Friday, October 31, 2014

Time travel

Where would you go if you could travel through time? Would you go backward or forward, and how far? Perhaps you'd be an observer at a famous moment in history, or maybe stop yourself making a specific mistake. Maybe you'd travel to the future to pick up next week's winning lottery numbers or horse racing results?
"Where would you go if you could travel through time?"
If you're a fan of the 1980s Back To The Future films, you'll know that in the second film Marty and Doc travel forward to 2015! I've seen screenshots from the film doing the rounds on social media recently with what they imagined we'd all be wearing: lots of silver, and global hyper-colour type baseball caps. Maybe the futuristic fashion they imagined was a little off the mark, but not everything imagined in the film is unrealistic - recent news shows that hoverboards are closer than we think.
Chasing after a light beam?

Other science fiction futures have come and gone. Arthur C Clarke's future vision in the award winning film 2001 is an obvious one. We may not have had a manned mission to Jupiter yet, as he imagined we would have done by 2001, but many of the details in the various futures he imagined in his writing have come to pass - electronic newspapers for example, and GPS. He was called by some "The Prophet of the Space Age". 

I don't mind confessing that I'm a fan of science fiction. Although I've not read so much in recent years,  I enjoy imagining different futures - whether aeons into the future or closer to home. Actually I also enjoy historical novels and fantasy too, so I'm a bit of a time traveller when it comes to fiction (although don't mention The Time Traveller's Wife - I have never cried so much at the end of a book - gosh). 

One of my top five themes from the Strengths Finder assessment is "Futuristic" - I think this explains my attraction to sci-fi, as it appeals to that futuristic streak in me: "People strong in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be. They inspire others with their visions of the future".

What vision or future do you imagine for yourself? 

It can be hard to think and dream ahead when we get so wrapped up with the demands of the "now". With young kids, broken nights' sleep and a demanding day job I've sometimes found the days and weeks begin to blur and those yearly landmarks of holidays, birthdays and seasons seem to come around quicker and quicker. 

How can we carve out time to look ahead and not just dream a future, but take actions to step into it? Can we imagine ourselves into our dreams?

"What vision or future do you imagine for yourself?"
Watching a Brian Cox documentary about the Universe this week it struck me that whilst astrophysics is undoubtedly a complex and intricate science, some of the greatest theories and breakthroughs came from an almost childlike imagination - stories of Einstein imaging chasing after a beam of light for example. 

I wonder if we can overcomplicate the futures we imagine for ourselves and somehow keep them out of reach. Instead would it be better to be more childlike and simple in some of our dreams, to bring them closer to our "now"?

This isn't to say that we shouldn't dream big or imagine fantastic futures, but that without action to propel us in that direction - without a vector - they may remain unreal, like the clothes imagined in 2015 by Back to the Future. 

Maybe we should think of our dreams like hoverboards - a future vision which became a self fulfilling prophecy. A dream which inspired someone to turn into reality. The thing about vectors, in a mathematical sense, is that they have both size and direction - they're moving. 

It's all very well to have a big dream, but without a direction towards it then it's not going to go anywhere. Conversely, in the blur of the daily grind we can have too much movement and not enough vision. When this happens we're in danger of ending up somewhere we don't want to be. Trapped by the busyness of the everyday. As Socrates said "Beware the barrenness of a busy life"

From a perspective of faith, it's important that we catch onto the vision for our life that God has - usually a much broader, fulfilling and more exciting vision than our own. To do this takes time to listen to God but a good starting point is the things we're gifted with and passionate about.

Setting our vector in the direction God sets may require bravery, but it will ultimately lead to a richer and deeper place. It's important to pray round the dreams and gifts God gives you, and I'd highly recommend Mark Batterson's The Circle Maker on this topic.
"Maybe we should think of our dreams like hoverboards.."
What are the hoverboards in your life that you're imagining in the future? And on what vector are you going to travel through time to get there? We may not have time machines (yet), but we can dream, pray and take steps towards our future vision. For some practical thoughts about carving out time to create a future you don't want to escape from, check out these thoughts from Jonathan Milligan.

It may not work out exactly as we expect, but better to stay child-like and enjoy the journey, than travel at warp speed through the blur of the "now" and fill our future with regrets. 

What are you dreaming of in the future?

Thanks for taking the time to read Time Travel. 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). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

The Dad Network
My Random Musings

An ode to pumpkin beer..

'Would you like some pigeon muck?' he asked,
Four stone monster gourds!

As I planted pumpkins on our plot.
'It'll help 'em grow' he added,
So I duly took the lot.

Black Country pigeon poo,
Fragrant and matured,
Turned our pumpkins into giants!
Four stone monster gourds!

