Monthly Archives: July 2017

What Keeps You Going in Trying Times?

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I see a world that could be more than one that is. In these even more trying times than the previous ones, it’s what keeps me going. That’s not to say that I keep my distance from the world, far from it, as much of my working life has been in an involvement with projects that are a very practical demonstration of what could be. Those little bits of Wonderland that I refer to; where people work together, often for low wages and/or as volunteers because of what the project represents. They may be city farms, community gardens or other environmental projects or those on which people who were homeless and unemployed built their own sustainable homes, some of which are featured on my website.

Well, yesterday, on one of our weekend walks where, among other things, Gaynor and I search out these projects which, incidentally, never fail to confirm our perspective on life. Yesterday was no exception when we walked along the River Lea in East London and stopped off at Cody Dock before completing our walk along the canal to Limehouse Basin.

There in Canning Town, with a clear view across the river to one of the world’s financial centres, was something in sharp contrast. Situated on a, once derelict, one hectare site of a former Victorian Dock is Cody Dock. Rescued from its previous state by a great deal of hard work from committed volunteers and staff, it is now has a Masterplan and is being regenerated, under local community management. In the meantime, as the photos on the project’s and my wife’s website demonstrate, it is a thriving environmental and community project. When completed, it will become a centre for the creative industries with workspaces, environmental and visitor facilities and a very practical demonstration of what is possible with vision and hard work.

So, go along and have a look at a world that could be, actually being built. It’s what keeps me going and continues to do so. A demonstration of the extraordinary abilities of ordinary people.

The Road Not Taken

Right now and, indeed, for the past few months, I’ve been in a reflective frame of mind. Now this may be partly down to age, however, it’s also down to what’s been happening in my life. Now, one of the determining factors about this state of affairs is that I can do nothing about the first of these although I have had quite a hand in the latter and will, I hope, continue to do so. And you may have noticed my usual caution in that sentence. You see, even though my life is going well, I still never count my chickens. So, how is this good fortune manifesting itself? Well, for a start, it’s hardly down to fortune but more to what my wife refers to as my “amazing perseverance”; something I call “just getting on with life”. It seems to me that that’s the only option that we have.

As a result of this, as regular readers will know, my fourth book is ready to be published and I am, at long last, getting regular speaking gigs. So that’s good, right? Well, yes it is, obviously. However, this feeling that I can make it doing what I long dreamt of is actually unsettling. Firstly in its own right but also because it makes me realise that I can do more and, just maybe, make it even further, if I want to. Who’d have thought that that single parent on benefits all those years ago would be where he is now?

So that unsettling feeling is because I’m in unknown territory and that can be uncomfortable. Still, it’s a feeling that I’ll have to get used to or to learn to overcome; preferably the latter. However, I’m already putting my experiences to good effect in my work with young people in schools helping them to realise their talents. So far, they’ve delivered in abundance and that makes me feel that all those years of struggle may actually have put me in a position to help the next generation. You see, contrary to what some people believe, they aren’t the cause of society’s ills, rather they are the recipients. Moreover, we owe it to them to be able to make it in a much more difficult world than my generation experienced.

So, I reflect on a life that might have been as well as one that now is, albeit with some, cautious, contentment. That road not taken has been a more interesting and useful one after all. Long may it continue.

Belief Reaffirmed by a New Generation


Two years ago, I wrote to a large number of secondary school about a project that I was planning and that might be of some use to their pupils. Eventually, I had a response from a local school, Acland Burghley, and, a few months ago, started work on the project. This was intended to help pupils to make that transition from school to the world outside by providing training in presentation and communication skills. The main idea being that, once they got an interview for further education or a job, they wouldn’t fail because of their inexperience and would give a good account of themselves.

So, just six weeks ago, we started the project with a dozen 17 year old volunteers, telling them on the first day, that before the end of term, we would have them making a talk of at least five minutes in front of their parents, peers and staff; something none of them had ever done before. The starting point was a topic that they, themselves, selected as something that had been of significance, a turning point, in their lives and Mike, my colleague and I, helped them to draft and deliver a speech. Well, three weeks in and even my fabled optimism took a bit of a dive over how much progress they still had to make. I should, I have to say, have maintained my original faith because on that afternoon, they all delivered a short talk to camera, albeit with varying degrees of confidence.

Well, yesterday evening, in front of an audience of some 20 odd people, six out of the original ten delivered the goods; in abundance. Moreover, three more will do so in September. So, many thanks to Bolu, Chrystal, Dily, Kazim, Lina and Toby for showing yesterday, that, if they’re any indication, this new generation has what it takes to make their mark in the world. Also to Anastacia, Jada and Kalyss who, I have no doubt, will do the same in September. Finally, thanks to Nick John, Anna Rimington, Ron Stokes and all those at the school for their support. After a year during which I’ve felt that I’ve seen some of the worst of our country, you have reaffirmed my belief human goodness and potential and, for that, many, many thanks.

A New Generation Steps Up to the Plate

Over the past few months, along with another speaker and coach, I’ve been working with a group of students at a local secondary school. The programme that was devised was aimed at helping them to bridge the gap between school and the world of work by helping them with their presentation and communication skills. What we wanted to do was ensure that they were able to present themselves well so that, once they got before a potential employer, they would do themselves justice.

