Monthly Archives: January 2016

Need a Double Lifetime

For years I would tell friends that I’ve learnt so much in this life that I needed another one in order to put it all to good use. So, imagine my joy a few years ago, when I bought a Loudon Wainwright album to listen to him singing about the same thing. Terry Pratchett expressed much the same sentiment when he said, “Too much universe, too little time”.

Now, it would be wonderful to have that second (and third) lifetime if only to see humans travel to other planets and discover even more of the sheer wonder that is our universe. I realise, of course, that that period is likely to see humanity destroying even more of the only home it has. However, I’d still rather be alive to see it than not. Not that death itself frightens me although the thought of ceasing to exist certainly does. I am, unfortunately, sufficiently conceited that I can’t contemplate life without me in it. Yet, some time ago, I passed the point at which I was nearer the end of that life than the beginning, so it was good to have a friend describe me as someone to whom age was just a number. Well, much as I’d like that to be true, I am conscious of having less of that time in front of me with much still to do. So, I will persevere.

So, it was good to have another friend tell me yesterday that he was amazed at my energy; something I fail to recognise. We talked of our plans for the future and the changes that we’d like to make and, as I did so, I felt something inside asking me if I really wanted to start something new at my age. It was probably that five year old who I’ve been looking after for more years than I care to remember. As I usually do, I gave myself a little time to think although I already knew what the answer would be. Is there an alternative?

Now I really do need that double lifetime.

The Importance of Self Belief

Like many others, I can be a mass of contradictions. On second thoughts, amend that to used to be. You see the person who, more than anyone else, stopped me doing what I wanted to, was me. For years I never saw it and made up for the lack that I felt with a curious combination of arrogance and humility. The latter was genuine while the former was a cover for all the insecurities lay just below the surface. In addition, I had a need to organise (a good trait) but also to compartmentalise (not necessarily good). The latter may have helped me cope but it was also very inhibiting. In fact, it actually prevented me from doing some things and enjoying others. Yet, at a rather later stage in my life than I would have liked, I am starting to realise my talents. And, like many other people, they encompass a range of things. Without, I hope, being too arrogant, I like to think that I’m a bit of a polymath.

A good example was the late Mr Bowie. Musically, he wasn’t my cup of tea; glamrock, for example,  was, I felt, either pretentious or overindulgent. I never allowed for someone who had great talent across a range of activities and couldn’t be fitted into any one category; music being just one of them. I now realise that my anger over the years was in my personal failure to realise my own talents. I tried but I never saw them as anything special. Indeed, in many ways, I still don’t. What was a big deal in my head to start with just becomes something I’ve done when it’s finished. I felt great satisfaction but no real sense of achievement. The results, I feel, of that compartmentalising process which I practiced on myself as well as others. Now there’s self defeating for you.

It has taken many years to sort out all those internal contradictions. However, I am getting there. The results have been pleasing to say the least. The concentrating on doing what I can do, well is, I hope, starting to get recognition in a wider sphere. More pleasing is that my appearance on Radio 4’s Midweek has resonated among my peers. Even more so is that it has put me in touch with John Coop, someone I’d lost contact with 25 years ago. Now I always regarded him as very perceptive and he demonstrated that in his e mail with a rather back handed compliment. Among his comments was “It seems that you’re now a celebrity in other people’s eyes and not just yours”. Thanks, John. See you next month.

Maybe a bit of genuine self belief is just starting to develop after all.

Move Over, Guys, and Make Room

Making an early morning cuppa, I heard on Radio 4 that Oxfam have announced that 1% of the world’s population have as much wealth as the other 99%. I also heard that, whereas 80% of teachers are women, 80% of head teachers are men. Finally, I had an interesting conversation with a friend at a party on Saturday about how women can be treated within organisations, largely, it would appear, from the men in these bodies either being unaware of or unwilling to do anything about it. And, before, anyone says that “that’s just the way it is” or “things take time to change”. The answer to both has to be that it doesn’t need to be that way. Indeed, the evidence is that the situation is getting worse and not better. Except for those wealthy people, of course. Interestingly, of the reported world’s ten wealthiest people, eight are men.

