Of Zen and coin flips

One day a great Japanese warrior named Nobunaga decided to attack an enemy outpost, even though he had only one-tenth the number of soldiers the opposition commanded.

He knew that he’d win. But his troops had their doubts.

On the way to the battlefield he stopped at a Shinto shrine and said to his men:

“After I visit this shrine I’ll toss a coin. If it’s heads – we’ll win. If it’s tails we lose. Destiny holds us in her hand”.

So, Nobunaga entered the shrine and offered a silent prayer to the powers that be. He then headed back out to where everyone was and flipped a coin.

A tense moment fell among his soldiers.

Their lives were hanging in the balance of a simple coin.


Everyone was relieved, and also energised. His soldiers were so eager to fight that they won their battle with relative ease.

A little while later, after everyone had finished celebrating, one of Nobunaga’s assistants approached him cautiously.

“No one can change the hand of destiny,” he said.

“Indeed not” replied Nobunaga.

Then he shows his attendant the coin that he used.

It was double-sided. Heads either way.

So, there we go – whether it comes from faking it or not – a little bit of self belief can go a long way.

(adapted from ‘The World of ZEN” by Nancy Wilson Ross)

Book Review: 11/22/63

“Life turns on a dime. Sometimes towards us, but more often it spins away, flirting and flashing as it goes: so long, honey, it was good while it lasted, wasn’t it?”

It’s been said before, and it’ll no doubt be said again – but just because Stephen King has dedicated so much of his career to writing books about the macabre he’s considered as a lesser writer by many critics. Which is a real shame because, as King once said when asked why he writes that genre, – “you assume I have a choice…”

But then, suddenly, from nowhere a book like this lands. A book that King has wanted to write since 1972 but was initially put off by the amount of research he’d have to put into it (he was still full-time as a teacher back then).

“I know life is hard, I think everyone knows that in their hearts, but why does it have to be cruel, as well? Why does it have to bite?”

I could tell you the plot in a nutshell – a lonely high school teacher discovers a doorway into the year 1958 and decides to stop JFK’s assassination in 1963. But that would be too easy and, for lack of a better term, way too simple. This is far more than a time travel novel. At it’s heart it’s an absorbing love story – a love story so strong that everything else (such as stopping that fateful shooting) almost filters into the background.

When this was released the critics initially gave it some stick for hopping genres – but, as long as you can make it work, why not slip between thriller, romance and historical period piece? King does make it work. I’m sure of that. I enjoyed this book immensely, and towards the end I woke up two hours earlier than usual to read just a few more chapters. It has that formula you just can’t bottle, the formula only bestsellers have…that mysterious elixir that sucks you into the story and makes one page turn after the other, as if by magic.

“For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. Behind it? Below it and around it? Chaos, storms. Men with hammers, men with knives, men with guns. Women who twist what they cannot dominate and belittle what they cannot understand. A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.”

The only negatives were the same problem that I have with a lot of King’s work…you probably know where I’m going with this…but, it was just that bit too over descriptive. But then again, maybe that’s actually a positive – perhaps it brings you further into the story? I also feel that this perhaps went on for a hundred pages longer than it should have, this might have put some readers off.

I also have to comment on the main character, Jake Epping, I couldn’t help but think that he was pretty much 30 year old Stephen King himself. With just a few things switched around. 6’4, not thin but not fat, English teacher, wants to write books – I mean, I know that sums up a lot of King’s characters in general, but there was something extra about Jake. Something so genuine, that I felt as if King was simply describing what he’d done if he were in that situation and how he’d look to stop the notorious Lee Harvey Oswald – who is one of the other main characters here, but always watched at a distance – almost like an evil zoo animal.

“On the subject of love at first sight, I’m with the Beatles: I believe that it happens all the time.”

The scene where Jake races against time to rescue his girlfriend from danger is so well-written that I felt hairs stand up on my arms and I’ll be damned if some of the climatic pages toward the end didn’t nearly draw a tear from my usually dry eyes.
The research here is simply incredible too. He does mention it in the afterword, but wow! The hours (days) King must have put in…I can only imagine. I actually feel like I’ve been to early 1960s Dallas…and I’ve never even set foot in Texas!

“I can love you if you’re a man, and I can love you if you’re a hero- I guess, although for some reason that seems a lot harder- but I don’t think I can love a vigilante.”

The way that time is explained here is also something else, it almost becomes a character – often the villain of the piece. You’d have to read this to fully understand, which I hope you do. But time doesn’t like being changed, and what’s more time is full of coincidences and repeats where the details have been slightly changed…and, unless you’re a time traveller, you’d never notice them.

I implore you to pick this up so you too can enjoy a tense, endearing genre mash-up that will sit on the shelves of your mind for long after you’ve taken in the final words.

