Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are


I’ve been writing these Monday blogs now for over five years and have now reached post number 244!

However, I have found recently that my “blog-muse” has been feeling a little jaded , that my writing seems to be losing some of its spark. Perhaps I’m imagining this, but I’m finding writing posts to be more and more of an effort, rather than a flow. Even as I tap out these sentences, they feel stilted and lacking in life.

With the Christmas break approaching, I’m going to let my muse have a little lie down. In so doing, it can decide whether it returns refreshed in the new year or whether it will be time to call it a day. No decision yet, but I’ll be back one way or another on Monday 11 January to let you know “where to from here”. I hope the spark does return, but if not, I know that will also be right. These things can’t be forced.

It just remains for me to wish you and yours a very happy Christmas and New Year break. Enjoy!



The other day I was chatting with a fellow trainer who told me a mutual contact had moved on to another training organisation. I decided to look him up and try to make contact with a view to seeing if there were any opportunity there to do business.

I located the company’s website and sought out the contact page. The only means by which I could get in touch was to complete an online form. There was no phone number or office address provided. In other words, no clue was available as to their physical location.

This was just one more example of how, in recent years, geographical location is considered to be less and less important. I wasn’t seeking to travel to that company’s offices unbidden, but would still find it handy to know where they might be based. It’s as if the world is increasingly being made up of online locations, rather than physical ones – a reflection of how we increasingly choose to communicate. The feel of that website was of faceless anonymity, creating the ultimate irony, given they are in the business of training people!

I always like to ask folk in call centres where they happen to be based. I find it interesting. I usually ask my delegates on courses where they live. It can turn out that they are just up the road from me or happen to have mutual connections.

And, when we do go out and about, we rely increasingly on GPS technology to guide us, leaving us with little or no sense of north, south, east or west. We blithely follow the nice lady’s instructions like robotic sheep.

I fear the time may come where we all inhabit only that great, amorphous territory called cyberspace and lose all sense of our diverse roots and physical location. And, if GPS technology went into meltdown, what kind of chaos would ensue?

Perhaps, not all is lost – my smartphone does have a compass included, although I wonder how often people use that function or even would know how to!

If you wish to comment, you know where to find me – online at least! But, just for your information, I’m located in Barnet on the borders of North London and the county of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. It’s on the map.


It’s been almost a year now since I did my very first stand up comedy gig at the ripe old age of 59 in a pub in Leytonstone, East London. Since then, I’ve racked up sixty or so gigs mainly in similar “open mike” venues around London.

During these eleven months or so, chances are that some of you reading this have shelled out to go and see a big comedy name at a major venue. I’m pretty certain you’ll have had a good time and happily parted with the many tens of pounds for a ticket – even if you were up in the gods and had to see your favourite comedian on a big screen.

I think I can say that, during this same period, I haven’t laughed so much in my life. Yet, not one of the acts I’ve seen perform on the same bill as me at gigs has been a major name.  At times, some have died on their feet, but most have been very good, some absolutely brilliant. There have been evenings when my sides have been virtually splitting from start to finish as one hilarious act follows another.

In the vast majority of cases, this hasn’t cost audience members a single penny in entry fees.

We are so easily drawn towards seeing those big names, whether in comedy, music or other artistic endeavours. I don’t resent that, as most have worked their butts off for years to reach such dizzy heights. However, it has been glorious to discover such a rich seam of talent in London’s pubs and clubs who perform for free on the open mike circuit.

One can have a hugely entertaining evening out for next to nothing (not including bar drinks of course!) and laugh just as much as you might at a McIntyre or Izzard gig.

I’m sure some of those comedy acts I’ve played alongside will eventually reach the top and people will flock to see them in those big venues. I’m sure their success will be well deserved but, for me, there’s nothing quite like the intimacy and rawness of a small, crowded room full of people falling about with laughter. I’ve even been known to make ‘em laugh myself from time to time in the past eleven months!

And, should I ever reach those dizzy heights myself,  please, please, please forget you read this and buy a ticket for my shows at the 02 or Apollo – I’ll probably be a creaky  septagenarian by then and  my pension arrangements ain’t the greatest!

For details of my forthcoming gigs, pop me an email to:  and I’ll get straight back to you with dates.


There’s an awful lot of upset in the world at the moment. Our media and leaders seem intent on sending messages that can strike fear in our hearts, stifle our spirit. The assumption is that the only way forward must be to fight.

As my way of handling this, I list a number of words below, in no particular order, that I think can make all the difference. This is no short term fix, it may take decades or even generations, but we have to start somewhere…….

Awareness – awareness of my thoughts, feelings, actions and their impact. Awareness of others’ needs and feelings.

Understanding – the capacity to step back, suspend judgment and consider “why”? Judgment is the enemy of understanding.

Contribution – how can I contribute? What can I do, however tiny, to make some difference?

Feelings – we are emotional beings, driven by our feelings. To deny that can destroy our spirit.

Delivering – If a promise or commitment is made, we aim to keep it and manage expectations if we can’t do so.

Engagement – communicate, find that common ground and understand differences through dialogue.

Integrity – be who we are. No pretence, no mask.

Laughter – the best medicine!

Gratitude – appreciate what we do have, but not in a “you should be grateful” kind of way. There’s an awful lot to be thankful for.

Silence – quiet time away from the hubbub.


I was having a bad day, several things had gone wrong, I’d had a spat with my partner and was in no mood for more aggro.

Then came the email. Sent to me from a large training company I was doing a lot of work for, the email queried why I’d sent only four of the evaluation sheets from a course I’d run the previous week which had had twelve people attending. All twelve documents had been dispatched, together in one envelope.

This wasn’t the first time I’d had such issues with this organisation – like many companies of such size, the left arm wasn’t always aware of what their right arm was up to. On this occasion, such flapping of the arms came at just the wrong time for me, and I reacted.

I decided to forward the email to my partner in order to demonstrate the kind of incompetence I had to deal with. I no longer have a copy of what I wrote, but this was the gist:

“ Ingrid – This is the sort of rubbish I have to put up with after over twenty years of running courses! These numskulls simply don’t know their arses from their elbows! Idiots!”

I pressed send.

Within minutes, a further email came from the company, politely acknowledging receipt of my missive.

I’d sent my rant as a reply, rather than forwarding it to Ingrid.

I’ve had no work from that company since. Considering they provided me with almost 50% of my freelance income at the time, it was quite a painful hit. In fact, the following few months were some of the driest in over two decades of trading.

Yet, I’ve lost count of the times I’ve advised people on courses not to fire out hastily written emails and to take care over what you write, to wait and even sleep on it before hitting that send button. I fell straight into that very trap!

Now, a few years later, I finally feel brave enough to admit such a humdinger of a  mistake. I use it as an example on courses on how we can all make stupid, costly errors when acting in haste and reacting emotionally to situations.

The whole episode does, however have a couple of silver linings:

  1. About a year later I went to see a new client, a top UK university, and won a substantial contract to train over 300 IT staff in customer care and communication skills. This provided me with thirteen months of good, solid work. I discovered a while into that contract that one of the firms I was up against when pitching was the very company that I’d made the boo boo with.
  2. My tax bill for the year of the cock up was derisory, given the quite significant drop in income I’d created. Lets just say that Facebook paid considerably more tax in the UK this year than I did then!

Ultimately, I’m reassured by the following quote, one of my favourites:

“We teach best what we most need to learn”  Richard Bach – Illusions


There I am, settling down one evening last week to watch a bit of TV on my computer. Searching through the BBC iplayer, I came across what looked like an interesting programme. I think it was called “Building Cars Live” and featured a visit to the Mini car plant in Cowley. The main presenter was James May, one of the cheeky chappies from Top Gear along with two others, a woman and a man, whom I didn’t know.

I watched the programme for less than ten minutes before having to switch off. Was the subject matter boring? No, I actually have quite a keen interest in matters automotive. Did something else crop up that I had to attend to? Nope.

I simply could take no more.

Those presenters could not keep their hands to themselves. I’m not suggesting the show degenerated into some kind of car factory based ménage a trois – I think you’d need internet sites other than the BBC to find that kind of stuff.

They seemed compelled to incessantly gesticulate in that contrived way that presenters and others in public life –especially TV presenters and politicians – seem to have to do these days.

I blame Tony Blair. I have him down as being the first high profile exponent of the engineered hand and body gesture. This is now a big industry that has developed over the past twenty years or so, that takes politicians, TV presenters and the like and coaches them in body language “techniques” in order for them to better influence and, wait for it……. “appear more sincere”.

Hand gestures are a natural part of how we communicate and I have no issue with that. However, it’s the natural that appears to be missing in all this. UK readers of a certain age will remember TV presenters from a couple of decades back,  like Magnus Pyke and David Bellamy who exuded a natural enthusiasm through their hand gestures and body movements. They were well loved presenters who needed no coaching in how to convey their enthusiasm. You’ll even see a difference between the pre-coached Jeremy Clarkson and the post coached version of more recent years.

And, so to the other Jeremy C. I was immensely impressed with Jeremy Corbyn’s acceptance speech when voted in as Labour leader. I’m talking less about the content here, more about his presence. Not once did I see a surplus or contrived hand gesture or body movement. He showed dignity and poise without any consultant having earned mega bucks taking him through how he “should” look. And, what adjective was used any number of times about him as a result?


Part of me wonders, as I write this, whether I am alone in my observation and criticism of all this. Yet, I then remind myself of the times I talk about this on my courses and of the sea of nodding heads and knowing smiles as I share these thoughts with rooms full of delegates.

I wonder whether more public figures will follow Mr Corbyn’s lead and let go of the need to practice this faux sincerity and enthusiasm, or whether the other Jeremy will prevail, along with Tony, James et al.

I never did find out how Minis are built. Oh well.


This week’s blog post is a little different, as I’m handing it over to a guest blogger – Clara Markiewicz, my eighteen year old daughter. She wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago, following her first visit to the Jungle refugee camp in Calais, Northern France.

