Monthly Archives: April 2015

It’s Never Too Late to Challenge Yourself

I have a photo taken on holiday with my aunts, uncles and cousins when I was about nine. It shows all of us together on the beach at Leysdown Holiday Camp. However, one of the children is sitting slightly apart from every else. It has always been a very telling photo for me. Someone choosing to be apart but not really desirous of it. Wanting, in fact, to be welcomed in but more familiar with where he was. And, for human beings, familiarity is what we’re often more comfortable with. Whether it is always good for us is another matter.

So, although I like social gatherings where I can be the centre of attention when I want to be, I have, in fact, always been a bit of a loner. I do indeed like my own company and thought that that meant that I was happy in my own skin. This was combined with strong feelings about injustice which has, likely, pushed me into helping people on the receiving end in our society, to help themselves. It is, therefore, no coincidence that I am fascinated by the history of the mutual self help movement in this country and have written a book about it.  I have also never been very good at small talk, the day to day conversations that most people engage in. Life for me, although a great deal of fun, has always been a fairly serious business. The problem with these feelings and one’s manner as a result is that, subconsciously, people pick up on them and you stay a little on the outside. Networking, therefore, has been uncomfortable for me.

Well, a few years ago that changed, when I experienced empathy in meeting a friend of my youngest daughter. I knew that it was different because I felt his emotions. As I told my wife, “I’ve discovered empathy and it hurts. How do I put it back?”

So, why am I writing this now? Well, because recently things have changed even more. Someone who finds it very difficult to ask for help is starting to do so. Either that or people are seeing beyond the front which, I suspect, many did anyway. This seems to be having an effect. A little over a month ago, colleagues at the Professional Speaking Association (I suspect that it was Nicci and Michael, to whom many thanks are due) put my name forward to speak before a group of people who book speakers. The responses were very positive which encouraged me to contact a couple of the panel. The result has been that I am now “on their radar” and am working to get gigs because of this. I have also been invited to speak at another conference next week.

I think that this is called networking and it’s not so scary after all. Who’d have thought it?


Think First then Vote

Shirkers v strivers, immigrants are after our benefits, politicians are self serving and useless, bankers are greedy, footballers are louts, policemen are corrupt and things used to be better in my day. Don’t these phrases roll easily off the tongue for some people? Yet is there much truth in any them?

Now, it may be that some people do fit the stereotypical view that many of us have of them; however, using that to categorise them all seems to me to say more about the mindset of those making such comments than those who are the target. And I include myself, not a stranger to railing against perceived injustice, in this. Yet I also have a predilection to challenging myself and my views, a useful trait, I find. That doesn’t mean to say that my basic beliefs have changed much since I was 18. As anyone who knows me will tell you, I tend towards the “From each according to their means and to each according to their needs” school of thought. Indeed, I can find little in the way of moral argument to justify any other reasoning for dividing up the planet’s resources. Of course, if it was true that those who are wealthy got there through ability, sheer hard work and effort, there may be the basis for such an argument. However, research seems to show that talent is fairly equally spread throughout society, whereas the resources to develop it aren’t. Apart from the iniquity of the situation for all of us as individuals, it is surely better for society that we develop as much talent as possible so that we can make the best use of it. So, what has all this got to do with my opening paragraph?

Well, it’s about categorisation and using that to divide. Divide and rule, in fact. So I reject the idea that we, in England, have more in common with one another because of our nationality than we do with those in similar circumstances in Germany, France or any other country you care to mention. The reality of the situation is that those who are extremely wealthy have more in common with one another no matter what country they hail from. Similarly with those who are poor, have a disability, are unemployed or almost any other situations that people find themselves in. The commonality is more one of circumstance than the accident that is the country of birth.

The reality of this can be demonstrated by using examples within my own experience; the world of a football supporter. Supporters tend to behave somewhat tribally especially when the opposition is local, eg Spurs v Arsenal. In the wider world, however, people who follow football, irrespective of the club that they support, have more in common with one another than with those who don’t. Their love of the game and the artistry of its best players being just two examples. As well as moaning about the inadequacies of their respective managers.

So, this is a plea that we should dispense with easy slogans and prejudice and try to think through the logic of our beliefs. Certainly with the forthcoming election only a few blogs away. People died so that we could have the vote so, please use it and vote, even if it’s a matter of spoiling your ballot paper. Preferable, though, to actually vote for a party that does, at least, seem to comprise MP’s who were born on the same planet. Another five years of this lot doesn’t bear thinking about.

The Measure of Success

On Saturday my wife and I travelled to a family commemoration near Bolton. It was to celebrate the life of her uncle, Tommy, a former GP, who had died the previous week aged 94. Such occasions are, inevitably, tinged with sadness and this one was no exception. However, like a similar event at the death of my own uncle, Bill, it truly was a celebration of a life.

