Human Energy Leadership Essays
"There must be something behind things, something deeply hidden."
Ever since the day his Father stopped long enough to share some time and gently influence his son, one of the world's greatest minds never stopped questioning the world around him. The world has been left infinitely richer by his thinking, and his humility. He commented:-
"I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious."
Along our journey we have learned much from this brilliant mind who seems to be as much a scientist as a philosopher, and is perhaps one of the great examples of a whole brain thinker. With Einstein as an inspiration, the invitation is to remain curious, and to really search for that "something" which lies behind things and which may be deeply hidden.
While the British were stretched in a full-scale military operation with the Zulus in the Anglo-Zulu wars of 1879, March the 14th heralded the day of Einstein's birth. This anti-war activist and passionate humanitarian would emerge from his shell to argue for the protection of human rights around the world. He was even offered the presidency of Israel, but famously turned it down. He is of course known for his formula of E=MC2, but perhaps on this occasion he lived by one of his lesser known and maybe more frivolous formulas:-
"If R = Success, then R = X+Y+Z, with X being work, Y being play and Z is keeping your mouth shut."
So, how else can you sum up a man who has won just about every award possible, who nearly 60 years after his death is still a household name and whose equations on the expanding Universe were confirmed some ninety years later by the technology of the Hubble telescope. A man who loved to sail, yet couldn't swim, who despised wearing socks and who might have been a musician had he not been a scientist. How do you explain the paradox of the greatest mind of all time and someone who has inspired scientists and philosophers in the same way as Gandhi inspired Leaders, failing his University entrance exam and only speaking at a late age in his life?
Perhaps it is to use a few of his very own carefully selected words.
"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow and never stop questioning."
"Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything which can be counted counts."
In what is arguably one of Albert Einstein's simplest yet most profound essays entitled "The world as I see it", he writes:
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed."
So, enjoy the frustration of not knowing the answer and climb with us into the crucible of questioning and if it's any consolation, this great man who led with both humanity and humility would probably be observing from behind his bushy eyebrows and electric shock of hair saying that whatever you came up with is entirely relative.
Einstein's work was essentially around four main pillars - Light, Time, Space and Energy.
We hope that while you are here you will find the Space and take the Time to let your own Light shine, and in so doing will raise the level of your own Energy and that of those around you. Maybe you will indulge for a while to forget about that which can be counted and focus on those who count. Yourself included.
"There are two ways to live your life. One is though nothing is a miracle. The other is though everything is a miracle."
You guessed it - Einstein again.
Albert Einstein died in Princeton hospital on the 18th April 1955. The night before his passing he refused surgery saying:
"I have done my share. It is time to go. I will do it elegantly."
Indeed. In life as in death.
Born on the 2nd October 1869 Mohandas K Gandhi became known in later years as Mahatma, a name said to have been given to him by Rabindranath Tagore - the first non European winner of the Nobel prize for literature in 1913. The name and its meaning "Great Soul" however did not rest well with him and according to his autobiography, he was often pained by it.
Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 - he was 24 years old and he spent 21 years in this country. It was here where he developed his political views, ethics and political skills, and it was here where he realised his disconnection to the enormous complexities of religious and cultural life in India. He started his journey of leadership through humanity by leading Indians in South Africa who at the time were divided primarily by religion but also by economics.
He had firsthand experience of the discrimination policies of the time. Being thrown off trains in Pietermaritzburg, beaten for refusing to make room for a European traveller, barred from several hotels and berated by a magistrate for wearing his turban in a Durban courtroom were just some of the indignities he faced. These only served to strengthen his resolve, and had he had a branch of the buffalo thorn to reflect on, would no doubt have seen these all as turning points along his life from which to make significant choices.
Perhaps one of those significant choices was to establish the "Indian Opinion" newspaper in 1903. In 1904 Gandhi relocated it to his settlement inPhoenix, close to Durban. The press workers here were governed by a new work ethic, where they would all have a share in the land - there were over 100 acres here in those days. They would also share the profits if there were any, they would grow crops to sustain themselves, and they would work jointly to produce the newspaper. This was never without its risks as of the first six editors five of them spent time in jail. Gandhi himself commented that:- "Satyagraha (Insistence on Truth) would have been impossible without Indian Opinion." It was this 'insistence on truth' philosophy and practice which translated directly into the movement of non-violent resistance and resulted in the Independence of India from British colonial rule on the 15th August 1947.
