Relaxation Allergy

This year has been one of the most successful in my life on several fronts. I've been operating at maximum speed and accomplishing more than I thought possible.

So now I'm five days into my Christmas holidays and realise that I don't actually enjoy having nothing to do. I don't enjoy not having some structure, even to creativity. I've found that creativity switches on when you give it some time every single day. That passion appears when you summon it, not when you wait for it. That fulfilment comes from effort, not from relaxation.

So tomorrow I'm going to get busy.

 

Live!

The first and only time I ever hit 150mph on the ground was on my Ducati 999. I felt so alive and awake and conscious and aware. My eyes were never more sharply fixed upon my goal: the point at which the road met the horizon. My hearing was never more acute; my body never so connected to the machine I commanded to propel me like an Angry Red Bird out of a slingshot to a point I could not yet see, but absolutely trusted to appear.

That’s what you need to pursue and achieve a goal. Total, unwavering focus and bloody-minded, burn-your-bridges commitment. I’d come a long way from a near disaster that had almost ended me.

When once I nearly came off my bike on the Stockley Park roundabout, it was because my toe slider had caught under the peg as I leant the bike over onto my ear. I’d always wanted to get the bike leant over that far. I had just not been prepared for the unexpectedness of that success.

The bike wobbled badly and I straightened up and was heading for the wall. I felt death approaching as I stared at that final wall, the hard limit of my existence. Then suddenly, a voice in my head said calmly “LOOK. FOR. THE. EXIT.” I turned my head sharply towards it and without conscious effort, the bike sailed over, carrying me safely back on course. I screamed into my helmet like Steve McQueen at the end of Papillon.

Sometimes, when you’re going for something really big in your life and you achieve it, like touching down on a roundabout, like delivering on a major milestone, like getting some success in your projects, it can cause a wobble that can make you lose sight of your ultimate goal; can make you lose confidence in what you can achieve when you’re firing on all cylinders.

Listen to that small, still voice directing you to the exit and you will sail on.

You’re good enough. Live your life fully. You have it in you to achieve what you set your heart on if you stay totally, unflinchingly committed with searing focus and belief. Don’t wish for it, or hope for it, or pray for it, unless you’re willing to get behind it with absolutely every fibre of your being, including those fibres you keep in reserve because you’re scared.

Go do it, not because the fear tells you that can’t, but because that quiet, calm, still voice shows you that you can. You can.

You can.

Lighter

(Note, this post is not meant to be construed morbidly. If anything, I’m more positive than I’ve been at any point in my life)

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It’s the last day of Ramadhan and I’m reminded that I won’t always have another.

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I’ve always loved books. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel reverence for them. I look after my books. I take care not to damage the spines. It’s only in recent years that I shed my last fig leaf and started marking up my books. I still don’t feel comfortable doing that and don’t think I ever will be.

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I remember doing a rough calculation in a year I’d read 50 books and was in despair when I realised that even with a long life, at the rate I was reading, I wouldn’t get through more than 3000 books in my entire life. If ever you want a picture of mortality, it’s right there, in that number.

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I buy and read books voraciously, but the two are not always in sync. I will occasionally, rarely, read borrowed books, but most of the time, I will buy books I will never read.

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I aspired to a library of Coelho’s proportions, where the value lay not in the books he’d read, but in the ones he hadn’t. So by that measure, I have always had a valuable library. And now there’s the bloody Internet.

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In the last few years, I’ve made the switch. It’s been gradual, but I’m there now. Nearly all of my reading is done on an electronic device. Either a Kindle or a Retina iPad. It’s almost nonsensical to have a dead tree product that weighs more than a Kindle. Any argument for the physical in my eyes is purely sentimental, and I’m feeling my mortality this month sufficiently to realise that in my case, this is becoming increasingly true.

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So I’m divesting from wood-pulp. Have a look at my list below. If you know me and want any of these, give me a shout and I’ll save for you. Pictures below too. Most of these books are in perfect condition, like new, even if they’ve been read. 

My bookshelves are in a nod to Parkinson’s Law, still full. That is, “No matter how many books you get rid of, your shelves will always be full”.

