In times of difficulty, when the environment is brutal, when so many are losing their heads, two paths appear.

The easy path is inward looking, unimaginative and prudent. It’s defensive, apologetic and and appeals to those obsessed with damage limitation. If you take this path, you will probably lose, but at least you reduce the chances of getting hammered.

The hard path is breathtakingly audacious and requires indefatigable courage. Like Liverpool’s second half against Milan in the 2005 Champions League Final; like Sean Murray mortgaging his house to make Joe Danger; like Zlatan Ibrahimovic against England the other night, I choose the hard path, because although I might fall flat on my arse more often than not, one day I will pull off the greatest overhead kick ever scored.


It was the first time Tony and I were going to Japan. It was special for both of us, for different reasons. Tony was a Japanophile, and my father always wanted to spend a few years of his life there.

We worked for Virgin Interactive, so naturally, we flew Virgin. One of the perks of using a partner company was that your ticket got marked with “SAU” for “Space Available Upgrade”. This meant that whatever the class of travel, if space was available, we’d get upgraded automatically. 

While we were waiting to find out if there was any space, Tony and I discussed the Islamic concept of reward. which he was quite interested in, so I explained further.

“For every good action, you get rewarded in the next life seven times over”

“That sounds cool” Tony said, intrigued. “What about this life?”

“Yeah, sometimes this life too, though not always. We’re not meant to do good deeds just to get payback in this life. We do good deeds because it’s right to do good deeds. God offers us up to 700x return on our good deeds in the next life”

We carried on in this vein when a Virgin representative came over, looking rather apologetic.

“I’m sorry guys, but there’s only a single seat in Premium Economy available.”

I didn’t hesitate.

“Tony, I want you to have it”

“No it’s alright, it really should be you Shahid”

“It’s fine Tony. I’ve been upgraded before. This is your first time and we’re going to Japan. You’re taller. I’ll be fine in Economy, it’s actually really good on Virgin”

So Tony got the upgrade and I sat down in the Economy seat. I put my headphones on and was happy. I was comfortable and I felt good that I’d done something for my friend.

As we were about to take off, a stewardess approached me, smiling broadly.

“Mr. Ahmad, we’ve managed to find a space for you with your companion. Would you like to come with me?”

I returned the smile, but not just because I was getting the unexpected upgrade. As I approached Tony, he looked at me quizzically, expecting a question. As I went to sit down next to the newly empty seat next to him, he looked shaken, and I knew why.

“Sometimes Tony, God pays you back pretty quickly”

Willesden Green Library and Donations

Recently I posted about the books I wanted to give away, most of them in brand new condition. Not surprisingly, there were few takers on my books, but I managed to give away about 15% of them. The rest, I’d happily donate to a library so that others can benefit from them.

However, the library centre at Willesden Green doesn’t accept book donations. Not satisfied with this, I asked them why. Apparently, the simple reason is that they don’t have the space.

So that’s that. I shall try further afield and in the meantime, if you want any of these, please let me know.

Update: 12:46 PM, September 1, 2012

I called Marylebone Library too, and they said that all libraries in Westminster are full. This could mean a number of things, but I wonder if the shift to ebooks has anything to do with this?

Where Does Music Come From?

When I come home on a Friday evening, I pick up an instrument and play. I don’t think. The muse has been ignored for the whole week and the pressure I feel to be the channel for creativity to become real is almost overwhelming.

Like Steven Pressfield, I believe we are channels for this creative force. As a Muslim, I believe that this is a gift from Allah, but you can call this force what you like and ignore that I’m on first name terms with the Creator of All That Is, Was and Ever Shall Be. I’m not too precious about the nomenclature. All I know is that I don’t actually know where the music comes from, just that I’m the channel.

I don’t even know what I’m going to say until I’ve spoken. I don’t know what I’m going to write until I’ve written, and I don’t know what is going to be composed until I pick up an instrument, tonight a guitar, and just play for a few minutes to release whatever it was that needed to come into being. And now it is part of the Creation and I as the medium have served my purpose. It never lets me down, because it is not me that is doing anything. I’m just the servant.

Does it work for people who have no “talent”? Sure. I believe that talent is the accumulation of perfect practice. I subscribe to Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” idea. As a youth, I put a lot of time into practising the bass guitar. As a child, I was the best in my primary school at all the recorders. I learned to just about get by on guitar, to sound out a few handy blues riffs on the harmonica, to play a few notes that sounded OK on a sax. I even learned to sing, just about, but I haven’t hit 10,000 hours in any of those disciplines, with the possible exception of the bass guitar. I did not have talent to begin with. I had a willingness to learn. Call it aptitude, passion, interest, whatever, it’s the thing that sustains you through plateaus and kicks your behind after you’ve been criticised by fools that should know better.

Undeveloped talent is like a radio that isn’t tuned properly. The more you develop your skill, the clearer your reception to the gift of art. There is a point at which your technique becomes the tool of the art. The more finely tuned you are to the source, the greater the range of creative expression you are “gifted” with.

I get a good signal. There is some static, some noise, some feedback, but if I keep putting in the hours, the art will ring like a bell.