Vitamin sea: just what’s needed to re-energise startup entrepreneurs

I don’t want a holiday in the sun, a cheap holiday in other people’s misery. I echo John Lydon’s philosophy, but where to go this year post-Covid? I fancied Mexico, simply from the colour of their shirts and the goalkeeper’s name from the last World Cup – Jose de Jesus Corona, must have come in many google searches in the last year, why weren’t my parents more imaginative? The town of Oaxaca caught my attention, but it was out of season. Were we in Oaxaca on Christmas Eve, it would be the great Noche de Rábanos, or Night of the Radishes celebration. Got to be there one day.

But let’s be sensible. It’s just one summer without a St Tropez tan. I’m not going to get on a plane the minute a country’s colour code changes from amber to green because the change will have been made too soon and I’ll end up catching the Beta variant in Corfu and bringing it back to a Travelodge near Manchester Airport, which I’ll complain about. Or I’ll get stuck in the Corfu, which I’ll complain about too as I’d miss the start of the football season.

I like to go somewhere with time to sit and think and, occasionally, just to sit and not think at all. Apart from that, I’m easily pleased. Thailand beckoned from social media pushes, but then I read a piece warning travellers not to take a copy of George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984. The warning was inside the in-flight magazine of Philippine Airlines – a bit late if you’re on the final approach to Bangkok airport.

We all have happy overseas holiday memories. What I wouldn’t give for a glass of rosé in Provence. Or a glass of rosé in Italy. Or a glass of anything anywhere on the Med.  But what you’ve got to do is focus on the bad stuff. I’m recalling the trouble in Marrakech as a nineteen-year-old student when the entire Medina bazaar was haggling en-masse to trade three camels for my then girlfriend (long blond hair). I affronted them by refusing to barter. With hindsight, I should have taken two camels, some nice leather slippers and a decent rug.

Then there’s the food poisoning in Portugal (chicken), Athens(lettuce) and Paris (another seafood splatter).  Stop remembering the sunsets and seafood platters. Start remembering the sunburn and post-seafood splatters. No, stay at home this summer, Sebastian. Protect the NHS. Save the rest of us.

I wanted to avoid the sun. For me, pale is interesting. I’m 100% Anglo Saxon, as in Thomas Huxley’s division of humanity, although to be fair, I have a skin tone that could optimistically be called ‘North-of-England olive’ after two weeks abroad, but would more accurately be described as ‘Lancashire white’ – not to be confused with the potato of the same name. So, I’ve defaulted to my favourite bolt-hole, and we were off. Just up the road, to Anglesey.

The seabirds call loudly in warm, friendly Welsh accents as the wind carries them overhead, the unmistakable scent of salty water in the air as the tide slowly inches its way up onto the shore. Anglesey has everything, beaches and views that inspire, a place that appeals to all the senses – a place to see, hear, taste, smell and feel. It is a place to get away from it all. And some great siop sglodion too.

My favourite spot, Penmon, is a promontory on the south-east tip of Anglesey, the site of a monastery and C12th church. Walls near the well next to the church may be part of the oldest remaining Christian building in Wales. Penmon also has a fantastic stony beach and Trwyn Du Lighthouse lies between Black Point, near Penmon and Ynys Seriol, or Puffin Island.

Trwyn Du is my favourite lighthouse, marking the entrance to the Menai Strait, accessible by heading east out of Beaumaris and through Llangoed. The lighthouse was built 1835-1838, is 29m tall and was designed by James Walker. The tower is distinguished by its original three black bands painted on a white background. It also bears the words NO PASSAGE LANDWARD on its north and south sides.

The tower has been unmanned since 1922 when it was converted to acetylene operation. The lamp was converted to solar power in 1996. It flashes once every five seconds and can be seen twelve miles away. A 178-kilogram fog bell sounded once every thirty seconds until in August 2020, Trinity House replaced the bell with an automatic foghorn. A sad moment. For over 50 years I’ve listened to the haunting yet soothing sound of the bell, a sound sacrosanct to the area.

I’ve been fascinated by lighthouses, and the stories behind them, since a child. Their isolation draws me; one place, one time, one rhythm – the turning of the light. You can find yourself alone by a lighthouse, no human voices just a solitary, stimulating experience. The flashes themselves are the stories going out over the waves, as markers and guides, comfort and warning. Lighthouses are signifiers of both human isolation and our ultimate connectedness to each other. 

Just the seagulls, the wind and the Fresnel lens – developed by French physicist Augustin-Jams Fresnel in 1823 – allowing the light from a lighthouse bulb to be visible over greater distances. It has been called the invention that saved a million ships. Today, many VR headsets use Fresnel lenses, like the Oculus Rift, to make it easier to focus on the displays.

