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


I’m a swinger. There it is, I’ve finally come out and said it.

I’ve been a swinger for most of my adult life. Living in the great metropolis of London has probably provided the most fertile territory for my swinging, although I’m certain there there are also swingers doing their thing across the nation in our provincial towns and cities.

Before you become too disgusted or even (over)excited, I’d best qualify……

As a swinger, I find it infuriatingly easy to swing between two opposing views on any number of topics or issues. A good example of this is my tendency, at times, to go “left wing liberal” on an issue one moment and then swing to a “right wing, conservative” opinion on the self same issue in the next instant.

One could call this taking a balanced view on things. I even heard say that the definition of a genius is someone who can take two opposing views and see them both as being true.   Am I a swinger? Yes. Am I therefore a genius? Not so sure, but the idea appeals!        .

However, I find swinging frustrating, as it can suggest a lack of courage in any firmly held convictions, resulting in that most scornful of labels: “the fence sitter”.

On the other hand, given that I have run many conflict resolution and related courses over the years, it offers the capacity to see both sides of a situation and move things through to a satisfactory conclusion.

My swinging is also reflected in the kinds of people I know. For example, as I look through my list of Facebook friends, just about all human life is there: Right wingers, left wingers, aetheists, catholics, jews, moslems, crinklies, youngsters, the whole spectrum of class, all manner of nationalities and dozens of other varieties of humankind! Friends’ posts cover a whole range of views, beliefs, interests and passions from cars and fluffy cats right through to the spiritual and other-wordly – and long may it be the case.

I get a particular buzz when two FB friends who hold quite opposing political or moral views both come together (unknowingly) to “like” a post or link that I have put there. I think it proves that, despite many of our differences, we all have more in common than we realize or feel able to let on.

Being a swinger makes it easier to discover peoples’ similarities and richness as well as their differences. No bad thing, I’d say.

Genius even!


She was barely four years old. Covered in bruises, she was getting the attention of passers by, who may well have thought she was being beaten or abused. Even the woman at the supermarket checkout advised her “you should be eating more greens” as she encountered this pale, waif-like creature.

She wasn’t being beaten or abused, and she was eating plenty of greens along with other good, nourishing food.

Her parents decided to take her to the doctor. Just a few short days later, the little girl was on the childrens’ oncology ward of The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. We were those parents, that little girl was our daughter, Clara.

She had contracted a rare and particularly vicious form of blood cancer – acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). She and her mother lived in that hospital for five months while she went through four “blocks” of chemotherapy. Meanwhile, I was at home with our three year old son Adam, and schlepping down to the hospital every other day to visit his big sister and mum.

It was a difficult, wearing time for us all but we came through it. It’s now almost thirteen years since Clara was discharged and eight years since she was given the final all clear.

The shadow of that time has followed us through the years and probably always will but, like with most such things good also came from it.

Now, a lively, ferociously optimistic seventeen year old, Clara has a lust for life that, arguably she may not have developed had she not gone through that awful experience. She is planning to become a childrens’ nurse and has been visiting universities recently in order to select the nursing degree course she’d like to pursue.

And so, to the singing survivors. This coming Friday 17 October, Clara along with nineteen other young cancer survivors, will be appearing on the Stand Up To Cancer TV event on the UK station Channel 4. They will be forming a choir who will be backing the singer Nicole Sherzinger. I am not allowed to disclose what song they will be singing, but can guarantee it will swell even the coldest of hearts.

Thirteen years ago, Clara was one of the lucky ones. Indeed she saw several of her fellow patients die. I know the donations following the choir’s performance and other activities that evening, will go towards funding several trials for improved treatments and will ultimately help those currently having to deal with this nastiest of diseases.

So please, if you can……

Watch. Enjoy. Support.

Thank you.


The first part of this week’s post doesn’t emanate from my own keyboard, but from that of one Jamie Catto, a  Facebook buddy of mine. The following is a post he put on the social media site a few weeks ago. I have reproduced it verbatim, although the paragraph breaks are mine for ease of reading:

“I read a lot of posts, quotes and offerings in books about ‘finding your purpose’ and that when you discover your true purpose, then life all falls into place. But truly, I myself have NO purpose, have never felt myself connected to one and find the idea limiting and uninteresting.

 I love making music and films and creating workshops and coaching and parenting and being a disruptive fool but not as a purpose, just because it’s the most fun and exciting thing to do in that moment. I am an ever changing non-linear, unexpected U-turn taking, unpredictable human with no specific vision.

I want to urge people not to get hung up on having a purpose. It’s a concept that sells a lot of books and products to folks who feel their life isn’t fulfilling , but doesn’t resonate with me at all. Follow today’s excitement with no attachment to outcome. Start new projects, follow windy paths, be open to unexpected deviations and keep body and intentions flexible.

 If you don’t feel a purpose, make some tea. Milky, one shoog for me please.”

When I read this post it damn near blew me away. It homed in on that feeling of insignificance I think we can all fear or experience, when we are not treading some noble path. My, how I’ve at times envied those who know (or at least appear to know) precisely what they were put on this planet to do, who follow that path with determination and passion towards some kind of ultimate magnificent feeling of self actualisation.

Jamie’s words offer me both some consolation and the reminder that life just ain’t going to serve up something like that for most of us.

Yet, does that mean  that we have no life purpose? Perhaps we do, but we’re just not aware of it. That purpose could be realised in many, tiny, apparently insignificant ways. For example, we may offer someone a spontaneous kindness, which may then get knocked on to the next person and so on. We blithely walk away, totally ignorant of the ripple like effect we may have initiated – a ripple that may touch or even transform others’ lives as it spreads.