The recipe for pumpkin beer
Needed just a meagre kilo.
But what a kilo and what a brew!
And all from bags of pigeon poo!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Stop working - start playing

Morning jigsaws
My blog buddies and I are writing posts this week on "What children want". Funnily enough, when I
saw the title, the answer I got from my subconscious without hesitation was "to play".

What children want is to play.

There's plenty of evidence out there that playing is brilliant for our children's development. Problem solving, critical thinking, imagination, self expression - these are all skills our children develop through play. There's a great article on Imaginative Play here which is worth a read. And it's not just the fluffy, creative side that's stimulated by play (as hugely important as this is). Beau Lotto's TED talk on science as play is another great example of the importance of playful curiosity.

"What children want is to play."

The importance of play and allowing our kids to be creative and playful in all of their learning is something that we've been increasingly aware of in our family as we considered and then committed to home education over the last year. We want our kids to stay in love with learning, to stay curious and to keep exploring the amazing and diverse world we inhabit. Learning together as a family has been so enriching and fun so far, and long may it continue.

I've wondered to myself this week - when is it that we get all serious about life? Many of us lose that sense of playfulness somewhere along the way to adulthood. Maybe it's the strain of exams, or the pressure of a finding and keeping a job to support our family.. whatever it is, at some point we seem to lose that natural sense of "play" and settle for the daily grind.

This may not be something we choose to do - sometimes life's circumstances force us to grow up too soon. When I spent time in South Africa recently with Ten Thousand Homes, many of the kids the charity spent time with had lost their parents to HIV Aids and had been forced to look after their younger siblings in child-headed households. We gave these kids a "day of royalty" on the TTH base where they could step outside of their responsibilities for a few hours and just play and have fun. It was a moving, tiring and memorable day.

When do we consign our dreams and passions to the trash can and start being all "grown up"? What dreams have you put down as too childish? Are there areas in your life that have got too serious? Maybe life's circumstances knocked the fun and playfulness out of your life.

An area where I got far too serious for far too long was in my songwriting. As a teenager and then at University I tried to write deep, meaningful and world changing songs, but if I'm honest most of the time I'd get halfway through one, beat myself up for it not being perfect and crumple the paper tearfully into the bin (sometimes literally).

"..are there areas in your life that have got too serious?"

After completing my serious Engineering degree I spent six months travelling with my guitar in South Africa, America and Canada, and wrote an epic amount of songs - somehow recovering my sense of playfulness. I had nothing to lose, plenty of time to fill, and to my surprise produced some really good tunes! This playful and productive period culminated in my first album "Songs for the Kitchen" (copies available on request, in fact I reprised my favourite song from the album as recently as last weekend at an event I played at).

Funnily enough, upon returning from my round the world trip and starting "real" work, my songwriting dried up, and in the next decade I only produced about half a dozen songs. I'd gotten far too serious.

One day last year I stumbled across a book in Waterstones called The Frustrated Songwriter's Handbook. The book practically jumped off it's shelf and hit me in the face (I think this was a God-moment).  Guess what the book encourages? Yes you guessed it - playfulness in songwriting as a means to break out from self-imposed rules, shackles and general writers' block.

Earlier this year, while my beautiful family were away visiting relatives, I spent an "immersion" day songwriting.
Immersion songwriting

No expectations.
No seriousness.
Just fun - and ideally 20 songs.

I jammed and created and recorded from 7am to 7pm, on the piano, guitar, mandolin and banjo. I just played and played, ending up with 16 quirky and.. dare I say it.. great songs!

More output than the entire last 13 years put together, and whilst some were genuinely bonkers (a banjo based sea shanty, a mandolin-powered ode to our allotment), others were surprising beautiful and inspired - songs to treasure for each of my kids and for my wife.

I was staggered at what could happen when I stopped taking myself so seriously and just let myself play.

So what do you need to stop working so hard at this week? Where do you need to be more playful?

Let your hair down, take off your self imposed shackles.

Stop working.

Start playing.

"I was staggered at what could happen when I stopped taking myself so seriously and just let myself play."

Thanks for taking the time to read Stop Working - Start Playing. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

The Dad Network
My Random Musings

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Blown into the day

Seagulls swirling patterns in the grey-cloud dawn.

A silhouetted crow caws welcome from a factory wall,
then spreads wings to invisible air,
lifting off for higher towers. 

Rain and leaves in the blustery sky.
The tail of Hurricane Gonzalo weakly wagging
as night turns to day.

Diesel trains purr their patient routes,
commuters pour over morning news,

And I drip dry on the station platform. 
Blown into another day.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Into the Wild..

