Oh, someone else will sort it

Coffee shops are fascinating from every perspective. I think so anyway.

Firstly, I reckon the shop someone plumps for when faced with a choice between all of the ‘chains’ and an independent (or more) says as much about their personality as their star sign of MBTI ever could.

But inside them, too, there are all aspects of human nature on show – at their best, and their worst.

There’s the groups competing to consume the fewest calories when out for lunch, the one who doesn’t care what anyone, and the mother (or father) who just – just – wants a few moments peace.

Perhaps I’ve spent too much time in coffee shops – I did work in and run them for 4 years, so I’ve kind of got an excuse – or maybe I’m just paying attention to the wrong things.

There’s one aspect above all that I think most closely resembles human nature – and that’s when someone moves dirty items from one table (unoccupied, but dirty) to another (unoccupied, but otherwise clean).

Walking to the kitchen area, or finding someone to hand the tray to would probably take a very tiny amount more energy and effort. But still, almost universally, we chose not to do this – and instead simply shift the problem elsewhere. Someone else will deal with it now.

There’s been effort put in, and the short term goal has been achieved – they get the table they wanted – but overall it’s all been a waste of time.

Because there’s still the same number of dirty tables.

And that’s a little bit like life, and the choices each day. We’re all to often, by nature perhaps I think, focused on the short term aims – not the long term goal.

One day, we might want the table they’ve just dirtied.

Books of 2018

Each year I set myself a goal of reading 12 or so books, and then at the end of the year I try to come here and review them. It’s a silly idea, because I can barely remember what I thought at the time when it comes to doing the review.

So this year I’ve made a change. Instead of just a number of books, I’ve picked fourteen actual books and as I finish them I’m going to come here and update this post. My aim is 12, but I chose 14 because I’m bound to want to abandon at least one if not two.

This does mean, of course, that you’ll all see me start off with good ambitions and slowly stall before, in about November, realising I’m well behind and going on a reading spree.

Books marked with a 🎧 are audiobooks.


  • Shop Girl – Mary Portas 🎧
    I found myself disappointed that I’d come to the end of this, which is a rarity because even with books I’ve enjoyed reading by the final few chapters it’s starting to feel a bit predictable. Onto the next challenge and all that. This book, however, concluding as it does while Mary is still progressing through the early stages of her career and continuing to recover from the loss of her Mother and Father, was a disappointment to reach the end of. Autobiographies are always a win with me, and given I’ve been enjoying Mary’s work on the telly for many years I’m not surprised that I enjoyed it – particularly as she read it herself. My surprise with the fact that stores used to have prop departments and employ oh-so-many people to dress windows was only replaced with sadness when I got thinking about how much we lose with our mass-produced world. I’m hoping there’s a second book on the way.
    📅 9 February 2018 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • Too Much Information… or Can Everyone Just Shut Up for a Moment, Some of Us Are Trying to Think – Dave Gorman
    I found Dave Gorman last year in about November (I was aware of him, but I’d never really paid attention), and the next few weeks were filled with just a little bit too much Dave Gorman. This book filled a gap that’ll keep me going until his show in November. A top read if you like stats, facts, logic and being taken on a journey which feels coincidental but which is entirely intentional.
    📅 3 April 2018 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
  • And Furthermore – Judi Dench 🎧
    Fairly entertaining, but not exactly revealing the woman behind the actor, this book is basically a look back into how things “used to be”. A nicer time, perhaps? Certainly a lot more density of talent and a much more considered theatre. Who can’t love Dame Judi, anyway?
    📅 26 February 2018 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I’ve also read some extras which I hadn’t planned…

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises – Fredrik Backman 🎧
A nice bit of escapism, mixing an easy-to-guess story with harder-to-guess twists in a way which pleases me – just because I’m really impressed when things pan out to have been planned all along. Which, of course, they were – because it was bloody planned, pitched, commissioned and written. Still, one to keep you company on a long car ride.
📅 28 March 2018 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

WTF: What have we done? Why did it happen? How do we take back control? – Robert Peston
WTF. Quite.
📅 14 March 2018 | ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In progress

Still to come


The future of television, they said

Like any self-respecting gadget enthusiast, when SkyQ arrived at my house last May I was excited to find out what new and exciting ways I’d be watching television, to find out how the platform would develop over the next few months and what excitement would arrive.

A few days after it was installed, I was pretty impressed. What Sky had done with SkyQ was take a ‘breaking change’ approach. Sometimes the compromises of modifying something which has been around for years, and which, remember, itself built on top of something even older, are just no longer worth it. They’d done good: a modern interface, and using fancy technology to make satellite more like analogue used to be: multiple feeds from a single cable.

Sky pitched the future was fluid viewing – moving from room to room, device to device – and on demand driven. It even had YouTube, and much to Tim’s annoyance that the TV Guide moved several more button presses further away than was comfortable. It supports Ultra HD, can do picture-in-picture and the ‘planner’ is now shared across boxes.

