Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sarah three times

Ok, I have no idea why Blogger went a bit mental yesterday and decided to post 'Chasing Freedom' three times. You know I don't understand technology. Every time I log into Blogger I place myself in the hands of a nefarious whimsy I barely comprehend. Sometimes it lets me post pictures. Sometimes it doesn't. Go figure, as they say in New Jersey.

I may not understand technology so well, but I do know a piece of out and out craziness when I hear it. So strap yourself in for the latest humdinger from the New Labour government. Can you guess what it is yet? That's right folks:

Escalating prison population causing you problems?

Not sure where to put these troublesome little law-breakers?

Let me guess, you've tried preventative measures - ASBO's, tagging, curfews - and this criminal underclass just keeps on coming back for more?

Well, don't worry. New Labour has it all sorted. Obviously we can't cram any more ruffians into the prisons, it would be damn foolishness to try. We can't afford to build any more prisons, we can hardly afford to run the National Health Service for goodness sake, what with our commitment to occupying, er, I mean democratising foreign oil fields, oops, I mean totalitarian regimes. Ahem.

So! New Labour have come up with a ground-breaking new scheme. Well, actually not that new. We're going to put the prisoners on ships. Then we're going to sail all the really bad ones to Australia and see how they like them apples. Oh. No, the Australia bit is wrong, apparently immigration is an even nastier issue for them than it is for the Daily Mail.

Prison ships. Apparently we only closed the very last one left last year. I thought these went out in the 1800's or something (you're impressed that I know about them at all aren't you? I worked as tour guide for English Heritage for a while and I used to do tours at Fort Cumberland in Eastney - parts of that were built by prisoners who were marched to and from prison hulks in Langstone Harbour each day).

Check out the story at our old favourite, the BBC:

"Brian Caton, general secretary of the Prison Officers' Association, told the BBC that lowering the prison population was the best option. "

You don't say? How come the only part of their promise that New Labour remember is the Tough on Crime bit? How about a bit of income redistribution? Better education in low income areas? Lowering the number of children living in poverty?

When I finished ranting at New Labour - I mean seriously, is this what we're reduced to at the next election? A choice between David Cameron and New Labour?- today has been a very relaxing day.

I'd planned to spend the weekend working on one of my current contracts, but thanks to some speedy work during the week with my personal statistician-angel (can you guess who it is yet?) and thanks to feeling rough as a prisoner on a ship in a storm, I've spent the day sleeping and reading. I won't bore you with my latest malady (I seem to lurch from illness to illness lately, a sure sign that I haven't perfected the work/life balance yet) but suffice to say it involved waking up in the early hours of this morning feeling like I was birthing a cow. It's ok, it turned out that I wasn't, after all.

This evening though, when I finally made it onto the internet to write, I was cheered with an almost immediate discovery of two guys who made the stresses of the next election disappear for me. And I think I've fallen in love with the guy at the front.

My friend at Portsmouth City Council, Dave, who's a youth worker, was lamenting the horrors of YouTube last week when he said, "Anyone can upload their own stuff there, awful stuff."

Yes, they can. but they can also post gold-dust such as the clip I am about to unveil for you here. OK, don't get your hopes up, because I have a feeling that this, like Bill Hicks, might fall into the category of 'acquired taste', but seriously. I love these guys. According to YouTube, they're called 'Two chinese Boys' and they have a lot of other movie clips on YouTube, which is where I'm off to now. You cannot tell me that X-Factor is better than this.

Chasing Freedom

Working at the Museum today, and I was based at an old but fortunately functional pc in the storeroom. It's a solitary place to work, but exactly what I needed. There's also a scary cut-out of a sailor in Victorian uniform (sorry uniform curator dudes, I'm sure it's not Victorian at all) as you work in the door, which never fails to make me jump. The research for the Chasing Freedom exhibition has been one of my most challenging pieces of work to date. Chasing Freedom is a brilliant choice of a title, too, as the exhibition is devoted to telling the story of the Royal Navy's West Africa Squadron which 'policed the high seas' (as Christopher Lloyd write) in order to suppress the Transatlantic Slave Trade following the 1807 Abolition of the Slave Trade Act.

Preparing for an exhibition is vaguely comparable to the process of writing a thesis or a dissertation. There is so much material that should you attempt to think about the woods, the sheer number of trees will make you completely insane. It's much better to concentrate on the material right in front of me at any one point than to attempt to tackle the whole, especially if, like me, you are coming in completely from the outside. There is a certain atmosphere, too, to working at the Naval Museum, all the staff I have met so far inhabit their work in a way that is particular to the passions of their field. The Museum world, I suppose, reminds me a little of University. Knowledge and learning for knowledge's sake, which is quite how it should be.

There are broader questions too, in any form of research, but perhaps it is more more prominent in the research that takes place for an exhibition; the central question of how information is presented, not only in terms of the central argument - demonstrated and interpreted through the material that is selected for inclusion - but in terms of the language that is used, the tense, the amount of words in a sentence. There are some fascinating general guidelines for museum exhibition copy, for instance, that I am encountering for the first time. I would be interested to know if they vary from museum to museum, as well as depending on the audience that you are aiming and catering to.

Life feels very much work oriented at the moment, this has led to some of the anxieties and little stresses that I have been talking about this week. But this week has also brought many reminders of the reasons why I chose to pursue research/writing as 'career' and experiences of the many rewards that I find within the work I do.

There is, so I am told, more to life than work however, and although this weekend will not be entirely work-free, I intend to spend some time meditating, which has been on the cards (do you see what I did there?) all week.

Tune in tomorrow and see if you can spot the zen.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I've had a few too many glasses of wine, celebrating Kit Kat Kate's imminent departure to Africa. I'll miss her and at the same time I am so excited for the experience she's about to have. I have only imagined Africa in my mind, and through Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, obviously.

Today was a challenging day, but I don't want it any other way. The Royal Naval Museum is an amazing place to work for an 'outside' researcher with little experience in the Navy! I had a geeky moment earlier today when I became seriously excited about a find in the records, and I began to remember why I decided to freelance as a researcher/writer.

To close and distract, a poem from Gerard Manley Hopkins, and I think my favourite poem of his. As is so much a part of my thinking at the moment, I think Hopkins has here the pure meditation of catching, and holding, one moment of experiencing nature.

The Windhover
To Christ our Lord

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


The picture to the right is a photo of a mandala, created from coloured sand by Tibetan Buddhist monks. If you don't know anything about the creation of mandalas such as this one, please take a moment to have a look at the website from which this picture was copied:

I was up at 7 am this morning with monkeynut nerves (no, I don't know what it means, but I like the sound of it) jangling loudly in my stomach. This means that I am stressed: that little things are queuing up in my mind to niggle at me. Most of them are work related, but I also know that the amount of time I am currently spending on my work is also leaving a queue of family and friends (each with lives, thrills, losses and excitements) that I am slowly losing track of. This bothers me.

Armed with the fifties wisdom of Earl Nightingale and his strangest of secrets - if you haven't listened to him yet, take half an hour out of your schedule and do so. Come on! If you've got time for Hollyoaks/X Factor/The Apprentice/Lost/Eastenders etc then you can make time for this, if you hate it, write to me! - I leapt out of bed, tummy nerves flummoxing around as I made coffee and thought about the central premise of Nightingale's argument.

I remembered Earl declaring: We become what we think about. Then, I began to think about the other people in the world that I admire and I thought about some of things they said, to see if any of these things could make a difference to my day, and my jangling monkeynut nerves. Here's what I came up with:

Everything you imagine is real.
Pablo Picasso

Whether you believe that you can do something, or whether you believe you can't - You're absolutely right!
from Steve Hender, Positivity Genius and designer of the course, Tuning the Orchestra

“The world is like a ride in an amusement park. And when you choose to go on it, you think it’s real because that’s how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round. It has thrills and chills and it’s very brightly coloured and it’s very loud and it’s fun, for a while. Some people have been on the ride for a long time and they begin to question, is this real, or is this just a ride? And other people have remembered, and they come back to us, they say, “Hey – don’t worry, don’t be afraid, ever, because, this is just a ride…”

And we… kill those people.

“We have a lot invested in this ride. Shut him up. Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account and my family. This just has to be real.”

Just a ride. But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that, you ever notice that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn’t matter because: It’s just a ride. And we can change it anytime we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your doors, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead, see all of us as one.

Here’s what we can do to change the world, right now, to a better ride. Take all that money that we spend on weapons and defences each year and instead spend it feeding and clothing and educating the poor of the world, which it would many times over, not one human being excluded, and we could explore space, together, both inner and outer, forever, in peace.”
Bill Hicks

The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.

Change your thoughts and you change your world.
Norman Vincent Peale

If you don't like something, change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it.
Mary Engelbreit

So, I tried to hold these ideas in my mind, all wrapped up in Earl's maxim: We become what we think about.

