Swangling

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This article first appeared in the Winter 2016 edition of Waterlog Magazine.

I once almost caught a trout between my legs.

Aged 8 or 9, frolicking in a murky River Itchen, my Dad lifted me up out of the water by my arms and somehow my ankles ensnared an olive brown trout of about a pound. Hauled skywards, I tightened my grip but after just a fleeting moment my ankles inevitably lost their purchase and the slippery fish wriggled free and plopped back into the water.

It would have been the first trout I’d ever caught. My father hadn’t seen what had happened but this intimate contact with my then elusive quarry had me excitedly gabbling for hours.

Anyone who knows the River Itchen will know that it is rarely murky, yet on this bucolic day hundreds of excited children were tearing up weed and throwing it at each other, drifting down the river in rafts, inspecting nymphs on the bottom of rocks, splashing wildly and giggling relentlessly whilst an aged statesman in a wheelchair serenely looked on at the scene from the middle of his garden. The trout and other river life I imagine were having a less enjoyable day, their usually idyllic habitat invaded by thousands of goose-pimpled legs, hence the reason why a usually evasive, wily trout could end up clasped between young ankles. Once a year this kind gentleman allowed the children from our school to use his gardens and the river that runs through it for an almighty picnic. Glorious, halcyon memories of England at its finest.

Until earlier this year, it is the closest I have come to catching a fish whilst swimming. This Spring, armed with a borrowed spear in Cornwall, I squeezed in two wetsuits and bobbing around more like an over-inflated lilo than a stealthy hunter, I managed to fight of the cold and buoyancy for long enough to spear a small pollock and, I’m ashamed to say, two wrasse. The shame blossoming later – at the time I was brimming with manly pride. I emerged triumphant from the sea, glittering with my prizes strapped to my weight belt next to my big shiny knife, emblematic of my connection with my Savage ancestors. If it hadn’t been for the ungraceful removal of my fins and the ten millimetres of neoprene impairing my ability to walk in a manner that might suggest I was a sane being – I’d likely have been asked to pose as a poster-child of hunter-gathering by passing tourists. Nonetheless, I michelin-manned my way back to our holiday house and casually deposited my prizes in the sink and declared dinner sorted and supermarkets for wussies.

My pride was short-lived – my mistake was to try to impress the locals by asking for a recipe for my recently hunted quarry. “The best recipe to ensure you draw out the natural flavour out of a wrasse” the manly fisherfolk in the pub wryly suggested, “is to sandwich it between two bricks and put it on a fire. Then when it’s well cooked throw the wrasse away and eat the bricks”. The internet served to humiliate further, suggesting that to spear wrasse – a friendly, kind and curious fish – was as difficult ‘as shooting a family labrador’. We ate it anyhow and it was surprisingly good, so we had the last laugh, along with my swallowed pride.

Which brings me drifting slowly toward my point: Given how much time us fishermen spend by the water, I am continually surprised by how little time we spend in it. We lovers of the water and all that lies within are surprisingly unlikely to pull off our boots, jackets and dive in.

Why?

Given the blackened fingernails and general cleanliness of the average fisherman, surely a post, pre or during-session dip, or perhaps even all of these, would only serve to improve our reputations and cohabitability? Are we all too aware of the creatures that lie within and therefore a tiny bit frightened of the things that we cannot see that may be lurking beneath a placid water, ready to chomp upon our delicate extremities? Is our imagination so vivid and fanciful that we allow our dreams of monster fish to prevent us from dipping our toes into the watery depths? I’ve yet to catch a snaggletooth big enough to cause me anxiety, but I still suffer a childish ‘what’s below me in this deep water’ fear that prevents me from going too far out, but it’s not enough to prevent the swim itself.

A now famous Patagonian guide learnt his trade by donning swimming trunks and goggles and spending a month submerged in the waterways of region, finding and watching trout from within their element, rather than above. Understanding more in that period about where fish lie, their behaviour and what they eat than decades spent casting from the bank.

