How my new mate ‘Tej’ helped me hang about 500 feet off the ground

I like to spend a bit of time raising money for charity every now and again. I tend to try to raise money for causes which I feel attached too. Last year I raised a bit of money and walked 100km in a day for Guide Dogs. The year before that I abseiled ‘the Orbit ‘ (the giant red curly structure) for an awesome Childrens Hospice, Richard house.

You see whilst you might consider hanging off large structures for charity something you’d never consider I look at it differently. I’m raising money for a great cause whilst challenging myself to do something I’m scared of…so for me everybody wins. I get to have a great new, although slightly scary and challenging, experience and Richard House gets some additional cash to continue their fantastic work.

So when the opportunity came up to do another Abseil I decided to take the plunge (not literally) and sign up. However this one was a step up. You see the Orbit, whilst being Britains largest piece of public art and still pretty tall, is ‘only’ 376 feet tall.

This time I was abseiling Broadgate Tower, the 13th largest building in London. As I write this I completely appreciate that this doesn’t sound particularly impressive. After all nobody says…”I know Usain Bolt won…but who came 13th!” but I’m sure you completely appreciate that whilst Thirteenth in most respects is a bit pathetic when in comes to buildings in London it’s still pretty tall.

However standing at 541 foot and nearly as tall as the BT Tower(Londons tallest building at one time) and the Gherkin it’s certainly not what you’d consider, erm, insubstantial in height.

It’s also an interesting building as it’s not as prominent on Londons skyline as the Gherkin or the Shard and it’s hidden in a cluster of buildings in Liverpool Street. This means that even as you’re leaving Liverpool Street station and walking towards it you don’t appreciate how tall it actually is.

It’s only when you turn the corner of Primrose Street and walk into the courtyard of the tower (and look up!) you appreciate it’s scale.

As walked into the courtyard of the building, where the registration tent for the charity was dwarfed by the giant structure in front of it, I still felt relatively calm. However then I looked up and realised that I’d be one of the tiny shadowy figures currently hanging off the roof. However the good news was that I couldn’t hear any screaming.

“Hi” I said to the lady running the registration desk “I’m Chris Daems…booked in for 11:30”

“Hi Chris” she said as she ticked my name of a list of a hundred people engaging in the abseil today “How you feeling?”

“I’m doing alright” I said. This was only a half untruth as the butterflys in my stomach hadn’t really properly kicked in yet…although I was aware they were coming. “How’s it going here today”

“Good” She said “Everybody’s gone up so far”

“Right” I replied “I’m more interested in how many have come down!”

She laughed. “Everybodys come down…” and then as she thought about her words she decided to add “…the building. Safely.”

“Thanks” I said smiling when I was approached by another guy representing Richard House. “Ready?” He asked.

“Now” I said despairingly and looked at Cassie for support…

“You might as well get it over and done with” she said if not virtually then verbally pushing me towards the back of the building where all of the abseilers were getting kitted up for the day.

Suddenly I found myself in a harness and in a lift heading towards the top of this 33 floor tower. I was sharing the elevator with a couple of fellow abseilers. A young French lady who was way too enthusiastic considering she’d be hanging 500 foot up off a building in a few minutes and her friend who looked how I’d started to feel.

I smiled at her and she provided me a reply in the form of a feint smile and then immediately back to a look of a woman whose French friend told how awesome it would be and she’d just realised the implications of saying ‘oh go on then…it might be a laugh’. I was expecting her to immediately mouth ‘help me’. She didn’t but even now I suspected she might have wanted to….I know I did!

Also in the life were our instructors. We had an instructor each who was going to abseil with us on the day. My professional climber was Tej and on the way up we started to chat.

“How many times have you been down today?” I asked

“Today…10!” Tej “I’ve still got a few to go too…”

The lift arrived at the top and as we stepped out into the open air. It was a warm September day and whilst there was a breeze the first thing I noticed was the amazing views. Tej was playing tour guide and was pointing out many of the most iconic parts of London.

From such a central point you could see as far West as Wembley and as far East as the Olympic park and beyond in both directors. You could see the O2, the Tate Modern, The London Eye, Many of the bridges snaking across the river and much much more.

Tej was keeping me suitably distracted but slowly I started to become more and more nervous as we watched our fellow abseilers make their way down. I decided at this point it might be a wise move to distract myself and decided to understand a bit more about the guy who was going to be the man I was entrusting my life too even if it was only until we reached the bottom.

I started asked Tej questions and found that I was in pretty safe hands. He’d been a Fireman since he was 18 and was now ‘retired’ and was now a rock climbing trainer. He’d climbed in Yosemite national park and in the Himalayas. He’d abseiled a bunch of buildings in London too.

“Have you ever Abseiled the Gherkin” I asked Tej.

“I’ve been up there” Tej replied “but cleaning the windows….you’re not allowed to do charity Abseils from the Gherkin at the moment”

“I didn’t realise that” said a fellow instructor whose name I didn’t catch “Why’s that then?”

“I’ll tell you later” Tej replied “I don’t want to mention it as these guys are about to abseil.”

I liked Tej. He was a lovely man who was doing his best to keep me reassured. However the nerves returned as I conjured stories in my head which I’m sure are far worse than what actually happened on the Gherkin. Tej was probably right not to go into detail…but it made me start to invent stories about Gherkin related impalement and Sun Puns about Gherkin Related incidents (”Gher-Killed” or even “Now Nobodies Smirking at the Gherkin”).

Now whilst making up Gherkin related puns in my head had distracted me for a while and suddenly I was being asked to step up on the platform ready to head down.

“This is Graham” Tej said “He’s going to help you with your ropes” and before I know it Graham had connected me to the top of the building sturdily but also to Tej.

Now it was time to head down…and I was encouraged by Tej to slowly edge closer to the side of the building…and then came the hard bit.

“Just take some of the weight of the rope….and lean back”

If there was an award for the ‘most counterintuitive action to take ever’ I think this would win.

“Now bend your knees and step down onto the ledge…”

I tried to do as Tej asked but found my leg waving around trying to find a ledge which just wasn’t there. I panicked…and lifted my flailing leg back up.

“Don’t worry” Tej said in a voice (unreasonably calmly) “Let’s try again”

Again I lifted my Leg off of the platform to put it on the ledge only to find said appendage again waving about in thin air. Again I panicked and stepped back onto the edge of the building. Tej, who was already on the ledge my legs couldn’t seem to find at this point, called Graham for some help and with some help from both of them I managed to find the previously invisible ledge first with one leg and then with the other…

Then there was another small step down but before the main descent Tej gave me some advice.

“You’ve done the hard part….now take a deep breath, look around and enjoy the view…”

I took his advice, took a deep breath, looked around at the amazing landscape of the city I love and started to smile.

“Right then” he said “Are you ready to go?”

I was and I slowly started to release the rope and make my way down the building. Now I’d like to pretend it was smooth sailing from there. You see I’d like to pretend my descent was graceful. I’d like to pretend it was like a Tom Cruise stunt in any of the mission impossible films. I’d like to pretend I was perfectly mirroring Tej as he sailed down the tower like the professional he is.

However I can’t. Instead of a graceful descent it was clumsy and awkward. Instead of being like a stunt from a Tom Cruise movie it was more like a combination of stunts from all of the Normal Wisdom films with a bit of Mr Bean thrown in for good measure. Instead of perfectly mirroring Tej at times I was doing the exact opposite.

You see as Tej sailed down straight I found myself spinning around. As Tej had his hands in the right place in a controlled manner all the way down, I found one hand had got stuck half way down and I had to remove it and move it’s position a couple of times.

As Tej moved at a smooth leisurely pace I was at times too fast, at times too slow and at times at a complete standstill.

So, An expert abseiler I wasn’t. However as we approached the bottom I realised I’d really enjoyed my messy, shambolic but super fun descent!

I got to the bottom and as my ropes were being removed Cassie, Charlotte and Sophie came up.

“Did you see me up there” I said with a big grin on my face.

“Yep” Said Charlotte “You were spinning quite a bit…”

“He did great” Tej lied. I thanked him, shook his hand and went to give my family a hug.

The reality is that whilst the experience was at times terrifying, at times embarrassing and at times fantastically exhilarating throwing myself off the Broadgate tower was worth it. The fact that we raised a decent amount of money for a fantastic cause and helped Richard House continue the great work they do.

If you haven’t sponsored yet but, after reading about my sambolic (but super fun) abseil please visit here:-

Chris Daems Abseil Sponsorship page

Alternatively If you’d like to find out a bit more about Richard House, the work they do (and how to support them) you can do this here:-

Richard House website

Why my luck has driven me to abseil down Londons 15th tallest building…

I consider myself incredibly lucky in a bunch of different ways.
However the main reason I consider myself amazingly fortunate dwarfs all others in their importance. You see…
I have two healthy happy children.
(We’ll, I say happy…Let’s change that to ‘mostly happy’ or maybe as happy as a teenager and an incredibly assertive 5yr old can be!)
I know that I’m lucky because I’ve seen how tough it is for mums and dads who aren’t as lucky enough as me and probably you.
You see for Parents whose kids suffer from serious or life limiting illnesses the worries they face make my concerns about my kids fade into nothingness.
That’s why I’m raising some cash for Richard House this year. The work they do for children with serious and life limiting illnesses is amazing and the support they give to the parents of these children is awe inspiring to say the least.
So, as you may know (I may have mentioned it once or twice), in a couple of weeks I’m abseiling down Broadgate tower. Now Broadgate tower is quite a tall building (the 15th tallest in London) so whilst I’m looking forward to the challenge I’m determined to complete it to ensure that we raise some much needed cash to help fund the fine work Richard House do.
So, I’m asking for your help. A donation small or large to support me to support Richard House would be hugely appreciated and you can donate here:-
I look forward to seeing your donation and thank you in advance!

Why I’ll be at the top of a tall building and need your help

A couple of years ago I found myself hanging off the Orbit, the largest sculpture in the world.

Now before you ask…it’s not how I usually spend my weekends but instead I was trying to raise some money for a fantastic cause.

You see Richard House are a Children’s hospice in Beckton. There is only one word for the work they do to support children with life limiting diseases and their families…that word is Awesome!

So I’m doing it again. This time I’ll be hanging off a larger structure…Broadgate Tower in Liverpool Street.

Now I know there’s plenty of things you can donate too….but as a little reward for each person who sponsors me they’ll get a personalised thank you video from me to you on behalf of what you’ve done to help such a fantastic cause.

You can sponsor using the link below and thanks in advance…

Sponsor here.

How a teenage daughter on the streets of London changed how I felt about kindness

I’m writing a book at the minute. A book about how I’m trying to be a kinder person. I want to share with you a story. It’s a true story about a dad and a teenage daughter and how one day in the early summer they tried to do something a little kind.

