Pleasure as the engine of being

Pleasure as the engine of being


What if we put our own pleasure higher up the list – instead of at the end of the long days of work, or as a reward for toil? Julia Paulette Hollenbery asks, and elegantly and practically answers this in her new book “The Healing Power of Pleasure: Seven Medicines for Rediscovering the Innate Joy of Being”.

This is a poetic and kind book made from a life of learning and experience. It brings together science, spiritual tradition, embodiment and philosophy — many many references and ideas, into a pleasure and body-centered way of being.

It was a joyful read for me. As I read, I enjoyed feeling the connections come together — practices I knew, ideas I believed, ways I’d learned to help myself — converging into something bigger. Pleasure as a birthright, a force, a way into my body, a way into relationships, a way to see the world.

Julia starts with Mess — the way we are in the world around us, right now, then proceeds through the seven “medicines” we can use to shift ourselves and our world in the direction of pleasure. Each “medicine” can be seen as an antidote for the crazy disconnected way we all seem to live . There are practical exercises for each medicine to bring home the ideas, maybe to adopt as personal practices for bringing out the pleasure in life.

I like this book a lot. It champions our right to pleasure. It gives practical ways in. It does this in a gentle, inspiring and poetic way. It reminds me of all those wise things I ought to remember about how to enjoyably take care of me.

The Healing Power of Pleasure is available here or ask for it in your bookshop.

How to end a lockdown, together


This untidy end to lockdown has caught me.

I’m upset about a lost opportunity for an actual ending, a ritual. Endings matter.

It seems like events got a bit out of the hands of our government here in the UK, and the opportunity — at a nation-wide scale — for us to feel something together was lost.

The “we’re all in this together” frayed into “us and them” over lockdown breaks and the whole lockdown then started to decay as an idea that people could get behind. Governing isn’t easy, I’m sure, but I think this loss of an ethical leadership on the rules allowed the lockdown to fray at the edges without the chance for any sort of useful ending.

Endings matter. Being in sync with others matter. And holding the current situation matters.

Imagine this had happened: we’re getting to the point where lockdown is relaxed. A special government briefing is held to announce relaxing lockdown conditions according to the new threat number. At that briefing, whoever is presenting for the government speaks carefully with gratitude to all of us about how well we’ve handled lockdown.

This spokesperson proceeds:

“Here in government, along with our experts, we’ve had to make minute-to-minute decisions as this virus arrived and as we went into lockdown. Looking back, we got some things wrong. We did our best. Together, we’ve got this to a good place for now.”

“We need to keep working together .. so here’s how we go on from this. Remember that these nine weeks have been hard, harder on others than ourselves, and we don’t want to go back there and lose more lives. By working together we’ll keep lowering that curve.”

“The next time you see somebody out and about, keeping their distance, give them a smile, acknowledge them. Know that we lowered this curve and saved lives together.”

That would do it. We’ve marked the moment, and made a sign, an action, that we can use in remembrance of working together.

This would leave us all with something shared as we move forward and help to leave us with a grateful narrative for the past. The government didn’t do it this way, but you can do it yourself, with friends and family:

  • Tell the story of your lockdown, your frustrations and gratitude, your fear, your sorrow, your loss, your joy.
  • Tell those stories to each other.
  • Mark the change to being less locked down — with others.
  • Move forward together. Use your smile to thank others.

Responding to 2016


I’ve been thinking out how to respond to this basket of ills called 2016. I guess I can accept that people (celebrities, actors) will die. The hard bit to accept is the rise of #brexit and Trump and what appears to be this shift to the right, towards nationalism, populism and fascism. I’m pretty dismayed about all of this — starting really from the election of John Howard’s conservative government in Australia in 1996. My view was that the future was supposed to be kind, compassionate and generous and that all of us working together over time would help lift all humans out of poverty and degradation.

So, I’m disappointed for the future that I felt was my right in some way.

But how to respond to this? What to do? It feels like the old tools of protest, strike and ideological war just aren’t going to work any more. Nor are the tooling of well-argued arguments, experts or facts.

I’m thinking I’m going to need to do a few things myself, locally, amongst my own community. Maybe you might join in among your community?

Engage more broadly – It is easy enough to live in my metro-elite liberal bubble, but I’m not hearing anything from a lot of fellow citizens that are very angry, possibly struggling to survive and thrive. So, I’m going to open more conversations with people who are not like me, who I’d normally not speak to. And listen. Listen. Not try and argue what I think is right. I want to understand a bit more broadly how it is for people. Different people. I’ll have to be a bit fearless to do this. Small steps first.

Improve the local environment – My local authority in the UK is struggling to make ends meet. I want to help out and improve my local community by turning the ‘pick up a bit of litter’ into a proper habit – to tidy up near where I live and where I commute on foot to and from work. I’ve usually got a plastic shopping bag somewhere in my backpack. I’m going to put it to good use when there is a lot of trash around.