Many years ago, when I was working in a corporate, one of my colleagues casually remarked that she thought I’d make a good trainer.  That piece of feedback stuck with me, and was part instrumental in what I have now been doing for almost 24 years. When I mentioned this to her a couple of years back, she had no recollection of having said it. I’m not suggesting it was her “life purpose” to give me a leg up into a life in training, but that all such actions may ultimately have purpose whether for us or others.

Even a less pleasant or apparently unhelpful action may  lead to unexpected and unknown positive results!

So, I’d hazard that we all do indeed have a life purpose despite Jamie’s wise and reassuring words, and that we are simply totally unaware of it. And, maybe things are just perfect staying that way whilst we allow ourselves to go about doing life in the way he proposes, and quit the seeking.

Now,  I think its time for a cuppa – not quite as milky as Jamie’s though, with one shoog for me too please. Who knows, its impact could be massive!


More about Jamie Catto  here:






So there I am, sat on a Piccadilly Line train on my way home from the airport. A man gets on and sits opposite me. He is wearing dark glasses and, try as I might, I can’t help but feel uneasy.

The tiny incident made me realise just how fundamental our eyes are when it comes to making contact, or even feeling comfortable in others’ company.

I can find it difficult to engage with someone if they are wearing dark specs or are unable to make eye contact. I admit this can even include people who are blind (at least in the first few moments) and who can perhaps only “look” beyond me into the middle distance. This can be compounded by the fact that they may have eyes that appear damaged in some way.

The direct contact is lost or, at least, compromised.

This scares me.

As my own eyesight deteriorates, albeit slowly, I have to admit I dread the day when I may no longer be able to make eye contact with others. Will they feel as uncomfortable as I do? Will they find it too much of a challenge to engage and therefore “not go there”? Will it lead to a greater sense of isolation for me as a result?

I’m already getting a taste of this when I go to social functions where the light is low. My vision in poor light is naff, and I find it increasingly hard to see peoples’ faces clearly – I’m not the world’s greatest fan of ambience! I can find myself speaking into the space where I’m guessing the other person might be. This was the case this Saturday night when chatting to one or two people at a friend’s 50th celebration in a local pub. Whilst I seem to make a connection, I wonder whether there is a part of them that feels uneasy, and would like to slip away.

Then again, perhaps not, I can be great company. Nonetheless that dread of isolation does bubble up for me.

And the ultimate? To be led to the corner of a room at some function or other, sat down by some kindly soul, with a drink and bowl of nibbles in front of me and left there, listening to others engaging around the room.

The guy on the Piccadilly Line was, for whatever reason, choosing to disengage with his eyes and I guess some would have thought he looked cool. When it ain’t a choice though, believe me, it feels anything but cool. In fact,  it can be a bitch.


For more information on my eye condition – retinitis pigmentosa (RP)- you can go to:



Sitting on a train from Manchester late one evening, I overheard a conversation between two women sitting across from me. They were chatting for most of the journey.

Dressed smartly, they were discussing the business meetings they’d had that day.

The conversation moved on to other matters, and one of the women was talking to the other about the difficulties she and her husband, a senior executive seemingly working overseas, were experiencing with their young son’s behaviour.  She went on to confide (on a busy train!) that they may need to refer him to a child psychologist.

About an hour later, the conversation had further progressed, and the same woman was wondering whether to have their second house in the West country refurbished or whether to upgrade to a better one.

I noticed how my judgmental self kicked in. My thoughts made a connection. This went along the lines of how some people will pursue careers to fund lavish lifestyles while overlooking a child’s needs to have a parent (I stress parent – not necessarily mother) present during their formative years.

I didn’t get the full story, I was hearing snippets. Yet, this judgment plugged squarely into my view that children are not accessories. They need their parents.

I guess that, in today’s society, there is no easy answer to this, but at a time where so much is talked of peoples’ rights to pursue careers, we so easily underestimate and barely acknowledge the value and importance of being there as parents for the upcoming generation.

Arguably, there is no occupation more noble.


I’ve had a great idea for a smartphone app.

The idea is simple, yet powerful. It could revolutionise the way we use the camera function on our super-whizzo devices. If anyone has the expertise to help develop it, then please step forward……

The app will programme the phone to take no more than 36 photos in any given period of time. This, being the equivalent to one roll of film in a standard pre-digital camera.

It’s an oft quoted fact that, apparently, more pictures have been taken in the past year than in all the time since photography was first invented. People are snapping willy-nilly at every opportunity taking “advantage” of the nigh on infinite amount of shots potentially available. Computer hard drives and the cloud are creaking under the weight of images, most of which will never actually be printed, let alone even viewed.

My father was a professional photographer. As such he was a craftsman, working fastidiously at getting the one good study straight away, rather than firing off loads of shots in the hope of striking lucky. It meant he took care, and saved the expense of wasted film. I’m certain he would despair at how photography has become a virtually valueless consumable in this day and age.

Such wastage goes well beyond photography and into other areas, such as food, energy and so on. This all leads us down the path of not truly appreciating the value of so many things.

Anyway, back to the app. Perhaps we could charge the equivalent of the cost of a roll of film and processing each time someone “tops up” and the proceeds could go to some kind of benevolent fund for professional photographers who may have hit hard times.

Sadly, I somehow doubt it would take off.


This is the last piece I shall be posting for a little while. For the first time since I started writing the blog in the autumn of 2010, it will be taking an extended summer break.

A combination of holidays and a work assignment overseas will see me away from my desk for most of the time between now and mid-September. I think it will make for a healthy break, not just for myself, but also for my “blog-muse”!