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It was late June and it had been a week of fantastic sunshine. However after a few days of lovely weather mid week the weekend had arrived and the sky was looking overcast.

I woke slowly and checked my watch, it was 6:52am.

At about 7:00am Charlotte wandered into the bedroom and enthusiastically told me she was ready for our day out in London.

You see a few days before I’d persuaded Charlotte that I could really do with her help.

I’m still trying to work out how to be a good dad to a teenage daughter and have come to the conclusion that whilst I felt I had decent parenting chops when it comes to this new challenge I’m a novice again.

One of the challenges you face as the dad of a teenager is mastering the art of teenage persuasion is much like mastering Golf, or Chess, or Wild Bear taming. You think you’ve got it cracked and then suddenly on a day you don’t expect it you realise how much you’ve still got to learn…

However Charlotte, my 13 year old daughter, has a fantastically kind nature (although I am slightly biased) and so she was happy to help me on a day out in London delivering lunch packs to the homeless as part of my ongoing project to personally make a little bit more effort to both “do well and do good”.

Actually at 7:00am on this cloudy Saturday morning Charlotte was already ready. I was still in bed and nursing a slight gin based hangover.

“Are you ready yet Dad?” said Charlotte

“Yes Charlotte!” I replied “I intend to walk the streets of London wearing a t shirt and boxer shorts!”

Charlotte laughed and wandered out of the room…

After a shower, shave and a bit of breakfast we started preparing some packed lunches to take along into London. The idea we had was this…

We’d make twenty packed lunches and spend a few hours in London delivering them to individuals who were clearly living on the streets and struggling to make ends meet.

In the scheme of things it was a tiny gesture. We knew that giving away some food to a few people wasn’t going to solve any permanent problem. However both Charlotte and I wanted to try to make a few people who had unfortunately falling on tough times just a little bit easier.

All of the Daems family helped. Sophie, my youngest daughter, buttered bread for sandwiches, Cassie made the sandwiches and cut them into triangles and Charlotte and I packed each lunch.

Cassie had managed to get an 20 lunches together, including a sandwich, a packet of crisps and some chocolate chip cookies for a grand total of £20.

It made me wonder.

If any of us could,with a bit of focus, deliver a lunch to twenty homeless people for as little as a pound a lunch, why don’t more of us do more?

However I also knew that for decades I’d also been walking down streets ignoring the homeless and choosing to do nothing.

As we hopped on the tube I told Charlotte that I’d been looking into Homelessness in the UK to work out where we’d likely be able to help as much as possible…but I found it really difficult to get reliable figures.

The reality is it’s unexpectedly tough to find entirely accurate information on the number of individuals who are homeless or sleeping rough. It’s openly admitted by local authorities and charities alike that finding an accurate figure for the number of homeless people is a tough thing to do.

The ‘estimates’ used also vary dramatically from 4000 (based on Data provided by local authorities in England) up to 250,000 nationwide (based on a survey by shelter but also included people who are also in temporary accommodation and hostels).

However my research had told me that London was a particular homeless ‘Hotspot’ and the London borough of Westminster, one of our capitals wealthiest boroughs and the home of our democracy, had the greatest number of homeless individuals and rough sleepers in London.

“Where are we going Dad?” Charlotte asked

“Westminster” I replied.

When you walk out of the right exit from Westminster tube station the first thing you see is the Houses of Parliament. On this particular early summer day it looked majestic, especially as the clouds had now parted and London was bathed once again in bright sunshine.

There were hundreds of people around us. All looking up at the sight of the building which housed the oldest democracy in the world and the tower which housed Big Ben.

No one was looking down.

You see on the floor directly outside the tube station a man in a sleeping bag was laying in the shade. Eyes closed. Two plastic bags. One he was using as a pillow and the other laying by his head. Being ignored, often unintentionally, by everyone who passed.

It’s strange. For more times than I can count I’ve noticed someone homeless and walked past. There’s probably thousands more times when I’ve just not noticed another human being sitting on the street with his life in two plastic bags.

Now the reality is that all of our brains forms patterns. It focuses our attentions and efforts on the things we think about the most (it’s often called the frequency illusion or the “Baader-Meinhof” phenomenon) and it’s why if we buy a car of a certain make you’re more likely to see more of that particular make of car on the road.

You see the more I’d been thinking about those who lived on the streets, the more I’d noticed people on the streets.

Charlotte and I stood a few feet away from this guy and the crowd continued to move between us. It’s one of the things I love about London, it’s constant movement, the feeling of tangible excitement however at that point I felt frustrated…why couldn’t anyone else see this man?

“Dad” Charlotte said and it jarred my thought process.

“Sorry Charlotte…I was in a world of my own there”

“Can I give this guy a lunch?”

“Yep, of course!”

“I’m just going to leave it by his head”

“Okay…that makes sense.”

I took one of the pre prepared lunches from the backpack and handed it to Charlotte who left it resting by the head of this particular fella and made our way through the crowds down Birdcage walk towards Buckingham palace.

As we walked along the road hugging St. James’s park and noticed a couple of other homeless guys who we handed out a lunch pack to. I handed out one and Charlotte did the other. I noticed that whilst on her way back to me she had a broad smile and a skip in her step.

“What are you smiling at?” I queried.

“I don’t know” she said with a slight lowering of her head “It just felt really nice to help someone out like that”

“I completely get it” I said laughing “Kindness feels quite good doesn’t it?”

Charlotte nodded.

As we wandered past Buckingham Palace I noticed that there were two royal mail vans parked at the back.

