The blue bench

Come and take a seat on the blue bench. It’s a place of comfort. It’s a place of peace. It can be a physical place that you visit. Or, it can be a place that you imagine; your safe place; your mind sanctuary.

Whatever it is for you, welcome to the blue bench. Perhaps a new way to take a view. Not from the ground. Let’s rise from the ground and enjoy a seat. Our seat. Our place to go when we need to just be. A view from the blue bench.

So many weeks of lockdown inevitably brings a time of reflection. A time of self analysis.

I saw a great Thought For The Day recently – “Sometimes we never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory’.

As I’ve said before, probably too many times, I do spend a lot of time reflecting. Life is one huge mirror. The difference with our mind mirror – as in what we use to reflect on / from – we choose what we see.

Lockdown has certainly allowed a lot of time to grab some moments and it’s our choice to decide whether to enjoy the moment or reflect on what then becomes a memory.

And, so, join me and take a seat on your blue bench. Clear your mind for a time of everything and anything that is happening in the world, or has been happening so far to make 2020 the hardest year in my living memory. I know there are countless others who have suffered or are suffering worse. But, we all have a starting point as we sit on our blue bench.

I’m not going to list or pass comment on the events of 2020. I have opinions – of course. But I’ve already had some un-necessary reaction to my honest views on situations. I don’t need it.

I love the idea of having my blue bench on sit at. The blue bench is based on an area of blue benches that Aud and I found on our last visit to Girona in Catalonia. A beautiful, peaceful area in some gardens near the Cathedral. Bizarrely, we didn’t have time to sit down when we were there.

Ironic, isn’t it? I’ll just repeat that back to myself. ‘We didn’t have time to sit down’. And there in lies the lesson in our 21st century lives. We don’t have time to sit down. And, in lockdown, it’s the same. We don’t give ourselves enough ‘me time’.

So, it’s time to take some ‘me time’ and take a seat on your blue bench.

Ever since I saw the blue bench in Girona my mind has wandered back there. I’ve framed in my mind the feeling on sitting on it. I’ve sensed the safe feeling of the strong wood that I’m seated on. The wonderful smell of the trees and nature around me. The sight of those trees. Which trees? Whatever trees I want to see in my mind. The sound of the breeze stirring the leaves and branches, and the sweet sound of birdsong. The taste of tranquility. How do you taste tranquility? It tastes how ever you want.

As I said earlier, lockdown has brought a lot of time to reflect. I have a daily work morning walk, which is usually between 4 1/2 and 5 miles. Time to think. Time to clear the head. Me time.

My mind often drifts to the blue bench. Where ever I might imagine it is. There a spot in the park I walk around in the morning where it would be perfect. A place to be peaceful. A place to just think. A place to remember all of the good things in life. I know there are a lot of struggles at the moment and those struggles can overwhelm us but it’s important to remember the good stuff when we can.

It’s also good to share the blue bench for a chat, be that with someone physically with you of someone you wish could be with you. Share your thoughts, your dreams, your worries. Who would you share your seat with?

I spend a lot of time thinking about mental health and well-being. One of the big things as I see in trying to ease that pressure on well-being right now is taking the chance to talk. So, use your blue bench to do that. I’m lucky. I can think of many people I’d share my blue bench with. I’m lucky I’m surrounded by people who let, and encourage, me to talk.

But sometimes you need your blue bench to be on your own. Not because you don’t want your nearest and dearest with you, but because you want to step back and just be. To just breathe, look, and make sense out of what’s in your head. It’s just good to have that place to go to.

I hope that all makes sense. I know what I set out to say. It’s strange, until I saw the blue bench in Girona, my equivalent place was a bench in Tamariu, our beautiful holiday village. A bench on the promenade, overlooking the beach and the stunning Mediterranean. Again, somewhere peace literally overwhelms you. Just thinking about it evokes great memories.

And to close, as I write my final words today, which is Fathers Day, my late dad is very much in my mind. Gentleman Jim. I think of us sitting together on the blue bench. I think about what I’d tell him. Probably what I have done, in my mind, over the last nearly 33 years since we lost him. I’d like to think we could have a wee glass of single malt, and he’d be proud of where my life is right now. Thanks dad.

Take care. Stay safe as we hopefully move forward towards, at least, some normality – whatever normality is these days. As a global population we have learned so much in the last few months. We have so much more to learn. But, we need to stand together. We need to be united. We need to be strong. Black lives matter.

Jon

Banana cake recipe

There’s nothing quite like the smell of baking. Be it bread, cake, biscuits, it smells good. There are, of course, other wonderful smells that set the memory going – the sea, freshly cut grass, a spring morning, food cooking. I know someone who had a thing about petrol, but I’m not sure what her memories of that were 😀.

So, welcome to a View From The Ground aka lockdown at the end of week 7 in the U.K..

As is the norm at the moment, which I am sure those who have ventured into any recent blog will realise, amongst other strange thoughts my focus has been on the things we can do in a time whilst our options have been reduced.

Well, as I look at a bowl containing 140 grams of softened butter and the same weight of caster sugar, which looks like it needs a good mix, I’ve been reflecting more on this lockdown time as a chance of stepping back and making the most of things.

It’s funny, there’s a feeling of frustration and helplessness and yet, as we’ve just marked the 75th anniversary of VE Day, you can only think, what have we got to complain about. So, we are living under strict government guidelines. Well, I say strict but, really, with the stripped down police force – thanks to the said same government – how strict can those guidelines be applied? I see an increase in cars on the road. I see an increase in speeding cars on the road. What’s the rush?

It’s a worrying time, there’s no doubt about that. But is it really more worrying than waiting for the next air raid siren? More worrying that the thought of a loved one never returning home?

And, then there’s the moments of free time – in the house. Free time, when so many of us have access to 24 / 7 TV. We can watch inane nonsense to our heart’s content. What have we got to complain about. And, if you don’t like inane TV, don’t switch it on.

Or, in the free time right now, we can find 2 eggs and a shake of self raising flour and lob that into the butter and caster sugar. Remember about that earlier on? Go on – do it. And then, give it a mix. Exercise that arm. Better exercise than the continuous pressing of the TV remote control.

TV is an interesting thing. How many conversations do we have on the phone, on FaceTime, by text etc when we’re comparing notes about what we’ve watched?

Due to lockdown, a lot of the staple TV diet for many people (not me!) is the soap opera feast that is available. But, social distancing has meant they haven’t been able to been able to record so soon the pavements of Coronation Street will be empty, the Queen Vic of Eastenders is closed. So, the focus will be binging on the fattening plate full of series catch up. We will be glued to anything and everything we can work through.

We should be so grateful to have this as a distraction, if we are lucky enough to have it available.

You might even find yourself watching cookery programmes. And one of those cookery programmes might then suggest that you add to your butter, caster sugar, egg and a bit of self raising flour, another 140 grams of self raising flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, and 2 mashed ripe bananas.

Now, seeing you have a wonderful mush of mixture in a bowl you might as well fold it, and keep folding until it’s a nice, smooth consistency. Go on. Do it. Lockdown fun and exercising that arm.

Strangely, somewhere in the gap between the above paragraph and this, there’s been some movement from the U.K. Prime Minister with regards to lockdown. However, to avoid the blog police ripping me a new one for my interpretation of what the PM said, I suggest watching the broadcast to form your own thoughts. The media have their views on it, wide and varied, but have a look.

A note of caution, the PM has made his comments on behalf of the UK, I think. But then, Scotland and Wales – I’m not sure about Northern Ireland – have other thoughts on how to deal with lockdown just now. So, has the PM spoken for the U.K. or just England? I’ll let you decide.

Whilst your working through that, drop your mixture into a ‘loaf’ tin – which by the miracle of forethought you’ve already greased with butter and lined with some grease proof paper. Then pop that into the equally forethoughted (no such word) preheated over at gas mark 4 and walk away with your thoughts, forethoughts and after thoughts for 30 minutes.

This is the point at which you look out of the window and think – TV, walk, wine or a combination of the three? That’s lockdown for you. But, as a word of caution, if you’re looking out of the window at 7:00 am, I’d opt for the walk only.

Hopefully, our options will expand shortly but, again, at least we have options. In mainland Europe the chance to exercise outdoors has only recently been granted in some countries. I am so grateful for my daily walks. If only I could stop falling. Two falls in 4 days, bumped, grazed and twisted. However, the show must go on. Ringo needs his exercise and I’m glad I can oblige.

So, let’s see what happens next in which ever part of the globe you live. And whilst you wait for news, open up the oven door (after 30 minutes of baking) and bring out the banana cake. Once it’s cooled a bit, grab a slice, with a fresh brew of Yorkshire tea (it’s the best), and sit down. It could be a whole lot worse.

Thanks for joining me on another blog. It’s ended with us having a brew from the ground. Take care, stay safe.

Jon

Love

Love is. Love has. Love will. Love can. Love it. Love you. Love to love.

“The most spectacular, indescribable, deep euphoric feeling for someone. Love is an incredibly powerful word. … This love is unconditional affection with no limits or conditions: completely loving someone. It’s when you trust the other with your life and when you would do anything for each other.”

What is love? A question that has been posed many, many times but ultimately the answer is personal to us all. What is love to me will be different what love is to you. The core emotion, the feeling might be the same but the trigger for that feeling of love will be very different.

So, here we sit, staring at the locked down door, with an eye firmly fixed on the view from the ground.

As the song goes, love is all around us. From a personal perspective that is so true on the one hand, and so challenging on the other. As I’ve said previously, I’m am so blessed to have Liv at home with me. And we have Ringo and Zeekee with us, who are just awesome creatures.

But, I miss being able to see Aud so much. Yes, we FaceTime 3 times a day, but not having that physical presence is tough. I long for the day that we can be together again.

I miss Ben and Gaby. Yes, we talk everyday but, again, it’s the lack of physical togetherness that is tough.

I miss our friends. I miss my mum.

But, we all feel the same. And, I fully appreciate the relatively short period of time that we have been apart is nothing when compared to what some have to go through. And I know that there are so many who miss someone who they will never see again because of this virus. My heart goes out to them all.

During the lockdown I’ve learned so much about love. About true love. And about opening yourself up to appreciating everything you had and everything you have. And everything around us.

My relationship with Liv has always been strong but I’m proud at how, for me, it’s strengthened through the good and the not so good times.

The daily calls with Ben, and Gaby, have been wonderful and again just strengthened such a strong bond. After the lockdown Ben and Gaby are joining me and Liv at the #TeamDurky base and it’s going to be great fun.

As I’ve already said I miss Aud so much. We came together a bit later in life than a lot of couples do and we see this as a new beginning. Before we found each other, I was blessed with Ben and Liv, Aud was blessed with Eilidh and Liam. We have friends and family to bring into our collective new world together. We are so lucky.

I now know a deep love that can only come from the journey to where we are now. I’m grateful we have the chance to start our time together – well, that was 3 years ago – but our collection of life memories have helped propel us forward.

I love the life we have. Thank you to everyone who have helped us. I love the notion that we will soon be together again, physically – because we are never apart.

However, this relative isolation has helped unleash a love for nature. Those who are unfortunate enough to be connected with me on Facebook will probably be bored of my daily download of photos from my 6.30 morning walks with Ringo. The countless photos from the local park. The regular updates about my obsession with the swans on the lake. The stream of Ringo photos.

Sorry if I’m boring you. That’s not my motivation. Quite the opposite.

I’m overwhelmed by the beauty of nature that has always been there. Perhaps I’ve just been a little blind to it.

I’m trying to encourage us all to see that there is life outside the door for those of us who are lucky enough to get a daily dose of release.

