Sunday, July 25, 2010

A Cherised Time !

Following Bali last year, the idea of another YPO father and son adventure thrilled me, but also concerned me. After an almost perfect Bali event, was this event in the Rocky Mountains going to be a disappointment?

Shaan and I had left Reena and Tia in Las Vegas and took the short flight to Denver and then the 2 hour drive to Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains. Any doubt I had about the location of the event was dismissed half way on this car journey. The views, scenery and nature in this part of the world are simply breathtaking. The sun was shining on the richly coloured rocks and glimmering in the flowing river which reflected the lush greenery and trees.

As we entered the quaint little town of Estes Park, it was like entering an town from an old time American TV series.

We had been booked into the Stanley Hotel - allegedly famous as a haunted house, and we checked into room 209, just down the corridor from the infamous room 217!

We were 24 hours early for the event, so went for a stroll on the high street to find a nice spot for dinner and along the way made a stop in Kirks fly fishing shop and booked ourselves an exploratory lesson for the next morning.

After a fine breakfast of Elk Sausage, Chris came to pick us up for our lesson. He got us dressed up in the most fashionable fishing waders and after a short drive we walked into the Big Thompson River. As city folk, fishing is not an activity that comes naturally to us, but after some good guidance from Chris we soon got the hang of casting our rod without falling over, but still had to figure out how to catch fish (which are allegedly hiding behind rocks in calm water breaks waiting for unsuspecting bugs to land for them to catch). After 2 hours of catching twigs, rocks, trees (when we cast too far behind us) and even a couple of real bites where the fish got away, I was ready to call it a day and consider this an experience. Shaan however asked for another 30 mins and this paid off. We moved up river to a new spot, and within 5 minutes a bite! This time the fish had caught my hook, and was swimming down stream to try and get away. Chris was giving me instructions to give the line some slack - I had to let him swim a bit and ensure the hook was firmly in before reeling him back. It was really exciting. I pulled him in and it was brown trout! NOW I got it! NOW I understood what the interest was. We released the fish and Shaan move on up to a new spot, and minutes later shared in the same experience I had just few minutes earlier .... this time a beautiful Rainbow Trout! What a great start to our father-son trip!

As we returned to the hotel, we checked into for the YPO event, and met the group who would become our new friends over the coming days.

The event was not only intended to be a pure bonding event for parent and child, but also an education in Steven Coveys 7 Habits, and this is how our event started, with an introduction into these 7 habits. I had heard of these before, but never really taken the time to study them before. Here I found them extremely well explained and was glad to be doing it with my son - for him to also personally benefit, but also to see how these lessons can fit into personal, business and family as well.

That evening, as a light start to the event, we were taken on a tour of the nature reserve. A picturesque setting where I was in my photo taking element. Ready to tackle the next 3 days with a fresh 8GB memory card for pictures, my first venture was out onto somemrocks in the middle of the river to get some landscape shots. While worrying about Shaan and his excitement running around the river, I neglected to focus on myself and promptly half slipped into the river! I was ok - just a bruised ego and a smashed SLR! So much for the next 3 days of picture taking!

The next day was an early start for rock climbing. I'm always happy to try challenging activities and frequently seem to be challenging my fear of heights. It's been a pleasure to do this with Shaan as he supports me and pushes me to go further out beyond my natural comfort zone.

Going beyond my previous experience of playground climbing walls, we approached an area here with a number of climbing lines from about 50 feet to 80 feet of vertical mountain to climb up (and rappel down!). This was configured in a great way for parent child communication and trust, as one person would climb and the other would belay him (and then switch turns). We would climb the mountain and our lives (literally) were in each others hands! Shaan went first and had chosen one of the more advanced climbs. Getting started was proving to be a difficult, but true to his nature, Shaan wouldn't give up and after mastering the first few steps managed a confident climb the rest of the way to the top ! The way down was a true matter of trust. Let go of the grips in the mountain and let your partner take your weight and lower you down.

