Tradition and the Baubles

What is it about Christmas that brings out a need to follow tradition? Even the most resolute atheist seems to find time to celebrate in some way over the Christmas holiday. Republicans manage to watch the Queen’s speech. People buy, wrap and give presents to other people who have little need for anything. Trees are bought in their thousands, decorated and then recycled in January. Gardens are decked with lights and windows glisten with fake snow.

In my family, tradition was not something we were big on. Christmas was an adult time and, as a child, it meant hours of boredom. No shops, cinemas, cafes and not even a bus to help me escape. My parents, their siblings and friends all smoked so I would spend much of the day in my bedroom where I could hide from the ‘Senior Service’ fug.  Luckily I loved to read so I have good memories of escaping into winter wonderlands and other magical places.

Later, when I was a teenager, my best friend would get a member of her family or later her boyfriend to drive over to pick me up at about 5pm on Christmas Day. She would spend a few minutes with my parents and then she would whisk me off to a house full of her relatives and friends. There was always a  huge Christmas tree where people would gather around to sing carols or the latest Christmas song.  There were lots of traditions in her family, charades, musical chairs, pass the orange and other games played by everyone and it was fun to see a 70 year old try to pass an orange to a six year old.  Sometimes the teenagers would gather in a separate room to watch a disaster movie or just sit around chatting and listening to music. I often stayed and helped out on Boxing Day and sometimes the day after. Eventually, I would return home to my own family. As I write this I realise that it sounds odd that I was adopted by my friend’s family for Christmas.  They were fun, really good fun. I loved those large, noisy family oriented Christmases.

Now its me and my husband and we are creating our own traditions. We do things that matter to us. My sister seems to have slipped into a tradition of visiting the  weekend before Christmas with her husband and we see our brother. Christmas Eve is a chance to see one of my best friends who’s birthday falls that day. We meet with her family, have lunch and then go to a Panto or one year a circus. John couldn’t make it this year, but I did and I had a ball. Christmas Day we often spend with John’s sister and family and this year it was about walking, talking and eating. We play some games and then we do our own thing in the evening. Boxing Day is for relaxing, walking and going to an event, so this year it was Kew Gardens. We try to see John’s cousins and their children and this year John and his sister went to the Panto with them whilst our nephew made great Pizzas for a family dinner. I love the ballet and Coppelia did not disappoint.

One tradition that John and I practice together is the dressing of the tree. Every year we have moments of joy when we open a box and find something we bought on a particular holiday or received as a gift. Most of the baubles have been picked up over a 20 year relationship and its as if they have their own personalities. A couple of weeks ago a friend set a writing exercise and three of the group picked a conversation between two Christmas decorations. I include it below even though my husband thinks I have gone just a little bit bonkers!

A short story – The Baubles

In a sparking dress and holding a golden box, the Princess arrives on the tree. ‘Hello everyone, I am so very glad to be joining you all today.’

From somewhere to her left a boat with dubious lights pipes up, ‘Oi, big mouth, we stay silent during the day. We only speak after midnight or when the whole family go to sleep. Now shut up and sparkle.’

‘Well hello Captain, how long have you been here?’ Princess looks around hoping for a response.


At midnight the Captain speaks ‘I am the 2nd longest serving and I defer to Santa who met Missy when she was only a child.’

‘Well, you took your time getting back to me. When you say defer, what exactly do you mean?’ Princess looks bemused and the Captain chuckles.

‘Santa is the boss on this tree and I am his right hand man. The Angels come next, brought back from Venice for Missy’s mum but they arrived here after Missy’s mum passed on. Then there’s Harrods, he was one of Missy’s extravagances. Lovely old deer, fat as you like can only lie down on the branch, too old to hang there.’ 

Princess looks around the tree, ‘Hello Santa, Hello Angels, Hello Harrods. Lovely to meet you all. I am sure we are going to get on wonderfully!’ 

The Captain continues, ‘Then there’s Balls – big fellas, came in about three years ago. Large as you like and pretty dumb but Missy was going through a white phase. Oh, and over there we have two Skipping Deer, they flew in on her wedding day. Lovely pair mad as hatters, don’t really speak to anyone and spend most the year in their own little box. We have one or two old and fragile chaps from Mister’s family tree, they’re hanging on by a thread!’

Princess is beside herself with joy, ‘Ooh, hello all, I am so excited to share the tree with you and look forward to having some fun when we go on our holidays together in the attic.’

The Captain notices a light going on, ‘hush up now everyone, Missy alert, silent rule!’ 