Gandhi himself never lived to see the formation of the Republic of India on the 26th January 1950. He was assassinated on his way to address a prayer meeting on the 30th January 1948. Prime Minister Nehru addressed the nation through radio:- "Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere."
Well, maybe there is still some of his light which shines in this place. We invite you to lap it up as Millions before you including Mandela, King, Biko, Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi have done as an inspiration to their own causes, and indeed there are many who believe that South Africa's transformation was all about Mandela completing what Gandhi had started. Gandhi never won a Nobel Peace prize, but he was nominated five times. This would probably never have bothered him, what might have been of interest to him was how many Nobel Prizes he inspired. When asked to give a message to the people, he would respond:- "My life is my message."
To quote another Nobel Laureate, himself an inventor of note:- "Mahatma Gandhi has invented a completely new and humane means for the liberation war of an oppressed country and practiced it with greatest energy and devotion."
Later on he continues:-
"Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood."
So walk this same place a bit, enjoy the same vegetarian meal, and breathe in some of the same air with the light, love and energy where this great soul spent so many formative years of his life practicing the art of leading with humanity.
The Buffalo Thorn is a tree endemic to Africa found mostly in the warmer regions. It is a high protein food source for a wide variety of leaf eating animals and berry eating birds.
Its branches and twigs never grow straight. They zig-zag. At each turning point there are two thorns. One is a sharp hooked thorn that points back along the branch towards the trunk; the other a longer straight thorn pointing forward. The tree is a perennial and new leaves grow alongside older leaves also at the point at which the twig has changed the direction of its growth.
The Nguni people, who live where it grows most prolifically, the Zulus and the Shangaans call it the Mpafa or Umlahlankosi. Some know it as Umphafa.
For many in Africa the tree and the way its branches grow is symbolic of life - it twists and turns. They don't refer to "ups and downs" for we are never sure whether a particular phase in our lives is either an up or a down until we see the phase in hindsight.
And looking backward is the message of the small hooked thorn. It reminds us to look retrospectively upon that period of our lives that has just ended. It urges us to "look back, reflect, take stock, learn all you can from the experiences and gather wisdom, especially from your mistakes. But then move on least you get stuck in your past".
Then the straight pointing thorn urges us to move forward with confidence. It is our new compass for the next phase of our unpredictable life.
What a lovely personal discipline this tree suggests. Look back on every day, note the twists and turns, the high energy and low energy moments and learn all you can from them but don't get hooked!
Uncle Butch is not my Uncle at all, but he is my Godfather, and I've always learned heaps from him even though for most of our lives we have lived in different cities. It was he who provided me with one of my lifelong lessons when he said that there were really only two ways to learn things properly. The first was through the hard knocks of life. The second was at the feet of the Master. He would then gently remind me that the first was often infinitely more painful than the second. Ever since then I've kept my ears well open when in conversation with Uncle Butch, and Monday night in a Cape Town winter was no exception.
The 2014 Brazilian World Cup had ended the night before, and the cool, clinical Germans had swept up all before them as well as the coveted trophy in a deserved procession of footballing professionalism. The talk inevitably turned to sports, and Uncle Butch started to comment about some of his observations both as a spectator and as a player in the aquatic version of the game known as water polo. As a marine biologist he always was more comfortable in water.
Uncle Butch always listens more than he talks, and so when he does talk I listen. And this is what I learned.
There are, he thought, three main guiding principles to these sports. There are many, many rules which should be obeyed of course, but only three main principles which should be practiced in order to triumph. Not wanting to interrupt the first lesson, I tucked into my medium rare T bone with about the same relish as Luis Suarez had dined on his underdone Italian counterpart.
Firstly, you never pass the ball to someone in a worse position than you.This was met with much head nodding, and some discussion about what this might mean as a metaphor for everyday life. How often do we see our politicians throw the proverbial hospital pass down their hallways and hierarchies? Corporate execs flee from their ivory towers in helicopters with their bonuses in tact but the business in tatters. Sportsmen and women are thrown to the lions without even a modicum of support from their administrators. Blame blossoms and accountability evaporates as everyone from Marikana to the media looks for and then attempts to shoot the few remaining scapegoats in a field of sheep. The old adage of "Not my problem" has become a well sung line out of the International Anthem, as the dreary armies of the disengaged squeeze their sponges and journey on in the pursuit to do less with more.
