Monthly Archives: October 2014

Sometimes a Confluence of Events can Shine a Light on Reality

Saying that it (whatever “it” is) isn’t as good as when you were younger is something that us older people are prone to. It is probably a turn off for those who are younger as it is probably irrelevant to them. They live, as many of us do, in the here and now. Yet sometimes a combination of factors can hold a mirror up  and show clearly how bad some things are in today’s world. I was witness to this recently.

The 390 bus route is now travelled by one of the newish “Boris” buses designed, I understand, by Thomas Heatherwick. Now, one of my small claims to fame is that Thomas was a friend of some of my friends I met him at parties. He seems a very nice bloke. Unfortunately, the bus isn’t nice. Indeed for me, its design encapsulates all that is wrong in today’s world. For a start, it looks very sleek on the outside. What I would call “very architectural”. Unfortunately, that’s as far as it goes. From then on, it’s all downhill. In, in contrast to this, the inside is drab and cheap looking while upstairs it is dark with no opening windows. Lastly, there is insufficient legroom, even for someone who is only 1.7m tall. It has two staircases and three exits/entrances in, what I assume, is the approximate length of previous double deckers. One of these is a platform at the rear which, sometimes, seems to need a “conductor”. Which brings me, neatly, to my second point.

I was travelling on the lower deck of one of these the other day when the “conductor” pointed out that there were two empty seats at the back where he was standing. With nothing better to do, I sat down and engaged him in conversation (something we older people are prone to do) and it seemed that he was in the early part of his shift and already bored. He then told me that this was the only job he could find even though he had a double first in Engineering! That confluence of events, ie glossy exterior, drab and badly designed interior with features that require someone extra just to oversee them and that person being highly qualified, seemed to sum up much of what is happening to our country. Is it surprising when we have a government that seems to think that, although it is in power to run the country, its role is not to drive the bus but to sit back and “let the market decide”. Funny that because, when I’m driving, I try not to let the other drivers determine where I’m going. If I had much hair left, I would be pulling it out in despair. Our young people especially, who by the way, had no hand in creating the circumstances in which we find ourselves, deserve better. But then, so does everyone else.

A Sense of Perspective

To listen to or watch the news or read a newspaper (not that many of the latter provide you with actual news), you could be forgiven for thinking that the world is in a mess. As indeed it is. To such an extent that even my optimism is sorely tested. Climate change is real, as is religious fanaticism and the hatred that it promotes. This latter, combined with access to weapons of mass destruction, a particularly scary prospect. So what can any of us do? Well, all the above may be true, however, there is a life to be led in the meantime along with both a sense of perspective and some personal action.

More years ago than I care to remember, I discovered E P Thompson’s “The Making of The English Working Class”; to be followed by many other books. In the process, I read that the 14th century was dubbed “the worst century ever”, with climate change, a reduction in crops and an environmental and social crisis which increased the gap between rich and poor. Then along came the Black Death which led to a near 50% reduction in the population of the country. This situation transformed Europe, such that low level struggles between landowners and those who worked the land turned into mass revolt.  The intervening 650 odd years have included a fair amount of struggle on the part of working people. Read, for example, E P Thompson’s classic book, and you will find the story of how working class people played a very active role in their society and, in the process, helped to create a culture and political consciousness of some vitality. Starting at the end of the 18th century and forged in the change from a rural, agrarian society to an urban, industrial one, over the next 150 years, it was to herald the Chartists, the Co-operative movement, the trade union movement, universal suffrage, the creation of the Labour Party and, in 1948, the welfare state. Self improvement took hold leading to the establishment of, for example, Mechanics’ Institutes in most of the major towns and cities in the country. What is most interesting about this is that much of it was from the bottom up creating a movement whereby self help was related to greater involvement and control.

So, have your moans, as I do, but also try to do something and get involved. If you’re a “clicktivist” become an activist. Then, if the worst comes to the worst, at least you’ll have tried.


Keep Going!

As for many UK today with its austerity, followed by yet more austerity, seemingly to be followed by such austerity at least as far as I can see, life has not been too easy of late. Not dire, at least not yet, but it could have been better. To add to that, the car has its MOT, our house insurance is due, one of our cats died and I have to go to the dentist again. In the grand scheme of things, though, none of these are insurmountable. It’s just life’s wear and tear which can get you down.

Then I consider what I have and what I’ve done and do what I always; do which, is carry on. There isn’t any alternative. Along the way I think of the fact that he cat had a good life, my family make me happy (I hope that I do the same), that the Camden New Journal are featuring my views in an article and publicising my books and, last week, I did my first stand up comedy slot in front of my peers at the Professional Speaking Association conference in London. Some of them even laughed. Importantly, I am now pushing ahead, again, in what I should have done 40 years ago, writing and public speaking.

After some months of not writing, I was finding it hard to get down to it again. So last week, I just did by starting on the final stages of my third book, provisionally entitled, “Lessons of a Life Well Lived”. Within minutes, the words flowed from heart to fingertips and it feels good.