I’ve been trying to write this post for nearly a week now and I’m finding it almost impossible. I’m finding it hard to condense and simplify what I saw and what I experienced in the Jungle, Calais. I’m also finding it hard to do the people I met and the wide range of emotions I’ve been feeling justice in writing, but I’m going to give it a go.

At 5.30am on Monday the 12th of October I was sitting on the first Northern Line train out of High Barnet. It was pitch black outside and I suddenly wondered if I was mad. I felt really juvenile and pathetic sitting there with my bum-bag strapped defensively around my waist and my sleeping bag spilling out of a Tesco bag. It all felt a little hilarious. I started to realise that I didn’t feel prepared for what I was going to experience in the Jungle camp. It’s one thing to imagine what I was going to find there but on that tube train surrounded by smartly dressed, early-bird commuters I realised, that in a few hours, I wouldn’t be relying on the safety of my imagination any more.

Soon I met with Sadaf, the wonderful woman who set up Musafir’s (traveller’s) Collective to help provide wood burners and food for the people there, and her friend Sally. We got into the car and started for Dover. The ferry was filled with excited holiday makers, expectant school children who’d never seen France before and families heading home. It was easy to get swept along with it all, especially as it was my first time on a ferry, and for a while I forgot where we were going.

Once in France, we started towards the camp. We knew we were going in the right direction when we started seeing small groups of men walking along the roadside. As we neared the camp, these parties got more numerous and soon we were turning left down a police flanked track into the Jungle.

From then on it’s going to be impossible for me to describe everything, there’s just far too much, so I thought I’d do what I can so I can at least paint a bit of picture for you all.

My first thought? The whole place felt surreal. I most certainly didn’t feel like I was in France. Young men on flimsy bikes whizzed past, others sat on the dunes in little groups chatting, playing music, or simply gazing out. Rubbish lined the road and was scraped up into the bushes. Piles of unwanted clothes were littered around, who in their right mind donates high heeled shoes? I realised that a lot of people just get so excited about helping that they clearly don’t think things through!

As we walked, I started seeing tents and shelters made out of tarpaulin and rope – none of which looked up for the oncoming winter. The camp is separated into smaller camps depending on the ethnicity and religion of those living there. We passed many groups of men cooking around little fires, most of whom called out a cheery ‘hello, how are you?’ as we passed.

It struck me how I wasn’t once asked for anything, no one begged. Everyone I had the privilege of meeting were incredibly polite and non-assuming. We were treated as honourable guests and never once were I made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. We spent most of the day in a Pakistani camp of about 25 young men who Sadaf knew from her previous visits. All had fled the same town in a region of Pakistan that’s been practically taken over by the Taliban. Their lives were in danger constantly over there, so many left to try and find sanctuary for them and their families in the UK. But they can’t get to the UK.

You hear stories of the perilous journeys being made to and through Europe but it was a completely different matter to be told these testaments face to face. What do you say to a boy that left his home in March aged only 17 and who has travelled on foot through 9 countries in search of a place for his family to live in safety? What do you say when he tells you his parents went into debt to send him on this journey? What do you say when he tells of how he was put in a chicken coup for 24 hours by the Hungarian police and only fed one slice of bread?

This boy was the same age as me, yet he looked ten years older.

At one point one of the guys asked me if I was a relative of David Cameron’s. At first I thought he was making a joke that I looked like him until I realised he was hoping I could talk him into helping them. In that moment, and from then on, I felt hugely ashamed of the country I came from. That feeling was intensified when I asked the guys why they wanted to come to the UK so much, the response always was “because the English are nice people, because they come and help us, like you are.” I didn’t know how to tell them that if they got to England they probably wouldn’t get the welcome they’d been expecting.

They told of us of the trip they make every night to the Euro-tunnel entrance. Hundreds of them walk for 2 hours to the tunnel, dodging police, climbing high fences and ultimately trying to jump onto the train to try and get to England. They said how they have to time the jump just right, how there’s a small window of time in which the train is going more slowly before it picks up speed. One guy made a fist with one hand that represented a person, pretended his other palm was the oncoming train and showed us what happened if they got the timing wrong.

Many of their friends had died whilst trying and I’m surprised how easily they told us, even with some humour, and it occurred to me that most of them had seen so much death already that it’s the only way they can deal with it now. The young men I talked about above told me how he only thinks of his family as he tries for the train, he told me that they are the reason he’s doing it, so he can bring them to safety.

We spent the day walking around the Jungle, meeting amazing people (both refugees and volunteers) and learning a little more about life there. The media can do a pretty good job of giving the refugees a bad name and labelling them as intruders and as a threat. The fact of the matter is, the Jungle is a community and communities are always going to be full of a variety of people. It’s made up of over 6,000 people so of course some will not have such good intentions of coming to the UK than others. In truth, I was apprehensive about being a girl there when the camp is 90% young men but I never felt unsafe. I’ve felt more threatened when walking home from the tube in London! Every single person I met there shook my hand when they met me, asked me how I was and gave me a huge, kind smile. The Pakistani guys we were with treated me like a little sister and told me they were perfectly ready to defend me if it came to it.

In the Jungle library (a large tent filled precariously with shelves of books, 3 or 4 laptops and a central table), me and the Pakistani guy my own age had a written conversation on paper as he wanted to practice writing English. When we’d finished, he folded it up and handed it to me saying in broken English that I must keep it safe until he makes it to England. It was like a promise.

As it got dark, we headed back to the Pakistani camp as the Jungle isn’t safe to wander around in at night. We passed a small patch of white flowers growing out of the sandy ground and one of the men bent down and picked one for me, saying it was a thank-you present. I had never been more touched. Here we were, standing in the middle of a flood-prone wasteland that was strewn with make-shift shelters and rubbish, and yet here was a beautiful flower being given to me as a gift. The gesture pretty much summed up everything I felt about my visit to the Jungle – kindness, both on the part of the volunteers and the refugees, was everywhere.

We all squeezed into one of their tents and sat around a single candle, talking and showing each other photos of our families and homes. We started to realise it was time to head back to the ferry so we tried to find enough WiFi connection to look up the times. It struck me then how sickening it was that our biggest issue was trying to get enough internet to plan our journey back to England, our home, when the people around us put themselves in mortal danger everyday for the same thing.

When we got back to the car we had to say our goodbyes. I got big hugs from all of them and we made jokes that they better come and see us in England soon. I said “promise you’ll come and visit us in London when you can.” And the guy who gave me the flower repeated the word ‘promise’ over and over so he wouldn’t forget how to say it.

A part of my heart broke in that moment and I’m not sure it’ll ever be fixed because right there, right then, after everything I’d seen and everyone I’d met and all the stories I’d heard the total enormity of it hit me. Right then we got to drive away in our warm car with the comfortable knowledge that our UK passports were snuggled safely in our bags and that in a few hours we’d be back in our happy homes, surrounded by our families. And as we drove away we left them there, to spend yet another freezing night in tiny tents, thousands of miles away from home with no way of knowing what was going to happen to them or if their families were OK.

The only difference between them and us is luck. We are the lucky ones because we don’t have to worry about being killed when we step outside our front door, we don’t have to make the agonising decision to leave our family and home country in search of a place where we can live without fear, we don’t have to travel for months through country after country that doesn’t want us with no idea where we’ll end up or if it’ll all be OK.

Yes, the situation is dire, there are millions needing help and our government isn’t doing its fair share to any extent. But in my short visit, I’ve learnt how amazing human beings are. From volunteers from all over the world joining forces to help those fleeing war, to the gratefulness and strength of the refugees themselves, I’ve been blown away.


You can subscribe to Clara’s blog and read her account of her subsequent visit to Calais last week, by following this link:

She has also set up a Just Giving page to raise funds for to help her refugee friends keep fed and warm through the coming winter. If you feel moved to contribute, this is the link:


As I head towards my 25th anniversary as a freelance trainer, my mind finds itself going back to my early days in the business and my first major client – a large regional newspaper group on the south coast.

I’d made contact through a mailshot and follow up call, and was invited in to meet with the HR Director, an ex submarine officer called Richard. Arriving in the reception area of the large, imposing period building in Southampton, I was asked to wait to be collected. About 10 minutes later, a young girl came to fetch me. She introduced herself as Marina, Richard’s HR assistant. As we negotiated the corridors and stairs to reach his office we chatted. I enquired about her and her role, how long she’d been working there and other bits and bobs.

We eventually reached Richard’s offce and he and I got down to discussing business. The meeting went very well, so much so that for the next three years or so, I ran regular sales and customer care courses for the company. It was, to put it bluntly, a nice little earner!

It must have been at least 18 months after that first meeting that Richard confided in me about his decision process when choosing trainers. I had been expecting him to quote criteria such as experience and industry background (I’d been in publishing). These were indeed relevant, however his main criterion blew me away:

“ I ask Marina to report back to me how the trainer was with her on that long walk from reception to my office. If her impression is positive, I am likely to go with that and vice versa”.

He went on to explain that he wasn’t the only one who needed to be impressed and that Marina and her colleagues were the real clients, the likes of whom I would need to have capacity to engage with on course after course.

Based on that early experience, I remind myself every time I go into an organisation for a client meeting or to run a course, that EVERYONE is important and may have influence we are utterly unaware of. You never know if the receptionist is the CEO’s daughter!

Apart from which, its just bloody good form to be pleasant and respectful to everyone, however “humble” their role. I’d like to think that approach has stood me in good stead these 25 years.


I’ve spent some time in the past few days going through a box of old photographs. The snaps stretch way back as far as my late teens. They take in family, work, parties, weddings , client bashes, holidays, my time on an Israeli kibbutz and so on and so on.

The pictures feature all manner of people, many of whom are still in my life, albeit older and – in some cases – saggier. Others have since died. Many have moved on and disappeared from my life. Yet others are people I don’t remember and no longer recognise – “”Who on earth was that? Where were we? Aah, I remember now – my ex wife, our wedding day…..”

