Saturday, 21 April 2018

Mo's Story

Warning: not my usual kind of blog, but it is me really, I promise..

I saw a tweet recently that said something like "I got a dog because I thought I wanted to receive unconditional love. I now realise I wanted to give unconditional love". Animals stir that kind of  emotion in you sometimes (well they do me, anyway).  Apart from our own stable of furries, the latest example for me was Mo, a Turkish Van cat (we think), who belonged to t'eldest and lived in Manchester. Not that he always did, and he was such a little character, it's worth telling him story.

It was last July when Mo, as he became, appeared at our house in France. It was a summer of waifs and strays, dogs mainly, one of whom also came back to the UK. But Mo was the only cat, and a shocking sight he was too at first - skeletal, thin and wispy fur, bloodied ear, folds of belly skin hanging down. Being completely honest, I wanted to have nothing to do with him, and to see him on his way. But he was a persistent little bugger, with a penchant for climbing on to the shoulders of anyone and everyone, and purring loud and long. I still wasn't impressed, but some of our summer guests took to feeding him scraps and morsels, and he began hanging round even more.

Then in August the Kinsey offspring came across for their annual visit to Le Millet. Georgina has always been a bit of a Cat Whisperer, and she and Mo (named by her and her siblings) bonded instantly. He slept in her bed at Millet (rather her than me at that time, it has to be said), generally went wherever she did, and there were one or two tears when it came for them to fly back to the UK.

I can't remember the exact point when we first mooted the idea of Mo coming back to live with George and boyfriend Tom in Manchester, but whenever it was, it was enough to get us both looking after him. He couldn't come inside; our own cat is not a good mixer. But fortunately we had our spare house, to which he could retreat and spend comfortable, safe nights on an old duvet. H fed him cooked and raw meat (which he loved), and he was soon putting weight on.

But he didn't seem particularly well or healthy. We didn't know his history at that point, but we struck a deal with George - we'd bring him back to the UK if we got him checked out medically, and there was nothing to prevent him getting a pet passport. So we did just that - or more to the point H did two 140 mile round journeys to a cat charity vet to do just that, and to our surprise and relief, there wasn't any reason why, with the right shots and pills, he couldn't get his passport. So on 27th September last year Mo became an English cat, coping admirably with his 14 hour journey from Brittany to Manchester, via Macclesfield.

Again, I forget exactly when we worked out Mo's history. It turned out that he'd belonged to a French family who lived about half a mile away, and who, when they moved out after a marital breakdown, just left Mo behind. This isn't uncommon in France, unfortunately. That was over a year previously - Mo had lived on the streets for a year. Or more accurately, in farm buildings and hedgerows, but never straying too far from his original home. Worse than living on the streets, however, he'd been badly abused by the children of the family before that; I'll spare you the detail.

And that was what made Mo so remarkable. Having been not only let down by humans, but actively mistreated, he remained so open and pleased to be around those that showed him even the slightest attention. He was fun, playful, and a gentleman. He never lost faith that some of us could be nice.

All went well in Manchester from September to February. Apart from having more toys and cat equipment than he could possibly use in a week, let alone a day, he put weight on, his fur thickened and became lustrous, and he looked well and happy - as he deserved to be, given the gourmet diet and level of attention he was receiving.

In February he began to lose interest in food, and to cut a long story - including two stays and many tests in veterinary hospital - short, he was subsequently put on a cocktail of drugs, and George had to feed him by syringe directly into his stomach, something which has been taking four hours a day in the last few weeks.

Through all this, Mo stayed Mo. He never stopped purring and nuzzling the vets and veterinary nurses who were treating him, even during some fairly invasive and unpleasant procedures. They too fell in love with him.

But it latterly became obvious he wasn't a well little fella. His stays at the vets confirmed hyper-thyroidism, though it was probably the also-confirmed feline HIV that caused him to really go downhill. I saw him last Sunday, and he still just about had the energy to come and sit on my knee, and purr, paw and nuzzle one last time. George took the brave decision on Tuesday that his quality of life was deteriorating quickly to the point where it was kinder to end that life than prolong it. And so Kerry the vet went round to their flat this afternoon, off-duty and a home visit - neither sanctioned by her practice, but another testament to how this cat got all everyone's skin, to see Mo on his way.`

I FaceTimed Mo and his humans last night, and I'm glad I did. It was lovely to see his little face. George and Tom have given him fantastic love and care throughout his all-too-brief stay with them, including George working at home the last three days of the week to just be with him. I'm so pleased that the little cat with the big personality knew warmth, comfort and company at the end of his life. He deserved it. Off you go little man; there's not many like you.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Mind the gap

Generally, I don’t feel my age. Who does? Apart from, for those of us over 40, when an evening of over-indulgence takes until the next evening to recover from, compared to mid-morning in our youth. That said, I’m frequently reminded that neither am I a young person. The latest is this week’s goings-on with the Australian cricket team.