“I wonder” I said to Charlotte pointing at the vehicles “Why the Queen has those two parked behind her house?”

“Maybe” started Charlotte “She just gets loads of post!”

“She probably does!” I said “or maybe she deliver parcels in her spare time. You know, to mix it up a bit when she gets really bored being a dignitary!”

“Maybe” Charlotte said giggling “I wonder if she’s ever delivered to our house!”

“Probably” I said laughing.

We wandered down constitution hill and for the first time I noticed that there seemed to be a lot more police on the streets of London today and a strange tangible tension in the air.

The closer we got to Hyde park the tension intensified as did the sheer volume of people on the streets.

The protesters broadly split into two camps. Some held signs which said “Say no to terrorism” and the English flag. The other camp held signs which said “Never again. No to the Nazis” and “Smash the English Defense league”

There were journalists and cameramen and more than anything else there were police. Police in riot gear. Police in vans. Police looking ready for the trouble they undoubtedly expected to occur.

We didn’t notice any particular bother. Apart from incident where one middle aged woman half way through the process of being arrested and someone who wasn’t afraid of telling the world (and the watching cameras) what she thought was happening…

“I can’t believe it” She screamed “You’re arresting me for protesting Nazis! They are the ones you should be arresting! Nazi bastards!”

It was a tragic sight. A seemingly respectable middle aged woman handcuffed and screaming in the street. Part of me felt a grudging respect for this women. She felt she was fighting for what she believed was right and I’m sure she felt it was the right thing to do.

However what the politically far right and far left both seem to miss is the futility of this sort of action. Maybe this is simplistic but I firmly believe you don’t say no to terrorism (or the Nazis) by wandering the streets with people who agree with you and fighting or threatening the ones you don’t.

You say no to any sort of extremism, not with more extremist views, but by communication. Sitting round the table and not only talking about we all have things which make us different but in reality we always have far more in common.

You see, and again I appreciate this might be a simplistic point of view, I believe that we say no to extremism not by being more extreme but by promoting and highlighting the success of liberal values. Democracy. Freedom. Generosity…

…and kindness.

We wandered down Grosvenor place on the way to Victoria Station handing out lunch packs along the way.

When we arrived at Victoria train station we noticed a guy huddled in a doorway. Charlotte pointed him out and we crossed the road to deliver him a lunch. When we arrived at the doorway, an entrance to an indoor shopping mall, he’d disappeared.

I realised that he may have seen Charlotte at him and decided to move as we walked over. I can’t imagine why he’d think we were a threat but the reality is that I didn’t know his world from his perspective. Thankfully I’ve never lived on the streets.

We walked through the mall and saw him huddled in another doorway. This guy looked old, seventy at least, but I wasn’t sure whether that reflected his age or that his experiences had aged him prematurely.

I walked up with a bag in my hand and the man whilst sitting down seemed to shrink back into himself.

“Excuse me mate” I said

The man looked up. He looked sad and frightened. Said nothing.

“I’ve got this spare lunch here if you want it” I said and handed him the bag.

He took the bag.

“Thank you” he said but didn’t smile and looked down as quickly as he’d looked up.

I wandered off and by the time I’d walked back to Charlotte about 100 yards away I turned and he was gone.

Charlotte and I walked together towards Victoria coach station. A man was sitting there with a sign which said “I need to get home. Can you help me?”

We’d decided before we left the house that we wouldn’t be giving out money out today but this young guy, probably in his early twenties, looked like he could do with a lunch.

“I’ll help this guy” said Charlotte and wandered up to him with the plastic bag.

Then something funny happened. From a little way away I saw the man say “Thank you” and Charlotte still with bag in hand wander away from the guy sitting on the floor.

It’s fair to say he looked confused. I’m pretty sure that never before he’d been offered a lunch and then for this to be cruelly snatched away from him.

As Charlotte wandered back to me head bowed I called out…

“What are you doing Charlotte?” I mused

“He said ‘no thank you’” She shouted back.

“He didn’t” I said “I could see from here that he wanted the lunch”

“Oh no!” said Charlotte as it dawned on her what had happened “What have I done!”

“What you’ve done” I said “Is offer a homeless man a sandwich and some cookies and then snatch it away from him at the last minute. Lets go back and give him the bag.”

We wandered up and I tried to explain that Charlotte had thought that he’d said ‘no thanks’. He smiled and laughed. A wide warm smile and a surprisingly bright laugh.

“It’s okay” he said “Thanks again for the bag”

Having almost exhausted our supply of sandwiches and feeling tired we jumped on the tube heading towards Liverpool street on our way home and found ourselves talking about today.

“We’ve done a good thing today Charlotte” I said

“I know Dad” Charlotte replied “But it’s one meal…I wish something could be done to help permanently.”

“Me too” I replied “I just wish I knew what that something was”

For a while now I’ve been trying to put how Charlotte and I spent this particular day into perspective.

The reality is that the lunches we handed out won’t change lives of the homeless guys we tried to help. It was a nice gesture but not one which will house or clothe or employ the people who have fallen on tough times.

There are countries in the world which are tackling the issue head on. Studies have recently shown that tackling homelessness by housing people quickly and without hassle is actually five times cheaper than tackling the homeless. Finland and Denmark have shown that housing people first has had some success and I’m not sure why more countries have adopted a similar approach.

I’ll leave that for governments to tackle. Hopefully I can help by just carrying on…

…with one small act of kindness at a time.

Why I’m proud to be a Londoner…

I’m proud to be British.