These photos reflect just a minute portion of past experiences. Most of what I did over those years has vacated my bonce, possibly never to return.

Talking yesterday with Ingrid, my partner, we discussed the fact that our 17 year old son had been out all night yet again and the concern it caused. I reminded her that, at his age, I was out virtually ever Saturday night, returning the following morning to find my parents having their breakfast, or even back as late as lunchtime – on one occasion, my face collapsing exhaustedly into my plate of food.

Hardly a Saturday went by without at least one party to go to – sometimes as many as three or four.

Yet, how many of these Saturday sorties can I recall? A tiny handful.

All those good times expelled from my memory cells, and not just as a result of being drunk at the time! Having said that, I do vaguely recall sometimes sleeping “rough” having had a skinful. There are also fuzzy memories of walking, or rather stumbling, in the early hours across London on my way home. These days, I’m amazed if I make it to 1am, before wanting to get back from a do!

They say that youth is wasted on the young. I’m not so sure – the waste is that so very few of the memories remain. I’m glad of all those faded snaps.


Looking over a delegate list for a course I was running last week, I spotted someone with a very unusual surname. This also happened to be the surname of Neil, a guy I knew for a while way back in the early 80’s.

I asked the woman whether she was in any way related to Neil and she declared “Yes, he’s my husband!”. A conversation then ensued, bringing me up to date on what this erstwhile buddy had been up to in the intervening years. She was even able to show me current pictures of him on her phone.

As well as such chance encounters, I’ve managed in recent years to track down all sorts of people from the past via the internet, especially using social media. I’ve also been “rediscovered” by others. It has been a fantastic way of reconnecting and prompts me to think that my children, and others of their generation, will never have reason or excuse to lose touch with friends into the future. For better or worse, it will be almost impossible for people to “disappear”.

It can be as simple as putting the person’s name into a search engine and, hey presto, there they are! And, it looks like there will still be space for those little coincidences such as that with my pal, Neil.

Having said that though, three of the other people on the course had the surnames: Khan, Smith and Patel…..


Note: this week’s blog is short & sweet, owing to the fact I’ve just had an eye op & can’t be in front of my screen for very long. Thank goodness for the high contrast screen setting!


Waiting in a hotel lobby the other day, my eyes went to one of those TV screens you see almost everywhere nowadays, showing rolling news with the sound turned down. This one was tuned to CNN and featured filmed images from Europe of refugees trying to cross over a border.

Among the crowd, I spotted a young girl, perhaps 4 or 5 years old, on her father’s arm. Both were facing away, so I couldn’t see their faces. She was wearing a colourful striped top, blue jeans and her hair had been carefully formed into a bun on the top of her head.

This father and daughter might just as well have been on my local high street. They didn’t look like typical, bedraggled refugees. Yet, in an odd way, that made the image all the more poignant, more tragic. Despite their appearance, that father & daughter have no home, may even have no shelter for the night, few possessions, little money and the most uncertain of futures.

The image has stayed in my mind since last Wednesday and, for me in its own small way, sums up the tragedy that is occurring in a swathe all the way from Syria, and other places, and across much of Europe.

People were, of course, shocked and moved by the images of the young lad who perished on the Turkish beach a few weeks back. This more recent image seems to have affected me in a similar way, by prompting some tough and tortuous questions:

Who is that girl? How will her life unfold? Where will her next meal come from? Will she be alive this time next year, or even this time next month? How is she at this very moment, as I (the son of wartime refugees) sit and type this piece?

One unknown girl and her dad, on my mind. One small child, among thousands upon thousands of others in a similar position, while a helpless world looks on, courtesy of CNN…….


I wonder how you have reacted (if at all) to the spelling error in the title of this post. Perhaps you let it go, thinking it a symptom of a bleary eyed Chris knocking out yet another post early on a Monday morning. On the other hand, you may be appalled.

This is one I feel really mixed about.

Barely a day goes by when I don’t see a post on Facebook pointing out a mis-spelling on a poster or document along with some kind of smug comment from the person sharing it. I’ve certainly posted things of that nature myself before now, recognising the value of maintaining consistency and high standards when writing.  Indeed, one of the few things I recall being particularly proud of at primary school was the high marks I got in spelling tests.

Yet, in just about every instance I’ve ever seen of a mis-spelling, the understanding of what’s been written hasn’t been compromised in any way.

And, isn’t any communication ultimately about creating understanding?

I’d say that, for example, vagueness and ambiguity are far worse “offences” than that of a misplaced letter within a particular word. The spelling error in the title above may well have rankled, but I’ll bet a pound to a penny that you understood it.

I’m kiurrius az too wot yor thawts ar on the toppik – y not coment and let mee no?


“If you haven’t grown up by age 50, you don’t have to” (Recent Facebook meme)

Last Monday evening I was performing my stand up routine at a club called The Hideaway, just down the Northern Line from me in Archway.

I was there on my own as Ingrid had to tend to Murphy, our dog, who’d had an operation that day. I requested a spot in the first half of the show as I wanted to travel home earlier, rather than later, given my vision difficulties.

As I passed through the bar during the break, I heard a voice to my left:

“Chris, how are you, can I buy you a drink?”

It was Nigel Roberts, a fellow act, whom I’d seen perform no more than three times previously.

I declined, explaining I wanted to go home before it got too late.

Yesterday, I had word that Nigel died on Thursday of a heart attack.

He was one of a posse of stand up comedians I’ve come across on the London open mike circuit who, despite heading towards the later years of life, decide to get out there and try and make people laugh. When I finally decided to take up stand up earlier this year, I was incredibly self conscious, believing that such japes were reserved for the younger folk, rather than those of my generation.

Nigel, among others (including Brendan O’Donoghue, Johnny Glasgow, Dan Andrews, Mary Fielding, Andy Zapp ), has inadvertently helped me along the way, showing that age simply doesn’t come into it.

Had you seen Nigel on a tube or walking down the street you would never in a million years have imagined he spent his evenings doing stand up. An unassuming figure, who got a kick out of playing the fool in front of a bunch of people. What could be more precious than bringing some laughter into others’ lives, whatever your age.

I barely knew the man and it would be precocious of me to call him a friend. Yet, Nigel‘s “tiny” gesture of friendship on Monday stood out for me, a bloke with a visual impairment: he came forward to engage, to connect where it would have been so easy to just let me walk past him. When I got home that evening, I immediately told Ingrid how touched I was by the gesture.

So glad I made his acquaintance. So sorry I didn’t get to know him better.

Nigel Roberts RIP


In recent months, my work has had me travelling to places as diverse as Bulgaria, Czech Republic, India, US and even Croydon. This has prompted a number of people to say how brave I am to venture out to such places on my own, given my visual impairment.

On the one hand, hearing such plaudits feels good, it massages my ego quite nicely.

However, I need to put things straight on this. Whilst travelling to far off places can be a big deal in some ways, getting there and back actually takes little courage. For me, it involves a cab or lift from my wife to the airport, assistance onto the plane as well as at my destination. Usually, I’m fast tracked through immigration and then met by a driver or seen into a cab. Once at my hotel, I’m escorted to my room and job done.

Then, on a daily basis I’m picked up by cab or by the client and taken to the venue where I run the course.

Other than that, I usually remain in my hotel room. I either enjoy room service food or have takeaways brought in and, if feeling brave enough, I might just make my way to the hotel restaurant.

I avoid venturing out for fear of having mishaps or an accident. ( I once tried that in Sofia and accidentally kicked a stray dog – its reaction was not fun!) I don’t go sightseeing or to restaurants, bars or clubs. I don’t visit museums, concerts or galleries. I admit, this is a shame and that, had I more courage, the visit would be much the richer for it. I know of blind and visually impaired folk who do venture out all over the world and have the most amazing adventures as a result – I’m a 24 carat wuss by comparison!

Instead, I sit in my room listening to the radio (thank goodness for the BBC iPlayer!), reading or watching films on my tablet. I’m usually pretty worn out after a day’s training delivery, so feel little inclination to go out anyway.

Ironically, travelling between countries or even continents can be far easier than trying to negotiate a busy London tube station at rush hour or get around my local supermarket on a Saturday morning! And, as for Croydon………


I have been posting weekly blogs here for almost five years now. I thoroughly enjoy writing them and find myself actually looking forward to Monday mornings when I put them out there for people to read – should they choose to!

However, I feel like the blog needs a bit of a break and, when better than during the summer? Therefore, this is the last Monday blog post for a little while.

I plan to resume the posts as of Monday 24 August.

I look forward to coming back refreshed and recharged and to regaling you with further thoughts as of later in the summer.

Have a great few weeks in between time and thank you, as always, for reading!


Like – (verb) to endorse someone or something on social media as a result of being asked by another, in order to help grow or enhance their enterprise or reputation

It’s perfectly possible that this will, in the coming years become a dictionary definition of the verb to “like”.

All language evolves and many word meanings change over a period of time. On the one hand, I see the value of this, but on the other I feel concerned as to how some terms become devalued, diluted and shadows of their former selves.

To like  something or somebody has always been a sentiment that is true, spontaneous and from the heart. If you like something or someone, it involves a feeling, a drawing towards.

With the advent of social media, and most specifically Facebook,  this word has gradually become almost meaningless – evolving into a call to endorse someone or something in a contrived way. Barely a day goes by when a “Facebook friend” doesn’t ask me to like some page or other.  Thinking about it, this is a ludicrous application of the word “like”. In our everyday lives away from social media, we don’t ask people to like a particular cake or make of car, we ask them whether they happen to like it. If so,  they may then endorse or recommend it to others based on their experience of it.

“I’ve just bought these natty new slacks, would you like them please?”  It makes little sense!

And yet, I myself want to be liked. So, I occasionally do agree to  like things online should I be asked, as I wish to remain in peoples’ good books and appear gracious in the face of the request. Therefore, as well as the word itself being devalued, perhaps  I’m also devaluing myself and my integrity by engaging in such nonsense!

