Friday, June 10, 2016

Interview with Luke Perry

Recently I had the fantastic opportunity to interview Luke Perry, a public monuments sculptor based in the Black Country.

He's got a fascinating story to tell about how he ended up doing what he's doing, and how he connected with his family history of chainmakers!

I also had a fantastic young assistant helping me with the interview!

If you're not subscribed to The Potting Shed Podcast via iTunes, Stitcher or any other means then feel free to listen directly below!

If you'd be willing to leave a review of the show the links are here for iTunes and here for the UK Podcast Directory.

To listen to the show via stitcher the link is here.


Friday, June 03, 2016

Greening the Grey

Don't do this to your lawn...
Confession: I’m quite a fan of gardening programmes. It’s probably a form of escapism, but they’re so relaxing to watch, so comforting in a way! Especially Monty Don on BBC’s Gardener’s World, with his soft voice, calm manner, cups of tea and golden retrievers.

Whilst watching a gardening programme the other week a phrase caught my attention: ‘Greening the Grey’. This is the slogan of a Royal Horticultural Society campaign to encourage people not to pave over their front gardens with hard 'grey' materials, like concrete, asphalt and block paving, but to keep them green instead, or to be more creative when making them more functional.

I can understand the main reasons why people pave over their drives. It provides more car parking and needs less maintenance for starters, but there are some negative cumulative impacts to more and more of us doing so. It's pretty lifeless for starters, removing habitat and becoming a barrier between soil and sky.

I'm an environmental consultant these days, but I started out as a civil engineer, so I appreciate both our traditional 'grey' infrastructure as well as our 'green' infrastructure. We need both, but we need to even out the balance, and there are ways to make our existing infrastructure more sustainable.
"Watching a gardening programme the other week a phrase caught my attention: 'Greening the grey'..."
There's a real push these days to increase our green infrastructure, to green the grey, on both small and large scales.  Urban creep, such as all those paved gardens, increases rainfall runoff which can contribute to local flooding. There's also the urban heat island effect - hard materials retain heat for longer leading to hotter temperatures both day and night.

Conversely green infrastructure provides habitat, urban cooling, and rainwater storage, infiltration and treatment. There are also documented health benefits when we spend time in green areas compared to living in a concrete jungle. Overall our ecosystems need more green and less grey for the health of all involved - there's more life when there's more green, something I'm passionate about.
"Overall our ecosystems need more green and less grey for the health of all involved..."
Green is good!
We had some building work undertaken last year and it's fair to say that our front lawn took a bit of a battering from our builders. It got buried beneath demolition rubble, got used for material storage, got dug up and got clogged with cement.

By the end of the build, although we had a shiny new extension (on the footprint of previous hard areas before you ask!), we didn't have much grass left at the front.

In spring I raked it all over and sowed new grass seed, and even when this had grown there were still gaps in which I've had to sow further seed.

It's been satisfying seeing it come back to life though, especially one hot and wet week in which it grew about five inches in height after I'd applied lawn feed the previous weekend. It would have been easier to pave it all over, less work, but I'm glad I've coaxed it back to life. It's worth it even just for the steady supply of dandelion leaves for my daughter's guinea pig.
"Perhaps there are parts of our life which we've chosen to pave over"
What do you need to re-seed?
There are plenty of times in life when we might feel like on old lawn - churned up or trampled on by events or people in our life. Perhaps there are parts of our life which we've chosen to pave over rather than deal with the maintenance needed.

Perhaps our hearts have become hard or cynical through rejection, disappointment or abuse. Barriers have grown up which have suffocated the life out. We've gone grey.

Maybe it's a dream, or a relationship, or a skill that we've paved over to make way for something else, but in the process we've lost some of the life associated with it.

I don't know what it is for you. Maybe you don't have any grey areas. Whatever it is, there's always opportunity to sow new seed or to apply some feed. It doesn't take much to green the grey.
Ironically I noticed my first grey hair the other day, which came as quite a shock. Although the fact that I've made it to my late 30s without noticing any is quite an achievement in my opinion. Now I have noticed quite a few more!

The good news it, grey isn’t the end. Life begins! And like the greening of our grey infrastructure, there's plenty of green, plenty of life that can be added. So don't pave over you garden, literally or metaphorically! Sow some fresh seed and feed your existing green shoots. It's time to green the grey!

"Sow some fresh seed and feed your existing green shoots. It's time to green the grey!"

*************

Thanks for taking the time to read Greening the Grey. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

Don't forget my new book Sight Lines: Clearer Vision, Closer Dreams is now available to download from Amazon, along with my previous book Life Space: Give Your Dreams Room To Grow.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com, and please sign up to my mailing list.


