Monthly Archives: February 2015

Being at Ease with Yourself

I am very conscious of being, what I call, one of the lucky generation. The offspring of a generation that fought in the greatest war in history and who came home determined that life was going to be different afterwards; for them and their children. My generation may have lived through the Cold War but we also had the welfare state with its concern for its citizens.  Fifteen years later, the social and cultural explosion that was the 1960’s took place. They were good times to be alive with their optimism and hope for the future. They now seem light years away and the world appears to be more dangerous and this country more troubled. Now you may feel that you can do little about the state of the country or the world (not quite true), however, you can do something for yourself which may put more positivity into your own life. So, I write in a spirit of determined optimism in the hope that some of it might rub off.

How many people can say that they are truly at ease with themselves and/or their circumstances? The two, of course, not necessarily being the same thing although they may well be related to one another. I suspect that the answer is not as many as we would hope it to be. Whether it’s not having enough money, being in a relationship that isn’t as good as you’d like it to be, not being happy with your job or just feeling that life could be better, the chances are that most of us have experienced all or one of these at some time as I did for many years. Need it be that way? Well, if I’m any sort of example, the answer is a very clear no. My life is now very different from the way is was for me for many, many years. I’m doing things that I always dreamt of and am determined to do more; consequently, I have no plans to retire. After a series of failed relationships, I have been happily married for twenty years (I just hope my wife feels the same way) and live in an area that I love. Unfortunately, I still worry but, hey ho, you can’t have everything. In my defence, I do this a great deal less that I used to.

How has all this happened? Well, by taking a good look at myself and the reasons why I felt and behaved the way I did. Identifying the causes helped me to address the problems. The result is that I feel much more comfortable in my own skin. Among other things, that means that I don’t waste my energy on dealing with my personal history every day and have more to spend on doing those things I long dreamt of. In short, I complain less and do more by being more effective.

There appear to be no losers in this game. Yes, there are glass ceilings in this world but the hardest to crack are the ones we create for ourselves. Right now, I’m breaking through another one. I can tell by how difficult it is by how much I keep prevaricating. I will, however, persevere. There is no magic wand to wave; there is, however, just getting on with what you really want to do. This latter typified for me in a radio programme I listened to some years ago. An author was being interviewed and someone said. “I’ve always wanted to write but how do I do it?” His reply was straightforward. “You could start by just writing”.

What is it that they say about the longest journey starting with one small step?


The Things You Say Apply to You As Well  

I am often prone to not seeing what, to others, may seem blindingly obvious; but, aren’t we all?  Also, in my public speaking and writing, I usually talk about how, for most of us, perception can be more important than fact. I should listen to myself more often. So, once again, where am I going with this?

Well, having decided to start a new career some three years ago, I’ve found that this has proven to be more difficult than it has in the previous five changes since I left school; incidentally, a school I am about to give a talk to next month. Now, there are likely to be a number of reasons for this, among which are the austere times we live in and my belief that what you do and the standards you try to adhere are more important than your personality. The latter of these is, however, something that I have, reluctantly, come around to seeing as as daft as it sounds. Hence, the recent change of perception on my part. This came to its final realisation on Saturday at a meeting of the Professional Speaking Association, of which I am a member. Now, like most people trying to build a new business, you have to identify your market and, at last, I think that I have managed to do that. Which is where another piece of the jigsaw has fallen into place.

My skills are in quite a number of areas, so how best to describe what I do to potential clients? Well, probably foremost among those skills is my ability, I hope, to help people, especially those on the receiving end in today’s society, to realise that they have potential and identify what that may be in order to help them to develop it. This, however, is not confined just to those people. We all have talents that we don’t develop because life gets in the way. In the voluntary sector where I have spent much of my life, that would come under the banner of community involvement. Unfortunately, one of the reasons that I needed to build a new career is that this sort of work dried up as a source of income with the cutbacks of the past five years.

Well, at the meeting, the lovely Steve Bustin was giving a presentation about using the media. Among the things he did was to describe the sort of things that have moved up the agenda recently; one of which was “social engagement”. A penny dropped. Isn’t that just what I specialise in? And isn’t one of my main aims to get people from all walks of life to work together breaking down some of our social barriers? So the actuality of what I do hasn’t changed although my perception (and description) of it has. Many thanks, Steve, for that little nugget of information. It has given me just the push I needed. At which point, I touch wood.


When I Google the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of morality, it is described as “principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour”. Personally I like a, reputed, quote from Oscar Wilde, “Morality, like art, means drawing a line somewhere”. Those who, like me, love the written word will note the vagueness of the word “somewhere” in combination with the definitiveness of “drawing a line”. I suspect that, for most of us, there is also a line to be drawn under our individual concepts of right and wrong. Furthermore that we’re aware of when we cross that line and don’t need an outside entity to keep us on the straight and narrow.