Well, next not just this week’s. It’s long struck me as just plain wrong that in a sport that’s essentially non-violent, like cricket, banter has long since descended into outright personal abuse and threats. It’s troubled me that England get up to this nonsense, but by all accounts the Aussies are the true masters of the petulant and the profane.

What I can’t comprehend the approach that thinks this behaviour is ok. I’m not being na├»ve – I’m amazed I wasn’t sent off more frequently than I was in my footballing career, and in the heat of some very hot moments, bad words may have escaped my lips. But to embark on a systematic pattern of abuse and intimidation; no, I don’t get it.

What I get even less, however, is firstly the blubbering emotional collapse we’ve seen today by the (now-ex) Australian captain, Steve Smith, when caught doing something he shouldn’t have done, and secondly, the chasm of a contrast between the macho, arrogant mindset that drives one set of behaviours, and the childlike behaviours in that collapse.  Maybe a psychologist could explain to me how they’re closely related.  Perhaps they’re both borne of deep emotional immaturity. But I can no more imagine bleating about in public about how I’ve let my parents down than I can setting out to emotionally destroy someone.

But Steve Smith isn’t the only example. I can’t be the only one of my generation who winces a bit when Princes William and Harry talk about the need to be more open about our mental health, and blokes in particular. I’m not suggesting depression isn’t real or something to be taken seriously, but in common with characteristics that drive the current hideous identity politics, I worry that for some it’s becoming a badge of honour – something that marks them out as special. Because we’ve all got to be special in these days of the selfie and Instagram, even when we’re manifestly not.

You might think I’m wandering from where I started. I’m not. The point is that I just don’t understand or relate to many of the emotional responses of under 35s. I don’t think crying in public is a virtue – I think it’s embarrassing. In my world, it’s like getting drunk; something to be done in private, and while there are times you can’t help it happening, it’s not something to be proud of. I generalise of course – I’m sure there are plenty of under-35s who aren’t emotionally incontinent (e.g. my kids; of course) and there’ve been plenty of examples of middle-aged men blubbing when they’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t, but the generalisation feels valid to me.

And there’s the rub – perhaps it is just me. I am, after all, someone who never goes out without a handkerchief in his pocket, would never wear a suit with unpolished shoes or go to work unshaven, and when walking side-by-side with a woman has to be the one closest to the road. I don’t think that children can or should be friends of their parents (though that’s not to say they shouldn’t have a close, healthy, unique relationship), and that age and achievement does buy a degree of respect from kids that’s sometimes lacking.  And I would never think it ok to play my music out loud or have a noisy conversation in a packed train carriage.  I do know how all this sounds by the way.

All this is a bit like looking back at 80s music – was it objectively better, or does it just it feel better because of the time in our lives it happened?  Similarly, will the public-crying, emotion-spilling 28 year olds of today will mature into buttoned-up misanthropes like me?

If they do, there’s hope yet. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Wiggins, Sky

I don't know any more than the next casual observer about the whole Team Sky, Wiggins 'scandal'. Ok, perhaps just a little bit, but nothing that can't be easily found online or in the press. So I have no insights, and no opinions on his/their guilt or otherwise. I do, however, have some observations:

  1. It seems slightly odd to me that the UCI have only really thought fit to comment on the issue (via Brain Cookson's French successor whose name eludes me and I can't be bothered to look up) after the DCMS committee reported.  Were they not that bothered? Did they want someone else to break cover? Are they only reacting now out of embarrassment?
  2.  It strikes me as a peculiarly British trait for a British Parliamentary body (said DCMS committee) to take it upon itself to denounce a British team and a British winner in international sport for "crossing an ethical line" (note: not breaking the rules). I can't dismiss the suspicion that such an investigation would either never have been instigated by the equivalent Parliamentary body in France, Spain, Italy, and if it had, the findings would either have been kept under wraps, and/or made much less of. Maybe I should be pleased about that, evidence of the continued existence of the British sense of fair play and all that, but I'm not. I don't understand this tendency to seek feet of clay in our own. Especially when the investigating body has no jurisdiction to examine the practices of foreign teams, thus robbing their conclusions of any sense of comparison, context or perspective
  3. Within the cycle sport-following community, there seems to be disappointment, if less outright condemnation. And whichever reaction it is, it seems to me to be driven by the view that the Sky problem exists not necessarily because of what they did, but because of the song-and-dance they made at the outset about being demonstrably clean and different - and they're not. We don't blame them for that - we know that pro cycling is a rough, tough, unforgiving sport, and working with, even bending, the rules is likely to be widespread and a prerequisite for success - but we do blame them for trying to sell us something. And who knows how many hideously-overpriced jerseys, caps and bidons they shifted on the back of that
  4. Those people calling for Sky to be disbanded are either massive hypocrites (Landis), or naked opportunists (other pro teams). Investigate every team that's won a Grand Tour or a Classic in the last 8 years to the same level as Sky, then get back to me.
I'm no Sky fanboy. I've never bought or worn their kit or anything endorsed by them, I don't especially identify them as 'British', and all the preceding isn't to defend them. It's just that I don't like humbug, of which there's a lot sloshing around at the moment.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Stuff wot I think about

Now clearly when I'm out running or riding, if I'm not thinking about what I'm actually doing training-wise, I'm normally to be found reflecting perhaps on the merits of existentialism, reciting early Donne verse, or somesuch equally cerebral matter.

Just occasionally, however, the heavy main course of my considerations requires a mental palate cleanser, a thought-sorbet if you will. When one of these is needed, I have a stock of fallback subjects that I seem to have developed over the years, and I thought it only fair to share these with you. So in no particular order:

  1. Ways of improving sports that otherwise I consider quite dull - horseracing on the flat, for example, could be much enhanced, in my humble opinion, if every 3 furlongs or so, jockeys had to dismount, tie their horses up, crawl through one of those tunnel-type things that are found on dog agility courses, sprint back to their horse, and carry on the race. Who wouldn't love that? The punters would come from miles around, and it could open up a whole new lucrative betting seam for the bookies.
  2. One-hit wonders of the 1970s and 80s who subsequently had to seek an alternative living governed by rhyming nominative determinism - to cite some examples that I've come up with over the years: Leif Garrett's Carrots, Terry Jack's Sacks, Anita Ward's Swords; and to prove it's not limited to solo artists, Baltimora's Fedoras.
  3. Why there's so much damn litter around the place - and more specifically, what kind of person you must be, and/or what must be going on in your head to think, especially if you're sober, "d'ya know what, I'm just going to check the remnants of my Happy Meal [or whatever] out of the car window. There won't be any consequences of that at all". Arseholes. I realise there are greater crimes, but to be honest, few that are triggered by me looking at lots of hedgerows.
  4. What the world would be like if everyone was like me - often brought on by number 3 above, as there would, for example, be no litter. The world would also be more logical, ordered, efficient, polite, and less emotional and confrontational. It would also, however, be a less colourful, inventive, artistic, and - probably, though I don't like to admit it - compassionate place. I add regularly to the adjectives on each side of the equation, and always end up concluding it's just as well everyone's not like me.
  5. The things I'd do and buy if I won an enormous amount of money on the lottery - there's a slight glitch with this one, as I don't actually do the lottery, but nevertheless it's quite fun to fantasise. I'd like to think that diamonds, superyachts and Bentleys would be of no interest - the list extends no further than: a slightly bigger house (UK and France); a large garage to house all the bicycles I wanted, a 2CV, and something very fast and sexy (we're still talking wheels); a chef and a valet; some nice original art; and a bit for the kids. All the rest goes in the Stuart Kinsey Charitable Trust, money to be doled out to worthy causes, e.g learning how to be more like me.
  6. Brexit - oh dear, this is where I have to stop. Suffice to say I'm still disappointed and slightly surprised at the rudeness and vitriol the subject generates. Please don't bother to tell me why it does, why your side is so right, why the others are clearly lunatics, blah blah.
There we are. Rides and runs with just myself for company fly by, as you can imagine. I wish you a Very Happy 2018. (Which, by the way, should now definitely be pronounced Twenty Eighteen, not Two Thousand And Eighteen, in case you wondering).  

