Leaf – an exercise in patience

I was sitting on the New York City Highline last Sunday, enjoying the fine weather and the way the light fell through the birch trees.

Birch Trees Highline NYC

I sketched a quick water colour postcard before moving on to a bar to eat pizza and watch the Giants get stuffed in the NFL.

Later in the day I got to thinking about the leaves on the trees and decided to draw one. The outline took just a minute and then I began to fill in the cell structure of the leaf. This small piece of work took me a long time, around three and a quarter hours in all. Some of the leaf was filled in at my desk in the teeny apartment I’m renting in NYC, the rest was inked in at various cafes and bars. After about an hour I confess I had a ‘wish I’d never started this’ moment, and I persisted. I’m pleased I did – the finished result has exceeded my expectations and will be a gift for Carole when I get home.


Here are a few work in progress photos

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Nobody Said It Was Easy

I wrote this post as part of Alison Chisnell‘s excellent advent blog series. I expect a lot of you have read it already, and the main reason I am reposting it is simply so that I have a record of it here, under my roof as well as Alison’s.

2012 started in a burst of optimism. I’d set a goal of winning and delivering more ambitious, stretching work projects and I was hoping to forge some new associations to help make this goal a reality. Two really interesting ideas were taking shape, the first a piece of business development and marketing work, the second a project around smart use of social media to drive more colleague and customer collaboration. We had also lined up an Unchristmas lunch for a few people who had supported the business over the past year or so.

The lunch was on a Friday. It was great fun catching up with a lovely group of people and then heading off to enjoy the weekend. From my experiences lots of offices are empty on a Friday as a slew of people choose to ‘work from home’ (don’t worry – I won’t tell). For me, Friday is a good day to strengthen the social fabric that is woven throughout a great place to work; I’d like to see more people lunching together more often.

I digress.

Time Stands Still

“Summer’s going fast, Nights growing colder
Children growing up, Old friends growing older
Experience slips away”

It is late Sunday afternoon on January 22nd 2012 and my phone rings. One of my Sisters wants to know if I’ve heard from Dad, ‘he was due to pop round and he hasn’t showed’. Carole, Keira and I were just diving into a local restaurant for a family meal and I said I’d call him and check in afterwards. As we left the restaurant the phone rang again. This time it was my Brother in law, Steve. ‘Doug, I’m at your Dad’s place, sorry to have to tell you he is dead’.

Suddenly you were gone.

I took Carole and Keira home and headed off. The police came round to Dad’s to satisfy themselves there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death and then left. I encouraged Steve to head on home to be with his family and I waited for the coroner’s ambulance to come and take Dad’s body away. That was a weird few hours sitting in an empty old house, listening to it move and sigh like an old building does.

Prime Mover

“From the point of conception, To the moment of truth
At the point of surrender, To the burden of proof
From the point of ignition, To the final drive
The point of the journey is not to arrive
Anything can happen…”

Functions sometimes get in the way of feelings, and so it was as funeral and other plans were made. Dad died intestate, so I steeled myself for the mountain of paperwork that began to accumulate. The family and friends supported each other well through this time, and I had given my commitment to Dad that I would take responsibility for his affairs. This period of time was tough, I found it almost impossible to keep the business going and take care of family business to the point where I suffered a bizarre physical breakdown. My right knee stiffened and blew up like a balloon. My right arm and chest ached like I’d never felt before and for a few weeks I could barely get about. I was scared.

My physical condition was temporary and things began to improve. Through this time I took support and encouragement from many people and places. Most people aren’t aware of how important they became to me, and I want to recall one incident in particular that helped enormously.

Vital Signs

“Leave out the fiction, The fact is, this friction
Will only be worn by persistence
Leave out conditions, Courageous convictions
Will drag the dream into existence”

In November of 2011 Dad and I had talked about what the future may hold for the business. I told Dad I planned to go to America. I said I didn’t know where, to do what or how, I just knew I would.  Dad replied, ‘Go ahead and make me proud’. In March 2012 Steve Browne and I exchanged correspondence and a couple of months later I was booked to travel to Ohio for the annual state HR conference. This was pivotal for me in turning the sadness at the loss of my father into an opportunity to honour the simple exchange we had towards the end of the previous year. It also helped me get the flywheel of What Goes Around turning again.

The Big Wheel

“Wheel goes round, landing on a leap of fate
Life redirected in ways unexpected
Sometimes the odd number wins
The way the big wheel spins”

A business needs wheels to turn on. I used to think they were a little like bicycle wheels, spinning along the flat, whizzing down the hills and pushing up the other side. And they are not. The truth is that when you stop turning the business wheel, it loses momentum really quickly. And to get it started you have to put your shoulder to it and push, hard. And you need to keep going, persist, believe, persist, believe, persist. If you have the courage of your convictions, if you love people, and love who you are and why you do what you do, and if you can find a Steve Browne, you can choose to keep the big wheel turning.