Look for good news and share it – On social media, I’m going to be looking for and sharing positive stories rather than the negative and shocking ones. For amongst all this shift to the right, there are so many wonderful people doing wonderful things. And sharing these stories with each other keeps some hope alive. And watching every frame of the #brexit or Trump train-wreck really doesn’t help my mind.

So, this is my small something, my tiny response to 2016. I hope this helps me and I hope it helps you.

Happy 2017. May it bring many positive surprises for you.

Originally published in a facebook post.

On Europe



  • Much easier to influence our neighbours from inside their club. Much harder from outside.
  • Leaving gives a green light to facists / ultra-nationalists to start campaigning against all foreigners and immigration — and we know where that can lead
  • We leave certain treaties that give workers rights; stop doctors working ridiculous and unsafe hours; generally what I would call civilised laws
  • Scotland will almost certainly vote to leave the UK if there is a vote to leave the EU.


  • Stepping away from a bunch of existing trade deals will cause an economic shock which will cost jobs and cause business failures.  This actually looks pretty certain.
  • View from outside countries/economies may cause pound to fall / currency uncertainty

Why Brexit is a bad idea:

  1. It won’t solve the immigration question. Govt and economy still needs migrants to grow and for health etc to function, and still need to face what to do.  There are really no shortage of levers to control immigration now; there is just a fundamental conflict between economic prosperity and lowering immigration.
  2. It will lead to currency uncertainty
  3. It will lead to new and difficult trade negotiations
  4. It will destabalise the current government
  5. It will lead to Scotland departing the Union.

Living with an electric Car


I promised a follow up on living with an electric car. Here’s how we are getting on.

It has been a mixed bag, mostly positive with a few annoyances.   Here are a few highlights:


There’s a quiet effortlessness about an electric car.  It is a different feeling to drive completely.   I was used to a roar of engine noise meaning power.  There’s none of that at all.  A bit more like putting the foot down and it takes off with a hint of an electric whirr.    Or touch the accelerator and it glides along silently.  Mind you, some of this silence will be just because it is a new well-insulated car.

Not smelly

When operating this car doesn’t smell. I also never hang around fuelling stations. Now I notice exhaust and petrol fumes on other cars.  This is a bit like it was when people stopped smoking in public and suddenly noticing smelly second-hand cigarette smoke when walking behind a smoker on the street.  So now I notice car pollution. Before I just didn’t notice.


The whole car seems pretty simple and reliable. There’s a lot less to go wrong.  No emissions system. No real gearbox.  No catalytic converter, radiator, exhaust pipe, water pump, ignition, fuel injection, turbocharger.  Less to go wrong.  Instead you have an electric motor, a simple gearbox and a bunch of batteries.  Nothing has gone wrong so far.

Low cost per mile

So we charge overnight at home, so we’re paying off of our regular power bill to charge the car (with Ecotricity offering a small grant/discount for electric car owners).  Out and about charging is either free or pretty low cost so far.  So, the cost of fuel seems pretty close to zero. The previous £70 in fuelling the old petrol car has now pretty much disappeared.  This is a decent saving.

Range difficulties

The electric has a much smaller range than the old petrol car.  And the faster I go, the shorter the range, so motorway range (when range really counts) is a lot less than old slow road range.  This doesn’t matter at all going in and out of town, a 5 mile round trip.  But motoring across England it does matter.  It means both limiting maximum speed to say 60 or 65 and stopping regularly (say every 50 miles) for a ½ hour of charging.  It is something like this: the Motorway range is 50 miles and the slow road range is 70 miles.  Slow going.

I really want something like a Tesla with a 200+ mile range. That’d make it barely noticeable.

Home Charging

Home charging is easy for us, we have off-street parking and a garage with power. Simply a matter of plugging in the lead in the garage, then drive the car up, park up in the driveway and plug it in.  This feels just like putting the phone on charge every night.  The car will fully charge overnight from a regular 13A socket, so that is simple.   I guess we charge it every 4-5 days in normal life.

Patchy Charging Infrastructure

So I don’t need petrol stations — but I do need fast chargers out and about and things for people to do while the car is charging.  So more likely you want chargers at shops and the gym and motorway services.

There are networks of charging points emerging — they are being installed across the UK.  Right now there are not enough chargers out there so it is possible to get caught where there is a charger offline.  And because the technology is new, chargers aren’t as reliable as you’d expect.  This means that a whole trip can be aborted when a key charger is not in place.  Or alternatively a trip can slow down because I have to queue up to have a go at the charger.

We’ve resorted to careful planning for the longer trips now — checking charges are available and having a backup in case something is not working.  This is a bit of a faff too, as the mapping of charging points is contains across multiple services and they are all slightly different.


