I believe my Paris Baboons were divergent thinkers

  • Saturday, February 10, 2018
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Had the monkey seen it's arse, it would not have danced.
As a boy I lived near the base of this Kopje in Mutare, Zimbabwe. I would fill an old army water bottle and climb it. Baboons would sit on the rocks and bark as I climbed.

I have been curiously buoyed by the story recently of the 52 Baboons who escaped from the Paris zoo. After a long and hard week where I myself have been as grumpy as a Baboon with fleas I needed this tale of animalistic freedom and revolution. I have enjoyed the mental image of the brightly bottomed primates flipping the proverbial bird towards human society and causing chaos.
A luta continua, vitória é certa.
I believe my Paris Baboons were divergent thinkers as opposed to convergent thinkers.
Let me explain. Convergent thinking is where a straightforward approach to a problem is utilised, where the answer is simple and obvious. This type of problem negates any need for a creative approach. Divergent thinking is the opposite, where a problem is abstract or can have multiple outcomes or answers and we need to apply creative thinking to find a solution. It's often seen as out the box thinking. It's a bit like trail running and road running, I know which one I prefer but they both have their uses.
The Bobbejane were communicating their desire for freedom creatively and divergently, their message was loud and unambiguous and captured the worlds attention perfectly.
I have also been listening on Youtube to divergent thinker Jack Ma, the Chinese founder of wholesaling giant Alibaba talk about education and how we need to apply divergent thinking to how we teach in the future.. Jack believes that we need to stop knowledge based teaching and move to teaching what he terms 'soft' skills. These include values, belief, teamwork, music, art and sport. Jack's rationale is that artificial intelligence and robots are rising up and threatening the jobs we are preparing our children for, these soft skills are things that machines won't be able to replicate, allowing our kids to have a space where they can still be productive rather than redundant. It is teaching them how to problem solve and make well researched choices. It is teaching independent thinking.
I agree.
Coincidentally I was on a PE course last week run by Create Development called REAL PE. This approach to PE combines creativity with cognitive, physical and social elements - and amazingly our trainer Nat had just returned from spending 3 weeks in China teaching these principles at the school that Ma has built!
Right now as I type I am eating the remains of a Doner Kebab, spooning strips of greasy lamb drenched in Chili sauce into my mouth with my fingers. A half full glass of red wine is on the floor at my feet Such is the simple beauty of life.
Last month I turned 53, a little more jowly but hopefully with my sense of humour intact. That is obviously important to me because I think I've mentioned it before!
I had a good run with Annie on my birthday too. We have formed a little collegiate running club where a few of us run on a Friday after work but this time it was just the two of us. It turned poignant as Annie spoke of her sadness at losing a friend to cancer and how it has affected her. At these moments running is a great vehicle for restoration and conversation. It is easier to be open and honest when you are running side by side surrounded by stillness and nature. We were both feeling a sense of wellbeing and peace amongst the trees and the gathering dusk and parted encouraged and strengthened by each other.
I also have one of those strange knee injuries that I blame on playing school football on a hard tennis court. It is stiff and a little sore and so I'm giving running a break because I fear inflaming it and turning it into a full blown injury. I am annoyed, my running has been going well and I have been feeling fitter and sharper.
Finally, I am feeling blessed and privileged. Last Saturday night I went into London with my daughter. She is at a performing arts school and invited me to go to Islington with her to watch an up and coming band formed in part by some of her peers. It's highly affirming when your teenager thinks you are cool enough to hang out with in a noisy pub with her mates. These guys go by the somewhat cheesy name, The Psycho Muffins but what they lose in their name they more than make up with their music. The band are hugely talented musicians full of force, fury and virtuosity, a tight and passionate power trio who left me slightly dazed but really inspired too.
Young people man, I love them.
James of the Psycho Muffins in full flight.
(Photo Psycho Muffins)


Laugh at everything, because it’s always funny.

  • Friday, February 09, 2018
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DOCTOR: Run like hell, because you always need to. Laugh at everything, because it’s always funny.
CLARA: No. Stop it. You’re saying goodbye. Don’t say goodbye!

DOCTOR: Never be cruel and never be cowardly. And if you ever are, always make amends.

CLARA: Stop it! Stop this. Stop it!

