If the cold gets through to my heart, I remember thinking, I’m dead.

After years of prevarication, Andy has pledged to write a book.  Called ‘Letters to My Children’ the book is shaping up as a mix of autobiography, homespun philosophy, business experience and money advice, written as a guide to life for Andy’s five children. Here’s the next chapter, we hope that you enjoy it too.

Gorgeous midwinter

It had been one of those gorgeous midwinter days when the air is clear as crystal and the sun lights up the snowy hedgerows like a vivid Christmas card. Except that now the relative warmth of midday had been replaced by the piercing cold dark night air as I rode home across Leicestershire’s icy roads.

The day had started so well. My school friend Gary Sleath (known to us all as Gaz) and I had set off from our home in Rothley towards Market Harborough, 20 miles and an hours ride away. I’m not sure who had the idea to go and watch the trials competition that was taking place outside of Harborough, but at the age of 17 neither of us needed much prompting and it didn’t take long before we were off, both of us perched on my recently acquired 500 Triumph.

Motorcycle Escapades

We’d already had a number of motorcycle escapades together. In late summer we had ridden our respective bikes – me on my shiny new Kawasaki S1, a ring-dinging 250 two-stroke triple, and Gaz on his elderly but smart BSA C15 single – down the A6 to the London Motorcycle Show, plodding along at the steady 50 miles an hour that was the natural cruising speed of his Beeza. On the return journey my machine had gone onto reserve tank, but we couldn’t find an open garage. Eventually we came across a forecourt with a cash operated dispenser, taking pound notes at a time. My proud piece of Japanese super technology took exactly 2 pounds worth, whilst Gary had to stop at 96 pence, unable to squeeze the last few drops of fuel into his tank. That’s progress for you.

But today we were on a different mission, in a different climate. The sun was shining as we rode to Harborough, and we set about finding the trials competitors on their lightweight off-road machines. As we headed out of town, we realised that the ‘trials’ – tests of low speed skill and balance across rugged terrain – seemed to be taking place in several different locations at once. Brightly coloured riders and machines appeared ahead, behind, to our left and right, disappearing again behind the hedgerows.

We cottoned onto a couple of machines as they made their way along a country lane, in that curiously intense manner in which motorcyclists proceed when they are driving on snow covered lanes. Their machines were eminently more suited to the conditions, my Triumph having low set handlebars in road race style, although the power delivery of the low revving Triumph helped provide the illusion of safety. It felt good.

Machine failure

I don’t recall all of the events of the day, but I do remember that my machine gradually started to fail. The Triumph hadn’t been the wisest purchase that I’ve ever made, but at 17 I couldn’t see the folly of my ways, and this just seemed like another part of the adventure. It’s faltering coincided with the light gradually fading as the early winter afternoon turned into dusk, and the temperature started to drop.

We made our way back to Desborough. It seemed clear that my machine was not going to get us home, and we needed help. As it got darker and colder, we both crowded into a public phone box and phoned home.

The more I think about it, the more occasions I can recall when my dad bailed me out. Having had similar experiences with my own children since, I now understand how he would have felt to be called away from a nice warm fire on an icy winter evening by his errant child.

But still he came. And as we waited, the night closed in, the temperature continued to fall, and our spirits ebbed away with it.

Getting colder

Gaz was getting quite chilled by now. Whilst I had been wearing leather trousers which had retained some heat, he was wearing denim jeans which didn’t offer much insulation. It hadn’t seemed to affect him up to now, but as we waited the depth of cold was beginning to become quite worrying.

My dad arrived with a bag of tools and an electrical test meter. I don’t recall what caused the fault, but he managed to cure it, providing me with another lesson in my motorcycle maintenance apprenticeship. The bike started when I kicked it over, and I wasn’t about to leave my prized possession alone in the outer wilderness of Leicestershire. I would ride it home.

Gaz sensibly took refuge in the passenger seat of dad’s car, promptly turning the heat on to maximum. I set off, now acutely aware of the 60 mph gale that is the travelling companion of the motorcyclist.

The situation presented a dilemma. The faster I went, the more the wind’s icy fingers penetrated my clothing and numbed my fingers. Yet slowing down would prolong the journey further, perpetuating my exposure to the cold, and I needed to get in to the warm.

