Monthly Archives: January 2015

Making the Change

When he was a young man, Michael Heseltine is reputed to have written on a scrap paper that he wanted to be Prime Minister by a certain age. Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe are said to have had tennis racquets in their hands before they were five years of age and Mozart wrote his first piece of music in 1761, when he was five. I, on the other hand, didn’t publish my first two books until I was 71, having started writing properly when I was 64. At an age when, according the The Beatles, I should have been “Doing the gardening, digging the weeds. Who could ask for more?” Well, I certainly can, although I don’t think about asking, it’s about doing. “Do not go gentle into that goodnight” is, I think, a good way of describing the situation. In fact, it describes my attitude quite well. After all, it’s probably too late when they actually nail the coffin lid down. So, where am I going with this?

Well, I’ve never had great ambition or set myself goals in the way that Mr Heseltine did. However, I do keep going and keep challenging myself and, as my regular readers will know, have spent some years in therapy trying to sort my life out. It has, if nothing else, been a fascinating detective story. It has, however, been so much more and, as a result of working out what that childhood did to me, I have been able to change my behaviour and my life. It has been a very rewarding and satisfying experience and it is no coincidence that I am now doing things I’ve long dreamt of but felt that weren’t for the likes of me. I still have a long way to go but I now know that the hardest glass ceilings to break through are those you impose upon yourself. Interestingly, I used to worry that this process would take the edge off me. That bolshie little bugger who wouldn’t give up. Well, it hasn’t. More contented I may be but that hasn’t come at the expense of the perseverance and some determination.

So, the next time that you think that your life could be more than it is, forget for a while the injustices out there and try to work out what stops you, on the inside. Then take just one little step in the direction you think you’d like to go. It may be scary and you may have commitments that hold you back. However, no one else can do it for you. Lastly, remember that, if you don’t do anything, then nothing is likely to change. And remember that coffin lid!

Is the Prevailing Wisdom About to be Challenged? 

I read somewhere that there is an old Chinese proverb along the lines, “May you live in interesting times”. Quite what the point of the saying is, I’ve no idea. That we live in interesting times, however, I don’t doubt. What is really interesting is that we may see the prevailing and generally accepted political wisdom really being tested with the results of the election in Greece. As I write, a left of centre party has formed a coalition with, what is described as, a populist right wing party. That should certainly, as my Aunt Doreen used to say, “Set the cat amongst the pigeons”. It may just be that we might actually get to that point at which, to quote Pablo Iglesias of Podemus, a new Spanish left wing party, “You realise that the key to success is to achieve a connection between the reality that you have diagnosed and what the majority feels”. Now I know that I’m giving away my age now (as if I’ve ever kept it quiet) but that’s exactly what the Labour Party did in 1948 when it created the Welfare State and its flagship NHS. So, not only is it possible but, as in so many other matters, it happened first in these small islands just off the European mainland.

Whether it was before the Russians, the French or the Americans, we had the first revolution. What else would you call it when we beheaded the king and became a republic? For some reason, we prefer to call it the Civil War; some years after which we handed it back. The old dictum, “Always remember to hold onto nurse, for fear of finding something worse” obviously prevailed. Furthermore, even that wasn’t our first revolution as you’ll discover if you just read your history.

So what many having been preaching for most of their lives, the idea that “business isn’t everything” may just be starting to sink in. Vital, it may be, but it needs a purpose other than just profit for profits sake which sometimes seems to be the ethos behind many of the multinationals today. Now I don’t normally call on the Queen to bolster my arguments, however I do in this case. In 2102, in a reference to the near economic collapse of six years ago, she is reported to have asked Central Bank officials why no one had seen it coming. So why should their solutions today have any greater relevance than their lack of foresight then?

We do, indeed, live in interesting times. The important part, however, is coming through them without destroying the very fabric of our society in the process. After all “the operation was a success although the patient is dead”, doesn’t seem a useful measure to me. Many of us believe that more and more austerity is not the answer and that a change of direction for this country might not go amiss. Interesting times indeed.

Is This It?

Does anyone out there think that this is the best we can do? By which I mean, couldn’t things be different, couldn’t life be better for the majority of the population of this country? After all, is this what you envisaged when you were younger? Not only that but we have it on good authority, the Chancellor of the Exchequer no less, that, if the Tories get back in after the election, there will be even greater austerity. So you can’t say that you haven’t been warned. However, what we should be asking ourselves is why does this appear to be the only option on the table? Is it really not possible, in the seventh richest economy in the world, to have a society which generates sufficient wealth to meet the needs of the majority of its citizens while making the use of their unrealised potential? A potential that Jesse Norman, MP and I believe to enormous. The word Mr Norman uses is “vast”.