I’m proud to be English.

I’m especially proud to be a Londoner.

I’m proud of the fact that in Britain we produce some of the best storytellers and poets in the world and have done for centuries. From Shakespeare to John Cooper Clarke. From JK Rowling to George Orwell. From Bemnjamin Zephaniah to Agatha Christie. From Salman Rushdie to Douglas Adams. From Roald Dahl to Zadie Smith. The list could go on and on…

I’m proud of the fact that although we’re a small island but we all know that we’re incredibly good at producing people who are truly at the top of their respective games. From Idris Elba to Stephen Hawking. From Heston Blumenthal to Zaha Hadid. From Danny Boyle to Tim Berners Lee. From Mo Farah to Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

I was especially proud of London in the summer of 2012. That summer the world came to us and we showed how incredible London truly is.

We were friendly, welcoming, hard working. We showed the world we had the ability to organise a truly global event which many say was one of the best (if not the best) Olympic games in modern times.

But if you remember we did moan about it. We feared it was going to be a disaster (Of course we did…that’s part of Londons DNA!). But that didn’t stop those involved, including the thousands of volunteers who in my opinion were the true stars of that particular summer, just cracking on and getting the job done!

What it did though is showcase London as one of the finest, most welcoming cities in the world!

Some of us even managed to smile on the tube (and that rarely ever happens!)

Now this might seem like a strange one but I’m also proud to live in a city where if you wanted to you could eat or drink around the world.

Jerk Chicken, Dim Sum, Chow Mein, a Roast Dinner, Pie Mash (with lashings of liquor of course!) and let’s not forget the good old curry! Top that off with a Belgian beer, or a London Gin and tonic, or a Lithuanian Vodka. Alternatively we could have a nice hot strong coffee or a good old cup of tea!

I’m also hugely proud of the fact that London is a city with so many dimensions. You can see hundreds of different side of London as you venture from the City to Camden. From Whitechapel to Hampstead Heath. From Chelsea Harbour to Upton Park. I’ve been exploring London for decades now and I’m still not done!

I’m also proud that most of us understand that, with the exception of the odd idiot, most of us want the same thing.

We want to live meaningful lives.

We want to be good parents.

We want to be good neighbours.

We want to, regardless of our race, colour or creed, be good people.

However too much of what we see on our telly screens and on social media are the views of people who seem to want to use a tragic incident to make a political point about immigration, or their disdain for a particular religion, or choosing to take what’s happened and using it, along with self selected information, to prove what they already believe.

I think we’re all guilty, to one extent or another, of making the things we consume fit our own world view.

Nobody is denying that what happened in London on Wednesday was incredibly tragic and especially for the families of the people who have lost their lives.

However when the statistics show that immigration has a huge net economic benefit, and terrorism is incredibly rare, and that whilst there are extremes in our society (of all races, colours, creeds and beliefs) the majority of people are just trying to live their life the best way they can it’s tough to work out how so many can have such an alternative perspective.

What’s strange though is that although I might disagree with you I’ll always defend your right to say it.

I think that’s what me most proud to be British (and a Londoner).

The fact that we live in a free country and a democracy.

We’re free to choose our political representatives.

We’re free to, as long as we follow the law of the land, choose how we spend our time.

We’re free to believe what we want to believe.

We’re free to ignore some idiot who despite trying his best to spread fear and hate and ignorance has already failed (a quick look at how London has just ‘kept calm and carried on’ clearly shows that) and as I’ve said already…

I’m also proud of the fact that we’re free to disagree…

To me the fact that we can sit down over a Belgian beer and a curry made by a bloke from Bangladesh in Brick Lane and be free to talk, to discuss, to debate and to disagree and still walk away as friends, and no extremist of any kind has any chance of taking that away, makes me incredibly proud.

Proud to be British.

Proud to be English.

Proud to be a Londoner.

What do you think?

Why I give blood (warning : this post includes references to hob nobs)

As I quickly approach my 40th birthday I’m on a bit of a mission to be more kind. I’m even planning to write a book about it (more on that in a later post)

However one of the things I have done for quite a few years now is to give blood on a relatively regular basis.

Often when I talk to people about giving blood they often recoil in horror.

“I can’t do that Chris” they tell me and then go on to explain that they’re afraid of needles, or they don’t have the time or they don’t like the idea of someone taking just under a pint of their blood in one fell swoop!

However if you’re thinking about giving blood (and I’d suggest you do) here’s some reasons why you might want to consider doing it.

Firstly, and I wanted to start with one of the most important reasons…

You get to be cheeky to nurses without actually visiting a hospital!

I don’t know about you but there is something about nurses, male or female, which makes me want to start to crack (usually very bad) cheeky jokes.

Maybe it’s that they are in a position of authority.

Maybe it’s the fact that I’d do anything to avoid the implication that seeing a nurse usually means I’m sick. Maybe I’ve just seen one too many carry on films…I dunno.

So I admit it. I do enjoy a bit of nurse / patient banter whenever I’m the patient but not enough to visit hospitals on a regular basis (that would just be a bit weird!)

So, giving blood provides an opportunity for you to indulge in a bit of medical related cheekiness without actually being sick…that my friends is a win / win for sure!

Now we’ve established the most important reason lets talk about the 2nd most important reason for giving blood…

There’s free biscuits!

Now I get we can all buy a pack of biscuits from the shop.