Oh dear, I can’t say I particularly like that.


I have just returned from a week in India, where I was running a training course for one of my UK clients who have an office out there. Sadly, I had little time to explore and sightsee, but did have direct experience of one particular Indian phenomenon – the traffic.

I spent quite a bit of time in taxis, travelling to and from the airport and each day between the hotel and client’s offices. I wasn’t so much struck by the volume of traffic  (living in London, I’m used to that!) more by how the traffic behaved. It was an absolute free for all, with vehicles of all shapes and sizes vying for position and stretching things the nth degree as they did so – often at great speed. On several occasions I saw mopeds or auto rickshaws sandwiched between trucks or buses with barely inches to spare on either side, cars cutting across lanes, again with barely a hairs breadth between them and other moving vehicles.

Many a time, I found my heart was in my mouth.

And yet, this seemed to work. I realised that the magic formula was aided and abetted by use the horn. I’d go as far as to say that Indian drivers seem to drive as much with ears as they do with their eyes. At first, it appeared (to my own untrained Western ears) that Indians used their horns willy nilly. Yet, it seems the horn is what makes all the difference when people are driving there. Drivers appear to use it to gauge the exact location of other moving vehicles, large and small.

And, some kind of order seems to emerge from this chaos, which becomes increasingly fascinating to watch.

These guys seem to be on the ball. Having said this,  I haven’t looked up India’s road accident stats, but I’m guessing incidence of accidents is probably quite high. Yet, in my brief time there, my impression was that the “system” seems to work most of the time. I even pondered whether, with my visual impairment, I could drive in India, given the reliance drivers have on their ears! I wasn’t quite brave enough to give it a try – I have a partner and children at home who wanted me back alive.

This also  got me thinking in broader terms. If left to our own devices, with minimum rules and regulations, can things actually work better for us in some ways? Do all the restrictions we have laid down make us less sharp, less aware, more complacent and so, ironically, more vulnerable? Are we in the West, through being increasingly controlled in all sorts of ways, in danger of losing our capacity for risk and staying alert and sharp to what the world throws at us?

Maybe so. However, I was pulled up short on my way back to Bangalore airport when, driving through a light rain shower,  my taxi went into the most dramatic and magnificent skid, finally coming to rest about a millimetre from the van in front.

And, what did the driver then do? Sounded his horn.


This weekend I took a trip up to the wilds of the north east – Newcastle to be precise. It was to be only my second ever trip to that city and the reason was a tad unusual.

I’d agreed to do a stand up comedy set for a meeting of the Northern Alliance Ushers & RP Group.  This is a get together of folk who have the same eye condition as myself along with those who have Usher’s syndrome – same condition but with added “bonus” of gradual loss of hearing.

I was wary of the trip. Partly because I could find myself in the company of people who speak an unusual form of English, but also because I wasn’t sure what to expect from a large crowd of people with such conditions (would the room be full of bods tuning pianos or weaving baskets?  I’m joking of course). To be fair, I was also anticipating quite a lively afternoon.

And, so it was. As I arrived, the pub function room was alive with conversation, laughter and the occasional bark coming from the front end of one or other of several guide dogs. I was struck by the upbeat nature of the people there.

During the afternoon however, I had a number of conversations with attendees and, actually felt quite saddened by a theme that applied to most of them. When asked whether they were working they said not. Now, was I dealing with what appeared to be people incapable or unwilling to work? From what I experienced – no way! These were bright, intelligent individuals who expressed a real desire to earn a living along with an intense frustration at currently being unable to find employment.

I mused to myself that having the burden of a disability can be massively exacerbated by difficulties in becoming as independent as possible through working.

At risk of sounding hackneyed, I found myself counting my own blessings. It appears that, being a visually impaired man in his late 50’s, earning and supporting a family is pretty much an exception rather than a rule. For that I remain grateful.

I’m also grateful I was invited up there to perform. And, how did the comedy set go? It seems it went down very well – my new friends in the north certainly know how to laugh. More than anything, I’m glad and relieved that a softy southerner like me was actually able to hack it!


What’s going on here then? Am I heralding the arrival of some new super hero? Not quite…..

I recall that, some years ago, there was a man on a course I was running who was a renowned world authority on a certain species of greenfly. In his introduction to the group, he explained how his research into this little creature had formed the bulk of his working life up until that point.

I daresay, such research will have been useful, even necessary for any number of reasons that would be beyond the reach of my own greenfly-sized brain.

That very same brain has chosen not to forget that chap, and marvel at how a whole career could be devoted to being focused on one, specific, specialist endeavour. On the one hand, it is to be admired. The accolade of being a world leading expert is not earned lightly in whatever the field, yet on the other hand, I wonder what may be lost through this?

I wonder whether it is preferable to become an expert or to be a “Jack of all trades” – an undeservedly demeaning description. I prefer the term polymath. Throughout history, polymaths have earned their rightful place alongside the experts, from Hildegard of Bingham to Leonardo Da Vinci, right up to the likes of Stephen Fry and Jonathan Miller in the presnt day.

Personally, I find the variety of being a polymath far more appealing than to be an expert at anything.

When I first went self employed almost 25 years ago, I used to joke that I had a pad of invoices and I’d be up for writing any number of different activities on them if need be. The bulk of my work since then has been in training. However, I’ve also sold redundancy counselling services, promoted shares in a Czech golf course, coached people from all manner of professions, run workshops on our relationship with money, written this weekly blog for almost five years and, more recently taken up stand up comedy.

I can’t claim to be master at any of those endeavours, but know they have contributed to a relatively rich and interesting few decades. Let’s see what the coming decades bring – who knows,  I may even develop an interest in greenfly…….


I now, officially have a grown up child. My daughter, Clara turned eighteen on Friday, so we now have two generations of adults living under our roof.

Whilst, given my age, it will have been biologically possible to have had an adult child over two decades ago, it still feels like some kind of coming of age for me. Eighteen is, on the one hand, an arbitrary milestone (it used to be twenty one of course) yet it marks a realisation that babies do grow up – most say, far too quickly – and life starts to move into another phase.

Clara has a brother, Adam, who will reach that same milestone in June of next year. Will our responsibilities as parents cease? I guess so in law but equally guess that, in our hearts they will still be our children who will still need guidance, support and, of course sackfuls of love.

As and when they move on, assuming they do, there will be much adapting to do. At times I start to imagine the house without them around. It’s a mixed feeling…..

On the one hand, there will be the freedom and independence of no longer needing to see to their needs. Also, there will be more space, or at least that’s the theory!

On the other hand, there will be less company. Two decades or so of rearing youngsters will be behind us, and I imagine that takes some adjusting to. Part of me dreads the quiet and, even as I write this, a small lump forms in my throat as I imagine them elsewhere building their own lives almost entirely independent of their mum and dad.

I equally dread the small possibility of their living here at home in twenty years’ time! It is possible, given the situation with property and employment in the UK. I doubt it will be the case but illustrates that, whatever transpires, we parents can’t have it all ways!

I am quietly confident that we have done a good job in bringing up our two youngsters and that they will shine as they grow further and make their way out into the world. Could we have done better? Probably. Could we have done worse? Definitely.

And, as they do get on with their lives, I can enjoy yet another advantage of having grown up children: that is spending more time with, and better getting to know my partner, Ingrid. I’m really looking forward to that. Who knows, we may even decide to get married! Now, that feels very grown up to me.


A while back I put the following question onto my Facebook  page: Which is it better to be – strong or cheerful?

Interestingly, the answers I got fell both ways with some saying strong was better and others declaring cheerful as being most beneficial.

I have to say that, for me, cheerful seems to be the way to go. I find that, the more cheerful I am, the more cheerful I become and, as a result life seems to feel genuinely sweeter. Does that mean life is perfect? No way, but it can be more joyful in its imperfection!

The capacity to be cheerful helps me deal better with those challenging things we all face in our lives.

So, what’s wrong with being strong?  I am concerned that, as we strive to be tough, impregnable, resilient we may lose some of the lightness and humour  that may help us flow through tough times in a more elegant way.

Also, I think people are more attracted to others who are cheerful. Yes, they may admire or respect  those of us who are strong, yet  probably prefer the company of someone cheerful. They may also feel some hesitation in offering support or help to someone strong when it might be needed. Equally, the strong among us will feel an inclination to battle through situations on their own rather than seek the support or succour  of others.

I’d go as far as to suggest that, ironically, cheerfulness actually has a certain strength to it.  This being a certain strength that can come from  laughing at yourself,  and not taking yourself too seriously.  A certain strength that comes from easily and enthusiastically  engaging  with others. A certain strength that is about  embracing and learning from  our flaws and imperfections.

Cheerful yet strong – that sounds about right to me.


Being as I’m now in my 60th year, thoughts can easily turn to the kinds of fears people of my age have for later life. For me, these can include failing health, financial challenges and my diminishing eyesight. Yet, one that equally concerns me is the fear of being patronised by others.

I see this all too often with our “senior” citizens and have wondered what the solution to this might be. And just the other day, I found what could be the answer right under my nigh sexagenarian nose.

Have a laugh!

I am pretty much convinced that being able to make people laugh and to have a good laugh yourself is likely to act as a powerful inoculation against such treatment. I admit this is just a thought at the moment, but the longer I entertain that thought, the more I am certain it is valid.

I’d go as far as to say that, if you make someone genuinely laugh, it’s impossible for them to patronise you.

Having finally started my second (as yet unpaid) career in stand up comedy just four months ago, I’ve been delighted to discover that age is no barrier. On top of that, audiences both young and old seem to appreciate me for who I am and laugh at what I say without any hint of patronising. Equally, the laughs I’ve had watching a great array of acts in the past few months have, I’m certain, contributed significantly to my overall well-being.

Week before last, I watched a comic called David James at an open mike night in North London. During his act, he mentioned that he was born in the 40’s which therefore made him significantly older than me. His set was brilliant .  I could see myself doing the same in ten, or even twenty years time. I’m confident I could do it, without a hint of anyone saying “yes, very funny, now drink your nice cup of tea, dear”.

