Reflections on 2016

I think many of us would agree that 2016 has been quite an odd year. Mine was no exception so I wanted to take the time to capture what I have learnt. This has been a year for me when I have had more opportunity to stop and reflect. This has been helped by times with caring and insightful friends plus some professional support too.

  • Trust is easily misplaced. Some people abused my trust during the year and some people earned it. Some people are not honest to your face – but as I don’t want to live in a world where I fear to trust people I will continue to do so. This means that I will get hurt but I will accept that as the price for living the way that I want to.
  • Friends come and go. When things change in your life some friends will offer you support, others may not be able to do so. If your friendship is built on working in the same place it may not survive when one of you moves on. Some acquaintances will become friends and some friends will become acquaintances. Some old friends will reappear when you need them and some won’t. Some friendships are temporary and some are not.
  • Resilience grows through adversity. I have survived things I never thought I would have. They have been hard to the extent that I seriously considered committing suicide. I feel stronger now as a result of what I have experienced and I am grateful for what I have experienced.
  • Change is inevitable. The Buddhist philosophy of impermanence has resonated with me a lot during this year. I realise how what I thought was good – I didn’t really enjoy at the time because I was frightened of losing it. I have seen that when things are bad they get better.
  • Worry is a waste of time. This year has been one of surprises. Not all of them good. Many of the things I worried about, never happened and many of the things that did happen I could not foresee. I am trying to waste less energy worrying in the future and enjoy what I can in the present.
  • Work is just a job. Work is important and many of us put a lot of ourselves into our work because we want or have to do so. But it does not define us and jobs can be replaced. Sometimes what we put into our work is not appreciated. Sometimes others take the credit for what you do. Sometimes our best intentions are not acceptable. Sometimes our objectives are not in alignment with others. Sometimes it is easy to find work and sometimes it isn’t. Some work is valued more than other. Some work is paid more than other. These last two especially may bear no correlation to each other.
  • Contentment can be found in unusual places. I realised that in rushing around I was not enjoying the good things around me. I appreciate my friends and family more now than at the start of the year. I also find more contentment in daily activities such as driving, shaving and dog walking now. In fact shaving has become a daily delight for me, when previously it was a complete chore. I’ve been able to get a selection of old razors and new soaps. I’ve acquired a skill in using these old razors and get a much better shave now too.
  • Truth seems to be irrelevant. I came across the phrase “post-truth politics” during this year. Since understanding what it means I’ve become more aware of it in other areas of my life. I see it on social media and in the work place – people jumping to conclusions or making arguments with little factual basis.  I am trying to keep a more open mind and check my own assumptions before reaching conclusions.
  • Compassion is not newsworthy. There is a lot of compassion in our world but it doesn’t seem to get the recognition that it deserves. It is very easy to feel that all around us is going wrong and that as a society we are less caring. But every day there are lots of small kindnesses that make a difference to people on a small scale. It is a shame that collectively we don’t celebrate this more but we should not let that stop us from doing so individually. As the Queen said in her Christmas speech “On our own, we cannot end wars or wipe out injustice, but the cumulative impact of thousands of small acts of goodness can be bigger than we imagine.” – my aim for 2017 is to do more small acts of goodness than I did in 2016.
  • Politics is personal. This was the year that I learnt that LGBT people were also sent to concentration camps during the holocaust – as a gay man how could I not have know this before. Possibly because so few LGBT people told their story as they were re-imprisoned after the end of the WWII. Although I was reminded that the animosity towards LGBT people from politicians and religious leaders is political in nature and should not be taken personally – it still hurts me. Maybe it shouldn’t but it does and I hope that inspires me to speak up against hatred when I need to.

So after reflecting on these I do wish you and those you care for a happy and loving new year.

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Policing Insights

I was very fortunate to have the opportunity recently to be able to spend a day shadowing a police officer working in Norwich city centre. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect but had been told to wear smart casual clothing and comfortable shoes. At the end of the day and some 10 miles later I REALLY appreciated the later!

 

Obviously I can’t share all the details of what happened during this day but what I have gained permission to do is share my reflections on this time. I hope that these provide an interesting insight into the work of our local constabularies.

  • My first shock was when I realised how tolerant I had become of cyclists riding on pavements in the city. So I was surprised when the officer stopped someone and asked them to dismount. I hadn’t even noticed them! This was done politely and the cyclist agreed to dismount and walked off.
  • Someone reported they had been approached by a man asking them for money. The man was pointed out, but before the officer went to find them a statement was taken. On the conclusion of this the man had moved on and despite searching most of the nearby streets they could not be found. I wondered whether video statements could be taken more quickly from a smart phone than having to handwrite a statement and get it signed.
  • Someone informed us that a lady had tripped and fallen on a badly laid paving stone. They clearly expected the officer to take charge of the situation. Both looking after the individual who had fallen and reporting the dangerous paving. The lady was fine and did not wish for any assistance. What was extremely disappointing that when trying to report the dangerous paving at City Hall we were told to take a ticket and wait with the general public, despite the officer clearly being on duty. I was saddened that council staff were not able to be more flexible and support other public agencies. I was impressed that the officer decided to phone the issue in during her lunch break in order to save time.
  • I got a definite sense that police officers are seen as a visible support for a range of issues and that the public are comfortable to approach them. The way in which members of the public were dealt with was always considerate and polite.
  • It was very interesting to get a different perspective on the introduction of the “legal highs” legislation to that which I have read about in the media. There clearly is a need for this that I have not picked up before and several recent examples were provided of when the new legislation could have been really helpful.
  • The liaison with the retail security staff in the stores was evident and they engaged with each other in a respectful and professional manner. The officer was clear as to the requirements for a conviction and this appeared to be understood and respected.
  • The officer checked in with a number of people who appeared to be homeless had pitches set up on the pavements. She politely challenged any visible sign of alcohol and this was removed by the individual. The interaction demonstrated a degree of concern for these individuals and their wellbeing, as well as ensuring public order was maintained.
  • When we were called to a store by two PCSOs who need the support of a police officer – the interaction with the person apprehended was firm but polite. At numerous stages they were asked to clarify that they understood what had been said to them. The process was clear and respectful. The person potentially had mental and physical health issues so I was impressed that although they were arrested they were not taken into custody, as this clearly empowered them to take responsibility for these issues which otherwise would have been complex to resolve, if in custody. Whilst I could understand the need for the paper work for both the search and arrest it did strike me as a rather dated approach to the need to record these actions.
  • When dealing with someone for whom English was obviously not their first language, more time was taken to try to clarify the issues and the implications for them. I was not sure whether they fully understood what they were being accused of but this was not from a lack of trying by the officer. The issue was complicated and they didn’t really seem interested in understanding it just in refuting that they had done anything wrong. I was slightly surprised at the action taken by the store in banning the individual without having gathered sufficient proof of any misdemeanor.

My overall reflections at the end of the day were that I was very impressed with the professionalism and skills of the officer that I spent the day with. Her knowledge of the law was comprehensive, her approach was proportionate and pragmatic. She clearly had the respect of private sector colleagues, as well as the homeless people she sees on a regular basis. I felt that the officer I spent the day with was a credit to her constabulary and I saw several instances of her going beyond what I would have expected of her. She was was approachable and engaged with the public and took time to deal with them in an professional but friendly way. Oh and my feet ached!

What do you think of these insights? Do any of them surprise you?

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Shaving Update

double-edge-safety-razor-shave-918x516After extolling the virtues of double edged (DE) safety razors a while back I though it was time to give an update on how my new skill is developing. I’m still very much committed to using a DE razor and am still getting a much closer shave than I did with cartridge razors. I get the occasional nick but no more than I did with cartridges and I think they are much finer cuts and therefore seem to heal much faster. I have only had one ingrowing hair and that was after I used my old electric razor for a quick clean up before going out one evening for dinner. When using cartridges ingrowing hairs were a real issues f or me with a couple most months, so this is a major improvement for me.

Time wise I am getting faster, this morning I timed my shave and it took 7 minutes for three passes and a clean up around the chin after not shaving for a couple of days. The resulting shave was excellent. I don’t really know how long I used to take with a cartridge razor and I don’t really want to go back to using one and finding out, but I don’t think it is now taking me much more than three to four minutes longer than it used to.

I treated myself to a Feather “AS-D2” All Stainless DE Safety Razor, a few months ago. s-l225
This is made in Japan from 100% stainless steel. It is allegedly like no other safety razor with the craftsmanship and quality of finish being second to none. I use this with Feather blades, which are reputed to be some of the sharpest blades that you can get and I have to admit that the resulting shave is excellent. The razor just glides over my skin and sometime the sound of the hairs being cut is the only sense that I have of the shave. I still use my iKon ShaveCraft 101 Dual Head DE Safety Razor, which I got for ikon-shavecraft-101-dual-head-de-safety-razor-2Christmas as well. This is particularly useful if I haven’t shaved for a day or so, as the open combed side doesn’t clog up on the first pass. I am currently using this with Personna Platinum Chrome blades. Both of these razors are more expensive than the razors that are usually recommended for men first starting to use DE razors, but the extra costs is easily justified. The handles are much better and less prone to slipping when you hand gets wet and the head covers the whole blade without leaving the ends sticking out. This later is an issues as I have occasionally caught myself on the bits that stick out on the cheaper razors. The whole feel of these razors is my solid and substantial, which I like.

If someone was asking me for advice on starting to use a DE razor now I would suggest that if they could afford it that they started with the iKon, but if they weren’t sure then a cheaper option would be the Muhle R89 DE Safety Razor which I still use from time to time, but just doesn’t give as good results as either the iKon or Feather. I hesitate to recommend the Feather as a starter razor for those for whom money is no object as it does give a much closer shave than the iKon and I wonder whether it might just put someone off if they haven’t learnt how to use a DE razor.

I still recommend checking www.shavelounge.co.uk for any purchases, as not only is the pricing competitive and their service good but they also provide free postage and cash back  too. I you do decide to have a go with a DE razor then I’d love to hear how you get on.

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Human Capital

The thinking behind this post began a few weeks ago when someone referred to one of images-2their colleagues as an Human Resources (HR) Advisor. Whilst I understood the sentiment behind this job title, that the majority of HR management should be the responsibility of line managers, it did feel like a bit of abdication to the wider support role we need from our HR colleagues. Initially my thoughts were focussed on their role in ensuring compliance with HR policies and procedures, which led me to think about the monitoring information that I have had about the people who have worked for me in the various organisations that I have worked in. I realised that what information I had received was high level and often only received following a request from me.

For some reason I then started to compare this with the role we expect from our Finance teams in organisations and the contrast seemed quite pronounced. The expectation of advising is clearly there, as was the policing role too. It was around information that they provide to their colleagues when the differences started to become more apparent. Most organisations would expect monthly management accounts, showing the financial performance of the whole organisation and then each constituent part and individual budget holders. Budget holders would expect to be be able to access the detail behind this financial performance and see the transactions making it up. This seemed in stark contrast to the reactive total organisation reporting that I have usually experienced.

What made me more uncomfortable was whether this signifies the relative importance that most organisations place upon the people and their money. I sincerely hope that it is more to do with our expectations and therefore it is up to us to start asking for this information to be provided routinely to help us spot issues before their arise and access to the underlying HR systems. Perhaps this is available in other organisations and I am just behind the times. If so do let me know, otherwise I’d appreciate your thoughts on this.

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No Longer a Chore

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As you can see my collection of shaving paraphernalia has grown somewhat since my last post about shaving. I think I can safely say that shaving has become a bit of a hobby for me now. Which is pretty odd when you think about it, as it is something that I have done virtually everyday for the last 35 years or so. It was a part of my daily routine that I just used to get on with and think about as little as possible.

Now shaving has become something I look forward to each day – even to the extent that when I have a day off from shaving, which I think is good for my skin, I feel I am missing an opportunity now. I love the fact that now when I shave I have a choice of razors, shaving brushes, blades, soaps and creams. It makes shaving something that I want to think about. Deciding on the optimum combination of tools and products, and still experimenting with different techniques to get a good shave has become something I look forward to each day.

It has been fun researching and then trying different things. My husband is relieved as I knew exactly what I wanted for Christmas this year and knew where he could get it from online too. He is also getting used to packages of shaving bits arriving via the post now even though he doesn’t share my interest as he is enjoying growing a beard now that he has left the armed forces.

One of the best sources of information I have found has been the Youtube channel of someone who obviously shares my interest. His videos at Nickshaves are accessible and informative. It is clear that wet shaving and Double Edged (DE) Safety Razors are much more popular in America than they are here in the UK so some of things he reviews I have not been able to find in UK suppliers. I have found a good selection at keen prices though at The Shave Lounge. Their free postage and cash back certainly encourages me to look there first for what I want to try next.

As for the actual results of the shaving, I am getting better and have found some things that really seem to work for me. The iKon ShaveCraft 101 Dual Head DE Safety Razor, my Christmas present and pictured on the left below, is one of my current favourites especially with the Persona blades also shown.

IMG_4438.jpgI have also found that I am getting better results with shaving soaps now than the shaving creams I initially favoured. My current favourite is Cella Crema da Barba Shaving Soap which produces a great lather and has simply divine scent of cherries and almonds too. I find it fascinating that some of the products I am enjoying using have been around for a long while, like the Cella which I think was first made in 1899. I am definitely getting a better shave now, closer and with less nicks. I have had very few ingrowing hairs since starting to use a DE razor and no razor rash either. My skin is feeling much better too.

