Auspicious Times in Sri Lanka

Touching down at Bandaranaike airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka, late last Saturday, for the first time in over three years, my uber driver cruised down the highway and straight into the country’s annual Vesak celebrations.

It was after midnight, and my hotel was just a few kilometers away, but we weren’t moving anywhere.

Children with their heads stuck out of car sunroofs, beaming in glitter masks, young men and women excitedly hopping between the traffic on their scooters, lines of people queuing up to sample free cardamon tea and pastry snacks, prepared by this proud local urban community – united, in finally hosting a festival that had been de-railed for the previous four years in a row.

2023 Vesak was jump starting a country that has faced some of the worst crises since peace broke out in 2009: the Easter terrorist attacks in 2019; the protracted fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic; the country’s subsequent economic downturn and fuel crisis. Sri Lanka has endured all of these things and yet, into the early hours of Sunday morning, its citizens were resolute in their celebrations, bringing the traffic to a joyful standstill.

I was simply delighted to be once more back on the island. Readers of this blog will know a little about my mini obsession with the country and in spite of the recent turmoil in Sri Lanka, I’ve kept my ties these past few years mainly through my commitment as a Board Member to Chrysalis, and to their immaculate work in support of women and youth. Time with their team last week reinvigorated me, their ongoing innovation and commitment to social change is second to none.

On Monday, the Chrysalis CEO, Ashika Gunasena, and I attended a high-level Forum hosted by UN Sri Lanka and UNDESA (the United Nation’s department for Environment and Social Affairs).

The event kicked off a week of training events and discussions, on the part of the UN’s various agencies in the country, about the power of partnerships.

One hundred guests attended the opening Forum and heard a rallying call to action from a range of groups, representing not just the UN but civil society, the private sector and academia.

The central tenet was simple: it is imperative to embrace multi-stakeholder partnerships as a means to address the country’s societal issues. Speaker after speaker echoed this sentiment. Each taking turns to amplify the reality that it can only be in working together, and across all sectors, that the country might overcome its current social and environmental crises.

Like Vesak, it felt like an auspicious time to be back in Sri Lanka. A turning point, perhaps, for a country grappling with how best to move its economy and its society forward.

Audience members voiced concerns about trust and transparency between sectors seeking to collaborate and, at times, the Forum struck a more somber tone. However, overall, there was a sense optimism and a shared determination that the country simply cannot risk falling further behind economically.

As an Associate of The Partnering Initiative, I attended the full ‘Partnerships Week’ in a training capacity, joining TPI’s Founder, Darian Stibbe, in the facilitation of a 4-day set of modules on partnering, in collaboration with UNDESA.

The course is known as the Partnership Accelerator, and is designed to offer training on partnership fundamentals, as well as share learning about more complex partnering issues and troubleshooting for when things go awry, as they can often do.

The first half of our week was spent with almost 50 participants, drawn predominantly from across UN and Government departments. This was followed by a second two days of “Training of the Trainers” where we worked with 15 colleagues assigned to take forward the partnership curriculum to their teams, and to their partners.

The concept of creating both the momentum for partnering, as well as strengthening the requisite skills for organisations using this approach, means that, over time, an exponential number of colleagues become empowered to better leverage partnerships to the best effect.

This is the second TPI Partnership Accelerator I’ve delivered, and the course is highly effective.

The content is finely tuned from TPI’s 20 years of experience in designing and managing capacity building courses like this one. We offer theory, we share frameworks. There are case studies to dissect, and TPI tools to utilise. All as you would expect.

The extra ingredient, that makes the sessions so rewarding, are the participants themselves.

Unlike some training courses, the participants do not get a lot of time sat listening to power-point slides. Instead, they are up on their feet designing role plays, performing sketches in front of their colleagues, creating real life scenarios where they can experiment with such things as ‘how to build trust’, or ‘how to overcome power imbalances’ – two typical characteristics that many multi-stakeholder partnerships face.

These group performances are fun and energetic, and this helps create solid conditions for learning.