Clearly this is all for early adopters. And that means there’s a community aspect to this built out of the novelty of the whole thing and needing to exchange stories.   

Turning up at a  public charger means you’re likely to run into people charging or waiting to charge — and there’s a chance to have a chat about chargers, cars, range, cables.   This is quite an enjoyable part of the whole thing — as long as you’re not in a hurry.  Think back to the stories of the introduction of motoring.  A bit like that.

In summary

This is early adopter stuff.  If are an early adopter then consider it.  Otherwise wait a couple of years for extended range and simplified charging networks.  There is no doubt the electric experience is a good one when it is all lined up.

I think it is totally worth doing, though with a couple of caveats:

  • Without off street parking it is going to be really hard.  You’re going to have to use public chargers for most of your charging.
  • Make sure that the basic range suits your commuting/regular trips.
  • Beware of buying an electric car — I’d lease until range becomes less of an issue.   Battery technology is improving rapidly.

Travel note: Caledonian Sleeper power sockets


I was researching power sockets on the Caledonian Sleeper before my recent weekend at Ben Nevis.  There is some doubt on the net about how much power you can get out of a Caledonian Sleeper compartment shaver socket.   Here’s what I found out:

  1. The sockets are 110/220V – looks like they’ll fit US and 2 pin euro plugs.
  2. There is one socket per compartment. You might be sharing if you are sharing your compartment.
  3. You can easily charge a phone with the shaver socket. That was no problem at all.
  4. I could charge my Toshiba Chromebook, but only when closed.  It is, to be fair, a pretty low current charger.  A big laptop charger probably wouldn’t work.
  5. You’ll need a US or Euro 2 pin 

You can find more gutsy UK 240V 3 pin sockets in the Lounge car.  There are a bunch of people wanting to use them, so you may have to wait.Note that there is no WiFi on the train, and you’ll spend a good amount of time without any 3G on the northern parts of the trip.  But the views!

You’ve already bought your last fossil-fuel car


We’ve just spent a week trying out an electric car.  This was the last confirmation I needed.   It is clear that the petrol / diesel powered car is on the way out.  Let me explain my thinking:

  • A basic electric car is mechanically simple; A battery and an electric motor.  There’s no large metal box full of mechanical parts in which fuel explodes. There’s no complex ignition, exhaust, or cooling systems. These cars are easy and cheap to service.
  • The complexity comes in charging and taking charge out of the battery, and in getting efficiency from an electric motor.  We’re doing a lot of society-wide work on battery technology (like, in smartphones/tablets/everything). I’m expecting significant improvements over the next few years.
  • The fuel cost per mile or kilometre is say between 1/5th and 1/10th of that of petrol or diesel.
  • Battery charge density and therefore range is improving fast, as is charging speed.

Better organised and complete charging infrastructure will emerge.  Electric car range will increase.  Doubling of  the currently ~100 mile range to 200 miles will make most journeys feasible.  I’m confident people will get very interested when the fuel and maintenance costs of electric cars start to become clear.

That’s seems to be at most five years away.  At that point, a petrol/diesel car might start to seem an expensive luxury.  Petrol/diesel resale values may fall sharply.   Fuel use will start to decline.   About 60% of the total energy used for transport is personal vehicles.  This would hurt fossil fuel providers, so maybe holding those fossil fuel shares is not a good long term bet.

So, right now, here are my tips for surviving the change:

  • Don’t buy a new petrol car. Look out for a bad resale price in 5 years, especially for an ordinary car.  Are you buying your last petrol car ever?
  • Don’t buy a new electric car just yet. Lease an all electric or plug-in hybrid for a few years. There will be annoying and adventurous times as long distance charging networks stabilise. Allow the basic electric range to double (to say 200-250 miles) then consider a purchase.

We’ve just arranged a lease on a Nissan Leaf. It should arrive next week.  I’ll update how we get on.

Disclosure: I hold shares in Tesla Motors. I’ll benefit if you buy or lease one of them.

Leaf image from wikipedia.

Mud on my boots


Sometimes I arrive in my London office with mud on my boots.   For some that would be dirty or uncivilised.  Us humans have paved over the world to make it safe and mud free. Bringing mud indoors makes a mess.I do tend to have a change of shoes at the office in case they are just too bad.

I do tend to have a change of shoes at the office in case they are just too bad.

The track alongside the railway

The mud has become a symbol for me: a peek under the pavement to the un-human-conditioned world I am made from.  Think of clean paved streets as a virtual reality, a human construction on top of dirt, mud, rocks and decaying things.

I care about the mud on my boots because I care how the mud got there.  My commute from suburban Brighton to Charing Cross in London begins with a twenty minute walk.  A walk through woods, across a fieldy park, up past some apartments and then along a stony track beside the railway.  This walk through relatively unconditioned nature helps me construct myself before the human-conditioned world of the streets, trains and city take over.