In this post I'm asking whether our lives are too tame, are there things in our own worlds that we can "re-wild" or processes we need to stop restricting to help us live a richer and more diverse existence.

The Call of the Wild

The call of the wild..
One of my favourite literary genres is the travel book. Our bookshelves are full of them, and having filled our bookshelves up years ago I now get my fix of travel books from the library instead.

I particularly like adventure-travel books, where people run around the world, row the Atlantic, cycle home from Siberia etc. Suffice to say I am also a big fan of these kinds of documentaries, like the Long Way Round.

As I've been reading Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley" this week on the train, it's set me thinking about wanderlust. And as I've travelled from home to work, from the office to other offices for meetings, I've been wondering if I like reading these kinds of books because they take me out of the "tameness" of ordinary existence.

When you're in the midst of the ordinary, there's something exciting about untamed, unrestrained wildness. Jack London was right - I think there really is a "Call of the Wild" - and is our appetite for travel books, nature documentaries and the like a reaction to the restraints we experience in our 21st century urban western lives?

" the midst of the ordinary, there's something exciting about untamed, unrestrained wildness.."


It's hard to find true wilderness these days
There are few "true" wildernesses around these days. Certainly in the UK it's hard to experience remoteness. This was something Robert MacFarlane explored in his excellent book The Wild Places, and from my own reading of it, I recall he came away with a slightly altered perspective on wildness, appreciating more the pockets of wild he could find much closer to home.

More recently George Monbiot has been exploring the whole "rewilding" movement - allowing natural processes to resume in parts of the country that have, for instance, been excessively grazed. I'd really recommend his book Feral which is a well researched and well reasoned book about not just the more "official" rewilding efforts around the world, but also George's own personal efforts to rewild his own life.

One of the many things that struck me from his book was that a signature feature of wildness is diversity - the need that ecosystems have for keystone species and trophic cascades. Rather than me feebly trying to explain what this means why not instead watch this beautiful and hopeful 5 minute film about the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and the (positive) impact that cascaded down the entire ecosystem as a result.

I'm challenged by the need to think bigger about some of our conservation priorities.

Monoculture vs Diversity

We're blessed that the road we live on is adjacent to farmland. Whilst doing the washing up I can look out of our kitchen window and observe the crops growing in the field, see the tractor diligently ploughing or sowing or spraying. I see murders (collective noun!) of charcoal grey crows picking out grubs from the freshly churned soil after the plough, or just occupying the fields in their brooding, cawing way. The fields raise a single crop per year, expanses of monoculture - tamed and restrained by the hard work of the farmer.
"..a signature feature of wildness is diversity.."
But, I'm pleased to say, in the spaces between the fields are thriving and diverse hedgerows. Rich in blackberries, birds, sloes, nettles, elderberries, even raspberries if you know where to look! A small copse has fought it's way to life between field boundaries, and is abounding in young oaks. These days I often walk the margins of the fields with our Guide Dog puppy, and I appreciate the wild edges right on our doorstep. There is fruit to be found in wild places.

Too much monoculture in our lives?
Developing this metaphor, perhaps there are parts of our own lives that are overly cultivated, unnecessarily tame. Perhaps we need a monoculture in parts of our life, a regular cash crop to pay the bills. But equally, maybe there are parts of our lives which we need to un-tame.. to re-wild.. our dreams and passions, our time, our resources, our energy.

One key point about the rewilding movement in our land and seas is that it’s about processes not outcome. It's not about creating particular ecosystems but allowing ecosystems to develop in the ways they need to. I like this aspect, it's a different slant on the conservation movement. In our lives, perhaps there are spaces in-between our regular structures where we can introduce some diversity, allow things to be a bit messy but potentially richer - less tame.. more wild.

A point I've raised before that life is more about journeys then destinations - process is often more important than outcome.

A step into the wild

Maybe this week it's time to set some processes to work again in your own ecosystem. I don't know what the metaphorical equivalent of releasing wolves is! (If you can think of a good example, let me know in the comments below). Either way, I want to challenge you this week to un-tame, un-restrain and re-wild.. let's take a journey into the wild.

"..I want to challenge you this week to un-tame, un-restrain and re-wild.."


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

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.
The Dad Network
My Random Musings

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


A happy blend of sun and rain
Has caused our plants to blossom.
None more so than our rhubarb patch
Which leaves us with a problem:

Our sticks are over two feet long!
At least two inches wide!
But what to do will all these stalks,
When more crumbles makes you cry?

So marmalade it is. Or Jam.
I never know the difference?
(Although I’ve heard it’s something
About adding extra citrus).

