Author Archives: robz

My life’s essentials 14: Ilfracombe

Ticket to ride

This ticket started me on a journey 50 years ago on Saturday, 2 August 1969.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that train journey from Paddington to Ilfracombe, on the north coast of Devon, would bring me to the place where I would live 50 years later.

We had a marvellous fortnight’s family holiday, magical even, before returning home to resume everyday suburban life. That, it seemed, was it. But my family loved railways and I remember in my teen years daydreaming in school lessons about modelling the station at Ilfracombe. It seems the place had caught hold of me.

Now, I’ve always been a dreamer. Sometimes, when people ask me a straightforward question, if my mind isn’t in gear, I struggle to come up with an answer there and then, only working it out later on. However, deep down I’ve always known what I’ve wanted to do – write, create and communicate – although back then I didn’t realise I would do this with computers and the internet. 

What has started me thinking about my journey, in terms of my home, my work and who I am, is finding this ticket from all those years ago. I didn’t think I had mapped my future out, but, looking back, I took definite steps to get here. I started out in the corporate world, but after 10 years realised I did not fit. I remember, when working at British Airways, I visited the North American Air Fares department about a job there, which would have been a big promotion. As the chap talked, I felt my eyes glaze over and realised how stifled I would be in that role. I didn’t apply, but he rang me up after applications had closed to see where mine was. The job would have been mine, but I could never have stood it. And that’s how my career progressed, from Cromwell Road, Earls Court to Heathrow Airport to the Aldwych in London, back to a soulless business park in Maidenhead and then, when I jumped off the corporate ladder, to our spare bedroom in Windsor. Here I established our communications partnership with my brother Simon.

15 years ago, when Mrs Z and I wanted to escape the Heathrow noise pollution and mindless rush of the South East, I suggested moving to Ilfracombe. I thought she would tell me not to be so stupid. She didn’t and we moved. As with the rest of my career, it wasn’t easy. The telephone exchange had only just been upgraded to ADSL and the small population restricted, as it does still, the size of market for many sectors, especially mine. But with the internet, I worked virtually for clients across the country, some of whom I never meet. 

Am I happy? Apart from reaching the age where I often feel melancholic because of all the dear souls no longer present, I am content. I’m now close to celebrating working for myself, at home for 25 years, am just about to complete my dissertation for my History MA, launched a business magazine this year, which is giving me the most fun ever, and am organising a business exhibition in October. All in the loveliest place I can think of living. 

In summer, I start the day early with a walk on Woolacombe Beach with our spaniel, while in winter the two of us brave the winds as we crawl round Capstone Hill in a storm in December darkness. Mrs Z is content and our spaniel arranges our life so that we exercise and relax every day. What more could we ask?

Some say that Ilfracombe and North Devon are 30 years behind everyone else. I see them being 30 years ahead, because here many people value time more, are closer to nature, which I interpret as life and death, are more generous with their help, and appreciate what we all have. I think many businesses have forgotten these values, but perhaps more people are slowly realising how important they are. 

I do not have as much monetary wealth as I might have had from staying in the corporate world in the South East, pursuing opportunities purely because they were lucrative, but I am doing what I always wanted to do. And I am doing them where I have wanted to be for 50 years since the date on that ticket: Ilfracombe.

Posted in a musing, history, Ilfracombe, my life's essentials.

My life’s essentials 13: my lawn rake

Garden rake | My life's essentials | robzlog.co.uk | robertz

My trusty lawn rake must be 29 years old. My Dad gave it to me, I think, as a birthday present the year Mrs Z and I moved into our first house, which had a garden some 50 feet long by 11 feet wide.

To me, this was paradise. The house I was born in had a much bigger garden and some of my earliest memories are of gardening with my Dad: helping him mow the lawn or plant vegetables, especially radishes. He loved radishes and, by coincidence, so do I.

