Monthly Archives: March 2017

Hope in These Trying Times

We live in trying times during which I am seeing most of the ideals that I’ve held as long as I can remember, if not laid to waste, at least temporarily pushed to one side. In this, my main concern is not so much my own well being, after all, I am fairly advanced in years; it is instead about the well being of my children and grandchildren. I had thought that they would have had the chance of a better life than my generation did. After all, hasn’t that been the overall pattern to our history going back many generations?

So, what’s my response? Well, it’s simple really, I will continue working towards those ideals as well as writing and speaking about a world that could be. And please don’t tell me that it couldn’t as it was during my own lifetime. The model for that better, fairer society was not only there but it was being worked towards. All willfully tossed aside in the name of quite what?  Other than fear, greed, ignorance and bigotry; none virtuous qualities, you will notice.

Yet despite, this my own life gets better, possibly because I keep working at it. Those personal changes in my perception of myself and the consequent changes in my behavior now seem to be reflected in my working life. After ten years of trying to build a career as an author, my third book, “Lessons from a Chequered Life” is to be launched, a little late, in a book shop in Central London at the end of the month. More importantly, after five years and much frustration, my speaking career may actually be starting to take off. A year after my first contact, I will be speaking at a Women’s Institute soon and at a meeting of Chief Executives in the voluntary sector; this latter, nearly two years since my first contact. My project with schools is also about to start. Meanwhile, my family life is extremely enriching.

So, my response to those who seem worried about working with others in reaching out to the wider world is that, as always, I will continue to do things in pursuit of that more equal, communal, sustainable world; just as, in my own small way, I’ve always done. It’s one in which, despite the hiccups, is based on a belief in the goodness of most of the family of humanity and that’s no bad thing in these trying times.

No More the Welder’s Bench

Today, not only do I start the next stage of a rather long journey but I also start it in a somewhat different frame of mind to that which is usual for me. One determinedly optimistic person who always prepares for the worst is now starting to believe that he can do for himself what he has long done for others. In this I am, at last, taking my son’s advice!

It’s a strange feeling which manifests itself with a degree of certainty, based on my track record, but with another feeling which I can only describe as making sure that nothing untoward is appearing in the rear view mirror. The difference is that that certainty is starting to take root and I can’t tell you how good that feels. I will, however, feel happier when the roots are more firmly anchored.

How will I know this? Well, I think, because, to paraphrase Robbie Burns, I will see myself more as I know that others see me.  In my present guise, as with many people, I still feel, as Billy Connolly once described it, that one day someone would knock on his door and say, “Sorry, Billy, there’s been a mistake and you need to get back to the welder’s bench”.

So, let’s just see how this pans out as I push forward into a new future; one that involves some planning for, more than, the immediate future. Now there’s a first for you.

PS, Many thanks to all those who’ve helped along the way. You know who you are!

When You Walk Through a Storm

As I’ve mentioned before, what my wife calls “my incredible perseverance” I just call “getting on with it”. In fact, I don’t “call” it anything at all, it’s just “life”. However, seeing as I’m rather proud of my wife, it’s lovely that she sees me in that light. It makes me feel valued; something that is important to us all and especially that little boy within who never felt validated. So, what’s this about today?

Well as any of you who read my blogs will know, The past few months have seen small, but important, differences in the way that I do things; the benefits of many years of therapy. Central to this has been letting others in and not seeing them as symbols of some sort of establishment that, by its nature, I didn’t want to feel part of. In this I felt at one with Groucho Marx who said that he’d never want to be part of a club that would want him as a member. It was what I did and it kept me on the outside; somewhere I was comfortable.  Well I may still be comfortable as an outsider, however, I’m now comfortable on the inside as well. And, I have to say that, actually feeling (and accepting) that welcome from others has been life changing in its own small way. It’s something that I’ve not really experienced before. Which brings me to the, not unconnected, title of this blog.

In parallel to this has been my ability to keep going and to try to make a living out of motivational speaking; something I’m actually quite good at. The speaking not the money making. Well, after five years of working at it, it may be that I’ve turned a corner with one of the schools I’ve been working with having the money to employ me on a project that I’ve drawn up which involves using speaking and presentation skills to help pupils to realize their talents and be able to present themselves better to the world of work. I also have two other schools interested.

Perhaps that’s why that Liverpool Football Club anthem has long been one of my favourites.

The Extraordinary Talents of Ordinary People

 In these trying times it’s very easy to get disheartened; in fact, it’s actually  quite hard to keep your spirits up. So you have to keep reminding yourself of certain things and, in this, I’m not grasping at straws but considering my own practical experience.

So let’s start with what, in my view, is wrong about what is happening although it must actually be blindingly obvious to anyone. We, not only, have a society that is less equitable than at any time in my life but one that is getting more unequal with each passing day. People on exorbitant remuneration packages who seem intent on ensuring that, despite failure, their more than adequate, income continues to be made available. That many of those who run the country have been educated at a very small number of private schools. Also, not only are they unrepresentative of the rest of us, but they actually have little understanding of the lives that a great number of their fellow citizens actually lead. This, in a country, that is still one of the wealthiest in the world. It’s as if they are all up there operating the levers of power; levers which aren’t connected to the machinery being operated. Of further concern is that there also appears to be a headlong rush to an exit door when, even those within government now admit, they have undertaken no research in regard to the likely costs and repercussions of that exit. Moreover, it’s one in which many of its most senior members, never wanted such a course of action. You really couldn’t make it up.