DOCTOR: Never eat pears. They’re too squishy and they always make your chin wet. That one’s quite important. Write it down.

Dr Who.
I said that I would stop waffling about running and increase the intensity, My goal is to turn up the volume and get into some heavy metal, chainsaw running, full of noise and friction like a thirsty rugby team heading for the pub. I’m going for thrust, focus and becoming hard again.
It won’t be a single minded pursuit of pace and miles, hopefully those will be the natural by products of running that will be a little wild and frayed at the edges, a bit berserk and thunderous. I am going to run like hell because I always need to.
It needs to be fun. I have never taken myself seriously, I can’t run with a face like dour steel, unflinching in adversity and boastfully swinging my cock around full of piss and wind about how running is my bitch. Running has always been fun, it’s always been about play and experience for me. It should be carried out with a smile at the least and preferably a laugh. It is joy.
Our PE teacher Guy has developed a curriculum based on the Paralympic values which he called the FLAME award. Flame being fun learning and movement education. I am applying it to my running.
Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool FC manager talks about Geil, a German word borrowed from 80’s music culture. It used to mean horny but has mutated into slang for awesome. Jurgen is talking about football when he says he can’t think of a better word to describe something he finds exorbitantly beautiful. I think running should be geil, exorbitantly beautiful.
In that spirit I encouraged the child whose face eclipsed the sun out into the sleet and rain. Once again he showed that he intuitively applies these principles of fun and joy and that he is hardcore where I am not. In freezing conditions he went out in shorts and a short sleeved tee, only wearing a windbreaker when I insisted. He pushed me, running beautifully especially the first mile and was still on my shoulder at the end. Each time we run he is improved, getting closer to an authentic training partner. Next he needs to increase his stamina and mental toughness. I am not rushing him, allowing these to develop on his own terms.
In the meantime we ran a bit helter skelter and a bit scribbled, shouting out random shouty things, half blinded by sleet and making a pair of dog walkers laugh when we skidded past in the icy mud. Only the humourless horses were indifferent to our flailing, long faced and pressed up against the cold fence under their blankets.

Running is the simple light of grace.

  • Tuesday, January 02, 2018
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“I feel the same way about solitude as some people feel about the blessing of the church. It’s the light of grace for me. I never close my door behind me without the awareness that I am carrying out an act of mercy toward myself.” ~ Peter Høeg, ‘Smilla’s Sense of Snow’
I am sitting on my sagging sofa, outside the sky is a grumpy grey but inside the sweet smell of pine is filling the room from the Christmas tree, it’s green branches heavy with Red and Gold baubles and a grubby Spongebob, gap toothed with a maniacal squint. The tree is surrounded  by a halo of pine needles on the cheap laminate floor. I am in the midst of what appears to be the dead or dying remnant of an army of socks, crusty and curling, discarded by various family members as they come in the door from various outings and activities. To my left is a relic of the ghost of a runner past, a mismatched pair of More Mile running socks, a reminder that once I ran in conventional shoes. Who has resurrected these and had the courage or lack of foreboding to wear them is a mystery. 
This is my joy and delight, called to live in a large and chaotic family, my daily challenge to resolve the tension between being a neat and orderly human and the barrage of noisy and colourful humanity who daily leave their debris on the high tide mark of my life. They are my riches, these beautiful kids, they have both broken me and been my salvation but learning to bend my internal mechanisms to accommodate them sometimes wearies me.
I have come to crave solitude.
I have wasted the morning. Rare time to myself and I have spent it idly flicking through news channels or half dozing on the sofa. This was an opportunity for stillness and peace but I am instead incredibly restless and a bit morose. Now I am writing this. I’m a bit cross with myself.
I have always enjoyed being alone, it is when I am happiest and at peace. Recently I have an increased awareness of my need for solitude and my desire for it. I have begun to seek it out, I’ve kicked social media into the long grass and stepped back from the dramas of collegues lives. It is a retreat where I am in the world but not of it. It is a withdrawal from the tribe, a fallow desert experience allowing for renewal. It is the pursuit of simplicity. It feels healthy.
This is why I could only be a runner.
It is a natural environment for me. I can spend monastic hours alone, in nature, not speaking, just listening and breathing. My clothing is simple and unremarkable and my equipment minimal. There is nobody to question me, to raise eyebrows or laugh at my ritualistic quirks - always go left around objects, touch a particular tree with my left hand, run routes clockwise. Obsessively shaving my head. If I don’t run then I break, it is that simple. Running allows me to open the cell door to the tightly wound, austere and unforgiving slave driver inside of me, the legalistic unbending thing whose rules and demands will never be met. It lets in the light. Running is the simple light of grace.
I’m finishing this with my lips and fingers greasy from eating Sainsbury’s Firecracker chicken wings and barbecue drumsticks. I went out for a run this afternoon and I didn’t go alone. I had my middle son who is close to running faster and stronger than me, a great winter run in the mud.
I hope this is the end of faux philosophical blogposts for a while, I want to get back into some serious training, it’s time to step it up for 2018 but remain in the simple light of grace.

