Monthly Archives: April 2017

From a Member of the Lucky Generation

I listened to Roy Hudd on the Radio last weekend. Now Mr Hudd is of my age group and, I’m sure that he won’t mind me saying, but he seems very “old school”. By that I mean that he has values that many of my generation, although not all of them, have. Raised in times of hope and optimism, we have carried those concepts into our adult lives. Indeed, they still define us, even in these more sombre times and despite the experiences of a lifetime behind us.

These qualities were demonstrated to me a few years ago when I went to a meeting of the founder members of the National Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, of which I was one. Given that the Federation was set up in 1980, we, none of us, were spring chickens. Yet the session after lunch on that Saturday afternoon was scheduled “Plans for the Future”. Not for us Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days”, but what we still intended to do. It was one of the most life affirming weekends that I’ve ever had.

Later the following week, I contacted Tracy, the organiser, who said that “You people in this movement are generous, warm spirited and community minded and you genuinely believe in change because you’ve seen what is has done for others as well as for yourselves”. It was as good an epitaph for a generation as I could have hoped for and something we need to pass on to those who follow.

So, to those who are inclined to, please don’t blame this generation for our current ills. After all, they didn’t help create them, they are largely the inheritors of others mistakes. And have a care towards them if you want them to strive for the hope and optimism that we had. They deserve no less.

Don’t Let Your Life be Defined by “If Only”


On Friday evening I held the, belated, launch of my latest book, “Lessons from a Chequered Life” and then, at Saturday lunchtime, was interviewed on Camden Community Radio. During the latter of these, I talked about the bouts of depression that I mentioned in last week’s blog. Now, although these have knocked me off kilter when I’ve experienced them, I’m somewhat of a stubborn bugger so I carried on my life as best I could. The success of this strategy can be gauged from the fact that, well past retirement age, I’m still batting away with my books and my speaking engagements in my sixth career.

The problem for me is that I can’t help but think about how much more I might have done in other circumstances. Still, as both a practical person as well as a dreamer, I realise that life is what it is. Unfortunately, those “if only” feelings are always in my subconscious mind from whence they occasionally make the unmapped journey into my conscious one. At which point I become even more determined just to carry on to make sure that “if only” doesn’t become the defining characteristic of my life.

So this morning, I will start the process of finishing my fourth book, “Why Don’t You Just Support Arsenal; the Memories of a Spurs’ Supporter”. This is about 75% completed and I need to get it into print. The title came courtesy of my wife, Gaynor, who, as she will be the first to admit, isn’t a great football supporter. You see, for years, I talked about how good a manager Arsene Wenger was and how his impact on the game in this country had been a beneficial one. Yes, I know that’s heresy for most Spurs’ supporters but I like to give credit where it’s due.

Now, some years ago, when I returned from our local after watching a match, Gaynor asked, as usual, whether Spurs had won. When I told her that they hadn’t and, cognisant of my conversations about the Arsenal manager, she asked me the question that became the title of the book. Now, however, and despite Saturday’s blip, Spurs are in the ascendancy and Arsene, again despite Arsenal’s result on Saturday, looks as though his star is on the wane. Hence, the front cover design might well be a picture of this season’s final league table.

It seems that Spurs now have a manager who doesn’t let, “If only” (in this case not managing one of the world’s most wealthy clubs) determine his life and neither should anyone else. If you act on that basis, you might not get where you wanted to but you will get further than you ever dreamt that you could. Maybe that’s why friends have called me “The Accidental Role Model”.

Coping with Depression


As my friends will tell you, I am a fairly open and direct person. Indeed, one of them once said of me, “In the years that I’ve known Mike, one of the things that I’ve learnt is that, if you’re a bit worried about the answer, it’s probably best not to ask him the question”. I took that as a compliment. Consequently, I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I’ve had mental health problems.  They weren’t my fault and I saw no reason not to talk about them.

