PC 135 A Time in One’s Life

It’s only recently, in the last 18 months I guess, that I have been observing people differently. Before you think I am starting a career as a stalker, or weirdo, relax; I have simply been looking at them and wondering where they are in their life’s journey, what they are doing and why. I certainly didn’t think like this in my 30’s, 40’s or even in my 50’s, for I was too busy working and enjoying my life. But today, not working but still enjoying life (!), I look at other people inhabiting their space, their time, their universe and wonder what they are doing, planning, experiencing. Probably I’m invisible to them, focused as they are, doing their thing, living their life; unless of course I live, however temporarily, in the same universe. We come together at certain places, for example at work, at airports and railway stations, in the supermarket, in restaurants, in hospitals and when driving. Some people I simply observe and don’t interact with; others I engage with, converse with, exchange ideas with.



One of my ‘universes’ is that of yoga. Regular readers will know of my obsession with yoga and as I scribble this one morning before the sun has risen, I reflect on the individuals with whom I share this interest. There are teachers at different levels in our schools and colleges, an administrator, a gas fitter, an tour guide, the independent financial advisor, the retired trader from the City, a management and leadership consultant, a builder, a banker, a musician, someone who works in the Care Industry, a systems engineer in the generating industry, someone learning to be a driving instructor, a chiropractor, grandmothers, and mothers and fathers galore, some with school-age children and others whose offspring have flown the nest – and they all love yoga! Do I envy them, at their time in their life? Part of me does, absolutely; part of me knows that we only have one life and I have no regrets at the way mine is panning out.

The main building of the Institute of Directors (IOD) is at 116 Pall Mall in London and, during my fifteen years as an executive coach, it was here that I would meet my clients, those whose employer believed my intervention and interaction could assist them be more effective and more successful. I met some great people, working with them on a very personal and individual basis, and loved the results that came from that challenge. So you can imagine the memories the building holds, but now initially it’s simply a kaleidoscope of people and conversations and coffees and the IOD staff, all jumbled together into that segment of my life. I guess some things we remember well and other events and experiences get lost in the noise and mush. But then I look more closely at the grand old façade and remember clients, these shadows in my past, and see their faces illuminated as if by the flash of lightning. The ‘wood’ becomes a collection of individual trees, of individuals and the memories are sweet.



The Brazilian Flag

The Brazilian Embassy is a short distance from that IOD building, just to the west of Trafalgar Square. On the first Sunday of this month it looked lovely in the early Autumnal sunshine and the memories made me smile. Celina had come to vote in the Brazilian Presidential elections. A long line of people snaked around the corner; all ages, all colours, for Brazil has not one homogeneous skin shade. The queue was as mixed as you might imagine; the young away from their homeland experiencing London’s vibrant life, the older ones maybe having been here for a long time, all coming together to exercise their democratic right. (See note 1) I walk around the corner into Trafalgar Square and grab a double espresso at Pret.


Pret a Manger on the south side of Trafalgar Square

My daughter started back at school at the beginning of September, in a permanent teaching role. You may recall from PC 132 me saying something about how she has to be super organised or it’s chaos! Maybe she subconsciously covets my freedom, wishes she could do yoga and walk along the beach and write – conversely you may think I hanker after her involvement with the next generation, with the development of young brains and minds? What neither of us would wish is the attendant detail that goes with it, the organisation that gets her two boys to school, someone to look after her preschool son and herself to a different school. But it’s just the time in her life and for me it’s just the time in my life. The time’s the same, the experience personal to both of us in different ways.

Neighbours have recently become parents for the first time and I remember very clearly, as if it was yesterday, after my daughter was born, driving home in the pre-dawn hours of a glorious June day and being given a glass of champagne by my neighbour. That was just a time in my life and a time in theirs, and of course the start of my daughter’s time.