Solitude sharpens awareness of small pleasures otherwise lost. Kevin Patterson
The simple light of grace. “If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking” kim Walker.

I was a lonely flyspeck on the earth

  • Thursday, December 14, 2017
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Did I ever tell you about the young Zoad,
Who came to two signs at the fork in the road.
One said to Place One, and the other, Place Two.
So the Zoad had to make up his mind what to do.
Well…the Zoad scratched his head, and his chin and his pants, 
And he said to himself, “I’ll be taking a chance...”
(Dr Suess)
I am the archetypal middle aged guy.
I have started to take myself too seriously, something that should not be possible for someone with a shiny head smoothed by the slipstream of life, five toed shoes and Austin Powers glasses. Here I am, weathered like rocks hollowed out by wind and dust over the millennia, with my hard granite dome, a man Matopas. I should be wiser, but I’m only more foolish.
It snowed here on Sunday so I went out in my Vibrams to enjoy the experience. I don’t want to call it a zen run because that is the type of serious middle aged post hippy shit I’m trying to avoid but that is exactly what it was. It was a zen run in the wind and the snow and bursting with the solitude I crave. I was a lonely flyspeck on the earth, shuffling along in my blue Norwegian jacket, the manufacturers label worn off by the friction of a thousand miles, creased like the face of an angry god but still keeping me dry and warm despite this.
It was not a training run at all - which I’ve had precious few of recently. I’m no longer a mileage whore having mellowed and allowed my running to subside into something altogether shorter and more sedate. This was a lekker, maar stadig run with lots of pauses for photography or standing in the stillness and the quiet, alone and waiting for the whisper of the still small voice.
When I left home the snow was fat, the flakes like the falling feathers of winter geese or dead angel kisses against my lips and cheeks before swirling past and dropping to the ground. By the time I got home the air was dry, cold and empty but my heart was full.
Zoad is a word that Dr Suess used deliberately in his poem about the choices we face in our lives and the direction we take. Read it. The root of the word is Greek that indicated a ladder. Running is my ladder, the vehicle of my ascent to a better level of wellbeing and equilibrium. My zoad.
Running is an act of prayer to the great Nkosi who dreamt me when there was only nothingness and formed me fearfully and wonderfully in my mothers womb. My feet crunching over the icy crust with liturgic stamp was the sound of the choir, steady and harmonic, touching heaven and earth, a ladder of hot breath, blood, sinew and blood connecting human and Divine as one. My congregation was the indifferent sheep, blissful in their frozen field, and my sermon was solace.
I’ve failed as I so often do. I don’t want to be serious. I’m not a serious man but this is what happens when I run. I can’t go out and run to simply record my pace, distance and calories burnt. Running is an act of love for me. I can’t help myself.

It’s lonely out there in the dark with only an inquisitive and possibly insane Fox for company