In addition, I hope, for most of us that that line remains fairly constant throughout the various areas of our lives. For example, I would tend to avoid lecturing people on the selfishness of not having children while remaining celibate myself. That’s not to say I don’t err because I do. What I also do, though, is know when I’ve done so while trying to keep within my own moral boundaries. I suspect that the way it is for most of us. After all, if it wasn’t, society would function even less well than it does at present. Moral values are probably the glue that keeps it all together. Indeed, I’m reminded, some years ago, of listening to an ex prisoner on the radio talking about life inside. Among the things he said was that, if those in prison really wanted to make life difficult for the staff, by sheer weight of numbers, they could probably do so. Yet, in the main, they didn’t. This, he felt, was largely due to the acceptance, by most of the prisoners, that they needed to pay for what they’d done. So moral values permeate even those places where you might least expect them to.

As you might anticipate, in my life in the voluntary sector, I usually found the moral compasses of those I worked with to be quite powerful. It is, after all, work where you don’t expect to earn a great deal of money but do expect to do something that helps others. The work involved an acceptance of certain unspoken conditions, much as, in other circumstances, it did for those prisoners. Now I may be a little naive but aren’t most of us like that? Importantly, should we be managing large or important organisations, if we’re not?



You Couldn’t Make It Up

MP’s expenses scandal

Phone hacking by the press

Police collusion in this

Celebrity, Church and other paedophiles

Institutional child abuse

Bank failure

Economic incompetence that led to the near collapse of our financial system

Current HSBC allegations on tax avoidance

If they wrote a novel or made a film of all this, you would have said that it was preposterous. Yet it appears to be the way that many of the “great and the good” behave, until they’re found out to be “not so good”. So, unfortunately, it’s all too real. Meanwhile the rest of us get on with our lives, making a living, doing something that’s worthwhile and raising our families. Why are we so badly let down by these people?

I really can’t be bothered to write any more today as I’m taking a few days’ break. The lovely Paul Flowers will cat/flat sit for us and I hope to return after the weekend in a better frame of mind. I know I will because isn’t that what we always do? Just get on with it and try to make things better. To quote an old army phrase “Non illegitimae carborundum”, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”. I’m a bit too stubborn and enjoying of life to let them as I hope you all are.

Happy half term.

The Changing of the Guard?

At Saturday lunchtime, I turned on to BT Sport to watch Spurs play their arch rivals, Arsenal in the local derby match. Now, as a long time Spurs’ supporter, I live more in hope than expectation. It felt similar for this match, although there was more of the latter and less of the former than in previous matches. After all, hadn’t Spurs hammered Chelsea recently? There is always, however, as with any Tottenham supporter, that nagging doubt. How will we contrive to blow it this time? After all, this is the club that, if memory serves me well, was winning 5-1 at home to Aston Villa, only to draw 5-5 and that only as a result of one of our defenders clearing a potential match winner off the line. It was also the club that was 3-0 up against Manchester United only to lose 3-5. Spurs’ fans have trepidation built into their genes. Could that be about to change?

Well, it was the manner of the wins of late that make me think that it just might. Spurs of old weren’t as fit as some of their rivals and they tended to rely on the individual genius of players bought in, such as the brilliant and much lamented Dimitar Berbatov. All that now swept away with home grown youngsters, relentless effort, teamwork and no little skill. Not that a Luka Modric, working his magic in the middle of the park, would go amiss.

It is, however, somewhat ironic that among the first matches that this “new” Spurs should be on display should be that against Arsenal. Now Arsene Wenger has been a progressive and civilising force in English football for the past 16 years. Not only in the football that the team played, but in their training, diet and everything else. What, I suppose, is called a holistic approach. Now, I realise that it may sound heretical, coming from a Spurs’ supporter, but Professor Wenger’s teams have produced some lovely football during his tenure. Indeed, it’s why one of the books I’m writing is entitled “Why Don’t You Just Support Arsenal?” This being my wife’s response to my complaints after I had come home from watching them lose, yet again, on TV in the local pub,

Well, I do believe that what I witnessed on Saturday was a changing of the guard. As, I think, someone once said to Tony Blair, “You were the future once”. As was the Professor. Maybe that is about to change, although only time will tell. However, what is evident is that there is now a new breed of young managers of whom Mauricio Pochettino is one. He has already changed the football culture at Spurs, much as Arsene Wenger did all those years ago at their rivals. Is the guard really changing? Well I think it just might be.

It Doesn’t Have to be This Way

Even at my, somewhat, advanced age, there are still things that I find it difficult to get my head around. Some I tend to ignore as there are so many more important things in life to concern myself with; other than the idiot who walked straight out in front of my car this morning with his eyes firmly fixed on his mobile phone. Obviously the content of the message was more important than his life. If he carries on like that my genes are more likely to survive than his. Ain’t evolution wonderful?