I have to admit that shaving does now take me more time now, but only five to ten minutes more. I don’t mind this as not only am I getting a better shave than I used to, but a chore has been replaced by something that I now enjoy, which must be a good thing. In fact it has got me thinking about other chores in my life and how I can make these more enjoyable. Do you have any suggestions?

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Black Box Thinking

I really enjoy it when I find a book that makes me rethink my views and this book certainly did that. Although it was challenging it also resonated well with some other recent reading and thinking. Matthew Syed starts by comparing the approach to mistakes in the health and aviation sectors.

When set ou418EaqGdpsL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_t so starkly as he does, it is quite a frightening comparison. Where one is very open it results in international learning which benefits all and reduces accident rates significantly. In the other there is a reluctance to acknowledge mistakes which prevents learning. Matthew then goes on to demonstrate that our attitude to “failures” can have a profound impact on our ability to learning in a number of situations. This applies to us as individuals and also at an organisational level.

He shows that sometimes counter intuitive  management approaches can have a significant impact on how employees deal with mistakes and the extent to which this can allow or inhibit continuous improvement. At a personal level he challenged me to rethink how some of my attitudes and behaviours might be preventing me and my colleagues from sharing and learning from when things don’t go as we expect them to. He explained how some of our natural thinking biases can get in the way of this learning and how we can deal with them.

Perhaps one of the most worrying revelations is the extent to which UK national policy is now being driven by policy with a lack of openness to learning from experience. A quote about previous governments running too many pilots felt ludicrous in this context. He demonstrated several examples of where significant improvements actually resulted from earlier failures and how encouraging experimentation (with an open acceptance of failures) could result in better outcomes  being achieved more quickly.

I was particularly intrigued by the concept of a “pre-mortem” to learn from failure before it happens and hope to try out this technique at some stage in the future with colleagues. I’m also interested in whether this could be a useful and fun addition to our risk management approaches.

This book really encouraged me to take a more open approach to when things don’t go quite as planned to ensure that we all learn as much a possible from the experience and avoid repeating any mistakes again.

It is definitely one of my best reads of 2015 and I would heartily recommend it to anyone interested in learning. Please let me know what you think of it, when you’ve read it.

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Acceptance

This week has been simply amazing and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed by it still. However I want to start collecting together some of my reflections so that I don’t lose them.

I was privileged to attend the Stonewall Leadership Programme from Wednesday to Friday evening. Thirty six leaders (that’s us in the photo, below with the Stonewall staff) from all walks of life spent this time exploring how to be more authentic and use this to promote more inclusion where we work. In the two and half days we covered so much and most of us found it extremely powerful. I left feeling more confident and energised, with a sense of renewed challenge.

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One of my first reflections, however, is about how different it felt working in this group of LGBT leaders to any other group I have worked in. I am fortunate to work in a great team, but even so this felt better. I realised that despite not knowing any of these people before Wednesday I felt more relaxed and had more energy than I usually do. This helped me to work in the various groups with more clarity and increased energy. It helped me to engage more fully in some really challenging discussions, to support others better and enjoy myself more.

When I left the programme on Friday evening I had to quickly change into my dinner suit and drive 100 miles to attend the Norfolk & Suffolk Gay Police Association Winter Ball. This was a fabulous evening, where over 160 people from various police constabularies and other organisations met for dinner, entertainment and dancing. The atmosphere was incredibly relaxed and lots of fun. And despite a long and intense day I did not feel tired, even when leaving in the early hours of Saturday.

In both these environments being gay felt more than ok, it wasn’t just tolerated, it was celebrated. There was no risk of being judged for being gay. On the Stonewall Programme there were lots of intense conversations about other things but it was completely safe to reveal that the love of my life was another man. At the Winter Ball I could dance with husband without worrying whether it would offend anyone.  I felt more than just safe, I felt accepted. And I have been amazed at what a difference this made to. When I was walking the dog yesterday I wondered if this is was other people feel most of the time. If so I wondered if they realised how lucky they are not to constantly worry about what people’s reaction to an innocent revelation that indicates I live with and love another man. I wonder if women in the work place could relate to this at all. I wonder if this anxiety, and the constant monitoring that attends it, are justified or just in my head. I know my colleagues would try to reassure me that my concerns should not apply in our workplace. Maybe some of this relates to my past experiences of judgement and exclusion for being gay. Sadly even today I don’t think many environments are truly inclusive and accepting of the diversity of individuals in them. I still don’t think we have really worked out how to create synergy from diversity.

But I do think that this week I have had a glimpse of the personal impact of how much more I can achieve and how much better I feel them I am in one of those environments. I want to capture that and work out how to use it to explain to others the potential that this represents. Have I managed to give a sense of that here?

