The latest Sercombe motorbike adventure was to the Outer Hebrides. Just me, my big BMW R1200GS and my red tent. In case you’ve never been there – and few people round West Sussex have as it’s 730 miles away – this string of islands is off the northwest coast of Scotland, windy, rainy and cold.
And in the middle of a mile-long deserted pristine beach I saw this:
No footprints anywhere near, except mine, and by the time I left my idyllic wild campsite overlooking the sea, the engraving was no more – washed away by the waves.
Of course it was me. In a moment of spontaneous inspiration I carved “I AM HERE” with my foot in the sand – and the thought dominated my week, as I contemplated my life, my business, God, the universe, and my future. Today I’ve been thinking about it again as I camped out last night in the wilds of the South Downs catching up with some reading. A bit existentialist I know, but the truth is, I am here, and I will be ‘here’ for a while yet. Wherever I am, I AM. It’s the inescapable truth, and on the basis that the truth frees us, I’m enjoying the freedom.
Yep, I’m here, and it is up to me to make of it what I will.
I’m not on that beach any more. I am here instead, writing this blog. I moved on, came back to Sussex, and I’m two weeks older, and although I have a camera full of Hebridean photos – Butt of Lewis lighthouse, the rocky hillsides of Harris, Benbecula, Eriskay, and a welcoming pink roofed cafe in Lochmaddy – I can never, ever, recapture that moment on the beach.
In times of quiet solitude I become particularly aware of the presence of God ‘here’, where I am, with me. It is as if He has said, not written in sand but whispered as a permanent statement deep within, “Andrew, I am here” – wherever I am, always. Regardless of the ups and downs of my life, I’m never actually alone. The Divine Presence, the Creator, present in the world He created. With me. Here. Now. For ever.
And today that is sufficient for me. In fact overwhelmingly more so. Far more important than success, or money. God is here.
And He is where you are too – such is the omnipresent nature of the Holy Spirit. Unhampered by the limitations of time and space, God is with you as you read this on your screen – closer, actually.
3000 years ago a gifted young shepherd on the run from his tormentors wrote about it. Stunningly poetic, he wrapped it up in a way I’ll never be able to. I’ve put a few key bits of his poem for you to read quietly before you move on into the rest of your week. Take a few moments – ten minutes? – to stop and reconnect. And whilst you’ll already know that I am here for you today (yes, me, Andrew. Just a phone or Skype call or email away), far more importantly, He is too.
No, it isn’t Sue’s – she likes a warm bathroom, a loo, lots of home comforts, and a proper bed. But it is mine, although it has had none of those comforts (and I like them too!) but, I think you’ll agree, a stunning backdrop for listening and learning. And it was where I camped on my first night, in the Picos de Europa, a breathtakingly beautiful national park in the north of Spain.
And where it started to rain. And rain. See the clouds? In fact they were part of the weather system that hit the UK on Sunday night, with 80mph winds.
But rainy days are part of life, and part of travelling too. Venturing beyond the confines of my comfortable home, I can expect the unexpected and learn to adjust. The trips I do are an essential part of my work as a personal development consultant, helping me to keep a healthy perspective on people, life, and the world. Yes, I’m one of those people who get a lot of reward from taking time to think, and of being with this sort of magnificent display of the Creator’s art. It resources me so I can better serve the world.
And, yes, for the interested observer, the bike is different too. The BMW 1200GS has gone to a good home, and I’m now riding a little Burgman 400 scooter. Times change, don’t they? No major ‘off-road’ travel or 135mph across Germany, but an easy ride, and it will still go across fields and down gravel back-roads to the quieter places in our world (though the ground clearance isn’t brilliant and the frame a bit flexible).