However as we all know the best things in life are free and this principal especially applies when we’re talking about biscuits (and, erm, possibly banana milkshake)

Also, you wouldn’t go into the shop and buy an individual shortbread then an individual digestive and then an individual Jacobs club but if you go to give blood you’ve got a literal smorgasbord of biscuit choices from the humble hobnob through to the all so familiar custard cream.

Although there is never any Jaffa cakes…probably because it’s not really a biscuit.

Now in reality we all know that these biscuits aren’t free. It’s like a good old fashioned bartering system where you swap some of your blood for some biscuits.

But here’s the genius bit…and the third reason I give blood…

The body just makes you more blood very quickly

One of the amazing things about the human body is it’s amazing ability to replace the blood you’ve given. It only takes a day to replace the plasma and a few weeks to make replace your red blood cells although the fact your body produces 2 million red blood cells a second it doesn’t take too long to get you back to standard levels.

They do recommend that men wait for 12 weeks before donating again which means that buying biscuits from the shop might be a better move for that daily digestive craving but the fact that your body can cope comfortably without the blood you donate and then it’s quickly replaced means donating blood is a bit of a no brainer.

However there is another reason I give blood…

It allows me to directly give to the NHS

One of the institutions that makes me proud to call myself British is the NHS.

It’s not perfect, it can be bureaucratic and it had it’s challenges but often I think we take the NHS for granted. This becomes even clearer when you consider how healthcare is provided (or often like many not provided!) across the pond in the good ‘ole USA

The NHS helped bring my two daughters into this world and have continuously  looked after Sophie, Charlotte, Cassie and I whenever we’ve had concerns from health scares to premature births to eye scratches.

However whilst a bit of the tax I pay undoubtedly goes to the NHS to fund it’s services giving blood allows me to support a service I believe in directly.

Which is why giving blood is so important to me. However there is also another reason…

Giving Blood saves lives.

So here’s my bottom line….let me repeat it.

Giving blood saves lives.

It’s simple isn’t it.

Giving blood costs you nothing.

Giving blood means you get Biscuits.

Giving blood saves lives.

To be frank I’m a bit surprised more people don’t do it…

If you’ve been thinking about it but never taken the jump take a look at www.blood.co.uk which is packed with resource.

Oh, and if you do decide to give blood…keep your hands off the Hobnobs. They’re mine.

The 53 books I read in 2016.

One of the challenges I set myself in 2016 was to read and review an average of a book a week.

52 books read and reviewed throughout 2016.

As I write this (on the 30th of December) I’ve only gone and blooming done it!

You can find all of the detailed reviews on www.chrisdaems.com however I know you’re busy so here is the fifty three books (one over my target! Yay!) I’ve read and reviewed in 2016.

However I know you’re busy…so please see the books I’ve read in 2016 below with a brief synopsis and a link to the full review. I hope you find a book on this list which you fancy reading…

