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Think About It

Release Your Foot Brake

Over the past few months I have been learning to drive. I am reaching the age now where I cannot rely on my parents or my brother to shepherd me around from place to place. As you can imagine, the first few hours were a bit rocky and I was petrified to be behind the wheel. It was nothing like driving a shopping trolley, which my 8-year old self had led me to believe. It was considerably more complicated than that.

There were mirrors to check, indicators to signal, pedals to push, wheels to spin, gears to shift and that was only my car…not to mention anticipating what other people were doing and balancing it all in my head like a Eastern European acrobat. All the while, my instructor was telling me to take it calmly, hoping to intervene in a crisis and shout at me to get back on track if need be. I didn’t care for it at first, but by the fourth lesson, I appreciated it. In the same way, he has one instruction that constantly sticks in my head: release the foot brake.

Such a small thing got me thinking about the implications of what I was doing. I was finally in the driver’s seat. Taking myself forward of my own accord. I am of an age now, where I cannot rely on those around me to drive me forward. I can no longer sit in the passenger seat passively, waiting for someone else to take the wheel. Gone are the days that I could sit in the back and coast. And that revelation filled me a deep sense of apprehension.

I feel like a rubbish driver. Sometimes I just can’t get the engine going or there just isn’t enough fuel in the tank. But I know that it’s time I took some responsibility and learned what sort of person it takes to drive that car effortlessly. And so I look at my parents and my brother, who have learnt in their own way, adjusting the mirrors so that they can see where they are going, but also remember what is behind them and where they have been. The key is…vision.

So now I am ready to drive, but there is a wall that stands in front of me. It asks me whether I am ready to release my foot brake. It tasks me to move the car forward, and into the unknown, away from the comfort of the parked space that I have grown too fond of. I sit there looking at the empty seat beside me, waiting for my instructor to tell me to go. He is silent. He smiles and in that moment, I know that that decision is down to me. Am I ready?

I put on the indicator. A quick glance in the wing mirror. It’s all clear. Go.

January 2nd

This is the first real day of the year. When everyone has recovered from the intoxication and nausea of the night before and the two weeks previous. The cold starts to finally set in, as well as the rain and the realisation that the office or the classroom beckons. When the lazy among us finally finish replying to our New Years messages, or hastily set our resolutions for the coming year, in the hope that we are able to stick to them. When we wake up an hour earlier to go for a run in the biting dawn, or to the gym after work amongst a host of others who overdid it again in the holidays. It is safe to say that today is a universally miserable day.

New Years was a particularly sombre occasion for me. Mostly because I spent a majority of the day reminiscing about the previous 12 months and collating all the things that I had done to put into my end of year post: ‘My Year (In Pictures)’. At this point a year ago, I knew that there was something special waiting for me, and with all the excitement that 2012 was going to offer, I tucked my head into my chest and rolled into the year. But this year feels different.

I am going to be 18 this year. I will say goodbye to a lot of the friends that I have been with for the past 7 years. I will most probably leave London and I will move out of the family home. I will go to university, learn to cook and start again in a different place. I will learn to drive, take on new responsibilities and reinvent myself. This is the year where I grow up.

I would be lying if I said that it is not going to be daunting. Mostly because I have no idea how I am going to cope with all of these things. In situations like this I believe that the healthiest way to manage it is to take it one step at a time. Like a big pie, I am going to eat mine in small bite size pieces. There are things that I want to achieve, but I guess there are so many loose ends that will inevitably need to be tied up. In this way, it seems that as a writer, one chapter is starting to come to an end and I am beginning to write another one.

Even as I write this post, I falter. I am always one to look ahead to prepare myself for whatever is coming. But this time, I have no idea what’s in store. I am the man with no plan. Who knows? Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing this time. For the first time in my life, I am going to play it by ear and see what happens. So no resolutions and no predictions for the year to come…let’s just see how it goes.