I’m not necessarily suggesting that it’s worth swimming in order to become a better angler. Alas, in many course fishing locales, the visibility wouldn’t enable much more than an angler to appreciate that fish have highly tuned senses that are much more useful than their eyes. Instead I want to ask why on a glorious, hot summers day, anglers are restrained enough to prevent throwing themselves in? It’s a mystery why you’d want to be by the water but not enter it. To plumb its depths but not immerse yourself in it. The crystal coolness that’ll wipe away the sweat and heat of a summers day within seconds. To be at one with your quarry. To feel the water. After a day spent on the bank, surely you want to have one last cleanse?

I have a feeling regular readers of this magazine will know what I mean. Yet it so rarely happens. Who first decided that the two were incompatible? Is there some unwritten rule book, akin to golfers having to look like they’ve just stumbled out of a country tennis party, that means swimming would result in furrowed brows and letters to local club chairpeople? I hope not. The only good thing about golfing in my youth was being given permission to fish the old estate lake which served to frustrate the golfers who had to cross it. Fishing (and swimming) was certainly beneath them.

I’ve never been one for rules, so in the last couple of years since I’ve started fishing again, I try to swim as often as possible. A dive off the end of a punt into a lake, or a tumble from a bank into a river. It’s rarely allowed, but perhaps all the more pleasurable as a result. A swim to check, or more likely disturb, my swim. On one fishing trip, too lazy to walk to a bridge a mile away, I simply tied my gear to a log and paddled across the river to the surprise of some walkers I met as I scrambled gollum-like out on the far bank.

Swimming has also served to be a fairly good barometer of whether I should be fishing at all. Please excuse my wimpy fair-weather approach to our beloved sport, but one should be aware of one’s limits. Generally speaking, if I’m fishing in a location or at a time where I wouldn’t want to swim – think a canal in winter – then normally I think I might be pushing my obsession too far.

As such, good fishing is to me, good swimming. Namely, a natural setting where there aren’t many people and it’s not knee-deep in boiles, crayfish or shopping trolleys and where the ambient temperature is high enough to make the swim a pleasure rather than an temperature-induced exorcism-of-self.

John Wilson of ‘Go Fishing’ fame claims to have scuba-dived in weir pools and other places to better understand the fish he’s trying to catch. Chris Yates and Bob James from ‘A Passion for Angling’ seem to spend a good amount of time in the water, particularly in Redmire, although usually with the excuse of a bent rod in hand and fully clothed. Chris has also written a book called ‘Falling in Again’, which perhaps is a clever cover for a desire to cool off, so as not to upset the status quo.

Aside from these, I’ve discovered very few reports of swimming anglers, angling swimmers or us purebreds – swanglers. Google gives away little and there and on forums the only mention of swimming is accounted to fish not the fishers. Although delightfully swangling is, I have just discovered according to an urban dictionary online it is, ‘a word to describe achieving something in an uncommon or non-traditional way… Swangling, as stated, is an art… Above all, however, swangling is what the swangler makes of it’. What joy, the moniker fits. Perhaps it will be an olympic sport within couple of decades? You heard it here first.

Aside from the spearfishing, my first dive into my swim happened in mid-May this year and jolly nice it was too. As the summer has unfolded I’ve swangled on almost every trip. Just when I thought that my return to fishing couldn’t get better, swimming has enhanced it that little bit more. Combining passions and enabling a different perspective of the venue – the temperature, the feel of the bottom, an attuned sense of the silky wonder that is fresh water. Perhaps in years to come I will up my game and find some way to tie a lure to my toes and see if some leisurely front-crawl or breast stroke can entice a fish whilst actually swimming. I’ll keep the breaking strain low so that I don’t suffer the same fate as the Zanzibari fishermen I worked alongside – who told stories of inadvertent swims after hooking marlin whilst trailing thick lines trolling large lines from their outstretched ankles. Unbelievable, if it weren’t for the multiple bracelet-like scars on their ankles.