Brittany Ferries sent me a text to say they had cancelled the ferry back from Spain, so I drove back through France in a day (getting lost in the backroads of Northern France somewhere and assailed by constant driving, gusty, rain) and caught the overnight ferry. I helped a retired couple on an ‘aire’ in the middle of France somewhere and we shared some croissants and coffee as they told me about their personal challenges. And did 10/10 with a boy and his auntie at the Ouistream terminal at Caen over rabbit and chips. And laughed with a truck driver from Lincolnshire.
And as we crossed the Channel and the decks were swept by the storm outside, I slept like a log, tucked into the warm, quiet, ensuite complimentary cabin, courtesy of Brittany Ferries. (Sue would have enjoyed that bit.)
Today I’m thinking about how I want Powerchange to go on helping people live more comfortably in their own skin. Happier. Richer. Lovelier. Free from depression and the scars of sadness. At peace with themselves. Personal happiness as their ‘default position’. If you’d like to help me do that, or would simply appreciate a chat, I’d love to hear from you. Call me or email andrew(at)powerchange(dot)com. Or you can forward this to one of your friends.
Enjoy taking some time out to be with yourself in the next few days. Schedule it. A few hours. A day. For me this time it was a week. Think about how you can more effectively help others – especially those, as Chris De Burg puts it, standing in the rain.
Cool. Well, more ‘Wet’ actually. Yes, the west coast of Norway is very wet as I found out. But stunningly beautiful.
As I returned from my last Big Trip in July 2011 I was asking myself about the next one. Poorly I definitely was, but it wasn’t stopping me from dreaming about the next long ride.
I was significantly ill with the Giardia parasite as I rode back from doing 23 countries in 25 days, the result of not taking proper precautions about ‘wild’ water. My tent was pitched beneath a huge wind turbine in Austria when my body decided to do everything possible to remove the parasite from my system. Fortunately I carry all the appropriate medication for such eventualities and got back to a pharmacy in a nearby town to renew my supplies and enjoy the luxury of a flush loo in a little coffee shop – pristine clean in Austria thankfully. (Solo riding means there is no one to mop your brow or call a doctor when you get ill. Or pack the tent up and load the bike come to that!)
But solo riding can be so addictive. Cast upon the people I meet for conversation, friendship and help when things don’t go according to plan, I develop an assumption that they will like me and help if they can.
And they do and do. Like the guys at Vromos in Bulgaria who turned up within 20 minutes of me phoning them for help, and fixed a stripped alternator belt, and got a tyre repaired at their expense, and checked the bike over. And when I asked Yavorfor the bill he looked at me and said, ‘But you bought the beers!’ I’d show you a picture of them, brilliant blokes, but my camera dropped off the bike going down into Greece and with it the memories therein of 60% of my trip. (I was gutted.)
I’ll get to the Arctic in a minute. I must tell you about the guys in Thessaloniki who saw me waiting
by the White Tower and said “Are you coming to the meeting tonight?” “What meeting?” “The Thessaloniki GS Riders Club.” Of course I turned up. It was 200 metres away in a cafe in a pretty little park. I asked them if there was a floor I could sleep on somewhere, and a muscular tattoo artist with a big smile and an even bigger heart raised his hand and said “My place” and bought me a drink. The fact I kept up with him at the end of the evening as we zipped to this little village 40km in the opposite direction to the one I planned was a mark of my riding skills on unfamiliar roads in the dark!
A fantastic evening with brilliant guys unfazed by the catastrophic state of their country’s finances. I left Greece on an old ‘tramp’ ferry, sleeping on the open car deck, sheltering from the sea spray.
Ok. I left for the Arctic on 13th July 2012. It had been waiting for me since 2009 when I visited
Norway the first time and hadn’t had the time to ride so far north. It was unfinished business and had to be done. The last day of undiminished 24hour daylight (Daylight not sunlight, as a lady on the ferry wisely reminded me!) was on the 17th. I had four days to get from Thakeham to above the Arctic Circle. I decided that the Puttegarten ferry was the route I’d take, up the west coast of Sweden. I got within 30 miles of the said ferry on Day 1, camping in a field overnight and waking to the sound of a car stopping near my tent. A German lady presented me with her good wishes for my trip and a bag of freshly baked bread rolls – still warm from the oven. Brilliant.