I retained my love of gardening, as a teenager and adult, and when we bought our first house, I was thrilled to have a tiny patch of lawn and some borders in which we grew 50 or different herbs.

The house we live in now has a much bigger garden space, although when we moved in, much of it was covered by plant-killing membrane, and rocks and stones. We took all these up to discover the soil was dead. I planted several lawns, hedges and trees. At first, our main lawn would get water-logged during a downpour, but over the years all the plants and trees have improved drainage to soak up the water and now we don’t even get puddles. It’s no surprise that there is so much flooding in towns these days, with people and councils chopping down trees, concreting or tarmacking over the soil, and covering it with decking. Only the other week, I saw someone move into a house and – even though it has a garage with another car space as well as unrestricted on-street parking out the front – tear down the garden wall, dig up the lawn and cover it with tarmac. I am against this from an environmental perspective.

Anyway, today I mowed our main lawn and clipped the edges with shears. When you get down close, you discover not just grass but moss, dandelions, daisies, clover and other plants. As you can guess, my lawn is not bowling green standard, but we don’t want it to be. We want a natural cushion where we can sit to enjoy warm dry weather. I never treat it with weedkiller or chemicals, so now we have worms busying themselves all over the garden and lots of insects buzzing around. If we could have more garden, I’d like a wildflower meadow.

And so, after cutting the grass, I gathered it up with the rake Dad gave me. It is somewhat battered now, but it’s still serviceable and I hope it will be for a few years more.

Garden rake | My life's essentials | robzlog.co.uk | robertz
Posted in my life's essentials, wild and gardens.

My three words for 2019: responsible – source – alive

In 2016 I chose three words to focus on during the year, following a suggestion by Chris Brogan, and I repeated this in 2017 and then 2018, when I chose: nibble – rest – clear. How did I do in 2018?

  • Nibble – I succeeded in making a lot of changes and once I had started, these seemed to snowball. Small tasks I completed grew into bigger projects that I am now really enjoying. It works to nibble at a big task to increase progress.
  • Rest – Whenever possible, I made sure I had a rest from work to refresh and recharge. It isn’t always possible, but it has certainly made a difference. A whole weekend away from screens is so refreshing and energises me for when I start the new week.
  • Clear – Being open to new ideas and not restricting myself in my thinking. My History MA has really helped here and I have learnt a lot in the year. Approaching a topic with an open mind is essential to learning.

Taking into account any progression, what are my three words for the year ahead?

responsible – source – alive

Why have I chosen these three words for 2019?

Responsible

Since my 20s, and probably earlier, I have believed in the power of taking individual responsibility to make things happen and to improve life, not just for me but for everyone. I can remember, way back in 1984, a discussion – on the A4 at Hammersmith in a shared car on the way to work – when I stated that I did not believe in rights, but in privileges. I believe life itself is a privilege and like any privilege it can be taken away from us just like that. This hasn’t been a popular view, but I don’t think I’m the only person to believe this. For decades, we have outsourced our personal responsibilities to government and other organisations which have eroded care and concern for individuals, leading to the current widespread loss of faith in ‘systems’ disconnected from people and built to fail. I believe taking personal responsibility is now more important than ever before. It doesn’t matter how small a matter is, taking personal responsibility will have a beneficial effect, which will snowball if more people do it. I understand that it’s not always easy and that not everyone is capable of doing it – I have been through times when I let so many things in my life slide into chaos that I was barely able to function mentally – which is why it is important for those of us who are capable to be responsible and why I am focusing on it.

Source

What are we? We are what we eat and drink and breathe. What is true? The news? Gossip? Videos? Stories? Where do the things we use come from? From mining? Agriculture? Factories? Everything we use, from ideas and beliefs developed from what we read, hear and see to material items like phones, clothes and cars, has a source. Often we don’t know where something comes from, whether it be a rumour or a gadget, and I believe it is important to know. Because we are often so far removed from the source and production of things, it is difficult to know what impact we have when we consume or use them and whether, if we switch from one thing to another, it would be better for everyone and the environment. 15 years ago I switched to a diesel car because it seemed less polluting, only to find it was not necessarily the case. Being aware of the source of things, ideas and beliefs is essential to trying to understand our place and our impact on this world, and to living a better life and making life better for all.