It was time to order a glass of the Cape's finest to wash down a well aged product from what is deservedly rated as South Africa's best Steakhouse. I was also about to digest the second lesson.
Always find a space and play into that space.The concept of space seemed most ironic at this particular point. After 600 grams of a Tim Noakes bucket list item, accompanied with the obligatory Local Grill extras, I had none. Being so full, I was in no danger of speaking, so I continued to listen.
The great successes of life and sports seem to be in people finding space. Or in businesses, communities or even families finding space for that matter. We spoke of niches, of people who chartered new waters, or of cricketers finding new ways to play challenging deliveries. Innovation is all about finding a space and then playing into that space. Why, after all is it wise to enter an already saturated market with the same old products? David slew Goliath when he claimed his space as a slinger in artillery, not as a swordsman in heavy infantry. Solid relationships seem to find, as Kahlil Gibran so beautifully puts it, 'spaces in their togetherness'. Great centres in rugby seem to not only find space, but create it, and even when marked by many, the great footballers conjure up a way to shake the defence as well as the off sides trap. Some people we spoke of had recently blossomed as they had found their space in the world, and seemed to set free their shackles as they played, and I mean played not just worked into that space. We wondered if some of our schools created space for uniqueness, or if there was space round the dinner table for differing opinions. It was Einstein who observed that space and time were essentially the same thing, so maybe, if we want more time we need to create more space. I wondered what and who were occupying my space? They didn't always seem to be the same things which took up my time.
There is always space for a cleansing Irish coffee with Tim's full cream, and I sipped slowly on the delicacy whilst savouring it as well as the third lesson.
If you don't take shots you'll never win.Have a go sometimes, even if you have to take a risk along the way. The successful teams in the world cup may have had a solid defence, but I'm willing to bet my next steak that the real winners also took many shots at goal. Nick Faldo once won an Open Championship with a full house of 18 pars in the final round. Solid, dependable, nothing flashy, but even he would have known when to take certain shots on, and when to risk. This doesn't mean recklessness, but rather a measured confidence born from both practice and belief. I wondered how often I had left putts short on the greens of my own life. Times when I didn't put up my hand for fear of vulnerability, where the certain sidelines of comfort seemed so much more pleasurable than the playground of possibility. The fear of writing the book seems so overwhelming that we stop even writing an essay, or a letter. We might argue that if we do nothing, we do nothing wrong, and therefore when our will comes into existence we leave this place a little safer. Surely though we also leave it a little poorer without our contribution. Taking a shot at our own goals is imperative if we are ever to hit them, and that means to dare to fail sometimes. So ask that someone special to dance, build your own bucket list, pull out the driver on a reachable par four once in a while, sing with your kids in the car. Travel without an itinerary, or have the odd meeting with no agenda.
It's never comfortable to say I tried and I failed, but I'm sure it's worse to say "I wish I had".
There is often magic in the unknown, and when it finds some space to shine, it can light up the world. Just ask a humble herdboy who years later took a shot at wearing a number 6 rugby jersey, and amongst other things changed the world.
Fine wine and a well aged steak are luxuries, but when they are washed down with wisdom they become a privilege.
The rules may be there for a reason, but guiding principles are there for a purpose.
I look forward to my next lesson from the feet of the Master.
I am no longer decking out in golf gear to stride the hallowed turf of God's own game. Rather, I am heading down to Venus Street to witness the fine line between war and sport known to most as 'Rugby'. It is my first season as a Pridwin parent, and I am not sure if I was ever this excited even when I played a mediocre version of the game myself, but I have not arrived unprepared. I have been told of recent spats between schools and of spits between parents. Of coaches mistiming, misunderstanding and misbehaving. There have been, I have been led to believe, tensions which have spilled over both on and off the field. I wondered what today would bring? Maybe more of the same, especially since in number terms anyway, this was a modern day adaptation of David versus Goliath.