Therefore, the challenge for me is to stay funny – something that, on the one hand could be seen as flippant, yet on the other hand, could be a most effective way to thrive through those upcoming later years.

Seriously funny.


Lying in bed this bank holiday morning, listening to the soothing  sounds of the dawn chorus, my thoughts turned to taxes.  I guess that, with the UK election just days away, the topic  is pretty much in the air. Will taxes go up? Will they go down? Will they be abolished?

Whilst that last one was a joke, I think it would be a far worse world if we didn’t have taxes. I go as far as to say that I actually like the idea of our paying taxes.

We too easily see the downside as we put through the money transfer to HMRC, or look  aghast at our payslip, as we notice the hole in our hard earned income.

We far less often take a step back to look at what those taxes provide us with. I won’t list them, but it is substantial.

Having said all this,  I do have three issues:

  1. That individuals and corporates all do their bit to contribute – which is also about the system being tight enough to ensure this. I must admit to being guilty of trying to be as tax efficient as possible within the current system. Nevertheless, a significant portion of my income finds its way into the public coffers each year.
  2. That our taxes are wisely spent. This, for me, is a huge bone of contention, given how much of OUR money is wasted or channeled into ill conceived and even dubious schemes and initiatives.
  3. That any tax is a fair one, as opposed to one levied on vital items or that hits the less fortunate in society.

This coming Friday, I am having an eye operation at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London. This will be my fifth. In return for contributions made to the public purse, I have access to the top eye hospital in the world and the expertise it offers without having to fork out the significant amount such an op must cost.

I’m feeling  exceedingly grateful for that on this spring bank holiday, just as I’m equally grateful for the sound of that dawn chorus each morning.


“Last year Robert collapsed while playing golf with Dave and Nick, Nick saved my Robert’s life – for that I am eternally grateful.”

I read this on a Facebook post a couple of weeks ago. It was written by a dear, longstanding friend of mine who’d have lost her husband had it not been for the actions of their friend.

I was awestruck by this tiny, yet powerful note of thanks and humbled at the idea of saving another’s life. This is something I have never done.

Yet, lives are saved all the time. Events such as the Nepal earthquake or war zones serve up their generous helpings of life saving heroes. Also medical professionals, such as my young niece and her husband, are saving lives as part of their day to day work.

Whilst these are the obvious “life savers”, perhaps we all contribute, at times,  to saving others’ lives in our own way, usually without even realising it.

Perhaps by being good friends to people, by offering up a listening ear, by giving support through difficult times? We don’t always get to know know the true impact of all our actions.

Are many of us yet to save another’s life for the first time? Perhaps not.


Spring is in the air, the sun is peeping through, the wood pigeons are coo-ing and my thoughts turn to my Sprite.

I’m not referring to a can of soft drink here.

Rather,  the first car I ever bought which was a 1967 Austin Healey Sprite. I acquired it in my early 20’s  for the princely sum of £275.

For those of you who are not petrol heads, the Sprite was a cute little two seater convertible sports car produced in the days before cars became safe and sterile.  The car had fun written all over it – low down, nippy, very noisy and oh so exhilaratingly windy with the top down!


Several of my mates also had the same car and, it just so happened each was a different colour , mine being British racing green. On one occasion we all went down to the Blackwall Tunnel in London, simply to make a noise as we thundered through.

Recently, I have been working quite a bit for a client in Fleet Street. As I walk from Farringdon station to get there. I can almost hear the ghost of my little Sprite careering up the Farringdon Road. I used to drive through there to work on a daily basis – usually “topless” – from Clapham, whilst fellow commuters struggled and sweated on the tube.

That is, of course no more for me. My failing eyesight meant my having to give up driving some years ago. I feel sad and nostalgic for my Sprite, especially at this time of year, yet I’m so glad I had opportunity to have owned and driven such a fun little machine.

They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. I’d add that it was better (for me) to have loved my Sprite and had to stop driving, than never to have loved and enjoyed one at all!

Bitter sweet.


I ran a one day course the other day for a new client. The course went well, yet I came away feeling slightly disappointed in myself. I knew it wasn’t quite up to my usual standard.

On my arrival home, I took a look at the feedback forms, every one of which gave very high marks, along with positive comments. It appears, after all, that what I did was good enough. So much so, that the client is primed to book further courses in the coming months.

We live increasingly in a world where “excellence” is the expectation, and that to expect or attain any less can be seen as failure. Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of education and the workplace.

For example, when I sat my A levels, I gained two passes. My grades were two E’s – the lowest pass grade at the time. I accept that I deserved those grades. Why? Because I was a teenage lad who simply wanted to be doing other things, rather than study.

Nevertheless, those grades were still passes and were good enough to get me into two, temporary gap year jobs and then into college. They were good enough to allow me easy entry into the permanent job market. There were no internships in those days, there were paid jobs readily available. I was able to find employment within days of skimming through the back of the evening papers.

I was also able to fund a social life, run a car, rent a flat and even buy my own place by the time I was 25. I didn’t need to attain straight A grades and subsequently get a high powered job in the City in order to do this. I had a relatively ordinary job – selling ad space, for a company based on the outskirts of London. Moving into a management role after a few years, I was able to progress to a house in a very nice, leafy area by the time I was 30. (Mind you, that did change somewhat as a result of a divorce, but that’s another story!)

And these days? If our darlings don’t attain straight A’s, we can get almost suicidal. And, even if they do, there’s no guarantee of half decent employment.

Excel or fail – no in between.

I’d like to live in a world where good enough is once again good enough and be able to recognise that, just as with my training course the other day.

Good enough?






So, another bank holiday, and chances are there will be queues at all the local DIY outlets as chaps stock up on gear to use for a few hours of DIY. There may also be queues at supermarkets and off licences as chaps purchase a few beers to watch sporting events on TV.

Yet, despite being a chap myself, you’re more likely to see Elvis strolling down your High Street than bespy me engaging in either of these activities.

I think the last time I watched sport on TV, it involved John McEnroe getting uppity with an umpire.

And the last time I took on some serious bank holiday DIY was about 25 years ago. it involved hanging a door with my then father in law. We put in a couple of hours of hard graft, measuring up, aligning, supping several cups of tea, and then proudly stood back, cuppas in hand, to admire the fruits of our labours. We then looked at each other, scratching our chins, in wonder as to how it was that the door knob was so high up. The door had been hung upside down.

Therefore whilst chaps up and down the UK are quaffing beers in front of the sport on TV or painting, planing, sawing, welding or whatever, I shall be doing other things.

I’d still like to think of myself as being one of the chaps though.



The writer, Aldous Huxley, in his book The Art of Seeing, asserts that, if we treated our bodies like we treat our eyes most of us would end up in wheelchairs.

Huxley had a rare eye condition and sought ways of improving what sight he had. He became a disciple of William  Bates, a New York Ophthalmologist who made the radical assertion that spectacles ultimately did more harm than good to the eyes.

Bates had devised a number of simple eye exercises, designed to retain good, healthy vision without any need for specs. These exercises were easy to learn and apply. Chances are that most people reading ths post won’t even be aware of them nor have ever heard of what is known as the Bates Method. Yet, chances are, a good proportion of you will be wearing glasses to read this or go about your daily business.

My partner’s grandmother apparently used Bates method exercises. For example, each morning she would rinse here eyes alternately in cold and hot water several times in order to stimulate flow of oxygen to her eyes.

It turned out that she had perfect eyesight right through to her death at age 96. I guess the rinsing can become as routine as brushing your teeth or shaving of a morning, although there is no record of grandma ever having shaved!

Another Bates exercise is known as “palming”, where you warm up your hands by rubbing them together and place them gently over closed eyes for a few minutes or even longer. As you do so, you visualise the colour black or alternatively picture a relaxing or pleasing scene. I do this occasionally and find it certainly relaxes and refreshes my eyes, especially after some time in front of my computer screen.

About five years ago, I was having a series of sessions with a local cranial osteopath. I wasn’t seeing her about my eyes, but for other non-related issues. After one of these sessions, I got off the couch, went to write a cheque and discovered that I could read my cheque book perfectly well without my reading specs!

I’d relied on those specs for years.

On my return home I infuriated my partner by grabbing tins and packets from the cupboards and reading the tiny print “spec-lessly” and with no strain or effort – something she needed her glasses for! In fact, prior to this improvement, my own glasses wouldn’t have helped me with such fine detail.

The osteopath told me that this had been known to happen, but could give no logical or science based reason. She said the improvement could last hours or years and even decades. In my case,  it was fourteen months before my eyesight flipped back to how it had been previously.

Often, after meditating, I find my vision is sharper and clearer for a little while.

Ophthalmology is big business – our local High Street has at least half a dozen opticians’ shops. I’m not aware of any optician giving advice on how to look after the eyes. The eye test is done, the lenses are prescribed and that’s it. You return a year or two later, your sight has become weaker and, hey presto, stronger lenses are prescribed.

Whilst not suggesting this is a malevolent con, I genuinely wonder whether if, as children we were encouraged to do eye exercises every dday alongside brushing our teeth and washing behind our ears, whether the nation’s eyes would be all the healthier for it?

As for me, despite being partially sighted and therefore recognising the importance of good eyesight, I am like so many of us, lazy. I occasionally do the rinsing and palming but, by no means every day. My eyes feel better for it, yet it still isn’t a habit and I’m automatically reaching for those specs whenever I need to read anything – they’re my crutch, or should I say, my “wheelchair”.


It appears that, at times, when trying to be empathic we may instead display a kind of inadvertent arrogance.

This is represented in an oft used statement which, on the face of it,  may seem perfectly reasonable. It can tend to trip off the tongue when another person is upset or distressed by something.

So, what is the statement in question?

“I know how you feel”

I suggest that nobody on the planet can claim they know how someone else is feeling. Goodness knows, I have a tough enough time trying to work out my own feelings on occasion, let alone manage to get a fix on the true feelings of others around me!

