Hamsters and Shrews


A few moments ago, I woke up clutching my stomach. Initially, I wasn’t quite sure why, but then I remembered! My friend’s hamster! It was in a little plastic tub with a loose lid, and it was my responsibility to make sure it didn’t get out, thus I had my hand on it.

I’ve drawn a picture of my friend’s hamster to help you visualise the scene. I forgot to include my hand though so you’ll have to use your imagination for that.

It’s been a real funny week this week.

I’m in Wales, on the Welsh Garden Project site, gardening, tele-working for CILASS, and rapidly switching between multiple emotional and mental ‘spaces’. I’ve been confused.

However, after this morning’s hamster episode, I do feel a little clearer.

I actually have some News News for a change: this week I got word that I’ve been offered a teaching job for when I arrive in Japan. It suits me well as it’s an open offer – meaning I can take it up anytime between now and October. With uncertainty over how long it will take to get my visa processed, this is ideal. It also gives me flexibility in terms of the number of hours I work and when I work them.

I’ve also been thinking about what I want to do long term. There’s a distinct lack of clarity here. I have an idea it will involve utilising the media – perhaps online media, perhaps television. I envisage some kind of network, with various producers focusing upon the things that matter to them. I see a network empowering people to express themselves to a wider audiences. Need to build a good team. I see myself as facilitator as opposed to ‘owner’.

The important thing is that it makes a difference, that it adds value to the lives of others. It could a be a few people, it could be the entire global population.


I’m so happy to be alive in this age where creating such a network is within reach of anyone who has access to a computer, a recording device and an Internet connection. 10 years back one would have had to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds to buy cameras, editing equipment and organic chocolate, but now it can be done on the smallest of budgets. What are the chances of that, that I be born as me with these desires in this tiny little window in the history of the world?! Good job I wasn’t born in the 17th Century, when YouTube was painfully slow and broadband cost the equivalent of 5 years wages.

I need to spend time crystallising my thoughts. A business plan might be a good idea. I’m aware though that I find it difficult to do this sort of thing by myself, I need to work collaboratively in order to find my best ideas, and so that I can be told “Joseph, that’s a really silly idea” when I have a really silly idea that appears brilliant through my eyes of endless possibility.

Ho hum.

You know, this week I was fooled into joining a knitting club. I was invited down to the pub for a ‘relaxed gathering’, only, when I got there I was confronted with a basket full of wool and a pair of knitting needles.


It’s been twenty years since I last knitted, but clearly, what I learnt at the Hereford Waldorf School has never left me.

“In through the front door,
running round the back,
peeping through the window
and off jumps Jack!

It worked! By following the instructions in that little rhyme I was able to instantly pick up where I left of with my tea-cosey in 1988.

Anyway, I’d best start packing for my return to Sheffield. I’ll be there for a couple of weeks for the conference, and then of course to see Bjork!

Pygmy Shrew found in the kitchen this morning (it’s alive in case you were wondering). What a cutey little nose it has!

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The secret to forgiving

I’m now into week 7 of my TSI coaching course. Initial goals I set myself at the beginning of the course have mostly been achieved, thus, when this week I was asked to once again identify problematic areas within my life, I really struggled. In the end, I had to contact one of my coaches for guidance, and it was through this experience that I came to wonder if my positive outlook on life is actually impairing my ability to identify (and address) problems. I was really struck by how difficult I find it to look at any event or situation and not focus on the good in it (I’m not talking things on the scale of war atrocities here, I’m talking the environment that I live in).

I wonder if this tendency to only see the good in others / situations will impact negatively upon my life in the long term?

There’s a risk that by seeing things in this way I could alienate myself from others, or perhaps reduce my own capacity to sympathise and show love when it’s needed. I think I’ve actually seen this happen already to a limited degree, when I have neglected to make an effort to see a situation from the point of view of a friend who is not so inclined to see things positively and subsequently come across as uncaring.

I’m thinking that I need to be careful to strike a balance between communicating my own positive take on events, and acknowledging and responding appropriately to the hurt felt by others.

Another theme in this week’s course has been that of forgiveness. If I recall a situation in which I have harboured bad-feeling towards someone whom I feel wronged by, I can feel myself having that black heart. It’s painful, it sucks up energy, it’s stressful. But ego tells me that they have to apologise or make up for what they’ve done before I can let go of it, which is a load of rubbish. The thing is, the longer I hold on to blame, the longer I hurt myself. It’s just silly, why make life more difficult for myself, when I can just forgive?

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes

If I’m finding it difficult to forgive someone, one trick I use is to imagine them dead.

Nice huh.

No, but really, it works. “If this person were to die today would I want them to die knowing that I am harbouring these bad feelings towards them?” The chances are, if it’s someone I care about (as is nearly always the case when it comes to strong feelings whether positive or negative), I won’t want them to die like that. I’d want them to know that I love them, that I care for them, and that I appreciate what they have done for me.

And of course, there’s no reason why they might not die today.

If that trick doesn’t work, then clearly the connection between us is weak, and thus I am being a bit daft to be investing so much energy in feeling bad towards them.

Anyway, I can hear the Sheep Man calling so I’d best be off. He doesn’t like to be kept waiting.


National Sheep Day

To celebrate National Sheep Day, this morning I jogged up Garway Hill in order to get some shots of Horace, the sheep that starred in last year’s best-selling Hollywood action film Revenge of the Wooly Jumpers.

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I asked Horace if he’d mind re-creating the scene where he’d just been attacked by the Mighty bear, and badly wounded is seen crying to the heavens for the strength to make it through the epic battle.

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This is Hatty, Horace’s Love Interest. Here she stands at the top of the cliff in despair, giving that final devastating speech. I was in tears when I saw it in the cinema.

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Don’t give up the search Betty! Separated from her children, Betty surveys the landscape, fearing that they have lost their way and have wandered beyond the foreboding Black Mountains.

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But Fear Not! Horace the Mighty has returned! This is the scene where he speaks to the flock in those rousing tones, inspiring confidence once more in the hooved troops. All is set for the most extraordinary victory ever seen in the history of Sheep.

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Now, where did I put my pills…?

Day in snapshots

I’ve had this camera follow me around all day. It’s been taking snapshots of my thinking. Kinda strange. I developed the film, here’s what came out.

It’s 5.45am. My phone alarm goes off. I think about whether I want to wake up – i think, “well, the interview isn’t until 8am, I can sleep till 7am.” I doze for another hour.

8am. Skype rings. It’s the company in Tokyo for the job interview. I’m feeling pretty relaxed, but the voice… it’s not the woman I was expecting. No, this is someone new. She’s Japanese, has an American accent, but I get this idea she’s been to Australia too. She’s friendly and responds well to humour. This is going to be good.

20 minutes in. Things are going well, I’m enjoying talking to her. Then she asks me a question I’d not thought about; “What are the most important qualities for an employee of this company?”. I feel that fear, and fall over over my words as I try to come up with something. I give an answer. “Is that all?” she asks. I grope about in the dark, and come up with something else. Something good. Crisis over, I’m back on track.

40 minutes is up. “Well, thank you, it’s been real nice chatting” she says. “Likewise”. I’m happy.

Next snapshot, I’m in the CILASS office at 9.20am. I’m happy to see Sabine, Pam and Nicola. “You’re not in today!” I’m told. “No, you’re right, I’m on a train to Bradford in 30 mins! A few minutes later the powerpoint is printed, and I run for the tram.

The journey to Bradford takes 90 minutes, but I don’t notice it. First off, I read my newspaper. Nothing of interest apart from an article about the possibility of using the iPhone in education. I repackage the many sections of the paper and leave them on the seat opposite, hoping they will appeal to someone else later on – it’s not fair that they have such a short life. Then I’m watching a DVD, Sliding Doors, a film I loved when I first saw it, but now am more inclined to agree with my friend who thinks it’s pants.

Bradford. I’ve not been here before. I ask the girl in WHSMITHs where the uni is, she points, ‘over there’.

Bradford Town Hall. Clearly modelled on Sheffield’s Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio (thanks to our Tokyo correspondent for that update)

Walking down the street in my patchwork jeans and Tilley Hat – I’m excited! I’m the new kid in town. Wow, so many chances to interact with all these people – I’m buzzing.

But three minutes later, I’m lost. I ask a scruffy old man, white hair, wonkey teeth, dirty green shirt, “Excuse me, could you tell me the way to the University please?” He doesn’t know. To my surprise he then starts barking out at passers-by, “University? University anyone?” People ignore us, stare at us. I’m about to assure him that it’s ok, when a couple in matching denim outfits stop. “University? Yeah, we’re going that way! Come with us!”

15 minutes later I’m on the university campus. It’s nice. Kind of out of place, surrounded by boarded-up shops and derelict buildings. I reach the library building, reception check my name off the list and lets me in.

I’m there for a workshop organised by the Yorkshire universities, the topic is Web 2.0 & Information Literacy – myself and a CILASS colleague are to give the student view.

But first we listen to a very funny guy talk about his thoughts on web 2.0 for 45 minutes. He’s in his 50s, white hair, has long since dispensed with concerns over what other people think of him. I like him – his show seems to be 90% Flickr, photos representing ideas, with the odd image thrown in that had no connection to anything, but reminded him of his son on holiday. I smile.

Break for lunch. Sandwiches are OK. Vegetable Samosa’s not bad either. Red grapes are my favourite. I make an attempt to connect with the lady who seems to be hosting it. She’s cool. I like her name badge. They don’t have name badges like those at Sheffield.

1.45pm and we’re up! *Twinkle* flashes up as my desktop background, but she’s masked by the opening slide. We’ve a lot to get through and have to rush it a bit, but it’s fun. It reminds me of the last time I presented to a group of staff, the lack of reactions from 2/3 of the audience. They must have had to sit through hundreds of presentations, and there was no way they were going to feign enthusiasm just because the presenter had multicolour patchwork jeans on. But it’s OK, a good third of them are engaging. They are the ones that know me, and the younger strangers.

Presentation successfully delivered, we pack up and head off. My post-presentation headache kicks in – always does. I didn’t get that nervous about it all, but I guess the excitement of presenting to 25 librarians is too much for my head.

I joke with my colleague, “when I’m presenting to 10,000 people I’ll have to look back on this and laugh!”.

I’ve got time to visit the National Media Museum before heading back to Sheffield for the Japan soc BBQ. Just my luck – the U2 show at the IMAX finished the night before, and today it’s nothing but overgrown dinosaurs. Oh, and two of the galleries are closed for installation works. Still, the rest of the place is open, and the staff are so enthusiastic & really keen to help – I feel excited.

I’m in the basement, watching 1970s Kodak commercials. I love them. Those revolutionary single-use flash bulbs that mean you can take photos INSIDE! Or how about the camera with the handle so you can hold it steady – meaning you can even get good shots on rainy days!

Minutes later – an encounter with a dalek…

I’m on the 4th floor now, in the BBC studio mock-up. I try my hand at delivering the weather forecast. The camera wants to chop my head off.

I then play the role of presenter of the BBC news – but the seat is too high and when I watch the playback on the big screen afterwards I can only see the bottom half of my face!

Through to the other half of the building, and there’s a real glass-walled BBC radio studio in there – on air.

I move on up to the children’s TV floor. OMG it’s Zippy and George! The actual puppets used on Rainbow. And next to them the toys from Playschool! Wow, I haven’t seen Humpty in years! It’s quite an emotional reunion.

I sit in one of the TV booths and choose to watch Dangermouse. It only seems appropriate as I’ve come to Bradford on CILASS business and have had Danger Mouse as the folder icon for CILASS on my mac for months.

I’m getting tired. As I make my way back to the station, I wonder why I get so tired walking across cities some times. Well, it’s been a long day I guess.

I’m back on the train. I’d decided to not check the platform and go on intuition. After 20 minutes travelling in the wrong direction I reluctantly decide to get off the Skipton Train at some pretend station, cross to the other platform and wait for the train that is actually going to Sheffield.

As I’m waiting I find my banana in the bottom of my bag. It’s been squashed, but is still edible. I stuff it all in at once and then try and shield my face from the girl in the shelter. I wonder if she’s afraid of me.

I’m listening to Murakami’s Dance Dance Dance on my iPod all this time. I’m enjoying it. That was part of the reason why I didn’t want to get off the train going to Skipton. I wanted to listen to my story.

The train terminates at Leeds and I need to change. As I wait for my (delayed) connection I get a call from my japan soc friend – Aren’t you coming to the final BBQ? “I got on the wrong train” I tell her, feeling bad that I’m going to miss it. I should have been there, and I knew it.

Well, I’ll email later and apologise. I feel pretty bad about it.

I’m now sitting inside a luggage rack on a jam-packed train to Sheffield. I’m trying not to lean on my rucksack’ knowing that I could damage my laptop screen.

The guy sitting inside the luggage rack opposite me is another of these white-haired men in their 50s. We strike up a silent friendship, both sharing unusual seats. We joke with our eyes about the group of girls behaving outrageously between us.

A chap shouts down the carriage “Can’t you move up?! There’s people still trying to get on”.
I admire him for speaking up, and wonder what it was that made him into the kind of person that could say that to a group of strangers on a train in such an assertive tone.

I understand when he gets off 2 stops later: he has a badge on a webbed string around his neck, it reads: “British Transport Police”.

We arrive at Sheffield. i say goodbye to my luggage rack friend, and take the tram home.

I’m in bed, shattered. I don’t want to do anything, but don’t want to sleep. So, I watch a DVD – ‘Stranger than Fiction’. It’s ok. It entertains me. I like the love story, implausible though it is.

Film over, I think about the day just gone. It’s been a good one. I enjoyed all these interactions, and being a stranger in a new town.

This life thing, it’s kinda cool really. I like it.