With so little mention of fishing and swimming elsewhere, I hope that I am not committing some massive taboo; some long-ingrained understanding that to swim whilst fishing is akin to a racial or sexist slur. I hope not because angling is, to many, a way of further appreciating and learning about the wonder of our natural, and to swim is to give that further and deeper perspective. So, I encourage you to entertain a spot of swangling next time you’re by the water and if you happen upon a fishing venue, likely in the South West, which contains or is fringed by an angler in sopping boxer shorts (or in even less populated venues his birthday suit) do come and say hello, if and when decency allows.

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Alco-hole

My name is Tom and I’m not an alcoholic.

Picture the scene…

It’s late, you’re tucked deep into an East Berlin bar with an old friend. The walls, bare and industrial, speak of deep conversation, of exploration of humanity and history. The candlelight suggest intimate conversations of art, of philosophy, of human connection.

It’s a moment where work, when pressures slip away and, once again, you can rub spirit to spirit with another human and just talk and talk in licentious splendour.

Remove alcohol and you wouldn’t even be there in the first place. The conversations over a beer, the truths shared and the languid eyes replaced instead by an early morning. Perhaps a jog? Read the paper? Some work?

Or join them but ask for a cup of tea. Yeah right. Deep in the old DDR, where fellow humans once risked lives to be with one another and you want a what? Just a tea? You mean to say that you would sit here – whilst others open up – and you’d have a tea? Come on, just have one beer. Enjoy yourself. Relax. What’s wrong?

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The very same bar’s view of tea…

…and so goes so many evenings. The insidious creep.

Alcohol has been with us for millennia. The beer soaked saw-dusted floor of a medieval tavern, a wine-filled Roman amphitheater or the whiskeys in a western tavern.

The pulling up of stools that has for generations symbolized winding down, catching up and setting the world to rights. There’s to be no more of the day’s rushing. Or a dinner party amongst friends with oodles of red wine, music and laughter. Our sex lives would likely have been less interesting if it weren’t for this elixir. Alcohol opens doors and experiences.

These are a few of my favourite things.

Plus its all OK, because I’m not an alcoholic. The odd blow out here and there, but mostly in moderation. Sure, in the run up to Christmas, with parties and catch ups, this can be a daily occurrence. But tis the season. It wouldn’t be quite right to have mince pies, mistletoe and tinsel without a glass here and a glass there.

I don’t quite know where this all started for me. Until the age of 22 or so, I didn’t like the taste of alcohol and I’d only been drunk a handful of times. The almost paralytic drunk first time, when aged 14 with freshly minted livers, we’d not known that half a bottle of vodka isn’t wise… to drinking behind bike sheds or in bushes in the rain simply because it was forbidden, and forbidden things were infinitely enticing.

Alcohol has become such a prevalent feature of my, of all of our, lives that I don’t think we question it any more. If we discovered it for the first time – this moreish liquid that can wreck families, make your head thump, but the night before loosen inhibitions in amazing ways – perhaps we’d treat it with some respect. Yet I’ve seen captains of industry acting like 4 year olds as if that’s to be expected… funny almost – “God we were wrecked last night, wasn’t it awesome, I think although I can’t quite remember”. It’s such a fixed part of our lives, so normalised do we even see if for what it is?

Alcohol is sophisticated. Wines crafted over centuries. Generations of love poured into a single taste. As you sip you instantly experience the many lives of dedication to that one flavour. The blood of that artisan and sometimes even Christ, all in one. To ignore it would be like wandering through the Louvre blindfolded.

***

For the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to gain some perspective and objectivity. Around last Christmas I mostly didn’t drink for 6 months. This year I’ve had patches on, patches off. I’ve been to weddings, gigs and festivals, perhaps the nexus of the non-alcoholic person’s blow outs, and remained sober.

Here’s what I’ve noticed. Though please remember – I love fun, naughtiness and adulescence. These are not conclusions I necessarily wanted to come to:

Moderation can be much harder than not drinking at all. Once you’ve had a pint, the second is so much easier to justify when coupled with the dopamine release. It would be so wonderful to have one, indulge and then stop but, for me at least, this is harder than not drinking at all. That makes me sound like an alcoholic, but I’m not.