With emails piling up in participants’ in-boxes, and some being summoned to urgent, last minute government meetings, it was a testament to our teams last week that so much of their energy to learn, and to collaborate with one another, were still at high levels by the closing sessions on Friday.

Their curiosities for how to transfer new knowledge into their work was piqued throughout the 4 days and it was a true privilege to work alongside so many committed and creative colleagues.

If these are, indeed, auspicious times for the country, then I returned home feeling more than just a flicker of excitement about how these times might yet be positively shaped, by some of those in the room with us last week.


Some Might Say

I was on a kibbutz in August 1996, milking cows at four in the morning and hiding out in our bomb-shelter-turned-bar of an evening, drinking vodka and smoking ‘noblesse’ cigarettes, that constituted the sum total of our weekly purchases, with the 50 shekels we volunteers earnt each month.

Over at Knebworth, not that far away from where I’d grown up in the UK, the most famous band in the world at the time, Oasis, kicked off a two-day concert, attended by 250,000 people.

I watched the documentary, about this historical spectacle, earlier this week, and have spent all morning, so far, transfixed by the album produced from that weekend.

There is a mesmerizing nature to the documentary itself. Not least because it re-kindled, for me, many teenage memories. From the hours sat in my bedroom, live taping off the radio, to the ordeal of dialing up for concert tickets (in an era pre-internet, pre-social media), to the songs themselves – enduring anthems that followed me from school to university, and which give me goosebumps even now.

A year after this concert, Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ administration took office, to a euphoric fanfare of support from huge swathes of the country, speaking out against the long bout of Conservative rule.

Regardless of your political or musical persuasions (Tony Blair’s tenure was fairly topsy turvy, and Blur were a pretty decent band in the 1990s, too) it feels, 26 years on, that the UK is in need of a seminal moment, similar to Oasis‘ Knebworth weekend.

A 2022 version of what that Knebworth concert encapsulated, would do everyone very well at the moment: the regaining of dignity it might kindle, perhaps; the coming together of people, collectively exhausted from another long stretch of Tory reign.

Bring it on.

I’m yet to read anything that points to anything positive that has come from the 2016 Brexit referendum. I do alter my news feeds as much as possible and so, of course, I could find positive commentaries about Brexit out there easily enough.

Thing is, I am not convinced by any of them.

It is from that particular moment, back in the summer of 2016, that I believe today’s current crises have manifested.

A “complete disaster” are the words a dear friend of mine used, only yesterday, when reflecting on the trials and tribulations of living in the UK these last 6 years, as someone originally born in Europe.

Where are the economic gains promised by the Leave Campaign? Where is the accountability, for any of what went down during Brexit, from those politicians responsible, and still in power?

Across today’s glut of online perspectives, it’s not difficult to pluck out reliable data about the UK’s diminishing trade exports last year, or the 1.2 million UK jobs currently not filled. The Government’s recent tax cuts, that led to an ugly fall in the UK’s already compromised and weak currency, and which have hoicked up borrowing costs and will inevitably result in inflation, seem to me to have been well and truly poorly orchestrated. A bit like Cameron’s decision to let the country vote on Brexit.

The stark chasm that exists the UK Government and the UK public is stretched, once again, to breaking point.

In the first episode of the TV show “This England”, recently launched, we see a Prime Minister (Boris Johnson) well and truly out of touch with reality. Johnson is not alone in this, although he’s very often a convenient, and highly plausible, scapegoat.

Personally, I’ve no sense of excitement, no hope, that any of the current UK political parties are anywhere close to the pulse of the mood of the country. Nor do they want to be. Which is, perhaps, part of the issue.

All of which doesn’t mean a change isn’t desperately needed on the part of British politics. The tidal swings between Labour and Tory governments in power is a hopeless prospect, in my opinion. Nor would a decent music concert suddenly iron out all the UK’s economic troubles.

What a music concert, or a movement, or some kind of people’s ‘moment’ in time, would achieve, would be to try and replace the unique identity – for a long time now smothered in a stew of economic and political mush (curated by self-centred politicians who have lost their sense of duty to the public they serve) – of what it means to be British.