From the first game to the last I saw passionate parents and players. I watched as Mothers winced at their winded wingers, and Fathers swell at their scrumhalf's sidesteps. I was witness to encouragement, and of course some advice - even to the referees, but I also noticed a few other things.
There was some generous applause from both sides at some great rugby. There was the pleasant surprise of an overturned decision by a home referee in favour of the visiting team from an observant teacher on the sideline who had a better angle. I was amazed to watch how a coach berated one of his own players for an over robust spear tackle, and how the perpetrator politely apologised. I also saw how that damaged young man scraped himself off the hard earth of that arena, was dusted off by his mates and went on as the last line of defence to pull off a try saving tackle with a heart surely much too big for his body.
I watched games that were all over at half time become tightly run contests by the final whistle. Whereas the great coach of the Greenbay Packers, Vince Lombardi, would surely have re-uttered his immortal words:- "We never lost, we just ran out of time", and, when a young man in a headband and braces led his team to an impressive victory, the day's rugby was eventually over. Yet much of that day remains with me still.
You see, I was a pupil of that other school, and to this day of writing I have still spent more than a quarter of my life as a very happy participant in those colours, but I doubt whether I have ever felt more proud. When a gutsy little under 9C player from Pridwin is congratulated by an 'opposing' parent, the result is a feeling of pride. When parents from both teams stay together and chat long after the game is over, the result is relationships. It is why we play sport in the first place, and I for one, hope I never forget that.
I was very proud of my old school. I am immensely proud of my new one.
As the newsletter so often says, "Well done to all those who participated".
If your hearts were in it they deserve to be bursting with pride.
There are a few people for whom this would be a great option. It would save all the hassle of life in between now and the ever after, and at the very least they could contribute by being the very organic food which new vegetable gardens could thrive on. Though the bitterness of their human sentiment may even be too much for the broccoli to bear.
I'm being more than a little unfair. It is what happens when we live too long in a negative place. We become the very negativity we hate hearing about. When all we ever see and hear is RED behaviour, we become RED ourselves and it becomes more difficult to make BLUE choices. More difficult, but not impossible.
There is an aggressive race as to what exactly is causing a downward spiral. Ebola continues to spread exponentially, and if ever there was evidence of us living in a connected world, this virus is making us aware of that. The rise of the Islamic State and its ruthless barbarism is the human equivalent of that unwanted illness. From Nkandla to nuclear agreements, Ukraine to U-boats, Sascoc to Shrien Dewani, there is a shadecloth of secrecy, a glut of greed and a clandestine conspiracy of corruption. Even the change rooms of the English Cricket Board, the supposed stronghold of statesmanship and domain of dignified decency has descended into a dangerous den. There is much to be RED about, which is why seeing another angle feels akin to observing the flowering of a desert plant.
We were enjoying an early breakfast meeting at the Mugg and Bean in Woodmead, and were delighted to be sitting safely and on time with a generous cappuccino. The traffic into town would give thousands of motorists another reason to apply for foreign passports due to an overturned vehicle on the Highway just off Grayston Drive. On leaving we gathered up the delicious but completely Anti Tim Noakes biscuits from the saucers of our completed coffees, and gave them along with a cash tip to Patrick the smiling car guard. His smile alone was worth a photograph, but it was nothing compared to our smiles when he promptly walked over and gave the second biscuit to his colleague. It had an immediate positive effect, and forthwith a second tip was handed over to the colleague to emphasise that such gracious sharing should be handsomely rewarded.
This RED world of ours is crying out for Leadership, and we are anxious in its absence. Yet there it was right in front of us for all who cared to see it. It will not make the Sunday headlines, and it will not change policies around Energy or Education, but if Leadership is about giving, then we saw it starkly even in the form of a simple shared snack.
What can our Leaders give us to allay our angst, filter our fears and prevent us from packing for Portugal?
Just a little more.
A little more openness and honesty, accountability and action, care and concern, and at the very least a feeling of hope that if we as the taxpayers give you two biscuits, you will at least give one of them to a worthy cause and not hoard them both with a tenderised clause to claim a third, as yet unmade, biscuit.
Like Patrick the generous car guard, I too may not be able to impact on the loudest or most silent of political personas, with all their masks and mouthpieces, but I know that I could be more giving. Especially of the things that really count. Love and the ability to listen, Time and truth and trust and Energy with all my enthusiasm.