This Is Our Chance

As published on the Right Year for Children Website (supported by UNICEF, Children’s Rights Alliance England and the Children’s Commissioner) *

I don’t know much about children’s rights. Honestly, I am not even sure what my human rights are, and I am sure that there are many people who are in the same boat. However, being a part of the Right Year for Children debate on whether the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child should be brought into UK law really opened my eyes. We take for granted how important these rights are – so we should know about them.

The overwhelming theme that I took from the whole debate was that it was a communication problem. When we see that someone has ‘rights’ we are automatically skeptical; that they may be used as an excuse for those who don’t deserve those rights at all. But the fact of the matter is that all, and I mean all, deserve these rights because we are all human. And children most of all deserve the utmost protection as they hold the keys to what will happen next. Unless we change our attitude towards children, towards our fellow human beings, we will fail to appreciate how important these rights are. We take for granted the fact that we have such free access to them, and forget those that do not.

One of the most important articles is Article 16. It talks of no ‘unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation’ which tells us that we cannot continue to speak derogatively about our children and young people. A poll by Children and Young People Now in 2009 revealed that over 76% of press coverage about young people is negative. This is the highest percentage in the world and it clearly has to reduce or we could have a serious problem.

A case study taken by the Youth Media Agency in their submission to the Leveson Inquiry investigated the way that children and young people were represented in the media following the London Riots in 2010 which can be seen here (http://bit.ly/ZblKeP). It shows a tirade of abuse towards children as young as 5 who were caught up in a hate campaign towards a younger generation that was more involved in the cleanup of the devastation, rather than the riots itself. Yet this did not get the justice that it deserved. This needs to change.

So it was fantastic to be a part of this Right Year for Children event, to speak and listen to those that have been in involved in children’s policy for years. But policy and legislation are only the first step, they provide the platform upon which awareness and understanding can be raised. Our children have rights, and we must learn to respect them – the UNCRC recognises this important fact and shows us that it is within our reach. But the next steps must be taken by us, to use this law to show this country that our children are important enough to invest in because what is the motto for 2012? Inspire a Generation (and this is our chance!)

Ticking Boxes

Recently I have had to start writing a to-do list on my iPod in order for me to remember the things that I need to get done over the week. It came to me today that my life has turned into a huge box ticking exercise. Once I have done one thing, I seamlessly move onto the next without breathing, resting or most importantly thinking. It is like the waves constantly hitting the shore, each thing lingers until it is complete and then it falls off the precipice of my short term memory. I believe I am making the progression from adolescent to middle aged man a lot quicker than I envisaged. Great…(sense the sarcasm)

Routine is the bane of my life. I endeavour to do as many things out of routine as possible in order to keep things exciting, but these days I lack the motivation to try and do something different. I eat from the same places, I go to the same classes, I have even started to think the same thoughts recently. If my day to day life was a colour, it would be a plain shade of grey, not vibrant enough to be white and not dull enough to be black – just bang smack in the middle of the two. Everyone says that if you have a routine, then you have discipline, then you have goals, then you achieve those goals, then you’re successful and you die happy. But you forget one thing. Dogs have routine and I wouldn’t call them successful…they are happy though.

Is that enough though? Just being content? I have always put content people down as being simple. Not ambitious enough to really get anywhere, but just happy to have anything in the first place. Call me a pessimist, but it’s the truth. Great people aren’t ever really happy – they can’t be; it is against their nature. They must constantly reinvent, change and improve; they just have to keep ticking every box. I used to wake up every day, jump out of bed and grab the day by the scruff of the neck; these days I find myself struggling to lift my head off the pillow and push myself to do things because I am just sick of ticking those boxes again and again.

What makes me laugh is that once you make something a point on a list, you can’t enjoy it anymore. It ceases to be an action, but instead a chore. So stop doing it right? That is the answer. Well….it isn’t that easy when you feel love for everything that you do. If anything that is the most difficult thing, relinquishing a box especially when you want to put a big black tick in it. There is no answer to the problem this time. No moment of epiphany or understanding yet. I hope it comes soon though, grey isn’t really one of my favourite colours.