  • Saturday, December 09, 2017
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 “I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” – Lucille Ball
How do we live in a way that makes the most of life girl of stunning luminosity? How do we make the most of the short moments we have? How do we celebrate? Aristotle suggested that we should try to live and act thoughtfully. We should, he proposed, live in a way that enables us to explore and reflect on the ordinary happenings of life, as well as the extraordinary. We should also try to act out ordinary things in an extraordinary way. It’s probable that Aristotle was right. It’s also possible that he was a joyless bore.
I’m in no position to judge.
Each day has the potential to be extraordinary. Each day brings it’s own inherent gift.
When you reached out through distance and time it was a gift. A quick virtual brush of your fingertips and a hint of warm breath on my face like the sweet smell of African rain mixing with the hot red dust that I miss with the intensity that only a hole in the soul can produce.
I’m battling with life and I’m telling you this as the woeful romantic in me imagines you both waiting for the dawn and simultaneously carrying it within you, the guardian of trembling souls and hearts that know only how to trust. The responsibility is huge.
My expectations of you are high.
I’ve been studying on these things as I run because that is the medium I use to populate the blank canvas of my mind.  Last night I was doing lap after lap of a local school in the dark while my laaitie did football training. Every week there is a beautiful Fox with a thick coat of winter fur that sits on the marshy corner of the field at the furthest end of the school where it is darkest. Every time I come around for another lap she is there, crouched low and alert, her ears pricked and her muzzle tracking me like a gun and as I pass she gets up and follows me for a few metres. Odd I know and I don’t know why she does it. It’s both wonderful and slightly unnerving, I feel blessed and slightly menaced at the same time.
Tomorrow we will learn that we have lost a child, he’s been at our school for years but now his physical presence has been snuffed out by his highly complex physical and medical needs. It sucks and we will be collectively bruised by his passing, a little punch drunk and a little quieter for a few days. He was a fighter this kid, tenaciously scrapping for each new day, extending his life expectancy and refusing to give in.
Thank God I can run even if it is supposedly mind numbing laps. It’s lonely out there in the dark with only an inquisitive and possibly insane Fox for company, the floodlights around the football pitch are wreathed in an orange foggy haze and the grass on the field is starting to sparkle with the early evening frost. It’s colder than a witches tit but this is my celebration, reflecting, thinking and being emotional in the mundane. I love running, there is something deeply elemental about it, the fusing of brutal physicality with snot, tears and sweat, the hopes we have, the humanness of thought and the presence of love.
 “losing love  
Is like a window in your heart  
Everybody sees you're blown apart. Everybody sees the wind blow  “
Paul Simon.

This strange and terrible urge to kill or maim strangers

  • Wednesday, August 09, 2017
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I wanted to run today but the rain has been sheeting down since the early hours. In the past I would have stuck to the plan and shrugged off the wet but now I can't be arsed.
Instead I have paced restlessly over the cheap laminate floorboards that I laid in the crumbling rented house in the dead end street where I have lived for 17 years. When we moved in the carpets stank of stale dog's urine and were so rotten that I was able to poke my fingers through them onto the floor beneath. 
I can't stand the silence so I'm listening to the Bhundu Boys, still Zimbabwe's best and most famous band. They took the UK by storm in the Eighties but typical of many who are uprooted from home and placed in an alien culture they fell apart through bad management, sickness, the tragedy of Biggie Tembo's suicide and disappeared. 
I am also waiting for an email from Annie that never arrives, she is meant to inform me when she has returned from holiday so that we can make plans for some August running.
While I pace, listen and wait I have been reading about Jogger rage. The media is full of the story of the Putney Bridge jogger who shoved a woman into the path of a Red London doubledecker bus.
There has been a lot of opinion both on written and social media and on talk radio about why this fool acted in the way that he allegedly did.
I'm completely baffled, if you watch the video he passes a man and then seems to alter his trajectory enough to seemingly shove the women into the road. He then runs on almost pathologically and without emotion or remorse.
It's weird.
There is a lot of speculation that he hates women/ they were stunt actors/ he was a hit man and even that she tried to trip him first! The prevailing theory though, is that he was exhibiting 'joggers rage' a previously unheard of affliction causing aggression brought on by running. Many members of the public are coming out and saying that they have been targeted by hostile runners and that this is a growing affliction of modern society. 
The Independent humorously asks whether people have been suffering in silence from this strange and terrible urge to kill or maim strangers once they pass the 5km mark on their morning jog.
I've searched myself as a long standing runner to see if I've ever felt this urge to become violent towards innocent members of society whilst running but I can't think of any. I don't think runners are always angels and concede that they can be conceited and rude but I think they are a boorish minority. I've seen runners who are undoubtedly absolute pricks and sadly they are almost always men but I haven't seen any violence apart from last year when I was shoved at the start of a race by a foul mouthed idiot who felt I was holding him up - but it's the only time in a decade of running where I've experienced anything like violence.
Mostly I think we just want to run and enjoy it but I hope that this will make some runners pause for a moment and think about how people perceive us and perhaps try a little harder to make eye contact, smile and greet people.
We are not, after all, gods.