I’m celebrating what life can really mean. There are things we can’t do, people we can’t see but there are opportunities to create something else whilst we wait to hold those that we miss.

I know in a previous blog I’ve already talked about the love of springtime. Of watching new life take hold. Magnificent.

I guess these last few weeks have been a unique opportunity to reflect, adjust, and then take a chance.

It won’t be long before we get chance to get out and get together.

But how much of what we have learned will stay with us? Will we just jump in the car to drive somewhere to then go for a walk or will we enjoy the walks that we discovered when that was the only option available? Will we drive to the supermarket on a whim for some flour or eggs when, during lockdown, we have walked to a local shop who has during lockdown has sourced those much sought after products when the supermarket couldn’t?

Will we accelerate into that crazy pace of life that existed before, or will we take a deep breath, look around, and just take in and enjoy what we have, rather than hurtling forward demanding more of what we don’t need.

My commitment is to use what I have learned over the last few weeks, which includes never taking anyone or anything for granted. I’m not saying I ever have, quite the opposite but, be warned those I see in the early days of post lockdown – Mr Not Tactile is shedding that name. Watch out.

I’m certainly going to continue to really celebrate this love of nature. The step count targets have been smashed so long may that continue.

Support your local businesses. They need you and, when we needed them, so many were there for us.

And, in the U.K., we are so lucky to have the NHS. Let’s not forget that – ever!

Let’s just remember, love is a powerful emotion. It’s the best one to have and it is all around us.

Take care,

Jon

My crumpets have popped

All I need is the air that I breathe. Every breath you take. Something in the air. Breathe. And my favourite – Still breathing.

Just a few songs about ……… breathing. What would we do without it? I think we know the answer to that. So, let’s not think about that.

And while I’m rambling, what in the name of a rather nice bread is the blog title all about? Read on, it’s not what it appears.

And with that, welcome to another phew from the ground. Lockdown continues. It’s become the new normal.what is normal? What was normal? What will be normal? In reality, why do we need normal? That’s a bit of a learning for me. Why is normal so important? Interestingly, I’ve recently seen a UK government minister has said we need to find a ‘new normal’. How bizarre.

Now, I fully appreciate, for many normal is critical. It could be for physical health reasons, it could be for mental health reasons.

For me, I have always being one to aim at normal. To have routine. To know what I need to do, and be aware of what I am going to be doing. But lockdown normality leaves me wondering what ‘not normal’ would be like.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an eye opening, thunderbolt of an awakening. I need the foundation of my life – Aud, Ben (and Gaby), Liv, family, friends, Ringo, Zeek, work, home etc, etc. And much more. But, with my foundation well and truly in place, the thought of not normal – as in unplanned, exploratory is kind of interesting.

To be fair, the closest I get to ‘not normal’ at the moment is venturing from not having an Indian take away on a Friday night . Even in lockdown, that normality has been retained. Phew! But, then should that be phew or should it be new. Try something new. Try to break the normal and reach out to something else. Vietnamese take away? A brave new world?

But then, by changing from the normal does that become the new normal of not being normal. Normally I’d have an answer but I don’t know. All I do know is, why don’t you give yourself a try. After all, life is what you make it.

So, what’s with the breathing song titles at the start of the blog? Good question. As a starter, it’s a change from the normal. In addition, it’s something I’ve been focusing on this week.

I’m lucky to work at a company who already had a great focus on employee wellbeing. As we work our way through this crisis, wellbeing becomes even more important. I was delighted to join a webinar on Wellbeing last week and at the end, the host / presenter talked us through a 5 minutes meditation which focussed on breathing.

Now, those who have known me for some time know I have tried, and enjoyed, meditation. I guess I’ve drifted in and out of meditation – rather then in meditation. But when I give it a go, it does help relax me.

My problem has always been emptying my mind and just being at peace. There’s always so much going on. I’ve tried guided meditation, using music and just lying in silence. I guess my preference has been guided and I would strongly recommend it. It’s good for the soul, particularly at times of stress. Just concentrating on the voice. Losing yourself. As they say, when thoughts come in to your mind you should acknowledge that thought but then let it go.

However, the 5 minutes breathing meditation was a very pleasant revelation. 5 minutes of purely focussed breathing – deep breathing. Not in a weird heavy breathing down the phone sort of thing. Just deep breathing – filling your lungs and then releasing.

I’ve incorporated this into my morning routine. It’s simple and effective. It’s good for the brain and it gets my breathing process up and running before my walk with Ringo.

I would strongly recommend meditation to anyone and everyone. Go on, why don’t you give yourself a try.

It’s all about doing the not normal. And, I really am trying. Some might suggest I am very good at not being normal. That’s not what I’m suggesting. It’s doing the ‘not normal’. That is, the not normal to you.

We’re living in very unique times. Getting up and not jumping in the car or getting the bus or train to work. For many, that’s a new world. Sitting at a desk or table at home and doing work, for many that’s a new world. But the new world becomes the present world – doesn’t it? The present normal.

It is nice, however, to transfer some of the previous normal into the present normal and, hopefully take it to the new normal. Some things are just perfect to have as normal. Maybe, we have to adapt them into the new version of the normal.

Now, let me think? Old normal; new normal; and now new version of normal. So, it’s not a new normal it’s just a new version of the old normal. Confused? Bored? Headache? Bored of your headache? Take two normal tablets and a glass of new normal water and you’ll be fine.

I’m loving a specific new version of mine and Aud’s normal. Sunday breakfast. Over the previous several months of old normal we developed a lovely routine of poached eggs on crumpet for breakfast (I’m glad I just re-read that, as I’d put poached eyes!). A combination of the inspiration of a breakfast in Glasgow and a breakfast request from Eilidh (the eggs), and there we had it – our Sunday treat and a chance for another chat.