Overall, I’m way healthier when I don’t drink. I sleep, on average, a half to an hour less each night if I haven’t been drinking for a few days and my quality of sleep is way better too. As a result, or perhaps in addition, my brain works better. I also feel I have much more energy during the day. I get more done and seem to have more time. For someone that has battled tiredness, this alone is a pretty compelling reason to abandon drinking altogether. I just feel better. I’m less prone to mood swings and low ebbs. I feel together, stronger and more emotionally powerful. There’s a mental and emotional sagginess that accompanies drinking that you only notice when you start to put some distance between yourself and the sauce.

Its very possible to have a good time, perhaps even a better time, completely sober. In fact, while alcohol gives the impression of opening people up – downed defenses decrease and tongues loosened – I’ve noticed that true connection, empathy and sensitivity actually decreases. In extreme, when people are properly drunk they, quite literally, turn into toddlers. Witnessing the scenes of normally erudite, intelligent, considerate people when inebriated is hilarious when involved but tinged with a moronic sadness when viewed from a sober perspective. I’m sure you’ve witnessed a ‘hilarious’ moment as seen by a drunken crew, that from the outside seems pathetic. That’s before that tears, fights, anger and the hormonal surges that often accompany.

Late nights don’t happen nearly as frequently. When drunk, evenings spill into the night and we roll into bed late. When sober, it’s harder to ignore pressing eyelids and the kebab, or rolling on somewhere else is much less appealing. As such you gain mornings but lose parts of the day when exciting things can happen.

Most people recognise all of this, at least semi-consciously. Tell them you’ve not drunk in a while and the reaction is usually along the lines of, “Yeah, I should too”. “Hangovers are just getting worse and worse”. Normally followed by a “But”. I haven’t even covered the horrors of the bad hangover… it’s not pretty, as evidenced:

Daybreaking Bad

Daybreaking Bad

Couple the above reasons with macro studies and the evidence becomes more damming. A Harvard study, conducted over 75 years – the largest longitudinal study in history, found that alcohol was the main cause of divorce, depression and mental disabilities. Sure, the study cites alcoholism but please don’t tell me that just because you limit your intake you suffer none of the consequences. I’m pretty confident that moderate intake results in moderate effects. Oh, and alcohol alongside cigarettes, contribute to premature/early deaths.

The slightly less scientific James Altucher points out that firstly, alcohol is a depressant, so why tempt it. It’s also a poison and damages the immune system. He concludes that he’s no puritan, just the opposite. But that he simply wants to live a long life with high quality in his later years. Fair enough.

There’s no doubt of alcohol’s damage when you visit places like coastal Kenya or backwater towns in the US, Australia etc. The cost of alcohol’s influence on our collective health systems is extraordinary. They say that 12% of the total health expenditure is for alcohol-related causes. That’s before absenteeism, and things like psychological problems if the Harvard study’s results are true – they claim 57% of divorces are due to alcohol. Woah.

So where does this leave us? Are we all living in an alco-hell? It seems pretty damming. I have a couple of friends who don’t drink. They seem more energetic, quicker to laugh, brighter. Yet some who gave up for powerful reasons, two of whom are therapists, have decided to drink a bit again after a long time without. Perhaps it’s just not possible. Perhaps the benefits of loosening up, talking, company and conviviality are so potently beneficial that we should all just enjoy ourselves.

Yet my experiments seem to lead to the same place – to giving up. The evidence seems, particularly powerful as I write it out, to be overwhelmingly in support of the abstainer. Yet that cut off feels overly restrictive. It doesn’t allow for spontaneity and fun. It’s an admission that alcohol is more powerful than I am. Surely, I’m in control of it, rather than the other way around. Yet again, writing it down it would seem that perhaps we’re not as in control as we think we are.