“You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill
I will choose a path that’s clear
I will choose freewill”

I choose for 2013 to be a year of useful fun and support for one another when things don’t go quite according to plan. I hope we can continue to create opportunities to better ourselves and each other, and to continue to raise a well-intended challenge when we see something ain’t going quite right. Proceed until apprehended.


Alison Chisnell – for the kind invitation to write this post.

Steve Browne (aka The President of the United States of HR) – for helping me make something magnificent happen

Neil Peart – for lyrical support

Paul Shaw – for being my Dad and for showing me, through example, that it is better to be a critical friend than to strive to be liked.

Heroes – Len Frobisher

I’m chuffed to bits with the way this Heroes series is developing. Today I’m delighted to bring you a tale of someone who knew the value of perseverance, and daring to be different. Len Frobisher. This lovely post is written for you by Anthony Allinson, it  hit me for six and I hope you enjoy it.

Len Frobisher, an unsung and obscure hero from my youth.

In the 80s, when I was a kid in Leeds, I played cricket a lot. In fact, I played a very lot, almost all year round. However, while I was good, I was not great. I won some cups with my team in Leeds and some club prizes for bowling and had a brilliant time.

Like many kids sports clubs it ran entirely on the good will and effort of parents, almost always those of other boys in the team. I was conscious of this even when I was 13, and was generally as grateful then as I am now to those who calmly explain to my son that Hampshire Under 11 (U11) cricket won’t feature the Duckworth Lewis Method in the event of rain, nor will Hawkeye come to the rescue should he be convinced he has been robbed of an LBW.

These people are heroes to me because they do things that they don’t have to, they bear the mutterings and occasional open hostility from parents (my wife took one look at what goes on between parents, coaches and officials in soccer and promptly ceased all soccer activity) and, while their kids benefit, so do many others. That’s the deal and it’s a good one.

There was a problem with my club in Leeds though, and it took a particular hero of mine to resolve it. His name was, Len Frobisher.

The problem was simple. Sons of dad’s who were in the club’s senior teams got in the junior sides regardless, it was a rather unhealthy clique. This is why I opened with my little bit about me. My point being that at U15 I got in the side anyway, I was not great, but I was good enough. However, lots of really promising kids didn’t get a look in, simply because their dads weren’t part of the club set up. Chummy clubby types make my skin crawl; I detest vested interests, cliques and abuse of position. I must confess to a pathetically old case of sour grapes here, because by the time we got to U18 this set up meant that I didn’t always get in the first team either! Perhaps I just wasn’t good enough, but a few others around me definitely were.

Rather than being negative though, I want to thank a hero called Len Frobisher for daring to be different and for creating opportunities. The result was that we won the U18 cup in 1985 and changed the structure of the junior set up completely as a result. Len did four things over several years, in each case quietly and simply exercising his values and just doing things differently to the way they were done in the rest of the club.

1.He ensured those nominated for the winter nets, the ones run by the county to which each club sent 2-3 players, were attended by the kids with potential rather than the usual suspects. I was honoured to be one of those kids, and I picked up the bowling gong for the U15s that year. That’s not really the point but I couldn’t help bringing it up 🙂

2. He decoupled his coaching from his son’s involvement and set up, then single handedly ran a second XI at U18. His son was very good and played in the first XI. This, in case you miss it, was the big gift. The first team had 4 coaches and was in a ready made league. The second XI just had Len, a captain who refused to follow orders (ahem…) and a fixture list cobbled together week by week by Len that took us all over West Yorks.

3. While the second XI was supposed to be just that, several of us also played regularly for the club’s adult teams, including that erratic captain. I suspect there was a lot of politics behind the scenes, but we never saw any of it.

4. He stuck at it, smiled most of the time and just did things differently.

The resulting team was an utterly inseparable group of equals. There is a long and quite unpleasant story I could add about an incident in a nightclub several years later to demonstrate this. Perhaps another time, it really isn’t the point.

It all came good in 1985. Kids club cricket, especially the cup competitions, descend into farce at the end of the season. The cup final is often in the summer holidays when roughly half of both sides are typically on holiday. However, we had 25 regular players thanks to Len. I would love to tell a Hollywood story of how the second XI won the day, but all I can remember is that we made up half the side and that we won the U18 cup for the club.

I then went to University and drifted away for a few years. When I went back, there were U9, U11 and U13 sides and a coaching model organised for the kids and the club, not dads and sons. The club was cleaning up trophies at all levels.

Len did that, he didn’t have to, but he did. It is thirty years ago but he is still a hero to me.