Sounds cliched maybe, but that’s exactly what Oasis managed to do that weekend.

Queen Elizabeth II

I was almost 7 when my Dad woke me up for school one morning and, as he drew open the curtains, uttered the words: “we’re at war”.

Later, I recall sitting cross-legged on the classroom floor – beige carpet – staring up at our teacher as she explained to us where the Falklands were. I don’t recall anything else about why Britain was at war. It felt so distant, so unreal.

My daughters may reflect back, when they are older, on eating toast this morning with me as we discussed the life of Queen Elizabeth II.

Nowhere close to being an oracle on the history of the monarchy, nor someone who has ever felt at ease with the lavish pomp and ceremony aspect of the Royal Family, I have ingrained respect for the role the Queen has played over so many years in helping define my culture.

And when I say “over so many years” this lady’s first Prime Minister was born in 1874, and her most recent, 1975.

I wonder, now, and in the years to come, how significantly the role of the monarchy will change in the UK?

It feels, intuitively, like a good idea to examine how and why this one family should continue to play a part in society, over the next 70 years. I think that would be welcomed by many, and could prove to be a healthy exercise.

We live in a world where just a handful of powerful people can make decisions that directly impact the rest of us. It strikes me, too, that many of these people are men, and most of them aren’t representative of the rest of us. But, hey, isn’t that last point always going to be the case?

Assuming this form of inequity won’t change any time soon, and that King Charles III will require some time yet before anything too radical is tabled which might challenge his own power and decision-making abilities, what sits with me this morning, sparked by the Queen’s passing, is a deep sense of regard for those others committed in their pursuit of service and of the common good.

I have written here of my dear Aunt Myra, and the sacrifices she made in her life to support her community and various charitable causes.

My own parents have kept tireless vigil over their neighbours and friends for as long as I can recall. From actual counseling and comforting those going through hard times, to coordinating a pooled driving service in their village for people no longer able to drive themselves, through to ensuring the church flowers are suitably buffed each week, that community events run smoothly, and much more beyond that.

When he is not giving up his time Chairing a Board of School Governors, my brother’s professional commitment at Solent University for over 20 years now, to his fellow sportsmen and women, is unprecedented – endless chauffeuring of teams to matches up and down the country, dedicated mentoring of Paralympian athletes, as well as the odd Buck Palace invite in his role as ambassador of the Wooden Spoon charity.

My list could continue. Friends I know who volunteer for local causes, acquaintances I’ve heard tell their own stories about the difference made to them by the generosity of others.

If, at times, the pandemic helped shine light on the importance of giving service to one another, I think it probably also helped many people realise that showing up for others doesn’t always need to be a one-way street, either. What drives one person to give to another can often result in a win-win outcome.

That need to give, that desire to make a positive connection, somehow, and for many people, is exactly what they require in their lives to give them the type of responsibility and purpose that they need themselves.

In a reasonably unrelated segue, and to finish, here is Stephen Fry (not always in the favour of Palace folk, given some of his misdemeanors on their turf) with 60 seconds on the Queen and the art of decency.

Stephen Fry on the Queen

My Balinese Monday

Tinsel-flecked emerald water
Simmers in the baking midday sun,
The sway and bob of the local fishing fleet
In teal red yellow and green
Salt-crusted bows, and paint flakes,
Tumbles of clove-scented breeze
Part the arcs of banana leaves 
Outside the temple,
Coursing down the lanes
That claw between the crumbling
Coastal trails - astride the Wallace line - 
A family of frangipani arms splay their 
Towards the white rays that
Enshroud my Monday island - 
Nusa Lembongan.

The Best Time…Ever

Photo credit

‘Carpe diem’ often crops up in my writing, and surfaces on social media daily, in different guises.

Living for the moment, or living in the moment – as you wish – can be a powerful mantra, to re-balance a frustrating moment in one’s day or, perhaps, even course correct on a more significant scale.

