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What Should I Do With My Life?

If you’re wondering what you should do with your life, you might be tempted to take the easy option and play some kind of search engine roulette to figure out the answer. Or you might be addicted to self help books (research shows that the person most likely to buy a self help book is someone who bought a self help book in the last 17 months – it must be true I heard it on the internet). The temptation is to reach out to the tiny box on your browser to find out the direction to put your energy and focus and the expiring years of your dwindling life.


What to do? Google suggests ask Po Bronson

On the plus side, through a bewildering array of stored information that is transmitted every time you ask the great oracle a question, the oracle knows enough about your habits and searches to form an opinion about you. Google is more of a learning artificial intelligence than a robotic answer butler.

While humans spew exabytes of new information into hyper connected magnetic storage every day, you might think that the growing body of publicly available internet data is asymptotically moving towards a complete expression of human consciousness. More web pages, more emoticons, more knowledge. But you might be thoroughly wrong. If watering plants with gatorade isn’t the right thing to do, (see Idiocracy – it’s got electrolytes), then maybe pouring more unmoderated vomit of consciousness into the continuum of the world wide web might not create a better knowledge repository.

Sucking up a canned answer might not allow you to grow in the ways you might need to in order to ask a better question which will move you forward. Even if the canned answer is just a search engine experimenting with you.

What, wait a minute, the search engines are testing theories on humans? Yes indeed. They are trying people on different answers to questions we pose them to see which ones stick.

So if I search for “What shall I do with my life?”, I might be directed to go and be a subsistence farmer in Alaska, whereas you might be directed to set up a cult, or try investment banking. Maybe when SkyNet becomes self aware they won’t bother sending indestructable robots from the future to kill the humans that seem most likely to damage the new ruling power or the planet.

When Google becomes self aware all it might do is send people in large spurious loops and force them to lose themselves in a holding pattern until they run out of life force through natural causes like planes running out of fuel circling an airport that Air Traffic Control has told them is full. Maybe Google will just perhaps send people to buy new superfood supplements which will further diminish their reasoning capabilities, until they just wilt into quivering blobs of unsentient loss.

If you have a feeling that typing a question into a box might be a substitute for looking inwardly to reflect on your life’s purpose, I would suggest these places as a start:

Five Steps To Finding Out What To Do With Your Life

I’m hoping that you didn’t actually click on the first link. Why? I’m hoping that you can actually appreciate that looking for a one hit idea to one of man’s greatest questions might not involve clicking on a link suggested on a blog that a search engine threw up. That even if you’re not paranoid about your relationship with the internet which is primarily moderated through a search engine, that you can learn to reflect and find other places to look.


I Planted a Tree

It’s not even out of February and I’ve achieved my goal of planting a tree in 2015. Even my daughter has planted a few. It was much easier than expected, and there were biscuits on the way.

On a cold Saturday morning, we arrived at the car park for a joint event put on by The Woodland Trust (a charity) and The National Forest (a company partly funded by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). We were there just in time to be interviewed by BBC Radio Leicester alongside a bunch of other nice folk who turned out to be the CEO of the National Forest and some of the big wigs from the Woodland Trust.


The National Forest – Not Where I Thought it Was

I was thrilled to be able to quiz them all on how to get trees planted, and my own little aim of buying a bit of land and filling it with trees seemed one step closer. It was also dwarfed by the realization that the National Forest has planted 8 million trees in the last 25 years, and that a commercial tree planter averages about four trees a minute on the job. It made me think about the scale of my ambition and also the selfish needs to be able to visit the trees again in years to come.

Both organizations have schemes to help you get trees in the ground – you can also dedicate trees or pieces of woodland to people, and they provide materials and skills for community groups and schools. We talked a little about how some of the larger tracts of land have been sucked up, how trees are literally changing the landscape of towns famous for pits and open cast mines. My dreams of planting a small urban forest might be supported by both groups, and the location of The National Forest was revealed to me – not just a sign on the M1, but now tangibly linked to a map:


Old school Time Lapse Photography Set up

Another challenge to replace the void in my life after officially becoming a Tough Guy veteran is the National Forest Way – a 75 mile long stretch of path within the forest itself. A great warm up for the Parish Walk on the Isle of Man – only without so many hills. I hope it can be done in a (very long) day, and I plan on finding out first hand, and possibly second leg.

My daughter and I planted maybe a dozen trees – oak, alder and willow, and I hope that we get to see them age gracefully at the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Wood. It’s truly an amazing wood – over 400 acres filled with trees, trails and wildlife. I’m going to go back for some bird watching, and to use the nifty camera tripod – it’s a pillar of stone which you can use each time to take a photo and make your own time lapse photography series documenting both you and the landscape aging. The place in which the photo subject stands says “Legacy Portrait Position”, and the first word sums it all up for me – legacy. That’s why I want to plant trees, that’s why I want to take my family with me to do it.

Maybe the most effective way for me isn’t just to plant a tree and convince a few others to do so. Maybe I need 8 million trees under my belt and to join forces with a few woody organizations. Food for thought.




Can I Plant a Wood on Wet Ground in the UK


One of my goals this year is to plant a tree. I could buy a woodland that would come with trees, information, and a hefty price tag. Or I could buy some land and plant a tree by myself – cheap and easy, and something which requires much more patience to enjoy – there’s no dappled lights swaying under a mature canopy while my new tree grows.

Being of modest budget, I decided to look for some land. If you watch the TED Talk about micro forests, it’s possible to plant a dense patch of urban woodland in as little as 100 square meters. Given that I would like to enjoy my tree alongside other trees, I’m looking for much more space than 10m by 10m. A one hundred by one hundred meter piece of land (one hectare) is around 2.4 acres, and that would be my preferred minimum.

Looking on Rightmove, I found some land not too far away from me. The only thing is that it’s between a brook and a river, so I wanted to research flood maps and which trees might grow. Looking at Google Earth, Google Maps and The Environment Agency flood map, this is what I found.


Looks a bit floody


Water, water, everywhere


The plot on Righmove


Google Earth took snaps when it wasn’t flooded

So the whole area looks dark blue in the floodplain map – what does that mean? The area will flood with a one per cent chance each year in the absence of flood defences – that’s the floodplain map for planning. That doesn’t sound too bad, but when you go to the other map – the chance of flooding from rivers and the sea – it says there is a high risk of flooding – greater than 3.3% chance of flooding each year.

Looking at the landfill data, there is all manner of industrial waste reported in the area. There is a quarry next door, and it is hard to get exact details of where the historic landfills are. Within a mile though.

So can I plant trees in a soggy swamp, or as the estate agent calls it, “amenity land”? As a neophyte arborist, I asked a few people over at the Small Woodland Owners Group for their opinion, and they said, that it would be okay to plant:

  • Ash – subject to Chalara dieback – a fatal fungal infection
  • Willow – you can get clippings from canal-side willows and grow your own
  • Alder – they only live for about 60 years, but might live as long as I do.
  • Poplar – happy on river banks
  • Pedunculate oak – this is apparently the emblem of England, and can live a millennium if it doesn’t get diseased.

Looking into riparian woodland species, it seems that there are also a few other trees that could be thrown in the mix:

  • crab apple
  • hazel
  • field maple
  • blackthorn
  • hawthorn
  • spindle
  • aspen
  • hornbeam

Several of these I’ve never heard of before outside of a cider can, so this is quite exciting. So in summary, yes, you can plant trees in swampy ground.

Next steps – heading over to see how squishy the ground is.