Twas not while England’s sword unsheathed
Put half a world to flight,
Nor while their new-built cities breathed
Secure behind her might
Not while she poured from Pole to Line
Treasure and ships and men –
These worshippers at Freedom’s shrine,
They did not quit her then!
Not till their foes were driven forth
By England o’er the main –
Not till the Frenchman from the North
Had gone with shattered Spain
Not till the clean-swept oceans showed
No hostile flag unrolled
Did they remember what they owed
To Freedom – and were bold!
Each passing week proclaims it ever more clearly, we are in the shit. We’ve borrowed far more than we earn, securitized our borrowing a dozen ways so that each bad loan has incalculable effects (Warren Buffett called these derivatives ‘financial weapons of mass destruction’) and the stimulus plans seem to merely beget more stimulus plans. In the start-up world we are told to hunker down, cut everything to the bone and just try to survive until the market comes good again and we can once more spread our wings and fly towards an acquisition by (insert here). Those who have peeked out from underneath the tables have been batted down by ‘the powerpoint of death’ and other missives of doom.
We’re in the shit, and asking our most entrepreneurial minds to sit this one out. We’re in the shit, and the part of our economy best able to spur growth, create new jobs and get us out of this mess seem to be indulging in a fascinated self-castration at a time when courage, creation and competition are most needed. We’re in the shit, and crying out for the government to take bold steps, invest and rebuild the economy and yet shy away from doing the same thing ourselves.
We call ourselves entrepreneurs, let’s start acting like one. We should not be sitting around waiting for the economy to get better, there is no valley in the mountains in which we can cavort while the motor of the world grinds down. It is not enough to be willing to take risks when times are good, when a war is going badly the competent general does not hunker down and wait for it to get better, he realizes that he is the agent of change and that while the risk is greater, so is the prize. We are the agents of change in this economy, we can choose to wait it out, turning to each other and wailing ‘why doesn’t somebody do something?’ or we can act and watch as the world turns to us.
Let a thousand entrepreneurial flowers bloom in this deserted economy; no VC money? Ben and Jerry’s was started on the capital from two maxed-out credit cards. Poor market? Fix it yourself or find another one. My career has taken me from round-the world yacht-racing to international security to polar expeditions to web 2.0 and you’d be surprised how much your skills are transferable.
We’re in the shit and we are simply too damn important to sit this one out or do anything less than our most courageous, outrageous efforts. Now more than ever, what we do means more to the world than our own egomaniacal desires for greatness, this is us taking a strike to the cup and still standing at the plate spitting blood, bat raised and looking for space in the outfield. No more fear, no more caution, it’s time to step up.
Last year I wrote about my friend John Lake, who battled his way past brain tumours, depression, suicide bids and time in mental institutions to run the London Marathon and in some way find his purpose again.
John took something from that day and, to abuse a pun, he ran with it. On September 7th at 6am, John will zip up his wetsuit and enter the water for his first ironman triathlon. He will swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and then run 26.2 miles, a marathon. For someone who, two years ago, couldn’t run to the end of his block just getting to this stage is an awesome achievement. He will feel very different when he crosses the finish line.
When John ran the marathon he broke the record for money raised for the Brain Research Trust, with ten days to go he has already raised £7,300 and is aiming for £10,000. John is going to go through 13 hours of pain to show his support for people going through brain tumours, the least we can do is click on a link; please sponsor him now.
Professor Randy Pausch was three months and 12 days into his three-to-six months of good health left after Doctors diagnosed him with Pancreatic Cancer. This incredibly useful talk is made all the more poignant by the fact that this is a man who truly knows what it means to have limited time.
On 6 March, Rosie Stancer stepped off Ward Hunt Island and on to the frozen surface of the Arctic Ocean. With temperatures sinking past -50C, her eyelashes elongated with ice and every millimetre of exposed skin burning with the cold she pulled her sledge over serried ranks of 30 feet high barriers of ice stretching before her for miles and miles. The Arctic, still shaking off the hold of winter would make each night a concert of shivering limbs and chattering teeth as the lightweight stove strove against the world with its rationed fuel and thin blue light.
The cold took no prisoners this year, and the toes of Rosie’s left foot were hit the worst as they froze, thawed, refroze, rethawed and frostbite took hold. As the temperature crawled up through the –40s and into the more temperate –30s, the sun became a fixture in the sky, no longer rising or setting but simply circling Rosie as she pressed north. However, the sun became a fleeting visitor as the rising temperatures brought burnished clouds each staking a claim to their piece of the horizon before enveloping the world completely in a deathly white.
As the clouds fell, Rosie’s senses became almost redundant. What use are ears when there is nothing to hear, what use eyes when all around you is white, what use touch when its only function is to remind you of the pain in your feet? There is no up, no down, no far away, no close up, no sky, no ground, just white and the dead weight of your sledge behind you as your only comfort against complete isolation.