Human Zoos: “Animals” in India

There has been a backlash against British and International tourist operators by the India authorities following the promotion of “human safaris” where tourists are taken around rural tribes on the Andaman Islands. Following an investigation by the Observer, videos have come to light of policeman luring young girls of local tribes to dance for food…not to mention that they are half naked from the waist up.

In 1989, tourists were banned by the government from visiting the Bonda villages on the island due to the fact that some had been seen to take pictures of the naked women, with some tourism brokers even promoting the fact that the women of Bonda have “scanty dress.” With many operators removing such ads from their websites, two men have been arrested pending charges.

The most disgusting thing is not the fact that these individuals were offering the service, but that tourists were not as appalled as I was when they saw it, and rather bought tickets as if they were seeing a show. Having seen some footage of the Jarawa tribe which I will provide a link for, I can safely see that this is the dark part of Indian culture.

Seeing human beings, boys and girls performing like monkeys shows me that there is something seriously wrong…the only thing that this safari doesn’t have are cages and I dread to see whether that is true or not. It has been said by many that the Indian rich/poor divide is substantial as can be seen in the streets of major cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and it houses the biggest slum in the world in Dharavi. Nevertheless, we can see how British and international tourists have been seen to exploit innocent villagers…and I am not amused.

Britain is supposed to be a multi-cultural society and embrace every creed and colour. It is supposed to be the most diverse and tolerant countries in the world. Do not get me wrong, I am not accusing 60 million people of prejudice and such vile behaviour, but I am looking at those on the fringes that think it is alright to leer at a naïve, indigenous people and sneer at their way of life. Well I have got news for you – you are less evolved than they are, at least they know what is decent and what isn’t.

I am sorry that this has turned into a bit of a rant, but I am sure that you are as enraged as I am. Again, I am not saying that everyone does it, and the majority of the public are honest, but it is true what they say, that a cancer only starts with a few poisonous cells.

LINK TO THE VIDEO: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2012/jan/07/andaman-islanders-human-safari-video

Is It Worth It? – Boxing Day Death 2011

As we find ourselves in a new year, retailers around us prepare themselves for the oncoming rush of annual January sales where people (some of them are animals) flock in their thousands to high street stores in the hope of getting their wears for a slightly cheaper price. The one time of year where window shopping isn’t an issue, but rather how much you can afford and the only times when certain people use their high-school maths skills to calculate the discount: 70%, 50% and the like. Seemingly a harmless time of year when the thrifty among us get ourselves a bargain and leave the shop with a smile on our face, rather than a hole in our wallet. Although is it? I am sure many of you heard the reports of the manic crowds that found their way to Oxford Street on Boxing Day last year, but this time for the wrong reasons…as a teenager was killed. 18-year-old Seydou Diarrassouba was stabbed just above the thigh at 1:45PM on the 26th December 2011 inside or outside Footlocker. Do you know why he was killed? For a pair of shoes. £40. Is that the price of a human life these days?

It really got me thinking about the animalistic tendencies of the people that we see today. I do not deny that everyone has some good in them, for those of you that would label me a pessimistic or cynical, but when the going gets tough, do we not see the dramatic change in behaviour? When a pair of shoes is halved in price, the results can be seen here to be almost tribal. And this is not an unusual occurrence. When we stand in a queue or a line, do we not push to the front or try to nudge forward? When we are at work, do we not try to shine in front of the boss, to gain some kind of false recognition? Even when we are at home, we even fight over the television remote, don’t we? Isn’t this proof of how uncivilised the pinnacle of civilisation is, or is that our collective inflated ego talking? However much we try and hide these instincts, distancing ourselves from our pets and the occupants of the nearby zoos, we cannot escape. The simple truth is that we are animals, even though we dress up in suits and drink coffee, live in houses and drive big vehicles; we cannot get away from it. Don’t believe me? Well let me show you.

