Monthly Archives: November 2015

My Very Own Glass Ceilings

I have  long known that something held me back from doing many of the things that I wanted to do in life. When I lived the more conventional life that I used to, it never mattered. That life was determined by circumstance and was one that I accepted as being the one for me. I may have been quite angry about what it was but I accepted it, even the anger, as part of the package. I had the family that I needed and channelled much of my emotional energy into my children. It took a divorce and life with those children for me to start to realise that world on “The Other Side of the Doors” that some of you will have read about in my books.

The journey I started all those years ago continues apace and today I live a very different life; one that seems more natural to me. It’s also one that I couldn’t previously have envisaged. And there lies the rub. If you aren’t even aware of what you might be capable of, by definition, it will be unrealiseable. In my case, the divorced led me to opening those doors and to start to do some realising. It also led me to seeing those things I wanted to do but couldn’t.

For some years, I blamed other people for this. Why didn’t they help me more?  Interestingly, I refused to ask for just that help and, as someone pointed out to me, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. That made my shell stronger and me more determined to do what I’ve always done, which was to tackle my own problems?  At which point, very gradually, I saw that shell that I had built around me to protect myself and, in doing so, I let people in. It hasn’t been any easy process and I still struggle with it. I also persevere.

The final part of the jigsaw has been in realising that those barriers were, largely, my own creation; not something you need when society has enough of its own already. As a result, I am now retracing my steps and tackling the root causes of the problem. It won’t be easy and will involve some soul searching. Indeed, I do this with some trepidation but also with an awareness that the person really holding me back is me.

Now there’s a challenge for you.

Goodness Rules, OK!

In my younger days, any Hollywood film that needed a suave, debonair, well spoken Englishman, cast George Sanders. He didn’t play the part; he was it. Some of you may have heard him as the voice of Shere Kahn, the tiger, in the film “Jungle Book”. So why am I writing this? Well, it’s because when he died he left a suicide note which read “Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel that I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck”. That note had style, just like the man himself.

I like to think that I have style of some sort and no idea what the future might bring. Maybe I, too, will get bored, but I don’t think so. You see that, even when I feel down, I know that there is still a lot to do and, no, I won’t do it all; I will though, at least, try. For me those feelings of being overwhelmed come about when a whole series of the day to day minutiae of life come all at once. Such has been the case in the past few weeks. Fortunately, I’m able to do what I always do in these situations and carry on. What my wife calls my “incredible perseverance” and what I call, “getting on with it”. That getting on with it involves tacking those problems and getting back to normal. I am boosted in this in that I know the immense feeling of satisfaction that overcoming problems gives me.

This starts with working out what has gone wrong and why before moving onto the detail of what needs to be done, in what order, by whom and how? So, when I published my first two books, I went on a self publishing workshop, put what I learned into effect before contacting  those kind, helpful people I have gathered around me who delivered in abundance. I have now done the same for my third book. In all this, I find that, if you are generous and helpful to others, they will usually reciprocate. It’s happened again this week when I offered to help someone and may now be writing another book I hadn’t thought about in a joint venture. Generosity and kindness, I find, breeds more of the same.  Unfortunately, I also find the reverse to be true.

What I won’t do, however, is to allow the “Sod you, Jacks” of this world to get me down; at least not for very long. In this I am bolstered by the fact that, if the whole world operated as they do, it would be a far worse place. I also believe the reverse to be true in this as well. And it probably doesn’t require any more effort than doing the opposite. “Courtesy”, as my Aunt Doreen used to say, “doesn’t cost you a penny”. It is also more likely to get you what you want and make the world a better place.

The Testing Time That is November

It’s been, to say the least, a very strange week and one that puts even my optimism to the test. Tomorrow is the 68th anniversary of my mum’s death and we, currently, have another close family member who is very ill. What is it about November? Miserable, damp, foggy evenings that herald the end of the year and, it seems, much else that we hold dear. On top of all that, a few,  very disturbed people, brainwashed by some very evil people, who seem to think that they can impose their misguided views on others who don’t share them, decide to murder as many as they can. All, it would appear, in the name of belief in a supernatural being. You couldn’t make it up. Unfortunately, it’s all too real and not about to go away in the near future.

So, it seems, my generation will pass on a much less secure world and one very much less at ease with itself, to those who follow. In my case, so far, my children and grandchildren. It’s not what my younger self ever imagined we’d be doing. Despite my own childhood problems, the times I grew up in were those of optimism, hope and colour. Initially more straight laced, the corsets were about to be discarded; literally as well as metaphorically. A more secular, liberal society was being shaped and it’s one that, despite the economic conservatism, continues to this day. It’s also a movement that, I believe, is unstoppable; provided, of course, that we don’t do anything stupid in the meantime. And there’s the rub.