At least as Rosie hauled, climbed, pushed, pulled, levered, smashed and at times dug her way north, the ice conditions began to improve. Then came the storms. Whipping across the Arctic, the snow was coerced into vortices around Rosie, burrowing into every crevice as the wind fashioned the encircling ridges into sails taking her east and south, away from her desired route and course. [Continue Reading...]
The Swann Galleries in New York are holding an auction of the polar library of Dr. John M. Levinson, a past President of the Explorers Club. Included in the Lots is one of only 65 extant copies of the first book published in Antarctica, Ernest Shackleton’s Aurora Australis, 1908. This copy of the book is known as the ‘Veal’ copy because boards from a packing crate containing veal were used to create its cover.
It seems my birthday fell just a little too early to take advantage of this.
The last six years of my life have been so singlemindedly focused on the poles, so caught up with snow, cold and ice that I sometimes manage to forget that there is a polar opposite to this world. Recently I was lucky enough to head briefly down to Naples, Florida where i met some incredible and inspirational people. I experienced the boundless enthusiasm and vigour of true entrepreneurs and enjoyed my first taste of southern hospitality, both exceeded every expectation.
But sometimes it is the simplest of things that take your breath away and for me that came when I walked down to the beach, took off my shoes and felt the sand beneath my feet for the first time in almost six years. Seabirds were whirling and diving; a group of friends threw horseshoes and two men stood with the lines of their fishing rods stretching out into the dappled sea. I asked them what they were fishing for and they cheerfully replied ‘shark!’.
In my normal travels, the sun setting and rising is a rare and ponderous occasion, but here the sun set so fast that I, engrossed in the conversation of my friend, almost missed its fall; as if it too could not resist the call of the water it illuminated. It made me long for the sea and old friends.
For now though, the Arctic has resumed its call upon me and as I do my best to help Rosie reach the North Pole I study weather forecasts and satellite images to track and forecast the Arctic’s mood and intentions. Today’s infra-red was a beauty and seemed an admirable counterpoint to the picture above. A high pressure zone is currently keeping the skies clear over the pole, though it is also pressing down upon the ice. One can see widening leads beginning to make their presence felt to the west as the season pushes towards summer, while in the south-east a particularly nasty storm boils furiously. I hope that neither come to affect Rosie before she reaches her goal.
John was one of those people who seemed to lead a charmed life. Always the centre and light of the room at any party, he received a first from Oxford University, spoke Italian like a native and went on to become one of the leading lights of his year at the prestigious LAMDA drama school. It was on a holiday in Canada that John began to get headaches and went to see a doctor. Instead of an aspirin, they gave him a CAT scan and found a massive brain tumour.
It was incredibly lucky that they caught it (my cousin was not so lucky and died from a brain tumour a short while ago) but, unsurprisingly, the act of scooping out a chunk of John’s brain had a major effect upon him. Whole chunks of his memory were gone (except strangely for the lyrics of eighties music for which he has a now encyclopaedic memory), he had problems with his short-term memory and his short-circuited brain chemistry gave him severe depression.
I shared a flat with some close friends of John and he came to live with us in Kentish Town. Things seemed to be going well, though at times I would come down the stairs to hear John crying in his room. Shortly afterwards I went off on an expedition to Greenland, and when I returned John had gone. He had taken himself down to Beachy Head and prepared to jump off and kill himself. Luckily the police found him and John was strong enough to tell them that he needed help.
John was taken away and placed in a mental health institute, sharing his ward with people whose mental difficulties at time dwarfed his own. We would get the occasional phone call from John, and it was on one of these that he told us he would shortly be on day release and able to come and see us.
Sitting in our conservatory, John talked about his depression and in some ways it seemed very much linked to not being able to see a future. Acting did not seem to be a viable option anymore and John could not visualise anything else. What was the point in living if you had nothing to live for? Now, Ben and I talk a lot about the importance of goal-setting in life and attempting to do that which you are not sure you can do. I wondered if this might help John, so sitting there I said “John we have six months, next April you are going to run the London marathon”. John pointed out that I was the crazy one, he had never run before and got out of breath walking down the street. At which point I lent him some running trainers and told him we were heading out in ten minutes. [Continue Reading...]
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.”
-Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1864-1912). (via)
There is always a question for me as to how we perceive talent when it is something that is difficult to measure mathematically. With a sprinter we can measure his time, but it becomes progressively more difficult with more abstract things such as musical talent that rely on perception.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he notes that an orchestra had to erect a screen at auditions between the musician and the judges in order to prevent external appearance (or the sex of the musician) influencing the perception of talent. As an interesting addition to this problem, the Washington Post persuaded the world’s greatest living violinist to take his Stradivarius down to a DC subway plaza and busk for a while to see if anyone appreciated the sheer quality of performance in such an unlikely venue. The results were instructive. . . .