Monthly Archives: July 2015

What is Normal?

Each of us is different to everyone else. Similar in many ways but unique overall. Yet, essentially, human beings are social animals who enjoy one another’s company and thrive better together. Within this we accommodate our differences and try to get on with each other. As our numbers have increased and the resultant society grown more complex, we have set up systems, laws and what have you to try to keep the good ship “Homo Sapiens” afloat. It is proving to be an ever more difficult task.

Yet, while this goes on around me, my own life is becoming more “normal”. You see, as someone, who would now have been treated as a “disturbed” child, by definition, I wasn’t “normal”. Indeed, I relished my difference and used it to identify myself. It was me.  Yet, some years ago, I remember being asked what I really wanted and my response was, indeed, “Normal”. When I was asked to describe that state, my response to that question was “Doreen and Bill”, the aunt and uncle who rescued me. That answer came completely from my subconscious and was all the truer for it.

I now have a “Doreen and Bill” relationship and my life is the better for it to a considerable degree. In our case, though, I am what Doreen was; someone her grandson described in the nicest possible way, as “barmy”. My wife, Gaynor, fills the “Bill” role of steady, stoic and reliable with an understated and mischievous sense of humour. Yet, as our relationship continues, the quiet one is becoming less so. Occasionally, even a little Victor Meldrew like. While the original Victor in the relationship is becoming less judgemental and less “different”.

This normality, nice though it is, is taking some getting used to. To be honest, it can be a little uncomfortable. What it isn’t doing, though, is lessening my perseverance and drive; both of which were, I thought, aspects of my “difference”. It’s nice to know that they aren’t.


For those of you not interested in, what I think may be, my final journey in therapy, please read no further. Assuming that you are interested enough to still be with me, I’m writing about how, a lifetime later, things can come back to bite you on the bum.

Those of you’ve who’ve heard me speak will know that I carry a few cards, with notes on; prompts, in fact. I don’t refer to these much and they are, largely, a comfort blanket. What is interesting is not that I feel that I need them but that I write more than I need to on them, just in case I miss anything. Yet, when I was a charity Director, I must have spoken hundreds of times about the work the particular charities did.  This, however, was always with slides to demonstrate this. With that “skeleton” on hand, I was able to talk for hours. And did!

So, when I joined the Professional Speaking Association, I never even thought about not being able to talk. How wrong I was. Without those prompt cards, correctly written, my mind could occasionally go blank. What is interesting, however, is precisely when this would happen. My talk, you see, describes my life and what I’ve achieved, while helping people on the receiving end in our society to solve their own problems. How they were able to develop their potential and release, what Jesse Norman, MP described as, “the vast amount of untapped talent” in this country.

So, the cards signpost these events for me. However, they also describe the transitions from one part of my story to another and these transitions are where my mind can go blank. I talked about this yesterday and that’s the bite on the bum bit. You see, transitions for me have always been extremely traumatic events and I have exorcised the effect of these from my life. So that, although I may remember the events, I don’t have any feelings about them. Well, it seems, not as much as I’d thought.

Yesterday, some of those feelings came back and I was able to see the problems that had, previously, been hidden to me. Another milestone is being passed and, this one, almost at the end of what has been a very long and fascinating journey. Perhaps, in future, there will be fewer abrupt transitions and more of a seamless process. In fact, there already is and that feels very, very good. Long may it continue.

The Importance of Family

Last night Gaynor and I watched a TV adaptation of a book, “The Outcast” by Sadie Jones. Now, such period pieces aren’t normally my cup of tea. This one, for example was a bit lacking in depth despite its subject matter. It was set just after the end of the Second World War, when I grew up; times which were drab, deferential and mannered. Also times that I don’t like to be reminded of. It also hit home in many other, more personal, ways. Until our hero went to prison, that is. My prison was not quite so drastic, it being the army at 15.

What came over very strongly, however, is just how difficult it must have been for those men and women, indeed most of my aunts and uncles, to rebuild their relationships after many years of enforced separation. The men had been away fighting a war, the women realising a freedom that many had never experienced before while trying to raise their children. Suddenly, into the close knit lives of these families, were introduced men; men that the children will, quite likely, have little memory of, or not even met.