My climb up was on the same path that Shaan had chosen, but fortunately I had the benefit of having seen his route and way up! For me, as usual, the climb up was not the problem. I even managed to look down a few times and pose for pictures and enjoy the view. My issue was from the top. My instinctive fear would not allow me to let go. A lot of support from all the group around and my sons encouraging voice finally gave me the courage, and eventually I even started to enjoy the ride down :)

Shaan managed a second climb, but a thunderstorm started while he was at the top, and this gave him a rather wet ride down with an added challenge for me, as the rain pelted my face each time I looked up, we relied on good clear verbal communication to make the ride to quick and safe.

From a day that had started out with the sun shining and a wry pleasant 90 degrees, by the time we arrived back at the hotel, we could see snow on the ground .......IN MID JULY !

That evening, as weather perked up again, saw some more lessons in the Covey principles for kids and adults alike, and I was so pleased with how Shaan was grasping those lessons which led to us having some deep conversations well into the night.

Another early start the next day took us rope climbing. More physical challenges and lessons in teamwork and communication were practically applied to high bridge walks and jumps off towers. These go down in my mind as great shared experiences with my son, and adventures we would never have at home. We had only each other to rely on, and I think we did great as a team!

The afternoon was rafting. A more demanding and certainly a more visually stunning setting than we had in Bali, but the temperature was dropping again. In the morning, a great desire to dip in the river had turned into a fear. However, our well qualified and skilled guides gave us all a great ride. Minor splashes acclimatised us to the water temperature well before we reached a running rapid where we were all asked to jump into the river and swim across it for the waiting hand of one of our guides. Shaan was brave enough to go before me, although shivering and with his teeth chattering, he was determined to accomplish the tasks set. As I saw him jump in and make the strong strokes to cross over, the downstream rush of the river was just too strong! The guide couldn't reach him and he floated down river further. Our whole team were great though. Positioned all the way down the river, a chain link of people reached out and caught him. Once I saw him safe on the opposite river bank, I couldn't allow fear from stopping me to try the same feat. I jumped in the river and it was bitingly cold and I really wasn't ready for the force of the river rush. I too swam towards the outstretched hand of the guide. I was sure I was doing enough and reached out to grab him, but I too drifted just too far and relied on the people chain to catch me.

I have to question when or why I would ever partake in activities like this, but for these specially organised events. These will become cherished SHARED memories for me and Shaan.

That evening was a magical moment for all the parent child couples at the event. After dinner, we set up a circle for a chance for parents to share their thoughts of the event and thank their children for their time at the event. It was a powerful emotional event, and a chance for everyone to communicate their feelings.

I'm writing this from the plane now flying from Denver as all the thoughts and emotions remain fresh in my mind. So it was only this morning that we all said hood bye to each other. I hope to stay in touch with a number of the people from the trip. Although we may never become deep friends, we share a bond from having experienced these days together. It is so hard to put into words the feelings I have, but this who were there and who read this will know exactly what I mean.

So in the end, I dedicate this blog entry to Shaan. Thanks again for being with me on this most memorable trip.

Holiday Nostalgia - Summer 2010

So it's the end of a fantastic 2 week holiday. I'm very sad it's over, and it will be difficult to re-engage into work again quickly!

Our fortnight away started with a 2 day stop in New York. Nothing planned, other than a chance to adjust to time difference and get some shopping in. The weather was scorching! 37 degrees saw us take an 8am walk in Central Park and Shaan and Tia spent most of the time under the water sprays to stay cool, and by 9am we had had enough.

Day 3 saw us fly to Washington DC. I had visited the city 10 years ago and had spent just 48 hours there on a business trip. But the city had left a lasting impression on me. I remembered being surrounded by so many historic sites, so was excited at the chance to have a more detailed look at them with my family this time around.

The Lincoln Memorial, and the view across the lake to Congress. The White House, the Pentagon, Arlington Cemetery, the J. Edgar Hoover building and not to mention the many buildings that comprise the Smithsonian made this a trip that gave me ample opportunity to fill my desire for photography and all our thirst for knowledge on history.

A trip Georgetown showed us a beautiful suburb of the city, but in other parts, we were taken aback by the amount of poverty and homelessness in this capital city.

Next we were off to Las Vegas! The first part of the holiday where I really managed to "switch off". We checked into the splendid Encore Hotel. Sandip and his family joined us, so we all had company. The kids enjoyed the pool, the ladies shopping, and me and Sandip the casinos and clubs at night!