Well, if you accept what research seems to show, ie that the single biggest factor that decides your future is the family that you were brought up in and their wealth and that this is surely followed by the education we provide for our children, then these are something that we should concentrate our resources on. We should also include in this a decent health service followed by decent transport facilities. That will do for a start. Research also shows that our NHS is among the best and the cheapest in the world especially compared to privately financed services. What was good old fashioned British Rail was considerably cheaper to run than its privately owned successor with a subsidy from the taxpayer now considerably more than it was previously. The plethora of academies and free schools are no better than the local authority supported model that most of us still use. In fact privatising and fragmenting all of these has been more expensive and less effective. Yet each of them used to contribute to what I believe is, to quote Billy Bragg, “Sweet moderation, heart of this nation”. Can we not, in fact, have a society that utilises our virtues of caring and sharing and not our vices of greed and avarice as its motivating forces? Well, we can because we had much of that in the period from the end of the WW2 until the 1980’s.

The problem is that to get back to where we were will probably need more money to be generated from our taxes. It may just be that that is the price we have to pay for living in a civilised society. Will any political party please start that debate? They daren’t, because they fear political suicide. Yet, until we do, the present system will prevail. Unfortunately, we all know that it is unsustainable and we put that debate off until next time while we slide further towards a society that can’t even meet the basic needs of those who most need it. It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic.

Pessimism and Optimism

I woke up this morning to a series of news reports. The first is that the eighty richest people on the planet currently own the same wealth as the poorest half of the world’s population; a mere 3.5 billion people. The second is that, according to a report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, four out of ten British families live below an income level that allows them to maintain a basic standard of living. This in the seventh richest economy in the world. I also hear the prime minister calling for British businesses to increase the wages of their staff and pay the living wage as those businesses enjoy record profits in the wake of the fall in oil prices. I ask him two questions. Is he not the person who runs the government and, if he feels that the government has no role to play in this area, what does he think his job is?

Rant over and, perhaps, because of those reports, you are going to get some optimism from me. Possibly on the basis that, when you reach the bottom, the only way is up. The trouble with that homily, is that how do you know what really is the bottom? Still, as you have to start somewhere, I can describe a number of such bottoms in my own life. Starting with the death of my mum when I was five and may father fostering me out so that he could get married again, followed by my divorce in my mid 30’s, the breakup of a long term relationship and a breakdown ten years later and, lastly, leaving a charity I had rescued and run for ten years, under circumstances that I would not have chosen, the week before Xmas at the turn of the millennium. Yet, I consider myself quite lucky. Why should this be so? Well, for a number of reasons, the first of which is that I have managed to overcome whatever has been thrown at me. I am, if nothing else, resilient. The second is that I have learnt lessons such that I have changed my life and, as a result, am now happily married to my best friend.

Well, that’s you, you may say. Indeed, it’s exactly what I used to do. The life I now live wasn’t for the likes of me. In fact, I still pinch myself occasionally. Well, it’s never too late if you really want to change. The secret, if there is any, it to actually do something practical about it in a series of manageable stages such that you can step back if you’ve made a wrong move. I, for example, didn’t think I could write a book until I just got on with it and started writing. That was two published and one, soon to be published, books ago. I also took up public speaking two years ago. All at an age where most of my peers have opted for cardigan and slippers,

So, from a situation in which I was an unemployed, single parent living on benefits in a rundown terraced house, I am doing what I always dreamt of. There is no reason why you can’t do the same; other than the limitations you impose on yourself and the state of the country today. You may not be able to do much about the latter. The former, however, is in your own hands. Take that first small step. After all, if you are at the bottom, what have you got to lose?

No One is an Island

An expression which I hold to be the truism that it so obviously is. Although, of course, many of us spend much of our lives trying to act as if we were, islands, that is. Mostly, I believe, to our personal detriment. After all, human beings are social animals and to choose not to be so, to my mind, requires effort, even if it is subconscious. That, however, is not to say that each of us isn’t responsible for our own actions. In fact, unless we have some sort of disability which helps to determine those actions, we are. I would describe the situation as being responsible for your own actions while having responsibilities towards others. The starting point of which should be treating others as you, yourself, would like to be treated.

Now, I may be old fashioned, although I think not, but I still believe that most of us are decent, honest people just trying to get by in life. Furthermore, that those who, wilfully, aren’t  comprise a very small section of the population. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that people who do behave in this way can only get away with it because of the inherent decency of everyone else. Unfortunately, they have the capacity to cause disproportionate damage. Need it be that way? I think not.

Experience has shown me that some people are very self motivated while others may be less so. Also, that individuals may be motivated by different things and that that motivation may change during their lives. I also believe in, what I have heard described as “the extraordinary talents of ordinary people”. This in relation to a group of people who were homeless and unemployed who built their own sustainable homes. I would also use it to describe a group of people with special needs who, in 1991, built their own horticultural training centre. These projects demonstrate the vast amount of untapped talent in this country which we need to release both for the good of those concerned and society as a whole. So, why are we governed by people who don’t seem to see this and appear to view life so differently to the rest of us? Well, that tells me more about the people they, themselves, mix with than it does about how the rest of us behave. What wouldn’t any of us give, though, for a government that actually helped people to develop those untapped talents and, in doing so, create a better world?

