Monthly Archives: January 2021

A Time for Remembering

This time last year, I was worried. I’d been ill since the new year with, what the nurse would later call, an extremely powerful virus. The symptoms were flu like with an awful cough that simply refused to go away. After three weeks in bed, I managed to get myself to the sofa where I spent another two weeks before going to see the aforementioned nurse. This last brought on by real concerns that there didn’t seem to be any improvement in my condition and that I wouldn’t get any better. Fortunately, from then on, things did improve although it would be another month before I managed to get out for a run. So, the personal history lesson over, why am I writing this?

Well, largely because when I experience illness, my thoughts are directed to the feeling, at the time, that I won’t ever get any better. More than that, that things will actually get much worse. Now, I’ve had enough therapy to understand the reasoning behind those feelings but, at the time, that doesn’t make them any less real. The memories that generate those feelings remain powerful. And, today is about memories of sad events. Now the problem with any memories is that as we get older, they become less accessible. We know that they’re there but instead of the thoughts, a “vacant” sign appears; not, of course, entirely coincidental. In my particular instance, the whole thing compounded by the fact that the events themselves are related to a particular time of the year. Dreary winter months that  resonate down the years. So today is the day to remember the nearest person to a sister that I have, my cousin Rose, whose birthday it is and who died just before Xmas three years ago. To Doreen, her mum, who, along with her husband, Bill, rescued me and who died at the beginning of February in 1998. To Nancy, Gaynor’s mum, whose birthday was yesterday and who died in November six years ago and to my mum whose birthday was also just before Xmas over 100 years ago and who died in November 1947. Four woman whose effect on my life I treasure along with, of course, the ones who are still here. You know who you are but thanks anyway.  

A Timely Message

The following is an extract from a speech that Robert Kennedy gave in 1968.  It has no less relevance today, 48 hours before the inauguration of the incoming president of the USA.

“If we believe that we, as Americans, are bound together by a common concern for each other, then an urgent national priority is upon us.  We must begin to end the disgrace of this other America.
And this is one of the great tasks of leadership for us, as individuals and citizens this year.  But even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all.  Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armoured cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.  Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.  And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans”.

For those who don’t hail from the USA, please replace the words “America” and “Americans” with those that are either relevant to their own country or, preferably, global.

Planet of the Apes, Anyone?

When I was a child, more years ago that I care to remember, despite Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace, we were brought up on the idea that human beings were set apart from the other animals. That we were, in fact, the most intelligent of species at the top of the evolutionary tree. At which point, a quote from, I believe from Mao Tse Tung when asked what he thought about western civilisation, is reported to have replied “It’s too soon to say”. One which is only bettered by a reputed response from Mahatma Gandhi to the same question, that he thought that “It would be a good idea.” Anyway, already I digress from the point, which is “Is our uniqueness not absolute but rather a matter of degree?”

Now anyone who has ever watched almost any of David Attenborough’s wildlife programmes will have seen how much ingenuity many of the other species exhibit. And that’s before we consider how similar our behaviour is to our nearest living relatives. Yes, I’ve watched programmes that demonstrated how amazing are octopi and ones where members of the crow family exhibit a capacity to solve problems that are, shall we just say, quite a degree of intellect. Yet, what was shown was their skill in solving what you could call “technical” problems; the ability to find a way out of a maze or get food from a deep container of water (fill it with stones so that the food rises, if you’re interested).

Well, an article in today’s copy of The Guardian described something on a very different level, what is called cultural intelligence among Long Tailed Macaques in Bali. After spending nine months filming them, researchers have found that they seem to have become expert at evaluating those items that tourists value most in the form of mobile phones, wallets and glasses and targeting these. “So what?” you might say. Well, here’s the interesting part. The researchers discovered that the Macaques actually bargained for greater rewards, eg more food, for the return of items that were seen as more valuable. In one case, it took 25 minutes for an item to be returned after 17 minutes of “negotiation”. Moreover, as these were feral animals, they have learnt this behaviour through from their elders. “Planet of the Apes”, anyone?

If You Build It, They Will Come

This title, as any film buff will know, comes from a film starring Kevin Costner, in which he builds a baseball pitch miles from anywhere, in the belief that, if he does so, people will turn up. Which, of course, they do.