Saturday, 11 November 2017


On Wednesday, I travelled from Newbury, where I'm working at the moment, to Chester, to attend the memorial service just over the border in north Wales of Paula, a friend and old work colleague. Paula died a couple of weeks or so ago, aged 47, of a particularly nasty and aggressive form of brain and spine cancer. She leaves behind a husband, who spoke with outstanding dignity and courage at the service, a 9 year old son, and a large circle of family and friends.

Paula was a rarity - a good time girl (I don't think she'd mind me calling her that), a bon viveur, rarely to be found outside work without a large glass of wine, or a cigarette (or both), in her hand, and yet somebody with the ability to be a true listener. She was the person to whom I turned for comfort and an ear on a particularly grim night in January 2003, and her extraordinary forebearance through the early hours that evening created a debt I never really repaid during the 10 years or so we worked together, despite the many times she sent me to the bar for another round of drinks. I and countless others will miss her greatly.

After the memorial service we retired to a local hotel, where the mood was as sombre as you'd expect at first, but just as Paula always lightened the mood in life, so she did in death - there were upwards of 40 of her work colleagues in the room, most of us well-known to each other, and as the evening went on, so did the drinking and reminiscing. Much of it was about Paula naturally, but there was plenty of re-bonding going on; the evening was a throwback to the days when people in large organisations had local loyalties and friendships.

So many of those local ties seem to have disappeared now, and people's lives are the worse for it. Progress is inevitable of course, and these days that means in large organisations geographically dispersed teams, regular travel, hotdesking, working from home, and remote bosses. But I sense more than that - there's a depersonalisation at work, a lack of connection; engagement between individuals is at a purely functional, rather than at a human level. I could write a PhD thesis on the reasons for this (well I couldn't, but I'm sure an academic type could), but it seems to me there's no wonder in the fact people are stressed, demotivated, and disengaged. I must have talked to nearly 20 people on Wednesday who said "leaving Lloyds Bank was the best thing I've ever done". It's not fair to single Lloyds out of course - their modus operandi is shared by plenty of other big firms.

So kids, yes, maybe it was better in our day. Offices were places where it was ok to have a bit of fun while you worked hard. Maybe it went too far on occasions - the mummification of Ian 'Fish' Fisher at Lloyds Leasing in 1990 with a roll of sellotape while he was on the phone to an important client being a case in point. But it was - literally - painfully funny; a Friday afternoon prank in the days when we were normally too squiffy to do anything constructive after 2pm on a Friday.

Wednesday brought incidents like this, and all that went with them, back to mind. If some of us in the room that evening are reminded to try to re-create a fraction of that fun and lightness of being in our new workplaces - and our lives - as a result of our semi-drunken reflections, then I think that's a reasonable contribution to keeping the memory of Paula alive. RIP Paula - Rejoice In Partying.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Rage against the dying of the light

For the last 12 years or so, I've not necessarily been the strongest, fastest or most skilful sportsperson in the family, but I have been what a lot of people might call the 'fittest' - most stamina, endurance, that kind of thing. This blog has documented some of the things I've been able to do with that fitness.

But I fear that if I haven't relinquished that title already, I'll do so very shortly. T'youngest, you see, was selected at the end of the last academic year to be in Oxford Uni's lightweight rowing squad. These are the young women who have rowing ability, but aren't big or powerful enough to make the full squad. It's still a big deal however - if selected to row against Cambridge they get a full blue (representative honours), and last year 3 of their number went straight into the GB squad. So she's in the squad. But not the final 8. Selection of that won't happen until after Christmas, and between now and then it's a pretty rigorous selection process...

...starting with their training regime. They have 12 sessions a week, 6 on the water and 6 in the gym. Of the on-water sessions, 4 necessitate 5am starts, and the other 2 6.30am starts. The gym sessions vary; one this week was a 1 hour 45 min spinning session. They're training comfortably upwards of 20 hours a week. But that's the only thing that's comfortable. Liv's taken to 10pm bedtimes (she's a student!), drinking irregularly, and an amazingly clean diet. The coaches are hard, psychological, but, it seems, fair. On the one hand, it's brutal. On the other, it's a fantastic opportunity, to truly explore personal boundaries of resilience and performance. As you can probably tell, I'm very proud of Liv, of the achievement obviously, but also for having the guts to embark on that kind of programme. If she fails, I know it won't be for want of determination or persistence, but probably because of the genes her old man lumbered her with. And she will take a level of fitness that she'll struggle to ever match again.