At Bill’s funeral, I remember the family gathering in the house waiting for the hearse. This duly arrived and the undertaker walked towards the front door only to turn around and walk away. When he was called back, he commented that he thought he was at the wrong house because of all the laughter emanating from it. Bill would have loved that. Both the laughter and the surreal nature of the situation. Bill and his wife, Doreen, looked after me for five years and I remember him as a quietly dependable rock with a wonderfully dry sense of humour and an inexhaustible amount of patience. I was the lucky recipient of that and his and Doreen’s values have shaped my life; something that pleases me greatly.

Tommy’s commemoration was not as noisy although, in keeping with the man, it was just as humorous. Many stories were told of his quest for knowledge and enthusiasm for life. Traits I very much relate to as, to me, they are central to our existence. Tears and laughter were combined; indeed they became one as the stories unfolded. What was wonderful to see was his children reaching out to touch one another in comfort and support as they each spoke of their memories of their father. It was as if I was seeing them together as the children they had once been. It was also sad, in that a cornerstone of their lives was no longer in place. They may have been adults for many years but still adults who were children to a father. They now have to get on with their lives without that presence but, always, with the influence he left behind. Once the sadness has passed, however, the influence will remain and will be passed onto successive generations to help shape their lives as well.

When Gaynor and I left, we took with us a little booklet as a memory of Tommy’s life. In addition to family photos and an excerpt, “Sing Ho for the life of a bear” from “The House at Pooh Corner”, it contained a poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “What is Success?” In it, he writes of laughing often and loving much before moving on to the part I really like and which Tommy’s family obviously felt related very much to him.

“To find the best in others

To give one’s self

To leave the world a better place, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition

To have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation”


And, lastly and most importantly,


“To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived

This is to have succeeded”


Isn’t that why we’re here?

The Value of Perseverance

I have written previously of what my wife calls my “incredible perseverance”. This weekend she amended that slightly and described it as “doggedness” which, as I pointed out, might be the opposite of “cattedness”; a quality that seems not to be so appealing. Somehow I prefer the idea of just keeping going when others might not. In my head, the point about the first two descriptions is that they are positive qualities whereas as the latter is simply about not being beaten. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence, therefore, that one of my favourite films is “Cool Hand Luke”.

The point of this introduction is that, after a couple of years of hard work, my doggedness may just be starting to pay off. I now have two voluntary organisations which have been offered funding for work which I can now carry out and some speaking gigs now in hand, including one at the BBC. I have also drawn up a specific project which I am offering to schools and have had some positive responses. Lastly, my lovely wife is talking the first steps towards her new career.

She too seems to have some of that perseverance which she attributes to me. Certainly, it is a quality that she had put to good use during the early years of our relationship. Perhaps it just takes one to know one.

Are Grandchildren a Parent’s Way of Getting Their Own Back?

In my mid 30’s, following my divorce, I moved to Harrogate where, initially, I had some very unhappy times. It was the late 1970’s and behind the town’s genteel facade, there was a small environmental, community arts and music scene which I got involved in. They were formative years for me during which I brought up my children and tried to do something with my life. What I did there has led me to where I am today and I now have fonder memories of both the times and the place.

So much so that, just occasionally, I get an overpowering feeling of wanting to be back. It is, in fact, more than just a feeling, it’s a deep need. It’s something I can’t explain except to say that, for just a short while, I really do need to be there and not where I am now. Anyway, the feeling passes and I return to the present to continue the more contented and productive life I now lead. And, perhaps, my problem lies in those feelings of greater contentment. They have taken me years to get used to and, to be honest, I’m still not there; perhaps that’s what still drives me.

I go back to Harrogate every six weeks or so to see those children and their children; my grandchildren and still feel torn when I leave. Well, Gaynor and I have just got back from a five day visit during which I had an even stronger feeling about the past. This wasn’t just déjà vu but a real replaying of an old film in my head. Only this time I really was there, in 1979. In those days, my children, Tracey and Matt, used to play out with their mates a lot. In fact, we all remember that, during the summer, they were always out just coming home when they were hungry.

Well, last week I was staying with Matt, who now has custody of his son, Michael, and, I feel, that it has been the making of both of them. When I got there, I asked Matt where Michael was to be told that he was out with his mates. A while later, the door opened and in came Michael, now 13 himself, with his mates. “Hi, grandad”. “Hello, Michael”. He wasn’t in the house long and they all left. With a “Bye, grandad”, he waved. “Bye, Michael” as I waved back. The latter accompanied with me, literally, being that parent from 36 years ago watching my son and his mates troop out. Accompanied by a feeling of, somewhat, bemused pride. Bemusement from the fact that I wasn’t needed as much but with pride that my children took my being there for granted. My son, I know, feels exactly the same way.