Category Archives: Miscellany

Three Steps to Decide – In or Out?

If you aren’t sure which way to vote in the forthcoming British referendum on whether Britain should withdraw from membership of what used to be called the European Economic Community, then follow this simple process to help you make up your mind.  If you follow the advice here and come to a conclusion as a result, please leave a comment. I’d like to know if this piece helps you to make a decision.

  1. List out the 10 things you dislike most about Britain and British society at the moment
  2. Prioritise the 10 items in some way
  3. For each and every item in your list, answer the following questions as honestly as you can:
    1. Is this problem caused by the public (a social / societal problem)?
    2. Is this problem caused by / a result of our government’s behaviour?
    3. Could the government realistically solve this problem?
    4. Would staying with the EU make these problems better, worse, or no change?
    5. Would leaving the EU make these problems better, worse, or no change?
    6. Are these problems caused by EU membership?
    7. In the event of an exit,  will the effort and expense of untangling the nation from the EU help solve this problem?
    8. Similarly, in what way will spending time, money and effort building new partnerships with Europe and the rest of the world after throwing away the ones we had affect this problem?

If these steps don’t lead you to a conclusion and you are being swayed by public argument and the media barrage, then I have the following advice to offer:

  • Figures in isolation are meaningless.  For example, if we are spending 1 million per day on being part of Europe, this is a useless piece of information unless you can compare with something else: 1 million on Europe per day, 10 million per day on Trident, 100 million per day on the NHS.  You should only gauge the value of the money spent in relation to other important spending.  Furthermore, each side of the argument will be adept at massaging figures to emphasise a point.  My figures here are illustrative and fictional.
  • Ask yourself who stands to gain from the argument being offered?  Is the position they are striving to achieve in your interest, or their own?
  • Refugees are not the same as migrants.  Refugees are seeking refuge.  Usually from war, persecution or natural disaster.  They aren’t out to get you.
  • Migrants are fleeing poverty or seeking a better life for themselves and their children.  They aren’t out to get you.
  • In or out, migrants and refugees won’t disappear
  • Do you trust the British government?

I’d love to read your comments, conclusions, top 10 problems.

Picture of Matt's DevilishlyDisabled branding

being devilishly disabled

i’ve just met an inspirational fella – his name is Matt and he runs a tee-shirt business.  I had my first proper conversation with Matt at a business network meeting in Bude, where I live, but I have been aware of Matt’s existence for longer that that, mainly, from admiring his strength in propelling himself up Bude’s steep hills, in order to get work on the tills at Sainsbury.  In case you hadn’t guessed, Matt primarily uses a wheelchair to get about.  Big arms on the lad, I can tell you that.

Matt is an interesting chap – he’s had a variety of jobs, and his experience of being disabled in employment would no doubt open your eyes.  In a story that’s all too familiar, Matt has decided to move on from redundancy and become his own boss: Matt runs, a business that challenges able-bodied pre-conceptions and barriers to communication, initially through the sale of humourous tee-shirts .  Guess what?  Its already working!  As result of meeting Matt and some ideas he’s had for some mutual co-promotion of our businesses, I am already seeing the world differently.  Thanks to Matt, I see some very interesting times ahead of us that could help a lot of people, and that’s tremendously exciting for both of us. Watch this space.

If you would like to support Matt, his venture and his ethos, please do visit Matt’s site, read his blog, buy and wear a tee-shirt, and help the able-bodied-but-hard-of-thinking to overcome their own fears of talking to someone in a chair. If you need to, you can use his tee-shirts as an ice-breaker…but that means you should buy one, shouldn’t you?


its been a long time since I read anyone’s blog, or written, or had much of an online presence at all. i’ve missed reading my favourite bloggers – Nicola, Tanya, Liam, Silverbetty – and the interactions stemming from the same. i managed to write The Magic Moaster, but that was more about allowing myself to get back to sleep during one of my occasional 4:30am sleepless moments than it was about the desire to write.

in short, its been a very stressful time combined with a great deal of activity that needed high levels of management on my part, combined with some sleeplessness and some low points on the depression cycle.

as catharsis, and an explanation to those brave souls who have nothing better to read, here goes:


  • fight camp imminent. organising the marquee donors so that I can get them the colours and sizes they want for their reward packages. in itself, no mean feat – ordering approximately 40 teeshirts and hoodies of mixed sizes and colour. preparing the walking sticks, pyrography of same. each walking stick takes over an hour of effort.  some stress here
  • work.  looks like my time at my job is coming to its end.  company wants me to relocate back to the office 220 miles away from home.  i’ve been invited in for a chat with the human resources department, in august, after fight camp.  there is a question about my work from home status, it seems someone somewhere in the organisation is being difficult about it, and no longer wants to pay my expenses. does this mean i need to pay back 6 years of expense claims?  no way that is going to happen.  makes me angry.   I manage to kill that concern dead – the company has been treating me explicitly and implicitly as a work from home employee.  my future here is in doubt
  • family.  treatable cancer in my partner’s family.  should all work out fine, thanks to our  wonderful NHS
  • work again.  i’ve had a change of line manager from a person i respect, who is intelligent and has excellent leadership skills, to a person who is the opposite.  i will not have my 37.5 hours a week managed by this person, and neither will i tolerate her being in charge of bonus decisions.  this has to stop.  i am resolved to leave, one way or the other.  start looking for work.
  • set up Macaw website, complete with online shop for the events that have been organised.  actually take some money through the site, so that’s brilliant.  need posters for each of the events, or at least images for the shop.  purchase 2 metre banner for marquee, supply artwork for same.
  • make sure all events for camp are publicised.  create and maintain order list for 40 curries, along with tracking who has paid and who has not.  will there be enough people for the chinese watercolour workshop, and can i organise enough chairs and tables for the same?
  • purchase £600 of insurance for the marquee, ensure that the camp site are still happy for me to put it up.  figure out if the curry machine’s power requirements will blow up the site’s electrics for all campers and caravanners.  it may well do, so start figuring our generator requirements to keep food warm.


  • with the exception of three days, we have house guests booked for all of August
  • week before camp, i need to package up all rewards for marquee donors, into shoe boxes, nicely folder, badges, vouchers, walking sticks etc.  Make sure there are plenty of apple cuttings and bamboos for the lantern festival.  package all up for easy transport to camp.
  • summer camp.  once again, brilliant, but this time, much more stressful for me this year as there is an amount of organisation required for all events, coupled with the pressure to train and an eye on the weather.  I am desperately keen to get the marquee up so that all those who donated can see that i haven’t just pocketed their cash.  of course, they know i haven’t, but i still need to deliver.  two days in to camp, we succeed, it looks great.  the banner i ordered arrives just in time.  will everyone pay their fees?  I really hope so, as i have promised to pay some instruction fees this year.  whilst enjoyable, camp feels as much like a job as it does a holiday which knocks me sideways a bit.  wonderful moment when viewing the marquee from afar, seeing it full of happy people having a great time, and then feeling proud for once, thinking, I did this, I made it happen.
  • although a brief trip to work, its about 450 miles round trip. discuss employment options, i offer to accept a redundancy instead of relocating.
  • multiple car failures, still ongoing.  one particularly stressful event is 15 minutes before I am due to teach, the same day that I am also due to drive us to visit family. loads of stress plus a significant lowering of  mood means the wonderful boat trip and picnic up and down the river Dart is something that I take part in, rather than something i thoroughly enjoy.  low mood the next day means that four of six hours in the local zoo is similarly anhedonic.
  • invited, along with my drummer friend, to join a band for a gig locally.  start rehearsing and learning numbers.
  • Jazz week needs to rent my PA and 4 microphones.  Need to order two more microphones.  Come the period of rental, nobody on site wants to take ownership of anything, so its up to me install and arrange all items, and hope that its what is wanted.


  • A sudden and stressful clash of dates – one of my oldest and best friends is coming to visit for his birthday, the village hall where i teach is having its AGM the same night as the friend arrives, which is also the same night as the gig.  furthermore, having driven 250 miles to see us, I have training and grading commitments that weekend that I cannot change.  oh, and the inlaws are coming that same weekend too.  its all good!
  • me and Pete Bongo are dropped from the band for no good reason, the week before the gig. i have spent probably 8 or more elapsed hours rehearsing and putting effort in to this.  its not worth me being discombobulated about, i can’t afford to take a mood swing as a result of other’s selfishnes.  others fume on our behalf
  • invoice for PA rental falls on deaf ears.  i am owed £100 for my efforts, but i end up having to post the invoice as the recipient does’t bother to use his email, and wants to pay by cheque.  i eventually collect in person
  • a student’s parent is giving me a hard time about the decision not to submit his child for the grading.  i won’t go in to detail, but suffice to say it makes me angry and fed up.  i resolve to stick to my decision and live with the consequences.