Last year, I completed a course called Tuning the Orchestra, with Steve Hender that I think I may have mentioned last night. This course aimed to encourage the particpants to think positively, to deepen communication and to become more creative. It used a lot of NLP techniques to achieve this goal. On the last day, Steve asked us to participate in a 'Positive Thinking Diet' for the next ten days. Every time we felt a negative thought, we had to immediately counteract it with a positive one. This was hard enough. Harder still, we had to do it for ten days. If on one day, we thought that we had forgotten or succumbed to negativity, there was a simple solution - we started again.

I managed for three days or so and then I forgot. Deadlines came in, work came and went, and I forgot.

Now I see what Steve Hender was trying to get us to do. Earl Nightingale asks the same thing, but this time for 30 days! And all under this central premise: We become what we think about.

The diet helped me today to work on my positive thinking. I still had some negative thoughts, like when I got to work already 5 minutes late for a meeting, only to discover that I had left my purse at home (with my entry card to the Civic Offices still in it). I called the office and lovely Norma answered the phone and walked down two flights of stairs to come and let in my silly forgetful self. I asked the glamorous Miss Sally if she could lend me a pound for a coffee and she lent me £5, which made me feel both trusted and loved and I went on my way. Like the Dalai Lama might say, only a crisis provides us with the opportunity to accept the kindness of others.

I got a lot of work today. It's almost half past ten and I stopped working about an hour ago. I've worked on all three contracts today and haven't given myself a moment for self-doubt. Taking this lead has put me on top of all three workloads for the first time in...actually, for the first time!

We become what we think about.

What are you thinking?

Today's 3 beautiful things

1. My Mum - she knows why, in every sense.

2. The satisfaction of giving today my best shot.

3. The candles burning on my cards table.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The Strangest Secret

Yesterday, the Chief and I went for a coffee. He had some concerns about my recent lapses of confidence: particularly, in Sherlockian terms, The Case of the Possibly Lost Job that you all may remember from a few weeks ago. Some of the things that he said really resonated with me as they echoed many of the cards I've pulled over the last couple of days, concerning self-confidence, and living in the moment rather than the past or the future.

But it's not in the Chief's nature to philosophise out loud for long, he's more of an action man. Well, not an Action Man, like the Boy Barbie with a rifle and moveable eyes, but a man of action. So, he gave me a task - to list 10 goals or aims that are achievable and that can be fairly quickly actioned. I think the idea is something like the 'cosmic ordering' phenomena currently sweeping the nation and recently much publicised by Noel Edmonds.

When she came back from San Francisco, the endlessly talented Lisa Clark brought me back a small book called 'It Works' by a guy called R H Jarett. Published in 1926, this book, I think, carries the seed of cosmic ordering, except that to me, there is little that is mystifyingly 'cosmic' about this process, really. The book gives you a simple set of instructions, create a list of your goals and aims, these can be anything you like, and then you follow the:

Three Positive Rules Of Accomplishment

1. Read the list of what you want three times each day: morning, noon and night.

2. Think of what you want as often as possible.

3. Do not talk to any one about your plan except to the Great Power within you which will unfold to your Objective Mind the method of accomplishment.

You can find the entire text of 'It Works' on the internet at

To me, this looks like a simple pyschological strategy to keep your goals in mind at all times, and in so doing to ensure that each decision you make in the course of each day is congruent with those desires. Over time, you will get closer to the things on your list, because you will start living your life with your goals in mind and this will act to prevent you becoming easily distracted, as the rest of us are. Let me know what you think.

So, today, I sat down and wrote my list of ten things; it was very difficult to do. This was mostly because to commit a dream that usually lives in your head into actual, physical words is a very powerful act (ask a wizard, they'll tell you - why do you think they won't tell anyone their full or proper names, huh?) and I kept chickening out. It made me realise that as well as being powerful things, dreams are often frightening things, too. Sometimes to really strike out for my dreams might mean that I have to sacrifice my attachment to things that I do not want to let go of. Sometimes to reach for my dreams may mean stepping out of my comfort zone, or making some drastic changes. It's strange, but sometimes I am more afraid of attaining my dreams than I am afraid of staying in situations that make me fundamentally unhappy!

In searching for 'It Works', I stumbled across an audio recording by a man called Earl Nightingale and recorded in 1956. Earl spent 20 years searching for the secret of success, and he believed that after so many years he had found it. It is easy to dismiss thinkers like Nightingale, but the pervasity of the fundamental ideas found in today's cosmic ordering principles is something that I find fascinating and so much of what he says is so very familiar, and from so many different sources, for example, Earl quotes many different writers, politicians, religions and thinkers, and a huge section of the recording is identical to a course I took last year called Tuning The Orchestra, run by NLP guru Steve Hender.