Like the many others, the conditions of my early childhood sowed the seeds for the periods of depression that I would experience over the years; always in response to traumatic situations. The first, I now realise, took place when I was 19, then 34, 43 and 57. The third of these led to a breakdown during which I lost all memory of nearly 3 weeks of my life. In writing this, it occurs to me I’m currently in the longest depression free period of my life. Fortunately, apart from the bout that led to the breakdown when I had about 5 weeks off work, I’ve never been incapacitated for long. Indeed, during the last one, I continued to work despite what I was experiencing.

At this time, I had just left a job, suddenly and not by choice, and became self employed as consultant to the voluntary sector.  I recognised the symptoms immediately and went to see my GP who prescribed antidepressants. Now although these worked for me, they took two weeks to kick in and, during that time, I received a phone call offering me some work helping a community group to bid for many millions of pounds from the New Deal for Communities Fund. Despite my condition I must have done a good job and, against the odds it seems, the group got the money. Yet I remember one Sunday afternoon meeting when I had to drag myself off the sofa and drive to Luton to run a workshop. I was visibly shaking throughout the journey and that awful feeling in the pit of my stomach yet, as soon as I stood up to speak, these went; only to reappear when I left and drove back.

Now, there are a number of problems with depression, one of which is that it seems to have a more open ended timescale to physical illnesses. When, for example, I have a bout of flu, I know that I’ll feel lousy for a couple of days, after which I’ll get better; so 5 days maximum. The scary thing for me about depression is that it has its own timescale during which you can feel as if you’re sliding down into a dark hole without the means to prevent this happening and that isn’t pleasant. The other is with the acknowledgement that it’s a condition that I’m vulnerable to; vulnerability being something I find really difficult. Another matter is that it brings to a complete halt your ability to actually do anything other than just exist; even eating. Indeed, I once described it as the best diet plan that anyone could have. During the breakdown, my appetite vanished such that I lost about 1½ stones in less than a month.

Well, now I live a more contented and fulfilling life free from many of the worries created during that childhood.  The result is that I am less prone to the circumstances that trigger the condition. Also I recognise the symptoms that can create it and try to step aside from these. I’m not daft enough to think that I might not experience bouts of depression in the future and just hope that I’ve learned to cope. After all, aren’t I the one who tells others that I can cope with whatever life throws at me?

Even More Determined

In late 1962, I was a lowly Corporal in the Royal Engineers at HQ 1 Corps in Bielefeld as part of the British Army of the Rhine with another 7 years still to serve. Among my jobs as a draughtsman was the daily updating of the War Room map. This must have been about 2.5 by 4 metres and showed the whole of Germany with the positions of the Allied and Soviet troops. As we were heavily outnumbered, it was always assumed that we would have to rely on nuclear weapons in the case of war. Then Soviet missiles sites were discovered in Cuba and the Cold War suddenly got hotter. Those twelve days, from 16th until 28rd October, were scary indeed, until President Khrushchev decided to turn the ships bearing the missiles around.

Towards the end of the crisis when I was working on the map, one of the officers came into the room and, almost in passing, asked me if I’d talked to my wife about what was going on. When I said that I hadn’t, his response was chilling, “If I were you, I’d talk to her tonight!”

Well, fast forward 55 years and, although the situation doesn’t yet appear to be as serious, the nature of two of the major players this time around, might just make it so. It is at times like this when I really do think that homo sapiens might just be a failed experiment. At which point I become even more determined to “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

C’est la Vie

One of the problems of getting older is that decisions that you made, often many years ago, can come back to bite you on the bum. So it has been with me.  As any of my readers will know, my early years predisposed me to sudden and drastic change and I carried that into adulthood until I began the long, slow process of sorting myself out. The last of these changes occurred when I moved from Yorkshire back to London a little over 30 years ago. Yes, my children were grown up by then, but I feel bad about leaving them to this day. Yes, I would probably have moved to London at some stage but the timing and the circumstances were not how they could and should have been.