The next day and I was up near Oslo. The day after it was Trondheim. Then across the
mountains. (Cold. Snow. Rain. Sharp wind.) A few miles further on from the empty car park I stopped in to admire the mountains I came to the official Arctic Circle. It was still the 17th. Fantastic. Some photos and on to Skutvik to catch the ferry to Lofoten. It arrived at Svolvaer at half past midnight. In broad daylight. It wasn’t going to get much darker for a few weeks, and the sun was shining in the morning when I
awoke to my first rest day at a free camping site dedicated to the climbing fraternity. It had a tap and a ‘drop loo’ (use your imagination) and a view of the sea in front, and a view of the mountains behind.
Two thousand miles in just a few days. I was in the Lofoten, a spectacular group of islands spilling out into the Norwegian Sea.
I’m sitting in the showroom of ChandlersBMW of Brighton, waiting. My legendary 1200GS motorbike needs a little attention. (For the techies, its a steering head bearing.) It will take an hour according to Phil Banks, Chandler’s outstanding workshop manager. He is brilliant, a walking encyclopaedia.
But this blog isn’t about Phil. Its about Time.
Will the time I spend waiting in reception pass slowly or quickly?
It depends on what I’m doing and how much I’m enjoying it. If I’m enjoying the wait, … oops, there we go. (The bike is done and the time went far too quickly for me to complete this blog. I’ll stay a while, get another coffee and finish it.)
Emmet Reidy, Chandlers excellent Motorrad Manager, has just come over and is asking me about time. He has to work at “time management” he says, and then lists the unpredictability of each day as the reason for his planning challenges. I laugh, and explain it is to do with how he perceives time, and nothing to do with all the interruptions he cites.
Emmet tends to process time as if he is on the inside of it, a bit like a hamster in one of those exercise balls rolling round the room. He is living in the moment, and is surprised by interruptions that he bumps into as he lives out his day. Classic ‘Inside Time’ processing. Life is an adventure for the hampster (and for Emmet!) When you’re in the moment, as Forrest Gump‘s mother always told him “life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” Emmet’s immediate enthusiasm and spark will really ‘work’ for the GS riders like me who love a bit of adventure.
Phil is different from Emmet. He prefers to see time from outside – and runs the workshop accordingly! It’s great – efficient, predictable and thorough. As if he is watching himself from outside the hamster ball, about to roll down a step, he likes everything done very precisely. He sees what he thinks is the ‘future’ coming, and adjusts for it, preparing for those events that surprise Emmet. Phil tends towards ‘Outside Time’ processing. Phil will value safety. Emmet is likely to take some risk – though preferably on a bike that Phil has made sure is safe!
Flexibility – you can have both
The Powerchange GOLD Coach training – famous throughout the world (I wish!) for it’s amazing power, depth and breadth – focused on Time in our training last month. We showed the coaches how to move from Inside to Outside Time processing and back. The flexibility is great. We can enjoy the moment AND prepare for what lies ahead. We can also take a new perspective on the past – and change how we feel about it.
But is it that easy?
Each of us has developed our preferred default position for our own reason. It makes us feel good – either because we get a buzz out of surprises, or because we like the feeling of being prepared, being able to look forward to a good time. Or maybe some other reason. Moving from our default preference can be thought of as a not-so-good choice.
Time is odd. The past no longer exists, the future hasn’t arrived, and that leaves THIS moment. Now. As you read this. Do you prefer to be in the moment, or prefer to live life a little more detached? Are you an Emmet or a Phil?