Plus I’m lucky, I don’t put on weight and I’m not an alcoholic and my family hasn’t been overly affected by alcohol. Those would be slam-dunk reasons for eternal sobriety.

So, where does this leave me? Tonight I’m heading out… again… into the Berlin night with a different friend.

But I think I’m on a clear path to severely limiting my intake permanently, if not stopping forever. I don’t have a problem, yet even that is a problem. If I can find the balance and have a glass or two a week without any of the negatives, I shall continue. But if the precariousness continues – this inability to walk the tightrope, I’ll give up. It’s just not worth it for now, even without the longer term health benefits. The damage that it does to our life is so huge, albeit insidiously so that it’s truly not worth it… even close to worth it when examined.

My name is SimpleTom, is society an alcoholic?

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Some reference:

A year without alcohol

What you miss out on if you don’t drink

What alcohol really does to your brain “Alcohol tricks you into thinking that it’s actually making your feel great.  The effect is that you keep drinking to get more dopamine release, but at the same time you’re altering other brain chemicals that are enhancing feelings of depression.”

San Francisco Sleepathon… is coming!

Sleepathon in San Francisco

Majesty and Misery

A few months ago I was compelled to write an ‘open letter’ (http://bit.ly/1dkuwcA).

I suggested I’d organise a ‘sleepathon’ in San Francisco in aid of the homeless. The response has been amazing – if we can get just a few more people to sign up, it looks this event will happen in September!

If you’re bothered by the homeless problem in San Francisco and want to help, please share this letter and sign up here http://bit.ly/RAfwSV

Why a Sleepathon? San Francisco is one of the most extraordinary places in the world. The scope of opportunity, innovation, energy and entrepreneurship remains unparalleled.

Yet despite this and the wealth that has accumulated, the city disappoints if measured by the way it looks after its less fortunate. The American dream here is enjoyed by a few, sandwiched next to the American nightmare.

After writing the last letter, I’d expected little or no response, perhaps criticism. After all, who am I to suggest such an event? What good would it do? Shouldn’t we leave the problem to the State, or to those more experienced? Is it hypocritical for a bunch of privileged people to have a jolly one evening? So familiar are the problems on Market Street or in the Tenderloin that many people believe the scale of the issue is beyond tackling, or worse still, feel apathetic or no longer notice. Yet it makes me feel a bad Samaritan, impotently witnessing desperate scenes whilst ‘living the dream’.

Amazingly, my last letter struck a chord and responses flooded in, including interest from some very high profile residents willing to participate. Given that support, I’m willing to invest a few weeks of my time this year to try to make it happen.

I envisage a night in a safe space – a park, a hall or a public area where people stay for the whole night. A night of fun, with music, an auction, talks by those who understand the problems and a hackathon in which participants can brainstorm ideas that might help. Perhaps even a little bit of sleep if we’re lucky, alongside friends and supporters.

We might all be a bit tired the next day. Let that be a badge of honor, demonstrating a willingness to do something. At the very least, we will have learned a little and had some fun – at most we might raise some money and awareness.

Please sign up to join us here – http://bit.ly/RAfwSV – and please, please do forward this on. If people don’t sign up I’ll take that as a lack of desire to make this happen – no hard feelings, but in the spirit of entrepreneurship there’s no point dedicating a lot of effort if there’s little interest.

Please do get in touch if you’ve any thoughts or questions. I look forward, I hope, to spending a night with you in September.

Thanks,

Tom

www.twitter.com/brightgreen

Sleepout Crowd

A sleepout in the UK

 

Sleepathon

A few months ago I wrote this ‘open letter’. The response was amazing and I’d like to see if I can make this event happen in September in San Francisco – so I wanted to repost this here and then I’ll follow on with more details shortly.

If you’re interested in joining (or if you’re not in San Francisco, at least helping out) please a) sign up and b) send this on to friend, family and lovers in California. Thanks!

Dear Greg,

After reading your post last week, I need your help to organize a Sleepathon – (anyone can sign up here).