Leadership only demands of us that which we are capable to give. Those are simple things, and if I can't give them, then I'm not leading.
Never again will I leave a biscuit on my saucer.
It can be that simple sometimes.
The reward is simply a recognition, and most people respond well to some form of recognition. But there is a catch. As the recipient of such a reward, one is not supposed to know the real reason for its awarding. The point is, that you don't do something just to get a reward, you do it simply because it is the right thing to do.
Now I have only been a parent there for nearly six years, but I can't remember if anyone other than a pupil has received "Knight of the week." It is with this in mind that I write this reflection.
For every day of the past six years we have been greeted with warmth from the Pridwin ground staff. They have waved us in with open arms and lit up the way with their smiles. They have ushered our most precious treasures safely across the roads and have helped them carry their bags if necessary. They have turned school drop off from a chore to a pleasure, and they have always tried to make it as efficient and convenient as possible.
And yet, often their reward is a blank stare, or even a frustrated glare when drivers are asked to be patient as someone else's treasure is ushered safely and lovingly to the safe side of the lot. I have seen parents park where they like, as even in gym kit, the thought of walking ten extra meters seems deplorable, or a ten second wait for a car to pull out means that some suit has lost out today on their race to the top. I pitied what the energy might be like in the ivory towers on these days.
But my beef here is not with the parents - we are all guilty of various forms of ignorance or abuse, however light. My fillet is with the staff. And particularly today.
On the coldest and most miserable day of the year (so far!), the troops were out in full force. The smiles were even brighter and through the driving icy rain, the orchestra of parking attendants were waving their arms and conducting the flow of traffic. Some had brollies, others didn't. Some had rain suits, others had beanies, but despite a lack of resources and horrible conditions, they were out there doing their very best, and doing it with humour and with warmth.
Is there a better lesson for our boys to learn than this? Is there a better example of resilience and responsibility? That when things are tough there is still work to be done, and when there is work to be done, we might as well do it properly despite the poor taste of the passing traffic.
In the race to the South Pole, Amundsen marched and Scott blamed the weather. The rest is history, and today that story stands tall in a pile of analogies and examples of Leadership.
Whilst it may have felt a bit like the South Pole today, thankfully we didn't have to go there on a school outing debited to our accounts to learn a few lessons.
They were right there in the school parking lot - being handed out for free by unsung heroes.
They are my Knights of the week.
We have found this place purely by accident, and fortuitous accidents are often a product of an open mind, an absent agenda and a willing awareness. The art and the science of tracking is not something you'd usually associate with the beautiful Danish city of Copenhagen with its centuries old and worn cobbled streets, but tracking is not only about looking and seeing with fresh eyes, it is also about hearing through uncluttered ears - and what is wafting gently through the air of the midnight sun has caught our attention. Much like the ratcheting sound of ox peckers in the bush heightens the awareness on the trail, our interest is piqued towards the promise of more Pub than Pachyderm.
Our pace quickens as the musical fly lines embedded into our earlobes becomes taught and we are reeled in, and almost past, the entrance to the HVIDE LAM. With only three small tables outside and a modest, non descript doorway, it is easily missed. The fly lines in our right ears jerk us like a well played trout back towards the source of the music and into a net of contentment.
We peer into a small space with a huge atmosphere, and our calculations of "THE WHITE LAMB" being no bigger than around forty square meters were confirmed by the presence of the very smoke through which we were peering. You see, in this strange land, if your establishment is this size or less, then smoking is permitted. Anything larger, and your lungs have constitutionally enforceable rights. Having grown up in a household where my Mother smoked and my wife used to, smoke has never bothered me, and besides, there was something far more influential on the senses which hit us with a velvet glove.