Worry not though, there are a number of drafts and skeletons of future pieces languishing in my Word folder and I’m confident there will be plenty of interesting stuff to read come the autumn and beyond. Meanwhile, you may want to dip into the archive (links on the right of this page) should you still need your regular “Markiewicz-blog-fix”!

Who knows how things will be in the world when the next blog post is published in September – we live in particularly unpredictable times at present. Having said that, I do hope you are able to enjoy a restful and peaceful summer and will also have opportunity to take stock and refresh.

See you again in six weeks’ time!


I messed up recently. Thankfully, it didn’t end up with major repercussions, but may well have done.

A major training organisation I work with regularly  asked me to re-run a programme that had flopped badly for one of their key clients under the tutelage of another trainer. Flattered by such a request, I allowed my ego to take hold of the situation. As a result, I didn’t prepare to the extent that I could have and the day I ran was a disappointment to the training company’s representative who had decided to sit in.

I took it on the chin. I was subsequently asked to write a detailed  report for the director of the training organisation.  I was 100% honest about my part in the course going less than perfectly – including the fact that I hadn’t fully prepared. I felt humiliated and embarrassed, but also strangely relieved  – I’d made no attempt to hide information, rationalise or make excuses. Having said that, I admit to also having felt fearful lest I fall foul of this major provider of work.

However, I was delighted by the response. The director was very appreciative of the accuracy and openness of my report and reassured me that there would be no further issue.

I have been getting more work from them  in the weeks since the foul up.

We all get things wrong at times. Admitting it can be challenging, yet can also feel quite liberating. The air is cleared and we can move forward.

Nevertheless, I need also to learn from the situation and remember that, however experienced I may be, it’s also vital to remain on my toes, watch that ego and deliver.

Even old pros can mess up at times!




Ever since the Occupy Wall Street movement came into being in 2011, the figure of 1% has taken on quite a potent meaning. The idea that such a small percentage of the world’s population enjoys a massively disproportionate amount of its material riches is, of course, understandable reason for great disquiet.

Actually, I consider myself particularly blessed to be in what is probably the top .001%.

Have I suddenly come into a massive fortune? Have I won the mother of all lotteries or inherited from a previously unknown multi-billionaire great uncle or aunt?

No. I’m one of what might be one of the .001% (or less?) who can go about their daily life in relative peace and comfort. Compared to the 99.999% (or more?) of other humans who have ever walked the planet, along with a huge number who occupy it now, I live in resplendent comfort and incredible safety.

Living, as I do in a modest (but pretty) terraced house in North London, you may query my use of the term “resplendent comfort”. It’s all relative. Within a few paces reach of where I am now sitting  are taps that will instantly provide me with hot or cold water, a flushing loo, a heating system and all manner of other day to day amenities.

And, as for “incredible safety”? When I finish work today in Central London I shall have something like a 99.9999recurring% chance of getting home safely. Compare that to my fellow humans in Syria, Iraq, Gaza, Eastern Ukraine……….

I’d say that I am, probably along with most of you reading this post, phenomenally fortunate.


In recent weeks, three things have happened that have left me baffled and frustrated. I’ll go through them briefly, one by one:

  1. I contacted our boiler engineer asking him to pop round to stamp our boiler service book, as I couldn’t find it when he’d been recently to service our installation. Having left a voicemail message and sent a text, I had zero response.
  2. I couldn’t reach our local pub by phone early one evening to ask about food serving times. I then sent a Facebook message alerting them to the problem – no response.
  3. A man came to fix our fence, following some high winds. He arrived an hour or so late – giving no apology or explanation – then spent about 20 minutes preparing to do the job. He said he needed to go back to fetch some extra tools. He never returned. We subsequently noticed that he’d cleared up and taken all his other stuff with him never to be seen again.

These aren’t faceless corporates, but three local, independent tradesmen who, I would assume are striving to make a living in difficult times. Yet, the basic fundamentals seem to elude them – responding to phone calls, completing jobs, communicating…..

Could these be the same folk who may decry people coming to work here from other countries and “stealing our livelihoods”?  Shooting themselves in the foot, I’d say.

I may well now choose a different heating engineer to service the boiler next year.  I don’t much feel like using that pub. And, as for the fencing man? That one really does take the biscuit, and we’ve felt no real inclination to chase on that one.

So, the answer could well be to turn to my compatriots – that merry band of Polish tradesmen.

Except that,  Stanley, a Pole recommended to me to tackle the painting of our house exterior, has yet to return my voicemail message from about a month ago.

Given that, we have managed to find another man, who is due at 9am today to start the job.

The term “baited breath” comes to mind.


Sitting chatting with the HR Director at a newspaper publisher’s a while back, the conversation turned to the people that were working there. She was responsible for the welfare of several hundred staff engaged in a whole range of roles.

In her position, she would need to deal with all manner of issues concerning all manner of people. Looking out through the window of her office across at  the “shopfloor” she noted that the individuals out there could have all kinds of different personal lives, “hidden” from view.

She continued that statistics would probably dictate that most lead conventional lives. Yet some may have drink problems, be pill poppers, have strange sexual fetishes or indulge in the weirdest of hobbies. She even went as far as to say that one or two could even be undiscovered child abusers, perpetrators of severe domestic violence or similar.

Yet, here they all were, working together, contributing to an organisation and its success.

This week has seen the jailing of two high profile figures for two, very different yet serious crimes. One involved a newspaper employee, but it’s the other one – Rolf Harris – that I want to focus on.

I feel shocked and saddened by the revelations about this man – a man who has been for me and most of my generation, always there as part of my growing up. His work has entertained, comforted,  even moved me at times, and done similar for my own children as we sang along to his songs in the car when they were  younger. We even went to see an exhibition of his paintings a couple of years ago.

Quite naturally, I don’t much feel like listening to his songs or looking at his art at the moment.