Well, even in lockdown, we can maintain our breakfast. FaceTime and we are 2 happy chefs, serving up our breakfasts and chatting , and laughing . I miss not having Aud with me. But this really helps. And, last Sunday, as I was watching my eggs boil, I heard those words of magic – “My crumpets have popped”. I nearly projected my coffee across the kitchen.

The old normal really is now the present normal Just a different type of normal. I’m lucky.

So, on that note, as is normal, I’ll finish while I’m on a high and wish you good health and happiness.

Stay safe.

Jon

It’s the hope that keeps you going

It’s strange how out of adversity it feels like there is unity across the globe. Unity borne out of challenging times. Unity borne out of sadness. Unity borne to bring a belief of ‘we will conquer’.

It’s strange how I try and think about a title for a blog. I’m sure it doesn’t look like I give the titles much thought, but I do. And, then from a conversation with the ever wonderful Ben (best son in the world), he says ‘it’s the hope that keeps you going’. There it is, because never a truer statement could be spoken.

And, here we are continuing through lockdown. Around the globe, at different stages of lockdown, but it’s so real. So unbelievably surreal. I remember, my view from the round ……. the table at Christmas – be that the scene before me during dinner or evening festivities. Fun, laughter, smiles, hope. Not an idea as to what was to come. Even then, it was the hope that kept us going.

Hope that 2020 would be the best year yet. I always have a thing about the year, and my age being an even number. Not a superstition thing, just something that’s there. Ben (wonderful son, see above) and Liv (wonderful daughter) were born in even years. Thinking about it, Aud (wonderful partner) was born in an even year, as was Gaby (wonderful partner of wonderful son – see above). Thinking more, Eilidh and Liam (wonderful daughter and wonderful son of wonderful partner – see slightly above) were born in even years. And a final thought, my now defunct marriage started in an odd year. I have nothing to say 😀😀😀.

Just a ‘don’t take it too seriously’ notice: the above is a bit of fun and not meant to cause offence. Of course, so many wonderful people were born in an odd year – sorry, odd numbered year. And some wonderful events happened in an odd numbered year. I hope that provides suitable reassurance.

But, to get back on track, I went into 2020 hoping it would be the best year yet.

Clearly, in the UK, we still had Brexit hanging over us. Not the best start really given the division this caused. I’ll avoid opinion here.

And then, storm after storm battered us and really got 2020 off to a really damp start. But, it was the hope that kept us going as we tried to look into the horizon as spring was just ahead. However ………

And, as they say, the rest is history. The lockdown legacy commences. Legacy? Well, that the interesting thing. I see this period that we are living through will very much present to many of us a legacy that we take with us through the rest of our lives.

I know I’ve already reflected in recent blogs on the various emotions that the lockdown has triggered – be that missing loved ones through to revelling in the glorious smells that spring brings.

Listening to the news, true sadness and sympathy is felt towards those who have lost loved ones to this dreadful virus, and to those who are ill to the virus.

So, for those of us whose worse experience in this current situation is to have to stay at home, we really can look to make life as good as we can, within those restrictions. Life really is what you make it.

I guess I’m becoming obsessed about making the most of our situation rather than getting overly emotional about missing those who I can’t see – for now.

I get a bit of criticism for expressing opinion within the blogs. But, surely it’s wrong that people keep breaking the guidelines as laid out by the government regarding un-necessary. I rad a piece about a family who travelled 200 miles overnight from London to Devon ………. to go fishing. Unbelievable stupidity. I won’t comment about fishing 😀.

But, it really does feel like a time to grasp those opportunities to stamp back, slow down and just be. To just look. I’ve become obsessed about the cherry blossom tree at the front of our home. It’s always been there. I’ve always loved it and I’ve always looked forward to watching it bloom. But, it has always felt that within a blink the blossom is being blown off the tree and scattered across the ground. I remember last year, just looking at the blossom less tree and wondering how that had happened.

So, this year, I am revelling in watching the blossom grow each day. Celebrating the beauty of it, and noticing some white blossom from another tree intermingling with the pink to create a beautiful tapestry.

On the daily walks, it’s a joy to watch bare trees taking on a green haze as the leaves start to spring to life.

When walking along the main road near our home, the relative quiet due to the lack of traffic is remarkable.

I’ve always loved to hear the roar of planes thrusting into the early morning sky from the local airport. Always dreaming about being on one of those planes. Thinking about a future holiday – because it is the hope that keeps you going – or remembering a flight and allowing those feelings of excitement to re-enter my mind. But, funnily, the early morning bird song is so much more pleasing.

And, then there’s meal time. So often a functional time during the week. You get home; you cook; you eat. Done.

Now – as with everything we do when we are lucky enough to have someone to interact with, it’s a chance to talk …….and talk and talk.

It’s making the most of everything we have as we also look ahead to being reunited with those that we miss so much. But, let us never forget the journey we have been on and ensure those learnings stay with us – for life.

So, yes, it is the hope that keeps you going. But let’s not forget, hope isn’t all that we’ve got. We’ve got today.

Enjoy today, and hope that we can beat horrendous virus. Hope that we really unite. It is that hope that keeps me going.

Stay safe.

Jon

Love to feel the fresh air of the springtime

“If you’ve never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom.” — Audra Foveo

Waking to another day in lockdown. The sun starting to glint through the window. Opening the window, to feel the freshness of an early spring morning. Silence, apart from the pacing of Ringo (dog) wanting his daily walk, the scattering of Zeekee (cat), and the bird song through the open window. A solitary mug of coffee. A sense of ‘here we go again’.

But an overall feeling of gratitude. Picking through the above paragraph: –

1. Waking – feeling well.

2. Sun – welcome back old friend.

3. Silence – no cars screaming down the nearby road, as the drivers hurry through life (it could be any of us).

4. Spring – such a glorious season of new life, freshness and hope. Yes, even in those worrying days, we must always keep hope.