A couple of us have been going to the Next sale that starts too early that we care to mention. Although we don’t go to always buy something, but it just happens to be funny to see so many people so desperate for clothes, even though most of them are not of the same quality and are just as expensive, but I digress. The other funny thing is watching mothers fight in the kids section for clothes and getting mountains of them. Then they sit on the floor and sift through them to get what they want, like a screening process…in the middle of a store…in the daylight. I guess you have to see it to find it funny. Well in order to get the laughs we have to be up early and wait in line. Considering the time to get in is long we tend to make conversation with those around us, make the queue less dreary and so we did that. As we edged closer to the entrance, we could see people pushing forward all around us. Then out of nowhere a man stood an told us off for cutting in, the same man who had cut in himself fifteen minutes prior. Asking the people around us of who we had had conversations earlier, we asked them to verify that we were there, and they didn’t. They stood there, looked us in the face and lied. Told everyone that we had cut in. Not one person vouched for us. I was disgusted. People who had been friendly before were not shaking their heads, tutting and cursing us under their breath. And then we burst out laughing. These people were threatening to send us to the back, treating us like the crap on the bottom of their shoe for what? 20% discounted tat. And we asked ourselves, is it worth it?

A true representation of the human race. You can’t trust anyone, because they are ready to step on you if it means that they would get the better of you. Call me a pessimist or a cynic, but it is the truth. We witnessed it first hand, and we felt guilty, even though we did nothing. So I really felt for that boy’s mother, whose son was killed for the sake of nothing, some shoes covered in his blood. So think about it the next time you are going to the sales and are going to do something bad…in the grand scheme of things, is it really worth it?

P.S. I’ll answer that for you > NO!

A Clarification – “Without effort there is no gain”

Ever since that I started this blog, various people have been wondering about the quote that I have put on the top of my page, under my name (you have probably scrolled up to look at it now!). Well, I thought that I would give a little insight into where it comes from and what it means to me, as out of all the thoughts and things that I hear, this is always the one that sticks with me. It seems like a really deep and philosophical thought, but really when broken down it can be applied to anyone and everyone. But I cannot take credit for coming up with this, in fact it was told to me by a great and wise man that lived by it and it made a great impact on me at a young age.

I think when someone tells you something and it just clicks in your brain, a light bulb turns on and you look at things from a completely different perspective. Many people would call it an epiphany. I would call it development. I mean, how could we ever know whether what we are doing is right and wrong unless you seek the advice of others? There is no way that we could live our completely on our own, we are dependent on our parents, family, friends and even strangers to a certain extent to grow in the right way: for the better. Therefore we should show our gratefulness to these people for making us who we are today! But anyway, I digress.

Back to the quote – without effort, there is no gain. I think the basic meaning is, that what you get out is what you put in, and so you should channel your actions and put 100% efforts into what you want to do. But at the same time, you will not always get these rewards in the way that you think: so for example,  something that happened to me yesterday –  a few weeks ago, I was rejected from an opportunity that would have allowed me to help out at the London 2012 Olympics in my area of East London. I was devastated that after all of the effort that I had put in to the application and the interview, I was not going to get to be a part of the whole experience. I lost faith in the whole system. Then yesterday, I got an email saying that they were offering me an even better position for a better time, in Trafalgar Square, one of the biggest hotspots for the Games next year (actually a true story!) – this showed me that there was a better plan for me, but I was looking too short term, I wanted it now, whereas the wait meant that I got an even better chance. So I guess what I am trying to say, is that don’t lose faith when things don’t go your way, as long as you know that you have done the work (and only you can truthfully know that) then things will happen for you and you will see the fruits of your labours.

The reason that it is my mantra for life (fancy words for saying favourite quote) is because I think that it helps me to never give up. When I was in primary school, the head mistress Miss Dargon used to talk about ”perseverance” and it has stuck with me to this very day. And at the same time, it reminds me that I always need to work hard in life to achieve the things that I want; I cannot just coast through life waiting for fortune or opportunity to find me, it is up to me to put myself in a situation where I can find it. Even in times of intense hardship and sorrow, we look to different things for solace, with the understanding that if I don’t do this or that, there is no way that I can ever get out of this pit. This can be true to an extent. But if we had the knowledge that there was something out there for us, better, but hidden amongst the mystery of our future, I think our outlook would be completely different. Though it is true that we cannot know true happiness until we know complete desolation, if we just change our outlook to a positive one, we would not feel these obstacles of life as much as we do, and we would be able to overcome them quicker. Napoleon Bonaparte once said that “Forethought we may have, undoubtedly, but not foresight” so we cannot know what is in store for us, but knowing that we have done the right things and made the effort, it makes the future seem a lot brighter…(I know I stole it from the Orange advert!)