Time is never still, never stops. And our lives reflect this; rarely still, always growing, physically maybe, older certainly, often a bit of a rollercoaster! As the French poet Alphone de Lemartine wrote: “La vie doit avoir un courant; l’eau qui ne coule pas se corrompt.” (‘Life should have a current; water which doesn’t flow becomes stagnant.’ A view reflected by the delightful story from Richard Bach; see note 2 below)

Don’t let your life stagnate! Let go and go with the flow!

Richard 20th October 2018

Note 1: The election for Brazil’s next president will go to a second vote on 28th October, where the only choice will be the two front runners from the 7th October vote. Two men from the extremes of politics, one from the hard left and one the hard right. Some choice huh?

Note 2: A little tale about life:

Once there lived a village of creatures, along the bottom of a great crystal river. The current of the river swept silently over them all – young and old, rich and poor, good and evil, the current going its own way, knowing only its own self. Each creature in its own manner clung tightly to the twig and rocks of the river bottom, for clinging was their way of life, and resisting what each had learned from birth. But one creature said at last: “I am tired of clinging. Though I cannot see it with my eyes, I trust that the current knows where it is going. I shall let go and let it take me where it will. Clinging I shall die of boredom.” The other creatures laughed and said: “Fool! Let go, and that current you worship will throw you tumbled and smashed across the rocks, and you will die quicker than from boredom!” But the one heeded them not and, taking a breath, did let go, and at once was tumbled and smashed by the current across the rocks Yet in time, as the creature refused to cling again, the current lifted him free from the bottom and he was bruised and hurt no more. And the creatures downstream, to whom he was a stranger, cried: “See, a miracle! A creature, like ourselves, yet he flies! See the Messiah comes to save us all!” And the one carried in the current said: “I am no more Messiah than you. The river delights to lift us free, if only we dare let go. Our true work is this voyage, this adventure.” But they cried the more, “Saviour!” all the while clinging to the rocks, and when they looked again he was gone, and they were left alone making legends of a Saviour.

From “Illusions – The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah” by Richard Bach



PC 134 The Largest Mediterranean Island

“We had arrived.” It was later than expected but Gianluca was there to greet us at La Rosa Sul Mare, our apartment hotel in the Plemmirio nature reserve, just south of Syracuse in Sicily. A tall, bald, lugubrious man who we gradually experienced wore a number of hats –  manager aka waiter aka guide aka coffee maker aka cook – Gianluca had that charming way of adding an ‘a’ to everything he said in English. ‘Welcome! Buena Sera! Ia hope youa hada a gooda flighta?


So it’s not surprising that the urge to scribble something of our week on Sicily is overwhelming. But why Sicily? Well, neither of us had been there and it’s almost in Africa so it must be drenched in the yellow stuff even in September. Think Sicily and I think Mafia, an insidious and dangerously important part of the Sicilian society, I think seafood and wine, I think active volcanoes (Mount Etna and Stromboli in the Aeolian Islands off the north coast), and I think Inspector Salvo Montalbano, a fictional detective created by Andrea Camilleri and the TV series of the same name, filmed around Ragusa.

The largest island in the Mediterranean, Sicily’s strategic location has ensured a colourful history; part of Greater Greece, a Roman Province, an Arab caliphate, a Norman kingdom and now part of a unified Italy. Scratch its poor soil and you’ll find remnants of its past everywhere, but broken columns and ancient theatres, Greek or Roman, don’t really interest me. It’s today’s inhabitants that make this island, them and the incessant flood of tourists. A fascinating article by Maria Luisa Romano in a magazine called ‘Best of Sicily’ gave me a rather negative view; here’s a synopsis: “Around 55% of the population is either unemployed or underemployed, the economy is still based on agriculture, and literacy rates are some of the lowest in Europe. There is a very small middle class and among the people themselves, envy and jealousy, not charity or empathy, have been the rule of the day for a long time. There is little sense of community outside the smallest towns. If history is any guide, there seems not to have been any real sense of civic awareness or community spirit in Palermo or Catania for centuries. And of course organised crime in the form of the Mafia, with its extortion and economic control, preclude any serious development of businesses.” (see note 1)

I took a photograph of the Temple of Apollo, built in 575BC in the Syracuse suburb of Ortygia, but didn’t spend hours looking at how its scattered stones might have looked.