5. Ringo and Zeekee – such beautiful creatures. A real distraction.

6. Open window – with improved weather we get chance to you lay like broccoli and enjoy the sound of the birds.

7. Coffee – a weekend treat.

8. Here we go again – thankfully!

So, how do you feel about the day? Have you looked at the news? Yes, it’s not good. Loads of facts mixed with opinion. Reality is that we are living through something none of us could have imagined 4 months ago.

A lot of us are living apart from loved ones. The previous blog – Missing You – was very much about the emotions we are exposed to, and a week later they continue and, from a personal viewpoint, they only get more acute.

However, as we live this stripped back existence I see reasons to be cheerful.

I can only speak from a personal perspective and we will all be dealing with this lockdown in our own way. I nearly referred to it as ‘isolated ‘. But that feels wrong. At the moment, we are allowed a daily dose of exercise.

I am worried that the chance to exercise might be removed as there are some who see the sunshine and think that’s their ticket to jump in the car and head to the coast. Social distancing gets forgotten about and, in the UK, the already overwhelmed NHS risks collapsing under the weight of these people. I might be over worrying.

In the here and now, I’m trying to focus on what is available to me, rather than being overly sad about what I can’t, temporarily, do.

The ability to have an early morning walk, with Ringo, has been an absolute joy. I’ve always taken him out at the start of the day. Usually a quick 1 mile blast round the block, and then in the car to get to work.

Now, an awesome 2 1/2 to 3 mile walk to and then round the local park.

Spring is probably my favourite season of the year. New life literally springing up around us. But, how many of us – usually – love it from a far and at speed as we rush around. We see the beauty of Spring through the car windscreen. We glance at lambs jumping around the fields. We blink as tree start to fill, and the fields start to change. We say we love this newness, but do we feel it?

With lockdown though comes a chance to embrace the opportunity to literally feel the new life rising right in front of us.

We can stop and admire the beauty around us. We can watch sheep protecting their lambs. We can smell the freshness in the air. We can feel that freshness and just take a moment to just be at peace.

In reality, we have always being able to do this but we have allowed ourselves to be overcome by the manic need to get to places as fast as we can. We get into that space where we believe that we have to do everything at such a speed we stop seeing what is right in front of our noses.

Or, is it just me? Have I allowed myself to spend so long not seeing; not feeling; not breathing it all in; not hearing; and ultimately to tasting life? Is it just me? I don’t know.

But it feels like this current time is chance to reacquaint with nature and just step back will we can. Once we are released back into what we describe as normality, we can decide whether what we’ve learned during lockdown comes with us into what will be new normality.

Ultimately, it’s our choice.

It’s tough going, there’s no doubt. But, really, for most of us it’s just adapting. For those directly affected by the Corona Virus, that’s tough. My heart goes to them. For the workers who are providing essential services, that’s tough. The NHS workers, they have it really tough. My heartfelt gratitude goes to all who are helping us.

So, let’s enjoy the spring. Let’s love to feel the fresh air in the springtime. Be that in an allowed walk or in our back garden.

And with that, take care. As always, the opinions and thoughts within this blog are those of the writer.

Stay safe.

Jon

Missing you

A blog in the continuation of the theme of Life’s What You Make It and, as we all currently live in a situation most have never experienced, it brings a rollercoaster of emotions.

Welcome to a View from the locked down ground. Welcome to waking up. Waking up healthy. Waking up with love in our hearts.

So, a different kind of blog, I hope, although I’m not sure where it will go.

The last blog, ‘Let’s Stick Together’ provoked a quite opposite response to what was intended. I stick by my word; my observations. That’s it, just my observations. I’d like to think 95% of the blog was positive and supportive. However, in this state of uncertainty and fear, I have real worries. I’ll leave it at that as we need to focus on getting through this pandemic – by sticking together.

Every morning, we wake to hear the grip of the virus takes a stronger hold across most of the globe. More lives are taken despite the valiant work of the relevant doctors and nurses. In the U.K. we have the quite brilliant NHS. Words are not enough to express the gratitude we have for the brilliant people who work within the NHS.

Every morning, we wake and we take another breath. A magnificent start to the day. For most, what feels like a different kind of day will, over the next few days etc, become a routine kind of day.

Every morning we know we are confined to the very place we wake for the rest of the day. Be that to rest, eat, work and, if you’re lucky enough, play. That is, of course, unless you are one of the awesome critical workers.

Of course, we are allowed a walk a day. So, I have found, making the most of that opportunity is a real must. As those who have read previous blogs, we’re blessed to have Ringo in our lives. Not the Beatles drummer, although that would be interesting when we need some help and, right now, all we need is love.

However, our Ringo is a beautiful border collie. And, he loves a walk. He’s always had an early morning walk, round the block as we call it. However, given the current restrictions, that early morning blast has grown into a full on walk. Part to get the exercise, part to inhale the air and the freedom whilst being outside, and part to watch Ringo explore, oblivious to everything.

Of course dogs pick up our anxieties and they do what they can to provide much needed love. But, thankfully for them, they don’t know what is going on. As I’ve said several times, I wish I was a dog.

I love watching Ringo forage for a stick to bring to be thrown, and then chase it. Pure gold at a time where it’s so important to grasp those moments; moments that matter. Moments that hammer home enjoying what we have in the right here, right now.

And that’s one of the early lessons from the early days of the lockdown. Appreciating everything that we have.

Ringo appreciates every stick that he finds. He appreciates the feel of the lead been unclipped from his harness so that he can run. Run freely without a care in the world. Run just so far that when he turns around, he can see me ambling behind. Me with all the cares in the world, watching Ringo without a care. I wish I was a dog.

Every morning, another day dawns without the ability to see those that we love that don’t live in the same house as us.

At the moment, I can’t see Audrey. My beautiful partner for so long now. I miss you Aud. it’s that simple. It hurts. The hugs. The laughs. The being together. As I write this, Chasing Cars by Snow Patrol just came on TV. A bit emotion for a bit. I miss you.