In the cauldron, on the hob,
Stewing the hours away.
Until “that point” when it’s done,
And we’ve made “rhubarbalade”!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Life Under The Magnifying Glass

I mentioned the other week that I'd recently read a great book by Daniel Goleman called Focus, which was all about how our brains direct our attention. Funnily enough, this week my blog buddies set the title "Focus is not something you find but something your create" (Jeff Goins).

So initially I thought I'd write on some of the brain-stuff surrounding focus.. but then (ironically) my mind went off on a tangent and I ended up somewhere completely different! This is something I enjoy about writing blog posts!

Finding caterpillars
My kids love finding bugs and creepy crawly things outside. When we're on our allotment my daughter is usually on a mission to find as many worms and ladybirds as she can find. In our back garden they are always collecting caterpillars, woodlice, and other small creatures. Many of these find their way into a special collection pot with a magnifying glass lid. We all enjoy getting a closer look at these creatures through the lid, counting legs and identifying mandibles and other features. They come into crisper focus when viewed in this way.

Something my kids have not yet learnt to do (although we should try it soon) is harness the focusing power of a magnifying glass to start a fire, which is the picture that came to mind when thinking of the Jeff Goins quote above: "Focus is.. something you create".

The key thing about starting a fire in this way isn't necessarily the size of the magnifying glass, but about position and patience. If you orient it appropriately to the sun, and if you're patient at sustaining it's focus, then the focussed sunlight heats up the locus point enough to cause ignition. Ideally it's paper or twigs that are being burnt and not small insects!

My dad's amazing sundial.. 
A few years ago my dad made me a sundial (I've mentioned before how he inspires me to make things). Since this was my dad we're talking about, this was no ordinary sundial. For a start he made the base out of slate, into which he engraved not only the numbers around the dial but the co-ordinates of our house (at the time in Southampton), since the gnomon (a favourite word of mine, and basically the sticky-uppy bit of a sundial) was calibrated for that exact location.

Here is another example of the importance of correct positioning - for a sundial to be accurate, the angle of the gnomon needs to vary depending on latitude.. so to use the sundial in the West Midlands we need to tilt the base accordingly to compensate for our change in latitude! I love the level of thoughtfulness my dad exhibits in the amazing things he makes.

As regular readers will know, recurring themes for me include thinking big and being the best expression of who you are. For both the sundial and the magnifying glass, it's not about how big or small they are, the key point is about positioning. So too in our lives, it's not necessarily how gifted or talented we may or may not be, it's about how we position ourselves to use those gifts and talents to the best effect. When we're doing what we're made by God to do we'll be happier in ourselves and contributing best to the world around us.

Has your focus diffused?
But.. it's a tension we face that what puts food on the table and pays the bills may not be something we feel is so life-giving, or our life calling. I don't dispute this, and whilst I encourage all of us to dream big and take steps towards that dream, I also recognise that this is often an incremental process, and the pressures of providing for family can override rash or drastic action.

On this note, I read a really helpful LinkedIn article by Chester Elton the other week on job-sculpting. The essential premise was that "dream jobs" are rare, but by making small changes to your current situation you can make it more satisfying. I'd encourage you to read the article, but the main questions it asked were: What can I add/alter/delegate?

Not giant questions, but a helpful framework to help you adjust your position - like the magnifying glass - to better effect. Making small changes can make a big difference - as Sir Clive Woodward would say "Doing 100 things 1% better" to make a 100% change.

For me, 1% changes are manageable. In my work, one thing I've been trying to add over the last year is more writing in different forms. I've been able to delegate some technical aspects to make space for this. I'm enjoying my job more as a result.

"So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God." (Ecclesiastes 2:24)

Need to refocus your magnifying glass?
It can be hard sometimes to find satisfaction in our work, in our ordinary day to day existence. Maybe you're waiting for that dream job, dream opportunity to come along. But waiting is hard isn't it? And how you wait can be as important as whatever it is you're waiting for. My friend Dan Bennett spoke on this subject recently, his talk is well worth a listen.

Has the sun moved since you last focussed your magnifying glass? Or maybe your life is in a different place now than when you set up your sundial. Either way, to create (or re-create) focus, it might be time to assess your position again - are there small things to add, alter or delegate?

I'd love to hear from you - if this post has been helpful, why not share some things you plan to add, alter or delegate in the comments box below?


Thanks for taking the time to read Life Under the Magnifying Glass. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). 

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.

The Dad Network
My Random Musings

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Interview with Theo Amer, Highline Aerial Media

Ok, for my interview this week I am here with Theo Amer, who is part of Highline Aerial Media and has graciously decided to be interviewed for The Potting Shed. So, Theo, would you mind briefly introducing yourself and what your company does please?