For many people undergoing moments of sheer crisis, using carpe diem to help consciously place value on things that are often overlooked (time with loved ones, being typically high up the list) can carry with it much deeper rooted sway, and offer up a slice of mental salvation, even if just temporarily.

Jordon Peterson emphasizes the importance of trying hard with the ‘everyday moments’ – breakfast chatter with family members, preparing a meal together, holding hands in the park. Peterson’s advice seems to match that of Annie Dillard, when she famously said: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

All of this we’ve heard before. And, maybe, the art of drawing from these sentiments, when required, is one of those past-times we will never quite fully master.

Last Boxing Day, during a brief staycation in the city, I met an 80 year old Chinese-born-American-raised, ex-financier, named Frank. “Another day above ground,” was his greeting to me, as we locked gazes in the hotel’s swimming pool.

Frank, it transpired, had retired at my age, and appears to have spent the last 35 years trying to help encourage aspiring professionals to do the opposite to what he managed to achieve.

Slow down, would be Frank’s counsel, appreciate not the materialistic assets for which you might strive but, instead, savour the smaller things in life.

“You can’t take the Porsche with you when you’ve gone,” he advised me (this was prior to him learning that I was in development and that, not only do I not know a Porsche from a Peugeot, but that I’ll never be in the market for one, unless it came in a matchbox set).

Of course, Frank is right – arguably, he is also well placed to share this wisdom with hindsight, having already made squillions of dollars working for the Qatari Royal Family as a stock broker in the 1980s.

Nonetheless, he’s right and, if we wind forward to the last week, day, or even the last hour of our own life, then 99% of the things that we spend time thinking about now (work, finances, relationships, assets, the future etc) do certainly become redundant, as we clear our minds, instead, to reflect, appreciate and to resolve.

True, some people will only be at peace, when they are at an end of life stage, if their reflections on what they have accomplished are measured by career achievements. In which case, work, assets and money are worthy and mutually reinforcing targets.

For others, measurement using these types of criteria are less critical. Oscar Wilde himself believed it to be a “curse” if someone had a predefined career path, as that would mean they weren’t afforded the luxury of waking up each day with “wings of independence”.

I’m a huge fan of Wilde, always ready to ingest his colourful observations: tasty mind-candy to momentarily sweeten my day.

However. I think “seizing the day” can be bigger than this, I think there’s more to it, and more required, than the short-term sugar rush of that particular attribute of carpe diem.


I had surgery on Valentine’s Day this year. My first time going into an operating theatre on a gurney, luminous bug-eyed lights craning over me, and four pairs of masked faces jostling around my feet with clipboards, as the plastic tube into my hand administered a calming anesthetic.

For 20 seconds, lying there, waiting to be knocked out, all of a sudden I decided to hastily reflect on my life, the brain whirring through all possible options, as fast as a 5G search engine.

I panicked. The anesthetic was circulating in my veins. I breathed. Within only a few seconds of manic emotional wrenching, I then paused and simply pictured Issy and the girls, held their warm smiles in freeze-frame and concluded (rather pathetically, but with as much profoundness as my soon to be sleeping brain could muster) that “I’d had a good life, and done quite well.”

Awake a few hours later, my Achilles tendon stitched back together, I felt a bit embarrassed at this rather botched attempt at spiritual reconciliation.

Who was I projecting my “last” thoughts to? Also, if, rationally, I actually thought there might be a chance I’d not ever wake from the surgery, why was I even undergoing this procedure in the first place?

All fruitless questions to pursue. The more important dilemma to untangle (I should have realised at the time) was, logistically, how was I going to stop to buy valentine’s flowers for my wife on the way home from the hospital, whilst on crutches, and feeling sleepy? A purchase which, for the archives, let it be recorded, I did manage to successfully accomplish.

A few day’s passed and I thought over the experience again, and became quite moved by my resolve at searching, in those seconds on the gurney, for an ultimate answer (particularly, given I’d no idea what the question was I was posing myself).