Alive

As I grow older, life passes faster. It seems so. And every second is more precious. Living vicariously through the record of others’ experiences is a waste when every second can be used to experience raw life. Whether walking in wind and rain, catching a rainbow or surprise sunset, or simply being with another soul, just being together in silence, is what makes us come alive. Joy, sadness, laughter, melancholy, excitement, weariness, wonder, fear, hope – all bring us alive. I will be more selective in my online presence as I spend more time feeling alive.

Starting now . . .

I’ve already started with these and will be interested to see where they go.

Do you have a direction you have set for yourself in the year ahead?

Good luck with what you believe and want to achieve, and may you have a wonderful New Year.

Posted in a musing.

The genuine article

pencil | robzlog.co.uk @robertz

I’m not a fan of clipart or stock photography.

I think this comes from seeing so many web sites and brochures showing pictures which have nothing to do with the organisation publishing them. If a company wants to demonstrate that it has happy, smiling employees, why not feature photos of its people rather than stock photos of idealised employees?

It’s something that puts me off a web site when the first thing I see is a stock photo. If the company can’t even be bothered to take an original photo, how bothered will it be to look after me as a customer?

As for clipart, I know that it can be useful for demonstrations and explanations, but very cheap, amateur-looking clip art does not give a good impression.

strawberries and clotted cream | robzlog.co.uk @robertz

Readymade images are obviously convenient, but original photos and artwork can make a web site or document stand out from the crowd. Isn’t that what businesses want?

Original imagery takes time, thought and creativity and can cost more if you don’t have a good photographer or designer in your team, but I think it is definitely worth it. And with today’s digital cameras and phones, it has never been easy to create original photos and video.

Well, that’s my Thursday rant. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow.

Woolacombe sunset | robzlog.co.uk @robertz

Posted in a musing.

Waste not, want not

Clock | robzlog.co.uk @robertz

The clock in our kitchen stopped working at the weekend. It’s a quartz clock with a battery in it, nothing special, but it’s useful for keeping an eye on the time when cooking or when we need to go out or do something at a specific time. We changed the battery, but it wouldn’t go. We tried another battery, but it still wouldn’t go. We thought we would have to replace it.

Now, we don’t like waste. Also, it’s sad that items on sale now just don’t seem to last as manufacturers cut corners to cut costs. We’ve found this with many appliances, even those produced by companies with a supposedly good reputation. And it doesn’t seem to make a difference whether they cost a little or a lot.

I didn’t want to buy a new clock for these reasons, so I took it down and fiddled with the contacts and put the battery back in. The clock went for a few minutes and then stopped. I had another go later in the morning and the same thing happened. I tried it several more times and eventually it carried on working and is now keeping good time.

I’m glad I persisted because there was no need to get a new clock and it would been a waste to throw this one away.

It’s a small achievement in the war against unnecessary waste.

Due to family members ageing and passing away, we have accumulated so many things that we need to find new homes for. We don’t throw them away because many of these household items, quite ordinary in their own way, are far superior to anything you can buy today, yet few people value them. We have been taking them to car boot sales, advertising them on eBay and generally trying to find people who will appreciate books, china, ornaments, tools and a lot more. It would be a waste to throw them away.

This has also led me to declutter my own collection of possessions. There are many things I have accumulated over the years which I have no real use for and recently I have found owners who will appreciate them.

Because of this approach, I’m a terrible customer for retailers because I just want to maintain the things I have and not buy anything unnecessary. It matters because the economy relies on appliances breaking down being replaced regularly. I think this has to change.

I am glad I got the old clock working. I don’t like waste.

Posted in a musing.
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