My Random Musings
Cuddle Fairy

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Door keepers and cat flaps

Are you miaowing by the door?
One of our cats seems to have forgotten how to use a cat flap. Actually this isn’t quite true. She’s perfectly able to use a cat flap. She just doesn’t want to use our new one. Let me tell you the story to explain how this came about.
"One of our cats seems to have forgotten how to use a cat flap."
Once upon a time we moved house. This house had no catflaps, but it needed a new back door anyway so we made sure a cat flap was installed in the new door. And it was good. And our cats used the catflap to go outside. Actually there was a slight problem in that other neighbourhood cats occasionally also used the cat flap to invade our house - marking their new territory (our kitchen) as they went along. This was not so good, but I digress.

One day we decided to have an extension built, meaning that the back door cat flap would no longer lead outside but instead into a conservatory. The conservatory had a new, special cat flap. A cat flap just like the old cat flap, except it would only unlock for cats whose microchip number was programmed in. This was to stop unwelcome cats coming in. And it was good. And it opened and closed for our cats, and one of our cats took to it fine and was happy going in and out.
"She'd rather meow by the new back door waiting to be let out."
But Flo, our older cat, won't/can't use it. We've pushed her through it from both directions, so she knows she can use it. But no. She'd rather meow by the new back door waiting to be let out. Frankly this is a little tiresome, but it's her loss - she doesn't get to go outside to chase birds or sit in the sun as much as she wants to.

You may be wondering why I'm sharing such a mundane story. You may not even like cats. But the reason is this - we, too, can have a 'doorkeeper' mentality when it comes to our lives, especially when it comes to out gifts, talents and dreams. We can be waiting for someone to 'make' us - to open the door to stardom, fame, a record deal, a publishing deal - whatever it is. A doorkeeper mentality places the responsibility of opening the door to success on someone else.
"We can have a 'doorkeeper' mentality when it comes to our lives."
That's a big door... look for a smaller one
Chris Anderson talks into this in his book The Long Tail. He talks about hits and misses. We all want to be a hit right? But hits are rare, and certainly in the 20th century the music industry (as an example) did largely operate on this doorkeeper approach to success.

Record executives were the gatekeepers, due to the cost and difficulty of recording, publicising and distributing music at the time. The handle was too high for 'normal' people to open the door themselves. Ditto publishing and many other industries.

But times have changed, meaning that this model is less relevant. Thanks to technology and the internet, the tools for producing and distributing your own music, writing, art, brand, message - whatever it is - are within reach. At the click of a button you have access to an audience across the world.

What does this mean for you and me? Well in the first instance, we need to take responsibility. If we want to enter the brave new world, explore new territory in our life, it's no use sitting miaowing at the door waiting for someone else to make it happen. We'll be waiting a long time. Instead, we need to look for the cat flap - a door we can open ourselves to get out and enjoy the fresh air of our dreams. The size of the door isn't important, what's important is the space it enables you to get to.
"Stop miaowing at big doors and look for the little doors instead"
Are there doors you’re waiting by that you can’t open by yourself? There is another way. Pick a smaller opening and use that – perhaps that's about going niche, finding a place in what Chris Anderson calls the Long Tail. Success isn't all about being a hit. So let's take a lesson from our cats. Stop miaowing at big doors and look for the little doors instead - you are more in control of where you go than you may realise!



*************

Thanks for taking the time to read Door Keepers and Cat Flaps. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

Don't forget my new book Sight Lines: Clearer Vision, Closer Dreams is now available to download from Amazon, along with my previous book Life Space: Give Your Dreams Room To Grow.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com, and please sign up to my mailing list.



Cuddle Fairy

Monday, May 23, 2016

Potting Shed Podcast Season 2: Episode 20

Have you ever been impatient for seeds to grow in your life? In this episode I'm talking about our tendency to force outcomes, and how we need to be patient instead.

Books referenced include the Frog & Toad stories by Arnold Lobel, and Rob Bell's How To Be Here.

Don't forget my latest book Sight Lines: Clearer Vision, Closer Dreams is available to download from Amazon.

If you're not subscribed to The Potting Shed Podcast via iTunes, Stitcher or any other means then feel free to listen directly below!

If you'd be willing to leave a review of the show the links are here for iTunes and here for the UK Podcast Directory.

To listen to the show via stitcher the link is here.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Going off-road...

It's time to get off road!
The main way I stay fit (ish) these days is running. I’ve incorporated it into my daily commute, but I also love to head out off-road and just run.
"Personally I’ve never enjoyed running on a treadmill"
It’s a great way to clear my head, give my brain some space to let ideas percolate, and be connected with the natural environment.