However, I find it extremely hard to think that I could never do so again. Just the thought of the the song  “Two Little Boys” can bring a lump to my throat.

I’m prompted to wonder though. How many great works of art, architecture, music, literature and so on, may have been produced by individuals thus flawed, or worse? Some, I guess will have been exposed in their time, and others not. Their work survives and people admire it for what it is. Great art provides people with pleasure, inspiration and even connection with something greater.

I actually hope Rolf Harris’s work survives. Not because I condone the actions of his darker side but because it was, and still is, brilliant. I can live without hearing another Gary Glitter song or watching Jimmy Savile chuntering on,  but Rolf was on quite another level.

Harris was described in court as a “Jekyll & Hyde” type figure. How many other such figures have there been whose work we may continue to admire or love? We probably unknowingly come into contact with them on a daily basis – not necessarily celebrities, but “ordinary” people just as in that newspaper office, working hard and “contributing”.




It was interesting to hear the singer Lily Allen interviewed on the radio this weekend. I’m not that familiar with her work, beyond one or two of her big hits, but really warmed to her as she spoke about her life and views on life.

She came over as someone who was both gracious and had integrity.

Part of that sense of integrity came across from her admitting to being a hypocrite. Hypocrite? Integrity? Surely, there’s a contradiction here?

The interviewer had challenged her over her dislike of women flaunting their sexuality, whilst, at the same time choosing to feature semi-clad women in her most recent video. Her response was simple, yet disarming:

“I’m a mass of contradictions and a massive hypocrite”

I’d say that most of us can be a mass of contradictions and  hypocrites, yet how often do we openly admit it in this way?

I recall an occasion when I was having a “lively, frank exchange of views” with my somewhat fiery mother in law. At one point, she snapped at me, declaring me to be a hypocrite.  I found myself  responding  by saying:  “Yes, you’re absolutely right, I am”. The conflict simply melted away.

It may be relatively easy  for me to admit to this most human, and near universal, of weaknesses when arguing with a relative, but dangerous (arguably) if you are someone in a position of authority or great influence, as much could be at stake. So instead, we justify, we put up clever arguments, we try to weadle our way out of the situation – just watch politicians when challenged. Nevertheless, perhaps more openness about this extraordinarily common human foible, could be a very good thing and, most ironically, ultimately gain us more credibility.

As Lily went on to say:

“I reserve the right to change my mind”

And, in saying so, also acknowledging that this can be confusing for other people and even for herself at times.

Anyway, back to Lily Allen’s video.  In my opinion, women flaunting themselves half naked is wholly inappropriate. However I think it necessary to have a look at the video just one more time in order to double check just exactly what she was talking about.


Yup – too right. See ya,  I’m off to You Tube!




How many of us spent our school days being told to sit up and listen?

What if, instead we had been taught to listen?

I don’t simply mean nominal written comprehension tests or repeating back by rote what the teacher had said. I mean real, genuine listening in order to fully understand the other person.

If this were on the curriculum for all children at some point in their school lives, I wonder how different wider society might be as a result?

The training  that  I conduct in interpersonal skills usually involves my running listening exercises with a view to demonstrating the power of listening and the real benefits it can bring to any interaction or relationship. Course participants are often astonished by the insights gained.  Yet, as I do this work, part of me wonders whether it is too little, too late. How many of the world’s current woes exist purely because of underuse or misuse of this most precious of skills?

Much of what is taught in our educational establishments is of value – although not all! And, I’d say that overlooking the teaching of this particular skill leaves a massive chasm which leads our youngsters, and most of us before them, into a way of engaging with the world which fuels misunderstanding, tensions, conflict and potential ultimate breakdown.

Not great.

What if an integral part of the curriculum involved sessions on how to listen in a heartfelt and non-judgmental way?  I believe things would then be so very different.






Much has been written and said in recent weeks about British values and how they should be held up as being what makes our country “great”.  One word that keeps cropping up in this debate  is “tolerance”.

I’d say, that venerating  this as a value represents hyperbole of considerable proportions. Yes, the British may be tolerant, but let’s examine that word and expose it for what it can really represent.

If I tolerate someone, it means that I am prepared to put up with them, even though I may not actually make any effort or move to welcome their presence. This can, in fact, be part of the foundation for that very British capacity of being  polite, rather than being  genuine, open and sincere with others. At its extreme it can be patronising.

If, on the other hand, we were encouraged to strive for a genuine willingness to embrace, welcome and accept others wholeheartedly, then I’d say we’re really making progress. Related to this could be qualities like the ability and courage to challenge, speak our truth and understand others, even if we don’t agree with them. Very different to mere polite tolerance.

I’m not very well travelled, but understand that in many cultures – ironically, often those that are more “primitive” – those values of embracing and welcoming strangers are lived out big time. Often that welcome comes from poorer families opening up their homes and sharing what little they have with visitors, despite their own dire circumstances.

As for visitors to our shores……..

Being very tolerant, many of us British may put up with a family from elsewhere living next door to us, but would we welcome them into our home with open arms? Would we invite them to break Waitrose bread with us, and more?  I’m sure some of us would, but if we lived by the value of mere “tolerance”, we may not really fully integrate and share the richness of our respective cultures and lives with each other. A polite nod of “greeting” may be as far as it ever goes, as we quickly slip up our garden paths and scurry into our private fortresses.

Strive to be more tolerant? I’m not so sure – I think too many of us would remain much the poorer for it.




I was speaking to a friend a while back who told me he had listened to a radio phone-in about abusive behaviour, and even violence, towards blind and visually impaired people. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to hear the programme myself. However I have heard of this before, yet still found myself astonished at the fact that people can be so mistreated.

