Not Crossing the Flood – Laws, Guidelines and Principles

It has been raining for two days, prior to that we had snow and ice, it’s quite wet out there.

Not only is it wet it is very muddy and the number of routes that I can use for my morning walk has become restricted. Thankfully there are still routes open along bridle paths and paved areas so the walking continues.

This morning, in the dark, I set out on one of the routes that I was expecting to be not too muddy and not too wet.

Part way into my walk I headed down a short hill where the two days of rain had turned the tarmacked path into a very shallow stream flowing in from springs on either side. A couple of days ago this was an sheet of ice. At the bottom of the hill is a stream over which a wooden bridge sits before the path ascends again. Just before the bridge is a path off to the left which is always muddy, even in the summer, but in the spring that path is the route to the best bluebells in the area. Straight ahead, though, the tarmac continues.

As a peered through the pre-sunrise gloom I could see that there was something different about the path this morning. A little further along the path seemed to be moving. As I progressed it became clear that the stream which normally travels under the bridge was no longer constrained by its banks and was now covering the path.

It wasn’t clear in the dark how deep the water was, nor how fast it was flowing, a cautious approach was required. I am aware of the perils of fast flowing water and recognised that being swept of my feet was a possibility that needed to be considered.

A couple of steps into the expanse the water was already half way up my boots and I decided that at was time to explore a different route. This required some rethinking and some retracing but no great loss.

I write this at a time when the rate of COVID-19 infection in the UK is rapidly accelerating and we are in a national lockdown.

Every day our news is filled with two types of COVID-19 story; there are stories about the numbers and the lives impacted by this terrible virus, then there are stories about the lockdown regulations.

We like to talk about the lockdown regulations. In England the rules change almost as often as the weather and the only way of keeping up is to talk about it. It’s almost replaced talking about the weather as a pastime. Our current regulations are defined as things that we should not do (guidelines) and things that we must not do (laws). The news outlets are constantly running stories about people breaking the laws and being fined, and stories of celebrities and politicians breaking the guidelines. The radio debate shows must run at least one phone-in a week for people wanting to discuss what is, and isn’t, against the regulations. Much of the reporting and the discussion hinges on how close to breaking the law can people get without being prosecuted. As an example – the guidelines tell us that we can exercise outside which we should do locally and that we can be joined on our exercise by one other person from a different household. So we endlessly debate the definition of locally. Then the police fine someone for traveling a few miles and the papers are full of it for days, the fine is the retracted. The Prime Minister cycles in a location that is several miles away from his home and the papers are again ignited.

Meanwhile the scientists are telling us that all contact with other people is dangerous and that we should stay at home.

As I was out on my wet daily exercise this morning I was thinking about these discussions when I was struck by the parallel with my flood situation.

The flood was a dangerous situation.

Specifically how dangerous, for me, I don’t know, I didn’t push it that far. I decided that there was a greater principle at play which was one of risk and reward. The risk, though likely moderate, wasn’t worth the risk. There are many things that I could do at the edges of the law and against the COVID guidelines that I choose not to do because the same applies, the risk is not worth the reward and I follow the principle of staying at home.

The law gave me the right to cross the flood, likewise the law gives me the legal right to travel 70 miles to one of my favourite places for a walk. I chose not to cross the flood because my knowledge guides me that it is the low risk thing to do. I am allowed to travel for exercise, staying local is a guideline, and so I choose to stay at home because that’s the low risk answer for me and for everyone else who I might come in to contact with.

We shouldn’t be pushing to the edge of the law, we should be walking in the middle of the principle, using the guidelines as guides.

Header Image: This is a fuzzy nightmode picture of the flood.

I’m reading… “The Midnight Library” by Matt Haig

Imagine that our universe is just one of many universes, an infinite number of universes even.

Then imagine that if there are multiple universes that you exist in each of those universes, but it’s a different you, a you that has made different decisions and taken different paths.

Now imagine that you could look back through your life and the decisions that you have made and can travel to the universe where that version of you exists – the you that chose to stay at home the day when they were involved in a fatal car accident, the you that chose to invest in that opportunity, the you that took that job offer.

Which of those lives would you choose? What would you do differently if you could?

The Midnight Library is a thoroughly enjoyable book that explores choice, regret, happiness, significance and meaning seen through the life of Nora Seed and her encounters with the librarian Mrs. Elm.