What Sky has actually done with SkyQ is built everything, from the ground up, with the same philosophy they’ve always had.

It was, to be frank, all of the things those of us who’d been paying attention wanted Sky+HD to be. But 18 months later, it still feels the same.

Sky Q is more about delivering the same thing, in a really slightly different way, and being able to charge more for it than about any future of television. It was about renting, not owning, the box, and about doing just enough that the people, who haven’t already, don’t stray to Netflix.

Some bits are amazing: the expansion of Watch From Start with on demand meaning tuning into a TV show 90% of the way through is no longer a problem, being able to download content to your phone or tablet and take it away is great, and knowing that no matter what box you sit down at you’ll still be able to watch that show you recorded is marvellous.

But: content discovery is still awful, on demand still insists on ‘downloading’ before it will play and the apps are so crippled with rights management that even they are clunky, awkward and frustrating to use.

And then there’s the experience: Sky use LoveDigital to work with ‘shared dish’ set ups, and Love Digital made my experience of getting set up unforgettable through sheer incompetence. Since then, they’ve been back to replace the equipment they fitted twice, and once more in between those two to add a booster that, it turned out, had made things worse.

I became bessie mates with Jodie-Ann in their Croydon call centre, and she was never anything but polite and friendly, but ‘fluid’ was not a description appropriate for the process I experienced.

LoveDigital irritated the landlords with their ‘sales pitch’ call to get permission to do the work, and managed to make normal terrestrial television unwatchable for the other seven flats in the building for about three weeks.

The first nine months were plagued with pulling out power cords after a box had gone unresponsive and deleting unwatchable recordings made so either by a box in the cupboard upstairs that wasn’t working, or software that had gone a bit glitch.

Sky Q isn’t the future of television. 18 months in, I’m convinved it was a life support machine for Sky’s existing business model being sold as a totally new one and launched months before it was ready.

Checking in

At the start of 2017, I followed my aunty’s advice on how to get stuff done – I wrote a ‘prioritisation plan’. As the nights begin to draw in and I start to wonder where the time has gone, now seems like as good a time as any to review how things are going.

I’m terrible at reflecting: by which I mean I’m very good at doing it – but usually, to my own detriment. I’ve a mental list of things for each and every day where I’d say I wasn’t up to scratch. I’ve always thought that a good thing – because I focus on turning those reflections into actions, lessons or things I’d do better next time. It’s a system that has served me – mostly – well.

Relfecting on concrete objectives and priorities, though, is something I’m far more used to at work than at home. Before this year, I’ve never had (see: made) the time to set out what I wanted to acheive from a year and then got on with doing it.

I’ve always known the destination I wanted but, as anyone who has ever gone on a car journey with me can attest, the exact details of getting there are significantly less well understood.

So, I have been thinking of my prioritisation plan as sort of like a ‘Google Maps’ for my life. And much like when I’m following instructions from Google Maps, my conclusion from reviewing my progress was a steely determination to get to the destination but perhaps a few wrong turns along the way.

I’ve had definite wins: starting to save for a house, reducing my slightly exuberant spending on coffee in Starbucks, saying no more to short term in favour of long term and finishing off my CIPR Diploma in Public Relations.

In other areas I’ve let the business of life lead me astray, but a review is a good time to get things back on track and with four months left of 2017 I’m pretty certain I’ll be able to look back on the year and mark it a success.

Photo by Sabri Tuzcu / Unsplash

And I think that’s the lesson in all of this really, and the reason I wanted to write this post. I get incredible satisfaction in my work life from hitting goals, delivering projects and crossing items off from my to-do list but I’d never thought about translating that to life life.

While I was at University, I set myself 3 goals every 90 days – but they were always focused on work and education, never on what I wanted for me.

But having prioritised my life, written down some specific goals – and prioritsed them – and then kept the sheet somewhere I saw them every day for 9 months I’ve not only managed to achieve what I wanted, but also get the satisfaction of knowing that I did.

I’d say that was a tick for the inferred opposite of ‘say no more to short term’.

If you want to try out prioritisation planning for yourself you can find the guide I used and a handy blog from Karen to tell you how to fill it out here.

2016 in books

For the first time ever, I achieved my Goodreads target for the year in 2016. It’s only the second year I have done the challenge, but nonetheless it’s an achievement and I want to celebrate.

I read 12 books. I am pretty certain in fact I read many more, but logging academic books might have made it seem I was showing off. I didn’t, but I now regret that decision. So I am showing off here instead. It was more like 24 books.

Here’s the 10 I think you should read too (and one I don’t think you should), and why.

Meanwhile, my book buying continues to outdo my book reading so even in spite of this miraculous achievement, I’m far from running out of material.