I was astonished on two counts. The first and most obvious being “how can anyone treat a person with a disability in such a way?”. The second was that, in almost ten years of being out and about with a white cane, I have never once encountered any hint of abuse or even rudeness as a result of my condition. The closest is that, at times, people may cheekily nip in front of me to grab a seat on the train – assuming that I can’t see them at all. I usually smile to myself when that happens and simply let it go.

Yet, another part of me is not altogether surprised that such a phenomenon exists. The reason may pull you up short:

I wonder whether the visually impaired individual may be contributing to the problem.

I’ll share two examples – one relating to something I witnessed and the other relating to an item on the radio.

I was in my local library when a man came in wearing heavy, dark glasses and carrying a white cane. As he arrived, the young girl working on the counter greeted him and asked:

“ May I ask, what is the nature of your visual impairment?”

The man responded by loudly saying:

“Blind my dear, B-L-I-N-D –  get it?”

The girl looked close to tears on having been treated this way. To this day, I bitterly regret not having a quiet word with this man for reacting so brusquely to what seemed a reasonable enquiry, put across in a friendly and warm tone.

Listening to “In Touch”, a programme for the visually imapired on Radio 4 a couple of years back, this topic of abuse came up.  A woman being interviewed related how a young man on a bus asked her

“ Hey missus, what’s it like to be blind?”

She apparently hit back by saying

“What’s it like to be stupid?”

Now, if someone calls me stupid, whether they are visually impaired or not, then I’m hardly going to take kindly to that.

Having a visual impairment is one hell of a drag. Of course it can leave me feeling grumpy, depressed and isolated. However, I never believe it is an excuse for any of us to treat others with disdain and expect extra special treatment in return.

Ryan Knighton in his excellent book “Cockeyed” about his experiences of living with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) has a term for such people. He calls them the “blind aristocracy”. I wonder whether those people who “attract” abuse or even violence are members of that group.

One of the acknowledgments he makes in the book is to a person who asked him to be more careful as he made his way through a public place – I can’t recall the precise locality, it may have been a bar. What Ryan was implying was that, even if we have a visual impairment, we still need to take care that we don’t bump into others, etc. The blind aristocracy on the other hand would be more likely to barge thir way through and expect others to move out of the way.

We’re ordinary humans who happen to be visually impaired, we’re not superior beings.

People will, however, treat us with a degree of discomfort or even be fearful of us. When people are fearful there may be a greater propensity to be abusive as a defence mechanism. When I was a child, my RP was mild and undiagnosed. I can imagine that some younger RP sufferers may have been picked on or bullied at school for being different. The more that we can dispel any fear-inducing mystique or “specialness”, the less likely that we will encounter abuse.

For my part, I do my utmost to be cheerful, to engage and to answer questions. If that youth had asked me what it was like to be blind I would have taken great pleasure in sitting him down and telling him – even if his question was phrased in a mocking or sarcastic tone. The hope would be that he would come away better informed and less fearful or wary.

I think the idea that anyone with a visual impairment should suffer at others’ hands is abhorrent, but those with such conditions may need to take a look at themselves and make absolutely certain that they’re not co-creating that situation in some way. I think the secret lies in  being as ordinary, open and engaging as possible – and if asked “stupid” questions or even mocked or laughed at, try to ride it as graciously as possible. You can’t fight fire with fire.

And finally a promise from me. Should I ever be on the receiving end of any abuse or worse I will write about it on this blog. What I will also promise is that I will do my utmost to try and understand why it happened rather than simply judge or condemn the perpetrator. I sincerely hope that I don’t end up eating my words!



Yesterday afternoon I was sitting, reading whilst listening to an old Van Morrison album on the stereo. My son, Adam was in the room with me, sat at the table revising for his Latin GCSE exam. It reminded me of how I used to do the same when in my teens with the likes of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin as my soundtrack.

However, there is one fundamental difference between then and now. There was no way that either of my parents will have sat in the same room as me listening to loud rock music. The fact, that on top of that, I was (supposed to be) studying must have been close to torture for them.

This is just one example of how so much must have been alien to them – the generation gap ++……

I shudder now to think of their worry as their teenage son would slope about with hair half way down his back and frayed, filthy bell bottom jeans wrapped round his skinny legs. As for the late nights, with the beer and fags on my breath on arrival home from some party or other, as Georgie our milkman was delivering the early morning pintas…..

This, for them, will have been like a parallel universe, one that was virtually beyond comprehension to them. Not only were they from another era, but also from a very different culture and to see their beloved bundle of joy, growing into some kind of lanky, bedraggled beer swilling mess must have given them more than their share of sleepless nights!

Thankfully, I remained a good lad at heart.

Yet, did I empathise with this at the time? Of course not, I was a teenager and it wasn’t my job to see the world through my parents’ eyes. It’s only now, decades later, that as a parent myself,  I get some notion of what they will have gone through. Yet, it’s merely a small, bland taste of it. Where my son has music on while studying, I relate to it. As my daughter goes to a gig at the O2, I will have done similar. Indeed, my sisters at her age sneaked out of the house at dead of night and walked from Clapham to Hammersmith to queue for Beatles tickets. They were hauled over the coals by our usually mild father when they returned the next morning.

All in all, the generation gap is far, far narrower  now and as I struggle at times with bringing up my youngsters, I do feel  deeply for my own parents and for how they must have found it a hundred times tougher when we were that age – AND they had been through a war!

They say that if you remember the 60’s you probably weren’t there. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’d blotted most of the 60’s and the 70’s from their memories – not because they will have been doped up to their eyeballs, but through the sheer trauma sparked by the culture shock.

We parents don’t know we’re born these days!

