About Pete

Recently retired after 35 years in Technology and Financial Services and looking forward to learning about a new way of living

How close are genius and madness?

This week I watched the 2014 film about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys – “Love and Mercy”. I had only been peripherally aware of the story and found it fascinating. Wilson was the creative leader of the band behind such great pop tunes as “Surfin’ USA”, “California Girls” and “Fun, Fun, Fun”. Then in 1964 he had a nervous breakdown and stopped touring. He concentrated on working in the studio and wrote & produced the “Pet Sounds” album, generally recognised as one of the greatest records ever made. He then started on what he saw as his legacy – “Smile”. It was never finished as a Beach Boys album. His mental illnesses and use of drugs had caught up with him and his genius had turned to madness.

Wilson is now diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, an illness that amongst other things, gives him auditory hallucinations (voices in his head) . He also used a great deal of psychoactive drugs. He credits his illness and these drugs for helping him write great music. He is famous for long, complex sessions in the studio where he would bring together arrays of musicians to build the layered sound that became his trademark. If you listen to “God Only Knows” for instance, you can hear such weird instruments as orange juice containers, and Wilson uses two different musical keys at the same time. Without much doubt he is a musical genius.

But I also listened this week to his 2004 version of the “Smile” album he never finished with the Beach Boys. It received great critical acclaim, but I found it hard to listen to. Lots of great musical ideas mashed together. Like eating ice cream, a curry and pasta all at the same time.

During my life I have only a few times worked with creative geniuses. And each time I have found their strong emotions to be unnerving. Perhaps because as a white middle class Brit, my own emotions are so stunted. I could never allow myself to get that close to mental fragility to release the best of my creativity. That is certainly a gain for me. I wonder if it is also a loss.

What do you think? Do you need to be at least a little mentally unstable to create great beauty?

Why even losing a water bottle can hurt

I now this sounds ridiculous. I know it is a first world problem. I know people are dying around the world from the pandemic. But I am upset today because my water bottle is broken.

Firstly let me be clear that this is totally my fault. I put the bottle in a dishwasher and… well you can see. And it is just a water bottle. I am sure I can pick up another for a few quid. But it upsets me. I think there are two reasons.

The bottle has a branding from my last job. And so losing it is a reminder that I am no longer working. I love my retirement, but as each link to work goes, I also lose that part of my identity that for forty years defined who I am.

I find myself getting increasingly upset about trivial things these days. I cry at the most innocuous of films. I cried when I heard my niece had had a baby this week. I even cried at the weekend watching ”Saturday Night Takeaway”, the lightest of light entertainment TV shows. Part of it I think comes from the retirement. I am more relaxed, more vulnerable perhaps. I no longer have to put on my emotional armour to deal with the stresses of a job where managing crises was a frequent occurrence.

And I also blame Covid-19. For more than a year we have lived under the threat of severe illness and death. We have all found ways to get on with it but now that the UK seems to be coming out the other side I think that 12 months worth of adrenaline and cortisol is washing out of my body and making me more emotional.

Or maybe I should get a sense of perspective!

Have you lost anything trivial and been unreasonable upset?

Ten reasons to get the Vaccine

On Sunday my wife and I had our first doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, and it made me reflect on why we all should be vaccinated if we are able.

  1. It can save our lives. Admittedly, as an overweight mid fifties man, I am more at risk, but the evidence shows that the vaccines prevent near 100% of deaths from Covid-19, in all age groups.
  2. It will save other people’s lives. There is clear evidence now that the vaccines reduce the transmission of Covid from you to others and therefore helps stop the spread of disease to those that are not yet vaccinated.
  3. It protects the health service. Sadly we have seen some health services across the world come close to breaking down in recent weeks. In the UK, we got pretty close in January. None of us want to see people get sick and die without the support of doctors and nurses.
  4. Even for young adults, Long Covid is a real risk. The vaccine helps stop the disease and protects you against long term symptoms.
  5. The vaccine does not discriminate. Unfortunately the disease is more prevalent in some ethnic groups, The vaccine however, is effective for all. In Scotland, the biggest challenge with vaccine take-up is amongst Polish and some Black communities. We need to protect them too.
  6. It gives our children a future. Not only does the vaccine for adults mean that fewer children will lose their parents, but it means that they can have normal lives at school and with their friends. There has been more than enough damage in the past year.
  7. Any side effects are well worth it. My wife had no real side effects at all. I had a pretty bad 24 hours, with fever and muscular ache. But a day later I was feeling fine. And the benefits far outweigh any issues. If I got Covid it would be so much worse. If anyone is worried about the risk of getting blood clots for instance, the most likely way of getting a clot that will kill you is to catch Covid.
  8. The vaccines have been properly tested. Some people are suggesting that because the vaccines were approved in months rather than years, there is more risk. This is not true. No corners were cut. Instead, literally billions of pounds were spent accelerating the testing.
  9. All the vaccines work. In the UK we have Pfizer and AstraZeneca with millions and millions of jags now given safely. The other approved vaccines are also rolling out effectively – Moderna, Sputnik, Sinovac. I am looking forward to the new French vaccine Valneva being approved because it is manufactured a couple of miles from where I live. The evidence I have seen is that against hospitalisation and death, they all protect equally well.
  10. It is better than another lockdown. I have written before about how fed up we are all getting with the restrictions. We have a clear route map out now, but it can only happen with the extensive vaccine rollout.