Emmet may have more difficulty remembering and planning. He’ll need to reference a diary more often. Phil, on the other hand, may find the normal unpredictability of life less exciting than Emmet, and is likely to look forward to future events and past good times with what he will regard as due caution. He is unlikely to get such an amazing emotional ‘high’ as Emmet. He will avoid the ‘lows’ too. Life will seem safer, and perhaps less interesting.
Human beings start life ‘inside time’. A baby has no understanding of hours days, past or future. That concept is developing at a massive rate through childhood and into adolescence. However, by the time we’ve reached adulthood we will have experienced all sorts of traumas, some very minor, others highly significant, and know what it is like to wait in a queue and rush for an appointment. Those traumas affect our learning about time. Pain and pleasure affect the memories we have, ‘tagging’ them. If there are a lot of tags that are unpleasant (just one major one can do it) we will be much more cautious about ‘living in the moment’ as Inside Time people tend to, and want to take a more stepped back, Outside Time position. It gives us time to process and consider. The upside is that we will be better prepared to handle/withstand negative experiences. The down side is we are unlikely to enjoy the pleasurable moments so much.
How do you process time? If you’re after more flexibility, get in touch.
Yes, I got caught: 72 miles per hour on a deserted dual carriageway at a quarter to eight on a Sunday morning(!) in September with the sun pouring down and visibility perfection itself. Deserted except for the mobile camera trap on the opposite carriageway. Unfortunately I was looking at the road ahead on my side of the dual carriageway. My error.
So it was a fair cop … ish. I was exceeding the speed limit, and as I wasn’t exceeding it by much, Surrey Safety Camera Partnership (I won’t give you the web link to this. It uses such violent images and emotional blackmail that it borders on the obscene. I don’t want it associated with this blog) in deep discussion with Surrey Police (they like to have the public on their side) decided that this errant non-conformist might benefit from a Driver Speed Awareness course run by Drivetech (UK) Ltd. I attended it last week, and here is my report. It’s very long and doesn’t make easy reading.
I wandered into Guildford Spectrum Leisure Centre (the venue for the course) well before the allotted time to join a gathering throng of 19 naughty boys and girls aged 20 to 70. It SO reminded me of naughty children in school lining up outside the head’s study, I couldn’t help but chuckle, till I realised how sad this actually was: they appeared appropriately cowed and penitent, standing against the walls on either side of the entrance, playing with their phones, looking down, hiding behind their hair, avoiding eye contact, alone. Not good, I thought. All they’ve done is get caught for a mild infringement (by the Partnership’s own admission) of the speeding laws in this compliance-obsessed country. That’s all. Unfortunately for me, as I was about to find out later, if I’d appeared a bit more cowed and penitent it might have gone better for me.
I cracked a joke in these straitened circumstances (it went down like a lead balloon) to try and lighten the atmosphere, and chatted to the man next to me. How long have you been driving? 47 years, he whispered. Ever injured anyone? No. Ever had an accident? No. Then what on earth is he doing here, I wondered. We smiled at each other, curious as to what might lie ahead. We waited and waited, and eventually the Course Director and his ardent trainer arrived. Late.
The first three minutes
I was the last one to enter the room and the only chair I would fit into in this too-small crowded room was on the far side of the room. All the other classroom seats were taken. I sat down, and with passport checked, (no, really!) signed myself off on the clipboard. I was ready and waiting expectantly. What happened next shook me. The trainer walked across the room straight at me, shoved a marker pen within inches of my face and told me to write the speed I had been caught doing on the whiteboard at the front for all to see. I was shocked to say the least and gently explained that I wouldn’t be doing that. The Course Director strode across to ‘speak’ to me, demanding that I show him my papers where it says quite clearly that I must fully participate in order to pass the training. But there was no pass or fail, I’d been told. Ah, yes, but I would not be signed off as having successfully attended the course unless I participated fully. “Satisfactory completion of the course shall be determined at the absolute and sole discretion of the trainer.” It occurred to me that he had absolute power and knew it. I dared to question his power. Now if he decided he didn’t like me, I was dead.
