31 August 2012

The Lady Who Survived a Train Crash, and the Man who Saved a Runaway Train

My Grandfather - Edward William "Billie"
Funny how the past keeps hold of our futures. I think of all the people I know and once knew. I am the sum of all of them, added to myself. I carry them around with me every day – even the ones I didn’t know well. Some influence me a little, some a lot. I have been touched by so many extraordinary lives – in good ways, and bad, but all have had their influence; made me stronger; made me who I am. They have all influenced me in my journey through life.

There are two people who are always with me; my guardian angels – if you believe they can exist. Maybe they are merely a strong memory embedded into my soul and welded with love. I didn’t know them well but their influence stays with me moulding my future, as it moulded my past. Who are these people? Nobel prize winners? History changers? Olympic gold medallists?

I remember their smiles, their love, and their kind hearts. I was only 11. They were my grandparents on my father’s side – I know - it doesn’t sound grand, or romantic. How can an 11 year old bond so profoundly with the older, wrinkling generation; find them interesting, let alone fascinating? That I cannot explain – there was just something special about them. The more I find out about them posthumously, the more I see why I had that feeling that they were special and why they remain with me; smiling at me and shaping my future.

My Grandmother - Ada
Ada Wimsey was a strong, yet kind lady with a wicked sense of humour. As an old lady you wouldn’t know she was any different from the rest – but she carried an aura with her which let me know that she was. I knew she’d lived, and I was always asking her what it was like to have lived through World War Two. Strange that I would ask her that – a woman staying at home, looking after her children. What interesting stories could she possibly have to tell? She fascinated me every time – there was so much more to her; she had been asked to return to her work as a teacher to fill the empty posts of those fighting. At one stage she taught a class of 96 boys.

Ada Wimsey just doesn’t make sense. Descended from an Irishman, who probably jumped ship at an English port – she was not rich – she was poor working class. By all accounts she had a horrible start in life. She had more siblings than I could count, and apparently a drunken father who was not kindly. Her father wanted her to stay at home to look after her siblings, and help raise the family. Her school had to fight for her and as a result she went to Leeds University 1918-1921, from where she constantly travelled back home to help with her parents and siblings. A woman; a poor woman; at university at the end of the First World War. That still strikes me as odd, but what do I know?

I recall a hardback copy of The Lord of the Rings being passed around in my grandmother’s living room, and a question being asked – “he was your tutor wasn’t he?” I knew that the book was being read to my brother, but I didn’t know what a famous book it was at the time – or even that it was a significant book. I knew my grandmother was special, but I never truly understood in her lifetime. At university my grandmother was taught by J.R.R. Tolkein, and we still have his reference for her. That I didn’t understand enough to ask more questions, I will regret forever – but that visceral feeling was a constant presence. There was something about my grandmother, and I always knew it, even if I didn't know what “it” was.

A press clipping of the crash Ada Wimsey survived.
The picture above is from the same story.
My Grandmother survived a train crash in 1929. I thank the Lord for that, or I would not be here writing this for you to read. I look back at the press cuttings in awe. I never saw these cuttings as a child, but I saw something in her eyes which told me these cuttings spoke the truth.

I look at the telegram sent to my grandfather telling him his beloved Ada was safe. He was a railway signalman, and had his own stories to tell. He was a hero – the man who saved a runaway train, and always had a twinkle in his eyes. A twinkle which stays with me even today.

I carry my grandparents with me, as I carry everyone who’s touched me. I think they influence me more than any other. They are my strength through bad times, and aid my joy in the good. They look over my shoulder and encourage me to battle on, to never give up, and to be happy. I hope I can live up to their legacy. Somehow I doubt it, but I’ll give it one heck of a try.

Who influenced you most in life? Was it someone you knew, or was it a character who you admire from history? Is it someone who is still here who you can talk to? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section.

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. 
All Rights Reserved. 
Downloading of and/or copying text or images from this website is strictly prohibited.