I am a homeless man, living in the Bay Area. But I’m also not that dissimilar from you – I am an entrepreneur with a new business, currently on 500 startups. Fortunately for me, my homelessness is a choice.

When I read your post last week, it deeply upset me. So this weekend, I went down to Market St this weekend to talk to a few people on your behalf.

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Sadly, this guy pictured can’t join one of your hackathons as his hands are in really bad condition, which is why he’s homeless as he can’t find work. He was also wearing a number of medical bracelets – he is a very sick man.

Despite having very little, he offered a flower as a sign of peace as well as a hug. He was dirty, as you rightly noted many of the people in the area would be. But in my mind a hug outweighs the inconvenience of a bit of dirt.

The people I spoke to seem to differ in opinion about the feeling that ‘it’s a privilege to be in that part of town’. They think the opposite, as this article indicates – they see it as a curse to be squeezed next to the rich.

In your open note, reported here you said:

“It’s a burden and a liability having them so close to us. Believe me, if they added the smallest iota of value I’d consider thinking different.”

Greg, they see it as disturbing having you so close to them… At least you get a comfortable bed at night, whereas they often have no-one to turn to and nowhere to go. It’s way worse for them because it’s far, far harder to look up at someone who has all the opportunities that life can offer from rock bottom, without opportunity or hope, than it is to look down and watch your step. Many of them are very sick, physically and mentally – you might want to read this article by Russell Brand who eloquently writes about the struggles with addiction here.

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Which leads me to my request for help. You organize hackathons – it’s time to do good by your position. You are clearly disturbed by the presence of so many homeless people. So, rather than chastise you for your remarks, I want to ask you to help them.

I too am disturbed by the number of homeless, desperate people in San Francisco. As an entrepreneur with the capacity and opportunity to help, I would like to do something about it.

I propose we organize a Sleepathon, building on your success organizing such events. Imagine a night where we encourage as many people as possible, the extraordinarily privileged tech entrepreneurs especially, to sleep out for the night and raise money for the homeless. Could we get Mark Zuckerberg, Ev Williams, Kevin Rose and others to join us to sleep out for just one night? If we got a thousand people to join us and asked their friends and colleague to sponsor them, imagine what we could do.

Perhaps we could find somewhere a little more comfortable than Market St for you, like Dolores Park? Have you noticed how cold it’s been the last few weeks? Some homeless people froze to death. These are people’s parents, children and siblings. Perhaps we can organize the event for the spring, when it’s a bit warmer too – giving us some time to get ready? Who knows, like my current ‘homeless’ situation, perhaps it could even be fun?

Let’s use the unfortunate nature of your recent publicity to raise awareness, money and show support for these poor souls who haven’t been caught by the same protective layers of society that helped you and me.

Are you with me? Sign up here to register interest.

Yours in anticipation,

Tom Savage

www.3sourcing.com/profile-tom

PS – PLEASE SHARE THIS letter if you want it to happen – I’ll organise it if there’s enough interest (even if you don’t get in touch, Greg!)

Work Like it’s the Weekend

I've no idea who this is, but I like his attitude... and his painting

I’ve no idea who this is, but I like his setup… and his painting

Over the last month I’ve been living in a van in Silicon Valley, more on that here and here. I’ll post some adventures soon on Simpletom… but today I want to explore working like it’s the weekend.

I get my best work done at the weekends. Not that I want to be working at the weekends, mind. But weekend works comes with a calm that is enviable to my midweek self.

In Leonard Cheshire’s, (a hero of mine) biography, he mentioned that whenever he wrote a letter, even if he had a pile of them, he’d write each one as if it was the only one he needed to write. Although it meant the pile took longer, he was able to give himself to each letter, without the shackles of time constraining his focus and commitment to each. It meant he wrote fabulous letters.

At the weekends, I’m not subjected to the deafening tick-tock of the progress clock, which leaves me rushing from moment to moment, task to task and meeting to meeting. I’m not sure I finish anything, or am ever ‘in the moment’, during the week.