The programme had been planned in some detail but, with the approaching summer holidays, we had to fit everything thing into a shorter timescale than we had originally intended. Also, although these were 17 year olds, none of them had spoken in public before. So we started with helping them to identify a subject that had been a “turning point” in their lives and then write a script based on that. During the second week, we actually got each one up to speak! Yet, with only three weeks to go before the presentation to their peers, teachers and families, I was getting worried that it wouldn’t all come together. I should have had more faith, especially given my own experiences.

Well, on that week, they all stood up and gave a short presentation and Mike, my fellow coach, and I were amazed. They did it; in one case with an 8 minute presentation. Not only that but, in the weeks that have followed, they have improved beyond measure. So much so that, next week, when we have the presentation, I expect the programme to have delivered all that I planned for it to do when I first started work on it more than two years ago. If these students are any indication, the future is in safe hands.

Why I Can No Longer “Call it a Loan”

Like many people of my generation, I’ve been “in love” many times and, having had a number of relationships, I thought that I had a pretty good idea of what love felt like and what I thought that a relationship was based on. Boy was I wrong.

To explain. In each case, there was, obviously, a physical attraction and an emotional one. However, what followed had to be hearts and flowers all the time and any diminution either of these states implied that things weren’t as good as they should be. The result of this state of affairs was that, either or both of us had to make quite an effort to sustain the situation, or that, almost inevitably, there was a time limit to the relationship. At which point, I could get back to my default position, that is, of being unhappy; something I cope with. And yes, that’s a pretty stupid way to look at things although it seemed perfectly normal to me at the time. So, why am I writing this today?

Well, because many years of therapy have helped me to change. So much so that I see things differently and, as a result, behave differently. The result has been a gradual, but remarkable change; assisted, I have to say, by someone I describe as “the most quietly determined person I’ve ever met”. She is, of course, Gaynor, my wife, someone I’ve been with now for nearly three decades. Not only that but, as I see it, the relationship gets better with each passing day. In direct contrast, you will note, to how it was in my previous relationships. This, by the way, is no disrespect to those people I shared my life with at the time; the fault was, largely, mine.

So what would I consider to be the defining factors? Well, first and foremost, that change in me which has enabled me to see things differently. I now see a relationship as a whole, a continuum, a shared commitment and something that doesn’t have to end. Indeed, in this case, something that I don’t want to end. In addition, I could add a whole load of other characteristics but will settle for just one. It is one of feeling completely at ease with the person that you’re with which stems, to a degree, of feeling more at ease with yourself.

So this blog is for Gaynor with many thanks for your patience, perseverance and companionship over so many years. There’s still a lot to do in this world so I, currently, have no plans to retire. However, when I do, I can’t think of anyone I’d rather sail off into the sunset with than your good self.

For those curious about the title of the blog, “Call it a Loan” is a Jackson Browne song.

What Brian Did

Many years ago Gaynor and I were regulars at Liberties (as was) our local pub in Camden. It was an Irish bar and the centre of ours (and a lot of other peoples’) social lives. Such was its reputation for the craic and late night lock ins, that people knew that they could just turn up, often after months away, and just slot back into the old routine. As a result, it was, invariably packed. One such was Brian, probably in his late 20’s, who, every so often, would turn up and get his old job back behind the bar for a few months. One evening one of the customers asked him what he did while he was away and he explained that he loved Goa and just came back to the pub just to earn enough money to return to Goa. Upon which the customer asked him, “But, Brian, what are you going to do with your life?” To which the response was “I’m doing it!”

Which brings me to my point which is that lucky are those people who really know what they want to do with their life, while luckier still are those who do that at an early age and, even luckier, are those who make a living out of it.

Now, at long last, I’m now doing one of the things that I long convinced myself that I couldn’t. Fair enough so far. However, what has been the real change is that I’m starting to earn a living by one of those things I enjoy while the other one, writing, may also reap rewards at last. You see, after many years of trying, a literary agent has asked me to submit the manuscript of my latest book. And that feels really good. So, if there’s anything that you really want to do, what’s stopping you? Perhaps Brian had it right all along.

Hidden Depths and Hidden Places

I have long been someone who tries to take hurdles in his stride, both personally and professionally. The secret, I think, is in not seeing them as hurdles but, rather, as among those things that you just need to do to get where you want to be. You see, the problem with hurdles is if you imagine them as such and that’s what they become, at least to you. So, for me that steady challenge is something that might make me apprehensive but it’s also something that I quite relish. Indeed the quiet, personal satisfaction that it provides can be extremely satisfying. As well as making you look for the next challenge.

Now, with a great leap of narrative, I’m going to relate this to Gaynor, my wife and someone who also has just those qualities; ones that I spent years looking for in someone else. You see, she appears to have a similar disposition and attitude, albeit more hidden than mine. She, for example, won’t be told what to do and has to do things in her own way, albeit more quietly than me. Which leads me to the point of this blog which is that it may be satisfying to overcome your own hurdles and embark on something new; however, it can be even more so to see someone that you care about do something similar.

Well, after a good few years during which we have gone for walks around the capital and elsewhere finding and photographing those hidden places that can be just off the beaten track, what I call my little bits of Wonderland, Gaynor has now set up her own website. Called, appropriately enough, “Just Off the Beaten Track”, it chronicles our weekend wanderings. Along with the walking, she’s developed an eye for a photograph and, do you know, I think that I’m more pleased than she is with the result.

Perhaps there’s a lesson in here about looking for something in someone and finding hidden depths that correspond to the hidden places that we now find (and chronicle) together. Ain’t life grand?

Have a look at Gaynor’s website which has just gone live!