In short, we have a lowest common denominator society whereas we should have a highest common factor one. Unfortunately, it’s also a society that seems to be using the vices of greed and avarice as its fuel. It could, just as easily, be one that utilised a little more caring and sharing; something that I believe that, the majority of those living in these islands, would prefer.

So, why do I feel so strongly about this? Well it’s largely because those at the top end of our government seem to have no understanding whatsoever of the grass roots and culture of the country in which they live. Yet, not so long ago, Jesse Norman, a Conservative MP, was writing of the vast amount of untapped talent that existed in this country of ours. Now that’s something I have very direct and personal experience of; notably in running a charity which helped people who were homeless and unemployed to build their own homes.

That talent is, as it has always been, ever present in this country. It’s just a pity that those who purport to govern us can’t see that, not only can it work but that it produces better results than the way we currently operate.

A Lucky Generation That Had Wings to Fly

As we get older, many of us have a tendency to do a number of things, the first of which can be to complain about the younger generation. You are not alone in this; indeed there is a quotation to the effect, “When are the young to be silent before their elders? How are they to show respect to them by standing and letting them sit? What garments are to be worn, what deportment and manners in general?” It is attributed to Socrates who died 2,500 years ago!

There is, however, one small problem with this attitude, which is that young people haven’t yet had the time to create the world that they live in. In fact, they inherit this from previous generations. As did everyone else including those of my own age. There is also another major difference between my generation and succeeding ones, especially those who are young today, and that is that mine was the Lucky Generation. Raised by those who fought the biggest war in history, so far, we lived through the social and cultural explosion that was the 1960’s with its optimism, radicalism, colour, fashion and music. Indeed, I recently listened to a commentator on Radio 4 saying that it was a golden age the likes of which we will never see again. More’s the pity.

So, complain less about young people, if indeed you do, and try to create a world that my predecessors did for my generation. Remember children don’t ask to be born; that’s, largely, their parents’ decision. Also remember that they, not you, will write your epitaph. So, if you want them to look after you in old age, look after them when they are young and, to create the conditions whereby, to quote my youngest daughter, “You’ve given me the wings to fly and the courage to pursue my dreams”. That’ll do for me.

A Whole New Perspective

In life, you deal with things; itself no big deal. You have a life to lead and most of that is about getting on with it. There is, however, a caveat to this statement and that is, if you have any emotional problems, you would be well advised to sort them out.

Now I realised a while ago that I tended to deal with things (and people) by putting them into  compartments. A result of my childhood where things were overwhelming and that was the only way that I could deal with them. In fact, there was a more extreme way, which was to blank out what I didn’t want to remember and I did that too for the really unpleasant bits. Now that may have been an understandable childhood reaction, however, such behavior can cause problems in later life; as it did for me. That behavior became such a normal part of my life that it became what I was.

Well, as my close friends may know, I’ve changed in subtle but practical ways recently and “decompartmentalising” my life has been one of these. This has helped me to see others as less a threat than as friends which has, itself, helped me to see myself in a more kindly light and, boy, is that different. Strangely, or perhaps not so, this has given me a whole new perspective. There is an ease with myself and others that was previously lacking and I’m quite enjoying the situation. As an important by product, what was personally difficult, is now easier and that is helping me to move forward in a more seamless manner. Onwards and upwards is, I believe, the expression.

Less the Outsider

The past few months have seen a change take place inside that I never expected. You see, this person, who circumstance made into an outsider, no longer feels quite that way. Moreover, what this has generated may not even have been noticed by others yet, to me, it has been a minor revelation. How so?

Well, those circumstances may, indeed, have created that feeling, one that was very real to me. Unfortunately, that then became me; indeed, it defined me. That difference, that outsider status became a badge of honour and one that I wore with pride; demonstrating, as it did, that I could take whatever life threw at me. Indeed, there is an argument to be made for the fact that I was successful at rescuing charities in serious trouble just because I could do that and, in doing so, create order out of chaos. The side effect for my personal life was, though, that I only allowed others in under certain, specific conditions. Also, I find small talk difficult so the usual social discourse with others tends to be more about putting the world to rights than “How are you?”

Well, as I’ve written recently, after a heart to heart talk with my wife, I decided to make a real effort to change both my attitude and my behaviour; as I’ve started to do. The response, I have to say, has been uplifting in ways that I hadn’t quite anticipated. The first thing is that people, I hitherto kept at a distance, have helped me enormously and that’s been heartening as well as helpful. That has caused me to see them in a different light and less the people I had, previously, judged them to be.  The second, and as important, is that I am seeing myself in a different light. As a result, I’m easier on myself; I actually feel different and, what’s more, I quite like this person. Steady, old chap. Finally the interaction with others is self reinforcing; I liken it to helping each other up a ladder.