I apologise for writing a preachy blog. I also apologise for winding up those that really want the vaccine and have not yet been offered it. But this is important. If you have been offered the vaccine, please take it up. I respect people who choose not to take up the vaccine. But I think they are mistaken.

And if you are not sure, rather than listening to internet guff (even this blog!) please talk to a healthcare professional.

What is wrong with being a shiny narrowboater?

We have been living on our narrowboat this week. We are lucky that it is moored relatively closely to our house so we can stay there without breaking too many rules, and it needed some maintenance for the start of the season. It is amazing how good it felt to get back to being on the boat. We so miss travelling on it, and hope that maybe next month we will be allowed once again to cast off the ropes and set off along the canals. The dogs loved it too. When we bought the boat I worried that the dogs would get claustrophobic, or would hate the engine noise, or would keep jumping off in the water. But like us, as soon as they arrive they seem to settle. The only problem we have with them is that they consider the towpath as being part of their territory, and so bark at other dogs walking nearby.

I was reading an article on a narrowboat forum this week, and came across the idea of “shiny narrowboaters”. These are people who care more about the appearance of the boat than what they do with it. I think that I am quite shiny. One of the jobs I did this week was repainting the roof and one side of the boat (I ran out of paint). I also varnished some woodwork, changed a left hand cleat for a right hand one (getting too technical for a blog here!) and put up a sign that was made for me by my work friends when I retired. I think the boat looks very smart.

However, for some in the narrowboat community, I am concentrating on the wrong things. Boats are about living on, not about polishing. I am sure there is some truth in this, but I still like it to look good.

One of the things I love about narrowboating is that the canal community in incredibly varied and tolerant. We have hippies who want an alternative life, We have young people who cannot afford a house. We have people on their first ever canal holiday, and those that have lived their life here. We have people who make their living on the water, and those like me, who have retired from all that, and want the peace. And we all rub along just fine. There is something about the common enjoyment of boating that brings us all together.

And so yes, some may call me “shiny” but it is said with a smile, and with respect. I love my narrowboat, and I love my friends on the water. Good health to you all, whether shiny or not.

What about you? Are you a shiny person?

Will this pandemic be the end of extraverts and introverts?

Throughout my career I have engaged in personality tests as part of team building with my colleagues. One of the key traits that is tested is whether people are extraverts or introverts. Extraverts gain their energy from interacting with others. Introverts get their energy from themselves. This is important at work and at home because often introverts can be ignored by the loud brash extraverts, and extraverts can be seen as thoughtless by the introverts, who prefer to consider before speaking.

When I have done the tests I usually get confusing results. In some situations I am strongly extravert. There are few things I like better than to stand up in front of hundreds of people to make a speech. But I am also at my happiest by myself on a walk with my dogs in the quiet countryside and I have some strong introvert tendencies.

This week I heard about omniverts and ambiverts. Omniverts are just like me – in different situations they respond differently and get their energy differently. Ambiverts are happy in all situations and don’t show preference either way.

Under lockdown, very many of us are missing other people and long to be back in crowds. For extraverts this must be particularly painful. We just want the energy from interacting with others. We talk about how we will never complain again about busy bars, queues, jostling on public transport.