I used to do more running than I do now, and it’s a habit I want to get back into. Personally I’ve never enjoyed running on a treadmill in a gym, although I can understand why many people do. I much prefer feeling the wind in my face, listening to the sounds of nature and getting muddy.

Above anything else it's the sense of unplugging that I appreciate the most. Running from screen time, alerts, social media updates and the general distraction and white noise of 21st century life. Time on my own, away from traffic in its many forms is good for my soul.
"Above anything else it's the sense of unplugging that I appreciate the most."
Get off the treadmill!
On the physical side, it’s well documented that off-road running has many benefits over treadmill running. Fresh air aside, the different surfaces and uneven levels cause you to vary your stride pattern and generally take shorter steps – this puts less strain on your knees but also is good for your balance as you work different muscles.

Overall your technique will improve as you strengthen your ankles and have a better core workout. You're also likely to encounter more challenge in the form of uphills than the level treadmill, so it's likely to be a better aerobic workout too.

Treadmills often provide too much cushioning, causing you to overstride – conversely running on hard surfaces such as concrete and tarmac can cause more impact stress.

Trail running seems to strike a good balance in terms of resistance without undue stress - you're likely to get fewer injuries.

Variation is a good thing, something that treadmills don't provide! So taking yourself off road is a good way to avoid monotony.
“Adventure may hurt you, monotony will kill you”
While I was Googling the benefits of trail running, to help with ideas for this post I came across this blog, with it's great tag line “Adventure may hurt you, monotony will kill you”. That really struck me. Isn't it true that so often in life we look on the adventurous path as the one with the most risk, when perhaps the monotonous "safe" path is the one that's silently killing us?

The landscape through which I love to run...
Perhaps in your life you feel a little like you’re on a treadmill, in which case my question this week is how can you take that area of your life off-road?

It might not be a big thing, like handing in your notice, but it could be changing the environment in which you go through your regular routines.

Is there someplace different you can go to inject some fresh air into your art, creativity or regular routine?

Do you need to do something different with your technique perhaps? Work some different muscles, take some different strides?

Whilst I maintain that routines, rhythms and habits are good for us, in my own experience it's easy to get stuck in a rut, whether that's blogging, podcasting or anything else. I took my writing off-road earlier this year when I took the step to pause my weekly blogging habit to focus on finishing my latest book.
"How can you take your life off-road?"
Likewise with my podcasting at the beginning of the year I switched to finite seasons rather than just doing weekly or bi-weekly shows infinitely. In both cases I felt my technique and motivation improved straight away, and it was good to do something different. In fact it was pretty liberating. In the same way, when I used to work in an office in the New Forest it was liberating to don my running gear, slip on my trainers and go for a lunchtime run. I was always more productive in the afternoons when I'd been running at lunch.

So taking this post off-road, to finish I want to share a piece of prose I wrote way back in 2009 in an earlier incarnation of Musings for the Potting Shed. This is the account of one of my favourite runs from when I used to live in Southampton. Enjoy!


Wake up - it's dry but overcast. 
Perfect for running. 
Have a banana and a cup of tea while I wake up.
Kit on, slip into my trainers (elastic laces for triathlon), put on my watch. 
Out of the front door, right and downhill to the bottom of the road - remember to start the stopwatch. 
Past the bus stops and the row of three shops on my left, then turn left, over Tanners Brook and up the steep hill to the General Hospital. 
Pass the Hospital on my right, uphill all the way, then across the traffic lights and past house after house on my left. 
Southampton Municipal Golf Course is on my right, through the trees, but I press on, still uphill, the tarmac giving way to gravel then sandy paths as I enter Lordswood
It's cool and shaded amongst the trees and rhododendrons, the air is moist. 
Dodging puddles it's uphill all the way to the motorway bridge, I know I'm close when I can hear the barking from the kennels. 
Left before the bridge instead of straight over, and past the giant mansions before sweet downhill on the wide sandy paths, flanked by row upon row of pine to each side. 
Nodded hellos to early morning dog walkers, jumping puddles, adrenalin pumping, endorphins bringing a smile to my face. 
Sharp right at Tanners Brook then pounding along beside the brook, full of yesterdays rain, right again at the first footbridge then left over the second footbridge and up the steep gradient to the main road. 
Through the underpass, footsteps echoing, then along alleyways between the houses. 
Into a small wood until bursting into bright sunlight on the other side, warm on my face and shoulders. 
Right, nice and flat along the road, past two roundabouts then left and downhill, lifting up the pace back to the front gate. 
Five miles and brilliant.