So I'm Theo, based in Southampton, and our company Highline Aerial Media provides aerial media in the form of photography, video, film, cinematography and aerial survey using a drone, also known as a multi-rotor helicopter in order to capture the images from the air.

Sounds pretty cool, and I know that some of your stuff's been featured by the BBC and you've been in the national press this week. How did you end up getting involved with aerial media?

HAM's multi-rotor helicopter. Image courtesy of Highline Aerial Media
It was an interesting journey actually. Probably it was about 18 months ago we were inspired by the work of a guy called Johnny Beavers over in the States who had been using a drone to capture some incredible footage, and it was really early days for the industry.

He happened to be the brother-in-law of a friend, so I was shown his stuff via the friend and found myself saying "this is incredible!" the kind of footage this guy's got, the kind of angles - there was nothing else out there creating this kind of footage.

We looked around to see what was going on in the UK - there was very little going on and what was just wasn't of the kind of quality that Johnny was doing over in the States. I was chatting with a friend of mine who is a cinematographer - I'm a professional pilot - and combining the two skills of aviation and cinematography we thought "Let's see what we can do here in the UK" having had the inspiration from Johnny in the States to do something to a similar standard over here.

We spent some time looking at the feasibility, looking at the options and then got in touch with Johnny, and with his help we got ourselves set up over here in the UK, and that's how it got started really, with the aim just to combine our skills to put something together and make it work.

That's really interesting. You said you trained as a pilot, do you need to use your flying skills for flying it or could anybody do that? Does it add an extra dimension to it for you?

Chatting via FaceTime
I think ultimately anyone with enough practice could fly it, although obviously there's an element of aptitude to be able to fly it reasonably well! Having a flying background and having the understanding, aptitude and experience helps, but it's not that you would need to have trained as a pilot in order to fly it - you can pick one of these things up and with some time and some practice you could fly it.

Where my pilot training's really helped has been around the regulatory side of it. The difference between the States and the UK is that in the UK it's been highly regulated since 2010, whereas in the States they've literally in the last two weeks brought in some regulations.

What that means is that it's a requirement to get certified by the Civil Aviation Authority in order to be able to operate these drones commercially. So we had to do that which meant me taking ground exams, doing actual flight tests with the helicopter, and putting together a big operations manual.

For that side of things I've found my aviation experience is invaluable. Having worked as a flying instructor training other people to fly then having to get qualified myself with all the exams that are required over here, that was all very straightforward. Also when it comes to actually operating, having an understanding of airspace, where you can fly where you can't fly, working with the CAA - it's been really helpful as we've developed and set up as a business.

Do you think your business and what you set out to do has that turned out how you expected? Or have you had to be quite versatile in terms of what you've ended up doing and your approach to it?

Yeah I think we've had to be reasonably versatile in that its such a new industry over here - some people are doing it quite well, some people are doing it quite badly, some people are doing it blatantly illegally! A lot of people don't really have an understanding of how it works, what you can do and can't do.

So in terms of working with clients and customers we've had to work in a variety of environments that perhaps we didn't perhaps initially expect we'd need to work in, with challenges coming with that. Also with the technology itself, it's fairly "early days" technology, so some of it isn't as robust as you'd like it to be.

So there's been an element of having to really get quite technical - sometimes at key moments when you've got a piece of equipment that isn't doing exactly what it's supposed to do and having to sort it out - being versatile in effecting a repair or trying to sort out some electronics. Especially when you're on a job and you've got that time pressure of needing to get the helicopter flying whilst some of the technology,  because it's fairly cutting edge technology, is not responding quite how it's supposed to.. we've needed a fair bit of flexibility every time we work!
" that point I said goodbye to the airline industry.."
And also just in terms of planning what's possible. Because the regulations in the UK are actually quite tight, there are quite a few environments where you have to work very hard to be able to fly within the regulations. A lot of places it's possible but it means you've got to be quite adaptable. We plan before we fly, using things like Google Earth, satellite imagery, to get a feel where we could fly, how we could fly, what lines we could fly.

But often when you get to the site on the day a few things have changed so you've got to be able to adapt quickly and make sure that you are still flying legally  - that ultimately you are within those regulations but getting the great shots you're there for. You want to work within the regulations absolutely rightly, but also you want to be able to get a great "wow" image. So working out how you can do that within the set boundaries needs quite a bit of creativity.

When you trained as a pilot Theo, did you think you would end up doing this kind of thing? Did you have different plans and if so, how do you marry the two things up?

Image courtesy of Highline Aerial Media
Yeah, I mean it's been an interesting journey for me with the flying and the aviation side of things. Having been a private pilot for quite a number of years I trained as a commercial pilot, just before the recession hit.