But I have noticed this week that as the rules are loosening and the paths and open spaces have got more busy, that I have felt almost claustrophobic, and glad to get back to my own space. So I wonder if this pandemic has changed us all into omniverts or ambiverts. Introverts will have realised that they do miss time with people. Extraverts will have realised that they can get energy from the peace of being alone.

What do you think? Which personality type are you and how has a year of isolation affected you?

Why should you write a blog?

I have read a great deal on blog writing. Some say that it is a self absorbed activity – shouting into the wind. Some say that it is a way of supporting others by sharing experience. I can only speak for myself and say that I love writing my blog because it allows me to get my head around what is happening in my life and how I choose to respond to it.

Photo credit content-writing-india.com

So if it is for my benefit, why publish? For many years I used to write a private diary. I called it my “win, learn, change log” and every day I would identify sone small success, something that had gone less well that I would learn from, and one change that I would make as a result of either. In general I found this a healthy and therapeutic activity; good for my mental health and good for my personal development. By publishing a blog I get much the same response but publishing it makes me less self absorbed, less repetitive and more outward looking.

If you follow my blog you will know that I am recently retired and reflecting on how to spend the rest of my life. That gives me choices and I get to share them with you, dear reader. As the blog develops I hope that more of my followers respond with comments and we can have more of a dialogue.

I have read that, like Facebook, blogs are now passé and that younger people are preferring to share their life experiences based on video in Tik Tok and Instagram. I will stick with words. I love to write and I love to write my blogs.

How about you? Do you already write regularly? If so, what do you get from it? If not, why not start today?

Ten reasons life is sh*t. Ten reasons it isn’t

I can’t decide whether to be glass half full or glass half empty this week.

Let’s consider the facts. First looking at the bleak side:

  1. We have given up hope that the Scottish government will allow us to travel in March or April for the Orkney holiday we originally planned for January.
  2. My wife Mandy and I have not received a vaccine invitation, but our younger son, Tin, who is just 31 years old, has. No idea why.
  3. The sunny weather promised for this week has turned into low cold cloud. So much for spending time in the garden.
  4. The backup disk for my PC has failed, and the new one does not work.
  5. We bought 3 cubic metres of wood for the fire, and it will not burn.
  6. The heating is not working in our boat.
  7. My niece is going to have her first child in a few weeks, and we aren’t allowed to see her.
  8. Having spent several days last week trying to sort out funding for my Dad’s care home, I still do not know whether the council will allow him to stay in the one where he is now.
  9. The things I have been doing this week, such as painting and reading, are a waste of time.
  10. I am really missing the people contact I used to get at work.

Reframing these in a more positive way:

  1. We have rebooked Orkney for the whole of November. As with our original plan, this should be dark enough to catch the Aurora Borealis at least once.
  2. Our son is super lucky to get the vaccine early, and for Mandy and I it should be just a few weeks away. So close!
  3. Monday was a lovely day here and looking at the crocuses, spring is definitely coming.
  4. There are many reasons to hate Amazon, but if something doesn’t work, they replace it without quibble.
  5. I have 3 cubic metres of wood stacked neatly in my wood store, and by the autumn it will be perfectly seasoned.
  6. Pierre, the best narrowboat mechanic in Scotland, has promised to fix my heating this week, so I may be able to get back there at the weekend.
  7. All being well, the reopening of Scotland will allow me to travel up to Fife to see my niece and her new child very soon.
  8. Wiltshire council have agreed to pay for a bed for my Dad, and if his current care home does not have a “council bed” available, we can pay a top up. He will not have to move.
  9. The things I have been doing this week, such as painting and reading, are relaxing and good for my mental health. They are exactly the kinds of things I never had time for when I was at work.
  10. I am not missing at all being on constant zoom meetings. My time is my own.

What do you think? Half full or half empty?

How do you show respect to anti-vaxxers?

In the UK the rollout of vaccines has massively beaten expectations. About a third of all adults have now had at least one jab. I am looking forward to my own in the next few weeks. We are already seeing a reduction in hospital admissions and deaths supported by more vaccinated people as well as lockdown. This is allowing the rules to be eased, slowly but surely and I am sure we are all so looking forward to the time when we can get back to normal. Personally I am desperate to leave this house and travel again.

Photo by Reuters

But I still see articles and posts from people refusing to take the vaccine. Such articles usually receive very divisive and angry comments from both sides of the argument, shouting at each other about how stupid the other view is. Personally I strongly support vaccination, but I want to treat the other point of view with respect.

