Monthly Archives: December 2014

The Giftie Gie Us

“O wad som power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!

It was frae monie a blunder free us,

An’foolish notion.

I use these words from Robbie Burns for two reasons. One is that they are central to the way in which we, as humans, behave and second because I both mentor someone and, have a mentor myself. Mine, currently,  is Paul Cook, a fellow speaker and someone I value. Apart from the fact that we have a similar sense of humour, Paul has the ability to, at least start, getting me to see myself from outside the bubble in which I live. Now I’m well aware that all of us live in our own bubbles; lenses through which we view the world. Mine was sufficiently strong that I created (and helped others to create) those little bits of “wonderland” which were the voluntary projects I worked on. The city farm in Leeds and some of the sustainable homes that people who were homeless and unemployed built for themselves, being examples. That was the positive aspect. The negative one was in viewing what were actually achievements on my part as nothing special whereas, in fact, they were.

Well, at least now I understand that it is actually my own bubble and that not quite everyone else lives there. By which I mean that not everyone sees the world as I do. Now I’m not sure whether mentoring is meant to include humour but is seems that some of the things I say make Paul laugh. In fact, after he reflects them back to me, we both laugh. The crucial point is that the process results in some understanding on my part and, as a result, a greater determination to tackle whatever the problems are that we’ve met to talk about. Thanks to Paul, I now have a list of practical things to do to unlock some of, what I see as doors, that appear to me to be locked. They aren’t, although I do have to work a little harder to get them to open. Funny how things that I do so easily for others are difficult for me to do for myself. Still, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. So her I go.

Many thanks, my friend. Have a great Xmas and a prosperous new year; the latter of which is somewhere that I hope to join you.

Carpe Diem

Yesterday I tackled another of my demons and once again, it was a scary but, ultimately,  satisfying experience. I was at my monthly Professional Speaking Association meeting which, being Xmas, included some “fun” activities. Among these was working with a group who did improvisation in comedy and singing. Part of this included us volunteering to take part. Now I can’t sing and find that trying to do this in public embarrasses me enormously. So, when they asked us to opt for one or other of the groups, I chose singing. The experience wasn’t easy but I did it and I’m glad that I did. As it is with most of these occasions, the fear is usually worse than the reality.  Also, when I’ve done it, I take that totally for granted. The activity and the achievement are no big deal.During the past year or so, the list of these now includes swimming lessons to overcome my fear of drowning, a 20 minute speaking showcase, a 5 minute comedy slot and, now, the singing. Who says that a leopard can’t change its spots? So, how have I managed to face down these personal demons?

Well, I always knew that they lived in my head, although that didn’t make them any less real. Yet, I am nothing if not someone who gets on with life. I have also always hated having my own internal hurdles to overcome in addition to those that are there anyway in life. After all, you don’t need to make difficult situations worse. In addition, tackling one problem has, probably, made tackling the others easier. So, is there a “secret” to the process?

Well, for me there is and it goes back to the therapy I did and the fact that that has now become self therapy. That helps me to do four things. The first of these is to realise that the fear was always in my head. The second is that it enables me to identify some of the root causes, the third is to know that change is possible and the final one is to have the courage to take the small step that is needed. So, tackle your demons, it will help to open the doors to a more satisfying life. Carpe Diem.


Despite some of the things that have happened to me in life, I actually regard myself as quite lucky; although I realise that, in writing this, I’m making myself a hostage to fortune. I have a great family which I’m very proud of, a wife I regard as my best friend, live in a very nice part of an area that I love, have renovated our flat so that it is how we want it and, without earning a great deal of money from it (yet), do for a living what I wanted to since as long as I can remember. I also have my health. On the downside, I support Spurs, who are currently performing as badly as they have done since I started watching them and show no signs of being able to sort out the mess that is the club. I should also have retired some years ago but still have a mortgage to pay and a young daughter to see through university. So, my point today is?

Well, it’s about perseverance; that determination to keep going and take on new challenges at an age when many opt for cardigan and slippers. What I call “getting on with life”. To me, one of that lucky generation, it seems perfectly natural to do this and to try to continue to live my dreams. We grew up during the staid times that were the 1950’s and lived through the social explosion that was the 1960’s (something I got a slice of in the 70’s). I, therefore, feel an obligation, in later life, to demonstrate what those times were all about. Even more so, given the mean spiritedness of our current government. So, I persevere.