To be fair, I do recognise the intention behind these words as a desire to help, to offer some reassurance and succour, yet it runs great risk of not landing with the other person or even backfiring.

The best we can do is to try and imagine how the other person might feel in the circumstances or offer up something quite general about how such an event might leave us feeling:

“I can only imagine how that might feel”

“ I know I’d feel really angry in such circumstances”

But to suggest we can climb into another human being’s psyche and take an accurate reading is, at best, utterly presumptuous.

That’s where I am on this one, I can only guess how you might feel about it.


It may come as a surprise to some readers that I’ve spent a large amount of my life feeling bored. I recall vividly the occasions in my childhood when I’d complain of boredom to my mother, only to hear back:  “Idz pluc I lapac – go spit and catch it”!

Yet, hearing the writer and broadcaster, Muriel Gray on the radio a few days ago lifted my spirits on this one.

“ I cherish boredom and loneliness because they are essential components of creativity”

Well, I nearly fell off my chair!

Yes, I can sit for quite considerable periods of time, doing nothing, feeling listless, yet can come out the other end of it feeling a renewed impetus and having new ideas..

It appears then,  that  boredom may actually be quite healthy or at least neutral. Living, as we do, in a world where activity and keeping occupied is considered important, or even vital, perhaps doing “nothing” and getting bored serves just as strong a purpose.

Guilt, of course does rear its ugly head in no time when I’m feeling bored. There’s so much I could and, arguably should, be getting on with . Many declare that there’s no excuse for having nothing to do. And, as such injunctions swim around in my head, so maybe the potential benefits of that boredom are stifled.

Perhaps I need to approach my boredom more lightly, with less guilt attached.

Perhaps that’ll ultimately unleash even more creativity and energy to balance things out.


We all had such a laugh years ago when my uncle Wladek had his first experience of using a tea bag. He tore it open, emptied the contents into a tea strainer and brewed himself a cuppa. He’d never encountered or used a tea bag before and had no idea that it should go in the cup or pot whole.

We laughed then. Now, I don’t find it so funny as barely a day goes by when I’m not  baffled by some new way of doing things. As we get older, the world can, if we allow it, become increasingly confusing and challenging  to understand.

Packaging, for example. Cadbury recently changed the way they seal ther chocolate bars and it must have taken me the best part of ten frustrating minutes to get access to the contents. Similarly with Superglue, which now has some kind of safety function built into the tube, meaning you can’t simply unscrew the lid and let the glue flow out. I actually jettisoned an unused tube in sheer rage and used another glue instead!

As for technology – TV sets with half a dozen remote controls, car dashboards that look like the inside of a spaceship and the wealth of applications on mobile phones make for a world where we’re constantly needing to keep up. When I seek guidance from my children on how to download an app, for example, I think back to how I laughed at my “naïve” uncle’s first tea bag encounter.

And what really winds me up is when people then say “It’s really simple”

Yes, for you maybe!


I think I need a cup of tea – that’s if I can sus out the new kettle and get the milk open.


I’ve almost lost count of the number of times I’ve been called brave over the past few weeks.

And, why so?

I’ve started to doing stand up comedy. This involves my pitching up at various venues around London and performing five minute routines and, hopefully getting laughs.

I find it rather over the the top that people consider this a brave thing to do. I’m not being self deprecating, more querying the use of the word “brave”. I’m happy to be admired and respected, but I am doing something I feel I have aptitude for and  I want to do it! I may be trembling with nerves as I approach that stage, yet in my book,  getting up there simply does not equate with the “B” word.

Dodging bombs and bullets in a war zone, or entering a burning building to save someone from the flames would, for me,  require a whopping great dose of bravery. Even asking a youth on the train to turn down their music takes more guts, compared to my desire to get up & make people laugh. Perhaps it would be a question of my whipping the earphones out of matey’s ears and telling him some jokes. Then again,  perhaps not.

There’s part of me that can bask in being labelled as brave, but I would feel more than a tad fraudulent. Yes, I risk being laughed at when I get up on that stage, but of course, that is the point!

And, if they don’t laugh? Well, I “die” that night,  but I live another day. There have been many genuinely brave people who ended up unable to enjoy that luxury and that’s no laughing matter.


“It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious.”Oscar Wilde

So, what’s the secret to being charming rather than tedious?

Take an interest – enquire.

More specifically, we need to ask the right questions. These allow the other person to open up, and the vast majority of people simply love to be asked about themselves.

Such questions are depicted in Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem:

I keep six honest serving-men (They taught me all I knew); Their names are What and Why and When And How and Where and Who.

Yet, some of these serving men are still pretty much limited in their ability. Namely: Who, where, when, what (in some circumstances eg: “What is your name?”).

If I were to ask you a string of such questions, I would elicit a series of straightforward facts and it would feel more like an interrogation. I dub these “Level 1” open questions. Barristers love these: “Just stick to the facts please Mr Kipling – where were you on the night the cake went missing?

The really rich seam is only struck when we apply what might be called “Level 2” open questions. These will usually start with a how, why or what. Using these we start to identify peoples’ real motivations, values, beliefs – in other words, what really makes them tick.

So, should Mr Kipling (I fancy a cake now!) sack some of his serving men? No, they all have a role to play, but the ones with the real power to engage are those that go beyond establishing mere facts.

I wish I’d have been aware of this distinction when I was younger and making blundered attempts to connect with girls at parties or clubs. I have a sneaky feeling that I’d have been more successful!

However, there are many other situations, whether work or social, where such questions can make all the difference – sales, negotiation, interviews, networking events and so on.

They build natural rapport and, as a result, people feel more comfortable around you.

Exceedingly charmed, Mr Kipling.


Many readers of this blog are likely to be car drivers. I’m not, as I tend to hit things.

However, having been a driver for quite some years before my eyesight became too poor, I still have a pretty good grip on the fundamentals. One of these is about use of the rear view mirror. If I were to suggest that, next time you get in the car you should drive to wherever you are going by just looking in the mirror, you’d rightly think I were crazy.

Yet, how many of us lead our lives that way? I’m talking about the constant looking back, focusing, even obsessing about, the regrets, the “if onlys”.  We can so easily get hooked into these and remain stuck in what’s been and gone – blatant over use of our metaphorical rear view mirror.

We do learn from the mirror in our car – it serves a purpose, but we merely need to glance, take in relevant information and then look ahead. How much energy might we waste by mulling over things past, often time and time and time again:

“If only I’d worked harder for my exams ……”

“If only I’d turned left instead of right…..”

“If only I hadn’t married him/her……”

Yes well, I think I’d best leave it there and move on…….


Imagine you are working at an airport. It’s a small regional airport and an outgoing flight with 100 passengers waiting to board is indefinitely delayed owing to a faulty plane.

As the evening wears on, the shop and cafeteria close and the passengers become increasingly tired and hungry. Eventually, you decide to take an initiative. Thinking to yourself  “If that were me having to wait, I know I’d really appreciate a bacon roll and a cup of tea to keep me going.”

You get on the phone to your friend who runs a late night café in town and ask him to prepare & send over 100 bacon rolls and cups of tea. The food duly arrives and is enthusiastically distributed.

However, of the hundred people:

Ten are vegetarians, five are Muslim, five are Jewish, a further  five are gluten intolerant or caeliac and ten don’t drink tea!

A total of thirty five passengers are anything but happy whilst others around them eagerly tuck in with great appreciation of the initiative.

Yet, this can be seen as the golden rule in action

“Treat others as you would want to be treated”

However, this is flawed, as we all are different and what I may appreciate for reasons of culture, religion, health or simply taste may be totally different to what you may enjoy or be able to have.

Yes, the golden rule can apply on a broad level – we all want to be listened to and understood, we all want a better world for our children, we all want to be respected….

However, the form of that can differ widely from person to person.

I much prefer:

“Treat others the way they would like to be treated”

And, how do we find out?

Ask them and go from there.













Some months back I was working on a course alongside another trainer. It was for a major client who usually likes to have two trainers as group sizes tend to be quite large.

I’d never worked with this guy before, and to watch him run the programme was an absolute delight. He was energetic, sharp, humorous and certainly knew his stuff.

During the lunch break we got chatting. At one point he enquired as to the year of my birth. When I told him he declared “I’ve got more than ten years on you!”.

I was flabbergasted.

I was also inspired.

Given that I am now into my sixtieth year (yes, really!) it could be the easiest thing in the world to consider myself too old, past it. Yet I am so thankful, as a freelance trainer, to be in a profession where age simply doesn’t seem to matter. Also to know that, as long as I look after myself and retain my marbles, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be doing the work I so enjoy for many years to come.

And two weeks ago, co-training with another freelance colleague, I was regaled by his stories of boyhood memories from World War 2! Most importantly, the course delegates loved him.

It’s so reassuring to know that the wisdom and experience of more than a few decades on this planet can still count for something. I just need to make sure I keep having my five fruit and veg a day!




A couple I know claimed that they never ever rowed. I found this very difficult to believe, assuming that all couples row from time to time and that it’s all part and parcel of a healthy relationship. They’d known each other since they were fifteen –  childhood sweethearts. They stayed together “till death do us part” with his sad, premature demise at the age of 44. Coming away from a spat with my own partner the other day, I was reminded of my friends’ assertion. I tried to work out how it might have been that they never rowed. In recalling their relationship, I came up with an insight, after all these years, as to the reason. I think it boiled down to two things I’d never, ever seen them do:

  1. They never interrupted each other
  2. They never badmouthed each other – either when together or behind each others’ backs.

I’m sure I’ve said in previous posts that the best way to start an argument is to interrupt – what I called the “UVV” (uncontrolled verbal vomit). I remain convinced that this is the primary cause and contributor to rows. I did it several times the other evening during the difficult interaction with my partner – and I’m supposed to teach this stuff! As for badmouthing, I suggest that this adds significantly to the toxic, negative environment within which a relationship has little chance of genuinely flourishing. I find it remarkable that these observations about my friends have only now come to me after so many years. Based on this, I realise they were indeed telling the truth about their row-free life, although I’m sure they will have had disagreements. But that’s different and OK – what counts is how we handle them. I’m still learning.