19 August 2012

Do You Monitor or Explode?

It is said that without pressure there would be no diamonds [Thomas Carlyle]. Pressure is good - nothing can be achieved without pressure. After all; a tyre can't function without pressure; it was pressure which drove the pistons of the industrial revolution; we need pressure to pump the blood around our bodies. Pressure is necessary, and who can argue with that?

I thought I’d resolved all when I decided to stop spinning in circles trying to solve everyone else’s problems, regardless of whether they were in my power to solve. I still cared (probably too much), but I decided to channel my efforts more carefully, and towards that which was within my control. I stepped off my hamster wheel having shaken the weight of the world from my shoulders; my journey would be so much simpler from now on. So I thought.

Instead I found that everything I tried to do was an effort. My insides felt like they were turning inside out, constricted and tight.  This wasn't me; things that I was finding hard were normally simple tasks for me, but my body was crippled. I wasn't functioning properly. Why?

Greater truths are buried underneath the polished philosophy I have described above. Indeed there would be no diamonds without pressure, but is it really that simple? Diamonds do not materialise like they did in one of the superman movies where superman picked up a piece of coal and squeezed it into a beautifully cut and polished diamond. It takes the right amount of pressure and heat to transform carbon into a diamond. If you put a tyre under too much pressure it will burst; a piston put under too much pressure could explode; it was the pressure of the ice against the unsinkable Titanic's hull that caused it to sink at the cost of 1,517 lives. Too much pressure can cause disaster; ill health; it can be dangerous; and how can that be efficient? For pressure to produce efficiency; it must be closely monitored; it must be the right amount of pressure.

Excessive pressure stops things functioning as they should - and that was what was happening to me. I’d been putting pressure on myself to do everything at once, do it perfectly, and succeed as dictated by my dreams - immediately. You cannot achieve to your dreams while putting this much pressure on yourself, because you can’t be effective. I was lucky to recognise this so quickly, but then I have form in this area. I know what professional burn out feels like, and I wouldn't recommend it as a sensible way to reach your goals. It doesn't work. It achieves nothing.

A human body under too much stress – mental or physical - will break. Too much mental stress can impair memory and ability to learn; increase risk of heart disease and diabetes; impair the immune system and the digestive system; cause significant fatigue and headaches. This is just the tip of the stress iceberg.

According to the American Psychological Association/American Institute of Stress, NY, 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. In the United Kingdom, according to ACAS; in 2004/5, 12.8 million working days were lost to stress; each new stress absence averaging 29 days off work.

So what was my solution? Should I give up on my dreams because they are putting me under too much pressure and I was a stress risk? For me that was no solution. I do not have to remove both the pressure and my dreams from the equation. I had to find a way to remove the unhealthy pressure from the equation, while keeping sight of my dreams. I have to be the tortoise and not the hare. The hare can get to places quicker – but he can’t keep it up long-term. The tortoise may get there slower – but he will get there - his speed causes less pressure on his body.

To relieve pressure we need to know our goals well. We need to break them down into small chunks, and tackle them like tapas – a nibble at a time. If we set ourselves to big a task at one time, we’ll become disheartened when we don’t see immediate results. If we put less pressure on ourselves with a small task to complete, we will see results quickly, and feel achievement without excessive pressure. We know we’ve planned out the rest of the tasks – they are in the diary and we don’t have to worry about them now, because they are for later. If we put ourselves under a little pressure at a time; a healthy and manageable pressure; we're likely to get more done, be more efficient, and achieve the little, and consequently the big goals more quickly.

Think about the total force the Flying Scotsman needed to put it’s pistons through to achieve a journey from London to Edinburgh. If you apply all that pressure at once, that beautiful marvel of engineering would have exploded. When applied bit by bit, we have an unforgettable achievement in rail engineering. I was about to explode, but now I’m feeling fine. I still have the same mountain in front of me, but I’m no longer overwhelmed.