The Putney Bridge jogger.

I drank one bottle of wine and cooked on the floor.

  • Saturday, August 05, 2017
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"Because that's rock and roll"
Deadpan response by Olly Smith of the band Hothouse
 to a small girl asking him why he was playing his keyboard behind his head during the band's finale.

There's not a lot of running in this post and it occurs at the end.
The tribe and I have camping in Stoneham Aspal, a small village in Suffolk. We have been at HEFF, the Glastonbury of Home Education. As a family we are in our fourth year of Home Education but this was our first festival. Camping does not come naturally to me, at least not any more. When I was younger it was normal and I never gave it any thought but as I've got older my enthusiasm for camp beds, groundsheets and guy ropes has vanished along with my suppleness and my hair. Nonetheless I borrowed a blue tent from loud Samantha and set off in our white Chev with joy and anticipation. I was not disappointed either.
I've never doubted our decision to Home Educate which is good because it takes a certain amount of courage. HEFF was a joy because it reinforced many things for me, not the least of which is that it is a lifestyle, pretty much every thing we do and think about revolves around our kids and their development. It was wonderful to be completely immersed in community and it was wonderful to see how kids can flourish by taking a different path. The other validation that I got from the week was a sense of being at home, nobody thought I was strange going around barefoot and I was able to wear the type of clothing that I prefer and that helps me express who I am. I've needed this restoration of my self identity.
The week was busy yet relaxing, there was a myriad of workshops and activities for the kids and some interesting talks in the conference tent. 
I saw freedom, I saw mutual respect and I saw a lack of hierarchy.
I saw inclusion take place organically.
I saw Bollywood dancing and traditional African dance. There was Ukulele workshops, tutu making, mask making and my kids built paper Spectroscopes. I saw a man with a Taliban beard and I had some fantastic conversations with some fantastic people.
I learnt a lot.
I drank one bottle of wine and cooked on the floor.
Every night I heard some quality live bands, my favourites being Casey Birks, Funke and the Two Tone Baby, Oliver and Company and the cream of the bunch, Hothouse. Patrick Channon you rock.
I heard a kids orchestral ensemble play Pink Floyd's Another Brick In The Wall.
My kids bought a Red Ukulele and my son played his Bass in two bands.
On Saturday night there was torrential rain, thunder and lightning.
It was the apocalypse in time lapse.
The best thing I saw are children who have been given the freedom and encouragement to explore their interests no matter how diverse or strange and also to just be children, no matter how diverse or strange. Through that magic happens and we get self confidant, well balanced kids who all mix well together regardless of age or disability. We get kids who achieve, some of whom are overcoming huge challenges. These guys I found interesting from a professional point of view, especially those with social communication difficulties and ASD. 
As Dr Suess said, sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.
I think allowing these kids to just be who they are and allow them to find their in their own way in their own time works, they don't do the paradigms or time structures of so called neurotypical people but march to their own unheard beat. It's up to us to tune into their frequencies and when we do the gifts we receive are great.
I also went to HEFF intending to do a fair amount of running, I knew from talking to our Home Ed friends that mostly the kids tend to go off and do their own thing and consequently I would have lots of free time. In the end I ran only once, two days before we left. I was so relaxed by the festival, so absorbed by the vibe that I just decided not to run - and it was impulsive after an early chicken and red wine supper when I pulled on my Vibrams and went into the fields adjacent to the site. My run took place under one of the loveliest skies imaginable, the timbre and quality of light was too beautiful. I ran along a muddy farm track and next to adolescent Wheat and then onto a weirdly deserted Golf course, As a run it was odd, I felt both the total peace of my environment and struggling with a bellyful of Red Wine.
I saw no one apart from a young man with a beard on his sunken cheeks, he was sitting cross legged beneath a dead tree and gazing at the horizon. When I stopped and asked if he was OK he looked up with dark eyes and without speaking he flashed me a thumbs up, I ran on wondering if he had a wound in his side until he was just a dark speck against the Wheat.
Running alongside but not through a Wheat field Mrs May.

 Our home for a week

Mud, sun, clouds.

Speakers corner and marquees.