Monthly Archives: October 2016

Breaking Through Your Own Glass Ceilings

What never ceases to amaze me is the way that human beings can persuade themselves to believe anything that they want to; often without any evidence and even with such evidence as there is, to the contrary. And, no, I’m not off on a political rant, merely musing on my own shortcomings.

These tend to fall into two categories. Those which mainly affect others and those which cause me problems. For the former, I can only apologise and say that, by very conscious effort, I am dealing with them. It is, however, the latter that can be the more insidious. Something that, I suspect, is the same for all of us. Included in this has been the creation of my own glass ceilings, which, being transparent, are less easily seen. This manifests itself in a number of ways with, perhaps, one of the most crucial being my ability to convince myself that I could never write a book.

Well, one day some 10 years ago, I decided that I would really give it a try and, guess what? Within less than a week, I’d written over 30,000 words. Moreover, all that I wanted to do was to write. So I did. In the end, The Other Side of the Doors” came in at 132,000 words and had to be edited down a little. It was published in 2013. In the meantime, I started other books including “The Real Big Society and my part in it”, also published in 2013; this at 49,000 words and now “Lessons from a Chequered Life” this year, at 52,000 words. Two others are in the pipeline with another two planned.

There are a number of important things about this journey. The first is that, I am lucky in that the books come, virtually preformed, out of my head. The second is that, once I stick at it, words appear on the page of their own volition. Indeed, these are often the best bits when the flow of the words paint the pictures that I have in my head with some craft.  The third is that I, not only, enjoy writing them, but reading them too. Finally, the joy at being told by my grandson, Chris, that he has read one and in now reading another, is immeasurable. Even I can no longer pretend that I can’t write.

The lesson, as so often, is “What are you stopping yourself from doing and why?”

Half Full or Half Empty

No question that, for me, it’s the first of these. Slightly more cynical these day (you’d be a bit daft at my age not to be) but still, essentially, an optimist. Not that I haven’t had my down moments, it’s just that I try not to let them get in the way of seeing others on this planet as, basically decent, honest people just trying to get by in life and do their best for their families. In fact, the only time in my whole life that I remember not being of this optimistic frame of mind was when I was in the army marking up the War Room map during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s probably the only time in HM Forces that I felt that I was doing anything useful. It was also very frightening and not a time for unfounded optimism. With nuclear war a distinct possibility, it could hardly be so.

My starting point in all this is a Christian one; something that may seem odd for an atheist. It’s that saying that you should treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Indeed, why should it be otherwise? This, however, is not merely academic but is based on the evidence that I see all around me, in those I have any dealings with. They confirm my view of others and of how we should act towards one another.

In this, I also try and, I repeat, try, to take a benevolent view of the opinions of others; something I fail miserably at. You see, I can’t understand why others can actually take a different view. So, in this, you could say that I’m intolerant and I might agree with you in this one area. I am, in fact, utterly intolerant of intolerance. Then I remember that these people might see their particular glass as half empty. Furthermore that might also feel that there is little that they can do to change those circumstances other than to make it emptier still. At which point, I try to take that into account. Something I don’t do as well as I would like.

Yet, in all this, I am heartened by an after dinner conversation I had with a friend of my wife’s parents many years ago. This friend was a lay preacher and his other guest a former prison chaplain. Among the things we talked about was evil and the chaplain said that, in his entire career in the service, he had only ever met one person he regarded as beyond redemption. Cause for my “half full glass” attitude to be confirmed.



Goodbye to the Outsider

Change happens all the time whether you want it to or not. I, for example, am already 30 seconds older than when I started to type this sentence. It also needs to be said that change can involve both a process and a result and that some people like the latter but not the former. Fortunately for me, I love change. In fact, I get bored without it. What is also important is whether or not you have any say in that change.

At which point, I return to the changes that have taken place in my life over the past few months; some of which have been quite fundamental and the outcomes, unexpected and very rewarding. So much so that I feel that I need to write about them.