Exhilarating aliveness

As I rode through the blackness, and despite my extreme discomfort, I felt an almost exhilarating sense of aliveness. I was battling to get home through conditions that would have stopped most people, exposed to the thrilling reality of the subzero icy blast, connected to the tarmac below me and aware that that connection might be broken at any moment by an invisible film of frost.

As I forged through the night, I could feel the cold penetrating my body. I imagined my heart’s core, a warmth in my chest that was maintaining me and needed to be protected. I started to feel that there was a real possibility that the cold might win. If the cold gets through to my heart, I remember thinking, I’m dead.

I’ve never been so cold at any other time in my life. In fact, I’ve never come anywhere near to being so cold, and I wouldn’t want to go there again. The remaining events of the day are something of a blur, but needless to say I made it home and was soon wrapped up in what initially seemed to be a very cold bed. It was three days before I had recovered sufficient energy to return to work.

Knowing my limits

Whilst I wouldn’t want to repeat the experience, I did learn a lesson from it that I’ve carried through my lifetime. I learned what my limits are, and how much we are capable of when circumstances become extreme. Coming within sight of the boundaries of my endurance gave me a sense of how deep those limits are, and that has given me confidence when I’ve faced challenging situations ever since. I’ve known that, however hard I’m trying, I’m still a long way from experiencing that extreme, and there are plenty of reserves to call on yet.

As a parent, I have mixed feelings about exposing you to such experiences. My natural instinct is to protect you from harm, and to remove the possibility that you might look your own mortality in the eye.

And yet, such experiences are great teachers, and if you don’t know how far you can be pushed you’ll never know whether you’re using all of your potential.

In addition, the sense of exhilaration that I experienced that night in early 1975 as I battened down against the conditions that could kill me was something that I wouldn’t want to deny you, even taking into account the risks. Until you’ve looked death in the face, you won’t know what it means to be alive.

Life is to be lived. My advice is to live it.

With love,

Dad

The Curse Of Reasonableness

 After years of prevarication, Andy has pledged to write a book.  Called ‘Letters to My Children’ the book is shaping up as a mix of autobiography, homespun philosophy, business experience and money advice, written as a guide to life for Andy’s five children. Here’s the next chapter, we hope that you enjoy it too.

The Curse of Reasonableness

“Don’t you dare put the f***ing phone down on me!” demanded my customer.

 Click. Dialling tone.

 We come from a reasonable family. None of us like to hurt anyone else’s feelings. I can remember many times when each of us has agonised over whether we’ve said the right thing, whether the other person will be offended or get the wrong idea. And it’s a characteristic that I applaud.

 If you are reasonable, it’s hard for people to argue with you. And the moment that your conversation turns into an argument is the moment that the argument is lost. As soon as someone digs into their position and their tone changes from “convince me” to “I’m going to convince you!” everything that they utter is more likely to prove to them the validity of their case and close their mind to the merits of yours. And a closed mind says “no!”

 That’s why I’ve found that it pays to be reasonable, and to be seen to be reasonable. If you are going to make progress with your points and carry the day it helps to demonstrate that you aren’t irretrievably attached to them. So you’ll hear me saying things like, “Now I can’t be certain about what I’m about to say, but this is my understanding. What do you think?”

 It was Socrates who said, “The more I know, the more I realise that I know nothing,” and that’s been true for me, too. In our contemporary information rich, multifaceted and multi-opinionated world, what you know can only ever be a tiny fraction of what there is to know. My advice is that, even when you think you know the answer, be open to learning. You will invariably find that there is something that you missed.

 There are times, however, when reasonableness can be a curse. Every now and again you will come across someone who is completely unreasonable. Their unreasonableness may manifest itself as a complete unwillingness to give your views and opinions any credence whatsoever, or it may show up in the form of a person who thinks that shouting and aggression is the way for them to get what they want.

 The problem with the first of these is that they often masquerade as perfectly reasonable people. Gavin Walters was one of these.