i am still teaching, but due to lots and lots going on, I can’t make it over for my training very often.  i feel guilty about missing training, and receive pressure from my teacher.  similarly, with boot camp, i have heaps of stuff to do round the house which is good exercise. i receive pressure from boot camp and pressure from my partner. boot camp looses.  i can’t find the time to organise and play with our band, it involves coordinating and hosting 3 others, and i just don’t have the time right now, i harbour some guilt.  Iain and Sue have their baby boy, Maxwell.  I really should find the time to drive the 200+ miles to see them all, but its not that simple.  more guilt *sigh*  I have a sick friend whose behaviour is adversely affecting me, so for self preservation and in order stop loosing sleep, i decide i must withdraw a little.  i am these days resolved to fight to maintain friendships, but at not at the cost of my own mental health.  huge guilt.  i am becoming increasingly interested in politics and feel guilty that i am not campaigning for our NHS as much as Nicola.  in a similar vein, i feel i should make the time to read each party’s manifesto so i can make a vote for the lesser of all evils.  perhaps our soon to evolve devolution will inspire me to get involved with politicians on a local level.  that’s a lot of “volve”

Don’t get me wrong, there’s been some wonderful times this summer, this list is just the tricksty stuff that’s been eating my time and mood.  its good to get it our of my head, hopefully releasing me from its grasp.  to restore the balance, I must the write the blessings of the summer.  we really need a holiday to spend some time together and just let it all wash away.  must get on with organising that…busy, stress, guilt, *sigh*

and another thing, must write up our fabulous camp this year….

Giving Up Smoking – A Transferable Approach to Breaking a Habit?

Here are the details of two techniques that freed me from the habit of smoking, the first technique worked for 5 years, the second, forever, so far. I bring the lists up-front in case you don’t have time to read my waffle.


I woke up one morning with a pain in my chest.  Turned out it was a pulled muscle, but I didn’t find that out until later on.  The night before my fear event, I had stupidly, honestly told someone that I would never give up smoking as I enjoyed it too much.  As soon as I noticed the pain, I stopped there and then on the spot, and didn’t touch another cigarette for 5 years.  Fear is an enormous motivator, but it needs to be real fear, self inflicted and visceral, not just a rational notion that this is bad for you, so don’t do it, you may get ill.  If you don’t have the fear, but still wish to give up, try the next approach.

Response Prevention

  1. Try to wait as long as you can before you have the first cigarette of the day.  If you light up before you leave the house, try to wait until you have left the house.  Try to wait until 5 minutes before your train arrives.  Even increasing by a minute per day is progress.  Keep pushing it to as late in the day as you can manage.
  2. Every time you want a cigarette, wait another twenty minutes before allowing yourself.  Set your watch or phone timer for twenty minutes, and if you still want it, have you cigarette then.  If that’s too easy, set it for thirty minutes, but no less than twenty.  Smoking every twenty minutes allows you three cigarettes per hour.
  3. Smoke half a cigarette.  Keep the rest of it until later.  Even if this is your fundamental approach, you will immediately cut your smoking by half.  Personally, whenever I wanted a cigarette, I found my urge was satisfied by half way through a cigarette anyway.  Do you really want all of that cigarette?  Your brain has had its hit by the time you exhale the first puff.
  4. Keep cigarettes handy.  If I can’t have something, then I want it all the more.  If the cigarettes are nearby, then its just a case of will power and techniques 1 to 3, and this is much less agonising than constantly thinking about going out to buy some cigarettes, and the accompanying guilt or sense of failure.  Remove that self-flagellation and give yourself a break – its not easy, and having them nearby as a crutch makes total sense if you are applying techniques 1 – 3.
  5. Don’t smoke with others at work.  If you keep going out for a cigarette every time your smoking buddies do, then they are calling the shots.  If they are still a trigger, wait until they come back from their cigarette break before you go on yours, apply 2 and 3.

Jase’s Theory of Nicotine Addiction

Nicotine suppresses hunger, that’s what I understand.  When inhaling cigarette smoke, nicotine hits your brain incredibly quickly and gives you some kind of hit.  Now take these two facts, and follow this logic: you are hungry, your brain tells you you are hungry triggering a desire.  You smoke a cigarette and immediately your brain receives some signal which not only provides feedback for the hunger, albeit an incorrect signal, but the nicotine also suppresses your appetite. Ahhhh, that feels good, and I am no longer hungry. A double lie to your brain.  Its easy to see that before too long, this cycle of hunger – nicotine – satisfaction results in weight loss, in turn giving rise to more hunger signals and the urge to lie to your brain again.  Smoking.  Those are some fundamental desires going on there, hunger, pleasure, satiation, and once confused, no wonder its so difficult to give up.