In that moment before the drugs kicked in, what I had felt was all of my senses in tune with this one active effort: to make sense of it all. The seconds that passed, as I was running a scan over my life, trying to spit out a suitable summary, were super intense, and had felt visceral and unfamiliar.

Three and a half months later and, on the verge of leaving Vietnam’s borders once more this month, and spending time with family and friends we’ve not seen since we were married in Galle in January 2020, what carpe diem feels like for me, today, is a much more rounded appreciation of the meaning of ‘awesome’.

As a colloquialism, awesome has been sold on the cheap. It dawned on me that “being inspired by an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration or fear” (the actual meaning of the word ‘awesome’) could be attributed to every second of one’s life.

For each second that passes, we change, we morph, we learn, we evolve. Only very, very slightly, each second, but change is happening, whether we like it or not.

And, yet, the only second that counts, the only second that can illicit awe, is the one that is happening at that moment.

Now, with what I’m about to finish on, I may, simply and idly, be lumping Peterson, Dillard and Wilde all into one mash-up, attempting to craft an ultimate carpe diem medley – having my cake and eating it, if you will. However, given I’m hopelessly devoted to some kind of pursuit in life that enjoys mixing different flavours of philosophy together, in order to make the most delicious bite (although I’m never satisfied with the final taste) then these last lines may well be nonsense, or just plain obvious…

Isn’t the truth of the matter this: when someone uses the phrase “the best is yet to come,” that should be called out as hogwash?

The “best” anything we’ve ever done, or experienced, is happening to us right now.

The best meal we’ve ever eaten is the one in our mouths when we are eating it. The best discussion we’ve ever had is the one in full flow right now (whether we’re having it with someone else, or with ourselves).

With each fresh breath of oxygen into our lungs, and flush of blood round our hearts, we are experiencing the awe of existence, the miracle of life.

Whether on our own, or in the company of others, whether feeling elated or feeling remorseful, or out of kilter in some way – the awe remains, it doesn’t ever go anywhere but lies, instead, under the surface of our lives, intuitively hidden away most of the time. Until it is needed.

The best isn’t yet to come, the best is right now. And it always will be.

A Poem by Flo

One from the Covid archives, written by Florence (in March 2022) and posted by a proud Daddy...

The Global Pandemic 

They cancelled school one day
And we all thought hurray, hurray
An extra day, for us to play

For we had no idea
The next two years
We would feel like prisoners 

Locked in our country
Locked in our city
Locked in our homes

Dragging yourself out of bed everyday
Only to grab your laptop
And crawl back inside your den

Learning through a screen
Isolated from your friends
Zoom calls just aren't the same

Need a ticket to go outside 
The police are lions
Waiting to catch and give you a fine

Walking laps in your flat
Trying to hit your daily ten thousand 
But you never succeed 

Family all over the world
Grandparents going grey 
Skype will have to do

How about we turn on the news?
It's just as depressed 

Five million cases worldwide!
Eight thousand deaths today!
The corona virus has turned into a global pandemic!

Locked in our country
Locked in our city
Locked in our homes

We have lost loved ones
We have been animals trapped in a zoo
But it’s all coming to an end 

We have made it through the global pandemic 
Of twenty twenty
 to twenty twenty two.

I watch the cathedral spires

I watch the cathedral spires through wisps of smoke,
A cold chill of wind in my hair,
Air coated in damp February droplets as
Sparrows glide then dart over Palace Green.

Behind these cobbled chapel walls
The burning chatter of youth suppressed,
Whilst classical literature is pondered
Chairs tip back in anticipation of new beginnings.

These sacred rooms nested inside the bustle of
North Eastern promise – a working class left wanting,
A weekly chorus of ritual and graft
Runs deep and deeper still.

Into the bowels of those mothers and fathers
Whose toil and routine are etched in skin and might,
True colours refracted back
In the filament of the glass window before me.


A learning journey, all the way across America

Photo courtesy of Ricky Gates –

I watched Ricky Gates’ 2017 run across America yesterday, and found it inspiring on a number of levels.