Oxfam calls on governments to take action to reverse this trend and would like workers to be paid a living wage and the gap with executive rewards to be narrowed. It also calls for an end to the gender pay gap, compensation for unpaid care and the promotion of equal land and inheritance rights for women. Finally, it is worth noting that, in this country, over 40 years after the Equal Pay Act was passed, a gap still exists between men and women’s pay for similar work. Do genitalia really make that much difference? Unfortunately, it seems that they do.

This situation is also not merely an academic exercise. Readers (yes, there are some) of my first book, “The Real Big Society and My Part In It”, will read of a report of 2007, “Women on Boards” that women made up only 12.5% of the boards of FTSE 100 companies. Women, in case you should need reminding, outnumber men in the population of England and Wales. The report also cites research that shows strong stock market growth and higher returns in sales and capital investment among European companies where there is a higher proportion of women in senior management teams. It seems that a critical mass of 30% of women in these positions or in board rooms produces the best financial results.

So, move over, guys, and make room. It seems that, if you do, we’ll all be better off.

Be the Change That You Dream About

It seems that David Bowie and I did have something in common after all. You see, like he did, I relish personal change; not just the result but also the process itself. Interestingly, the latter can often be the most difficult part in effecting such change involving, as it may, dealing with your own inhibitions. What I call my demons.

The problem with dealing with these is that you may well have lived with them for years and, thus, be used to them. They have, in fact, become part of you and, in dealing with them, you will likely have to address the reasons why they’re there in the first place. That’s the challenge I enjoy. For me the destination itself almost becomes incidental. Then again I did have a very good maths teacher who told me always to ensure that I got the procedure right even when I got the result wrong. His reasoning, correctly, was that other than that was guesswork and not maths.

In my case, the continuing process has taken me down routes and led me to destinations I hadn’t previously envisaged. Yes, I know that feeling of butterflies in the stomach when you start the process, although butterflies could hardly cause such anxiety. I also know the enormous sense of satisfaction over the results that are often different and much greater than expected. Indeed, if anyone had told me how my life would change with that final marital separation 40 years ago this month, I simply wouldn’t have believed them. Me, on Midweek, on Radio 4!

The personal discoveries alone have been well worth the effort and occasional discomfort. The opening up of areas of my life that were previously closed has been a revelation. Of enormous importance is the satisfaction in no longer allowing my past to determine my future and the opening up of those avenues at an age where most of my peers have opted for cardigan and slippers. Perhaps that’s why Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken” resonates so much.

Now I’m not pretending that you can take every one of those roads; there are simply too many of them and too little time. On the other hand, you can keep on the path that life pushes you down while looking, with some thoughts of what might be, along the others that you pass. You can also, however, be the change that you dream about. After all Mr Bowie spent his whole life doing it with some considerable success. Each and every one of us is capable of such change; you just have to take that first small step. Once you do, you will likely never look back. And you might be living the life that you prefer.

Death of an Icon

The alarm went off as usual this morning and I got up to make a tea and a coffee for Gaynor and myself. In the meantime, Gaynor checked her mobile to promptly announce that David Bowie had died.

Now, normally when this happens to famous people, I make a mental note, think about it and then get on with my life. There are, however, those whose death makes me feel different. This was one of those occasions. Now I have to confess that I have never been a great Bowie fan; not that he wasn’t incredibly talented and a true icon. This latter a term that can be used a little too readily. No, my lack of appreciation says more about me than it does about him. You see, I couldn’t put him into a category and wasn’t taken with much of his music. I saw him as a musician when he was actually so much more. He couldn’t be pigeon holed and acknowledgement has to be given to  the range of his talents and his contribution to popular culture.

However, it’s more than that. Someone who has been a backdrop for much of my life is no longer around. Moreover, someone who pushed the boundaries and, in doing so, helped others to flourish. Finally, it’s about the fact that I couldn’t see him as other than, to quote Bob Dylan, “Forever Young” and here is my difficulty. It’s as if he should have had years in front of him. That, I think, is the shock.