PS: As for my Latin result all those years back? Let’s just say, my ma and pa were disappointed that their son wouldn’t become a doctor or lawyer! Apparently, my son is heading for a good mark – perhaps Van Morrison would have been a better soundtrack……




I wonder where they all are now? I wonder if they remember the time they spent with me? I wonder whether that time spent made a real and lasting difference to their lives? Do I ever come to mind at certain moments?

Am I talking about ex girlfriends?


I’m referring to people who have attended training courses that I’ve run. Having led training programmes now for well over two decades, I’ve worked with a pretty significant number of people.

Each course is like a temporary community that comes together for up to several days. It’s usually a lively, stimulating  gathering with much sharing, learning  and often its fair share of banter and laughs. And, at the end of a course, as I sit in the training room with name cards and spent coffee cups the only sign of erstwhile life, a sadness can come over me.

The community thus dissolved, those individuals will have gone back into their day to day lives, hopefully primed and motivated to apply what was shared in the room.

I tidy up, gather my things, turn out the lights and wend my way home – usually satisfied, if a little tired.

I’ve worked with some of these individuals  subsequently, as I’ve been asked to run further courses. Others have been back in touch via the internet, but most simply came, attended, participated and went.

There have been times when I’ve half recognised someone on a train or on the street and wondered whether they’d been in a training group at some point in the past. My “graduates” are all out there in the world, milling around, doing their thing!

I derive huge satisfaction from the work I do, yet there is a part of me that wonders just how much of an impact it will have made in the longer term.

So, by way of reassuring myself, I’m going to go mathematical on this one:

I calculate that I’ve probably worked with approximately 25,000 individuals  since starting out back in 1990. The vast majority gave very good to excellent feedback when completing evaluations before disappearing back into the world outside the training room. I guess that, simply by law of averages there will be a proportion whose lives were changed or even transformed by something they’d picked up on one of my courses –  assuming there’s no delusion on my part!

Continuing with the maths (or math for US readers): if as few as just 1% of people who’ve been through my hands have enjoyed real, discernable  benefits, then 250 ain’t such a bad count!

That leaves me feeling pretty good.

This coming week,  I’m due to work with 27 people on two, separate programmes. I wonder which of them, if any, will remember me two decades or so from now…….




I’m kicking off this week’s piece by offering up a simple challenge.

How easy would you find it to sit and do absolutely nothing for, say half an hour? By doing nothing, I don’t just mean lack of physical activity, but also being without TV, smartphone,  computer, radio, book or any other distraction.

This is something that I’ve always found relatively easy to do, yet am astonished at how many people I’ve encountered who would find this impossible or, at least, extremely difficult.

It’s prompted me to think that we all seem to fall into one of two camps:

The be-ers and the do-ers.

The be-ers, like myself, are quite content to sit and do nothing. In my case, that can be anything from a couple of minutes to well over an hour. Sitting, contemplating, being.

The do-ers on the other hand are constantly busy, occupied or distracted by something other than being in their own company and doing zilch.

Being a be-er is not at all the same as being lazy. Rather, it is having the capacity do no nowt in order to recharge or simply ponder. The American poet Walt Whitman referred to this as “loafing” – a term that has developed a rather negative connotation but which he employed in the most positive of ways.

Yet having said this, I can at times, still have that nagging guilt that derives from not getting on with things and doing something “useful”.  Our upbringing  contributes to this, playing a key role in determining whether we end up as be-ers or do-ers.

I’ve encountered much lately in the media and through friends about the practice of mindfulness.  People who engage in it claim it has done wonders for them, some even going so far as to say that it’s helped cure depression and other related conditions.

I’ve practised meditation for over two decades now, and would say that its probably the best gift I‘ve ever given myself. At its simplest, meditation or mindfulness is about taking the time out to be be still and quiet. In other words, it doesn’t have to be some kind of worthy process that involves sitting cross legged on a mountain top – or your roof – for days on end, chanting some kind of mantra to yourself.

Ironically, it is often the be-ers who end up getting more done. Practices that involve being, tend to  lead to our being better organised, more grounded, focused,  intuitive and ultimately more efficient.

So, if you recognise yourself in this as being a do-er, give it a go – perhaps right now and see how it is to sit quietly for, say 10 minutes without doing a thing.  And, if you’re at work and your boss spots you, just refer them to this piece, especially if they happen to be a do-er!




This coming June, I’m off to the Isle of Wight Festival, along with my fifteen year old son and his pal. The Red Hot Chili Peppers are the main draw, although I daresay, I’ll also do a spot of leaping about to The Specials.

I needed to contact the ferry company as I had a few questions for them about the crossing, and preferred to do this by phone. I have to admit that I anticipated some hassle in finding a number and, subsequently getting through.

However, the number was easily located on their website, so I took a flyer and tried calling yesterday afternoon (the Sunday of a public holiday weekend). I was astonished to find that I got through in no time, and to a very friendly woman called Caroline who dealt with me efficiently and courteously.

Job done. In fact, the call ticked all my good customer care boxes!

Interestingly,  it was the third occasion in recent days, on which I have had such an easy and pleasing experience dealing with a company on the phone.

I really do wonder whether the times might be a-changing, and that we customers may be able to talk to real people again, rather than our having to spend hours frustratedly jabbing at keyboard and mouse in order to “communicate” with companies.

Have I just happened to be lucky or are organisations actually starting to realise the value and benefit of being there for us – in person? I do hope so!

Perhaps this little tale of being dealt with well isn’t all that exciting or dramatic, but it does at least provide a brilliant excuse for me to brag about going to the festival!

And, if you also happen to be heading there, let me know – we can hook up, leap up and down together to some hot sounds, and then brag further about it together upon our return.