Missy turns the lights on, sits in a comfy armchair and drinks a mug of hot chocolate looking at the tree. She gets up, walks over to the tree, flicks one of the branches and an Angel  jingles. Missy sighs, turns the lights off and leaves the room. 

The Captain swings around to Princess, ‘Missy must be thinking about her mum. Her mum loved to hear the Angels jingle.’

Princess smiles and offers her box to the Captain. ‘Captain, you haven’t told me your story.’ 

‘Well now child, I am a little bit special because I am loved by Missy but I am Mister’s favourite. Mister gave me to Missy on their honeymoon many years ago. Mister always has glistening eyes when he puts me on the tree.’  The Captain is silent for a moment as he thinks back to the day he left Virgin Gorda.  ‘Its like this Princess, our job is a special one, for we are the memory makers!’

The End

Version 2Traditions matter to me and Christmas is a special time where I can indulge in some of the simplest but most enjoyable. I hope you are having a good holiday and would love to hear some of your stories.

Oh and Mister and Missy wish you a Happy New Year!


Watercolour joy

‘I can’t draw!’ Its something I say all the time.

I want to draw and am inspired by drawings. My work would be enhanced by my ability to draw; for example, I would like to illustrate one of my management books. My hobbies would be simpler if I could draw patterns for quilting or sewing and I would like to draw Christmas cards or notelets.

I was ejected from art class at school when I was about 11. I don’t remember being naughty I was just incapable of drawing or painting and that was enough to have me thrown out for ever!

Not long ago, I started a cartooning course which clearly said ‘no experience necessary’ but after two submissions I was thrown out because I couldn’t draw! Of course I couldn’t draw, I never could and the course requirements didn’t say that you needed to be able to draw. Frustration overflowed and my cartooning career stopped before it started.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my first watercolour course with an amazing tutor. It was hard going for the first hour or so; she made us draw the same thing four times, once with my right hand, once standing, once with my left hand and once drawing the item upside down. As we worked through the exercises I was rehearsing how to tell the tutor I wanted to leave the workshop. I wanted to give in and repeat my mantra of: ‘I can’t draw.’

As I looked at my drawings I realised that my best result was achieved by drawing with the wrong hand. I tried it again and then again and later the tutor introduced us to the paints and we only used two colours and as I was painting something in me clicked. It was like a switch clicking in my heart and I wanted to stay and see it through. I can’t really explain the emotion in words,

I made a decision to  commit to finishing the day: however bad things got; some of it was pretty bad!

So, what did I manage to achieve?



So, I am learning to draw, I am not good but if I use the ‘wrong’ hand I can draw and it seems that I may even be able to paint!


Brexit! Elections! Jo Swinson

So the deed is done! Brexit will happen now and it seems that a significant number of people want this. The thing I struggle with is trying to understand what it is they actually want. What is it that they think Brexit will bring to the country? After fighting hard to build a united Europe how will the UK be better off separated from our allies? I just don’t get it, but it’s too late for all of that now.

What is democracy?

a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

“a system of parliamentary democracy” control of an organization or group by the majority of its members.

“the intended extension of industrial democracy”

Many of my ‘Remainer’ friends are now posting about proportional representation and how that would be better for the country.  Well, it is easy to blame the system when the votes don’t go your way.  The fact is that given a choice people did not vote to remain. Even the most ardent of Remainers decided to vote for Labour even though Labour did not have a clear mandate to remain in the European Union.

In various conversations I was intrigued about why this might be the case and asked a few friends to explain their rationale. Some said they decided that the Lib Dems were no longer acceptable because they would revoke article 50. Their argument being that a large number of people voted to leave so we must have a second referendum. I found myself thinking and possibly saying, hang on a minute, if you want to remain then why not vote for the only party that has it at the centre of its manifesto? The responses were various.

This election has made me think about many things and I want to share just a few about Jo Swinson.

  1. As the leader of a major party she deserves some credit, her message was clear and unequivocal. When pushed to vote, people just didn’t go for it and maybe in the moment of truth, x on a paper, people didn’t want it enough to vote for her.
  2. We have ended up with a significant conservative majority and they will be in power for the next 5 years. We are leaving Europe, no more equivocation about it!
  3. Female leaders always bring out the worst in mainstream media. I have heard so much bollocks about Jo Swinson, her age, her ambition (being too aggressive – have you seen and heard BoJo?) her clothes, and it pisses me off!
  4. Its really quite simple: she tried really hard to be heard in this election and for the UK to Remain in the EU; she failed. It took courage to step up in the way she did and she stood for something that matters to a great many people. 
  5. Jo Swinson will continue to have a good career in whatever she chooses to do but it wont be the House of Commons anytime soon. She has experienced the worst type of learning experience, failure, and hopefully she will come back stronger.