At the time I went into my training there was a world shortage of pilots, everyone was desperate for pilots. In fact before I came out of my training I'd already had three job offers as a flying instructor before I'd even done that element of my training!

By the time I came out the other side of my training the recession had hit. The airlines were some of the first to be hit really severely, and laid a load of people off. Certainly in the western world there was suddenly a surplus of pilots and my employment prospects just changed overnight. I got into Flybe's books just after my training, but the way it works with an airline is that you join a holding pool waiting for actual vacancies in the aircraft to come up.

I thought that would be a few months before I got on board and did the Flybe element of my training - but it was three and half years before I had a call from them with a position available. By that time our life circumstances had changed quite considerably and some of our ability to just up and move to the other side of the country or even offshore to some of the places the jobs were offered  - Isle of Man, the Channel Islands - it just wasn't possible for us in the same way.

So at that point I said goodbye to the airline industry, recognising that times had changed and our life was in a very different place. So yeah, I find myself in a very different place now to where I'd have imagined myself five or ten years ago. So it's quite a change, quite a different place. I certainly didn't imagine myself ending up flying drones having gone through all my flying training!

How have you dealt with that? Has that been a tough thing to deal with, or have you been embracing positive opportunities instead  - or a mixture of both?

Theo piloting the drone (image courtesy Highline Aerial Media)
It's definitely been a mixture of both. In the early days there was a huge amount of frustration, sitting there in the Flybe holding pool, every month hoping that the job was going to start, that a job was going to come up.

In the meantime I was working as a flying instructor which was fantastic. I absolutely loved it. It's a great form of actual hands-on flying and working with people - the actual job itself I really enjoy.

Unfortunately the pay is very unreliable because you only get paid when you fly, and the weather's often bad in the UK. So at that point of providing for your family there was an element of frustration there, married to the fact that you're doing a fantastic job. So there was a lot of frustration for me just wanting to get that job and fly with the airline.

In those three and a half years of waiting, the way life's circumstances changed meant that a few years in I reached a really unsettling place of going "hang on, I'm really wanting to step into this airline job that's not coming through but at the same time I'm not quite sure that's where I'm meant to be at the moment, not quite sure that's where I'm supposed to step". So there was quite a feeling and uncertainty in the midst of that, wondering "what's going on, where should I be stepping and where should I be looking?" Which then came to the point where I was offered the job and had to make the difficult decision of turning it down.

So I made that decision, and it felt like the right thing to do. But I wondered whether I'd regret that decision having done so much training and having had this passion and then turning it down and saying no. I thought that in the weeks and months I might go "what on earth have I done?" but actually I haven't. I've felt peaceful about the decision, feel I made the right decision and actually if anything it has opened up more variety, more opportunity and more creativity.

That's good to hear. So what's the best thing about what you do now?

I think it's the satisfaction you get when you see that first edit and you see the footage. You've filmed on location, but you come away and it normally takes a couple of weeks until you've got the first edit. There's almost that period of anticipation for me - I do the flying so when I'm flying the helicopter I'm not seeing what footage we're getting. And Mikey, who's my business partner, he's the cinematographer he can see what's being filmed on his screen on the ground.
"..if anything it's opened up more variety, more opportunity and more creativity."
So I'm always there in anticipation asking "What are the shots like, how are they looking?" and he'll say "It's looking great, I've got some great stuff". I then have to wait a couple of weeks before I see it, but that moment when you see it all put together  - wow!

Especially when it's been a step up for us - taking things to a new level in what we've been filming. A different environment or a different event maybe. For example a lot of our initial filming was of buildings - stately homes or structures, that kind of stuff. Then we did a job filming professional wakeboarders doing a load of tricks at a wake park - it was a completely different thing we were filming. Suddenly we were doing action sports!

And just to see that for the first time, put together in a good edit with some great music in the background  - it's great, that moment of satisfaction. And then you start all over again with the next project.

What's been the most unexpected thing then about working in aerial media and where you've ended up?

Image courtesy of Highline Aerial Media
I think what's been most unexpected for us is where our early jobs have come from. We imagined we'd ultimately be aiming for the TV media side of things but thought that in the early days we might be filming golf courses and country house hotels, that sort of thing.

But probably from our first three jobs we had some footage on the BBC, which came out really early in our business. We actually got our first pay-check from the Royal Household because we did some aerial survey work on Windsor Castle, which was a fantastic experience just being there and doing that! Then also getting some work with Marks and Spencers early on - it's felt quite exciting where some of our jobs have come from in a very positive sense.