We were less than 3 minutes into the four hour programme and I was already in trouble. I explained that I was here to learn… “Oh no you’re not, sir” he said. “You’re here to avoid three points on your licence. You’re on the wrong course. This course isn’t for you, this is for people who will participate fully and you’re not doing that. I think you need to leave.” I was gob-smacked and felt intimidated.
“But I’ve only been here three minutes and I’ve come to learn all I can.” “No you’re not.” It took me all my skills and about another five minutes to convince him. (Reason was in short supply.) By that time I had been accused of lying, maligned, embarrassed, verbally abused and bullied by the finest of them. I don’t know what everyone else in the room thought, but I was shaking and appalled. I had come to learn and was being bullied. I suddenly felt for all the school children in our country who don’t quite fit the system so experience every day what I was only experiencing for a few minutes. It was awful. I knew there was no way I was not going to submit to such disgraceful unprofessional behaviour. However, he ‘let’ me stay (how kind) nodded conspiratorially to the trainer and left the room returning only to feed the trainer with pots of take-out Costa coffee.
Not the best start, and in some ways I wished I hadn’t stayed. I may not have been in a state to be able to make a rational and objective assessment of the rest of the four hours, but all I can say is it damaged me, reinforcing all the stereotypes of ‘corrective education’ and made a mockery of the idea bandied about on the website promoting it. I later thought how ironic that the Speed Awareness Scheme is abbreviated to SAS. It felt like an SAS political re-education programme. After an unendurable amount of time of watching people being ridiculed, put down, and forced to participate in this correction-centre charade, I looked at my watch only to experience another minor shock. We weren’t even half way through. It was going to be a long afternoon.
Let’s get this in perspective. I was the worst speeding offender in the group, exceeding the limit by 12 miles per hour, 72 in a 60 limit. These people did not deserve to be punished in this way. Some of them had been caught doing just 33 in a 30 limit, yet the threat of being “sent back to the Court” (quoted several times) was used to full effect by the power-mad trainer. He had an agenda, and a list of ‘right’ answers that even the brightest and best of us in the room were unable to fathom. Let me illustrate.
What do you think the sign in the picture above means? “It’s indicates a right hand bend ahead,” said the first person. “NO.” postured the trainer, waddling up and down like a cartoon character. Having that option out of the way he turned to the next person in line, obviously looking forward to catching them out and displaying how absolutely clever he was. “It’s a warning sign,” she said timidly. “NO.” he smugly replied again. Louder this time. Gotcha. That was her sorted. Now on to the next innocent victim… What on earth am I going to come up with, I thought as I realised that the first two answers might have been the ones in the Highway Code, but they obviously weren’t on his list. I worked out there were 14 more wrong answers to go before he got to me. I started to create some entertaining possibilities for when it was my turn, but clearly I’d be regarded as non-cooperative and ‘returned to the Court” if I’d dared to voice them. And that was just the right hand bend sign. Intrigued, I started to count open and closed questions, and how many times he said ‘No’ to a trying-to-be-helpful volunteer. It went on and on.
I could go on too, but instead I’ve put the rest in my letter of complaint. I’ll let you know the result. Such behaviour cannot be ignored by reasonable citizens. We have to protest at this kind of outrageous treatment for minor infringements of ridiculous laws. For me it convinced me that this speeding business isn’t about safety at all, but about power and money and conformity. I paid £73 and a day of my time to be bullied by two people who, regardless of their intentions, modelled how to be dogmatic, arrogant, rude, and abusive. And how to misuse power. (Copied from their masters? I hope not.) All in the name of Surrey Police and the Surrey Safety Camera Partnership. I was so distracted and disturbed by what I experienced during that afternoon my driving was absolutely terrible on the way home and remained that way for the next few days. I had been shaken and traumatised, I was angry at the injustice and didn’t sleep more than two hours that night. The sad thing is, with a different underlying ethos to the programme it could have been so different, with those people keen to learn. Fortunately I’ve been able to coach myself through it to a safer (literally) place, but what about the people who don’t have that skill?