So, apart from bombing people back to the Stone Age, something that even the mighty US of A failed to do in Vietnam, where do we go from here. Well, I know what my anger tells me that we should do; I also, however, know that that emotion isn’t a rational one on which to base any action that is likely to be successful in the longer term. Air strikes? Well, those in the military who I hear on the radio, say that these must be backed by troops on the ground if they are to have any long term effect. Yet, I don’t hear much support for the latter, even in the bear pit that the House of Commons can be.

So, what do I do? Well, I continue my life as before; sticking to my beliefs despite this deep November of the soul. It doesn’t seem like much but it’s the best answer we have to bigotry, prejudice, hatred and all those other nasty traits that humans can exhibit.  I will also, I hope, leave behind children and grandchildren who themselves believe in the best that humans have to offer and live their lives according. And there lies some hope for a better future.

Cause and Effect

I started work in the voluntary sector as an unemployed single parent in 1980. All of those who worked on the project, the new city farm in Leeds, were similarly unemployed and I was the Project Manager; something I’d never done before.

Apart from emptying the portable toilet, one of the less enjoyable tasks I had was sacking people; not only the actual firing itself but the whole process of one informal and three formal warnings. These sacking rarely involved the foot soldiers as we regarded trying to keep them in work, so as to be more employable afterwards, as among our main concerns. For those in supervisory roles, however, it was a different matter. One of the main reasons for this was that, not only had they to be able to manage and motivate others, but that they had also had to be seen to be able to do so. My reluctance to pull the trigger in all cases can be gauged from the fact that, over a period of six years, I was responsible for over 200 people and terminated the contracts of, probably, five or six.

So, when I had the sack someone for the first time in my life, the exercise followed three, somewhat, sleepless nights. Yet, by the last time, I had learned how to deal with the situation, I thought, as well as is possible in these circumstances. I learned, in short, to be, somewhat, objective trying to take less account of my own feelings of subjectivity. Yet, I like to think that I was always aware of the possible effects of my actions. Hence, I would usually write a letter that the person concerned could take to the job centre to enable them to still claim benefits.

So, when I read, as I did earlier this week, that the Prime Minister, one “call me Dave” Cameron has written to the local authority within his constituency to say that he is “disappointed” by the Council’s proposal to make significant cuts in frontline service, my jaw drops.  These cuts include those to day care centres for elderly people, libraries, museums and child care centres; yet he seems not to understand that these are a direct result of his government’s policies. Perhaps a few lessons in cause and effect might not go amiss for the holder of this highest of offices.

Some Sayings, T Shirt Slogans and Songs

Sometimes life can be difficult. However, as a good friend of mine used to tell me, “Mike, it beats the alternative”. Which is does, in abundance. At which point, my favourite T shirt slogan comes to mind; it read, “Remember, above the clouds, the sun is always shining”. As, indeed, it is. The problem is that, on those miserable, damp November evenings which I dislike so much, it can be difficult to believe that. Which is where another of my pet sayings comes in useful. This one is that, for many of us, perception can be more real than fact. That doesn’t, however, make it so.

So the mini crisis of Saturday is behind me, someone is coming around today to sort out another  problem with the building, Spurs performed commendably over the old enemy yesterday. I have a meeting later to move one of my projects forward, an application is ready to, possibly, fund another, my lovely wife is starting to get in some teaching work from voluntary organisations and our daughter is due home this evening. I also spoke to my eldest children over the weekend and that always cheers me  up no end.

So, I force that little smile inside and get down to it, strengthened by the thought that how things affect us personally can be worse than the reality of what is actually happening at the time. It’s that line from a Stevie Nicks song, “Take on the situation not the torment”. At which point I remember that it’s six weeks to Xmas, a time I really enjoy, after which the promise of Spring beckons. I also remember that I still have much to do in life and that it won’t get done if I sit around and mope. Now I’m pretty sure that there’s a song somewhere with that line in it.

A Little Bout of Depression

He knew that he had achieved even though he had left proving it to himself until rather late in life. Three books that have been well received by those who have read them has been immensely rewarding. As was the response from his wife and others in his family that he had a real writing style and a story to tell. The writing itself even more satisfying; the flow of the words from somewhere deep inside direct to the keyboard, both a revelation and a joy.  The physical feel  of the published book when it arrives a confirmation of his life and beliefs.  The need to believe as strong as the beliefs themselves.

These latter reflected in the projects that he had helped to create; what he called those “little bits of Wonderland”. Those same beliefs reinforced in the form of national recognition from his beloved “Guardian”.  Yet, despite all this, he can still be knocked off course and knows that he can be better than he allows himself to be. And in that latter phrase dwells a whole hidden set of beliefs; those created by the experiences of the small child who still lives within what is now an old man.

Recently, a set of circumstances have arisen that have aroused those fears again and these have left him with disturbed nights and waking to those well remembered feelings. The apprehension, the shaking (more a feeling than a reality) and the butterflies in the stomach. The mind that won’t let go of what’s happened and the fear of what it might lead to; the latter of which is the real problem. It’s like a tape running and rerunning in his head. Above all it’s the realisation that he has little control over his reactions. Emotion overrides reason every time.