“There doesn’t happen to be any RP specialists on here does there? “

This quote probably leaves you a little baffled. It’s actually a comment that was posted on the retinitis pigmentosa (RP) Facebook page. People who have this eye disease (including myself) have the opportunity there to share experiences, post questions, read up on the latest medical advances and so on. Personally, I find it an indispensable lifeline.

The post went on to ask a medical question and the enquirer was subsequently  referred to a charity helpline  that supports those with the condition. There was no response from any medical practitioner.

It’s as though the world of the “sufferer” is a totally separate one from that of the clinician.

I can’t help thinking it would be a good idea if medical practitioners joined social media groups run for the people who have them and their families/carers.

I can’t help thinking that this would offer a deeper insight into how it is to live with a particular condition.

I can’t help thinking this will then help doctors and others give better treatment through a deeper empathy for those suffering.

I recognise that, perhaps there needs to be a professional distance here. However, it may be about the practitioner checking in and simply reading posts from time to time (perhaps under an assumed name), thus being more connected with the human aspect of a condition, albeit in a relatively passive way.

I was at Moorfields a week ago for an annual eye check up. The doctor, a young Spanish woman was lovely – very caring and interested. I told her about the simulation spectacles people with RP can obtain for their friends or relatives to try out, thus giving a sense of the challenges of reduced vision. She was not at all aware of the existence of such spectacles, let alone ever worn any!

All her training will have probably been clinical with minimal, if any, attention paid to how people may feel with such a condition and the day to day difficulties it poses.

Perhaps I’m being unfair. This particular doctor was warm and welcoming, but others have not been and seem to focus purely on the “science” of what they are doing.

Just as lay people will use the internet to educate themselves on the medical aspects, so the medics could equally educate themselves further on the human aspects, thus bringing these separate worlds closer together. Surely, that can only be for the good.

And, the best thing? It costs zero!


Or – It’s an innocent little word, on the face of it…..

Yesterday, my son was about to start vacuuming our living room. I was concerned that the dustbag might be full so asked him “Shall we check the bag or do you think it’s all right”? Given he just wanted to get on with it, he said “I’m sure its fine” and carried on.

I had disempowered myself.

Had I simply made my suggestion and not continued with the “or”, there would have been much more chance the bag will have been checked.

So, what’s the big deal here? The point is that we can so often not get our needs met by inadvertently using that little word. As a teenager, I may have wanted to go out with a girl I took a fancy to:

“Would you like to go out for a drink OR are you doing something else?”

Interestingly, salespeople – seemingly very positive types – often fall into this trap. Time after time, on courses I see how they can talk themselves out of a sale by using this “innocent” little word.

“Shall we go ahead then Mr Gotabigbudgettospend OR would you like to think about it / shall I give you a call next week / would you like to explore other options”?

During my own sales career, I identified this as a trap I’d fall into time and again, fuelled by my own insecurity. Eventually, I wrote the word “OR” in big letters on a sheet of A4 and put a big cross over it. I stuck it on the wall in front of me (my desk had a great view!) and trained myself out of scuppering things in this way.

When working with salespeople, I share a very simple three step process around asking for business:

  1. ASK  2. SHUT UP  3. STAY SHUT UP (ASS).

“Shall we go ahead then Mr Bigbudgettospend…….” Silence.

And the silence has massive power. I’m not sticking my ‘or’ in.

It seems that, whilst I seem to have it cracked In my professional life, I’ve yet to eliminate its use at home. I’m off now, the vacuum bag needs checking.




“Time was when there were things around to be afraid of”

Line from the lyrics of “Time Was” by Wishbone Ash


A couple of weeks back, I sat down and listened, for the first time in ages,  to the 70’s album, Argus by Wishbone Ash. The single line of lyrics above seemed to jump out at me and set me thinking……

Imagine how there could perhaps be a time, one day, when we could utter these words knowing things had genuinely changed so much for the better.

As we enter a new year,  we look forward to the prospect of  it being a good one or, at very least better than the previous one. Yet, can we look much further ahead to a time when there is nothing to be afraid of any more?

Perhaps in a couple of decades time, I’ll be able to write another post on this blog with the same title as this one, looking back to a time when “there were things around to be afraid of”


Wishing you a happy new year AND increasingly so for many years beyond.


So, here we are yet again all caught up in the Christmas and New Year whirl! Many of us are, of course very fortunate to have family and friends to share the season with, but of course there are many others who, for whatever reason, are likely to be spending Christmas on their own. I was taken, therefore by the following post I saw on Facebook about a week ago:

Xmas day for us misfits, loners and vagrants Are you alone this Xmas but not preferring to be? Me and R are now hosting a Xmas Day feast (and frolic) in Oxford for everyone who doesn’t want to be alone on Xmas day. Is that you? Would you like to come and hang out with us Xmas vagrants?’

This invitation led me to think how wonderful it would be if there were one household on every street or in every neighbourhood  that would throw its doors open to those who have nowhere else to go. It’s certainly something we may consider doing in future years.

A very simple idea, yet one that could make all the difference to individuals’ experience at this  time of year.

Whatever your circumstances, I wish you the best possible Christmas and New Year break and look forward to connecting with you again in 2015.


NB: the blog will be taking a rest next week, so the next post will appear on Monday 5 January.


It’s a little over twenty four years since I left my last full time job. I left just in the nick of time.

Very soon after I moved on, the company I’d been working for introduced new technology with a view to there being “a PC on every desk”. I know that I would have found this immensely challenging, given that I’m a technophobe at heart.

My reaction to this was relief on the one hand at not having to adapt to the new ways ( I was only in my early 30’s for goodness sake!), along with that certain sneer.

What do I mean by that certain sneer? It’s that knocking we can get into if we don’t understand or we fear something new or overly challenging.  I would harp on about all the downsides of new technology and how it would probably cause more problems than it solved.  And, yes that has been seen to be the case at times ever since. For example, an “I thought as much” smug reaction often bubbles up when I hear news in the media of IT related debacles!

It’s similar for me with most sports. As I walk past our local rugby pitch on a Sunday morning with the dog, I notice myself enjoying a little sneer at the men and boys choosing to run a round in the freezing cold chasing a ball. I was crap at sport when at school. I was usually the last to be picked for teams. I had no idea my eyesight was poor – peripheral vision wasn’t tested in those days. I therefore assumed I was simply an idiot. So, my defence was for sport to become the object of my ridicule, in order to cover up my true feelings about it.

When still at my last job, I went to watch a five a side soccer match at a local sports centre, played between teams from my workplace.  At one point, one of my mates scored a goal. Another mate thrust his arm around him and they walked triumphantly up the pitch together. It was a tiny incident yet one that still is burned into my memory, as I recall the envy I felt for their sport related camaraderie.

Five a side? Stupid game.

What I learn from this though, is that if we are criticised or knocked out of hand, it’s more than likely insecurity or fear on the part of the ‘critic’.

We sneer at things we don’t understand or that we fear.

I heard say once that there has never been a statue erected in honour of a critic. I certainly can’t think of one. Mind you, if you ask me, I think erecting statues to people is utterly ridiculous.

Sneer, sneer.


A judge decided last week that the word “pleb” was most likely uttered by UK MP Andrew Mitchell during his altercation with a police officer. Whilst, you could argue that its not OK to use such language, there was a small part of me that admired the straight talking.

In his years of attending sessions in the House of Commons, I’m sure Mr Mitchell will have used and heard the expression “Right Honourable Gentleman” countless times. I wonder how many times it’s been used as a mask for what he and his fellow MPs really want to say – “You stupid git…. You arse…. Pleb!”. House rules prevent such language, so “RHN” becomes the “polite” norm.

Much of my working life is spent looking at the kind of language we use and the impact it has on our relationships – both personal and in the workplace. When I’m communicating, I do my utmost to choose the right words, so I may be clear and respectful. I’ve always felt that using appropriate language is of paramount importance.

However, I’ve come to recognise that it’s not just about the words themselves but also the mindset behind them. I see how, I may take great care not to use contentious language but can, at the same time have my own agenda, be treating others’ needs as secondary and therefore be framing things in an apparently respectful, yet manipulative way.

Let’s be clear here. This is by no means my modus operandum 100% of the time! Its more a propensity when things are getting difficult or there is some kind of pressure to influence or appease. I’d go as far as to say that most (if not all) of us will serve up this kind of “reasonable” language whilst harbouring quite different thoughts. – at times!


True integrity comes when our mindset is absolutely in synch with the words coming out of our mouths. That way comes true power, influence resulting in absolute trust. However, it can also cause offence or get us into hot water.

Perhaps we’ll never know whether Mr Mitchell definitely used that one little insulting word. We know he was angry though, and that use of such a term will have been in integrity with that anger. One thing is clear – the incident certainly got him into hot water.






“When a man dies, he takes a library with him”

African saying


 This blog seems to have a loyal hardcore of readers who pick up on posts most Monday mornings when they’re published.  I count among these readers, friends, business contacts, and family, as well as people “out there” who’ve come across them during their travels on the web.  However, Its quite rare that my teenage children read any of the posts. They’re drawn to other stuff – at the moment.

Now that I’ve come to write this, my 200th post, I can’t help thinking  that the blog could provide a lasting legacy. Perhaps, in years to come my youngsters and their children and their children’s  children will devour my work with interest and fondness.

Yet, I wonder.

I wonder whether such legacies will hold as much intrigue and value as those left by our forebears. Perhaps its all a bit too easy now to leave a lasting record – if not through words, then through huge smartphone or computer generated repositories of photos, video, art or music.

Currently, the process of digging out a few surviving faded photos from years back or watching short snatches of cine film from childhood or earlier can really spark an imagination that extends beyond mere record.