Oh, and if you should want to read about the schemes I mentioned and how we might start to create that society, my first book, “The Real Big Society and My Part In It” is available on Amazon and in Kindle format. Happy reading.


I Think, Therefore, I am

A simple statement that, I hope, defines humanity.  It is, of course, a quote from Rene Descartes, a French philosopher in the 17th century, somewhat appropriate given recent events. Well, I can’t answer for everyone else but it certainly defines my own view of myself; the ability to think. What my wife calls “my insatiable quest for knowledge.” That quest, of course, carried out through reading and analysing the resultant information. Something that, in certain areas, some people would like to prohibit. I think not.

Now, if you are going to curb freedom of speech, on what basis do you justify your actions? Well, very few actually and, certainly, the fact that it might offend someone should not be among them. After all, who knows what might offend some people? Yes, Mr Angry of Tunbridge Wells, I’m talking about you! So, how do you make your own judgement about what you should and shouldn’t say?

Well, when I first joined the army at 15, among the things we were told was that we shouldn’t argue about politics and religion. Something that I have been doing for much of my life. Such censorship has, of course, a rationale behind it. If you don’t argue about such matters, then little changes and the status quo is maintained. The latter, of course, being precisely the point. My own guidelines, for what they are worth, are that the only comments that are subject to restraint are those related to circumstances under which those experiencing them have no control.  Thus, women, people of different skin colours, those who are gay and lesbian, people with special needs shouldn’t be discriminated against because of their circumstances. All else is up for debate. In these times, we all need to be Charlie.


The Right to Comment

“Comment is free but facts are sacred” is a quote attributed to C P Snow, once Editor of the Manchester Guardian.  Not is seems for some people who appear to think that their beliefs are sacrosanct. Now the trouble with beliefs is, often, that is all they are. Little or no evidence is required in support of them. After all, many people on this planet appear to believe in invisible, omnipotent, supernatural beings. Having, for the most part, reduced this compendium of gods to one, they seem remarkably resistant to discarding that final one. Now the main problem with the suspension of belief, that religion requires, is that it then allows you to believe anything and act in any way that your particular interpretation of those beliefs allows. Without any evidence whatsoever that any particular supernatural being actually exists.  Personally, I stopped having imaginary friends when I was 9.

By a strange coincidence, on the morning of the murders in France, The Guardian featured a new photograph of the “Pillars of Creation”, an accretion of gas and dust situated in the Eagle Nebula some 6,500 light years away. This area appears to be a nursery for the formation of new stars and, indeed, the photo shows some of these. Why do I relate these two subjects? Well, because I prefer evidence on which to make the important decisions in my life and science, I find, is, at least, capable of helping to provide these. After all, the Higgs Boson was proposed 50 years ago as a solution to the problem of mass. And, thanks to the Large Hadron Collider, it has now been discovered, proving the proposition. Oh and by the way, if anyone should think that I’m fixated on science, I would recommend “Christian Beginnings” or any other book on early Christianity and Judaism by Geza Vermes and “Heaven On Earth” by Sadakat Kadri.

I end with two questions. Can anyone please explain how a supernatural being who, supposedly, created a universe that is nearly 14 billion years old along with all the wonders in it, is really so petty minded as to be bothered with the minutiae of any individual’s sex life?  Also, if you find it difficult to comprehend a “big bang” as the basis of the creation of this universe and need something(presumably god)that must have been around to do that, then who created that god? The question is relevant to both propositions. Science, I find, does, at least, address the questions.

Wonderland and Magic  

Well it’s Monday 5 January and the festive season is finally over.  I write these words with some regret as I love this time of year. We get to spend unfettered time with our families, give each other presents and relax. To me it’s like a little bit of Wonderland, what’s not to like? Especially as much of the rest of the year can be a struggle at times.

That sense of the wonderful was further reinforced for me as I watched Spurs play their Xmas and New Year matches. Admittedly, they were at home but against Manchester United and Chelsea? I fully expected them to lose both by some margin. Well, life can fulfil your dreams sometimes as they drew to United (and could have won) and thrashed Chelsea. Wonder of wonders.  The satisfaction levels for the latter, which I watched on television with my son, were represented in the volume of our jubilation. Good times indeed.

So, back to work with some determination to make this the year that I actually increase my income from speaking and writing. Having been good at creating little bits of Wonderland for others in my 30 odd years in the voluntary sector, I now plan to do that for myself, financially. I have a number of gigs lined up, my third book, “Lessons from a Chequered Life” is nearly finished and I have drawn up, what I think is called, a “business model”. That is how I can make more money and from which clients. Watch this space at the beginning of next year. In the meantime, try to live your dreams as I am living mine.