“Dancing is life.”


Pele & Enthusiasm

“Enthusiasm is everything. It must be taut and vibrating like a guitar string”.

– Pele.

How’s that for a nice simple quote? And so true, as well. I’ve met very few inspiring or successful people who weren’t enthusiastic – how many have you met?

It reminds me of a phone call I had with my uncle in the USA not too long ago. We were talking about the course I was studying at the time – Journalism – and he said something really simple that left an impact.

Sometimes, when you reflect on things, the quotes that stick with you the longest are the simplest.

We were basically talking about the people on my course and who would do well. And he told me that those who tried the hardest, those who were the most enthusiastic, would do the best. And that it was like that with many things in life.

He was right.

I  mean – it’s obvious isn’t it, really?

If you try hard and if you’re enthusiastic about something you’re good at you’ll do well…

It’s really obvious.

But then my question is, to so many creatives out there, you know you’re good…why aren’t you maximising that to do well at what you love? Life is a game and you have to milk the gifts you get.

I know and have met too many talented people who don’t give themselves the shot they deserve. I know this whole post seems obvious, but sometimes in their day-to-day people forget the obvious and they need reminding!

Oh…and here’s Pele being good at stuff…

How a marquee changed the course of my life

Just that one, near insignificant customer in a DIY shop had put me on a course where I’d learn more, do more, have more and be more than I could have ever imagined back then.

I was a few months away from being 19, I’d just finished studying A levels and I wasn’t sure where to go in life.

I wasn’t ambitious back then. The drive that burns deep within me these days wasn’t there.

But there were still flecks of the guy I grew up to be. The fire just needed to be stoked.

I was working part time at a DIY store. Sometimes, as I’d cycle or drive to work, I felt like I might be on the edge of a great adventure but didn’t know what it was.

My life was so hum-drum and smalltown that I didn’t really know what was out there.

So I spent my days tidying up shelves, lifting wood and taking care of the checkout when needed.

One day a rich, red-faced man in an expensive shirt came in. He seemed fairly jovial. But also the kind of guy who could lose his shit at the smallest thing. You know the type, right?

Anyway he shopped around, and a little while later he turned up at my till with a trolley full of goods.

Among his haul was a big marquee and as I ran it through the till he busied himself by telling me how he was going to have this huge party for his daughter’s 18th.

It was going to the be the biggest. And the best. Loads of people were going to go to it.
(Almost reminds you of a certain world leader doesn’t it…?)

Anyway he bids me good day and heads off. It was a quiet day, so I tried to do whatever I could to look busy – my manager back then was as watchful as a hawk.

Some minutes later and the doors come flying open. The man in the expensive shirt comes hurtling in like a freight train run solely on posh Cologne. He begins shouting and gets so angry that words fail him. Just staring daggers at me – angry little eyes set deep in his bright red face.

He approaches me at the till and makes a move to grab me by my collar, I dodged him the first time but the second time he catches hold of me and kind of drags me towards him.

I’m then subjected to a torrent of abuse. The guy had an iron grip. I couldn’t bust free.

Luckily my manager saw all of this and came out to defuse the situation. He wasn’t the kind of guy you argued with and the man in the expensive shirt soon calmed down.

I was only a teenager back then and I was pretty shook up. Sure I’d had arguments, I’d been bullied and I’d been in scraps at school – but all of that paled to being grabbed by an absolute unit of a middleaged man who was at least four inches taller than me.

(image credit: home garden centre)

It turns out that the guy hadn’t been able to fit the marquee box in his boot, so he’d put it through his car and when he’d started driving the lid had opened and a pole had slipped through and ‘damaged’ his windshield.

How bad the damage was, I will never know – as he was moving at such a slow speed (being in a car park at the time) it can’t have been too bad!?

But anyway, this event got me thinking about my future – did I really want to work in retail? What was I really going to do? Did I have more to offer to the world? Was I just drifting? Was this all life was?

Eventually, on the back of these thoughts, I sent away for various brochures, and when I found the right one I went to University (to the shock of my folks). It was one of the top 3 decisions I’ve ever made so far. I learnt a lot, gained a good degree and it rounded me off as an individual.

He was the tipping point, though. The one moment. Just that one, near insignifcant customer in a DIY shop had put me on a course where I’d learn more, do more, have more and be more than I could have imagined back then.

Although, from time to time, I do wonder where I’d be now if that hadn’t happened?

When I’m back home I occasionally see that guy from time to time, but he has no idea who I am. Maybe I should thank him.

Interestingly, the DIY chain I worked for went out of business about six months after I went to University – so, it was a good job I didn’t stay!

(featured image credit: myfonts)