I can’t see my handsome son, Ben, and his lovely partner, Gaby. I miss you. It’s a real challenge not to sneak out of the house on the basis of needing to us the supermarket near them. But, I won’t. We’re in this together and must abide by the government regulations. But it hurts.

Liv and I were just in the car going to the pet store near where Ben and Gaby live for some essential stuff. I wanted to suggest they walk down but that’s not allowed. I couldn’t have a hug anyway. I cried. I miss you. But, this is a small sacrifice for something cataclysmically bigger than we really know.

My mum is 30 miles away. I can’t see her. We speak and it’s important that will all speak to those we love.

And there are family and friends that I can’t see / we can’t see.

But, there are millions in the U.K., billions around the globe feeling the same pain. We are all in this together.

But, all of those people that we miss are with us. They are in our hearts. They are in our memory bank. They are in our pictures. They are days / weeks away from us all been reunited – I hope. We are lucky. They are still here. Just not with us right now. But, I miss you.

We just need to keep positive. We need to speak. We need to feel connected and that we don’t feel lonely. That we don’t feel isolated.

We need to talk. We need to text. We need to reach out. We need to use social media for the greater good. But we need to use our brains and do what we are told. We need to stay safe and we need to protect everyone.

Every morning, I ask that we give thanks for waking. We need to think about those who might just be feeling vulnerable, feeling isolated. And we need to contact them and make sure we unlock that isolation and let them know we’re with them.

We’ll get through this and it will feel bloody good.

Stay safe.

Jon

Let’s stick together

Part of the ‘Life’s What You Make It’ series

I saw a quote from Ricky Ross, singer of Deacon Blue, “Cities are places where stories happen”. For me this is so true. As I’ve got older, I’ve really developed a love for exploring cities, along with trying to capture images that tell a story.

And, of course, I do love a good story. So, welcome to another View From The Ground. A weaving path of words, to a destination that has something to do with the title and a lot to do with how I see things in the world.

For the title, I was going for ‘in music we trust’. My thinking was around some the constant love of music. I still want to reflect on music. Wow, it’s got an important job over the next few weeks. But my instincts suggested a title which relates to where my head is, right here right now. Well, not literally as the title would be ‘pillow’.

Instincts go a long way and I think we could all do with trusting them. What’s the worse that could happen? At the moment, let’s not think about that.

I hope you are all well, wherever in the world you are. One thing is for certain, we are united for the first time in living memory. I just wish it was united for better reasons.

Coronavirus 19? 6 months ago, we hadn’t heard of it. Now, hundreds of thousands effected by it. Thousands killed by it. Beyond sad. Beyond worrying.

How did it happen? How is it spreading? How can it be stopped? Questions I can’t answer and this blog isn’t for me to spill forth with a tirade of conspiracy theories. I’ll leave that to others.

The media spews forth it’s vile opinions and fear laced nonsense. In the U.K., the Daily Depress expresses words of panic and sends the hordes into the supermarkets to clear shelves of everything. The Daily Wail spreads their version of fear faster than the virus itself. As for the rest? Only fit to replace the toilet roll that we are running out of.

And yet, in a time of such concern we all need a hero – and, they line up one by one to lead us forward with hope.

In the U.K., we know how magnificent the NHS is. But, bloody hell, if it’s not hard enough for them at what is always a difficult time of year. And there are staff shortages. And our government have constantly failed to provide adequate funding. But, they are absolute heroes. Take a bow everyone NHS worker. Every doctor, nurse, specialist, auxiliary worker, ambulance driver, driver in general, paramedic, kitchen worker, cleaner, administration etc etc. Whilst idiots have crowded the pubs, these heroes have worked tirelessly to fight on our behalf.

The sadness thing I’ve seen recently was a video of an NHS worker in tears. She had worked 48 hours. Needed to buy food etc and the shelves had been cleared by the hoarding, marauding morons. Do they really need to do it? I hope they enjoy their chick pea, bread and rhubarb casserole. That’s all I can imagine they can do with the stuff that’s gone.

There are so many other heroes. I take my hat off to the delivery drivers who must think they might as well park their trucks at the supermarket entrances so the idiots can just take it all home.

Supermarket workers? Heroes! They put up with the abuse of the idiots who can’t take home their 50th pack of toilet roll, and their 20th pack of chicken. Abused when they get paid not a lot more that a minimum wage. I hope they have managed to grab some food before the maniacs lurch forward. One I spoke to hadn’t. I’d found a solitary pack of pasta and she was amazed.

A request to the marauding morons. Look at what you’ve got. Then, look at it again and acknowledge you are an idiot. Say after me, ‘I’m an idiot’. Then, collect, let’s say 20% of it. Bag it, find you’re nearest food bank and donate your booty. There are pure evil people breaking into food banks and stealing much needed food and other things intended for the poor souls who can’t afford to buy them.

I know we are all in a state of panic. I know we want to provide for our loved ones. But, come on, get real. Even when we go into lockdown we will be able to shop. Surely?

The list of heroes is endless and will grow. As the title suggests, now is the time we need to stick together. We are moving towards things like working from home. So, rather than been together in offices we’ll be working in isolation. Employers need to take steps to safeguard their people.

I’m lucky to work at a company that really – genuinely – cares. Colleagues are placed at the forefront. Clients are priorities. It all comes together to provide the best possible platform. Our own CEO makes himself available every night for any colleague to call him on a personal number. He did this in the USA post 9 / 11. Unbelievable compassion and care for him people. A big shout-out to Marsh Commercial. I’m truly proud of the company and the people.

Let’s make sure, though, that we take care of ourselves when at home. Don’t become a prisoner in our own homes. Remember, it is your home which is a temporary office. Remember, to get fresh air, hydrate, eat the right stuff (assuming you’ve managed to get some), take a break and so on. Talk to people every day.