Cheer Up, Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate – Susan Calman

One of the reviews on Goodreads says about this book what I wanted to say, but in better words.

They said: “Highly recommended for anyone who is coping with depression. Or anyone who is coping with someone who is coping with depression.”

The book offers an insight into what it’s like to live with anxiety and depression. It’s amusing, too, which helps.

The Psychopath Test – Jon Ronson

A good read for little other reason than to remind yourself that you’re not actually a psychopath. The test itself is intriguing. The revelations of incaceration worrying, but more comforting as the book goes on. The book is an interesting, amusing root about in the mind of leaders. It left me wanting more, which is why Jon Ronson appears three more times in this list.

The Men Who Stare at Goats – Jon Ronson

Here he is again. A story of how a man once stared at a goat until it died. Interesting. Definitely interesting.

Bonkers: My Life in Laughs – Jennifer Saunders

Not the best autobiography I’d ever read, nor the worst. In the list because I’d read ‘Dear Fatty’ and thought I should complete the set.

Some interesting stories about ‘the early days’. Some amusing bits about life. But a second half much more enjoyable than the first.

Jennifer’s sitcom writing style shines through. So it’s the perfect read for when you’ve not got long. The chapters are as self contained, which makes for a nice rhythm if you’re doing something else too.

Them: Adventures with Extremists – Jon Ronson

An enjoyable book about the world of paranoid conspiracists. People who walk the world thinking there’s a plan to get them and that Jewish people are behind most of it. The book plays on my natural assumption that wherever there is conspiracy, there’s probably at least some fact. It asks the questions I’d have asked if I’d got the chance to, while nicely affirming my belief that no government is organised enough to actually try and control the world.

It was only spoiled by my sudden realisation half way through that I’d flown with a book about extremism in my hand luggage.

The PR Masterclass: How to Develop a Public Relations Strategy That Works!

An interesting read with some good ideas, written by someone with actual experience of doing them. It’s not ground breaking, but an audio book version should perhaps be supplied to anyone immediately following their asking “so, what do you do?” of someone working in PR.

The Establishment: And How They Get Away with It

I abandonded this, my only abandonment this year. To me it switched between being the other side of an interview from ‘Them’ (above) and an essay written by a school boy who’d overused the ‘theasuarus’ option in Microsoft Word.

I got the feeling that you’d enjoy the book if you were already minded to believe what it was saying.

Again, it’s best left to Goodreads reviewer Adam:

“To appreciate this book, you have to understand what Owen Jones means by “the establishment”. It turns out he means anyone who disagrees with his politics or has been instrumental in some way in frustrating the success of those politics over the past 30 years. The police, America, New Labour and virtually anyone with money are all included in this somewhat expansive definition.”

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson

A great renaissance of public shaming is sweeping the world, thanks to the power individuals have developed with social media. Giving everyone a voice seems to have meant we’re all keen on finding other people’s faults, and getting offended on behalf of others. Tweet something, get on a plane and arrive to find your life has been destroyed.

The only part of the book that left something to be desired was the ‘what next’ section, which was scarce on the detail of anything that actually worked. Perhaps that, though, is because nothing really does.

As we’ve seen with Brexit, Trump and more the Internet never thinks anything’s over. The Remoaners continue to be fought as if they’ve not lost, Trump continues to point out that Clinton is terrible and everyone else who’s ever done anything wrong continues to be hounded by the Twitterati. Just look at Tony Blair.

The Internet wants the apology, but seems to have forgotten the next step is supposed to be forgiveness. The book is a nice reminder to watch your step.

How to Be a Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More and Love What You Do – Graham Allcott

I read this and instantly had the feeling that I might’ve written it myself in a past life, or before taking some kind of amnesia drug. I already do everything that it suggested – so I have taken pleasure, since I finished the book back in February, of considering myself a ‘productivity ninja’.

Read this book and do what it says if you want to be like me.

On the negative side, it could easily have been written as a 10 page article rather than a c.250 pager – but then, 10 pages a book deal is not.

Winners: And How They Succeed – Alistair Campbell

Too much sport, but some good basic ideas. Alistair’s grounding force of OST (Objective, Strategy, Tactic) and his lessons on how often people confuse them for one another is probably the most interesting thing I’ve learn this year.

I now find myself constantly sitting in briefings about projects bringing the conversation back to O, when it’s strayed onto T prematurely. It certainly gets results.

Peas & Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners – Sandi Toksvig

An entertaining tour through the weirdness of life ettiquette. It’s so very British that no one really knows where the phrase ‘mind your Ps and Qs’ comes from. Or is it ‘Mind your peas and queues?’ No one knows that either.

Good tips on getting rid of unwanted guests (useful), and proof that I am in fact fine and completely rational to be insanely irritated when people cut their bread roll with a knife at dinner.