We should work like it’s the weekend everyday. At the weekend, there’s time make a cup of tea, stare out of the window, take 15 minutes off to play the guitar, write a Simpletom blog (the infrequent nature of my posting is perhaps indicative of the healthy lack of weekend work) and do meaningful stuff that ‘I don’t have time for’ in the week. We’d have time to think and put that thought, carefully and considerately into our work.

We would do more substantial, more committed, more thoughtful work, if we always worked like it was the weekend. Today, we’re so subjected to the immediacy of things that work has become frantic. The bygone days of long boozy lunches, trips by steamer, disconnectedness seem far, far away – yet some pretty epic work (and thought) was achieved. Most modern thought-leaders and doers seem to want more time to think and breathe. Why don’t we just give it to ourselves. Why does midweek work have such a different texture from weekend work, even though it’s the same thing. Why do we prescribe one pace for one and another for another?

If we worked like it was the weekends, perhaps we’d not get quite as much done, but I’m pretty confident we’d get what we needed to do done, with more meaning and quality – of life and work. And so for another cuppa…

It’s OK

Hmmm…

I am currently here, but I’m about to move back to San Francisco whilst wanting to settle here, where I’m trying to to buy a house.

Well done Simpletom… you’re managing, quite dedicatedly, to ignore all of your own advice.

Over the next few months I will immerse myself and my business in 500 Startups, a prestigious ‘accelerator’ programme for tech startups. So, I’m about to embark upon an extremely intense few months whilst also trying to remember this and this. It’s going to be a whirlwind where a certain amount of schizophrenia will inevitably occur. But as my wise sister often says, with perhaps one the simplest adages for repelling self-doubt:

“It’s OK”.

Edward De Bono in his book Simplicity suggests 10 rules for simplicity. The first is ‘you need to put a very high value on simplicity’. The second, ‘you must be determined to seek simplicity’. This is valuable advice for the simplicity-seeker. Simplicity is not easy, nor does life unfurl the way you want it to.

I could chastise myself for putting myself in this, another situation where the simplicity I seek will be harder to maintain. I could wind myself up with concern, or frustration. But, actually, it’s OK.

Last time I was in San Francisco, I had dinner with an old friend who’s now raised close to $20m for his tech venture. He was philosophical (unsurprisingly, given he has an All Souls Fellowship in Philosophy – the ‘hardest exam in the world’) about running a tech venture and whether it will succeed or fail, reminding me what a privilege it is to be in this position. In fact, a couple of the most dogged, determined entrepreneurs I know seemed to have softened slightly and become more at one with the idea that, whatever the outcome, it’s OK. I don’t want to get too ‘Cynical Valley’, before I’ve even started.

So, here I come. It’ll be OK.

Though regular readers will be pleased to know that I’m not going completely native. There’s still a bit of a tree hugger/determined-simple-seeker/adventurer at heart, given I’ve just rented one of these, which will be my home until Christmas. Car parks of Silicon Valley watch out.

I’ll try to keep you updated on my progress as a technological entrepreneur vagabond.

Let’s hope, for the sake of my new colleagues, I can find somewhere to shower each morning… or I’ll have to rebrand myself SimplePong.  But I scents that it’s going to be OK too (sorry).

Adulescence

(or the art of Growing Down)

A previous, very silly, birthday

A previous, very silly, birthday

Yesterday was my birthday. I was dressed as a ninja cow at a festival, squeezed into a west-country barn full of ‘Almost Farmous’ revellers. We were ‘The Moo Fighters’, naturally. Seconded only by ‘Daft Skunk’.

The weekend consisted of dancing, laughing, drinking, firing water pistols at unsuspecting crowd members and generally indulging in large dollops of mischievous fun.

All perfectly acceptable fun for us youngsters, right? The issue being that I turned a wizened 34. My birthdays haven’t much changed since I was 18 and today my bones ache.  Peter Pan is alive and well and, as a casual glance around the festival would suggest, he’s not alone. You can spot him easily – he’s the one with the bags beneath his eyes.