Gates had felt unsettled at the time about the Trump administration winning the 2016 election and, as a professional runner and someone drawn, and devoted to understanding better what life “is all about”, he took on the challenge of solo running from the Atlantic to the Pacific ocean on his own.

He managed this in as unaided a way as is technically practical, so just one support vehicle, loosely tracking him with some supplies. He slept out each night on a tarp and camping mat, which he carried on his back.

Possibly, from reading about Donald Trump’s return to social media this morning (which I refuse to share here) but also due to having sat on my arse for the past 6 days, following surgery on my Achilles, I felt compelled to celebrate Gates’ pilgrimage from 5 years ago.

Firstly, I’ll embrace any opportunity to support and promote an endeavour that was, itself, “inspired” as a means to counter the turmoil (at the time, and possibly still) that is Donald Trump. Sign me up for, literally anything, that might spread an anti-Trump message.

Second, no matter how polished Gates’ running portfolio is, a marathon a day for over 150 days – including sleeping outside in the open, every night, breaking camp and boiling a stove in the mornings for your daily pre-marathon coffee – is nothing less than a herculean accomplishment.

Gates planned his route meticulously from state to state, many of which he was setting foot in for the first time.

He documented the diversity of landscape and culture along the way, and had already hammered home the eclecticness and the natural beauty of America before he’d left his first state.

He even choreographed a pit-stop back on his home turf in Aspen, Colorado – the familiar “comforts” of running over the Rocky Mountains nearby, super-charging him for what was next to come: endless miles of searing heat across the Nevada desert.

With all this planning, however, each day he attempted to get from dawn to dusk in as basic a way as possible. If his phone (which contained the map) ran out of battery, before he could re-charge it, he was forced to follow his instincts and, on several occasions, he went off course.

In the desert, his initial strategy, to avoid the 110 degree daytime temperatures, was to run through the night. As this routine proved troublesome from the resulting lack of sleep he was managing, he then bought a golf cart, carrying the extra water he needed, before upgrading to a child’s stroller, equipped with an umbrella, and allowing him more running time when the sun was up.

It was during this gruelling chapter in the desert that Gates suffered acid reflux.

You’d imagine that, due to the sheer amount of distance he covered, it would be the knees or the heels giving up, but it was his stomach that succumbed. He couldn’t keep food down, spent days vomiting and passing blood and then, on the verge of seeking medical help and throwing in the towel, he decided to experiment with ingesting mouthfuls of mustard (a tip from the internet).

This eventually worked, and he kept pushing on. So calm in his temperament when on camera. Resolute in not failing. Forever curious about what his commitment to a goal, that could surely be doing him long-term damage, was to reveal along the way.

And so, lastly, what stuck with me from Gates’ story, by way of a lesson underneath which we can all hook some learning, wasn’t to be in awe at how far our bodies and minds can be stretched, or to what heights of resiliency our spirits can soar. It was Gates’ humble reflections on his experience that I valued the most.

Naturally, it is only through the medium of cliches that achievements such as Gates’ can be summarised.

As other explorers of his generation (Beau Miles is another go-to, for me) help curate modern twists on well known wisdoms, Gates’ documentary plays homage to many, yet seems to dial up those connected most to the study of solitude, and escaping the impulses many of us have, to take on different and often competing roles on a day-to-day basis.

Why not focus instead, Gates muses, on just one. Being you.

Akin to the adage about being “true to oneself” it seems to me that Ricky Gates’ epic journey in 2017 underscored what he already knew about life – namely, that we all know very little, really, about how to make sense of it, and can often be the creators of our own mis-directions, in our attempts to do so.

Perhaps, accepting this, is as solid a starting point for any of us, no matter where we find ourselves when we’re at our most thoughtful or our most fearful.

Do we all have to go on epic journeys to be at peace with our sense of self, and how we show up in the world? I suspect it’s plausible that we do.

Although, choosing the 3,700 mile run option definitely isn’t for the faint-hearted.