Biking and training.

I have never been so trained in my life.

The year began with learning how to make blogs like this. Then I was taught how to ride a motorcycle, then how to do Victim Support, then how to resolve conflict (the mediation training) and then how to write better poetry. Last week, I added Restorative Justice to the list. That’s a sort of upgrade from Victim Support where you bring offenders up close and personal with the victims of their crimes. It’s done in a safe environment (sometimes the offender’s prison) and by means of a guided conversation. It can result in remarkable benefits for both parties. It reduces re-offending rates better than pretty much anything else and it enables the victim to put a human face to what might previously have been the stuff of nightmares.

I have also been to Brittany on the Royal Enfield! My wife, Charlotte, and I have been to France several times but never on a motorcycle and certainly not in her 21-year-old Nissan Micra. So we took both. The little red Nissan got a GB sticker and a pair of beam-benders and I made a rather classic-looking bracket for the Enfield’s GB sticker.

Back bike

Here it is – the only bike on the ferry.

So why take two vehicles? For the strenuous luxury of it. I ride 200+ miles on the motorbike but I ride light. All the luggage is in the support vehicle. When we get there, we can choose clothing suitable for the weather that day and go out sightseeing by motorcycle with Charlotte riding pillion.

The most enjoyable ride was the one we usually do by bicycle. That’s a steady uphill slog to Finisterre’s Mont St Michel. Right at the end, there’s a really steep bit. That last half mile would be difficult at the best of times but, at the end of a sweaty, breath-stealing cycle ride, it’s a killer. But not on a motorbike.

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Ha ha! You get to the steep bit, drop a cog, twist the throttle and up you go. Magic.

In the picture, you can see James Bering-Harris, one of Charlotte’s creations who often travels on holiday with us.

In the next picture, we see Charlotte at Restaurant Aristide in Huelgoat. It’s a charming place, run by an artist bloke. It’s like the authentic version of that ‘French’ cafe chain, Cafe Rouge. Have you seen those? They’re quirky in ways thought up by a committee of accountants and marketing twerks. Non-matching lampshades and suchlike.

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But Aristide is the real thing.

Right, there’s a BBC4 documentary about the song ‘Danny Boy’ starting soon so this will be where I sign off.

Just time to recall a joke told by the comedian Just Jones as part of his stage act.

Normally, when I finish my routine, I like to sing a song. Before I leave the stage, I like to sing ‘Danny Boy’.

[Audience goes ‘ooh’ and ”ahh’.]

And last week, I told the jokes, I sang ‘Danny Boy’ and there was an old boy in the front row of the audience crying his eyes out.

I said “Oh, I’m very sorry sir. You must be Irish.”

“No,” he said. “I’m a singer.”

Crave new world

The jobs I left behind – journalism and TV production – are well-known. They are not well understood and the general public are deeply ambivalent about them. Tell someone you’re a journalist and they often back away thinking ‘Oh God, what did I tell him?’ They say “Don’t quote me.” and “Please don’t put that in the paper.” They say this regardless of how dull and of little public relevance their comments might be. But when they have an indignant sense of some injustice having occurred, they say “Right, I’m going to the papers with this,” and they fully expect us to put it in.

When you tell people you’re a TV producer, they say “Can you get me on the telly? I want to be famous.” When you ask them what they want to be famous for, they reply that they don’t want to excel in any particular field. They just want to be famous. On the other hand, people have a deep distrust of ‘the media’ and believe we are part of a conspiracy to protect bankers, crush the proletariat or whatever.

I shall miss these standard responses to my work. Now I shall have to get used to the quizzical look and the raised eyebrow. “A mediator? What’s that then? Is it like meditation?” Or perhaps, at social gatherings, when I tell people what I do, their eyes will refocus and look over my shoulder in case there’s someone more interesting to talk to. Someone in the media, perhaps.

But yes, that’s what I’ve been up to. As well as getting a shed and learning to ride a motorcycle, I have been training to be a mediator – someone who helps to resolve conflicts before they blow up into court cases, employment tribunals, feuds, wars, you know the kind of thing. I’m still on the course so haven’t done any real mediations yet but I found my experience as an interviewer and as a union rep very helpful. More on that as it happens.

Another thing I’ve been doing is voluntary work for the Witness Service, a division of Victim Support. I’ve been working in Cardiff Magistrates’ court and will be in the crown court tomorrow.

And another thing – poetry. 

ImageHere I am, in the south of France, practising my iambic pentameter. More about this in a separate post, probably but here’s the thing: accepting redundancy has given me the chance to concentrate on the stuff that I believe in. Witnesses play a vital role in our criminal justice system and they deserve all  the help and information they can get. Mediation is an all-round good thing in that it gets to the bottom of conflict, enables people to be happier with each other and saves the nation a fortune. And poetry is one of those precious things that make us human. 

Of course, I don’t know for sure how any of this is going to work out but it certainly wouldn’t work if I never gave it a try. So, if you’re thinking about redundancy, don’t just think about the negatives. Consider the possibilities if you decide to take the money and run.