A full five piece Jazz band was at play - and I mean at play and not at work. No doubt they were working hard at their craft and in so doing, they were delighting their customers, but the overall sense was one of play as they jammed together through an organized chaos of collaboration. The musicians were as different as their instruments and one could only wonder at how each of their stories brought them together in a forty square meter pub on the square of Kultorvet, Copenhagen where the sign above the bar reads 1807. Collectively their musical experience could comfortably have been over two hundred years itself, and the double bassist would be lucky to pass for twenty with a fake ID. Looking resentfully like Matt Damon with a God given musical talent, he would hit the neck with all his young fingers could offer and pluck the strings above the bridge in a perfect display of pizzicato. When he played solo he frowned intently towards the musical notes of the pianist, but when he could free up his left hand whilst still keeping a rhythm with his right, he would glug with great gusto from a bottle of beer. His fingers equally adept on the neck of the bottle as they were on the neck of the bass. It seemed his only challenge lay in keeping the sea horse shaped scroll of the double bass from bashing against the Tuborg sponsored speakers and the Oxford green lamp shades emitting their low light over the wooden paneling.
The pianist was the only woman in this ensemble and maybe because of this fact, she never stopped smiling. Not once. Whether she tinkered or tippled there was always the sweet smile of someone who knew what they were doing, and maybe more importantly, why they were doing it. She could have been Matt Damon's Granny, and one could easily picture her in a country garden tending seasonal flowers or gathering berries in a basket. One could quite comfortably imagine her as a small town librarian, but a librarian never too far away from a glass of crisp chardonnay.
On the far right, and closest to the ladies toilet was the Tenor Sax. Pale and grey, the product of many long and harsh Danish winters, with burgundy red lips made for the saxophone and probably just as useful on the clarinet as on the rim of a full bodied claret. Perhaps the inventor of this remarkable instrument, Adolphe Sax, had this type of character in mind when he dreamed up this musical resonation. He wore a well polished badge of his own instrument proudly on his lapel, and he seemed never to stop a constant nodding of approval - at the music, towards his fellow band members, and what became abundantly obvious, at the audience. With the best line of sight to the entrance and the ladies loo, he was often the first to notice a new guest or a familiar face, and, as I will share, played a crucial role of connection in the customer energy of the evening. It would not be surprising to see this gent announcing each and every player as the starter of the Open Championship on the windswept links' of coastal Scotland, and the ripples of applause at the end of every announcement meant for the player would be humbly and generously deflected to the other players in this band - and of course to the music itself.
We would learn during the evening that this jolly Jazz band would have no leader - but they would have a coordinator. Someone who booked the venues and called the team together, and maybe suggested the song sheet. In everything he seemed non descript and could have passed as an understated English teacher at an above average school. He smiled, but not too much. He sipped, but never a lot, and he played, but gave more space than he occupied. With a neatly trimmed beard and dull, dark framed spectacles as square as the setting of his jaw he looked strangely lost without a lectern, and if he wasn't a teacher, the next stereotypical guess might have been a priest. His approach was measured and perhaps his air of control might inspire a confidence that things would not fall apart. He was undoubtedly professional, and we would learn that he was indeed a full time musician. You don't get this good at the Alto Sax by standing behind a lectern or in front of a power point presentation.
The last, or so we thought at the time, member of the band was seated with his back against the side of the piano, and the only thing which would have made his life easier would have been a well oiled swivel chair enabling him to remain connected to the unwritten threads and nuances of his craft. He played the banjo, and could almost have played it with the sparkle in his eyes alone. He looked elfish and with his tinsel coloured mop of steel wool hair, one could be forgiven in thinking that somewhere a Christmas tree is missing a prized decoration. I could have sworn that he played the part of one of Robin Hood's merry men, and lived in Nottingham forest. He may not have been the leader either, but it sure felt like he was the glue - and as a carpenter by day, I am sure he would feel comfortable with that analogous appreciation. I wondered if he had children - for if he does, they would be blessed at night by lullabies and bestowed with wooden toys during the day. I am sure he makes quite magnificent furniture, but I am prepared to bet my next expensive Tuborg beer that his first love would be to make toys.
And so we watched as these five musical maestros weaved a web of entertainment from their fingers and their mouths, and as we watched, we listened, and as we listened we learned. Something Jazz musicians do as a matter of course.
If there was a great metaphor to apply in today's increasingly complex world, and a way through it, I think Jazz bands could teach us a thing or two. There is of course some structure and total agreement around the piece to be played, but it seems as though no particular piece is ever played in exactly the same way twice. Each performance is unique. There is a huge invitation here towards playing out of who you are being in the moment, and to play with individual expression, innovation and improvisation.
