Thursday, 31 July 2014

Malta with Attitude

Life is good, no really life is good; if only we can find or better still look for the good. The truth is it's always hiding somewhere.
Take for example our recent break in Malta. In a short 8 days we 'clocked up':

  • 2 Emergency Dental visits (my daughters tooth broke on the way there).
  • 2 Emergency Hospital visits (my son fell and cut his knee badly and my daughters boyfriend was diagnosed with a severe case of vertigo).
  • 1 burglary (Sunglasses, Sat Nav all stolen from a car parked in a secure car park).
  • 1 case of Road rage (an irate scooter driving man who chased us down and shouted abuse through our open windows convinced we'd made an illegal turn - we hadn't).
  • 1 parking fine
  • 1 Returned rental car (The first one broke down)
  • 1 Holiday rental from hell
To top it all a disastrous Villa rental that forced us to pack up and move to a hotel after the first night. It wasn't a matter of 'not meeting expectations' but a matter of not meeting basic standard of hygiene or safety! I wont bore you with a list of all that was wrong but among the most notable: Dirty sheets, no running water, an ensuite that turned out to be a plumbed toilet next to the bed and the worst of all a baby cot with a broken leg that was taped onto a small pot! 

On reflection this could go down as the worst holiday ever but in reality its one we will remember most for the amount of laughs and smiles.
As a family we learnt a lot about our own individual and collective resilience and I am immensely proud that from the youngest to the oldest we all kept our sense of humor throughout.

I am also so grateful for the wonderful people that helped and supported us in adversity.
We found the good in life & people hidden just below the surface at every twist and turn. From the hotel staff who went out of their way to ease our plight to the Dentist and technician who broke all the rules to repair a tooth in one day as opposed to the 5 it would normally take. The Doctors who took time to explain about my sons wound and even educated us on the entire process of wound healing - amazing!

What I remain most proud of is the way my family could always see the funny side of each adversity - Two examples:

Our scooter driving road rage man could have been scary as he took chase & shouted abuse through our open windows, but we laughed at his contextually inappropriate choice of swear words. Maybe Maltese swear words don't translate well!

Our Villa disaster prompted us to spend a hilarious evening  re writing the 'real particulars' of the Villa description. It's now become a trip advisor review!

So call me a glass half full type of person (I don't think I am) but what I've learnt in those 8 days on Malta is that attitude is everything.

Maybe we worked extra hard not to allow these situations to spoil our holiday as we were conscious that this was precious time together.

Maybe we were forced to be more resourceful and consciously pulled on our inner resilience.

Whatever the reasons the lessons I've taken is that while we treated an 8 day holiday as special and to be protected at all costs we should and could apply the same principles to life back home.
We are trying our best now we have returned to maintain the 'Malta attitude'. Its not going to be easy but we are now more conscious about not letting stuff spoil life.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Blessing in Budapest.

Today has been one of those days where I yet again found myself counting my many and varied blessings and felt grateful to just be alive.

I'm writing this while sitting at the Castle overlooking Budapest enjoying a cold beer in warm spring sunshine.

I've just spent the last 3 days delivering a Leadership training course with a delightful group of people who made me so very welcome and today I get to enjoy a whole day to myself where I can wander & explore this wonderful city.

Sitting here I'm reflecting on the last 12 months of the journey that brought me to this place today. 
Exactly one year ago I resigned from a wonderful company and a job that I loved to set up my own company along with a good friend.

A 'brave and wreck-less' move some people said, while others told me to 'Go for it' and 'enjoy the ride' and what a joy ride its been.

  • I've learnt that running your own business is more about your own backbone and resilience than forecasts and business plans. 
  • I've learnt that I am surrounded by the most wonderful people who really want to see me succeed and give boundless encouragement and support. 
  • I've learnt first hand that when you follow your passion and dreams anything is possible.

Sure, I don't earn what I used to, I don't have the great pension or all the other benefits that went with the corporate life but what I've gained in return is priceless and that is time to appreciate life.
Beer over and I'm about to take time to simply 'smell the flowers' or in this case explore Budapest!

Budapest exploration
I started my day with a stroll around the Jewish Museum. Maybe not everyone's choice of a fun way to spend a morning but I wanted to get a sense of the city and its recent past.
The tour I took really brought the history of this Jewish community to life. It is staggering to thinks of so many families left scarred from their horrific experiences during Nazi oppression. One community persecuted, marginalized and stripped of dignity because of a religious belief.Here I am, a witness to the reliance and strength that in remembering the past they look to the future and
How can one NOT fail to be moved and humbled  standing in front of a display case featuring that hateful Yellow star & stripped uniform of the concentration camps?

Random acts of kindness 
I'm sure my experience in the museum had an effect on me as I was compelled to perform little kindnesses throughout the day. If you speak to my husband he would tell you Its not really like me at all. So although these may seem trivial to you, let me tell you they are huge for me.

On the ride up to the castle in the cable car I shared the carriage with a group of 5- 20 something girls obviously on a mid week city break together.
Their chatter and excitement was really infectious and although its not something I would normally do I offered to take a group picture of them. They so appreciated it that they found me later on in the afternoon and wanted to take a picture of me!

I gave up my last currency to a homeless woman on the street, gave up my seat to a couple who looked like they needed to take a rest and finally gave up my city map to a tourist who looked more lost than me! 

So finally, this journey which simply started out to set up a new company has in fact set up a new me. I've found a new appreciation for just being in the moment, taking time for me and others. Making the most important learning of all that giving up a bit of oneself  feels AMAZING!