Here’s the list, you’re welcome to it, contact me if you’re interested in any of these (it’s gone already if crossed out):

  1. Stephen King, Danse Macabre
  2. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  3. Shopped, Joanna Blythman
  4. Any Human Heart, William Boyd
  5. How to Invest When You Don’t Have Any Money: The Fool’s Guide, Christopher Spink
  6. How To Make Money From Property, Adam Walker
  7. A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle
  8. Something to Tell You, Hanif Kureishi
  9. The Art of Changing: A New Approach to the Alexander Technique, Glen Park
  10. Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Vikram Chandra
  11. Self, Yann Martel
  12. The Rules of Life, Richard Templar
  13. The Rules of Work, Richard Templar
  14. Using SQL, Groff & Weinberg
  15. House of Bush, House of Saud, Craig Unger
  16. CSS The Missing Manual, David Sawyer McFarland (O’Reilly)
  17. Programming Python 2nd Edition, Mark Lutz (O’Reilly)
  18. Learning Python, Mark Lutz & David Ascher (O’Reilly)
  19. Python Standard Library, Fredrik Lundhn (O’Reilly)
  20. Programming Perl 2nd Edition, Wall, Christiansen & Schwartz (O’Reilly)
  21. Agile Web Development with Rails Second Edition, Dave Thomas & David Heinemeier Hansson
  22. JavaScript for the World Wide Web Fifth Edition, Tom Negrino & Dori Smith
  23. MySQL/PHP Database Applications, Jay Greenspan & Brad Bulger
  24. Anyone Can Do It, Sahar & Bobby Hashemi
  25. Foundation ActionScript 3. with Flash CS3 and Flex, Webster, Yard & McSharry
  26. Affluenza, Oliver James
  27. Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare
  28. A History of Warfare, John Keegan
  29. No Logo, Naomi Klein
  30. The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
  31. Manager’s Book of Checklists, Derek Rowntree
  32. The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama
  33. The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker
  34. Schott’s Almanac 2006, Ben Schott
  35. Is it Just Me or Is Everything Shit? Volume Two, Steve Lowe & Alan McArthur
  36. The 5-Day Course in Thinking, Edward de Bono
  37. Tales From the Thousand and One Nights, Penguin Classics
  38. Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  39. The Tibetan Art of Positive Thinking, Christopher Hansard
  40. Shite’s Unoriginal Miscellany, A. Parody
  41. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  42. A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
  43. Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Gore Vidal
  44. Nine Parts of Desire, Geraldine Brooks
  45. London Fields, Martin Amis
  46. Candide – and Other Stories, Voltaire
  47. Talk to the Hand, Lynne Truss
  48. One Red Paperclip, Kyle Macdonald
  49. Intimacy, Hanif Kureishi
  50. Captive State, George Monbiot
  51. Emergency, Neil Strauss
  52. Meditation in a Changing World, William Bloom
  53. The Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
  54. The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins
  55. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
  56. Superforce, Paul Davies
  57. Beyond Reengineering, Michael Hammer
  58. Unix in a Nutshell 4th Edition, Arnold Robbins (O’Reilly)
  59. The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
  60. The Moor’s Last Sigh, Salman Rushdie
  61. Fire with Fire, Naomi Wolf
  62. The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsella
  63. The Trouble with Boys, Angela Phillips
  64. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
  65. The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi
  66. The Business, Iain Banks
  67. The Fatherland, Robert Harris
  68. The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche
  69. Complete Tales & Poems, Edgar Allen Poe
  70. The Oxford Companion to the Mind, Edited by Richard L. Gregory
  71. Mr Jones’ Rules, Dylan Jones
  72. The Prophet’s Way, Thom Harmann

 

It Is Much, Much More Important Than That

 

Gerrard lifts CL trophy 2005

Seven years ago to this day, I collected my Decree Absolute from the Principle Registry of the Family Division. I shuffled outside, looked up at the sky, and a few tears rolled down my face. I sobbed three or four times, but my face was a stone mask. I have never known anyone to sob like that. After three seconds of grim-faced absolution, I walked on, with no hope in my heart, alone.