My own aunts and uncles, my father excepted, were a strong family. It’s a memory that stays with me to this day. It is also a situation that I’ve tried to recreate on a number of occasions in my own life. With my first wife, which didn’t work, as a single parent, which did, and onto my second family which gets better as we grow older together. Indeed, I now know what a family is and it’s not quite what I imagined it to be. Yes, you have to be attracted to someone in the first place but that attraction alone isn’t enough. The relationship needs common interests and depth as well. From that, you can build. Something Gaynor and I do secure in the knowledge that whatever we do is reciprocated. Boy, does that make a difference. We will now stride into old age together.

If you want to know my own version of “The Outcast”, you can read it in “The Other Side of the Doors”. If that works for you, you will soon be able to move onto, “Lessons from a Chequered Life”, which should be available in a few months. Both of these, I hope, describe the importance of family. In short, extremely important both for good or ill. In my case, now, well and truly the former. I like that. When my whole family, including my grandchildren, get together, I like it even more.

Believe May be the Hardest Word

I am not one for counting my chickens as life has taught me that things do go wrong, often badly so and then get worse. So, why do I call myself an optimist? Well, largely, because I am. Put simply, I find it’s a far more constructive state of mind than pessimism; that allied to a belief that we are all capable of so much more.

I’ve also learnt that you don’t have to accept what life throws at you, hard though that may be at times. With small steps, you can change things (or rather, change how they affect you) and lots of such steps are what make up a long journey. As usual, I choose my words carefully here and don’t describe a journey as a few very large steps. Most of us don’t do the latter although we are quite capable of doing the former. What can then be difficult is believing that things can be different for you, as an individual, even when you know they can. The only response is to keep going; something I’ve been doing, with my usual bloody mindedness, over the past few months. Would you believe it, those changes are taking place? He wrote, with all his fingers crossed.

About 18 months ago, I felt that I needed to see my therapist again. Things were happening in my life that I was unhappy with and talking with Stevie has always helped me to sort things out. This time it has done so even more than usual. So much so that I feel that I am, at last, nearing the end of a long and fascinating journey. Belief in myself is starting to be realised and I’m actually taking it on board, albeit with a little caution. The problem is less that I think that things will go wrong than that of being in uncharted territory by choice.

Now I’m aware that most of the people that I know, especially those who I’ve worked with and, for whom, I’ve delivered the goods and more over the years, will find my lack of personal self belief difficult to comprehend. They see me as the person who turns up when all else has failed. However, doing those same things for myself has proved to be a great deal more difficult. Well, if this continues, not anymore and that’s when the discomfort comes in. Well, just a few more sessions with Stevie and I really think that, something that the lovely Dan Twomey once told me, will be shown to be true. In response to my question, “When will I know that therapy is over?” he replied, “When you feel able to run your life without your actions being determined by your history and you will know when that is”.

I do, but believing is still the hardest word.

Feels Like Home to Me

As any readers that I have will know, my early life was, somewhat, transient, setting a template for the future. So much so that, by the time I was 19, I’d moved six times with all my worldly possessions in a suitcase. During the years that followed, I’ve spent more time than I care to remember in places where I lived but never considered as home. They weren’t where I wanted to be.

At the end of 1979, for six months, I returned to London where a friend came to visit. When we met, his first response was, “You’re home, aren’t you”. A statement and not a question, you will notice.  When I asked what he meant, he told me that, in Harrogate, I’d always given the impression of living in a cage; here, he could tell by the way I walked, that I was at home. Well, it didn’t work out and I moved back to Harrogate where I spent another seven years during which I started to get my act together. Six years later and with my children grown up, I moved back to London again. Not the south London of my birth, but north of the river; a heresy in my youth. I have now lived here for 29 years. The first few in Islington and the last 25 in Camden. Of these, the last 20 years have been in our current flat just off Camden Square. I feel at home, at last, and Gaynor and I have made it such. So, a life that I always felt was like a Jackson Browne song is no longer so. Sorry for the indulgence but here is part of it:

In my early years, I hid my fears

And passed my days alone.

Adrift on an ocean of loneliness,

My dreams like nets were thrown

To catch the love

That I’d heard of

In books and films and song.

Now there’s a world of illusion and fantasy

In the place where the real world belongs.

Oddly, I do occasionally miss those times. Indeed, more than miss them, I feel them pulling me back and very strongly so. Today, for some reason, is one of those days. However, I now dance to a different tune. One covered by the likes of Linda Ronstadt and Bonnie Raitt.  Google it and listen to “Feel likes home to me”.