Well it more than met my expectations

John and I waited in line for a good half hour last week to see the Tutankhamun exhibition. It did not disappoint. Someone told me it was well curated and indeed it is. Its a magical experience for anyone who loves all things Egyptian. Just behind us a woman regaled her children and grand children about her experiences of seeing the exhibition in 1972. The children were really interested in how much gold she had seen and in hearing about the mask. Luckily the queues were shorter this time.

I don’t have a particular item I liked more than others I loved it all and the Saatchi gallery also excelled; the staff were exceptional. they were proud of the exhibition, proud to talk about the number of artefacts, proud to be able to see the exhibition when no visitors are  inside and proud that the exhibition is attracting so much attention.

I loved my visit and hope to one day make the trip to see the entire exhibition in the new Gallery in Cairo.


I’m so excited!

We have tickets to see the Saatchi exhibition tomorrow. I’ve had them since the exhibition was announced and now its nearly time to go. People tell me different things about their experiences and I listen, but in my own mind I am back in the Valley of the Kings experiencing the excitement of entering tombs for the first time. I cannot wait to see the artefacts again!



In 1972, both John and I queued in the lines of children to see the treasures of Egypt. No doubt he waited patiently and I less so. I do remember making friends with other children who were opposite me in the snake like lines. We don’t remember the exact dates and who knows we might both have been in the same queue. John still has a brochure, I only have memories. The exhibition was crowded and I saw a fraction of the main artefacts but it was enough to ignite a fascination of all things Egyptian.

Tomorrow we will see the exhibition together. This might not sound significant but this year John has been unwell and after three operations and several months of healing we now know he will have a fourth operation in two weeks. Being able to go to an exhibition together, and one that means so much to both of us, matters a great deal. I feel like a child on the eve of Christmas.

I will post about the exhibition again next week.



My Silver Bullet

What is a Silver Bullet?

A bullet made of silver, supposedly the only weapon that could kill a werewolf. Or it could be a seemingly magical solution to a complicated problem?
silver bullet
I think that many of us are looking for Silver Bullets. I want one that makes me lose lots of weight overnight. The country wants a bullet that gives us Brexit, but only if we can trade on the same terms as when we are  in the EU  and it must give us freedom to trade wherever we like. Everyone I know seems to want the silver bullet for staying young.
20 years ago, Mike Lombardo and Bob Eichinger wrote The Leadership Machine.

No one knows what specific challenges we will face in 2020, but we have a strong idea of what the leaders who can meet those challenges will look like and how they will get to be that way.

Lominger (A combination of both names) proposed a few things which at the time were innovative but now appear in many leadership books. I have slightly adapted their views in the three points below.
  1. It takes several years of practice to become an overnight success – about 10 years or 10,000 hours!
  2. Leaders can be made, the characteristic which will determine success is, the ability to learn.
  3. Learning is key, but learning agility is critical for individual growth and success. They suggested that learning new things, even if they are not related to work, will help to hone the leadership muscle.leaderhsip machine
This book really captured my imagination, they suggest that the Silver Bullet to top performance is challenging ourselves to learn in new and different ways. I took it to mean that we need to learn things that are hard to learn to keep the ‘little grey cells’ working.
After reading the book, I made a decision that I would learn something new every year and this is my list of the things I tried. In the first draft of this post, I included my work based learning, but as Lominger would point out I had to do that anyway. So I have limited the list to things that really challenged me.

Computer-based learning and social media

  1. Making a movie using iMovie – Youtube, trial and error, the motivation was my niece’s 21st birthday (she is now 32). Result? I can do it but need to learn more and I have only ever made four movies. Good investment of my time.
  2. Blogging – for my travels to the Falkland Islands and for work. I have a routine and a discipline about doing a blog now, and I know how to use WordPress and Blogger platforms. Great investment.
  3. Podcasting – to communicate messages and to create blended learning. Great course.  I tried a few times but I haven’t really used this. Investment was worth it though because I met a great teacher.