 Gavin approached me because he had some money to invest, and he and his wife came along to meet with me to discuss their situation. He wanted to plan for retirement, he told me, and to make the best use of the money that he had available. He explained that he had chosen our company specifically because we worked on a fee basis, and he didn’t trust those advisers who operated solely on commission. It sounded reasonable enough.

 The problem was, when it came to accepting the recommendations that we had made after spending many hours creating his plan, it became obvious that telling us that he wanted to pay a fee and actually extracting money from him were two different things. He challenged everything that we had proposed, wanted to review every recommendation, and raised detailed questions that examined the minutiae of our advice. I now question whether he ever had any intention of going ahead. He certainly didn’t want to pay to do so.

 On reflection, the signals were there at an early stage and I failed to acknowledge them. My advice to you if you want to avoid such situations is to test the other person’s reasonableness before you enter into a relationship with them. I’ve learned that it’s perfectly okay to ask questions such as, “How will you know whether we’ve done a good job for you?”, “What other information might you need before you go ahead with our recommendations” and, crucially, “How and when do you intend to pay for our services?” Rather than looking for reasons to enter into a relationship, change your mindset to one where you are seeking reasons not to. I’ve also found that asking people for money in advance is a great test of whether they’re prepared to honour their obligations.

 Of course, from Gavin’s point of view he was being perfectly reasonable. It was I who failed to spot that his view of reasonableness was significantly different from mine, and I’ve tried not to fall into the same trap since.

 The second form of unreasonableness, shouting and aggression, is much easier to spot. Mr Phillips demonstrated it in spades.

 It was when my main business was car insurance, and Mr Phillips had a reason to be upset. His car had been damaged several weeks before, and the insurance company were doing their best to give the impression that they didn’t care a fig. Mr Phillips didn’t understand the system, and his frustration was mounting. When he first came on the phone that frustration was reaching a crescendo.

 The conversation had started reasonably well, with him demanding to know what was happening with his car and when it would likely be repaired. I had to explain that, as the intermediary between him and his insurance company I couldn’t give him any information now, and that I was waiting to hear from the claims department. “You people have got my f***ing car and I want it back!” he demanded in a tone that showed he meant business, starting a verbal tirade that rapidly escalated in volume and degree of obscenity. I realised that I needed to deal with his aggression immediately if we were to make any progress.

 “I can’t help you if you are going to speak to me like that,” I told him.

“I’ll speak to you however I f***ing well like!” he shouted down the line.

“If you won’t calm down and stop swearing I’m going to put the phone down!” I explained as calmly but firmly as I could. When his next sentence began with “F*** “ I did what I had promised.

 Click.

 I’d been in this situation before. I knew he would ring back straightaway. He did.

 “Don’t you dare put the f***ing phone down on me!” he shouted down the line.

 Click. Dialling tone.

 When the phone rang again I got in first. “I will help you as soon as you calm down and stop swearing!” I told him as assertively as I could. “I am f***ing calm!” he yelled. I called his bluff and waited.

 And waited. There was silence. I wasn’t sure what was coming next. I heard Mr Phillips take a deep breath on the other end of the phone.

 “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. I paused before I spoke. “Apology accepted,” I responded. “I’m trying to do the best I can for you. Can we move on?”

 Unfortunately not all such encounters end this way. However, if you’re going to manage the situation you need to show that you have your own rules, and you are going to stick to them regardless of the other person’s position.

 There haven’t been many times when I have faced the threat of physical aggression from another person, which is why those occasions when it happened remain vivid in my memory. It was clear to me that the person threatening me believed that it was the way to get his way, almost certainly because that is what he had been taught when he was growing up. If I was going to deal with the situation, I needed to acknowledge his anger but to point out to him that it wouldn’t change the situation.

 On the most notable occasion, my protagonist was threatening to attack me and my property unless he got his way. I was scared of what he might do, and I told him so.

 “But even though I’m scared of you,” I told him, “it’s not going to make any difference. If you want to get what you say you want, you are going to have to play by my rules. If you don’t like that, that’s your decision. But I’m not going to change my mind, regardless of what you say or do.”

 As soon as I told him that I was scared of him, his anger started to dissipate. I had acknowledged his strength, but also tried to make him realise that if he used it, things would only get worse. When our conversation finally ended, I won’t say that we were the best of friends, but I had felt able to build a small bridge of understanding between us. I had felt his frustration, and had acknowledged that he was responding in the best way that he knew how.