I realise there are different views but the argument against vaccination seems to summarise as:

  • It is my body and I get to decide what I put into it
  • It normally takes years to prove vaccines are safe. This has been rushed
  • I believe in my natural antibodies
  • There are many rumours about why government want us vaccinated. I do not trust them
  • I do not need to be vaccinated if others are

I do not agree with any of these but I have to respect that others do. The one thing I would say however, is that these arguments come from a point of view based on self rather than society. They do not take account sufficiently what a decision not to vaccinate means to others. If a large proportion of the population decides not to vaccinate, it puts the rest of us at risk. For this reason, once we have all been offered a jab, I support the idea of a vaccine passport for people who have been vaccinated, or who have a medical reason from their doctor as to why they should not vaccinate. Just as an individual has a right to choose whether to vaccinate, a business owner should have the right to choose whether to serve someone without such a passport. For instance if I ran an airline, or a sports venue, or a restaurant, I would want to ensure the maximum safety for my other customers.

This week, my 90 year old aunt is in hospital after a bad fall, and has caught Covid-19. Fortunately she was vaccinated a few weeks ago and her immune response appears to be fighting it off. So yes I am prejudiced. I am trying to be prejudiced with respect.

Am I missing something?

Is lockdown damaging your mental health?

A couple of things have made me reflect on my mental health this week. I read an excellent blog from someone managing depression. I won’t share it here because it is personal but it reflected on how difficult it is to balance taking ownership for solving mental health issues yourself, with the need to ask for help. The author is in the final year of university, with the stress of coursework and exams reinforced by demoralising rejections for job applications. That would be the same in any year, but layer on a lockdown when the opportunity to get out, get away and get support is more difficult, and depression looms all too easily.

The second thing is much more positive for me. For some reason this week I have had quite a few friends reaching out to check in. It is amazing how much difference it makes to receive a message asking how you are. I have certainly found this lockdown the hardest. I am not sure if that is because now I am retired, I do not have work to distract me; or if it is because vaccines make the end seem so close and so far at the same time. But the small contacts with friends have certainly helped. A lesson for me that I should make more effort to stay in touch. Not a strength for me!

My wife and I have been talking about what we do with our plans for this year. We were meant to be staying on Orkney for six weeks and then travelling the English canals in our narrowboat. Realistically the Scottish government seems to be saying it will be summer before we are allowed to travel. Perhaps we should see more of Scotland and postpone moving the boat. Or move it at the end of the season. We are just looking forward to the time we can make decisions without restrictions.

Has the lockdown affected your mental health too? If so, how are you managing it? I’d love a comment to hear from you.

Is five days watching a sports game a waste of your time?

This week I watched a whole cricket test match for the first time. A couple of blogs ago I wrote about learning to love American Football (well done the Buccaneers). At least with cricket I know the rules. And I have been to a day of a test match before – it requires a very different mindset to watching short form cricket such as 20:20. You settle into your seat, and read a newspaper or have a drink while the game goes on slowly slowly. One of my followers, Matt, commented that American Football is like chess with violence. Test cricket is like chess but slower. And this week I committed to all five days of England against India.

Photo credit ICC Twitter

For many people, the idea of spending five days watching a sports game would seem to be a complete waste of time. Especially when one of the likely outcomes is a draw. But the opportunity for me was a luxury that I would never have chosen when I was working. And I found it to bring a kind of mindfulness.

Over the years I have practiced a little amateur meditation in order to wash away the cares in my mind. By actions such as concentrating on relaxing areas of my body, I have found a peacefulness that has helped during times of stress. I found the test match did much the same for me. There were moments of excitement when I sat forward to see whether a wicket would be taken or runs scored. But for much of the time I found that repeated quiet defensive play became really quite relaxing.

Now I should confess that in UK time, each day started at 4am, so I missed the first hour or two. I also often took the dogs out in the snow while listening to the match on my headphones. But I think the principle of enjoying slow play still applies. So much so that I plan to watch the second test starting tomorrow.

Most of us live in a rush where we resent wasted time. Technology such as mobile phones has made this worse. How many of us look at our phones whenever we get a spare 30 seconds? Even when we go on holiday, too many of us are “always on”. So I think I am privileged to be learning that taking time just to be me can be so rewarding.

Have you ever watched a test match? Or maybe took several days to do as little as possible? Let me know.