Response Prevention?

I discovered the techniques 1 to 4 myself, and they were very effective.  When I later beat my obsessive compulsive disorders, it was through the technique of response prevention, fostered upon me by my partner, a psychiatric nurse.  This technique aims to break the neural pathways that are laid down by habit, and thus gradually break the habit.  For my hand washing disorder, this involved increasing the time between a trigger and the habitual response – so, every time I considered my hands dirty, I waited as long as possible before washing them, and afterwards, repeating the mantra it’s not so bad, the dirt didn’t kill me.  I was allowed to wash my hands, I just had to eke out the time between episodes.  It worked.

Applying that notion to techniques 1-5 above, you can see that you would be slowly chipping away at the undesirable neural pathways, and constantly weakening them instead of reinforcing them.  Habit does have a physiological affect on your brain, its not just a case of will power, its a case of destroying the unwanted links and laying new paths.  its not easy, and it takes time, but it is achievable, you just need to stick with it, and not throw it all away if some days are worse than others.

The triggers:

  • Physiological
      • hunger
    • stress
    • any others?
  • social
    • meal times
    • work breaks
    • pub visits
    • any others?
  • habitual
    • walking to the car
    • walking to the shop
    • waiting for the train / bus
    • after a bath
    • after training
    • band practice?
    • barbeques?

Whether or not you make a list of your triggers so that you are more aware, just keep applying the techniques and give it time.  You couldn’t just regrow a nail or a nerve or knit a broken bone, so give yourself a chance with regards to changing your brain.

I would say good luck! but there is no need.  Whether you want to give up or cut down, the above will work.  Let me know how you get on applying these or similar techniques, or indeed if you think I am talking absolute rot.

use of metaphors

I was thinking about my article pull your laces tightA similar analogy could be constructed with a zip.  

By abstracting the content of the analogy (relationships) from the form of the analogy (a shoe), I can see that both shoe and zip could be metaphors for any activity that requires regular monitoring to ensure quality or a successful outcome, and where inaction results in a deterioration.  Ideally though, the analogy should perhaps be restricted to systems where there are two main players that in some way need pulling together.

Initially, I decided that this metaphor would be suitable for software development for companies that trade using that software – this is called enterprise software.  In the enterprise software world, where real life is constantly changing, and real business must me react accordingly, the software that models and operates the business process must always change to suit.  It is never considered finished. Such software is either constantly improving by concerted effort, or degrading by ignorance, or degrading by growth of data – the journey, in the original article – namely, even if the software is not made worse, an increase of data means more data problems to fix when the inevitable manifests.

However, having added the qualifier that there are two main players that in some way need pulling together, I now think my zip / shoe metaphor is not great for software.

If you can think of any suitable metaphors for my enterprise software scenario, please send let me know.  Similarly, if you can think of further usage of the shoe / zip metaphor, I would love to hear them.

pull your laces tight!

When you put your shoes on in the morning, you slacken off the laces a bit, fit your foot in there, wiggle it about, then pull the laces tight enough to hold your shoe on.  Some people like to have them on snugly, nice and tight, others like a looser fit.  After a mile or so, you may well loosen them because they are too tight, or tighten them because they are too loose.  You walk another mile, and maybe you make another adjustment, maybe it takes you five miles before you need to fiddle.

Inevitably, the further you walk, the looser your shoes become.

For me, this is a useful analogy for relationships.  The longer the journey, the more attention you need to pay to how tight your laces are.  At the start of your journey, the effort you put in at the beginning may be holding it all together, and whilst things are comfortable now, you will need to adjust at some point.

You may even find the shoe does‘t fit, in which case, change it, before you damage yourself.

For a long journey, you need to keep tightening those bindings that keep the shoe on. The problem is, old shoes can be comfortable, and you may not notice the laces coming undone.  Eventually, you will trip and fall, or your shoe will come right off your foot.


Thanks to Tim King for use of the photograph.

As a final thought, if your shoe does come off, comfort yourself with this truth: the person you were when you started your relationship has gone, you’ve moved on by as many years as your relationship existed.  Similarly, for your partner. A ten year relationship means a combined personality divergence of twenty years!  Are you the same people you were 20 years ago? I doubt it.