It’s still a work in progress and I have a long way to go. However, I already no longer feel quite the outsider that I always did.  Something I’m having to get used to but, so far, so good!

A Good Relationship

I have had a number of relationships in my life, some short and some longer term. The former were fun while they lasted while the latter, starting when I was 17, ranged from nearly 16 years with my first wife, another of 4 months, one of 15 months and one of 6 years before I met Gaynor. We have now been together for over 28 years and married for 22 of those. In between times, I also had many years on my own, the longest of which lasted for 3 years.

With all due respect to those who put up with me during that time, it’s only now that  I realise what a relationship really is. Indeed, for many years, I had no idea whatsoever. You see that, somewhat, dysfunctional childhood provided me with no real experience of one. Such experience as I did have showed me very clearly that the one you loved wouldn’t be able to look after you properly and that she would leave this life at a very early stage, while the male in this partnership would leave as soon as possible and stay away; only coming back many  years later and make matters worse.

Put simply, what other children learn at their mother’s knee was lacking in my case. There was an emotional hole where foundations should have been. So, when I had those relationships, I fell in love, somewhat indiscriminately, and then tried to make sure that it was hearts and flowers all the way. The problem was that I was programmed to believe that it wouldn’t last and that, when it went wrong, I would be unhappy again. Unhappiness being my default mechanism and something that I was used to. You see, I could cope with unhappiness; what I couldn’t cope with was living with the knowledge that the happiness wouldn’t last. As a result, I created the circumstances that made sure that, sooner or later, things got back to “normal”.

Fast forward a couple of decades and, as I continually remind people, for the past 28 years, I’ve gone to bed with my best  friend every night and woken up with her still beside me in the morning. And, it’s that best friend bit that is crucial. You see, with children, well they don’t choose their parents although you may choose to have them. You would hope, therefore, that, almost by osmosis, you would be friends as, I hope, that I am with all of mine. But that other adult that you choose to be with is different. I no longer expect the relationship to end and, thus, make sure that it doesn’t. What was an effort for one person is now easy with two working together.

Many years of therapy has helped me to identify the sources of my problems and, in doing so, build those foundations. And they are now pretty solid ones based on a love that arises from real friendship, respect and support for one another. The hearts and flowers no longer have to be created; they’re there as a natural part of the package. A good relationship indeed.

The Value of Perseverance (and a good map)

It was first suggested to me that I might become a motivational speaker by my sister in law, Kate. She pointed out that, as I’d always stood up in public as the Director of the charities that I’d worked for, I could just as easily do this for myself. Yes, I thought, what could be easier? Well, that was five years ago and it led me to joining the Professional Speaking Association. So, I was on my way, or so I thought.

Well it wasn’t quite as easy as I’d imagined and I’ve had to overcome a few personal hurdles along the way. The main one being that making a presentation for a charity was actually much easier than doing it for myself.  In addition, I had no business card, no website, no social media presence, no show reel of me speaking, no testimonials, no brochure, no contacts in this world, no topic on which to speak (so I thought) and little else that I needed to make my mark in this new career. I also had an added problem which is that I find it very difficult to ask for help. So, what did I do?

Well, I went to PSA Meetings in London, took notice of what was said at the various talks and, gradually, set about getting all the above in place. I did a five minute talk in front of my peers, then a ten minute one and finally a twenty minute showcase; this latter in London and some of the other regions around the country. I even did a five minute stand up routine at a PSA comedy evening! In addition, I set about finishing the books that I’d started writing eight years earlier. I even, on someone’s advice, bought two complete outfits, suits, shirts, ties shoes and socks so that I made an impression when I stood up.

In fact, I did what I always do and got on with it. So much so that, four years after Kate’s suggestion, I had all the things that I needed in place; unfortunately, I was still getting very little decently paid work. So, I plucked up courage, swallowed my pride and asked for help. The response, I have to say, has, for me, been quite revelatory. You see, I’ve discovered that you aren’t alone and that people really do want to help.

“If you aren’t getting paid decently, motivational speaking is a hobby and not a business” is a quote from, I think, Nigel Risner, an experienced speaker. It is also a truism. Furthermore, given my voluntary sector background in which volunteering is the norm, I actually found it very difficult to quote a fee for my work. Although this latter can’t be quite accurate as I feel as most speakers have difficulty in this respect.

Well, (and I’m firmly touching wood as I type this) that may be changing and my perseverance over the past five years may be paying off. It’s early days yet but I am starting to get that work in and, in doing so, making those contacts. So much so that, this does feel different. I also have those three books published and a fourth one well in hand. Even I can’t pretend, as I often do, that all this is no big deal. So much so that I now feel that I’m on the next stage of my journey and one that I feel that will lead me to where I want to be. Much like any other journey, you just need the right equipment, a map and a little bit of support, to reach your destination. Oh yes, and a degree of perseverance.

I just hope that there are no unmarked traps along the way.

PS, Many thanks to Karen Wright and the staff and pupils from the One in a Million Free School in Bradford who, yesterday, saw me as that author and speaker that I’ve long wanted to be.