I’m learning to finesse the way that I construct myself daily.  I’ve begun – as of this spring – stepping outside as almost the first act of my day, only pausing to set the kettle boiling or making a first cup of tea.  This is greatly aided by a faithful dog that heads outside for a wee first thing.  I’m at the door already. She’s on her way out.  This stepping outside, for me, seems to be a statement of:

I am.

I am here.

as some unconditioned ‘truth’.  The radio – breakfast – dishwasher – internet – conversation – shower – shit – busyness inside doesn’t get close to this. I don’t stay outside long.  It doesn’t feel that deep or special but it is compelling.

I began this once I realised that nature sits at the core for me.  The deeper I look into myself, the more I contemplate motive, fear, agency and narrative there is the image of me in nature in my mind.  At the beginning, me sitting in the mud in the woods.   This is a beginning to take all thoughts from.  A humbling, inclusive place.  Me in nature.

I’m grounded with mud on my boots. I think that is the quick version.

Slightly edited December 2018.

How to remap the # (hash) key on Apple UK keyboards in OS X


Given how useful the # key is, it has always annoyed me that on the standard UK Apple keyboard, getting a # key requires keying Alt-3 to get it to appear. 

If you are doing web development with jQuery or writing shell scripts or python, you end up using this key a lot and Alt-3 just doesn’t work for me.  However, on the left of the recent Apple keyboard, there is the § key.  I’ve never used §, I guess somebody must.  

Anyway, so I went and found Ukelele, a keyboard layout editor, and modified the keyboard map to put the # where the § used to be, and the result is what I call the BritishLHash keyboard layout.

How to use this:

  1. Download the file, and put it in your ~/Library/Keyboard Layouts folder.
  2. Open Language and Text in System Preferences
  3. Select the Input Sources tab
  4. Tick next to the BritshLHash keyboard.  This makes it available as an input source for you.  And also Tick Show Input in the menu bar
  5. Find the little flag in the menu bar.  Pop it up and change it to BritishLHash.

That’s all there is to it.  I’ve been using this mapped file for a year or so, and it works fine in OS X 10.5 and 10.6.

Or if you want to meddle with key maps and propose changes, have a look at the GitHub repo: grasuth/britishlhash.

Note: this is a repost of the original article on this that I posted in 2010.

Standing to work


Once back in the late nineties, I did my back in a bit.  I’m sure it was lifting large granite rocks for the too-big garden or maybe it walking my baby daughter around and around the loungeroom at 3am.  Now I can’t remember what I did.    

The result was sitting down hurt a lot; standing was fine.   Off to Ikea.  At the time, they had a desk that you could assemble so the table top was high. I did.  And I got to rather like standing up while working.   I kept it up for maybe a year, then moving house and circumstances meant that desk had to go and I’ve been sitting.

Fast forward to mid-last year. I’m setting up my new office/study at home in the old loungeroom.  I don’t really want a great big desk even if it does glide up and down electrically or something.  I’ll cover it with paper and USB stuff. I want something that I can stand at that holds a laptop at a good angle.  Like.. a tripod stand or something.This is a solved problem if you are a musician.  I found this thing on Amazon in the UK:  Quik Lok LPH/003 Tripod Laptop Holder (~ £118).  This is a pretty solid tubular tripod that has a tilt-able shelf to place a laptop.  

For this thing to work, it has to be sturdy enough to handle a good lot of typing and be able to get a reasonable tilt to get the laptop display up.  Turns out it is.  This thing is solid.  The only thing you can’t do is lean on it, which I realised I used to do a lot for my old standing desk.  I think that is a good thing.
I manage to get a good tilt on the base of the laptop but still the screen is below my eyes.  And I’d like some more screen anyway.  So now we have to jump from musicians tools into trade-show display tools.  Some sort of computer-monitor or TV stand or something wall of shelf mounted?
So, I needs something with a stable VESA mounting that can support at least a 24″ display.   I looked around a bit and then found this Allcam TR940 TV floor stand (~£60). This has a VESA mount and a big but sturdy tripod.  I was hoping that this tripod and the laptop stand’s tripods would fit together somehow.  They do fit.

The combo gives me a laptop at a good typing height and a good sized display directly in front of my eyes when I’m standing. It takes up minimum floor space, it easily moves to another room or packs away. And best of all, the laptop stand is perfect for karaoke apps 🙂
Note that I never stand for all of a work day.  Half a day I guess. My house has tables and sofas and spaces to sit on the floor as well.  I move around a bit.  I find that when standing I am more animated in conference calls and also more easily distracted. Sitting I’m more fixed in mind and body.   More concentrated, potentially dull. Different styles for different settings.
It works for me. Avoiding horizontal surfaces means there are no places to pile up papers, dust, broken bits of tech. So deal with those now rather than putting them down.
Here’s the resulting setup.  It works very well for me.