I encountered a homeless man. Like many I struck up conversations with before, he claimed to have been a soldier. I told him that I too was homeless. This was true. The only difference between me and him was that he had accepted his status and was living in accordance with it, I was in a state of denial, characterised by a state of free-fall that only the reckless know. 

I was jobless, and had been for longer than I dreamt possible. I was homeless. I was in debt. My health was wrecked, my diabetes in life-threatening shape. My beloved children were not with me. And now I was finally divorced. Well at least one thing had gone right.

Only two years before, I was on a six-figure income, a picture of health, but no deeper than that, driving a Mercedes S-Class, Platinum AmEx, £1000 suits and on top of the world. I was not rich, but I was certainly comfortable. 

Now that was ashes. And every time I experienced rock bottom, the rock turned to dust, and gave way to deeper, more humiliating lows.

I went to my friend’s house that evening to watch the match. The match? If you’re a Red, you will surely not have forgotten, just as I have relived it, thanks to a DVD that never fails to rouse me. It was the 2005 Champions’ League Final in Istanbul. My beloved Liverpool, a shadow of their former glorious selves, had somehow made it to the final of the world’s most prestigious club competition, 21 years after they had last achieved victory in the same event. That was about the time I felt I had last experienced my golden era, even though it only felt normal at the time, because winning does feel normal, you get used to it quickly and when it goes, it’s like quicksilver, no, it’s like a chameleon, or worse, like a mirage. 

Liverpool, a club battered by the tragedy of Hillsborough, mocked by upstarts claiming to be their new superiors, haunted by the horror of Heysel is a living entity that is intertwined so deeply with the threads of my own life, that I can interchangeably describe my life’s major events and Liverpool Football Club’s defining moments.

Heysel? May 1985. When my friend (also present at the flat of a mutual friend 7 years ago tonight) had inspired me to get push on with making games and when I released Chimera.

Hillsborough? Oh God. So many bodies. So many youngsters. They were there to watch football. And they have yet to get justice. And the impact of those images lessens not a jot, and the lessons of an out-of-control press prepared to pimp any lying garbage to a gullible readership are still being learned and relearned and every time we refuse to address the original disaster, those images are burned and re-burned. And my life? 1989 was when my coding career started to grind to a halt and I started to have my first financial meltdown, running screaming into the street after hypoglycaemic night terrors.

1965 marked the year of my birth, but it also marked Bill Shankly’s first major achievement, winning the FA Cup with Liverpool for the first time. I wasn’t born when we won our first FA Cup. In my early childhood, I didn’t even support Liverpool. Like many kids, I supported whichever team my Dad did. And that was Leeds united.

Diabetes came in 1974. Also the year we beat Newcastle in the FA Cup Final and when I started supporting the Mighty Reds, thus choosing my own path. And my love affair with Liverpool began.

1977 – the last year of primary school – the last year of Keegan at Liverpool, the last game for Tommy Smith, ever, and the European Cup for the first time.

“That’s nice! That’s McDermott! And that’s a goal!”

“What a delighted scorer! It’s Tommy Smith!”.

Liverpool stamped into my oldest memories, their goals transmuted into words by Barry Davies.

Fast forward.

2005.

Homeless.

Cold.

Sick.

Broke.

Jobless.

Lost my kids.

Divorced.

And Liverpool, a team that got to the final against all odds are 3-0 down at half time and I’m outside my friend’s flat smoking a Marlboro thinking “Let’s just not get humiliated. We got found out. We’re no longer the team we used to be. Let’s just keep what little dignity is left, shall we?”

Then the impossible happens. It really happens. It really, really, really happens.

My life changed forever that day.

I learned something with tears in my eyes for the second time that day as I saw Gerrard loft that symbol of ultimate glory high above his head.

That even if your opposition is formidable, even if you think you have been found out, even if the world thinks you have lost, even when you think it is all lost, that you can turn it around and win again. 

I suffered other setbacks. I was blind. I had mini strokes. And worse. But fast forward to today:

2012

Beautiful home

Warm

Healthy

Comfortable

Working for the company that sponsors the Champions League

My kids live with me.

Re-married

I’ve won on penalties.

And I’ve learned this.