I think Earl may have a point, but don't take my word for it. Listen to him. I know some of it is dated to our ears, but I can't help but find that endearing for the faint intellectual discomfort it gives me. I would love to know what people think on this one. I'll warn you though, the recording is lengthy, maybe 30 minutes or so, but worth it.

Earl claims that:

"If you understand completely what I am going to tell you, from this moment on, your life will never be the same again."

Now, the list is written, I've made my commitment to the world of dreams and dreaming. I'd love to tell you what they are, but then I'd have to kill you, obviously. I'll give you another list, though, of today's

3 Beautiful Things

1. Dancing to the Puppini Sisters in the office

2. Making up the 'Lisa Clark in Borders' song and singing and dancing with Lisa Clark

3. Not sticking to 'The Plan' today. Again.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Mass Observation. Oh yes.

Ok, strap yourselves in, because today is a bit of a specialist blog, but stick with me. If you hate it, I shall never write anything else like it again. Honest.

After revealing the History Matters’ blogging project here yesterday (it’s Tuesday, link is onsunday's post, don’t forget), I stumbled across the Mass Observation Archive whilst scanning some newsletters on archives as part of my council job this morning. This was a bit of a trip down memory lane, as the first time I heard of the MOA was when I was studying for my degree as an undergraduate.

The Mass Observation Archive was in operation from 1937 until the early 1950’s and was founded by three young men, anthropologist Tom Harrisson, poet Charles Madge and film-maker Humphrey Jennings. Their work was two-fold:

Observational: paid researchers were sent to public situations (meetings, leisure activities or religious events, for example) where “they recorded people’s behaviour and conversation in as much detail as possible” (Mass Observation Archive Website).

National Panel of Diarists: “was composed of people from all over Britain who either kept diaries or replied to regular open-ended questionnaires send to them by the central team of Mass-Observers” (Mass Observation Archive website)

The material can, unfortunately, only be accessed by visiting the Archive itself, but you can get a flavour of the sort of material available by logging onto their website at:

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Sanity is madness put to good use - George Santayana

I came across tonight's title quote at Nurse Ratched's blog: Some of the vintage Dr and Nurse pulp fiction book covers she profiles here really made me laugh.

I've changed the template of the blog tonight as I was in a panic about where the links had gone and I fancied a change. This is less sedate than the last one, but I'd love your comments, as always.

You may remember my fears that blogging is a sad activity, from last week, courtesy of a number of stand-up comedians who blasted all things blog-like. This perception may be set to change this Tuesday, when the national campaign for the importance of national history and involvement in heritage - Stephen Fry is a founder member - History Matters, launches its own huge blogging experiment: One Day in History. This project gives everyone in Britain the opportunity to blog for one day, Tuesday 17th October, and to have their blog stored in the British Library for the rest of time, or something like it. The website sums it up as follows:

'One Day in History' is a one off opportunity for you to join in a mass blog for the national record. We want as many people as possible to record a 'blog' diary which will be stored by the British Library as a historical record of our national life.

It's a bit like a time capsule idea but different. You see?

Check out the website for more details, and if you have time, find out more about the History Matters campaign:

I think I did the right thing and nipped the cold/flu/snotalicious bug in the bud by staying in bed for two days this weekend, even though it was Boringsville Arizona. I don't want to succumb to illness right now - this has been one of those months where so much seems to be happening, not just to me, but to a lot of people around and close to me. Not all of these things have been good things, although I know from experience that often bad things are the catalyst of good ones - not that it helps to know this at the time - but it has felt a lot of the time that there just isn't enough time to fit in everything I want to do. I do believe though, that everything balances itself out in the end, and that I'll just have to live with the fact that there are only 24 hours in any one day.

My best friend Shonagh suggested last week at lunch that I should try pulling three angel cards a day. "Try knocking on the pack", she said, "You can meditate on the cards you pick for the rest of the day, but particularly think about them when times get tricky!"

Yesterday, I decided to give this a try and I found my angel cards at the bottom of my old magical trunk, which has remained unopened for quite some time - since I began to freelance in fact, funnily enough. The three cards I picked were enormously reassuring to me about trusting my instincts on a day to day basis, and starting with myself before I try to be there for anyone else. They also encouraged me to continue with my meditations, something that comes up whenever I consult any of my sets of cards.

Today's beautiful things:

1. It's Sunday!

2. Being at home

3. A beautifully honest conversation with an old friend