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A Close Shave…

I have beard envy, especially now that beards are back in fashion. However as my hair is very curly and wiry, whenever I have tried to grow a beard it very quickly grows back into my face. Add to that the increasing amount of grey hair and any attempt to grow a beard for me is uncomfortable and the result always seems scruffy. So shaving is a part of my daily (well almost) routine. I don’t mind shaving in fact I quite like the sense of routine about it

What I don’t like is the cost of razor blades and a very effective way I found of reducing this is the Razor Pitrazorpit_1This useful gadget cleans and sharpens cartridge razor blades and is easily used on a daily basis. I used to have to change my blades weekly, now using this I find a blade easily uses a month. Which is quite an improvement, especially as I tend to shave my face about 6 times a week and also use the same blade to shave my head twice a week too.

However a more recent discovering has improved my shaving experience and potentially will save me even more. I don’t think I had heard of safety razors before a few months ago. Now I regularly use one and have found the experience much more enjoyable, as well as being easier on my skin too.  

I decided to start with a Merkur 34C, which was one of three recommended by Executive Shaving in their very useful beginners guide. The first thing that I noticed when I got it was how much nicer it felt than my cartridge razor. It had a lovely solid quality feel too it. Despite following their instructions carefully I have to confess that my first shave, although being very smooth did result in a few nicks and cuts. However it felt much kinder to my skin so I persevered and found subsequent shaves better. To be fair it does take a little longer to shave with a safety razor but only a few minutes and the results are definitely better so I think it time well spent.

I’ve also been impressed by the range of different types and makes of safety razors and the fact that you can use an even wider variety of blades with most of them. I do wonder how much of a difference there will be between them, but I am looking forward to experimenting  in the coming months. It also feels good to have this degree of choice when there is very little in modern cartridge razors, which given how different our hair and skin is seems odd in retrospect. Do let me know if you are interested in knowing more about the different razors and blades that I shall be trying over the next few months.

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Not all Surpluses are bad!

As a finance professional working in social housing, I have watched with some dismay and increasing irritation the media fuelled witch hunt about the increasing surpluses that some housing associations are publishing in their statutory financial statements.

accounting-imageAs any accountant will explain to you, if you bother to ask them, the surplus in an income and expenditure account has become an increasingly abstract concept. It definitely isn’t the spare amount of cash that some would seem to have us believe. It is an attempt to measure the financial performance of an organisation using a very specific and increasingly complex set of rules. The size of surplus is much less important than what it is being used for – as there are a number of very legitimate and indeed planned uses of such surpluses. These uses are accounted for in different ways so that they do not go through the income and expenditure accounts of organisations but will be clearly seen elsewhere in financial statements. Typically in the nearby Cashflow Statement!

Legitimate and worthy uses could include:

  • building or buying additional social housing
  • repaying finance used to build or buy social housing, including in some cases buying it from local government under the stock transfer regime.

When I look at many social landlords financial statements I see that most of their vilified surpluses are being used almost exclusively for the above two purposes but seldom is this mentioned in the irate press. Instead there seems to be an inference that these surpluses are a sign of some kind of abuse of their social purpose. This I could understand if these surpluses were being used to pay large dividends to shareholders or large bonuses to staff. But hardly any social landlords have share capital that pays out any kind of return and if bonuses were paid these would actually reduce the surpluses.

So my plea is to look a few pages on in financial statements and see what uses any surpluses are being put to before condemning organisations for betraying their purpose.

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A matter of choice?

So some UKIP councillor has suggested that gay men be shot to encourage other homosexuals to ‘decide’ to be straight. And so the ongoing “nurture or nature” debate about sexuality continues albeit in a rather inflammatory way.

While an increasing proportion of the population seem prepared to accept that sexuality is more influenced by genetics than choice, clearly for some people this is offensive. For what it’s worth my own experience would suggest that there is little element of choice. In fact there have been times when if it had been a choice it would have made my life much easier.

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However let’s be clear that there is no evidence or even any suggestion that religion or politics are genetically determined, is there? Albeit some religions include children at birth based on their parents choices. Most main religions and political parties openly welcome new comers who make a CHOICE to join them.

So this means the best case scenario for those who find homosexuality offensive for either religious or political reasons is that they are asking for their choice to over-ride my supposed choice of sexuality. Can anyone explain why their free choice of religion or politics should over-ride my choice of who I choose to love and spend my life with? Because I’m struggling to think of a reason why it should.

And of course, their worst case is, of course, that their choice is seeking to change something over which I and many others have little or no control! What on earth is that about?

So next time I hear a discussion about any element of choice in sexuality I’m going to be looking a little wider than sexuality and asking about others choices and why they should over-ride mine.

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