Are we eternally young, or merely adulesents?  I wonder at what point we’ll become too old to find squirting people with water on a dance floor and then hiding most entertaining, and whether or not that constitutes a good or a bad thing?

I hope never. I’d like to nurture many of the wonders of youth – the lack of responsibility, humour, mischief, laughter, untidiness, carelessness, late nights, giggling, dancing that immaturity brings. I’d much rather live in a Roald Dahl novel than one by Austin, or Tolstoy, with their endless stream of grown ups, or children masquerading as adults.

We have many interwoven, sometimes contradictory, relationships with youth and growing up.

I was a late developer. As a summer baby, I was always playing catch up with hairier and taller friends in my year, some of whom had 11 months ‘extra time’. Not inconsequential when you’re a wee nipper on a frozen ruby pitch. Amongst those peers, I’ve now friends who’ve had three children, are captains of industry, divorcees, widows, drug addicts, alcoholics and celebrities. Some seem exceptionally grown up, with houses in expensive parts of London, pristine wardrobes, pensions and all the dinner party chat that complements their choices.

Others… well… haven’t. Yet some of the latter are more emotionally mature than the former and have had ‘richer’, more interesting lives. One friend could be described as the ‘furthest behind’, in terms of their careers… is one of the wisest, most worldly, experience-rich person I know. Another, a great friend who writes wonderfully here has just set off backpacking around the world, one-way, in his mid-thirties.

I’ve never understood the rush to grow up. Being one seems to mean attending parties where conversation never steers beyond pleasantries or politics. It means subverting ones true beliefs or self-expression. It results in wearing a uniform of chinos, collared shirts and boat shoes. It can mean rounding out all the passionate edges of youth and becoming ‘just another’ conformist. Add a bunch of reality, a sprinkle of boredom, a dash of failed ambition and a liberal sprinkle of responsibilities, loneliness and hard work to the mix and slow bake… and before we know it we’ve become a grown up. Past tense.

And yet, on the flip side, I’m envious of those adults who seem settled, self-confident and aware.

At a wedding a week ago the electronic music selection resulted in every person over forty retreating to the bar, save for one sixty-something who wasn’t scared to get involved. I’d rather be that person. Yet I want to do it because it feels authentic, not because of psychological stunting, or because I refuse to accept I’m the age I am. I’d like to be the godfather than a child goes to for both fun and sage advice, not one or the other.

Being ‘trapped in escapism’ is often an attempt to maintain the freedom of youth and avoid responsibility. Responsibility and maturity, particularly emotional maturity is, in my mind, always a good thing and yet so is a youthful energy and disposition to trying new things. Youth evokes passion, dreams, a healthy recklessness and hope that a weary elder can swat aside in the desire for routine, conformity and comfort.

So what to do? Can we bounce around like a child at a festival one weekend whilst holding down a job that requires huge responsibility, without giving one or the other short shrift? Can we extract the best from both maturity and immaturity?

There are good examples of a balance – The Dalai Lama, despite the weight that comes with being a religious leader, has a lightness, a giggle and a curiosity to match any child. David Attenborough, when asked about his passion said, “Many people ask me when I became interested in natural history. I’ve never met a child who isn’t, so I ask in reply at what age other people lost interest in the wonders of the natural world. I just never did”.

It’s a great shame when someone becomes too sensible to swim in the sea, dance, laugh, play practical jokes or takes things too seriously because they might look silly or get dirty. Both this beautiful poem as well as our deathbed regrets suggest that retaining the better parts of our youthfulness is important, and hard.

Let us nurture the wonders of youth. Let us be sillier, swim more rivers, make more mistakes, keep in touch with friends, work less hard, walk barefooted earlier, pick more daises and allow ourselves to be happy. I’ve started already this summer and it’s working. Come join.

(And I must leave you with this, which is the view from my window as I write this…)

Bristol evenings...

Bristol evenings…