The truth is, I did learn a lot last Wednesday at the Spectrum in Guildford. Most of it I only wish I hadn’t.
It was just a year ago that a lovely lady pulled her VW Golf across in front of me to enter a petrol station and…in a matter of seconds, my prized blue BMW 1200GS motorbike was no more. Following the thought, “No,no, no, don’t pull across, don’t do it, stop, stop!” and the next resigned thought, “I’m going to hit it” as I contemplated the inevitability of my coming fate, the front of my bike plunged reluctantly into her passenger door, I sailed in a rather ungainly double somersault over the roof of the black Golf thinking (in that split-second eternity that is the slow motion experience of a crash) “So this is what it’s like” and promptly hit the tarmac with a resounding ‘squelch’ … so I’m told.
Then more pain than a brave man like me should be called upon to admit to, let alone endure, assailed my tender torso. Before long, the emergency services were on the scene and I was being looked after by an understanding paramedic – and told to “stand up and blow into this tube” by a less than understanding member of the Government’s ‘special forces’. Eventually it dawned on the young policewoman that I couldn’t stand up as I had just had a slightly traumatic few minutes lying on tarmac and she let me blow into her little alcohol machine sitting down. It was green of course.
Fortunately, I had ‘only’ a broken elbow, pain everywhere, two sprained wrists, “soft tissue damage” to my ankle, (read ‘knackered’) and bruises in places I never knew existed. Nothing much then. In informal discussion with the paramedic, I turned down the kind offer of a blue-light ride to hospital (no, I didn’t fancy six hours in the company of the intoxicated-and-falling-over wounded at Epsom Hospital A & E on a Sunday night) but there followed what can only be described as a substantially ‘bracing’ few weeks. A visit to Worthing hospital at a more civilised hour (and no drunks) the following day revealed the full damage, and before the week was out I was covered in a glorious array of autumn colours. They lasted for the rest of the winter with most of the sunset-tinted ones spreading to bits of me that I would rather not mention. Ah, well…
Everyone confirmed that it was the dear lady’s fault (including the protagonist: “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you, I’m so sorry”) and the guys at BMW Motorrad took one look at the crumpled wreck and wondered how long the bloke would be in hospital – with the distinct possibility that he would never come out. Sobering thought. Needless to say, its write-off status was confirmed by the assessor, and another shiny 1200GS arrived within a few weeks for me to continue my GS adventures, albeit a little more tentatively.
It’s always good to have a kind and loving wife at these times. Sue took what was left of me home to Sussex and was very sweet, kindly pointing out that I wouldn’t have to clean a bike for a few weeks. It also meant she had to soap me in the bath for a while. (Not altogether bad then?!) Within a week or two my BMW insurance coughed up and a 2008 GS arrived – a Promo bike with 7K on the clock and new tyres, how kind. And with it arrived the compelling desire to get past the fear and plan the next trip…
I have to report a certain success in this department. In the last year I’ve done another 16,000 miles on it, from Spain, to Scotland, to Scandinavia, to Snowdon, sleeping each night beside the bike, wherever I could discretely pitch my little one-man tent. I absolutely love the GS (now with its two extra driving lights so people can see me coming) and I love the utter freedom of seeing the world from the saddle of my silver steed – and yes, she does have a name.
Sadly, the accident has meant my limbs no longer work quite as they used to – a few of the previously working joints have been permanently knackered. Their malfunctioning can be frustrating – and a lot of other things – but let’s keep the GS wheels turning. As a personal and executive coach who works with people who live inhibited lives, I know how freedom-threatening fear can be and, just for the record, I’m determined not to make defeat my final destination. I think it will be Finland instead.
Look out, Europe, I’m on the road again. (Cue Willie Nelson on guitar.)