I have to admit that I don’t always find it easy but, as a friend of mine once said, “It beats the alternative”, which is not to keep going. The problem with the latter is that you never know whether your dreams might have come true if you hadn’t kept chasing them. To quote Arnold Palmer, “The harder I practice, the luckier I get”.  Interestingly, I had little idea what I was going to write about today when I started, yet something that I hadn’t expected has happened just because I kept going. So, persevere, it certainly does beat the alternative and it confounds those who don’t think us “ordinary people” can be any better than we are. We can. We just need to show it more often.

A Moral Compass, anyone?

This week Gordon Brown announced his retirement from parliament which prompted the usual comments in the media. These ranged from being someone who was very moody and sullen to the saviour of the world’s economy; a not incompatible combination. However, what was emphasised in some was his strong moral compass. Something I hold to be extremely important. Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If” springs to mind and, interestingly, Steve Bell’s cartoon in this week’s “Guardian” has made use of just that poem.

Now, I have spent much of my life trying to make sense of what was an accidental set of circumstances that affected my life more than I ever imagined. In fact, it’s only now that I am able to admit to myself how devastating the situation was and would continue to be for, probably, a large proportion of my life. My response then and now has always been to get on with it. What my wife calls my incredible perseverance. And the point of this is?  Well, it’s because I feel that it has helped me to develop a strong moral compass, the way I think things should be and how I try to behave, not always successfully I have to admit.

I imagine that most people have such a compass although I have to say that I fail to understand how those of some wealthy and powerful individuals operate. If they act in their private lives in a similar fashion to their public ones, I can’t imagine what their families have to put up with. Perhaps they have a number of moral compasses which operate independently of one another subject to circumstance. As most of these people appear to be male, combined with the fact that I have a high regard for women, I can’t believe that they could be allowed to get away with their public behaviour at home. Coming from a tight knit, working class family, we children always knew where the combined strength of that family lay. The men may have just fought a war and returned to a life of hard, manual work involving long hours and few prospects, but the women were our rock, our harbour. Together they were the real power behind the throne. Yet what they all had in common was that moral compass. It’s probably what made them vote, not for the man who they all believed had saved the country at a time of its greatest peril, but for a Labour government promising a welfare state with its social care for working people.

I realise that times have changed and that we live in a different world today but what I wouldn’t give to have those who govern, or purport to govern, us demonstrate that strong moral compass. I suspect that they’d get more than just my vote. Oh and finally, I think that history will be kinder to the aforementioned Mr Brown who I have always had a sneaking admiration for.

In Praise of Therapy 3

I won’t keep this particular theme going too much longer but feel compelled to write a wee bit about what, I hope, may be the end of a very long road. And there, in my cautiousness, you see one of the problems I would still like to overcome as I have overcome much else that life has thrown at me. To put it more succinctly, I should have more confidence in myself. Which brings me to my point about a particular cliché; the one about the leopard not being able to change its spots.

In its simplistic form, it may appear to be true although, as the spots came about via evolution, presumably they could, over many, many years, mutate into some other form of skin pigmentation. In reality though, the saying is about people not being able to change, something that is simply not so. The cliché is, like many others, an attempt to justify a particular type of behaviour; one of the least appealing is represented in another cliché, “It never did me any harm”. This latter, in my experience, used to justify chastising children,  sending them away to boarding school or any of the other harms that adults inflict on young people. It would appear to me to be self evident that, as you can’t know what might have happened in other circumstances, you also can’t know whether any particular course of action ever did you any harm or not. The saying is often, like many others, an attempt to justify what we want to do anyway.

Now, as someone who has changed somewhat over the years, I have to say that it has been very life affirming experience. It has also been a challenge although one with a very positive outcome.  I used to view my behaviour through a prism that enabled me to see my actions in a certain, self justifying, light. Yes, I may have had a temper, but what you got in exchange was someone who would try to do anything for you. Well, the latter, I hope, is still the same although the former has, largely, gone. The result is that, apart from the fact that I no longer expect people to put up with the bad behaviour, I feel much better about myself. Coincidence? Again, I think not.