Do you like you?

You may be thinking, what an odd way to open a blog post. It sounds like nonsense – on one level.

Yet, if we step back and seriously ask that question about our relationship with ourselves, it can be quite an eye opener. “Do I like me?”.

There is a belief that is held by many that, if we think highly of ourselves then we are being big headed or arrogant. I suggest this is a myth. In fact, there is a strange paradox at work here: The more badly we think of ourselves the more desperate we may become for others to like us, to build us up. Yet, expecting others to like us on this basis is, in fact a kind of perverse arrogance.

Why on earth should someone else take it upon themselves to think highly of you if you are in a crappy relationship with you?

The first step has to be self love. By this, I don’t mean puffing ourselves up to look good in others’ eyes, more a genuine high self regard.

When we dislike another person, we can often choose to break that relationship,  however we can’t ever walk away from ourselves, so it makes sense to work on it! Is this easy? For many, not at all and sometimes it needs professional support.  However, staying stuck in self hate isn’t exactly great either!

This is nothing new. George Benson summed it up nicely in his 1977 hit: “The Greatest Love of All”:

“Learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all”

So where do we start? Listening to the song can be a nice first step – here is a link.

Moving on from that, It may be as simple as deciding to like yourself  – or, initially part of yourself  –  that little bit more today, and then tomorrow, and then the next day……

And, over time,  you can see what starts to happen. I think I’ll give it a go.




I’ve never felt particularly comfortable around words like morals or ethics –somehow they smack of judgment, right and wrong and of such things being passed down from some rule book or higher authority.

What I do know is that they are all too often the subject of great intellectual and philosophical debate – usually involving people with masses of letters after their names. This leads me to wonder, what really is there to debate, if we decide to live and work in a way that is represented by just three simple words:

Do no harm

I would say that right living, best practice or whatever we want to call it, is encapsulated in that one modest little phrase.

Interestingly, I didn’t encounter this idea at a spiritual retreat or in reading some inspirational tome by a leading guru. It actually came up in a TV interview with a well known sit com actor.

This was the late Paul Eddington (of The Good Life fame). It was to be his moving final  interview which took place just weeks before he died of skin cancer. When asked the poignant question about his desired epitaph, the reply that immediately fell from his lips was the following:

“He did no harm”.

To me, that was profound.

So, what is it about this phrase that, for me, represents the essence of ethics? Firstly, it is all inclusive – do no harm to oneself, other people, other creatures, the environment and planet. It also takes in the idea of doing no harm whether by thought, deed, word or other expression.

I subsequently discovered through talking to an acquaintance who is a practising Buddhist that this phrase is pivotal to Buddhist teaching and practice.

Personally, I find it a daunting challenge to remember this in every moment. A judgmental thought, a snide joke, a lost temper, a manipulative sulk – these all conspire to make it a gargantuan task to consistently do no harm!

Nevertheless, it’s important for me to aspire to achieving that task, as I hold that this is the way of leading the good life, rather than following some kind of handed down “rule book” type ethics or morals. In fact, it prompts another three word phrase:

Work in progress……




As many of my readers will know, I am just a couple years off from completing my sixth decade. There are things about being in your late 50’s that don’t really apply when you are younger.

You may think that I’m referring to aches n pains, tiredness, grumpiness, ailments and the like.These can, of course, be part and parcel of moving on into later years, yet there is another quite unique phenomenon that struck me recently for the very first time. It’s a phenomenon that anyone under the age of, say fifty, is unlikely to relate to.

Three weeks ago I attended the funeral of an ex-colleague from way back in the 70’s. Meeting several other ex-colleagues from that time, whom I’d not seen in decades, I was taken aback by how little they’d really changed.

Yes, we were all older in years, greyer, more wrinkled, some wider in girth and others more shrunken. Yet, the voices, the mannerisms, the humour were virtually unchanged, as if no time at all had passed.

I can fully relate to those who are my age and older – even much older – who don’t really feel their age inside. What is new to me and can, by definition, only become apparent in later years, is the stark realisation that others haven’t really fundamentally changed either.

Although I spent a mere couple of hours with these guys, I was utterly relaxed in their familiar company and it seemed as if we could all settle back into how it was, granted with the odd wheezy cough or inadvertent flatulent emission. Even some of the old jokes and playful jibes felt as fresh and youthful as ever. All this in spite of what life had thrown at us over the intervening decades: marriages, divorces, bereavements, achievements, parenthood, illnesses, accidents along with all manner of other assorted life dramas.

I’d had a similar experience a couple of years previously, when I got together again with a band I sang with in my teens.

In younger days, seeing someone after a few years would have had a comparable, but far milder version of the effect, whereas the passing of several decades makes the feeling that much more vivid and surprising.

There is no getting  away from the fact that I am ageing – we all are – yet I so enjoy the fact that we can feel as old as we choose to inside our own liver spotted skin and that, really we are still the same people.

Fortunately, I was the “baby” in the group of ex-colleagues, being at least a decade younger than them, and the liver spots and inadvertent farts are yet to arrive, if ever!

What is sad though, is the fact that, sooner or later the inevitable occurs for us all, and my erstwhile workmate’s funeral won’t have been the last one I’m likely to be attending. There will be others. Knowing though, that whoever is then  departing will, in essence be the same person I’ll have known decades back feels strangely comforting. And, it will still be good to see the old gang again, albeit slightly depleted in numbers.

Still the same, just older.



The past twenty years or so have seen me engage in all manner of personal development activities. Listing them will probably use up my maximum weekly ration of 500 or so words that I allocate for this blog. I’ve also read and enjoyed many personal development and inspirational books about peoples’ successes and how they’ve been achieved. Much of this has certainly been useful.

