-enabled smartphone instead of a compass and a physical map (you know, of the paper variety) to find something i.e. a cache. It’s like a technological treasure hunt.

It’s quite enjoyable and great for getting you active and out in the fresh air. And it’s hugely addictive: The urge to be the first in your group to find ‘it’ means that as you get closer, the casual chatting dwindles and scanning every square centimeter of your environment in the hopes of cracking the clue takes precedence. Some caches are extremely well-camouflaged and it can take a combination of an eagle eye and a willingness to get your hands dirty and rummage around in the undergrowth to uncover one.

As with any addiction, there’s always ‘just one more’. Borne on by the thrill of finding the next one, it’s really easy to end up wandering much further afield than you intended. In continuing the family geocaching legacy back in London, after an afternoon spent geocaching around Dollis Park, we had a sweaty 40 minute fast walk trot back to the flat in time for Lil Chicky’s airport pickup – we made it with about ten minutes to spare.

On a different afternoon, after a lengthy search Lil Chicky and I finally found the much-sought-after cache in a North London park…by torchlight (another of the smartphone’s many advantages). I would just like to pause here and point out that it was January in London and the sun disappears early and fast at that time of year. It also meant we found ourselves locked in said park. The good news is that after a helpful tip from a couple of passers-by, we did manage to squeeze out around one of the more loosely-chained gates and caught the bus home…because we’d walked so much further than we’d planned.

I can only imagine that Pokemon Go is a bit like this…magnified. For those who don’t know, people use their smartphones to track virtual quarry – Pokemon – located at poke stops (which can be pretty much anywhere). Since its launch on iOS this week, the news has been full of the mayhem created by hundreds converging on particular poke stops to capture rare and valuable Pokemon species. (Check out this footage from The Telegraph in Washington, USA).

You may well laugh – I did – but it appears that we are a society of hunters and collectors, always searching for something and once acquired, moving quickly on to the next thing.

This is not new: Our most popular and enduring narratives are all based on the search for something, be they myths, legends, fairy tales or real-life chronicles. History and philosophy are full of stories about the quest for territory, for power, for peace, for love, for truth – and the satisfaction of acquiring ‘it’ in the end.

So the whole Pokemon Go thing has me wondering, in a chicken-and-egg kind of way, is humankind hard-wired for dissatisfaction or is it an innate competitiveness that drives us to search for more?  Which comes first? And is survival of the fittest – fittest being defined as those who best master the tenets deemed most valuable at any given period in time – a result of nature or nurture?

What do you think?

Will we ever have enough or will we always be caught up in the search for something more?

Inspired by: Girl power

Last week I attended Ancient Worlds, a conversation-slash-debate between historians Bettany Hughes and and Michael Scott at the Royal Institute of Great Britain. It was an hour and a half of expert perspectives and audience questions on the state of politics and its relationship with the ‘truths’ about history that we think we know.

One of the things that particularly piqued my interest was Dr Scott’s mention of OECD’s PISA – Programme for International Student Assessment. This is designed to sit outside the boundaries of school curricula to determine how well the world is preparing the next generation of 15-year-olds for global citizenship. Whilst I’m not a fan of the current levels of academic testing particularly in early school years, I do think that something that takes a global view – both a omnipresent look and a cross-cultural sampling – is important. I was also encouraged by the website’s claim that the tests are

“designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.”

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to be a part of a similarly forward-looking approach at a local secondary school. Presentation Matters! was a half day programme for more than 200 Year 9 students designed to help them articulate their ideas and present themselves in life – from addressing larger groups and performing well in job interviews right through to talking with friends and peers.

In groups of 4-5 , the students were asked to come up with a two minute presentation aimed at Year 6 students and their parents to inspire them to attend the school. There were a couple of formal talks on presentation structure, content and delivery but in between, the girls were despatched to compile, practice and present their story – in a Semi-Final round – in their form groups. The best group – voted by their peers – went into the Final which meant presenting to all of the Year 9 students, teachers…and us.

I was one of 21 business volunteers who worked with the form groups coaching, encouraging and keeping things to time. I’ve worked with adults in this capacity before but never teenagers and I found the prospect of working with the 27 teenage girls in the form, let alone the 200-odd in the wider group, just a little terrifying. (Seriously, my props to teachers!) And whilst I wouldn’t say that I felt entirely comfortable at any point, our little team of three muddled our way through the morning and managed to conduct a Semi-Final with a) everyone in the form presenting and b) to a pretty good standard. (Boast Note: We worked with the form group that produced the winning team presentation in the Final. Not that I’m at all competitive…)

Back in the hall, in watching the seven finalists, I was struck by what an amazing opportunity this was for these young women. And they responded in kind – showing both great courage in presenting in front of such a large group and commitment to doing it well – with some pretty impressive presentations. It seems that despite the absence of political leadership over the last few weeks, the willingness to step forward, to give your best and to represent others lives on.

Girlpower past and present

London’s nod to girl power past and present: (left) Statue of Emmeline Pankhurst – leader of the suffragette movement – at the entrance to Victoria Tower Gardens, near the Houses of Parliament and (right) the Memorial to Amy Winehouse –  a unique female voice in modern times – at Camden Lock Market

I was also struck by the generous (and rather raucous) encouragement from all of the girls – there was a real sense of camaraderie, even girl power, in the room and I just loved the fact that I’d gotten the opportunity to play a small part in it all.

So on an historic morning in June – when, through democratic process, the nation charged government with the task of leaving the European Union – I felt inspired. Perhaps we need to give the next generation some credit as a pretty capable set of hands in which to place the future, whatever it may hold.