Header Image: This is the shoreline at Silverdale on a frosty day in lockdown.

I’m reading… “English Pastoral: An Inheritance” by James Rebanks

I’ve been following a bit of a theme, focussed on the countryside. This wasn’t initially a deliberate act on my behalf it was something I fell into and then continued. It happened like this; while I was part way through listening to “Wilding” by Isabella Tree, “English Pastoral” by James Rebanks was released, having enjoyed “Wilding” and also having previously enjoyed “The Shepherd’s Life” also by James Rebanks I decided to dive in.

In describing Wilding I talked about learning from the mavericks, the people doing things differently. Rebanks is another maverick, but in a different way. Rebanks farms in the northern fells of the Lake District which is a very different context to that of the Knepp Estate in West Sussex, yet both of them are trying to find a different way to treat the land on which they live.

English Pastoral is a biographical commentary on the countryside and the significant changes that have occurred over a relatively short period of time.

I was a boy living through the last days of an ancient farming world. I didn’t know what was coming, or why, and some of it would take years to reach our fields, but I sensed that day might be worth remembering.

This book tells the story of that old world and what it became. It is the story of a global revolution as it played out in the fields of my family’s two small farms.

English Pastoral – James Rebanks

For anyone in doubt, all is not well in the English countryside, and all is not well with farming. In English Pastoral Rebanks talks through the events that led him to the realisation that the ways in which we are currently farming are not sustainable, and that a different path needed to be followed.

The last forty years on the land were revolutionary and disrupted all that had gone before for thousands of years – a radical and ill thought-through experiment that was c0nducted in our fields.

I lived through those years. I was a witness.

English Pastoral – James Rebanks

We have sustainably farmed the English countryside for many generations, but in recent decades the successful farmers have been those who embraced the modern ways of mechanisation, efficient cattle breeds raised in large sheds, large fields, massive farms and extensive use of chemicals. At the same time the rest of us have become “strangers to the fields that feed us” as the supermarket has dominated our buying. Farming is now in the middle of a huge international system of food production in which productivity and efficiency are the measures of success. We each benefit from that system in relatively low cost food, but at what price?

I have come to understand that even good farmers cannot single-handedly determine the fate of their farms. They have to rely on the shopping and voting choices of the rest of us to support and protect nature-friendly sustainable agriculture.

English Pastoral – James Rebanks

Rebanks is trying to learn from the old practices that he was brought up with and to return his farm to something more sustainable. This involves rebuilding some wildness, returning rivers to less straight routes and re-establishing a farming mix that isn’t just focussed on a single product. this inevitably has an impact on productivity, but perhaps not as significant as you might expect, and even if it does perhaps that’s a price worth paying.

We have a tendency to think in terms of blueprints and models. If we see someone doing one thing and being successful at it we try to copy it. What we miss by doing this is the context in which the originator of the idea built their way of doing things. English Pastoral isn’t describing a blueprint, it’s trying to open our minds to the possible.

Having read both Wilding and English Pastoral I am left at a loss as to what to practical steps to take, personally. I am one of those “strangers to the fields that feed us”, but I’m not sure how best to get reacquainted.

Header Image: This is what the northern fells can look like, imagine farming here.

I’m reading… “Wilding” by Isabella Tree

I’m a town boy at heart. I’m not a city boy even though the place I live is called a city, it’s not a very big city and where I live doesn’t feel like a city. I’m not a country boy even though I’ve spent a lot of time in it. All of my life I have lived a town life which, for me, gives a wonderful balance of places and people. I can go to places where there are people (normally) and places where there are few people.

I have what I think is a reasonable understanding of the countryside, I wouldn’t want to claim any expertise, but I have recently been on a bit of a book adventure trying to improve my understanding of what is still the majority of England.

Wilding book cover
Wilding by Isabella Tree

Most of England’s land is cultivated, there is very little that we haven’t dug over or grazed. Having said that, even I have noticed a huge change in the way that we cultivate our land and watched the relative price of our food drop year on year. It was these two thoughts and the third thought of how this had impacted farming that lead me to Wilding by Isabella Tree.

Farming has become increasingly industrialised since the end of the Second World war in the 1940s and this has produced a society that expects food to always be available and there are now generations, including myself, who have never known food shortages. We purchase our food food from large stores and expect it to be affordable. At the same time we’ve seen a huge drop in wildlife and there’s a growing sense that all is not well with farming.

Wilding tells the story of an estate caught in the middle of the pressures of modern farming. One of the best ways to understand how we get out of a problem is to watch the mavericks and to learn from them, that’s where Wilding comes in. Isabella and her husband Charles decided that the industrialisation of farming wasn’t working and went in the opposite direction letting the wildness back in.

Wilding is the biographical story of how the Knepp Wildland was established and the impact that it has had. It’s also a commentary on the many ways in which we drive farmers to do things that aren’t good for the land on which they live and shines a light into a world that each of us are dependent upon.

Without giving too much of the story away the Knepp Wildland shows that an alternative approach for farming can, and needs, to be found. I’m not saying that Wilding can be used as a blueprint for the future of farming but there are many lessons to be learnt.

This book got me thinking and opened my eyes to see different things around me, it also set me reading other books about the British countryside…

Header Image: This farm gate features in several of my walks, either side of it are fields of grass which have recently been ploughed.

Retiring a Veteran – It’s Time to Put my iPhone 5s to Sleep

Today I am retiring a phone that I have been using for over 7 years.

I’ve never subscribed to the view that a phone needs to be replaced every couple of year or even, as one UK company is currently advertising, every year. Phones get replaced when they reach an end-of-life event.

What you can’t see in the picture above is that the iPhone 5s, robust as it is, is falling apart. The screen is steadily coming away from the rest of the case. Once I noticed that this was happening, I was expecting the phone to die completely soon after, but it’s been like that for over a year.

Some years ago my employer decided that they would no longer provide its employees with handsets, so my work phone has been the venerable iPhone 5s for a while now. During that time, my personal phone was an iPhone 6s, I can’t remember why I upgraded from the 5s to the 6s, but I think it was for the same reason I’ve just up graded my 6s for a 12 – battery life. The device that needs the better battery life is definitely my personal phone.

It’s time for 5s to go to sleep. I liked the 5s very much.

You may wonder why I carry two phones? Put simply, to separate my work and personal life. The value of leaving work behind on a deck is much greater, to me, compared to the pain of carrying two devices some of the time.

About Not Writing

This has been a strange season for me, and I’m sure I’m not alone. One of the outcomes of that strangeness has been a lack of writing, in some ways, perhaps a lack of creativity all-round though I have been involved in many things and even created many things.

I don’t suppose that there is one single reason for this strangeness apart, that is, the peculiarity of the time in which we find ourselves and my own part in this global story.

My head is a swirl of things, some of them are simply thoughts, others feel like they are lurking just out of grasp waiting to reveal themselves when it is least appropriate. This isn’t a wholly new experience for me and in previous seasons I’ve used writing as part of the processing of those thoughts, but this season has been different, I haven’t felt like writing.

It may seem strange to be writing about an inability to write, and peculiar is what it is, but what you aren’t seeing is the effort that it’s taking me to write these simple words. It feels a bit like walking up a long loose sandy dune with each step requiring even more effort for little gain. Even now I’m not sure about what I’m writing and many of these word have been replaced, recreated, only to be superseded by something else.

I’m not even sure why it bothers me that I haven’t written in a while, I’m under contract, or do this as a means of making a living, it’s just something that I’ve done for a long time and it has become part of me. Many people who started blogging when I did gave up years ago, perhaps they’ve found something more interesting to do. Something draws me back to writing these words in this little, seldom visited corner of the Internet, to expressing a thought or an idea, to reason and to ponder.

There have been many things that I could have written about, let’s face it, the world has been a crazy place for many weeks now and there have certainly been things that I felt deeply about and could have commented on. I am reticent to add my voice to a world full of far more eloquent and more insightful voices than my own. Sometimes the reticence descends into comparison and the dangers that lurk there for each of us.

I’ve started writing a couple of times, but nothing would form and the words would run away and hide inside unreachable corners of my head. There they hide with thoughts that don’t want to be seen. Sometimes I search back for those ideas but get distracted by other, more pressing, more disturbing scenes ahead of me.

It’s a bit like I’ve been living on one side of Kierkegaard’s axiom:

“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Søren Kierkegaard

Perhaps there’s been so much forwards to look at that I’ve not wanted to look backwards and understand.

I’m reading… “Life on the Mountains” by Terry Abraham

I’ve followed the work of Terry Abraham for what seems like a long while now. He first came to my attention, and the attention of many others, when I saw the film “Life of a Mountain: Scafell Pike”.

Somewhere along the line I connected with Terry on Twitter and watched as his adventures with “Life of a Mountain: Blencathra” unfolded. We watched Blencathra, the day after its debut, sat outside, in the pouring rain, at the Threlkeld Cricket Club, facing towards that majestic and mysterious mountain. I loved the dramatic mountain cinematography accompanied by the narrative of people known to the family and even some distant family members. My wife spent part of her childhood living at Threlkeld Quarry looking out towards Blencathra and her wider family has roots that stretch from Penrith to Wasdale.

In recent years Terry has been working on completing his trilogy with “Life of a Mountain: Helvelyn” which was scheduled to premiere in recent weeks, but a global pandemic got in the way of that, I’m sure it will be brilliant when it does debut.

I had wondered about buying myself a copy of Terry’s recently released book, but hadn’t got around to it, so I was blown away when a copy came through the door including a personal inscription. It turns out that Sue had a similar idea to me, but she had ordered a couple of copies and then been selected by Terry to get something personal put inside.

The book itself is both an exquisite picture book and an autobiography focusing on Terry’s journey to filming mountains.

The pictures mostly align to the story being told and beautifully illuminate the stories of wild camping and inversion chasing. Having not been up a mountain for several months these pictures are both painful and soothing. There is a pain in the lack of access, but there are soothing thoughts of great days to come. You’ll notice, below, that the inscription talks about completing the Wainwrights, I’m nearly there, another four walking days will see me finished which I thought would be easy to achieve this year, but that’s a promise I’m holding lightly.

The autobiographical words illuminate Terry’s love of the hills and of the many Lake District characters that dwell between the mountains. Although having read the book I am slightly concerned about Terry’s health and safety practices while out and about, he does like a visit to the local hospitals.

We live in a world where it is possible to know so much about people, but not really know them. Sometimes we convince ourselves that in our reading, watching and social media interactions that we have got to know someone, but it’s not the same as really knowing someone. That lack of knowing doesn’t stop us having a connection with someone and that’s how I feel about Terry, this book and other interactions have given me a connection, and my life is richer for it. His regular posting on Twitter and elsewhere are an inspiration, and so is the book.

I’m Reading “The Salt Path” by Raynor Winn

I recently found myself in an unusual place, not knowing where to turn next, because I’d reached the end of a couple of series of books. I’ve recently been re-reading the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis which has been wonderful, but the Last Battle had been and gone. I’ve also been loving the Sidney Chambers series by James Runcie, but that had recently concluded with the prequal. Then there’s been the DCI Ryan novels by L.J. Ross and they finished with a Christmas mystery (although a new one is arriving tomorrow). Like I say, I wasn’t at all sure where to go next when a birthday present arrived – “The Salt Path” by Raynor Winn.

Series of books are great because you get to go deeper with the characters, starting something completely different can be a joyous revelation of new things.

The series above are all novels, “The Salt Path” is more of a biography charting a very personal journey along the The South West Coast Path by Raynor and her husband Moth. The South West Coast Path is a 630 mile ramble from Minehead in Somerset to Land’s End in Cornwall and then on to Poole in Dorset.

I love walking coastlines, but they are hard work especially in somewhere like the South West coast where you can’t walk the beach and spend your life descending into steep valleys and then ascending out of them.

While the physical journey is part of this book, it’s not the major part. Without giving the story away I can tell you that Raynor and Moth have been through a terrible time and for most people even contemplating this walk would be madness, but in their position it feels dangerous, deadly even. Yet, when they set out I understood, absolutely, why they were doing it. The alternatives to the hike were significantly worse.

For Raynor and Moth this walk becomes a journey of discovery, a journey of redemption and ultimately a journey of new resilience.

Most of the time I don’t talk to others about the books that I read, the nearest I get is to write one of these posts, but I’ve found myself talking to numerous people about this one. There are so many anecdotes and stories that I have wanted to share with friends and family. The stories are often funny and regularly amazing. I’m not going to tell any of those stories here, because you can buy the book, and that’s what I want you to do – buy it, read it and let it impact you. This is a book that impacted me and I’m quite sure I’m not the only one.

Header Image: This isn’t Cornwall, this is Barra in the Outer Hebrides.

Walking the Parish – Parochial Pathways

I’m trying to reclaim the word “parochial”. In the dictionary it has two meanings:

  • Relating to a Church parish
  • Having a limited or narrow outlook or scope.

The most common meaning, narrow, is primarily applied in a derogatory way. If you are called parochial it’s not likely to be a complement. Being broad in outlook is regarded as a good thing and it probably is, but there’s a dark side. We flit from tourist destination to viewing area collecting selfies like rewards badges. People are measured by how many countries they’ve visited, or how many famous landmarks they’ve visited and yet we have a certain admiration for people who have found a place in which they are happy just to be. We chase an illusionary peer-pressure defined outcome while looking, enviously, behind us at people who have chosen a different path – a more parochial one.

We live in an age desperate to discover the next big thing. No one wants to miss out on the latest craze. This is, sadly, even true for walking people, there’s a kudos in being able to climb the biggest hills or travel the longest walks. I have to admit to having fallen for this comparison myself. I have, after all, been trying to tick off the Wainwright hills for a while now, this is primarily a person target, but there are times when the dark side raises within me. We treat the parochial with contempt as small, narrow and inferior.

Most of England is split up into more than 15,600 Ecclesiastical Parishes a designation that dates back to the sixth century, signifying an area looked after by a priest. Parishes are not defined by size they are normally bound by natural features and represent a community contained within vale, valley or the immediate vicinity of village and town. Many parish churches still follow an ancient ritual of walking the boundary of the parish at least once a year, it’s known as beating the bounds. This can be quite challenging in areas where the border stretches over over mountain, moorland, lake or shoreline. The purpose of this activity was and still is, multifaceted at one level it is about defining the boundary, but there are also spiritual elements to it as the priest and the parochial leadership pray for the community within the boundaries. Rather than looking at the riches in adjacent parishes beating the bounds created a deeper sense of community for those within the perimeter. It’s an inward looking celebration, a parochial event.

It’s this sense of looking and seeing where I am that I am trying to reclaim, having parochial perception. By keeping my looking narrow I am finding that I am seeing more than I did before. There’s a richness in the parish that wasn’t visible when I was looking to other fancies of other parishes.

While walking one of the parochial paths recently I first noticed the drilling of a woodpecker. Walking that same path on another day I saw the woodpecker fly past me towards a particular set of trees. A few days later and I watched a black-and-white bird hopping up the side of one of the boughs of those trees. A few days later and there were two woodpeckers spending most of their time around a particular branch. I’ve seen these woodpeckers on this same branch a few time now, in one particular place where I suspect there is a nest, but it’s away from my view so I can’t confirm that. The woodpecker is a fabulous bird to watch, full of character, they are completely at home in their parish in the woods. I’ve probably walked past these same woodpeckers on several occasions before, but it’s only by having parochial eyes that I saw them.

It’s not just woodpeckers, as I think parochially there’s so much more that I see.

There are the parochial land features of nab, lane, farm, field, hedgerow, wood, house, bridge, well, brook, aqueduct, and fold.

There are the parochial names of Clarkson’s, Dingle, Haighton, Fulwood, Fernyhalgh, Ladywell, Tunbrook, Redscar, and Boilton.

There’s the parochial fauna of deer, fox, rabbit, hare, buzzard, barn owl, lapwing, woodpecker, bullfinch, goldfinch, sparrow, squirrel, kestrel, and frog.

There’s the parochial flora of blackthorn, hawthorn, bramble, crab apple, oak, ash, bluebell, wild garlic, marestail, primrose, cowslip, yew, maple, and foxglove.

There’s the parochial colours of moss, mint, lime, butter, grass, clover, violet and verdant whites.

There’s the parochial light as it illuminates the different features throughout the seasons.

During this time of lockdown there is little choice but to walk the parish, but I’m determined that this time of thinking parochially will be one of revelation. By focussing in on what is local I’m seeing more each and every day, there’s an enlightenment in being narrow.

Header Image: This is one of the local lanes on a recent evening perambulation.

Walking in Strange Times – The Polarizing Effect of Distance

This is a strange time, many of the things that we used to regard as normal are different and are changing on an almost daily basis – we are presently in a period of lock-down and will be for some time to come. Within the UK our current lock-down levels allow us a single period of outside exercise, so I’ve been continuing my morning walks.