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I believe in the inherent good nature of the great majority of humanity. Moreover, it’s a belief that is supported by experience, including over 40 years in practical projects in the voluntary sector in which those on the receiving end in society were able to solve their own problems. In the most notable of these, those who were homeless and/or unemployed, men and women, were able to build their own homes. At which point, the response from some of those not in these situations was, “If they could build their own homes, they wouldn’t be homeless.” Something that rather ignored the fact that it wasn’t ability they lacked but the  resources.

The point about this approach is that, like most other things in life, you start from where people are and not where you’d like them to be and that you don’t judge and penalise them for the situation that they find themselves in. How can you when you probably know very little about them? Which brings me to the matter of today’s blog about a scheme in Manchester where, three years ago, Andy Burnham the Mayor, made, what might have seemed, a fanciful commitment, to find homes for 200 of the city’s most entrenched rough sleepers. Crucially, neither addiction, a criminal record or history of eviction were to be a bar to the tenancy. Neither did applicants have to get “clean” first.

Despite some early scepticism, 356 long term rough sleepers were given a roof over their heads along with “wrap around” support. The result has been that 79% of the tenants are still housed, that 45 of them have started training or are in employment while 133 have had help with mental health problems and 97 have made use of alcohol or other drug services. In cases where the project has not worked well, tenants have been given “managed moves” instead of being evicted. Three years down the line and the scheme has become one of the UK’s most successful homelessness projects. From the initial expectation, from one of the partners in the organisation’s financial management, that at least half the tenancies would be expected to fail, the project is one of their “shining stars”. The Mayor is quoted as saying that many people now have safe, warm homes and the support that they need and, as a result, can look forward to a positive future. It just shows what can be done when there’s a will to do so; something that we’re all witness to if we just look around.

Doesn’t Time Fly When You’re Enjoying Yourself?

When I look at my website, I see that it’s nearly two years since I last posted a blog; hence the title of this one. In fact, as you discover as you age, it’s less when you enjoy yourself that time flies and more as you just get older. So, I’m going to write about some things that I’ve read about or that have happened that lifted my spirits. However, before I start on those blogs, perhaps a short personal update might be opportune.

On the footie front, having taken us supporters on a roller coaster ride to the Champions’ League final, Spurs not only fell at the last hurdle but compounded the matter six months later by summarily dismissing their esteemed manager. They then compounded things even more by appointing one Jose Mourinho, someone who doesn’t endear himself to me with his behaviour. Still, it’s also given me the opportunity to add another chapter or two to my book, “Why Don’t You Just Support Arsenal? The Life and Times of a Spurs Supporter”.

While I’m on the subject of books, I also need to say that I’ve also written by first work of fiction, “Finally Meeting Mum” which I’m now trying to get an agent for. It’s an autobiographical novel in which I meet someone who died over 70 years ago; even my wife thinks it’s “brilliant”. There is no higher praise. Check these, and my other books, out on I’m now working on my second novel with two other works of nonfiction in hand, one of which is nearly finished.

On the downside, this time last year, I returned from the New Year break with the worst illness I’ve ever had. It kept me bedbound for nearly a month and was, it turns out a really bad virus. I haven’t had any checks but both Gaynor and I are pretty sure that it was Covid. On a happier note, we will become grandparents to our daughter whose own daughter Rosalyn Ada (the latter name after my mum) is due in a couple of months. Which prompts the question, “Is knitting something that prospective grandmothers take to without any previous training?” Lastly, we’ve had some major works done to the flat which we’re extremely pleased with. We plan to complete this renovation work by tackling the garden when the weather gets better. In fact, we’ve already started by replacing the old decking and the pergola frame.

 We’ve also managed to continue, albeit intermittently, with our weekend walks seeking out those highways and byways that most people don’t notice. What we’ve found, and Gaynor has written about and photographed, has been a delight to both of us. If you’re interested check out This probably includes about one third of our walks over the past four years, with the rest still to be uploaded. Finally, having been unable to run for nearly three months due to the virus, I picked up again in late Spring and am still pounding away, largely over the Heath and surrounding roads. I have to admit that running through empty streets during the first lockdown was an amazing experience. Running down an empty Euston Road made me feel that I was in a sci fi film.

So, yes, time does fly when you’re enjoying yourself and age is no barrier to that enjoyment. Long may it continue!