Just being there at Windsor Castle knowing the Queen was in residence and Prince Philip could pop around the corner at any time in his Range Rover and ask what we were doing (we didn't actually meet him!!) but working there with an amazing team on an amazing building, a thousand year old structure was just a real privilege, and we didn't imagine we'd be somewhere like that certainly at that early stage.

That's really exciting. You've ended up in quite a creative industry, doing creative things, you've been creative in how you're using your skills  - you've seen something and you've gone for it. How do you stay inspired?

That's a good question. I think partly it's seeing some of the other stuff out there that other people are doing which is inspiring. Talking about our friend Johnny Beavers over the United States - when we first got in contact with him and he was helping us get set up he was doing some TV stuff, some sporting events  - he's since done a number of Hollywood movies. Recently he was filming on The Incredibles 3, and the trailer for that movie has 9 or 10 of his shots in it.
"..Prince Philip could pop around the corner at any time in his Range Rover.."
Seeing some of that level of stuff done, and some of the other creativity that just keeps coming out as drones are just pushing the envelope of what they can do and where they can film is really inspiring and just pushes us on to want to be doing that sort of thing in the UK.

The challenge are the restrictions in the UK, which mean that whereas there's a whole load of freedom in other countries to film some incredible places, and especially when there are lots of people around some incredible scenes, that's not so straightforward here. So there are challenges within that to push us on to develop that creativity within the boundaries we've got over here.

You've had to deal with disappointment, you've had to change your plans, has your faith played a part in that at all?

Yeah definitely my faith's been a huge part in that. In that journey of transition from where I thought I was going to where I am now just being able to recognise and have faith that I've got a good God who loves me who actually has a plan and purpose for my life. Trying to work out what that plan was in that time of confusion and recognising that within me there was a real peace I received in making the decisions I made. A sense of God guiding and directing me in some of those decisions which I think has led me to step into those decisions with an element of faith.
"..there is something of the adventure of life that is possible when everything doesn't quite work out how you expect it to be."
Some of those decisions which on the surface of it for some people would seem absolutely crazy - having trained as a pilot, had that dream - to then step away from airline flying (I still fly, I still work as a flying instructor from time to time), a lot of people in the aviation industry just couldn't comprehend. So to be able to have a sense of reassurance in terms of my faith, in terms of my relationship with God that it was the right step to take has given me the peace I needed to step and make it. And I feel that for the circumstances I find myself in, for my family, for where I am in life now, what I'm doing, I feel very comfortable that I made the right step and exciting opportunities have come about as a result

That's great. Do you have any advice for people reading this who may be in situations or have had situations where there dreams haven't worked out. What would your advice to them be?

That's hard isn't it? I guess from a point of view of faith, for me, I think there's something absolutely vital in being able to trust God. There were times when to be honest I questioned God in terms of the way things were working out - they weren't working out the way I'd do it if I were God! But the foundational thing is that I believe God is good, I believe that God's got my best interests at heart and so as I stepped in and chose to trust him in the circumstances,  God gave me a new path that's probably been more satisfying, more creative, more exciting and more of an adventure.

I think there is something about the adventure of life that is possible when everything doesn't quite work out how you expect it to be. I heard someone recently talk about adventure, saying that when you imagine adventure it all seems thrilling, exciting and fun, but when you really genuinely walk through adventure there are moments when it's sleepless nights and it's fear and pain. But there's a story that you create and build through that adventure, through those circumstances that's so much bigger than the one when you don't journey through them.

Having that sense of faith and trust as I walk through that has been able to sustain me, and at the moments of questioning and doubt it's kept me going.

That's good advice. From a creative angle, or from any angle, is there anything you might recommend to people reading this interview that might encourage or inspire them to follow their dreams, make tough decisions?

There's that text I see on Land Rovers round here  "One life, live it" - I think it's just the 4x4 community who stick that on their very dirty looking land rovers! But I think there's something of that. There's that sense that we do have one life, that life is very short and we can either spend an awful lot of time trying to make ourselves feel very safe and secure - I'm not sure we ever completely get to that point of safety and security regardless of how safe our career feels or how big our house is or how much income we have.

And I think there's a whole lot more out there in life to be enjoyed! Right through my life I've always followed my dreams, or followed those things that look more interesting, and that has been at the sacrifice of security and good "career". There are moments as I find myself in my late 30s into my 40s that I sometimes wonder what on earth I've done! But most days the reality is that I really enjoy what I do with my life. I get great satisfaction from the things I do, the time I'm able to spend with my family, but also in terms of the stimulation of the work I do. It's always varied, it's very rarely dull, sometimes it's quite nerve-wracking, but it's fulfilling.
"..there's that text I see on Land Rovers round here:
"One life, live it".."
And I think I'd far rather live a life of fulfilment and adventure than simply make myself feel safe and secure. So I would say if opportunities come along do take them, make some wise decisions, don't just jump at every opportunity but do have a look and see if there is any way you could possibly make those things happen. I've always had the philosophy that I'd far rather give something a try and fail than sit on my deathbed with regret after regret of all the things I really wanted to do and never quite gave a go. I think that's far more debilitating than failing and getting up again and giving it another try.