  1. Distrupt yourself (Jay Samit) – A useful book on how to disrupt existing markets containing practical tips as well as useful ways to test your business idea.
  2. Chavs (Owen Jones) – Some compelling arguments which whilst suffering from a few blind spots is still a compelling interesting and persuasive read.
  3. The Bees (Laline Paull) – A fresh take on the Dystopian novel…with Bees!
  4. The power of Habit (Charles Duhigg) – A fascinating and useful book highlighting how much habits have an impact in all of our lives.
  5. On the Road (Jack Karouac) – A romantic, honest tale of a life chaotically shambolically lived.
  6. Yes! – 50 ways to be scientifically persuasive (Goldstein, Martin, Cialdini) – A ‘tip book’ designed to provide you with tools so you can become more persuasive.
  7. Glass (Alex Christofi) – A comic tale set in London with some nice touches but seems to end too soon.
  8. Contagious (Jonah Berger) – Do you ever wonder how things catch on? This book will give you a decent insight.
  9. Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis) – An articulate, amusing read about a man trying to do the right thing in the wrong place.
  10. The Husband (Dean Koontz) – Whilst not a Koontz classic…’the husband’ is still an entertaining page turner about a man called Mitch fighting for his life.
  11. The Tools (Stitz & Michaels) – A book which whilst interesting was a tad too reliant on spiritual explanations for my particular tastes.
  12. Ouch! (Paul Knott) – A well written, insightful and practical book about the world of money…although sometimes overly cynical in it’s nature.
  13. Made to Stick (Chip and Dan Heath) – A great insightful tome into why some ideas stick…and why many don’t.
  14. Kung Fu Trip (Benjamin Zephaniah) – A ‘short read’ tells the entertaining story of the poets journey to the far east.
  15. Reasons to stay alive (Matt Haig) – A candid insight into one mans mental health challenges…and what he does to cope…both a fascinating and incredible read!
  16. A god in ruins (Kate Atkinson) – A compelling novel which explores complex ideas (including playing with time) in an entertaining way.
  17. A Journey (Tony Blair) – A fascinating and at nearly 700 pages a very substantial insight into the life of one of the most popular and controversial political figures of the late 20th and early 21st century (so far).
  18. The Sandman (ETA Hoffman) – A 19th century take on an even older fable. Not one of my favourite books but worth 80p (it’s one of the ‘little black classics’ series) and an hour of your time.
  19. The tell tale heart (Edgar Allen Poe) – Three short stories from the troubled but talented mind of Edgar Allen Poe. Gothic fiction at it’s best.
  20. Good to great (Jim Collins) – A useful insight into what makes some businesses good and other great. It’s received some criticism in recent years but still some useful insights in the book.
  21. Ten days (Gillian Slovo) – A novel based around a fictional London riot with Machiavellian politicians, a protective mum and a policeman trying to cope with the chaos. Well worth a read.
  22. Hooked(Nir Eyal) – A fascinating insight into how to build make a businesses product and services more ‘addictive’…in an ethical way of course!
  23. London – a travel guide through time (Dr Matthew Green) – A journey through Victorian, Georgian, Medieval and Blitz Ridden London with fascinating insights into London of long ago.
  24. I am Pilgrim (Terry Hayes) – An epic, rip roaring, action packed novel about two opposing forces…The Saracen and The Pilgrim. One of my favourite novels of the year.
  25. How the Whale got his throat (Ruyard Kipling) – A short story full of colourful beautifully poetic language.
  26. Love of Live (Bert Wolfe) – A story of one mans battle against nature, the elements but most of all himself.
  27. The Bet (Anton Checkhov) – This story tries to answer a question…”Would you swap your freedom for a whole lot of money?”
  28. A curious man (Neal Thompson) – The fascinating story of adventurer, cartoonist and entrepreneur Mr Robert Ripley. A story of a life well lived.
  29. Social class in the 21st century (Mark Savage) – An interesting look at modern day class. A well researched insight into how we see class and how definitions have changed throughout the years.
  30. When to Rob a bank (Levitt & Dubner) – A selection of blogs from the writers of Freakanomics. An entertaining read…
  31. Mindware (Richard Nisbett) – A book which ‘does which it says on the tin’…provides a bunch of tools designed to help you ‘think smarter’.
  32. Bad Pharma (Ben Goldacre) – A book which shines a light on the questionable practices of the pharmaceutical industry. Well worth a read…
  33. Knife Edge (Malorie Blackman) – Alternative reality novel where white is black and black is white. A tragic tale of misunderstanding provides an interesting insight into the nature of race.
  34. The alchemist (Paulo Coelho) – A book with fans. I’m not one of them. I didn’t find it to be insightful even if on occasion it is well told.
  35. The girl who saved the kind of Sweeden (Jonas Jonasson) – A darkly funny, fantastically ridiculous book which is ambitious in scale and scope but with a laser sharp wit.
  36. Black box thinking (Matthew Syed) – A timely reminder of the importance of admitting to mistakes and constantly trying to improve.
  37. The financial wellbeing book (Chris Budd) – A book jam packed full of useful financial tips with a particular focus on using money to improve wellbeing.
  38. Gaudi biography – An interesting insight into the Catalonian Architect particular his work in Park Guell and on the building many consider his masterpiece…the Segrada Familia.
  39. Talking to strangers (Peter Rosengard) – The real life story of a ‘life insurance salesman’ like no other. From turning breakfast into a lifestyle, to managing bands and running the comedy store it’s far to say Peter Rosengard has had a life well lived.
  40. The Fog (James Herbert) – A book which starts with an Earthquake…and then gets more exciting! A fine piece of work from one of the UK’s greatest horror writers.
  41. Homo Deus (Yuval Noah Harari) – Full of facts (the ‘history of laws’ is a corker!) and the book makes a compelling argument for the importance of big data and how we will continue to ‘outsource’ so much of our lives. Almost as good as the authors first book…Sapiens.
  42. The Long Earth (Baxter and Pratchett) – Whilst this book should have been ideal for me with both an interesting concept and being half penned by discworld author Terry Pratchett…If I’m being frank I found it a little bit dull.
  43. Animal Farm (George Orwell) – Orwell writes simply and powerfully about communism using a fable about animals on a farm. An absolute classic.
  44. This is London (Ben Judah) – A fascinating insight into some of Londons most untold stories. From cleaners, builders and sex workers. Paints a dark picture of my home town with the odd glimmer of hope but is well worth reading.
  45. Scared of something different (Keith Churchouse) – A surprisingly honest book where Keith shares why and how he continues to innovate his business and the challenges he has faced in this journey.
  46. High Rise (J G Ballard) – A decent dystopian novel about an East London tower block where society breaks down bit by bit.
  47. The Paradox of choice (Barry Schwartz) – We all want choice but sometimes choice is overwhelming. Schwartz explores this paradox and some of the techniques you can use to cope with too much choice.
  48. On Writing (Stephen King) – It’s simple. If you write and you’re interested in writing you should read this book.
  49. Habit Stacking (SJ Scott) – It’s not a classic…but might be worth a read to improve on some of your habits
  50. The great fire of London (Samuel Pepys) – Excepts from the diary of Pepys which provides an interesting insight into both the Plague and the great fire of London.
  51. The automatic millionaire (David Bach) – A book which explains how building wealth over time is best done when many of the actions you need to take are done automatically.
  52. Socrates Defence (Plato) – When Socrates defends himself his words are an example of great oratory and an insight into the mind of one of the fathers of western philosophy.
  53. The Trial (Franz Kafka) – A darkly amusing book about a man who finds himself stuck in a world of bureaucratic confusion.

I’ve enjoyed reviewing every book I’ve read in 2016…it was an interesting experience which made me think about what I learned or gained from each book. In 2017, and as I write my 2nd book, I think I’m going to go back to the odd ad hoc review as appropriate with a recap on my favourites at the end of the year.

However what I’m interested in hearing is what you’ve read in 2016…and what you’re intending to read in 2017.

I look forward to hearing from you!

Why bacon drinks, Stevie Wonder and running helped define my 2016 and the plans I’ve got for 2017…

Despite the news being full of political turmoil, celebrity death and tragedy I’ve got a bit of a confession to make…

I had a pretty decent 2016.

