Saturday, 28 January 2012

Simple Pleasures

In the harsh light of day, my photograph of this half-finished drink leaves a lot to be desired,
but basically this is a picture of the best white hot chocolate in the world (ever) consumed at The Social last night before moving on to other venues and adventures.


Sometimes (most times) my mind is so busy with thoughts, dreams and strategies. And I get tired; I get easily overwhelmed. It's nice to be brought back to the present with good food and good company. So thank God for white hot chocolate, I say.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

"Body and Soul" - Part 2


I've finished reading 'Body and Soul' - Anita Roddick's first autobiographical business book - and honestly, I don't know how I feel. Sneaking off to the Sainsbury's canteen in my lunch break to spend time reading about her experiences has been like lunching with a mentor every day, and I'm sad to let that go (but I already have a handful of people in line to read it after me, so let it go I must).

Three things stand out for me: 

Everything is relevant - I mentioned this in my earlier post, but as the book progressed I continued to be amazed and encouraged by how much of the greatness demonstrated by the Body Shop as an organisation flowed from Roddick's own life experience. Each day can teach me something that contributes to my overall capacity to live a meaningful life. 

Everyone is responsible - There's absolutely no escaping Roddick's insistence that we all take responsibility for the type of society and global community we want to live and work in. She comes across as believing passionately in the power of the enlightened (demanding) employee to change the nature of business, and in the power of consumer and business working in tandem to create social change. 

Real change is elusive  - 'Body and Soul' was first published in 1991, and it's more than a little depressing to realise how few of Roddick's predictions have materialised over the years. She anticipated a very different business landscape, and we are only making incremental (and arguably superficial) progress towards that vision.

The Times called this book "A manual for the 21st century"; the Financial Times said "Her determination is inspirational", but in the end Anita Roddick admits to being frustrated that 'to this day there have been high streets full of companies that copied our packaging or products, but not one of them copied our basic stance.' 

There's a saying: 'imitation is the sincerest form of flattery'. I believe it's true, and instead of espousing my admiration for the things Anita Roddick and the Body Shop stands for I want to get on board and become a little bit more alert every day to the action I can take in my own life - the ways I can choose to be principled in my work and in my leisure, the ways I can live and learn.

"So now it's over to you - it's your turn
to weave the stories of 
the next generation
and make the apparently impossible come true."
Dame Anita Roddick - Body and Soul (Preface, 2008) 

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Let Them Eat Cake

Image created by artandwords on polyvore.com
  
We've subscribed to The Week Magazine in an attempt to at least vaguely keep up with "current affairs". It's length and style make it effortlessly accessible and I like the cross section of views from a range of UK and international sources.

Despite my best intentions to concentrate on business and finance news, the one the story that has stayed with me this week was this short paragraph below. It was unattributed so I'm not sure which paper/magazine it originally came from, but 'The Week' summed it up like this:

A teacher has set herself the challenge of baking a cake every day for a year, to give away. Cath Webb came up with the idea after reading an article which posed the question: what can each of us do for others? She thought: "Nothing, I've got enough on my plate - a job, a husband, three boys." Then she made a Victoria sponge for a friend with cancer, and was so moved by the friend's response, she decided to make more. Since April, she has delivered cakes to everyone from her mother to staff at the local hospital and homeless people.

It particularly caught my attention because it's easy to feel like acts of kindness are additional extras that no one really has time for. And, to a certain extent that's true. It's not a question of having time, it's a question of whether or not I choose to make time - whether I'm prepared to clear out some clutter and get round to doing the things I would love to be on the receiving end of.

Baking is not my speciality, but an idea that came to mind was sending postcards. It's something that comes naturally enough for me to find it manageable, but at the same time is personal enough to be a nice treat. In addition to being in touch with friends, I used to be quite good at sending monthly cards to people who share my faith but not my religious freedoms via a charity that passes them on, but the habit has fallen by the wayside and could do with being revived.