That is absolutely brilliant. Theo it's been an inspirational interview, I'm sure many other people would think so as well. We're really grateful for your time and thanks for sharing your wit and wisdom!

Thanks Luke!

Check out Highline Arial Media's wesbite and cool showreels at:

Friday, October 03, 2014

The pursuit of peace

A few months ago I posted some musings on Peace – if you missed them you can read them here. I talked about whether peace was a destination, and among other things I compared it to carbon atoms!

Do you feel chased by life?
This week, my fellow bloggers have set each other the title “The pursuit of peace”, and as I've reflected on it, what’s caught my attention is the “pursuit” part.

It’s certainly my experience that I often feel pursued - chased by the circumstances and demands of 21st century life. Maybe it’s the relentless need to meet financial targets at work, or the necessity to work long hours to provide for your family, or the 24/7 demands of status updates, photos and “likes” on social media.

Whatever it is, perhaps it’s hard for us to feel in control of our lives enough to be pursuing something ourselves, let alone pursuing peace!

On my train journeys commuting to work, I pass by the many canals of the Black Country. Invariably they look serene in the misty morning light or gentle colours of dusk.
"..I often feel pursued - chased by the circumstances and demands of 21st century life."
It’s at this point that I have a confession to make: the idea of a canal boat holiday is something that really appeals to me. I like the romance of travelling at a sedentary pace, enjoying the scenery and peacefulness of canal life, taking time to read, write and spend time with family.

A few weeks ago I read “The Narrowboat Lad” by Daniel Brown, which is the true (and recent) story of a young man who takes the brave step of leaving home to live on a canal boat. Living a sustainable and off-grid life, he finds he only needs to work part time, so he reduces his hours to spend more time in the great outdoors, something which brings him a sense of wholeness and, dare I say it, peace. Check out his YouTube channel!

A Black Country Narrowboat
A theme I come back to again and again in my posts is that we will feel most alive doing the things we’re passionate about and being the person we’ve been made to be.

Often there’s a restlessness within us when we’re not doing these things - perhaps when we find ourselves doing things we’re not passionate about.

Sometimes, the pursuit of peace is about the pursuit of our dreams and passions – since it is through doing these things that we will find ourselves truly fulfilled and at peace.
"The idea of a canal boat holiday is something that really appeals to me."

The problem can often be that we expect peace to break out spontaneously, or for our situations to miraculously change overnight. Maybe this does occasionally happen, but more often than not I think that peace is something we need to take steps towards – to pursue. It takes movement, and that’s one of the things I love about the story of the Narrowboat Lad – here’s a young man stepping miles out of his comfort zones in pursuit of the dream in which he will find greater peace in himself and with life.

We can all find ourselves caught in the headlights at times, rooted to the spot. But the pursuit of peace can be taken one decision at a time, big or small. When I interviewed Chris Whyley over the summer about starting his own internet company, one of his key points was about taking small steps to wedge the door of your dream open a bit at a time. Change doesn't have to be immediate or massive, in fact more often I think that it’s incremental and accretive.

I listened to some people earlier this week talking about starting their own businesses, and they made the comment that they wished they’d started them earlier. Perhaps too often we wait for conditions to be perfect – perhaps for peaceful conditions that never come – before we take a step towards something.

"Sometimes, the pursuit of peace is about the pursuit of our dreams and passions.."

But I want to encourage us all this week to take a step towards peace. It might not mean moving onto a canal boat (yet), but maybe it’s looking up a course to study, a place to visit, a skill to develop, a person to talk to. Perhaps it's a step towards a loving God, placing dreams and visions back into his control.

Whatever it is, it’s never too late to pursue peace..


Thanks for taking the time to read The Pursuit of Peace. If you've enjoyed it please share it with your friends on social media! Why not subscribe to The Potting Shed Podcast on iTunes for the audio version and much more (direct RSS feed is here). If you're reading in August 2015 then please vote for The Potting Shed Podcast to win an award for "Best Self Help Podcast" here.

I'd love to hear from you, so feel free to comment below or email me at 

If you want to stay up to date please sign up to my mailing list, and do check out my book Life Space on Amazon.
The Dad Network
My Random Musings