Hence why I'll shortly be relegated. In a week when I passed my 51st birthday (which, in a way, was even more sobering than my 50th, as it was just another unheralded slow step towards infirmity [he wrote cheerfully]), that's just contributed to a sense of going backwards where I've been able to go forwards for the last few years.

Largely, though not completely, coincidentally, however, this was the week when Mendip Rouleur and I agreed between ourselves, and were pencilled in to do, our most ambitious cycling challenge yet. I won't say what it is, because although we've made our choice, we haven't paid our money yet. Suffice to say it's August 2018, and it's long and climby. Our last hurrah before we have to say goodbye to the Matterhorn and hello to the Peak District.

Will it get me my crown back as the fittest member of this branch of the Kinsey Clan? I don't know, and I don't care. Frankly, I'd be happy to be the 4th fittest member if the change were down to others progressing rather than me regressing. But in a week with too much bad news about the health of some of my contemporaries at university and earlier jobs, I'm also happy just to be able to rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Discrimination at work

I'm getting so tired of all the identity politics we suffer from these days. It seems that so many issues come down to whether you're black, white, Asian, male, female, gay, straight, gender-fluid, disabled, blah blah...and often the implication, nay, the explicit message is that if you're in any group other than straight, white, able-bodied male, you're at some kind of disadvantage.  You're discriminated against.

Now, I realise that as a straight, white, able-bodied male, I obviously have all the advantages that could ever be available to anyone, and so am automatically disqualified from commenting on anything due to my 'privilege'.  But that's not going to stop me.  And I have to tell you, I see discrimination all the time.  I work as a management consultant, and experience the inside of many companies.  And I see them discriminate...

I see them discriminate against people who can't read properly, or express themselves clearly, on paper or verbally. Against people who are negative, or can't solve problems, or work effectively with their co-workers. Or can't turn up on time and meet the appearance or presentational requirements of the job. Or make it clear they don't really want to be there. Or, at a different level, can't meet targets, or work quickly and effectively.

What I don't see is them discriminating against women, people who aren't white, gay people, disabled people, or any other perceived minority. The vast, overwhelming majority of the senior managers and board members I work with are solely interested in appointing or promoting people who they believe are best suited to the role in question - because it makes them look good, hit their targets, get financially rewarded, etc.

Ah but, I hear you say, what if they have a bias towards their own type because those are the people they believe are best suited to the roles they're seeking to fill?

Again, I just don't see it. It would be taking things too far to say they're colour- and gender-blind, but I see fair and neutral processes that - while flawed in many respects (an interview is not necessarily a good predictor of on-the-job performance) - result in lots of appointments that more right-on people than me would call "diverse".

(Incidentally, in the one large organisation I worked with where there were quotas and targets for getting women job interviews and senior appointments, the greatest critics of the policy were women managers, as they felt it compromised their ability to create high-performing teams).

I'm not saying there's no prejudice in society, or that it's equally easy for everyone to acquire the knowledge and skills that make them attractive to employers.  Parents, schools and universities need to take a hard look at themselves and ask whether they're really equipping their charges with the attributes they need in the outside world.  Resilience, reliability and the ability to accept and work with others' points of view are critical among them. So it's not helpful or productive to give children or students indulgence, safe spaces or the impression that there's only one acceptable 'belief' in any circumstance; that's going to lead to the kind of behaviour that employers shy away from. With good reason.

So these days when I hear or read reports about gaps in achievement or reward between genders, or races, or people of different sexual inclinations, I turn off or tune out, laced as they always are with some sense of victimhood, or "it's not their fault".  Again, to repeat, I'm one of many straight, white, able-bodied males in British industry, making the private sector money that the taxes on create the wealth that pays for public sector spending, and do you know what? We don't give a monkey's about the gender, race or any other identity politics-based characteristic of the people we need to fill our jobs - we just want them to do a good job, and if we don't think they've got the attitude or ability to do so, well frankly, it's not our fault, whoever they are.
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