Surprisingly there was little mention in the guide books of the importance of Sicily in the planning of the invasion of Southern Europe, by the Allied forces in 1943 during World War Two. There seemed to have been two main options, one to invade Greece and drive up through the eastern flank and one to invade Italy off the springboard of Sicily. In one of the most successful deceptions of the conflict, Operation Mincemeat, the body of a supposed Royal Marine Officer was allowed to float ashore in Spain. In his satchel were plans for the invasion of Greece; German intelligence accepted their authenticity and moved forces to reinforce that area. The subsequent invasion of Sicily was highly successful and completed in 60 days. Mussolini was toppled and Italy’s participation as an Axis power was over. (See note 2)

La Rosa Sul Mare had about ten small self-catering apartments and the other guests were couples who had come to relax, see the local sights, sleep, snooze, swim, sip, sunbathe, snorkel and chill. Peace and quiet writ large; sea birds cry, small waves break over the rocky shore, the wind gently rustles leaves in the vegetation, whispered conversations drift across the rocks and it’s heads down in one’s book. Until a large group of big Russians, or maybe a big group of large Russians (?) arrived half way through our week. Any ‘group’ is bound to dominate a small place but these people had no respect for others, demonstrating a lack of understating of acceptable behaviour; and because there were 8 of them they became a real nuisance. Their second morning they occupied more than 50% of the sun deck (tut! tut!) and plugged their USB into the loudspeaker; there was nothing quiet about this Russian playlist!! One of the men was a real comedian, or so he thought, as after everything he said he screamed with laughter and his chums joined in too; a nightmare if you’re trying to concentrate on a story!! After a couple of hours I asked the pneumatic blonde whether she could turn her loudspeaker off. She turned questioningly to this head of family. He rose up to his full 1.9m height, his belly extending way over his trunks: “Wot? You no like music?” ……..


The Sicilian symbol

The flag of the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea, a self-governing British Crown dependency, is red with a Triskelion, consisting of three legs conjoined at the thigh, at its centre. Its origin is thought to be from when the Norse ruled the island in 1260. I was surprised to find a similar emblem, a Trinacria, a three legged symbol with Medusa as the central face and three ears of wheat here in Sicily. The feet represent the three capes of this triangular island.


On the second night we decided to eat on the charming terrace overlooking the sea and we advised Gianluca at breakfast that morning accordingly. He asked us to select what we wanted as they didn’t have many people eating in and had to get the ingredients!! I chose as a starter Palma ham & melon (yum yum) and a favourite pasta dish, linguine da mare. Later that evening we sat expectantly under the awning and waited. Gianluca eventually appeared with a huge tray carrying everything we had ordered. As he set the dishes down, he muttered: ‘Maybe you ‘ad better eata pasta first as it hota, then starter. Eh?’


On our last day we drove north to Taormina; the place was crowded with tourist coaches wheezing their way up the steep roads and those on foot coming up from the car park. We hurriedly turned around and found a quiet beach. Here it was a little more tranquil; time for a swim and some lunch before returning the car to Avis in Catania airport.


Taormina’s pink beach with mainland Italy a smudge on the horizon

If you go to the trouble of putting up signs saying ‘return cars’ etc at least make them work. After two circuits and endless dead ends, dangerous U turns, reversing up a one-way lane etc eventually we worked out that the signs had been put up by a nincompoop. Ignoring them, we made our way towards the terminal building, where we recognised the Avis operation. I gave the keys back to Fabio – ‘You found us then?’ he asked, clearly embarrassed by the lack of sensible workable directions for his customers.


Mount Etna smoking quietly, seen across the airport apron

We left on time, climbing into the night sky, set our watches back an hour and read and chatted. It was good to get home; we even unpacked our damp beach towels before falling into bed around midnight!

Richard 4th October 2018

Note 1: http://www.bestofsicily.com

Note 2: Operation Mincemeat is the subject of a book of the same name by Ben Macintyre. Hugely interesting.