 And, hopefully, he had started to realise that I was trying to be reasonable.

 With all my love,

 Your Dad

What’s The Point Of A Business?

My daughter, Debbie, suggested that I should write a book. I asked her what the book should be about.

 “Me! ” she said, just as enthusiastically as she might have done 20 years ago when she was five. Some things don’t change.

 So Debbie, here you are. Except that it’s not really about you, it’s about me, and my experiences. But it is for you. It’s also for your other brothers and sisters, the people who you love and their extended families. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to share it with the wider world. Hope that’s okay.

 What’s the point of a business?

 You might tell me that our business has occupied  a lot of my attention whilst you were growing up. What’s the point of having a successful business? Is it just to make a living, is it for self-glorification, is it about personal power seeking, or is it to be able to help other people? Or could it be about changing the world?

 I guess, in my case, the truth is it’s some of all of these. Our business has enabled us to scrape a living for the seven of us in our family over the last 30 years, and in recent years we’ve started to make some surpluses as all of our previous learnings have come together. I have enjoyed the kudos of being my own boss, and the freedom that it entails. But most of all, I have enjoyed helping others.

 And the first people that I want to help are my family. In the early years I wanted to provide for you, put food on the table, and enable you to have experiences that wouldn’t have been possible without money in your pocket. As you have all grown and matured, my wish for you is that you understand how to organise your lives, make a living, and be happy.

 These aren’t all mutually exclusive objectives. Making a living requires a certain level of personal organisation and self-discipline. One of my strongest personal values is freedom, and being able to make my own decisions and follow my own path in life has been a huge driver for me throughout my life. The paradox is, however, that true freedom only arises when there is a proper structure in place. Total freedom from rules is anarchy, and in a state of anarchy we are ruled by fear, and there is no freedom.

 Take, for example, the rules of the road. We live in a society where people can hop into their car, onto their cycle, motorcycle or horse, or onto the next passing bus and travel almost anywhere in the world that they desire. They can do this with a high degree of safety because of a sophisticated set of rules that govern the way that we use our roads. White lines, traffic lights, signposts, warning signs, rights of way, dual carriageways and all of the other paraphernalia of road travel don’t detract from our freedom, they increase it.

 I read that the world’s most creative people are highly disciplined in their lives. We might think of creatives as long-haired, bearded hippies wearing tie-dye togas and sandals (or at least we do if we grew up in the 60’s) but the reality is that truly creative people are much more likely to wear pinstripe suits and wear shiny shoes.

 Having said this, I have met very few people who have been able to exercise their personal creativity in a way that generates high income for themselves and delivers the personal freedom that has been my primary goal for most of my working life. I still have plenty to do, but I like to think that I’ve made a few inroads into achieving this goal, and as my children you are probably in the best places to judge whether I’m right.

 In my desire to see you all develop as truly independent, free thinking, creative and productive people in your own right, I am not under any illusion that you would wish to take into account anything that I, your father, might wish to tell you. After all, I never listened to much that my dad said, as I am sure he will confirm.

 Or did I? I used to think that was the case, but as I have reflected on my life, I realise that I actually learned a great deal from my father that I had never really acknowledged. Mostly what I learned was an attitude to life, a willingness to experiment and a desire to be great at what you do that hasn’t done me any harm.

 My coach, John Dashfield, pointed out that we cannot not influence people around us. Everything we do and say rubs off on others to a greater or lesser degree. We can either choose to use this influence to help ourselves and others to improve, or we can try to ignore our influence and diminish our power, inevitably diminishing those around us in the process.

 As you read through the following chapters I hope that you garner some ideas that help you to achieve your own goals in life, and ultimately to have the peace of mind and sense of connection to the universe which I believe is the ultimate goal of all of us in the final analysis.

 And don’t forget that, whilst these words make sense to me now, the chances are that when I read them again in 20 years time (or even next week) I probably won’t agree with very much. So if you disagree with them now, that’s fine! Let’s sit down and discuss it. I’d love to hear your view and be persuaded by it. That’s how we learn.

 With all my love,

 Your Dad