Once payday comes around, I'm going to buy a box of 100 postcards (at the moment I'm deciding between either Penguin book cover postcards or vintage Lady Bird book cover ones) plus a few that are more appropriate for sending to the unknown friends from other cultures the charity supports, and get going!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Dear H&M


Image created by artandwords on polyvore.com
 
Following on from my pre-Christmas post 'H&M Fake Bodies Furore', I decided to write to H&M. The main motivation for doing so was a desire to take some sort of responsibility for the actions of a brand I actively support with my purchases. I recognise that not everyone thinks the use of virtual bodies is something to get upset over, but it concerns me because body image is already so distorted in our current culture; I’m tired of being associated with it and I don’t want it to get worse.

An alternative option might have been a personal boycott of H&M: arguably, actions speak louder than words and as consumers we are at our most effective when we exercise our spending power.

My personal difficulty with boycotting is that there’s a lot I like about H&M – it’s like a friend I’ve known from secondary school and don’t want to lose touch with. Maybe I’m rationalising a lack of moral back-bone, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with feeling that way about a corporation. To my mind, a little old-fashioned customer loyalty is not necessarily bad – I personally want to rediscover the humanity behind our relationships with all of these logos that parade through our daily lives. At the same time, I don’t want to keep blindly signing up to things that don’t sit well with me.

If I’m honest, writing to H&M is a compromise. It allows me to appease my conscience without the uncomfortable sacrifice of changing my shopping habits (I bought a jumper dress from H&M in the January sales and am currently living in it). But maybe it’s also a wise choice too. By writing a letter to powerful individuals within a company, I get to interact with real people instead of being polarised by moral abstracts and impersonal labels like “multi-national corporation” and “consumer”.

This, in part, is my opinion:

The fashion industry faces complex dilemmas in balancing its role as a promoter of both functional products and intangible ideals. Aspiration is a powerful force, and the artistry and creativity invested in manufacturing and advertising is capable of instigating positive sentiments and behaviour.


Sadly it can be argued that the pervasive presentation of an alternate reality through airbrushing and lack of physical diversity leaves many people – perhaps young females especially – disillusioned with their appearance and disconnected from their own worth.


In this climate, the use of yet another technique that distorts body image is ethically questionable, especially given the covert nature of this technique.


The letter also talked briefly about alternatives and asked the recipients* to consider doing things differently. We’ll see who responds, and how.
I’m hopeful for positive change, but – in the absence of action on H&M’s part – the change might have to be me leaving behind a well-loved brand instead.


*the 12 members of H&M’s Sweden-based Board of Directors, the Head of Marketing and Head of CSR - see http://about.hm.com/gb/abouthm/factsabouthm/hmsboardofdirectors__boardofdirectors.nhtml


Friday, 6 January 2012

Welcome to 2012


This year we were fortunate to see in the New Year in spectacular style, thanks to the hospitality of a new friend met through church. After making each other's acquaintance towards the tail end of an evening at a laid back bar mid-December, this initial conversation turned into an invitation to a 1920s themed fancy dress frolic. Complete with an incredible six course meal whipped up by aforementioned friend and her equally industrious flatmate, it was an event any 20th century socialite would have given their long-stringed pearls away to be a part of. 

The picture above is a snapshot of the 20s inspired display that adorned the stairway landing - just one of the many artistic finishing touches that made the flat such a fitting venue for the first half of our evening. Towards midnight we all moved on to another flat to toast out the old year, relishing an amazing rooftop view before dancing in the new dawn. Definitely a night to remember, and one of the main reasons why it's stuck in my mind is that it originated out of such spontaneous generosity and involved meeting such interesting and easy-to-get-on-with people.

I certainly don't claim that the church has a monopoly on indiscriminate acts of kindness, and its unkindnesses are as real and deeply wounding as any group of flawed individuals is capable of inflicting. But there is something truly beautiful when the biblical metaphors of being a family and a body feel like a reality because of the 'click' of collective connection between strangers through shared values and hopes in God. And collective hope is the surely the key ingredient in any great New Year's event: seeing in a fresh twelve months with intrepid optimism and the feeling that everything can begin again.

For my part, I would like it if my beginning again included actively looking for more ways to be generous in a social and global climate of great hardship. It's not really a resolution, it's hopefully something more empowering - more like a prayer.
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