It is so easy to forget when we are working 9-5, but we all have an internal pressure gage, and for many of us it is screaming. We must take positive action when it rises to the red, or even the orange. Positive action will mean stopping; and taking stock of the situation first to work out the appropriate action to relieve the pressure. If we neglect to do this we are in danger of breaking, and becoming one of the above mentioned statistics. Nothing is worth becoming that, especially when taking stock in good time could lead you to become an unforgettable achievement of your own.

How do you manage your stress? I’d love to hear from you – why not join the discussion and comment below?

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. 
All Rights Reserved. 
Downloading of and/or copying text or images from this website is strictly prohibited.

3 August 2012

The Power of Dreams

I don't want to be a lawyer anymore. I want to write; to inspire; to be myself, and not have to pretend. I'm coming back from behind the fog of illness, and I want to mean something. Me and Wellington's army; I'm dreaming, pronounces my inner voice of self doubt.

That inner voice has had much to say recently; it constantly tells me I’m no good, my writing isn’t up to muster, I’ll never amount to anything, life is far too stressful at the moment to focus. How can I come back from such extremes and become someone meaningful? It is too far to travel, and I’m not getting any younger. I have a father with Alzheimer’s and a mother who is struggling – I don’t have time to make anything of myself; I’m selfish for even thinking of it. That voice is relentless and I start to believe it. My circumstances make my dreams stupidity.

I recall the former First Lady of the United States, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” Every success story began with a dream. Every gold medal won at London’s 2012 Olympics began with a dream; indeed London’s desire to host the Olympics began with a dream. I recall the euphoria across the whole of Britain when that dream came true; I was proud to be British that day, because somebody dreamed - and then made it happen.

I look at dreams that have been achieved. I look at what has gone into making those gold medals reality. I see unflinching belief, hard work, dedication, sacrifice, overcoming of self doubt, a will to move repeatedly on to the next level – to perform to the limit of your ability, and beyond that of which you thought you were capable.  It's a long climb.

I must hold onto my belief in my dreams, even though it seems to be covered in oil and slipping out of my hands. I once dreamed to be a lawyer; some scoffed, and in return I made it happen – I was too naive to know I wasn’t a lawyer on the inside. I’m intimate with hard work; we’ve spent many long nights together. I can make another dream come true can’t I? I’ve already proved I have what it takes to do it once, so why not again?

I know dreams can be achieved, and those that didn’t try can know for certain that they will never achieve theirs. That is a certainty I can’t bear, and perhaps if I can meet with my dreams in spite of my circumstances I can inspire others in turn; that all is not lost.

I’ve missed something out; something devastatingly important. Olympic athletes have a team behind them – an army. Those that brought the Olympics to London were not alone. How can we mere mortals possibly make this journey alone? We can’t. We need people around us; people with skills; advice; encouragement. Did anyone ever make a successful journey alone? That must have been lonely and excruciatingly hard.

The only way we can make my dreams come true is if we build our own army as we move forwards, searching out soldier by incredible soldier. They will not come to us if we wait for the rest of our lives. It is up to us to make it happen – our dreams are no less important to us than Bradley Wiggins’ dreams of Olympic gold were to him. Why must our dreams falter as his came true? If for you the hard work is a given, you owe it to yourself to try; the odds should be in your favour.

My dreams have the power to take me out of my current circumstances, but it is a long haul. I have to build my dreams brick by brick – I will never get from here to my dreams in one movement. I may have to lay more bricks than many, but it can be done. I must aim for an Empire State Building, and not a bungalow. It will take more time, but it has already been done. I must lay my foundations, deal with my circumstances, start building, and never give up. I’ve already started. I hope to see you on the other side.

Copyright © 2012 C. S. Wimsey. 
All Rights Reserved. 
Downloading of and/or copying text or images from this website is strictly prohibited.