The lesson, take a deep breath and keep going. Like I say, there is no alternative and, if you can dig in and plough on, you may sometimes be surprised at the results.

You Can Change If You Really Want To

Those of you who know me will be aware that I have had some years of therapy in a bid to deal with the problems caused by much of my early life. Indeed, I still pop back very occasionally when something else crops up. It’s no big deal; I just felt that my life couldn’t go on as it was and that I needed to do something about that for my own and my family’s sake.  So, when someone, by choice, sends their kids away to school on the basis that “I went to a boarding school and it never did me any harm” My response is “How do you know how your life might have been in other circumstances?” Similarly when someone say “I know what my problems are and I don’t need any help in sorting them out”. That may be so, although what you really know are how your problems affect you and, maybe, some idea of the circumstances. For me, having someone to talk to helped me to unravel them and lead a better life.

To give an example, I always thought that the fact that I worried about things was the engine that drove much of what I did. I am known as a good fundraiser and always thought that worrying about money was the basis for that. As we all do in these trying times, I still worry about money but much less so than I did. Yet I am still a good fundraiser.  I also now know where the worries come from and that has given me the ability to see the reality from my perception of it. So, where am I going with this?

Well, the answer to that question is that, if you feel that you need to change things in your life, only you can do that. You may, as I did, need help but the impetus needs to come from you. After all, no one else can stop smoking or get fit for you. I know that I’m stating the obvious and that it may not be easy. But, as a friend of mine used to tell me, it’s better than the alternatives. The outcome?

Well, I’m not sure what yours will be; I only know what mine has been. Yes, you might say but you’ve already written that you don’t know what life might have been like anyway and that may be true. What I do know that a pattern of self destructive behaviour that persisted for over 40 years has been broken and I don’t think that that’s a coincidence. Moreover, I can quote specific instances of immediate behavioural change following a therapy session and that certainly isn’t.

I write this today as I see that the drugs bill for the NHS is growing; much of that related to emotional and mental health problems. In the main, those drugs will alleviate the symptoms but are unlikely to tackle the root causes of the problems. Just like Polyfilla, it may hide the cracks bit won’t deal with what’s causing them in the first place. I also write this as, this weekend, I attended a conference of the speaking association of which I am a member and my recent therapy has enabled me no longer to feel like an outside. Other people weren’t the problem, my feelings were. Thanks, all of you, for your patience. To everyone else, if you want to change, then take that first small step. You won’t regret it. All the best in your endeavours.

What Motivates Us

A simple but crucial question with, probably, not a straight forward answer. Unless that answer is, to quote Arthur Daley, of “Minder” fame who, when asked if he was said Mr Daley, replied “It depends”. Well, it probably does to a degree, depending on circumstances.


In Jesse Norman’s book, “The Big Society”, in the chapter entitled, “The Danger of Happiness”, he writes of Theory X and Theory Y. According to Mr Norman, Theory X holds that people are natural shirkers who will avoid work wherever possible, are gullible, unambitious, resist change, dislike responsibility and will only work if bribed or coerced towards an organisation’s goals. Theory Y, in contrast, holds that people are naturally inclined to work, enterprising, and keen to use their ingenuity to solve problems. Mr Norman goes on to say that, the problem is that Theory X is self fulfilling and if people are treated as if they conform to this theory, they become demoralised and unproductive. At which point, those in charge assume that this is how people really are, confirming their views even more. It is, in fact, a self defeating view of humanity. Mr Norman then goes on to write that part of The Big Society is to return us to Theory Y. On that basis alone, the concept has signally failed. Interestingly, no one in government mentions the idea anymore and hasn’t done for some time.


I write this just as I am finishing the book, “Hack Attack” about the phone hacking scandal and the Murdoch empire. I would recommend it to anyone who has any ambiguity on the matter. There is none as this excellent book demonstrates. Some of the comments made by those involved make, what little hair I have left, curl as well as my toes. As I said, please read.


So where am I going with this. Well because it seems to me that governments and many organisations, whether or not they subscribe to Theory X or not, run their organisations as if they do. No wonder that we are in the state that we are. Yet, as I keep writing, there is an alternative based on Theory Y.


Now, as you may have gathered, I incline more to Theory Y than Theory X by some margin. I am now 7 years past retirement age and still working. Yes, I have a young daughter to see through university and a mortgage still top pay so may have less choice than others of my age. Yet, since joining the voluntary sector in 1980, I have worked continually, as I saw it, helping others to help themselves not just providing charity. Moreover, I have worked alongside many others who were doing the same, for not very good pay, because that felt that it was worthwhile and fulfilling.  It certainly was both of these. Money has never really been a consideration other than the need to pay my bills. Perhaps another reason that I’m still working. During that whole period, I have never been bored; a situation that continues to this day. The joys of getting paid to do what you enjoy in stark contrast to working life for many today. It has been, often worrying, financially, but worth and I will be describing that life and the alternative view of society as I plan a series of talks over the coming months.


So, if you have a chance to make a change and want to then start doing so. A series of small steps are all that are needed and, I think, you will find that you will see another view of society, if you don’t already.