I got to sit at Charles Darwins old desk (although I’m not sure I was meant to!) and visited a bunch of great English Heritage sites.

I had my first bacon bloody Mary (sounds better than it tastes!) and had some Duck and Waffle.

I got the opportunity to speak at loads of different events across the country.

I realised that my youngest, Sophie, loves a set of museum headphones and shouting out seemingly random words from museum audio descriptions!

I ran a decent amount including participating in both the Great North and Great South run…

I got to visit some new places…Antwerp, Hertogenbosch, Budapest and Barcelona as well as revisiting Amsterdam and Brussels.

Charlotte, Sophie and I went to London Comic Con in April…only to be told in October by Charlotte that she now wanted to start going on her own!

I got to play on the pitch at Upton Park (although obviously my lack of skill means that I’m using the word ‘play’ in it’s broadest sense).

Continuing on a football related theme I also went to my last match at Upton Park, my first West Ham match at the Olympic stadium and my first visit to the Nou Camp (where I saw Messi score two and Suarez bagging a hat trick!)

I walked one hundred kilometres non stop in just over a day to raise some cash for guide dogs.

I went to a Gelato festival…and ate way too much frozen desert. (thanks, in part, to this guy!)

I took my first trip (ever) to the British museum.

I got to see Stevie Wonder live!

I went to the proms…and got the chance to see a play in Shakespeare’s Globe for the first time ever!

I continued to build the business

I popped up on the radio a few times

I got locked up for a good cause.

I read and reviewed 53 books.

I had a great Christmas with family in Scotland.

but most of all…

I got to spend loads of time with the people I love!

However now 2016 is over I’m now thinking about what I want to do in 2017. Here’s my list…

A lot more running including my first Marathon (eeek!) in Paris.

I’m intending to publish my second book.

I’ve got some decent sized plans for the business in 2017.

I’ve got some plans to be more grateful in 2017. More generous. More Kind.

I’ve definitely doing a bit more travelling including Greece and hopefully a visit to the Arctic circle.

I’m also going to continue to take some of the chances life often randomly serves up!

but most of all…

I’m also intend to continue to spend a bunch of time with the people I love!

So, that’s what I’ve been up in 2016 and what I’m going to be doing in 2017.

What did you get up to in 2016? and what plans have you got for 2017?

Book Review : The trial

The Trial (53)

by Franz Kafka

There’s only a handful of authors who get their own adjectives. The most famous is probably one of my favourite authors, George Orwell and the term ‘Orwellian’ which describes a policy of brutal control (usually by a government) usually including propaganda, misinformation, surveillance and ‘doublespeak’.

Franz Kafka is one of the only other authors who have their own adjective…however ‘Kafkaesque’ whilst often confused with ‘Orwellian’ means something totally different. You see whilst the techniques used in Orwellian novels are clear…in Kafka it’s never particularly clear whats going on!

It’s why Kafkaesque means ‘having a nightmarish, illogical or bizarre quality’ and “The Trial” optimises the Kafka style.

It’s about a man who gets accused of a crime. Throughout the story the man (or the reader) never finds out the specifics of the crime.

Not only does the man receive any clarity about his crime, there’s also a massive amount of confusion about how he defends himself and how to prove his innocence. Whilst there are apparent laws (and courts and judges) in this dystopia the main character never works out how to navigate a legal system which seems to have rules, but where so much remains unclear…

The book is a darkly comedic look at a world where bureaucracy reigns, the ‘powers that be’ are unknown. Think of dealing with your local council but far far worse.

It’s also a book which paints a picture of a society where all too often dictatorships have used to control the populous. It’s disturbing that this was written and published before the rise of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia where ‘Kafkaesque’ techniques were used in both countries and in many more dictatorships across the world even today…

So, whilst Kafka ‘The Trial’ isn’t always a particularly easy read it’s a darkly amusing interesting book worth a few hours of your time.

Book Review – Socrates defence

Socrates defence (52)

by Plato

Socrates, one of the fathers of western philosophy, was an interesting man. He was considered to be wise, but also controversial and his demise came when he started to question fellow ‘wise men of Athens’ only to realise that, erm, they wasn’t as smart as they said they were…

His argument was a plain one. Many of the men in Athens considered wise thought they knew it all. Socrates on the other hand said the reason these rich powerful leaders of Athens were far from being wise was because they failed to admit that didn’t know everything and still had much to learn.

This upset a bunch of people in Athens and suddenly Socrates found himself on trial for ‘corrupting the youth of Athens’ but seemed like a thinly veiled attempt to ensure that the ‘wise men of Athens’ got their revenge.

This book, written by student of Socrates and fellow philosopher Plato, tells the story of Socrates’s trail using the words of the man himself as he mounted a defence for the crimes he’d been accused of.

What’s interesting about this little book (on of Penguins ‘little black books’) is how modern it sounds and then you realise that this actual speech was given over two thousand three hundred years ago.

This could be a modern story set in a courtroom but instead it’s the story of one of our greatest philosophers sentenced to death due to the fact that he’d annoyed and upset a couple of ‘VIPs’.

The other thing that surprised me was how insightful this small book is. From it you can clearly understand why Socrates was such a big influence on the people of Athens and such a threat to the elite and powerful.

At the end, just after he is sentenced to death Socrates remains pragmatic and philosophical and jokes that it might have been more efficient at the grand old age of 70 to wait for him to die than force him through the courts.

However the book is well worth reading a provides an insight into one the great ancient philosophers.