Now I think that the reason I like change is that it was the template for my early years; indeed, they were defined by it, usually with results that weren’t particularly beneficial. Furthermore, this creation of a need for such change led to actions in my adult life that had a negative impact rather than the positive ones that I imagined were the case. So what has changed?

Well, a great deal actually, in small, subtle but significant ways. Indeed the fact that they were such has meant that they have rather sneaked up on me. An important one of which has been my view of myself as an outsider along with the behaviour that that feeling generated. The problem was that I rather relished that status even though I could see the dynamics that that threw up in my dealings with others.

Well, not any longer. I was at a professional association committee meeting this week and, for the first time, felt that I was actually a part of it and not excluded. Not that I ever was, I just felt that way.

So, my thanks to those involved who, it seems, weren’t even aware of what was going on; this change not only feels right but also very comfortable. Mind you, I will miss that outsider.


Count Your Blessings

I think that most human beings get less out of life than they put in; than they deserve for their efforts, in fact. This makes me rather wary of homilies such as the title of this blog. So why, then, that title? Well because, in my case (and so far) my life gets better as I get older; not something that I’d anticipated.

Now, according to one website I looked at, on my income alone, I’m in the top 0.45% in the world’s population. Taking other considerations into account, ie, where I live, family circumstance, well being, etc., I’m probably above even that. On a personal level, without being too condescending, I don’t think I’d swap with anyone I know; but, then, perhaps they wouldn’t swap with me either. As I explain to people, I go to bed with my best friend at night and wake up next to her in the morning. Moreover, we’ve now been together for 27 years and married for 22 of those. A timescale that beats any other relationship, apart from that with my eldest children, by a long way. It’s not what I ever expected and it feels very, very good. Which is my roundabout way of saying that life is pretty good.

So, do I count me blessing? Well, not quite. For a start, it’s a bit like chancing fate, something I’m always loathe to do.  Secondly, it’s difficult to do that when the world I live in is in such a parlous state. And, yes, I know that historically, that may not be so, especially compared to the 14th century, once dubbed “the worst century ever”. However, it sure feels like it at times. So, my overriding feeling is one of anger.

Anger for a world that could be, anger for a new generation with the wilful destruction of its hope, its lack of opportunity and optimism. At which point, I turn to a wonderful poem. This one “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas.  It seems more apposite that “Count your blessings”. Even though I do; every day.

All You Have to do is Try and Keep Going

Over the past few months I’ve had some ups and down as I get used to the emotional life that I now lead. A more stable and contented one that’s for sure but, still, one that I am having to accustom myself to. It’s not been an enormous challenge although it has been different. A determination to be certain and right is being replaced by, what I know to be, the vagaries of life. Just, I suppose, like everyone else.

What’s interesting, for me at least, is that the explosive anger that used to surface and could be very destructive, was less difficult to cope with than the new, easier me. At least, for now.

I’m also getting used to the fact that I am now much easier and more contented within myself. Also, as I’ve written about before, my concern was that what drove me would diminish. Well, I don’t think it has in the way that I feared and I’m pleased about that. I do have to work harder but then I’m not a young man any more. There, I’ve said it!

So, will this older, more contented man continue to strive? Yes, I think he will; something that has been demonstrated to me over the past few months. I now need to push myself more in order to do this but, once the engine is running, I still do those things that I want to.

These last few weeks it’s been writing and, as usual, what appears on the page isn’t always as I’d imagined that it would be. Invariably, it’s better and that pleases me enormously. What I find is that, if I stick at it, unconscious thoughts appear and those ones are often the best. As a result, “Understanding Yourself” is turning out slightly differently than I’d first planned for it to be. As a result, it now stands at 27,000 words and I’m aiming to have the first proper draft completed by Xmas.

So, if you really want to do something, don’t let yourself stop you. The trying itself, and not whether you succeed, is what generates real internal change. And, with that, the likelihood that you will achieve something anyway. All you have to do is try and keep going!