Far more enlightening though than any structure, is the space offered within it. Not many people walking into a new house comment on the beauty of the walls, they are taken by the comfort in the spaces between those walls. What these team members were offering to each other more than anything else was a space to play into. Yes, a safe space where they had an idea of where to play, but also a place in which to risk and to push themselves and to explore - or not to, and hand it back to the next member whilst taking a bottled breather.
It seems so simple. Give others space to shine, to express themselves, to run free and take risks and in so doing to learn whilst playing, and as they do so, keep them in the zone with the odd tap or tinkle or a clicked finger correction to show support. Each one relished the opportunity to go solo - but none of the team left the room or the music. From solo to support and back to solo, and the support is shown with a nod of appreciation and encouragement as much as it is with a plucked chord or a pressed key.
Maybe most importantly, every customer was delighted, and it started with every one of us being acknowledged. With each new entrant there was a nod or a wink and most certainly a smile, and as happens with things infectious, there was contagion. The nods and winks and smiles were returned and were reinvested into the entertainment. They were playing for their customers and they were playing for fun!
As much as these five were diversely eclectic, so too were their audience. There were young investment banking types in ties and builders in boots. Leather jackets were as popular as leggings and all types of hair, from bald and beards like ZZ Top, to the quintessential Scandinavian blonde were carefully coiffed or left uncombed. Some came here to lose themselves, others maybe to find themselves. Either way the result was probably in their favour.
At a point in the twilit evening, the room darkened significantly, yet it was still light outside. The rail sleeper framed door was open, but the way was closed, and if the smoke only had forty square meters to waft around in before, it was about to have a whole lot less.
Crammed into a tight yellow cardigan and billowing out in a large blue tent, this latest and by far biggest patron somehow managed to squeeze her way in towards the central table. In the colours of the Swedish flag, she may well have been able to warmly envelop a large part of that entire country with the amount of material on display. The knitted beanie was removed, and along with it our suspicions were confirmed that this was indeed Obelix's identical twin sister. Two long python sized plaits of ginger hair tumbled towards the table, and to give this throwback to the Viking era some benefit of the doubt, we assumed that the large signature stone carried by her brother in the comic strips was still concealed under the blue marquee. On peering out of the street level window there was indeed no evidence of a menhir. Many concrete blocks to stop the horrific trend of suicide trucks, but no visible tall, upstanding stone.
As tables were moved and a seemingly inadequate stool was found, the band never broke stride. This was just another customer to delight, and by set three, she was nothing short of delighted. With drumstick sized thumbs and frankfurter fingers she thumped away at the beat. Her pigtails of plaits might have caused serious bodily harm to the frail old Indian gent nearby as they swung like wrecking balls not altogether in time with the rhythm, and the largest of smiles just beamed broader.
It was that smile which changed our pictures of this woman. Before its emergence one would have paid avoidance money to her in a dark alley. In its presence she was just another human being and a fellow lover of Jazz.
Whilst our assumptions and viewpoints were challenged and changed throughout the evening, her small three legged stool, though splayed like a giraffe's legs during a long drink of water or a well walked golfers stand bag, thankfully held firm, and as one round turned to two and then three and then-who-really-cares-how-many, so too did the band keep morphing in a Protean sort of way.
This God of rivers and oceanic bodies of water from Greek Mythology could tell the future to anyone who asked, but the trick was that he could change his shape or his form in order to avoid having to. Anyone who could catch him would have power beyond their imagination. The problem was, he was uncatchable.
And so too, in a way was this Jazz band. It could change form, and suddenly, after a moments quiet consultation, there would appear a new pianist. Straight out of the audience, he would replace the gardening librarian and Granny to Matt Damon, and play seamlessly without a note of music. Then a vocalist, on her way to the ladies loo and close enough to be hugged by the tenor sax on her way past would be given the microphone, the song and the key and we were transported towards a different answer of the future. We would move worlds from Peggy Lee with her caffeine coated voice of 'Black Coffee' to Diana Krall's sultry seductions of 'Just the way you are'. She too was straight out of the crowd and on her way to the bathroom, but close your eyes, and you'd be 'crying a river' with Ella Fitzgerald, and indeed with the streets still alive with the midnight sun, it was undoubtedly 'Summertime' with Billie Holiday.