It is incredible what has been built in this desert oasis. A hotel resort that has everything. Fantastic rooms, a great casino, a selection of world class restaurants, a series of swimming pools, a shopping mall, the most outstanding poolside nightclub I have ever seen, and even it's own 18 hole golf course and country club!

We spent one day on a trip to the Grand Canyon, which truly impressed me. I didn't know what to expect, but all I can comment on is it's vastness and stunning natural beauty! Another opportunity for me to go camera crazy - following Shaan up to the top of a peak had me following my desire for the perfect view ahead of bowing to my fear of heights .... and it was certainly worth it.

Another day was spent on the hotel golf course. Despite the scorching heat and a round that saw me lose by 9 holes! It was a fantastic experience on a great course.

In the evenings we got a chance to enjoy David Copperfield and the "O" show (which is as good as everyone tells you it is).

So after 5 days of total fun and relaxation (truly an "only in Vegas" holiday). After over eating, over partying, over spending and under sleeping, Shaan and I said bye to Reena and Tia and Sandip and co. and headed to Colorado for our father-son adventure (more on that later).

As I write now, Shaan and I are flying to New York where we look forward to reunite with Reena and Tia and fly back to London in the morning.

This holiday has done me good. It had shopping and good restaurants. Sightseeing and education. Partying and chillaxing (even though I hate that word), and even adventure. Once I got myself relaxed, I thoroughly enjoyed my family and friends time, the places we saw, and, crazy as it sounds to come from me, I will miss the USA.

Roll on Christmas !

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The adorable Cinquicento !

A potential business venture took me to Milan last month. A 2 day trip with meetings in Bergamo gave me a chance to drive some once Italian country roads in the glorious Italian sunshine.
I reserved an Alfa Spider for collection at the airport, and upon arrival had a "Seinfeld" moment when I learned that the car wasn't available. The rental company had taken the reservation from me, but seemed to have forgotten the most important part and not actually held the car for me!

It was coming up to 11pm, and after a long flight, I was not in the mood for a fight, and I was told the only car available was a Fiat 500!

If you have read my interview by Kiran Chhabria from earlier this year, you will know that I do have a hidden passion for this car, so I hid my pleasure from the car rental clerk and begrudgingly took the keys to my red Cinquicento :)

As I stepped out into the Milan summer, I was greeted by a downpour of rain. Perhaps a good thing the convertible I originally wanted wasn't available !

The 500 is a, quite simply, a beautiful car. Of all the reincarnations of 70's vehicles (most notably, the Mini and the Beetle), this little Fiat has the most character and charm. Perfect proportions, it is a classic car brought up to date with modern touches around updated classic curves.

I have admired this car and it's design, from afar, since it's launch, but up close, I was most impressed with it's build quality. From the moment you open and open and close the door, the feel of the seats, the fit and finish of the interior ..... this is not a small and cheaply finished car. In fact, as long as you don't turn around and look backwards (to see that the car stops 2 feet behind the drivers seat), the car actually feels a lot bigger than it really is. You feel younger sitting in a decent mid size luxury saloon.

I had a 1.3l petrol car and found it drove well. It had reasonable acceleration and I took it to a reasonably high speed (that I really shouldn't disclose), and it was stable and not too much wind noise on the motorways.

There was a short shifting band sporty feeling manual gearshift, and my 2 hour drive to my meeting was enlightened (despite pouring rain).

A successful conclusion to my discussions 24 hours later saw the sun come out, and with almost a full day ahead of me before my return flight, I took the scenic route back! A series of B roads though the country and some rather nice vineyards let this car come into it's own. I have bee lucky enough to own and experience a number of fast and luxury cars. The 500 doesn't compare in class or performance, but it is sure footed, grips the corners well and has incredibly responsive steering. It is like a little go kart, and ironically, with it's dinky little engine, even with a push, you are travelling at fairly safe speeds and enjoying the car to it's maximum (this can't be said of Porsche's and Aston Martins).

Windows and sunroof open, I did miss the convertible, but I had no regrets I was left with this "consolation" for my trip. This book isn't let done by it's cover. In fact, the cover does the whole package total justice.

Well done Fiat! I was sad to say goodbye to the Cinquecento, but hope I will get another chance to enjoy one ...... soon!