Monday, 10 February 2014

Amsterdam - Through a window.

Let’s be very clear before we start, there is one notable exception in this ‘Amsterdam -Through a window’ blog post and that’s the views through various assorted windows in Amsterdam’s famous red light district.  Sorry to disappoint but that just wasn't going to make it to my blog page.

However on my recent weekend trip to this beautiful city it was this very experience (educational and shocking as it was) that led me to seek out alternative windows that displayed the culture, History, innovation and diversity of this melting pot of a city.  Here are just a few that I found and want to share along with a few principles that are worth remembering.
This collection, like Amsterdam is eclectic and diverse and I’ve saved the best Window to last.

Windows that make a statement
The Condomerie shop window around which a crowd of tourist were gathered to peer at the colorful and eclectic display really aimed to make a bold statement. Established in 1987 by two visionary women concerned about the spread of HIV/AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases. It bills itself as the world’s first condom specialist store.

It must have taken real courage and a degree of fearlessness on the part of these ladies back in the day. As with all Innovation endeavors bravery and a passionate belief lies at the heart.

Windows to surprise
Now where to start? Virtually every window in Amsterdam promises and delivers a visual feats of surprises in one way or another. Take for example the shop that offered you a Haircut and or espresso. The options yours, come for either one individually or both. In reality a tiny shop with coffee at the front and Barber chairs at the back but filled with a feeling of warmth and welcoming.
‘The Darling’ shop likewise offered you a cup of tea and a cup cake while you browsed for a new dress. Cupcakes spun around on turntables in the window alongside the display of clothes. Even the price tags were cupcake cases and although the shop was no bigger than a walk in wardrobe you felt immediately very ‘at home’.

The Dutch have cracked the ‘break the rules’ principle of innovation and seem to have a philosophy that says ‘Why not’ Rather than ‘No we cant’.

Windows of wonder
At the newly restored Rijksmuseum I stood and wondered in awe at this cathedral dedicated to Art. In the Grand Hall with its vaulted ceilings and painted walls there is a wall of stained-glass windows featuring images of famous Dutch artists. And why not?

The Dutch know how to celebrate and be proud of their achievements and this window is a testament to the skills and craftsmanship not only of the glass makers but the Artists it depicts.

Windows of History
My weekend came to a close with a visit to the House of Anne Frank. A moving and very emotional experience. It felt as though we were somehow eavesdropping in on her inner most thoughts thanks to the remarkable diary she left behind. Anne’s diary provides a window on history from a unique perspective of a teenage girl in hiding from Nazi persecution.

What was most poignant as we walked around the house was the shuttered and blacked out windows. Anne and her family in hiding couldn't risk anyone seeing them from the street so virtually lived for two years in fear of getting too close to a window. Anne yearned for the freedom to simply breathe fresh air.
How strange is it that only a few years ago that this only known footage of Anne was discovered. It shows Anne leaning from the window of her parent’s apartment watching a wedding procession just before she was forced into hiding.

The lesson I took from this final window in Anne’s house is that everyone can do something, even a young teenager in hiding from the Nazis. 

I think a quite from Anne's diary says it all.

 “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” –Anne Frank

So finally my personal lesson is that every second of every day is a chance to start recreate or reinvent either yourself or the world around you. It takes small steps by many to make a big change.
Instead of walking over that piece of rubbish, pick it up. Instead of complaining about the decline of our society, volunteer just one hour a month. Isnt it amazing that we humans have potential to learn from our tragedies while moving forward helping ourselves and our fellow earthbound souls.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

New Year - Same old me.

The New Year has begun and I’m feeling in a reflective mood.

It seems that everyone around me is talking about a ‘New year, New Me’! Be it detox or alcohol free January, promises to exercise more, eat less crap or setting goals to loose 20lbs. At this time of year we all focus on what we should do to improve our lives, health and wellbeing. Its ironic really that it all comes so soon after the period of gluttony and excess we call Christmas.

It’s as though we needed this over indulgent, indigestion fuelled break to give ourselves a good boot up the bottom!

I gave up making New Year resolutions a long time ago. Finally admitting that my ‘good intentions’ didn’t match the lack of strength in my willpower. I actually hate New Year with a passion and would much rather hibernate between Christmas and my birthday on Jan. 6th (epiphany*).

I was born in 1964 – This year marked the end of the so called ‘Baby boomer’ years so Im celebrating my 50th along with 1.014 Mil other Brits. On average 84,000 each month or 2780 per day!!

Far from feeling depressed at reaching this remarkable milestone of a half century I find myself actually wanting to jump with joy. Something remarkable has happened and I’ve had my very own little epiphany. Wait for it……

‘It’s OK to be me’.

Sorry Its not that earth shatteringly stunningly, amazing!

Its true I could do with losing a few pounds, should be eating less Jaffa Cakes & white wine and could be more tolerant of people who irritate me. However on the whole I think it’s actually OK to be me, wrinkles and all.

As Alexander Pope said; ‘To err is Human to forgive is divine’

So my new focus for 2014 is to go easy on myself, try to be a better person but forgive myself if I don’t always get it right, which I undoubtedly wont much of the time. This of course works two ways and I’m really trying to be a little more forgiving of others too. This is proving more difficult J

Whatever New Year resolutions you’ve made – go easy on yourself we are after all only human.

*Epiphany -  enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective.