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Look at this tree. Those aren’t leaves, they’re birds! Hundreds of them, thousands maybe.

I’ve never seen such a large flock of birds near me before. Maybe you haven’t either. What do you think your response would be? Would you think of Alfred Hitchcock?

Not me!

I didn’t think of that for a moment.

I was fascinated, entranced, drawn outside with phone and camera to do my best to record something of this phenomenon.

Here’s what I put together from my short video clips and some photos.

Later, while reading Montaigne, I read

He who fears he will suffer, already suffers from his fear.

It got me thinking about the stance we take towards the world, about our default attitude. Because isn’t there so much fear around? In fact, it seems to me that fear is often used deliberately as a weapon of control.

What’s the greatest fear?

Some say it’s the fear of death. That this “existential fear” is the foundation of all other fears. For example, as a comedian I heard once said “I don’t have a fear of flying. I have a fear of crashing!” People who fear the dark, fear what dangers might be hidden in the darkness. People who fear dogs, fear that the dogs will attack them. People who fear illnesses, fear suffering and death.

Montaigne says if you spend your life fearing suffering, you’ll be suffering throughout your life. Yet so much of the health advice offered to people is based on trying to avoid death (the greatest fear).

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If fear is our default, we don’t just suffer, we live in a shrinking world, fearing difference, the “other” and change.

What’s the alternative?

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Dread one day at a time??!!

Nope.

The great thing about alternatives to fear is that there are so many of them.

There’s courage. Courage is the determination to go ahead even when you are feeling fear. That’s something I’ve been practising since coming to live in France. When you start to live in another country with a different language, not only are customs and habits different but at first you’ve no idea how to ask the simplest things. So a trip to a post office, or the local Mairie, or the garage can be quite intimidating. Until you summon up your courage, and just go. And, in my experience here, each and every time I discover there has been absolutely nothing to be afraid of. People are friendly and they want to help. (Then next time you go the fear has diminished, or even gone away entirely)

There’s wonder. Wonder and curiosity. That’s the response I had when I saw all the birds. That’s the attitude I hope to take into every day – l’émerveillement du quotidien.

There’s love. Love comes with a desire to make connections and with an intention to care, or at very least, not to harm – and that applies in relation to plants and animals as much as to other human beings. How often does it seem to be that when your intention is a loving one, that you meet the same response? When I was a GP, my partners and I built a new clinic and the reception was an open one – no glass or metal barriers between the patients and the staff. We were warned that we’d be vulnerable to being attacked. It never happened. Not even remotely.

Fear closes.

It closes us off from the world and from life.

The opposite is whatever opens – courage, wonder, curiosity, love…..add your own favourites at the end of this sentence!

I prefer the opposites for what they bring in themselves, but I resist fear for another reason. I don’t want to be controlled. Heroes not zombies anyone?

 

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Tiffany time Ginza

Money, money, money……time to change?

Oxfam recently reported that the 85 richest people in the world own as much wealth as the poorest HALF of the population of the world.

Oxfam said that this elite group had seen their wealth collectively increase by $668m (£414m) a day in the 12 months to March 2014. It found that it would take the world’s richest man – Mexico’s Carlos Slim – 220 years to spend his $80bn fortune at a rate of $1m a day

The rate of inequality is increasing rapidly. Thomas Picketty, the French economist whose book “Capital” has taken the world of economics by storm, has shown that this trend is set to continue because the returns on capital are so much greater than the rate of growth in the economy.

Is this accumulation of wealth into the hands of so few healthy? Is it just? Is it fair? Is it acceptable?

The extent to which inequality causes harm was laid out very clearly a few years back in “The Spirit Level” by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (no relation to Picketty!). Their work showed strong correlations between the degree of equality in a country and the extent of a wide range of social and health problems.

What can we do about it?

The Oxfam report makes a number of suggestions

With an endorsement from Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, the report said a 1.5% billionaire wealth tax would raise $74bn a year – enough to put every child in school and provide health care in the world’s poorest countries.

A billionaire tax? Is there the political will in the world to deliver that? What else does Oxfam suggest?

a clampdown on tax dodging; investment in universal, free health and education; a global deal to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030; shifting the tax burden from income and consumption to capital and wealth; ensuring adequate safety-nets for the poorest, including a minimum income guarantee; equal pay legislation and promote economic policies to give women a fair deal; and the introduction of minimum wages and moves towards a living wage for all workers.

Herman Daly, who worked for the World Bank from 1988 – 1994 suggests two very interesting measures to tackle this growing problem.

we need a serious monetary diet for the obese financial sector, specifically movement away from fractional reserve banking and towards a system of 100% reserve requirements. This would end the private banks’ alchemical privilege to create money out of nothing and lend it at interest. Every pound and dollar loaned would then be a pound or dollar that someone previously saved, restoring the classical balance between abstinence and investment.

Now, there’s a fascinating idea! That money should represent something REAL in the world! With all these elaborate “financial instruments” money and measures of economic “health” of countries is becoming increasingly detached from real activities, real use of resources and real people. Maybe such a proposal could begin to shift the balance back from capital to labour? He also suggests

a small tax on all financial trades would reduce speculative and computerised short term trading, as well as raising significant revenue

That latter idea is what others call “the Robin Hood tax“.

So, there’s an interesting selection of ideas – a billionaire tax, a move towards 100% reserve requirements and a financial transaction tax. Which political party is trumpeting these ideas? Which political party is prepared to put tackling inequality these ways at the heart of its manifesto for upcoming elections?

Anyone? Anyone?

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Big rock beach

I noticed this huge rock on a beach recently (OK, I agree, how could you NOT notice it!?)

I suppose I was a little surprised that some people had chosen to sit right in front of it……were they hoping to shelter from the wind? Or were they seeking some shade from the sun? Or, maybe, just maybe, they were working up to having a go at shoving it out of the way?

I’m guessing a LOT of people have wondered about moving that rock. I mean, there it is, sitting RIGHT in the middle of beach! So, why hasn’t anybody done it yet?

Then I got the answer – it’s down to “structured procrastination” –  as John Perry describes it –

All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it.

So maybe the people sitting on the beach there are doing some marginally useful things instead – like increasing their vitamin D levels by sitting in the sunshine, or measuring the temperature to check for global warming, or counting seagulls to for an RSPB environmental monitoring project, or……..

Or maybe this is not about procrastination at all, maybe it’s about being fully paid up members of the slow movement, like Christopher Richards, the founder of the International Institute for Not Doing Much (Christopher, thanks for sending me an email a few years back, I think my reply might be heading your way soon).

What an inspiration for slowness……..watching a rock change!

Hope you’re able to enjoy a nice slow holiday this summer (and if you haven’t figured out how to use structured procrastination to actually book that holiday up yet, check out John Perry’s book, “The Art of Procrastination” – just make sure you’ve got “Buy with 1-click” switched on)

 

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Maya Angelou was wonderful with words. You’re probably coming across some of them just now as the internet spills over with memories and thoughts about her provoked by the news of her death.

Here is one of my favourites

My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.

I especially like this one because I just don’t accept the sole point of living is to make it to the end. Is a Life survived for a number of years something you’d aspire to? Isn’t the sole goal of survival ultimately 100% doomed? (Nobody makes it out of here alive!). You can spend a life like a robot, or, in terms of this blog, like a zombie, on some kind of autopilot, surviving, but there’s something else you can do. You can thrive. You can flourish. You can express the uniqueness you are in this universe, and become what only you could become. You can live with passion, fully engaged with the wonder of the everyday (l’émerveillement du quotidien), you can connect, feel, respond, use your imagination to put yourself in the shoes of others, you can laugh, live with a twinkle in your eye, and you can do it with beauty, grace and, yes, style.

 

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Strictly reserved

Translated, the message is “This bench is strictly reserved…..for people who really need to sit down”

I like it!

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Oh sometimes somebody just does something simple but original with the internet.

I LOVE this video.

This is one of those videos to watch when you want to smile. It’s heart-warming and just plain JOYOUS

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I’m a big fan of Mike Leigh, but although there is a lot of humour in many of his movies, they’re generally pretty dark. His latest movie, Happy-go-lucky, is quite different, yet it retains those essential characteristics of Mike Leigh films – I can’t quite explain it but he manages to make you both care about and squirm about his characters. But what they do more than anything else is highlight what it means to be human, with all the frailty and awkwardness that comes as part of the package.

Happy-go-lucky tells the story of Poppy, a Primary School teacher in London. She’s a single 30 year old with a totally irrepressible positive spirit. She’s smiles a lot, laughs a lot, jokes a lot. Even when she encounters difficulties she deals with them positively. At one point in the movie, she’s told “You can’t make everybody happy” and she replies that it’s worth trying.

My favourite scenes are the flamenco classes. Flamenco always moves me. I love its passion and its fire. The Spanish flamenco dance teacher whose class Poppy attends is brilliant – probably one of the best characters in the whole movie. You can see a couple of scenes in this Channel 4 interview with Mike Leigh –

I have a very positive spirit. In fact, I don’t really see the point in taking a negative attitude to life. I’m pretty sure the stance we take determines the experiences we get.

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