Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Oh Carol 

Carol? Well, it's like this. I was at college with a guy called Graham Harboard - Ginz. He was one of those guys who always seemed to have everything figured out earlier than the rest of us. He always very comfortable in his own skin, and had an ability to get on with everyone: nerds to troublemakers, and all points in between. He's the kind of guy that anyone would like to chat to over a beer or two.

Since I first met him, Ginz had always had a girlfriend: Carol. Lots of people came to college with a boyfriend or girlfriend back home, but Ginz was one of the very few who never showed any sign of giving up on the person he had decided was right for him. In retrospect, theirs was about the only 'proper' relationship around at the time, and after college, they inevitably got married, and settled down near Gloucester, handy for his beloved Gloucester Rugby Club.

In February 2002, Carol died of Hodgkin's disease. She was 31 years old.

This would probably have destroyed me, and triggered a retreat into self pity and despair, but Ginz is made of sterner stuff. He needed to do something - the kind of thing Carol would have done in the circumstances, so he established a charity - Carol's Smile. He then set off to raise funds for the charity by walking round the coastline of Britain, starting and finishing near Gloucester, and raising funds as he went. After about five thousand miles of walking, he finished his journey in October 2003. To date, the charity has raised just over £140,000 against a target of £200,000. This is indisputably a significant achievement.

Now the part that you've been expecting: the money. You know you'll feel better if you give some money to something as worthy as this, and even a few quid will help towards their target. To donate takes less than five minutes - you've got a credit card, and it's easy. Look at it this way: if I introduced you to Ginz, you'd happily buy him a drink or two, so use the money responsibly and put it to good use. You save yourself the "crawling home from a curry house you've never seen before" part as well. The link for donating is here.

If you've got this far, then thanks for your patience, and sorry to fill up your busy day. If this is the kind of thing that really irritates you, then my humble apologies, but I felt that I had to try and help by spreading this story a bit wider, especially as it feels very close to home.

Now go back and donate, and if you think it's worthwhile, get some friends to do the same! Also, if you have a blog and a heart, please provide a link to this page. The permalink is the # symbol below.

Friday, June 25, 2004

Your mind can play tricks 

Sometimes when your mind wanders, it gets lost. I have noticed that when I am bored, usually in less than electric meetings, my mind will throw up random memories from the past. These are never related in any way to what is going on, but seem to be the product of some rogue neuron with a loose connection. During a meeting yesterday, for example, I suddenly remembered, in great clarity, a meal out with my Mum’s sister’s family, which must have occurred about 20 years ago.

My brother and I and our cousins were all kids at the time, and I remember the pavement outside the restaurant, with bollards along the edge, and grey, wet cobbles in the street. I am sure I haven’t thought about that night for years. It must have been somebody’s birthday, as I can only remember eating out with the same group a handful of times. I don’t remember anything notable happening though, and certainly no connection with the meeting I was dozing through.

This probably has some medical significance. Is there a doctor in the house?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

There are no mistakes in life 

Before we came out to South Africa, my wife and I did an Alpha course. Since we were living in West London, we went for the pukka option, and did the one at Holy Trinity Brompton, run by Nicky Gumble. When we got to Cape Town, we did it again, having missed the end of it due to our emigration; this time with Nicky on video.

I had originally agreed to do it, being something of a sceptic, because it sounded fascinating. It was. Nicky Gumble is one of the best speakers I have seen, and really knows how to tell his story. Anyway, this started me down the road – slowly – to exploring my own faith. Moving out here was probably a good move in this regard (as in so many others), since Christianity is more socially acceptable here, for want of a better phrase. In the UK, to be a Christian is often considered a little bit odd – quaint, but weird. Like Morris Dancing. In South Africa, there may or may not be more Christians per square mile, but they are more visible, and less apologetic about it. Of course, the Brits are apologetic about many things, but it seems to be a particular problem with Christianity. The less apologetic Christians are, the weirder they tend to be.