The Law of Unintended Consequences?

Homo Sapiens can be a very complicated species with its individual members capable of great consideration as well as great cruelty. Yet despite the latter, I still prefer to believe that the vast majority of human beings are honest, decent people who are just trying to get by in life. Yes, they may behave badly at times but much of this is likely to be down to circumstance. Yet, in this country, I think I am seeing a cultural change and, if I’m correct, it’s one that I don’t like.

Now I’m a great user of modern technology while being aware that that use can, itself, bring about unwanted change. The Law of Unintended Consequences, if you like. At the most extreme, that I’ve witnessed personally, it involved a man of about 25, walking across the road in front of my car with his eyes firmly on the screen of his mobile. Perhaps he was just trying to disprove the theory of evolution, ie that he was fit to survive anything. Almost at great personal cost, it must be said.

Earlier this year, my wife and I were having something to eat in the local pub in Eyam in Derbyshire. On the next table were a couple with their two children, a boy and a girl, aged about 12. Both children were on their mobiles playing a game of some sort while watching something on their tablets with headphones plugged in. There appeared to be little communication between the children or the parents and the children.

Travelling on the bus yesterday were a family of five with two young children sitting in the seats clearly marked for older and/or people with disabilities with another young girl sat on the other side of the aisle with her feet up across the seat playing a game on her mobile. Now, I’m pretty fit so have no problems walking to another seat or standing. My point is that it never seemed to occur to the parents or the children that they should act in any other way than they were; that is without noticing the world around them or displaying any thought for others. And just to be clear, there are a great many times when young people do offer me their seat and times when I gracefully accept.

So, what is my point? Well, it’s that if technology helps to create a society in which people are fixated on their screens, don’t notice others and communicate, without the aid of technology, less as a result, is that a problem or am I just getting older? And that’s before I mention predicted texting and the accidental outbreak of World War 3!


Spurs 2 Man City 0

For those who aren’t football followers, for years Manchester City have been Spurs’ nemesis and arrived at White Hart Lane as the Premier League leaders managed by one of the best coaches in the world while playing exciting, attacking football. They left well beaten. So the title of today’s blog is both a celebration and an excuse to write what I was probably going to anyway.

You see the club I support has, for years, been synonymous with intermittent, often individual, brilliance but is now a team with a modus operandi in which consistent, sustained effort is the watchword. Much like life itself needs to be if it is to have real impact. Interestingly in this, the total is more than the sum of its parts. Again, what one would hope for in life too.

The problem for me is that I’ve always loved those flashes of individual brilliance, epitomised for me in the talents of one Dimitar Berbatov, who was capable of making you doubt the evidence of your own eyes with his outrageous skill. A player, who seemed to exhibit genuine puzzlement when he saw his team mates actually running, could make it seem as though time itself was standing still while all around him was frenetic activity. Poetry in motion personified.

Why this is important is that I’ve interpreted life in that fashion; that is that some people had enormous natural talent while I just had the ability to keep going. Crucially, thinking that I had little such talent denied me the opportunity to develop any that I actually had.

Well, Spurs have undergone a massive culture change; a team in which Alex Ferguson’s only reputed team talk before a match against them was “It’s Tottenham, lads”. As if that said it all. Unfortunately, it often did. For my own part, having rescued a number of charities from closure, a process that required real cultural change, I know how difficult this can be. I also find a sweet irony in the fact that, for many years, I’ve helped other people and organisations to change relatively quickly while, for me, it’s been very much a work in progress. To be fair to myself there have been a great many changes spread over some years and perhaps what has happened recently is the culmination that I know it to be. However, much of it has been about applying sustained effort for myself instead of for others.

I now see the difference that this is making in my day to day work and that has helped enormously. So, if Spurs can change and be successful while remaining true to the club’s historic ethos of playing football that is good to watch, maybe I can do the same in my career. On the evidence of the last few months, it would seem that I may be able to. Still it was a very good scoreline.