My mother wrote a significant amount of poetry when she was young. She had it all written down in a large exercise book. Years later,  a water spillage obliterated virtually all her work in one go. To the best of my knowledge,  just four poems remain. A tragedy. Yet, perversely perhaps, they seem all the more precious for being a mere surviving fragment of her work.

In the future, will  too much legacy material somehow devalue it,  stifle that imagination, that intrigue? Will our descendants further down the line just get overwhelmed and ultimately numbed or bored by it all?

I hope not. I imagine these blog posts may provide future generations of my family with a fascinating insight into the thoughts, feelings and experiences of their dad,  granddad, great granddad and beyond.

The thought of it does make me smile.

And, for those of you who’ve been regular readers, I hope you agree that there’s been some cracking stuff posted here over the past four years or so. I love writing it and  I’m very proud of it. Equally, if you are reading this decades or even generations from now, I hope the posts still have value and hit the spot for you!

Here’s to the next 200 – and beyond!


At just before three o’clock this morning, I found myself awake. I don’t know what woke me, but in that moment I was feeling really calm and relaxed. I wasn’t anxious, I wasn’t concerned. I turned over in order to try and get back to sleep.

Then it came. The thought-seed. A tiny, single thought that, within a few seconds unleashed an avalanche of further thoughts – all of them negative.

“Cripes, I’ve got to get going with my accounts……Need to finish those trainers’ notes for that client……..What if the bank can’t provide copies of those missing old statements I need…..Oh no, I forgot to return that call……What am I going to write about in my blog…..” and so on and so on……

Such thoughts arrive like smoke entering a ballroom through a tiny gap under the door. It takes virtually no time for the room to fill and the atmosphere changes dramatically – for the worse.

If anyone is looking for a good example of mind-body connection, then here’s a corker! As my thoughts continued, so my chest got a little tight, the box of captive butterflies in my tum threw its doors open, even my ankles started aching.

Thankfully though, I had a way of dealing with it. It was probably too late to simply try and change my thoughts – like attempting to push the smoke back out through the gap under the door.  I daresay I could have prevented it earlier, but it was now too late. This was now the full McCoy –  physical and emotional, as well as mental. I set about using Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT (not to be confused with EFT as in Electronic Funds Transfer – although an electronic transfer of funds in to my account could also help, I’m sure!). I was introduced to the technique a few years ago by a good friend. This is a very simple, non invasive process, that can be self administered, and helps create those body and emotive shifts and clear the nasty stuff out.

So, I set about quietly working on myself, as my partner lay asleep beside me. A few minutes and several belches and heavyweight yawns later, I was feeling calm and relaxed once again and drifted off into a luscious slumber for a further few hours. Magic.

Yet, I know I could have prevented this happening in the first place.

On occasion when I have woken in the night, I’ve used it as an opportunity to practise gratitude. This seems to be (for me) the ultimate preventative against those nasty negative thoughts rearing their head. It seems to seal that gap under the door. If I’m thinking about all the things I’m grateful for, then there is no space for the tricky stuff to get through in the first place! It calms me, and usually does the trick. And, even if I don’t get back to sleep, the time awake is enjoyably spent – like an extra long lay in!


Note: EFT is considered by most of the medical establishment to be nothing more than a placebo. It has worked for me and others I know. Does it work for everyone, all of the time? No, but I have personally found it very helpful on quite a number of occasions. You can find more information about EFT here


The girl on the Personal Impact course I was running asked me “What if I don’t know the answer when a colleague or customer asks me something?”

Afraid that her credibility would be blown, she was worried that not having the answer to something would stand against her. However, there are likely to be times for all of us, when we simply don’t know.

We are so often brought up to believe that we must know the answers to things and, that if we don’t we are incompetent or lazy. The education system propagates this – asserting that we must learn information and then regurgitate it onto an exam paper. The more we know, the more successful we are deemed to be, and receive grades accordingly. Woe betide those who don’t know!

However, one educational institution seems to take quite a different approach, at least according to the eminent film maker, Roger Graef. Speaking in a radio interview he shared how his alma mater taught him that it was actually OK not to know things. That institution was none other than Harvard.

In Graef’s words:

“ What Harvard has given me, all through the decades of film making with top politicians, diplomats and scientists is the confidence to say ‘I don’t know’ “

So, if Harvard suggest that it’s OK not to know things, then I’d guess we’re all right!

Nevertheless, I’d explained to the girl on the course that it’s important to express our ignorance in an empowered and assertive way. Genuinely confident people have the ability to do this, rather than flannel or pretend they understand. They don’t know, but are interested in finding out.

Given that I heard the radio interview the very day following the course, I was quite chuffed that my thinking had been on a par with Harvard – and that’s from a guy who went to a Polytechnic  and flunked!

Perhaps Harvard would have suited me better. I don’t know.




Remembrance Sunday was generally considered a fitting tribute to those that have fought for our country. The display of ceramic poppies at the Tower of London was also a poignant reminder of every one of our troops who never made it as a result of World War 1.

I think it’s absolutely appropriate to remember those that fought on our side during conflicts in the past, as well as those serving at the present time.

Yet, should it be just about our country, our troops, our side?

I wonder whether the ultimate gesture would be to think of all those who fought, whichever side they were on? I wonder if that could be a bold and powerful step towards a more peaceful future?

The vast majority of people who ended up in the front line did so with good intent – in order to protect themselves, their families and communities. That vast majority weren’t aggressors or warmongers but ordinary folk forced, as a result of the politics of difference, to go out and fight.

As such, no different to our own troops.

Whilst they weren’t honoured in the Mall on Sunday, I think it important we remember them also, and the losses they must have suffered in the name of national pride, religion or other reasons we go to war. And, what of the non-combatant victims on all sides? The dead, the maimed, the traumatised, the displaced, the bereaved…….

Ultimately, we’re talking about an awful lot more poppies.


Names fascinate me.

We can all think of people we know or in the public arena who have names that couldn’t better suit their profession. My first bank manager was named Ransom. I think it fun that one of the gardening experts on Radio 4 is called Bob Flowerdew.

I wonder whether names help determine our futures or whether such instances are mere coincidence?

Our name often will, by definition reflect our social and cultural roots. For example, my surname is Polish. I like having a Polish name, partly because it is a little unusual, but also because it is a permanent reminder of where I come from.

I recall, when I started my first full time sales job, my manager declaring that I should change my name. “Clients will have difficulty pronouncing and spelling it”  he asserted.

I refused. This was on two counts. One was that it’s my name and I’d rather not change it and secondly, people were much more likely to remember it. The latter has certainly proved to be the case over the years, although the more creative interpretations have included “Marcabbage” and “Muckybitch”!

I’d say my name has therefore stood me in reasonable stead throughout my professional life. Nevertheless, I hope the same will apply to my teenage children. Given the recent influx of Poles into the UK, feelings are quite mixed out there in the community, and the possibility of bias – conscious or unconscious – could have a bearing when they seek employment, for example.

About five years ago the UK Department of Work and Pensions carried out a “sting” operation where they submitted job applications for a range of roles, to almost 1000 organisations in a variety of sectors. They wanted to ascertain whether bias existed amongst employers, based simply on names. These applications featured individuals with three differing identities– English, African and Moslem.  The applicant with the English sounding name submitted nine applications before receiving a positive response, the others had to submit sixteen.

Indeed, there has been controversy lately over the fact that some of the major high street banks have been blocking accounts held by innocent people with Moslem sounding names for reasons of “security”.

Similarly, I wonder how many Waynes or Sharons there are at Oxford or Cambridge as distinct from James’s or Hannahs? Does the name on the application make a difference?

There is no doubt that certain names can carry a “vibe” which can affect another’s perception of us and consequently how we may be able to progress in this, our “multi-cultural” society.

On a lighter note, I have enjoyed playing the game where you give yourself a new identity, based on a combination of your first pet’s name and the name of the first road you lived on. Some of the combinations I’ve heard have been hilarious. I wonder which direction my name combination will have taken me in? The mind boggles……

This is Mitzi Gayville signing off for another week.


Imagine walking down your local high street and seeing advertising slogans, signs and other such items written in say French or Czech or even in Cyrillic or Arabic script. I’m certain it could feel quite alienating and even invasive.

While working away in Central Europe (Czech Republic and Bulgaria) over the past two weeks, I was struck by the prevalence of English language about the place.

As I passed through my local shopping centre the day after my return, I tried to imagine how I might feel at such an intrusion from a foreign language.

Granted, English is considered to be the global lingo of commerce and international politics, but does it need to permeate so into peoples’ day to day lives through billboards, packaging and the like?

Maybe it’s a generational thing and, being a bit of an old timer myself, I’m pretty sure I’d find it doubly difficult to adapt. I fear though that nations’ cultures and individualities are being eroded by this onslaught of the English language.

Scanning the shelves of Bulgarian and Czech supermarkets I was at times lost and baffled by what might be contained within  boxes, jars and bottles labelled in the local language. I accept this as part and parcel of visiting another land. However, many products had English as the prime language pasted across them – handy for me, yet how do many locals cope with that, and how might they feel?  I’m not sure we’d tolerate the equivalent here in the UK  – oh dear, is my “inner Farage” bubbling up here?

And this extends beyond the written. A few years back I was checking into the Marriott Hotel in Warsaw. I decided to engage with the receptionist in my mother tongue, to which he declared, in a US accent – “I’m sorry sir, I don’t speak Polish”. Looking around the place, I noticed that all the signs in the hotel were in English. Interestingly, the only signs in Polish were those denoting emergency exits!

Last Friday evening, on my way home from my trip, I was  going through security at Prague airport – the bleeper sounded, alerting that some metal on my person had tripped the alarm. An airport employee approached me and said “Do you speak English?”. You’d have thought that, being in his native country, he would have been perfectly within his rights to first ask whether I speak Czech and, only suggest English as a second option.

I find that quite sad.

Thus, I turn the tables with the Polish title to this post. Worked it out?

Do zobaczenia!