Perhaps the reason that I have started to notice Christians more is that there are more of them in my immediate vicinity. I keep discovering that friends are Christians, as are many of the colleagues and clients with whom I get on best. Anyone might think that someone is trying to tell me something. So where am I going with this? I’m not sure yet, but the journey is interesting…

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Fighting in the street 

Yesterday was youth day in South Africa. June 16th is the anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprisings- the point at which the camel's back finally broke for black students. The straw was the proposal from the apartheid government to force Afrikaans as the required language in schools. This would mean that even those for whom Afrikaans was not even a second language (i.e. the vast majority of the black population) would be taught in this bastardised version of ancient Dutch – the language of the oppressor.

On June 16th 1976, students in Soweto staged a protest march to a police station that ended in a confrontation with the police. As tensions rose, the police opened fire, and their first victim was 13 year old schoolboy Hector Peterson. There is a famous photo of a young man - Mbuyisa Makhubo - carrying Peterson’s body. The victim’s sister is running next to them, her face locked in a scream of anguish. In style and impact, the picture is reminiscent of the Pulitzer prize winning photo of a young Vietnamese girl fleeing a Napalm – drenched village. She survived, and is now a US citizen. (Who says Americans don’t do irony?)

The picture of Hector Peterson became one of the defining images of apartheid, and is sometimes credited with bringing home some of the horrors of pre-democratic life in South Africa to a worldwide audience.

I remember the June of 1976. I was 6 years old, and loving the unusually long hot summer in the UK. The days were filled with swings and sun and the smell of cut grass. Sometimes I really feel like a foreigner in this country.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

One two 

The Two Things about management consulting:
1. Without good implementation, the best ideas are useless.
2. At some point you have to let the client do it.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

There’s a little black spot on the sun today  

Which is something to do with Venus, and nothing to do with this post, but I couldn’t pass that up as a title.

I need a new car. The old Triumph is doing well, but is deteriorating, and to fix it properly means giving it a rest for a while, which means driving something else. Given the state of my finances, the something else has to be something cheap, which probably means a Citi Golf. This is a South African-ism. When a friend of mine was out here from the US, he noticed that there seemed to be a lot of well-preserved mark 1 VW Golfs on the road. The reason for this is simple: they are still making them, for much the same reasons, presumably, that they were still making the Beetle in Brazil until quite recently.

Most new Golfs for Europe are, as far as I know, manufactured in Port Elizabeth, at the bottom right hand corner of South Africa. VW South Africa are also still making the original style Golf as an affordable first car option. The fact that South Africa car prices are much higher than economics and the exchange rate dictates means that there is a large market for anything that may be described as “affordable”, hence the popularity of the “Citi Golf”. I think that they have upgraded things a bit since 1980-whatever it was, but the car is pretty much the same, and still doing very well.

They seem to last quite well too, so old ones which are affordable enough for me are available. Unless I can find something more interesting first. For “interesting”, read “classic or fast”. Anyone out there in Cape Town with something good going cheap?

Listening to: Counting Crows, Hard Candy: not bad, and they even come to Cape Town every 5 years or so…

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

It's over 

The presentation that we have been preparing for our client was moved, from Monday to Wednesday, thereby giving us a bit of extra time to polish it. Parkinson’s Law applying as usual, we took all that time, but it does help. The way things work is that we spend several weeks doing a pile of analysis and research, then we try to distil that into a presentation that gets across our findings in a coherent and convincing way. What happened in this case, given the extra time available, is that we went through two final versions of the presentation. The first contained detailed analysis, diagrams of processes, lots of graphs, and a wealth of detail. The second version, however, is different. This one hints at the bulk of the work that underlies it, and speaks with the confidence that comes from the fact that we really know the stuff behind it, but it is sharper, more succinct - better.

There is an analogy here with any kind of creative process. It is said that Picasso could paint photographically by his late teens, before he branched off into re-arranging bodies on canvas. You need to know and understand the rules thoroughly before you can start to play with them and see what happens. It works the same way for golfers, painters, writers. Only when you have the foundation of hard work does everything else look so easy. The more you practice the luckier you get.

Case in point: the more astute might pick up the reference to golfers, followed by a paraphrase of Gary Player. You don’t have to spell it out, but it’s there, and what is unwritten or unspoken lends substance to what is left. So now I’ve blown it. A good idea spoiled.

Listening to: The Clash. London Calling makes me homesick. Strange.

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