Let’s be aware of our family and neighbours. Is there anyone who needs help? Be aware of our health. If in doubt, check the symptoms online.

Overall, take care. And keep positive. I must admit, I struggle with the latter at times but I know I’m lucky to have #TeamDurky to check in with.

And, when you need a lift, there’s always music. As I’ve written about before, music is one of my great loves. I’m going to pull though some recommendations in the next few blogs just in case ideas are needed.

I start the process, I want to flag up a couple of massively underrated bands who have released new music this year.

Victories At Sea. A band from the Midlands who we first saw supporting the Slow Readers Club at King Tuts in Glasgow. What a band. 3 musicians making a sound that filled the room. I guess, since the, I’ve become a bit of a fan to say the least. We’ve also seen them support Boxer Rebellion at my favourite venue in the U.K. – Brudenell Social Club in Leeds.

It’s one of those cases when you find music which just pulls you in.

So, when the released their new album – Everybody’s Lost and All I Want Is To Leave – I listened with hope. That hope, turned to awe. And that awe has turned to constant plays of this album.

I honestly think these guesses should be being showcased on mainstream radio and being taken out on tour by a major band so that they achieve the exposure they deserve. Someone has to pick them up.

Until then, as you’ll be at home for a while – get downloading; look them up; order online; buy the tee shirt.

By second recommendation are named above – Slow Readers Club. I first discovered them 3 years ago and they’d already been round a bit but, with the first song heard to the last. Bang – brilliance on a CD, or vinyl, or download. We’ve seen them rise from playing to 100 to a sold out 3,500 in Manchester.

They’re latest epic, The Joy Of The Return, is a joyful return (see what I did there? Yep, I know. Very poor).

Now, this one took a couple of plays to get but once I did get it, it’s brilliant. A combination of 80s vibe, a modern twist, decent lyrics, and a real step up in overall musicianship. It’s great to see a band really develop and show they should be performing on the big stages all of the time.

A bunch of blokes who are really connected to their fan base and that forms a strong union. Again, should be on mainstream radio on a regular basis. Get downloading and buying. Once you hear them you’ll understand why those who have followed them for a while believe enough to lose control.

Music is the best therapy. And, right now. I think that kind of therapy would help us all.

We really do need to stick together and make life the best we can. Let’s be grateful. We have life! Let’s drop the greed. Let’s help others. Let’s make our cities a place where we can tell stories in years to come about the way we united in the face of adversity. I certainly want to make Leeds United (😇).

Take care. Stay safe.

Jon

Life’s what you make it – verse 5 – give yourself a try

As the title suggests, life’s what you make it. I’d like to think the blogs that appear under the banner of ‘View From The Ground’ are a light read in what is, on occasion, a not so light time.

Of course, any opinions expressed are those of the writer. With that in mind, if these opinions are not those of the reader, that’s what makes life interesting. We are all different. We can see things differently. You might see something orange. I might see the same something red. Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Does it matter? If it does, sorry. I’m not saying I’m right, but I am write(ing) as I see things.

Welcome back, or welcome for the first time, to my View From The Ground. 2020 has been set out to making the best out of life that we can. An opportunity to seize what ever chance we get to smile.

Now, I love irony, and I know I’m not gifted when it comes to being a smiler. Grimace – yes; scowl – yes; look downright grumpy – oh yes. Smile? Tough! Does that mean I’m not happy? Not at all. I am genuinely happier now than at any time in my life. So, why don’t I smile more?

Now, this could become a deep discussion around almost reflecting outwardly what people expect. ‘There’s Jon. I bet he’s grumpy!’ So, guess what …………. There is also the possibility of over many years of being told that we are, let’s just say, grumpy, we just take on that persona.

It’s a bit of a Pavlov’s dog scenario. We get trained to respond / act in a way, so it’s easier to be that person. Or, perhaps, a self fulfilling prophecy.

How many of us dread Monday?

Now, I accept that it is natural to not look forward to Monday, as it signifies the end of the weekend and the start of another working week for those of us who are lucky enough to have a job.

However, when you think about it – that means there are potentially 43 Mondays that fill us with dread, when you take off annual leave and public holidays. How scary is that? We spend 16.5% of the working year dreading Monday.

On the flip side – that means we spend about 18% of the working year being euphoric about Friday and the same percentage smirking that Wednesday is hump day (a higher percentage as less public holidays on Fridays and Wednesdays).

I’ve got to admit I do struggle with Mondays. But I don’t know why other than it’s just programmed into my psychological makeup. I like my job, I’m part of a great company, and work with people I genuinely like. I’m lucky that my drive to work is through some of the most beautiful scenery. And, yes, that scenery is on this little island called Great Britain – not Catalonia (see Life’s what you make it – verse 4 – Sister Europe to reference this comment).

So, what’s the problem? Yes, I love my weekends. Yes, I love staying in bed on a Sunday morning. But, that’s no excuse for having a face like a slapped bottom on Monday morning.

What is the problem, because so many people are the same? You see it. More’s the case, you feel it. Behaviours on the road are a more aggressive. You’ve chased the radio station in the car so many times because you’re sick of the constantly cheery voices reminding you that it’s Monday; everything is good; here’s another happy, smiley song, and then there’s the array of adverts for holidays , holidays and more holidays.

The walk from the car to the office is very much a case of head down, no eye contact, swear at the lift, swear at the door security card because you’ve actually tried to use the security card for the printer, head down through the office and then drop the bag on the desk with a huff, a gruff, and a loud exhalation of air.

I’m actually feeling tense writing this! Madness. In reality, it’s just another day. Another day into which we are lucky to wake up, to be alive. Another day when we can enjoy, if we put our minds to it. For sure, there’s always going to be days which are just total rubbish. In the main, those days are out of our control.