Taking time-off with yourself once in a while will help chalk out your priorities in front of you. It gives you a clearer perspective on how you wish your life and business to pan out, focusing on the right and amending the wrong turns. I’ve always iterated that self-reflection helps you clear out the unnecessary from your mind, and look beyond our horizons. A friend once described our brain as a washing machine, hurling and tumbling the information that hits us from all directions.

Time to switch off. The time you take away is an investment in being able to do better work when you’re back, and it’s about asking yourself the right questions. For example: Am I preparing for a better tomorrow? Am I sleeping off the right thoughts? Am I maintaining my own perspective? Have I developed an honest philosophy with myself?

Good questions always lead to great answers. So having unpacked and decluttered my mind, and having no access to the Internet, here are my ‘thinking outloud’ takeaway reflections from my Anglesey break, a stream of random consciousness and musings that I hope give you some insight into my thinking on how to help your own entrepreneurial journey.

1. The greatest reflection of yourself is how you use your time Whatever you say about what really matters to you, the true test is where you place your time. If you say your priorities are your partner or your kids or your health or learning, that statement will only be true if your calendar reflects it. The only reason for time is so everything doesn’t happen at once, but don’t wait, the time will never be right.

2. To know what you think, write it down Not having technology and having to write things down myself in a notebook, to let it see light, was the best way for me to clarify what I was actually thinking about during the break. Writing is the painting of the voice said Voltaire. I realised that getting back to writing was the best way to talk without being interrupted.

3. Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity Having to think for myself, with just radio but no internet access, made me curious. You can’t artificially generate curiosity, so you have to follow where yours actually leads. Curiosity ends up being the driving force behind learning and the thirst for knowledge. Millions saw the apple fall but Newton asked why said Bernard Baruch. Curiosity did not kill the cat, conventionality did.

4. Get outside Sometimes you need to step outside, get some air and remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be. Being on a break gives you freedom from the usual routine without interference and to just do stuff. What you think of yourself is much more important than what other people think of you. Be yourself, give yourself some space.

5. Pay close attention to what you do when you’re alone When no-one else is around, when the afternoon is yours alone, what you choose to do says a lot about you. Pay close attention to where your mind wanders. Your natural wanderings are your compass to what’s truly interesting to you. Equally, it’s bad enough wasting time without killing time.

6. Self-control is a finite resource I’m good company for me, I like the idea of solitude, being alone and being content with myself, but I fear loneliness, the pain of being alone, and I’ve never been lonely, an exposed position. However, you can only ask so much of yourself each day. You have a limited capacity to direct yourself a certain way. I now realise there are boundaries to being independent.

7. Listen to your own pulse Money can’t buy you happiness, but consciousness can. I picked up Laura Vanderkam’s book, 168 hours: you have more time than you think from a Beaumaris charity shop. She talks about thinking of your week in terms of 168 hours, instead of seven 24-hour chunks. When you look at your week from that perspective, you have more time than you think. This book is a reality check that says I do have time for what is important to me.

8. You never know where you are on the big wheel You never know what’s coming, you have to have some faith that your moment is coming, but you don’t need to be Speedy Gonzalez all the time. Travel has many joys, luggage is not one of them. Live for the moments of serendipity and synchronicity. Sleep. Hydrate. Move. The basics are key. You strive to be conscious in all areas of life, relationships, raising children, your work, but we need more awareness and clarity.

9. Sitting idle and doing nothing is often viewed as a bad habit, yet researchers have shown that there are several advantages of ‘doing nothing’. Electrical activity in the brain that seems to set certain sorts of memories is more continuous and frequent amid downtime, offering your brain a reprieve from work without completely surrendering cognisance.

10. Walk the dog three times a day on the beach It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. The best listener has fur and four legs. In order to really enjoy a dog, one doesn’t merely try to train her to be semi-human – the point of it is to open oneself to the possibility of becoming partly a dog.

I could live like Robinson Crusoe. A beach is not only a sweep of sand, but shells of sea creatures, the sea glass, the seaweed, the wood and other incongruous objects washed up by the ocean. For me, the more deserted the better, trudging slowly over wet sand, sit on the promenade, write postcards of notes to self. I do my best thinking in isolation. It isn’t as if you are alone, it’s that you find yourself thinking alone.

The sounds of surf breaking on a shore and the cries of sea birds, with little to do and few distractions, it opens your mind. More time to think, quiet time to think a problem through. Thinking on your own teaches us how to be present with our own selves, bear witness to our inner voice and fully inhabit our inner lives. It just goes to prove that the best place for a break, and the cure for anything, is saltwater swirling around your bare feet. I need vitamin sea.

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