Individual. Impromptu. Innovative. Yet without the support of the team, the individuals would just be separate isolated soloists.
You simply cannot script evenings like this, except that perhaps they've been going on in this very same pub for well over two hundred years. You just have to be in the right place at the right time with a willingness to explore.
Much like life.
We went in with the intention to have 'One standing up', but ended up seated at the prime table next to the piano for considerably longer than that. It is what happens in smoky Jazz clubs in Copenhagen on a Sunday night.
We nodded our appreciation on departure. We received smiles and acknowledgement in return as is customary here.
Thank You. Pleasure. Such simple things as two more relighted customers found their way back to their homes, and themselves, in the light of the night.
And relighted is not a typo.
There is no boom by which he stands, or padlocked entrance. He has no glass fronted hut to sit behind with high tech cameras, and there are no telephone directory sized manuals of paper on which to sign. I have often wondered what happens to those reams of illegible scribbles which one finds at office blocks and housing estates? The cynic in me says they are sold to call center sales agents, but if I've learned one thing from my time with Xolani, it is not to live with a cynical mindset.
Armed only with a torch and some old batteries, his calm presence and fading torchlight guide us around the open camp at night, and he is wide awake to the presence not of criminals, but of creatures - every kind of creature which a hugely diverse African wilderness could throw at one.
He speaks from the heart of his two young sons, and his home in KwaNibela close to Lake St Lucia, and one can imagine him exhibiting the same form of courageous protection towards his own family.
Here he carries out his duties with an old torch and even older batteries. I wonder how similarly under resourced he must be in looking after his two boys?
I wonder if such measureable resources, or lack of them ever hold him back? He has others in abundance.
Courage being just one.
The last time we were here, our colleague suffered a blood nose. It was no ordinary bleed, as it went on for over 18 hours. In his stubborn Rhodesian bush war and farmland manner he was not too perturbed, and was more anxious in missing the evening's proceedings round the fire.
We were a lot more worried.
Xolani gently but firmly guided our wounded friend back to his tent, and then unbeknown to us around the fire popped in every half an hour for the whole night to check in on the thankfully sleeping man.
It turns out that Xolani's real love is as a care giver. He practiced this for four years in Johannesburg, and is also an HIV-Aids Counsellor. I asked him where he thought this passion came from. He replied that he was just born with it. It is in his name.
Xolani means 'Peace', or to be at peace, and he sees himself as a bringer of peace.
Perhaps his parents were onto something when they named him. They would be immensely proud of another of his immeasurable attributes:
Not a few weeks later, a news story hits the CNN headlines. A 22 year old Malian immigrant on his way to a football match in Paris, France (they make this seemingly ridiculous differentiation because there are apparently around 25 places called Paris in the US, and we wouldn't want anyone from the flyover States to get confused - although they are probably watching Fox news anyway) notices a commotion on the street. Hooters are honking and people are panicking. He looks up and there from four stories up on the ledge of an apartment block is a four year old child dangling from his finger tips.
Like a human Spiderman he ascends the front façade of the building. His physique is way stronger than his fear, and he is encouraged from the streets by loud chants of 'Allez, allez, allez." Balcony by balcony he jumps in a cross between PT and Parkour, and with seemingly effortless pull ups, he reaches his target and swings him to safety.
From street to sheet took 36 seconds.
Mamoudou Gassama met with French President Emmanuel Macron. He was given French citizenship and a job as A Parisian Fireman. An obvious occupation for a man who doesn't even need the ladders!
But this is not why he did what he did. He just loves children he said, and would not have wanted him to get hurt.
In a world trying hard to isolate itself, the mere mention of the word immigrant is enough to swing a National vote, and true heroes like this would be expelled and turned away at the borders. Marginalised back to the masses. People like that are not welcome here - send them back to where they belong.
I wonder what the parents of the dangling toddler are thinking now with their son safely cocooned in the comfort of a fine Parisian percale?
Care does not just arrive because of an exorbitant medical aid, and courage has no need for capes. They arrive quietly and unexpectedly in the heat of the moment or in the dead of night.
They arrive to save your child.
Or to quietly check your pulse.
Could we show a little care in our courage, and heaven knows it takes courage to show how much we care.
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