However, our feelings towards many other days are predetermined. I’m using Monday as an example. A quick health warning in that I don’t want to be accused of discrimination against Monday. A part-time worker who works Wednesday to Friday may feel the same about Wednesday. A weekend worker may feel the same about Saturday. I support Day Equality!

However, and it feels like I’m writing this blog to me, it would be interesting to apply the Friday feeling – or whatever day your ‘Friday’ is – to every day. A big ask? Of course it is. I’m writing this bit of the blog on Sunday afternoon and can feel the wash of pre-Monday blues rolling in like a winter storm crashing onto a previously sun bleached beach.

And this is my point. We are / I am pre-programmed to feel this way because it’s the start of another week. But, what is the difference between what we were / I was doing on Friday and what we / I will be doing tomorrow. The answer is simply nothing, apart from on Friday we / I had 2 days at home or doing whatever to look forward to.

It’s a mindset thing, in my mind that is. I’m not speaking on behalf of anyone else. I’m just trying to think out loud in the hope it provokes some thought.

So, why don’t you give yourself a try? When it works, reprogram to repeat the process. It could be life changing. If not life, at least Monday changing. I hope so because I’m going to give myself a try. Tomorrow? Let’s see. Hopefully I can surf the wave and ride to success. The alternative is crashing to the sand like a beached whale ……………. again.

Take care. Have fun. Repeat after me, I do like Mondays.

Jon

Life’s what you make it – verse 4 – Sister Europe

Wow! What a circus. My goodness what a show. Take a bow Bo. It’s time to ask – have you heard the news?

An excerpt from Funeral Blues by W H Auden feels appropriate to start the latest blog:-

“The stars are not wanted now; put out every one, Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun, 

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods; For nothing now can ever come to any good.”

Not exactly a case of life’s what you make it? Don’t worry, this is not the start of a feast of doom. Just a reflection on the not so United Kingdom turning its back on the European Union and folding the EU stars flag away – for now.

However, as a proud European, I can’t help but reflect on my passion for Europe. I guess it’s also a love of travel. Now, don’t get me wrong, there are many, many magnificent places to visit in a Great Britain. So many we are eager to visit. Be that the rolling hills of Scotland, the lush greenery of North Ireland, the diverse and dramatic coastline of England, or …………………. Wales.

But, as I’ve got older, my feeling of being part of a greater Europe has grown stronger. A feeling of pride at being a European has developed.

A lot of this, probably, has grown as Great Britain has taken on a much more diverse landscape with regards to our population. You either embrace things, or you just become a sad little islander.

That said, I’m in a space in life when I hear an English voice abroad, I’m kind of disappointed. There’s so many things about the British influence on mainland Europe that embarrass me. Great big boards outside bars advertising the long list of sporting events that they are going to show over the following days. That said, one bar we visited in Ibiza had at least 4 games on at the same time.

I’m not knocking what other people want when they visit the mainland, but sometimes holiday resorts in Europe resemble holiday resorts in England – apart from the weather, of course. And, I know, that’s the thing. The weather. We all love good, warm weather and, as I look out of the window right now, in Leeds, it’s grey, it’s cold, it’s raining. It’s Great Britain. But, I accept, it’s also winter.

I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I dream of walking the streets of one of my favourite places to visit – Girona in Catalonia. Looking at the classic architecture, feeling the warmth, whilst listening to the hum of local accents and local language, looking forward to the taste of local cuisine, and smelling the bursts of freshly brewed coffee as we amble passed the array of street cafes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my home city, Leeds. It’s where I’m from and has formed the person I am. I’m proud of Leeds and I love Yorkshire with a passion.

A walk around the centre of Leeds is highly recommended. There is classic, and modern architecture to relish. However, make sure you are prepared for any weather. At any time. Don’t assume sun means warm. The hum of local accents? More of a battering of noise. As for local cuisine and smell of freshly brewed coffee. There’s some of the latter, but probably more prominent is the smell from the multitude of takeaways. The cuisine is varied and, with good recommendations, there are some great places.

It’s all just different. And it should be different. That’s the magic, and that’s a reason why I embrace being European. It’s that feeling of experiencing different things. I guess that’s why I struggle when I see Little Britain on the coast of the mainland. Sure, let’s embrace a bit of a British influence – I don’t mean staggering around drunk at 1pm. I like some of the European influence we have over here.

I like my eyes being opened to the differences. The Wee One and I love walking the streets of the places we visit in Catalonia or Spain of France. It’s fascinating just wandering, looking, and literally feeling the culture. Letting your mind drift to the history of where we are. Listening to the voices of people walking by.

It’s all about being different but remembering we are all the same.

My travel has been limited to Europe and, to be honest, there are so many places still to visit, that may continue to be the case. But I see that we are lucky to be able to travel.

As I said, there are many places on our wonderful island to see but a major issue is our not so wonderful weather. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to at least have a semblance of predictability to our weather. We could then plan a trip. I’m saying this as we get blasted by Storm Bloody Annoying, in which the windows rattle, a newly formed stream flows past the house, and the garden resembles a quagmire from which Ringo trots bloody muddy foot prints around the house. Sorry for swearing.

In essence, life’s what you make it. But, it’s up to us to make it the best we life that we can. If we choose to remain within the boundaries that we set ourselves then that’s just fine. That’s the choice we make.

However, I personally love being part of sister Europe. Being part of this great continent. Being proud to explore the history of the whole of Europe, and feeling part of it.

That’s the life I’m enjoying making. And next time I’m on the mainland, I’ll be proud to feel included as part of the European community.

And, so, let’s crack on with 2020. Let’s stay safe and healthy. It’s a tough time in Great Britain at the moment with various storms and floods. So many people suffering. It’s a sad day today as we mourn the loss of another soul who could no longer cope with her life. Rest In Peace Caroline Flack.

And, we have the global worry as the Coronavirus takes more lives. A worrying time.

Let’s be kind. Let’s be compassionate. Let’s unite and be strong together.

Jon