What I want to end on is just to ask you to think about one word or phrase that makes defines you and makes you think. It does not have to be complicated, or even philosophical, just something that you want to live by, and then write it on a piece of paper and put it in your wallet. And at some point, that is destined, you will look at that piece of paper again and remind yourself of this moment, when you thought of something that made you think and made you reflect upon yourself. That is the point when thoughts will rush into your head and you will feel empowered to do something. That is the point when you will have your epiphany….but then again, I don’t call it that, I call it development!

Weather Friends vs. Dinner Friends

For those of you that know me well, you will be familiar with this concept of weather and dinner friends. I was speaking to someone recently who had been reading some parts of my blog and they said I should put it up here to see what people think. So here it is. This thing is basically my opinion on relationships, specifically friendships, but I am sure you can probably make it applicable to any relationship. I have had positive feedback so far, but let me know what you think.

So in life we have two types of friends: weather friends and dinner friends. Weather friends pretty much make up the bulk of people that you come in contact with in life. They are the people that pass you by and say “Hi” and “How’s the weather?” (hence the name – it’s not rocket science!). They will be people that you know by face and probably by name, but not always, and you will see them regularly at school, at work or at a social gathering. They make you laugh, or they are really interesting or they just happen to be in the same place as you at the same time and you have bland conversation with them to fill the awkward silences. But they don’t just have to be casual acquaintances; they could be people that you knew really well once, but have slowly drifted apart for one reason or another and you can never get back to the same place again. The conversation is generally light hearted and never goes further than skin deep; you keep away from controversial subjects and bite your tongue if you have strong opinions so that you do not kill the flow of the conversation (yes, we all do it). They come to you when they need something because you have got something that they want, and then when you need them they are “busy” or they are doing something important and they will “get back to you”.  Weather friends are people that you could be close to, but something lacks and stops you from trusting completely and truly being yourself. Unfortunately, how much we don’t like having weather friends, most of our friends are just that and it is not like we don’t put enough in, it is just life and the people in it.

Dinner friends are the opposite of weather friends (I know that some of you geniuses would have already worked that out :)) They are the people that you take out to dinner and you can have a long conversation with that seems to last longer that your watch seems to indicate and yet you still don’t want to leave. The conversations don’t get awkward, but if they do, it is always them that break the tension.  They are the ones that start a conversation with you or send you a text out of the blue asking how you are, not the other way around. They do not even have to be the people that you have known forever, but those that click with you and you feel like they have known you for a lifetime. The conversation is always memorable, whether you are just having a laugh or talking about something meaningful. You never have to be careful of what you say because they know you so well that you need not be afraid to offend them. They make difficult situations easy and the right path clearer and make you think, “How the hell did you think of that?” yet it is exactly what you needed to hear. They are not yes men, they are honest and they tell you how it is, not afraid to hurt your feelings, because you know that they have your best interests at heart. They know as soon as you open your mouth if you are lying and if you are feeling bad, and they always know the best way to lift your spirits. They don’t just take time for you, they make time for you. Though we have many weather friends, we only have a few, if any dinner friends and we should make more effort to keep up with them, because they don’t come around every day and they are what make life worthwhile, knowing that someone is there to pick you up when you fall and keep up with you as you run the daily race.

Hopefully this has enlightened you on my philosophy of friendship. Of course these are not the only definitions, these are just the beginning…you can write the rest. Why don’t you sit down and think about how many dinner and weather friends you have? Me, well, this was something that I thought about recently and found that even though I do not have many dinner friends, that don’t matter…that old saying that it is about “quality and not quantity” and I firmly believe that. It forms the basis of all our relationships and the more we think about it, the more that we get rid of the rubbish and focus on the people that really care, the better we feel. I would rather have 1 dinner friend, than 100 weather friends any day!