So, going back every six weeks or so, as we do, brings about a further change for me. Yes, I enjoy being with my older children and their children; especially at this time of year when Spring, once again, brings renewed growth and expectation. On the personal front, however, I move over somewhat from being a father and husband to being a father and grandfather as well. In addition, I feel at home in Harrogate, a town that I left all those years ago to broaden my horizons. In many ways that’s to be expected as the seeds that have, belatedly, grown within the adult that I now am, were sown and nurtured in the town. Yet such is the pull of those times, when my two eldest children and I forged a new life together, that occasionally the desire to return to them can feel almost physical.

Well, Harrogate has changed much, as have I. Yet in many ways the relationship remains the same. And, much as I enjoy my visits and having my whole family around me, I still need that bigger palette from which to paint the dreams that I have. Also I’m a city boy at heart and enjoy the energy that the metropolis generates. That may change if I slow down at any time; indeed, the thought of that happening can itself be quite comforting. In the meantime, I live with that bite on the bum created by my actions from all those years ago. I suspect that it’s something I’ll just have to continue to live with. C’est la vie.

Breaking More Personal Taboos

I’ve always treated life as something to get on with. So, even when notable things happen, I tend to behave as if it’s just another day; which, in many ways, it is. However, that’s not necessarily due to the perseverance that I’m known for so much as not counting my chickens; the fear that to do so would scupper my dreams. So today, I’m going to break another personal taboo and celebrate the next few weeks for which the past few years have been a preparation.

For a start, although I don’t expect Spurs to win the Premiership title this season, something that would require the implosion of the team above them, I do, however, expect them to finish second and qualify for Champions League football next season. I also expect them to do at least as well in the coming seasons. This, after many years of underachievement. For a Spurs’ supporter of a certain generation, that really is a public statement that tests one’s credibility.

On the work front, I now have some of those speaking gigs that I’ve worked hard to generate; notably one to Chief Executives in the voluntary sector. I’m also having a launch of my latest book, “Lessons from a Chequered Life” in a bookshop in central London and will be starting work on a project with schools that I’ve been planning for some time.

On the home front, where the foundations have been worked on for many years, it’ll probably be business as usual with the additional expectation that my youngest daughter will get her MA (in Writing) and the hope that she can find the work that is suited to her talents.  She has worked hard to realise her dreams and will now have to work just as hard to make a living out of them. She has enough about her to do so.

So there you have it, my plans in a nutshell and more of those personal taboos broken. I’m even typing this without having my fingers crossed.

Just Off the Beaten Track

Gaynor, my wife, and I spend time most weekends walking around London. We try to find hidden places that are actually in public view, if you look, but also just off the beaten track and, therefore, often not noticed. We can be out 4 or 5 hours with Gaynor taking photos along the way. In the process, in addition to the usual places of interest, such as the foot tunnel under the river at Greenwich and Browne’s Gardens, just off Oxford Street, we have visited Postman’s Park, not far from St Paul’s, Paradise Yard, near St Thomas’ Hospital, Wapping Pier Head, a group of Georgian house built, for officials of the dock company, around a central garden, Dalston Curve Garden and St Mary’s Secret Garden in Hackney, Somehow, we can’t resist looking down that little alley or into that mews that many seem to walk straight past. It is seldom unrewarding in its discovery of hidden gems and little bits of Wonderland.

Yesterday for me, however, was different. In plain view was an area of London, just beyond the view of the thousands of tourists at Tower Bridge,  that I never knew about. Having recently walked the canal from Limehouse back to Camden, we decided to do something similar, only this time, along the river instead. So, how come a “died in the wool” Londoner, born in Surrey Docks, like myself has missed Shadwell Basin and Spirit and Tobacco Quays with their empty basins and little bits of blocked off canal and social housing, all creating a wonderful walk back to the wealth of St Katherine’s Dock? I felt as if we were in a strange film, one that, this morning, I don’t want to get out of.

So, for those who find things like this of interest, I’m posting some of Gaynor’s photos. Enjoy and then go and find your own hidden gems and little bits of Wonderland. It’s a lovely way to spend a day and I doubt whether you’ll be disappointed with the results.

The last one is for dog lovers!