Yet dig a little deeper and he knows that the emotions of that small child often controlled the adult’s behaviour. It’s just that he thought that he had left all that behind; only to find that he hasn’t. The lovely flat that has been his home for 20 years now feels less like a home. In fact, it feels somewhat unsafe. Bloodymindedness keeps him going although he knows that the subtle pathways that maintain the mind’s equilibrium are not as amenable to this as he would like them to be.

You see, it’s not like a physical illness with its more recognised symptoms and stages. Broken bones, for example, heal  allowing the relevant limb to be brought back into use. The mind has a more amorphous pattern of behaviour. Indeed, not even a pattern; just at present, the predominant and heavy weight of apprehension.  Feelings more determining than physical symptoms. It’s as if, no matter what he reaches out to hold onto, he is trying to grasp the fog. He also knows, from past experience, that it will pass although that doesn’t help much. Maybe this time it won’t. Here, though, the bloodymindedness does help!

Crucially, he has to earn a living and that takes little account of such circumstances. So, above all else, he still has to function in the real world and that provides the momentum to keep going.  Just as his eldest children did all those years ago when he really hit the wall. This is nothing like that, although it is uncomfortable and inhibiting.

Fortunately, he has a very supportive family and someone from whom he can get professional help. Lastly, he knows that there are people in this world whose problems put his in the shade. However,  he also remembers a friend who once told him that that may be so but that, “There’s no sore bottom like your own sore bottom”. Maybe there isn’t but he yearns to get his sense of perception back and soon. Interestingly, putting his feelings on paper helps much as it has always done which is just the reason that he’s done exactly that.

A Challenge to What I Hold Dear

I am, at heart, an optimistic person who gets through some of the crap that is dished out by seeing people as, essentially, honest and decent.  So when circumstances arise that show them in a somewhat different light, I can be adversely affected. As I have been this week. Even as I write this, I know the symptoms that are the feelings of unease, the slight shaking and the butterflies in the stomach. Fortunately, I also know the cure (and have someone I can talk to) and so will see this through. Yet, feeling depressed isn’t good as it makes it harder to concentrate and push on. However, that is exactly what I’m doing; knowing that each step is a positive one set against the negativity that is the prevailing background hum. Importantly, I refuse to let that emotion and those who have helped to create it, become the determining one in my life. More importantly, I am sufficiently cussed that I won’t be beaten and have a wonderful family who each exhibit just those qualities that I hold dear.

In this I am also guided by thoughts of Doreen and Bill who looked after me for five years when I was a child. They had to cope with the death of their 18 month old daughter and, a year later, ploughed their caring into giving me a home and making me part of their family. Their generation tended not to complain but to make do with the cards that they’d been dealt. In their turn, they helped to shape a generation that asked for and tried to play with a different pack. In all my dealings, therefore, I feel an enormous sense of gratitude to what, in a recent television programme, was referred to as “Britain’s Greatest Generation”. In stark contrast, it has to be said, to the children of the Thatcher generation.

I do know, however, that my sheer bloodymindedness needs to be tempered with a care for myself and that that combination will guide me. As is has done in the past. So, not onwards and upwards, but with careful and steady steps while I see this through. And I feel myself smiling at this latter thought. So, perhaps onwards and upwards after all.

The Road Not Taken

As you get older you have, more and more, to cope with the results of decisions you made and actions you took in the past; often many years  ago. You cope with them, as does everyone else, while regretting the fact that the results often return to bite you on the bum when you wish that they wouldn’t.

For me, chief among these was something created by my transient childhood; my tendency to up sticks and start anew when difficult circumstances presented themselves. As a result, I now have my eldest children and their children living in the Harrogate area while I am 200 miles away, back in my native city with my second family. This all came about from an initial decision I made nearly 40 years ago followed by another some 10 years later. So, every two months I travel to Yorkshire to stay with my kids for a couple of days. When we’re together, we slot into the roles that we’ve occupied for most of our lives; in my case for 50 years as a father and theirs, since they were born. No matter what happens, I’ll always be their dad and they will always be my children, even though they now have children of their own.

What’s interesting is to witness them with those children. In the case of my son now, as was his father, a single parent trying to get by in difficult circumstances and making a great job of bringing up young Michael. In the case of my daughter, carrying on, much as she has always done, being caring and immensely capable. The latter, I take for granted while the former is demonstrated best by her DIY skills and the fact that she has her own set of tools in a, rather large, metal carrying case; much to the disbelief of her colleagues when something recently needed dealing with at work. I wonder where both of them got these abilities from and admit to a certain pride, tinged with worry, in regard to them and the lives they’ve made for themselves.

Yet, while it’s lovely to be with them, leaving doesn’t get any easier; something I expect is the same for most people. I do, however, wonder what might have happened had I managed to break that template of my childhood at a much earlier stage in my life. Perhaps that’s why a Robert Frost poem remains my favourite. It’s entitled “The Road Not Taken”.