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Thanks for taking the time to read Going Off-Road. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

Don't forget my new book Sight Lines: Clearer Vision, Closer Dreams is now available to download from Amazon, along with my previous book Life Space: Give Your Dreams Room To Grow.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com, and please sign up to my mailing list.


My Random Musings
Cuddle Fairy

Monday, May 16, 2016

Potting Shed Podcast: Season 2, Episode 19

In this episode I'm talking about how we can get the energy flowing again after blowing a creative fuse.

Don't forget my new book Sight Lines: Clearer Vision, Closer Dreams is now available to download from Amazon!

If you're not subscribed to The Potting Shed Podcast via iTunes, Stitcher or any other means then feel free to listen directly below!

If you'd be willing to leave a review of the show the links are here for iTunes and here for the UK Podcast Directory.

To listen to the show via stitcher the link is here.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Embracing weird.

Keep Austin Weird!
It's a common theme in the news. Local shops forced to close down due to an influx of national chain stores taking over the high street. Go to most major cities, even many smaller towns and you'll find that the same brands and names predominate. It seems almost Darwinian, survival of the fittest.

And yet there are places where variety is prized over homogeneity. Market towns and craft districts where individual retailers and artisans have opened up shop and where there's not a national chain in sight. Hotbeds of diversity, where the bottom line tends towards relationship and quality rather than quantity and profit. There's a vibrancy you don't find in a mall.
"There are places where variety is prized over homogeneity"
In Austin, Texas, a movement sprung up to resist the tide of commercialisation and homogenisation of the city. At its heart was the slogan "Keep Austin Weird", which began to appear on bumper stickers, on tee shirts and around the city. The point was about the city embracing its uniqueness rather than becoming a clone of many other major cities. It was about celebrating difference and diversity rather than enforced conformity.

The truth is that we're all a bit weird aren't we? We might try to cover it up to fit in to socially accepted norms, but the danger of covering up or holding back is that we can end up trying to be something we're not. Like a cloned high street we can surrender parts of our identity.
"The truth is that we're all a bit weird aren't we?"
We're all a bit weird aren't we?
It's our quirkiness that makes us stand out, that often attracts people to us. When I interviewed Alex Pellew and Martin Amor for The Potting Shed Podcast they touched on this very thing, especially with regard to entrepreneurship. Customers value passion and people, and not everyone wants to engage with big business.

Their point was that you don't have to become something you're not - like an aggressive contestant on The Apprentice - to create something great. So embrace who you are and be true to that.

The other day I asked for suggestions on social media for where I could locally get some balsa wood for a craft project I was doing with my daughter (if you really want to know, we were making a big Blue Peter badge, and the balsa wood was for making the ship logo).

I was pointed in the direction of a local specialist model train shop. I'd never been before but one Saturday afternoon in the torrential rain my son, father-in-law and I took a trip there. The shop was amazing! It felt like a converted house - it's certainly the same size, and in the front room were shelves and displays stocked with amazing model trains, scenery, track and accessories. My four year old took great delight in counting the trains (until he lost count).

Through the back the shelves were rammed full of magazines and books on the subject. I was led upstairs where there were further stockpiles of accessories and raw materials - including the balsa wood I needed. Even on a rainy Saturday afternoon, although we were the only ones in the shop, their phone kept ringing. Plenty of people are passionate about model trains.
"I think weird is the new normal."
I'm not into model trains, but I admire the passion of the people running that shop - it feels like they're living the dream! Their success comes from occupying and embracing a very specific niche.

Embrace your passion - even model trains!
If we want to live the life we're meant to, we need to keep weird. In fact, I think weird is the new normal.

It's often the weird bits that we're most passionate about - or to put it another way it's the things we're most passionate about which can be seen as weird.

But weird is not something to be afraid of - difference is not scary, it's uplifting! I know it's true for me that I'm most energised when I'm doing or talking about something I deeply believe in.

So follow your passion, embrace your weirdness!  That's where the energy is  - in fact it struck me that when you move energy (e) in how you're wired you end up weird. I'm not suggesting you turn up to work tomorrow dressed as a Roman soldier or Stormtrooper. BUT even in the small things you can add your own twist, insert your passion, and do it your own way.

Stay weird folks! Or, as Oscar Wilde said "Be yourself - everyone else is taken."
"Weird is not something to be afraid of - difference is not scary, it's uplifting!"

*************

Thanks for taking the time to read Embracing Weird. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes or Stitcher for expanded musings and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

Don't forget my new book Sight Lines: Clearer Vision, Closer Dreams is now available to download from Amazon, along with my previous book Life Space: Give Your Dreams Room To Grow.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at stricklandmusings@gmail.com, and please sign up to my mailing list.




My Random Musings

My Random Musings