One of the things that’s important in a strange time is to maintain routines as a structure for the day and one of my most treasured routines is a walk before work. The paths are still the same as they were, the countryside has started to awaken into spring, but the walk has changed substantially.

One of the most significant changes has been background noise from the local roads. Many of my favourite walks take me through a tunnel underneath the M6 motorway, which at this point, is usually 8 solid lanes of tire and engine noise. The travel restrictions have reduced this traffic to a few sparsely filled lanes of trucks accompanied by the occasional van and car. As I step into the woods the birdsong used to shout above the rumble from the motorway, but now the song echoes in a less strained throng. The quiet has, itself, become noticeable.

The number of walkers has also reduced significantly. I was surprised by this because I suppose I expected people to do what I did and continue doing what they’ve previously done, but most of the regulars have disappeared. People I’ve seen at least once a week for many years I haven’t seen for a couple of weeks now. Some of those people are older which, here in the UK, means that they are under additional constraints, so that’s not surprising. If you had asked me whether I regarded these people as part of my community I think I would have said that they weren’t, but that hasn’t stopped me missing them.

We are instructed to keep 2m apart as part of our distancing guidance. This rule isn’t a problem for most of the places where I walk, but it has changed the interactions with the walkers that I do meet. The meeting of walkers has become polarised into two reactions – the hiders and the projectors. Some people now treat the meeting of another walker as a trigger to immediately hide, like they’ve just discovered a tiger on the path. As I approached one couple this morning I respectfully moved to the far edge of the path as they chose the other side, they responded by covering their faces, rigidly staring ahead, holding their breath, and hurrying past me, glad to escape the danger that I clearly posed. I’m not judging them for this, these are troubling times and people need to respond in ways that they choose, and they may be right about how dangerous I am. There are other people, though, who’ve gone the other way, they are doing whatever they can to connect, even if that means projecting their voices across a 2m gap. There was another lady, again this morning, who I’ve never met before. As I passed her on the other side of the road she looked up and smiled. Her bright smile was followed by a projected voice asking how I was and encouraging me to “keep safe” and to “keep enjoying the nature as long as you can” – connecting at a distance of over 2m.

Change tends to polarise people and this lock-down is a big change for everyone. I have been surprised that even on my daily walk the change has resulted in such a significant impact. We are going to be in lock-down for several more weeks and perhaps even the morning walk will be curtailed at some point, but once it’s passed I wonder what change it will make to the way that we treat each other. I hope that this strange place will make us more considerate and more compassionate as we learn the importance of connecting.

Header image: This was taken this morning on my walk, I’ve taken this picture many times, from the same place, but they are all different – #fromthefencepost

Teaspoons: Lessons of a Failed Experiment

Some weeks ago a wrote about the teaspoon situation in the office where I work. I had a theory that the presence, or lack, of teaspoons in the kitchen was an example of scarcity theory. Having provided new teaspoons most of them stayed in the kitchen for a while and then disappeared quite quickly. In that article I set out several resolutions to the challenge of disappearing spoons, one of these, was to buy some more spoons and see what happened.

My expectation was that these teaspoons would also, over time, be removed from the shared facility, it happened once the most likely outcome is that it will happen again. If the last set of tea-making cutlery vanished in just a few weeks, then surely the same would happen to another set. I’m giving the plot away far to early, but I can tell you that I was wrong, so far at least the majority of the spoons are still in the kitchen.

This is what happened – with the generosity of Christmas in my mind I decided that I would replenish the supply of stirrers the brew facilities in late December. This resulted in me adding four dozen (48) new teaspoons into the kitchen in the week prior to the Christmas break.

My expectation was that I would be able, within a couple of weeks, to write an article stating that yet again all of the spoons had vanished and that a nice chart would show a rapid drop off once numbers became scarce. To prove this we decided that we should take regular audits of the number of spoons by a manual count.

I didn’t get to write that article because this is what has happened:

The Teaspoon Experiment – Round 2

That’s right the number of spoons did drop off reasonably quickly, but then it stopped and has stayed steady for a couple of weeks now.

Why should that be?

This experiment has left me with more questions than answers, although I do have to admit that some of the questions are caused by my own tinkering.