In this, his effect on me has been similar to someone else who was immensely talented and, in my mind, also never grew old. The late, great George Best.

As we all do, I will get on with the rest of my life although it won’t be quite the same. So RIP,  young David, your legacy will be around for quite a while.


Be the Change You Dream About

As I gird my loins (what a wonderfully descriptive phrase) for the year ahead, I do so with the knowledge that I have less time in front of than behind me. I am also guided by Terry Pratchett who is quoted as saying “Too much universe, too little time” so continue to “endeavour to persevere” (Chief Dan George in “The Outlaw, Josey Wales”). Still, enough of the clichés, life is still there to be shaped and that can’t be done without effort.

Yet it’s an effort that, during this era of austerity and economic conservatism, needs to be set against the enormous and positive social changes that such effort has brought about during the last fifty years. We even, for heaven’s sake, now have openly gay Tory MP’s; something that many of my generation would have considered an oxymoron. Today’s young people probably take many of those changes for granted. They, after all, have no experience of the world that was and seem to accept this one for what it is. And there’s the rub. How do you get people to realise what an enormous difference those changes have brought about such that they realise that this new world order can, in fact, be different than it is.

Now I have long referred to those who were born at around the same time as I was as the lucky generation. And, despite the fact that I was in the army during the swinging 60’s, I made up for what I’d missed during the 70’s and 80’s. Those former times, with their hope, optimism and colour,  encapsulated many of my ideas for a better world; dreams that continue to this day. My point, as always, is that you can actually change personally and, in doing so, help to change the world. At which point another cliché comes to mind, “Be the change you dream about”.

I hope to get the opportunity to expand on this theme with an appearance on Libby Purves’ Midweek programme at 9 am on Radio 4 next Wednesday. I also plan to make it the launchpad for my work this year.

Some New Year Thoughts and Happenings


The family gatherings, present giving, reminiscing and thoughts about the past and the year ahead that make up the festive period are over and life returns to, what passes for, normal in our household. Yet, as anyone who does read my blogs will know, it will be a different normal from now on. So, although I don’t do New Year resolutions, I returned with some determination to make this year a little different from the past four or five. In short, to become a writer and speaker fulltime. There, I’ve said it!

I know just what I have to do and, in fact, I’ve already started. I just have to not allow myself to be sidetracked and, unfortunately, computers are the perfect tools for just that diversionary activity. I also have to believe in my own level of perseverance. The trouble is that I tend to downplay this as “just getting on with it” and that tendency leads me to dismissing it as nothing special. Yet, if I might indulge myself a little, how many other 73 year olds run regularly for an hour, go to the gym and are on their sixth career?

My problem is, I know, not taking my own advice. So, when I tell others that they can do it, that applies to me as well, something I am now taking on board. Along with having the courage to ask others for help; this latter not really part of my makeup.  Lastly, it involves tackling the last of those demons that I allow to live in my head. Even as I write this, I remember a number of occasions over the festive period when they decided to let me know that they were still there, albeit on a very short lease these days. So there is a degree of internal optimism to provide the foundations for the next stage of my journey. Something that hasn’t always been there in the past.

So it was with great delight that I booted up the computer on my first day back to find an e mail asking if I was available to appear on the Midweek programme with Libby Purves on Radio 4 next week. Now this hasn’t come completely out of the blue and is the result of a talk that I was scheduled to give about 15 months ago and actually did give during the summer, thanks to the lovely Toby Mildon. So, when I do take my own advice, it seems to work.

Yet when I told Gaynor, my wife, there was a slight element of sadness. Nancy, her mum, would have been delighted at the news but, unfortunately, she died at the end of November. Now I have very clear views on belief in supernatural beings, something Nancy and I disagreed on. So it would be nice to think that she is where she believed that she would go and that she and someone else very close to me were able to receive Radio 4 and listening in next week. Yes, silly really, but a very comforting thought right now.