Many of you will probably be thinking that this is quite a black and white approach, but I think that sometimes it has to be. If everyone knew where they stood in a relationship, then it would make life a lot easier, right? (Save the aggro later on) And for those of you that want to know whether you are a weather or a dinner friend of mine, if you need to ask, then you are probably a weather friend, as my dinner friends hopefully know who they are. I hope I am a dinner friend of yours! 🙂

“If life gives you Apples, then make Computers” – A tribute to Steve Jobs

Unfortunately, last week we heard the news that Steve Jobs, the pioneer of Apple, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer and passed away at the young age of 56. Steve Jobs being one of my role models, I decided that it would be fitting for me to tell you why he was such an inspiration to me and many others out there. He was an entrepreneur, artist, risk-taker and most of all a human being unlike many of the influential people that we see in the world these days (don’t worry, I am not going to mention any names – *cough* Rupert Murdoch *cough*)

To be honest, for a long time, I did not know much about him and tended to admire him from afar like we do to most celebrities these days. And many people think that Apple and his products will remain his legacy, and I am not denying that (judging by the 90% of people on the Tube I see with at least one Apple product), but his back story is what I found to be the most interesting. The most striking things about him and his personality that we could all benefit from were his tenacity, perseverance and grit. He just did not understand when people said the “no” word to him – if anything it was made him more resilient and he openly says that the reason he was the person he was is as a sum of his failures and not his successes.

On the day of his death, I spent the day almost in a sea of indifference, not really taking notice of anything; it was a sort of mourning, but out of admiration and respect, rather than grief. I never personally knew the man, although I would have liked to, but in a sense everyone knew him through the personality and soul he put through in his work that is seen by us everywhere from gadgetry all the way to music. The thing with Steve (yes, I feel like we are on first name terms!) is that he made a contribution to all parts of life, but solely under the surface, through what he has achieved and like with many other stars, we don’t see what they have done until we are not able to appreciate them anymore physically. I mean look at Michael Jackson, the outpouring of grief over his death a few years ago, stunned the world into a legacy that makes us think of him fondly, even though his life was a constant rollercoaster of shining highs and obscure lows.

I remember looking on the Guardian at Steve’s obituary and seeing all the things that he did, and how he really muddled through life until his late thirties’ and how really, he was an unknown until much later in his life. This is the thing that caught my eye. Anyone else by the time they were the wrong side of 30, would be settling down and trying to lead a safe and comfortable life, but he did absolutely the opposite. He decided that this was his time and grabbed it with both hands. What I am trying to say is the attitude; he took a risk, a big one, whereas these days we are afraid to even try something new, or take a step of out of our comfort zone. Writing this blog, is taking me out of my comfort zone, and so I suppose I am trying to take this lesson to heart.

Watching the speech that he made to Stamford University graduates in 2005, I could see that his spirit was still firmly within him. The message of the speech, in my opinion can be summarised to three short words: Live. Your. Life. He highlights the importance of the fact that he could never have got where he was if it was not for the risks that he took and the way he made the best of the situation he had. He goes on to say that it is not about wealth, but it is about making a difference, and that is what makes people remember you, not how much is in your bank account. But the thing that is most interesting is that he says he was lucky and that without a fair amount of it, he would not get where he was. That got me thinking, he couldn’t be trivialising his entire career on the rolling of a dice somewhere, but he is not talking about receiving good luck, it is about creating your own. Well said!

The word visionary has been banded about, but I can truly say that it could not be more fitting than with Steve. His foresight and from a fellow designer’s point of view, his simplicity have made him one of the pioneers of this new technological age. We have all heard the phrase: “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, to make the best out of what you have, but Steve seems to have reinvented it to “when life gives you apples, make computers”. I can safely say that we will never look at one of our five-a-day in the same way again, all thanks to him. Thanks, Steve!