Other matters, however, do concern me; among the foremost of which is what I read and hear about today’s workplace culture. Now, I am one of that lucky generation who lived through the 60’s, found my metier during the 70’s and have managed to keep going. Not only that but I have been even more lucky in that, for most of the past 35 years, I have done for a living what I’ve enjoyed doing anyway. Furthermore, during that time I have hardly ever been bored. How many people can say that today?

Which leads me to, what it is that the new generation can expect and the answer, from what I read is, very little? If they don’t go on to further education, the likelihood is unemployment or work in some sort of service industry, either on a zero hours contract or low wages and a long working day. If they do go to university, they may still be unemployed but with a large debt that, even the government acknowledges, will never be paid back and, thus, have to be written off. And that’s just those in work. Those on benefits, which now, of course includes many of those actually working but on low wages, will find an even greater reduction in their living standards as even more cuts are pushed through.

Is this the best that the sixth richest economy in the world can offer? Where is hope and aspiration in all this? Sadly lacking it would seem. I mention this latter soon after the anniversary of the death of Winston Churchill who steered us through what was, probably, the darkest period in this county’s modern history. What he offered was “blood, toil, tears and sweat” plus, of course an enormous amount of hope. That helped to defeat the largest war machine in the world up to that time.

I write though, not as an old romantic, as I freely confess to being (ask my wife), but because hope and aspiration are what keeps us going during the bad times. Without them, we’re lost. And I don’t want to see a lost generation. Need it be so? Well, I think, very definitely, not. This country of ours is crying out for a government that will develop the untapped potential of all its citizens for the good of all its citizens. Where we, truly, are “all in it together” and I watch with interest what is going to happen now that the Greeks and the Spanish are, finally saying, “enough is enough”. Maybe the tide is starting to turn at last. At least, that’s my hope.

Be Your Own Role Model

The weekend’s newspapers contained so many stories about what is wrong with the world that I felt that a bout of optimism was required. And not just optimism for its own sake but based on what I’ve seen and done. So here goes.

Having worked for many years in the voluntary sector where, among other things, I ran a charity which helped people who were homeless and unemployed to build their own homes, I think I know something about the art of the possible. I also know that believing that you can actually do something is, probably, 80% of the solution. That and a little bit of determination and perseverance. Now, for most of us, the latter of these is a given. After all, we get up each morning to face a new day and get on with whatever it throws at us. Although there may be little alternative, that’s called perseverance. It’s really just another way of saying that you get on with it. So, let’s move onto determination. Well, most of us probably have that too. To test that out, don’t think of all the things that you told yourself that you’d do and didn’t (usually called New Year resolutions), but try to think of things that you just did and don’t think of it as determination. After all, if you’ve got children, you are likely to have developed the quality to quite a marked degree. More generally, you only have to look at how few people smoke these days to realise that they’ve kicked one of the most addictive drugs there is. That takes quite a bit of determination.

In my own case, the determination I witnessed was Gaynor’s, now my wife. Having had an unsuccessful first marriage and then gone on to bring my children up, I’d been there, done it and got the T shirt. So, many years later when I met someone else who wanted a family, it was a no go. Gaynor didn’t make a big deal about it but did ask, occasionally, if I’d changed my mind. The answer was always “No”. Until one day when I couldn’t really think of a good reason why not. The result is my second daughter, Ellie, now at university. It’s what I call “one of my better decisions”. Quiet determination won the day and I’m very glad that it did. Ellie still loves the story of how her mum insisted that she be born.

The last piece of the jigsaw, however, believing that you can do it, is by far the most difficult. Until you do something quite simple. Get a piece of paper and a pen and write down what you want to do; that big task. Then break it down into very small stages and start by doing the first of these; this might be as straightforward as googling some information. Then move onto the next and so on. Something you know you can do that because we’ve already established that you can persevere. In that way, you make climbing a mountain into a series of small steps, each one manageable. The journey will, likely, do a number of things. It will either help you to reach your goal or take you somewhere else. More importantly, it will help you to believe. The secret of success.

Finally, I heard somewhere that, many years ago, of a swimmer who wanted to win an Olympic gold medal but was a long way off the time  he needed. His coach asked him if he could improve the following day by 0.01 of a second. Of course he could. “Well if you can do that every day for the next two years” said the coach, “you’ll smash the current Olympic record”. I’m told that he did. Heroes and heroines, after all, aren’t necessarily special people but often ordinary people who’ve done extraordinary things. A group homeless people who did featured on “Grand Designs Revisited”. Check out the programme on Hedgehog Self Build Group. They did it and became role models for their own children. Not a bad legacy to leave.