Thursday, 24 July 2008

I Am Who I Am Because Of Everyone

I love the new TV Advert from Orange, where a guy talks about the people he has connected with during his life & who have helped define who he is. One of the best ads I've seen for a while, and it's definitely struck a chord with me. A little bit twee? Possibly, but I like it.

I'll shut up already and let the script tell the story..........

I am my Mum ... and my sister. I am my best friend Mike, who I have known since school. I am Kate, who is still somewhere in Thailand. I am all the girls I've ever kissed ... and the girls I will. I am the teacher that failed me, and the one that spurred me on. I am my bosses, and every one of my friends. I am a bloke I'll meet travelling, who'll teach me the guitar. I am the places I go to with mates, and the jokes I share with them. I am the people who put me down ... and the ones who pick me up. I am who I am, because of everyone.

It's based on a quote by George Matthew Adams, who once said:

There is no such thing as a 'self-made' man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has ever done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us, has entered into the make-up of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Blame It On The Boogie Board

Ah, The Sea. It conjures up some great images.....The Guinness Surfer advert with the white horses...... the view from Brighton promenade...... the song La Mer...... that new Smirnoff TV ad..... scuba diving in the tropics...... Sydney Harbour...... the Isle Of Wight Ferry...... OK, maybe not the last one, but generally when you think of the sea, you get some pretty vivid pictures in your head.

Trouble is, there is a flip side to this. I found out last weekend, nearly to my cost, that The Sea is not to messed with.

About a year ago, I went down to North Cornwall with friends, one of whom has owned a holiday home down there since the 70's. Ostensibly it was a few days chilling out by the coast, but it turned into a kind of watery epiphany for me.

See, ever since I was young, I have had a fear of water. Now, by this I am not talking about bathing or showering; rather, I don't feel comfortable in (or on, or over) any body of water that is bigger than my bath tub. Consequently, I have never been a good swimmer. To be fair, I have tried swimming lessons, but not to any great degree of success. If I was ever to appear on Room 101, deep water would be my second item in (after wasps).

Going back to a year ago in Cornwall - my friends were insistent that I donned a borrowed wetsuit, and tried out Body boarding (a watered-down version of surfing, excuse the pun) on Harlyn Beach. Surprisingly, I found it great fun, but didn't catch any waves. The following day we tried nearby Constantine Bay, which had choppier water, and I absolutely loved it, catching some great waves in the process. I could now enjoy the buzz of surfing without having to swim further out to sea. All in the relative safety of water shallow enough for me to touch the sea floor, under the watchful eye of the RNLI Lifeguards. I even learned stuff about swimming between the safety flags to avoid things like 'breaks'.

One year on, I returned to the Cornish coast for a Stag Do. This time, I meant business - armed with my own wetsuit & body board, I felt like a seasoned veteran as we returned to Constantine. On Friday & Saturday the stags pissed about in the sea on boogie boards, like (as my friend put it so well) kids in a sweet shop. We planned to return there early on Sunday morning.

You can probably tell at this stage, that I was getting a little bit over-confident. I should have spotted the warning signs: my mate (the stag) dislocating his shoulder in the same bay whilst canoe-surfing the previous year, the Warning: Dangerous Currents sign that greets you as you enter Constantine beach, and the fact that I had was still a crap swimmer, despite my improved confidence in water.

On the Sunday morning, the tide was a lot further out than usual, and as the whole stag party joined other body boarders a 100 yards into the water, some of us suddenly were pulled out over a shelf on the sea bed. At the time I wasn't immediately concerned, I just used my board as a float and kicked my legs to try to reach shallow water. It was only when I realised that the strong currents were actually dragging us further away from the beach, that I began to panic. What really freaked me out was how quiet the sea was. Of course, I have since learnt that the thing to do in such circumstances is to throw the board to one side (or use the cord to tie it to your leg), and swim to cut through the water. Being a non swimmer, this wasn't an option for me :-)

So, a big thank you is in order to people (you know who you are) who calmed me down and stayed with me/pulled me to safety. I do know that if I had been the only person in the water it might have been a tricky situation for me. I wasn't the only one to be caught out - the lifeguards fished out a couple of other members of the stag party, including the stag who dislocated his shoulder again trying to help out his brother in law. But all's well that end's well.

It's now my intention to learn how to swim properly before the next time I venture out on my board. I haven't been put off - I was back in the water on Sunday morning & later in the afternoon - but I'm determined not to get caught out like that again.

I will end this post by giving a big thumbs up to the RNLI lifeguards. Yes, a lot of them are tanned poseurs who sleep with more than their fair share of women, but they do a great job. It is scandalous the lack of Government funding that the RNLI gets - they rely almost entirely on voluntary donations & legacies. If you wish to support them, or find out more about them, please visit their website at

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Four Wheels Bad, Two Wheels Good

So I've taken the plunge and splashed out on a new bike.

I say new bike, but to be honest I've not really owned a bike since my schooldays - not wishing to sound like the Four Yorkshire men sketch from Monty Python, but I used to cycle, every day, 3 miles to school and 3 miles back, uphill BOTH ways, through wind, rain, hail and get the picture.

I thought that my cycling days were well behind me until recently, when I joined some work colleagues in a charidee bike ride from Worcester to Bridgwater. Sadly, my 10 gear Raleigh racing bike would not have been up to the job, so I borrowed my mate's GT hard tail mountain bike. Several months of training paid off as all nine of the team each completed the 100 miles, and raised lots of money in the process for disadvantaged kids. Nice work, people.

A few things I have discovered during my reborn interest in cycling:

  1. Bike technology has moved on leaps & bounds since I was a kid. Now they have suspension! Front AND back in some cases! And disc brakes - no more wearing down of brake blocks!
  2. It's not cars you really have to look out for - it's bloody pedestrians. I've lost count of the number of times some numpty has stepped out off the kerb in front of me - often whilst staring straight at (or maybe through?) me!
  3. Off-road cycling, as well as being incredibly dangerous, is an extremely exhilarating activity. Nothing quite beats cycling down a muddy hill in the woods at around 30 mph, with your braking capability severely reduced, with dirt splattering in your face, and nothing to protect your skinny legs from a barbed wire fence or a 30 foot drop into some stinging nettles. Great fun!
  4. I always thought that I'd look a tit in a cycle helmet. And I do. But one day I know I'm gonna be glad I wore one.
  5. Loads of people are into cycling - more than I thought, certainly. I've noticed increasing numbers at work now using bikes for their commute, not to mention the more hard core element who go mountain biking at weekends.
  6. It's actually quicker to cycle from my flat to work, than doing the journey by car. Partly because I can cut through the back of Stockley Park (cars are banned from this entrance) - I can shave a mile off my commuting distance. And secondly because I can avoid the inevitable traffic backlog leading up to West Drayton Road (saves about 10 minutes I reckon).
  7. Finally, I haven't mentioned the health benefits - needless to say, cycling is like WD-40 on my knees.

It's my goal to cycle in to work a couple of days a week from now on. I wish I'd started doing it long before now, but I was making excuses not to do it. My aim is to make the bike pay for itself, although I've calculated that to do this I'd need to do it commute by bike 200 times! We'll see my resolve fully tested on a cold & wet Tuesday morning this November.....