That if you think you are beaten, if you think you are at the lowest, deepest, most humiliating ebb, with nothing in the tank, not even your hopes, that if you just keep walking on, if you will just keep walking on, through the wind, walk on, through the rain, though your dreams be tossed and blown – walk on

Walk on

With hope

In your heart

And you’ll never walk alone.

You’ll never walk.

Alone.

Regent’s Park

I’ve been going to Regent’s Park for 46 years now.

Regent's Park, photo taken by Shahid K. Ahmad

I’m still drawn to this place, even if I do feel somewhat rejected by racist usurpers who think they own it, barging us out of the way. They don’t own it. The Crown Estate does. Which means it belongs more to me than the Americans who forced me and my wife to make way attempting, but failing to ruin our beautiful afternoon walk.

There was one Spanish gentleman with his son on a bike. He moved for my wife, which was gracious of him. The English of course, treated us like scum, necks stiffening, voices rising, all ages, all classes, expected the paki scum to move. You only become sensitive to this stuff when you have experienced it for a long time.

The most notable exception was a Muslim family who like us, displayed gracious etiquette and moved. Please note, I don’t expect people to move for me, I always move and am happy to do so, but over decades, you understand body language, you read the dance, you know who is prepared to move with you, and you know who is not, and why. When you both start moving, there is genuine humility and giving on display, the head bows slightly, a small smile, sometimes not so small, spreads, otherwise subtle movements are exaggerated.

Regent's Park, photo taken by Shahid K. Ahmad

These pictures were all taken on my iPhone 4, some using the Clarity filter in Camera+, then the Lomofi filter in Instagram.

Regent's Park, photo taken by Shahid K. Ahmad

If you like these and you’re on Instagram, I’m shahidkamal, of course, and @shahidkamal on Twitter too.

The racist usurpers will neither know, nor love Regent’s Park the way I do.

Happy Birthday, Alhamdulillah

Birthdays don’t mean anything other than that which we ascribe to them, but they serve as a useful milestone for reflecting on change, growth, status and so on, whilst also giving us pause for thought about our direction and our future. So in the tradition of past birthday posts, I’m going to reflect briefly on the above.

Alhamdulillah, things have never been better on a personal level. My family continues to fill me with joy. My friends are truly generous, loyal and supportive. My colleagues inspire me with their talents, their courtesy and their friendship. I cannot say enough good things about my wife and kids. They are truly magnificent, just the most wonderful people a man could ever ask for in his life. My cup runneth over.

My health is as good, if not better, than at any time in my life. My weight is spectacularly heading back to the lows of a decade ago. The kidney disease that threatened me in 1997 has receded, miraculously. 14 years on from that fateful diagnosis and my creatinine levels are in normal range. My thyroid is fine. My eyes are fine. I have strong foot pulses. My HbA1c is heading in the right direction, finally in the 7% ballpark. My fitness has improved dramatically and I regularly play table tennis at a good level for an hour and a half. I can walk for miles with no discomfort. I can take the stairs up 10 flights and not be finished at the top. Alhamdulillah for all this.

My home is serene. Even the once noisy neighbours have piped down. The respect I have from my working network is humbling. To use the modern parlance, check out the love I get on LinkedIn. I look at that from time to time and wonder if my colleagues, past and present, are talking about a different, mythical person.

My faith, now in its 8th year, continues to be the source of peace and harmony, providing a rock on which the rest of my life continues to grow and develop as I look on in amazement at the countless blessings. Two of my close friends from my Qadiani days have joined me in Islam and are flourishing. I have great relationships with many wonderful Muslims from all over the world. They inspire and motivate me. I hear story after story after story of people unwittingly trapped in the Qadiani Ahmadiyya cult coming back to Islam and I am gratified and grateful. Guidance comes from Allah alone.

After hardship, there is ease. And of course, if hardship comes again, as it does, I will, insha’Allah accept it as part of the pattern of life and still say alhamdulillah.

So yes, whilst birthdays mean nothing in themselves, and with the deepest humility in light of all the suffering in the world and through the lens of my past, personal suffering, a very, very, very happy 46th birthday to me.

alhamdulillah