The normal rule of experimentation is that you only change one thing at a time so you can understand the impact of that change, I ignored that rule and have made things confused in the process.

Could it be Posher Spoons?

When buying the second set of spoons I wondered whether people would treat better spoons any differently to cheap ones. Someone commented to me that they had broken at least one of the first set and I couldn’t be sure that others hadn’t met the same fate. I also wondered whether people might be more inclined to look after a posher teaspoon.

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not talking about the difference between a cheap spoon and a silver spoon; the difference was between a cheap teaspoon and a very cheap teaspoon.

Anyway, the smarter stirrers have lasted longer than the cheap ones, but I can’t say whether that’s causation or just correlation.

Have we reached saturation?

Another theory is that we’ve reached the peak of people who regard removal of an item from a shared utility as an acceptable thing to do. This is partially evidenced by the fact that some of the cheaper spoons have returned, these being people who want their own teaspoon, but also want it to be the best spoon.

We definitely haven’t provided everyone in the building with a spoon, that would take significantly more spoons to achieve and quite frankly I’m not sure I’m willing to go that far for a bit of fun.

Will it change over time?

Perhaps this chart reflects people’s New Year’s resolution to be better people and to be kinder to their fellow human beings. Or, maybe not.

Perhaps the cause is people’s desire to drink more water as part of their January health kick resulting in lower usage of teaspoons. Or, maybe not.

Is it because the kitchen has changed?

Some of you will have read: The Suboptimal Kitchen – The 10 Steps to Getting a Cup of Tea

Since publishing that post someone decided that sub-optimal wasn’t good enough and we needed to make the place super-sub-optimal. The change in the kitchen is deserving of another post at some point, but for now you know all that you need to know, there has been a change. This change has meant that for many people getting access to a teaspoon has become something of a challenge causing many to abandon their use.

Are people messing about?

Another, less likely, theory is that people read my previous post and have decided to mess with my experiment. I’d like to think that this was true, but my ego isn’t so big as to think that many of the people in my office have even read the post.

Concluding

The scientific method is there for a reason, the implications of messing with it were obvious in this case. I will keep an eye on teaspoon numbers to see if anything changes, but perhaps it’s time to move on to something else.

Doing experiments with people is always fraught with unexpected complexity.

At least now there are plenty of spoons available in the kitchen again.

Header Image: These are Rydal Caves where we decided to hide for a while whilst the rain descended.

Walking in Conversation – Talking Side-by-Side

I was out for a walk with a friend the other day; as we walked and talked my friend said something along the lines of:

“The conversation always flows much better when you are on a walk.”

I agreed wholeheartedly.

There’s a phrase that I use, which is a quote from someone but I don’t know who:

“Women talk face-to-face; men talk side-by-side.”

This isn’t a rule, but more of an axiom that I see playing out regularly. What better way to be side-by-side than to go for a walk.

I’ve led all sorts of walking groups, sometimes the groups are just men. When it’s an exclusively male group they will fall into line two-by-two and the conversation will be contained within the pairings for almost the entirety of the walk. There’s something in this arrangement that men find safe and helps the conversation to flow. I’ve also led groups that are exclusively women (except myself, of course) and they interact in a very different way, but still the conversation flows.

From time to time someone will ask me if they can have a chat about something, whenever this occurs I try to make our meeting include a walk. This is how the meeting normally goes, we meet at a cafe and have a drink during which time we’ll chat, but the conversation won’t go very deep. Once we have finished our drink we’ll start off walking, almost instantaneously the level of conversation will go deeper. The further we walk the deeper the conversation goes.

I’ve been in situations at work where things were getting tense in a meeting room. When I’ve had the opportunity I’ve arranged for a break in the proceedings and encouraged everyone to go out for a walk. The change in conversation as people walk and talk is remarkable. The change of posture dissipates the tension almost immediately, the fresh air lightens the mood considerably, and it all flows together to make for a much better outcome for everyone. There was a time a few years ago when walking meetings were the latest management “thing”. Walking meetings may not be a “thing” anymore, but that doesn’t stop them being a very valuable tool. If you’ve never tried it, you should.

Some of my fondest memories are of conversations that I have had whilst out for a walk with friends and family. There are more of these memories than there are of conversations over meals or sat in a coffee shop somewhere.

“The conversation always flows much better when you are on a walk.”

Steve