Indoor hobbies

  1. Knitting – refresher and a specialist course on how to finish off different types of knitting projects. Results are good and I have been finishing things I start.  I have also completed some projects I started 20 years ago.
  2. Sewing – three dresses – good fun and I know I can do it if needed. Investment was okay but I ended up with three dresses (very expensive ones given the course costs) that I will never wear.qult with Janice fabric
  3. Patchwork quilting – my sister-in-law gave me a sewing class as a birthday present. Result is that this is now my primary hobby. All these years later, I still love it and when I was in the Falkland Islands I was able to join a quilting group. It was a great way to meet some wonderful people.
  4. Painting – creating is important to me and I love watercolour so I thought I would give it a go. The result is awful – truly awful. Investment of time and money – not worth it.
  5. Cartooning – The motivation for this was to be able to illustrate my books myself. It was intended to help me create course material. The result was abject failure! I was thrown off the course for submitting poor work. The investment was still worth it because I was able to transfer the credits over to an online writing course. It did also help to stretch a boundary – quite a big stretch and I won’t be bothering trying to learn to draw or cartoon again.
  6. Embroidery – I like the look of modern embroidery and I wanted to do a class at the Royal School of Needlework, Hampton Court. It was fun but I haven’t kept it up. I need to finish my piece and to do a refresher.
  7. Book binding – why not? I loved it and made some great samples. It cost a lot of money to make two books that I will never use because they are so precious to me. I would like to try to put the skills to use again soon but I am not sure it will become a passion for me.
  8. Wet Felting – I was living in the Falklands so I had time to do it. Great fun. Unlikely to take it up anytime soon. Can make things if needed and will always treasure the things I made with a friend in Darwin, Falkland Islands.

Outdoor hobbies

  1. Flying light airplanes – I am not sure what motivated this. I think it has been on my mind since I first read Jonathon Livingston Seagull. The author describes flight so well that I could almost feel I was Jonathon. In my 30’s I started to glide and then I treated myself to a flying lesson for a special birthday. Once I flew with an engine I was I hooked. Result?  As I was approaching the date to do my Solo, I realised that I did not want to do solo flying. I loved the act of flying but not the responsibility of landing a plane near Heathrow. As an investment, it was a good one. People who know me know that I watched an array of disaster movies in the 70’s. In the 90’s I was travelling in remote places, so I felt that if I was ever in trouble I had the skill to fly us out, if needed, and if there just happened to be a fully fuelled small plane nearby. It’s a strange thought and as I am writing about flying, I realise that I love and miss it.
  2. Shooting – shotgun, rifle, handguns and machine gun. The motivation was purely research for writing.  My central character is a reluctant survivalist who has to use guns to defend herself to rescue children. Result? I am an excellent shot. Its a bit worrying that whatever weapon I used I was competent quickly. It gave me information I could never have imagined for my writing. I found the whole experience both exciting and terrifying. Great investment for two reasons: firsthand experience of handling guns to help with writing and I found something that I am really good at! Its not something I expect to use, hopefully, disaster movie scenario aside, but its a skill.
  3. Sailing – I was pretty okay at this but I wanted to learn how to manoeuvre a boat and I wanted to complete my Day Skipper exams. Result? I passed the exam and I am pretty good at handling a boat. Oh and I met my lovely husband sailing, so I think I can say this was the best investment of all!


  1. Swimming – in particular holding my breathe and swimming underwater for long periods – inspired by the 1970’s film ‘Poseidon Adventure’ and Shelley Winters swim to save passengers – yes really! A fantastic investment because it led to scuba and then to diving.
  2. Open-water diving – Jacques Cousteau – a tv programme that captured my imagination. I loved the programme most when they were underwater and you heard a gurgling sound of air.  It feels adventurous. Good investment but I haven’t done it for a while.
  3. Yoga – balance, strength and flexibility –  I am not disciplined enough to practice everyday. Great investment thought as I have good alignment and I feel great when I do it.
  4. Pilates – core and strength – bloody hate it! Great that I can do some of the exercises I don’t like but find helpful.
  5. Tai Chi – balance and inner calm. I thought it would be good to learn this before I visited and worked in an orphanage. I learnt a short form routine that I could do quickly every morning and evening. It was invaluable on my travels and I love it to this day. Great investment.
  6. Archery – a whim on holiday – loved it. I can’t say I am great at many things, but I am a great markswoman!

As I start my seventh decade I wonder where I want to focus my attention. This past twelve months has been a difficult for us and it has prompted us to start conversations about what we want to do with the few decades, we may have left. I know that sounds negative but its not, it is where we find ourselves today.  I enjoyed writing about my learning and as I went through the list I realised that some of things I really enjoyed have fallen by the wayside either because of cost or practicality.   In the next few weeks, I will post about what I intend to learn in this next decade. I have until 31st December to prepare the list!

Oh, and I can honestly say that Lomingers insights have had a lasting affect on my life. Learning is a Silver Bullet for fun, challenge, passion and for pushing boundaries.