However, there is one phrase that I’ve heard far too often and which really grates with me:

If I can do it, so can anyone”

The phrase is usually uttered by some self made entrepreneur or professional who has grafted their way to the top of their particular tree. And I say well done, and certainly applaud the achievement.

What I do find difficult though, is the assumption on their part that we all have it in us to do what they’ve done, and that all we need do is get off our butts and get on with it.

Each one of us is unique. Each one of us has unique talents, capabilities, strengths and desires. Our potential is also unique.

We cannot all be wealthy entrepreneurs, champions or superstar celebrities. To suggest that anyone can do what someone else has achieved is facile, insulting and can lead to massive disillusionment.

Having said that, I crave a world where each individual can fulfil their potential.

And how could this be/have been achieved for each of us?

I suggest:


1. Being able to identify what we genuinely want – as opposed to what we think we “should” go for.

2. Tapping into our inner resources.

3. Having access to the outer support and guidance to help identify items 1 and 2 above and to help make it happen.


I think it’s that third element that can truly make all the difference.

I have discovered that those that do “make it” in any form will have had that particular someone to look out for them, especially during their formative years – whether it be a parent, sibling, inspirational teacher or loyal and supportive friend. Such “enablers” don’t crassly declare “I did it, so can you”. Rather, they are more likely to find a way to draw out and assist in developing the unique talents and abilities that reside deep within that individual.

This has been borne out by the vast majority of people I’ve heard interviewed on radio programmes such as Desert Island Discs where the interviewee will often talk about that special someone who made all the difference early in their life or career.

However, we can’t wind the clock back, so we are likely to turn to the personal development courses, coaches and inspirational literature to help us find our way. It’s big business based, arguably on a lot of lost and confused souls craving and needing the support and direction they were unable to tap into earlier in life.

I know, because I’m one of them, as well as being engaged in that very business! And, if I can do it, perhaps you can……. or perhaps you can’t. We’re each unique.





A packed train journey into work – standing all the way

Arriving, carton of strong coffee in hand, to an inbox with over 100 new emails

Office, hermetically sealed – no natural air, no windows that open

Old air re-circulating

Can’t adjust the temperature – its done “centrally”

High intensity fluorescent lighting

Several hours without break in front of a flickering PC screen

No time for lunch, but double strength Americano or Espresso from the in-house Costa to keep going

Run out of Nurofen – again

Bully-boy/girl boss breathing down your neck for results

Doing the job of two people, following department restructure

Rumours and gossip about possible takeover, merger, downsize

Colleagues bitching

Zero response to urgent enquiries to other internal departments

Others chasing you non-stop for answers

The near inaudible buzz of electric “stuff” as a soundtrack to the day

Hushed conversations in corridors and loos

More double Espresso or Americano to keep going

Yet another system “crash”. IT: “I can only apologise” and will see to it “ASAP ”

Boss defers your overdue performance review yet again

And to cap it all: “Who’s bloody nicked my stapler!!”


Any of this familiar?

Just one of the above could be enough to make you unwell. It’s little wonder sick leave levels are so high in so many organizations. Even though I’ve yet to see sickness absence stats as a result of stationery going walkabout, I guess they could make for sobering reading.

Seriously though, what might such conditions be costing you, the organization, the economy, society?

Were we built for all this as a species? Were we, really?

Oh dear, I now feel quite  queasy myself having written this, I think I need to open a window. Fortunately, I can.

Mind you, where’s my stapler gone?




“Say please, say thank you” – this is the mantra of many a parent during their youngsters’ formative years. They are the two base words for being polite. They are good words, and perfectly appropriate in all manner of situations. They embody good manners.

Yet, I happen to have quite an issue with the notion of good manners for manners’ sake.

I was in my local supermarket yesterday getting a few bits and bobs. At the checkout, I was greeted by a polite young lad who appeared to have good manners. As he was checking through my items, I helped myself to a bag. I found myself struggling, as I tried to get it open whilst holding my white cane. I was also feeling increasingly anxious about potentially keeping others waiting in the queue behind me.

Having put all my items through the scanner, the lad on the till was blissfully unaware of my difficulty and was facing in the other direction chatting to one of his colleagues (whom I couldn’t see as they were out of my line of sight). I became even more flustered, both with the bag and with the lad. So much so, that I finally had to overtly point my difficulty out to him.

He couldn’t have been more polite and apologetic as he immediately helped me load my bags.

This has prompted me to think about manners. He was well mannered, well presented and, I would assume quite intelligent.  Yet, what was missing?


How many of us bring our children up to be polite and well mannered? This is something that is near enough universally considered important. Yet, I wonder whether awareness is equally, if not more crucial than mere manners that have been learned by rote.

Awareness is about picking up the essence of what is required in a human interaction and responding accordingly in a genuinely empathic and practical way. This is what psychologist Barry Schwartz refers to as “practical wisdom”.

In other words, an approach that says “my behavior has an impact on others”. However polite my language, if I am unaware someone who is having difficulties (such as in the supermarket), that will taint the interaction. I could have thought him rude, but realize his “crime” was not that of being inconsiderate or dismissive  per se, more that he was utterly unaware of the needs of the other person – in this case, the customer right in front of him. Arguably, his job was to scan and take payment and anything over and above that required a healthy sized application of  practical wisdom.

I’m hoping that my interaction with him will have been helpful to him. If so, the combination of heightened awareness and the language of good manners are likely to stand him in good stead.

I’ll close by saying  thank you so much for taking the time to read this piece.

Oh my, what a polite and well brought up young man I am!




Oh dear, it’s Sunday evening, a few short hours before I’m due to post my weekly blog and……. I’m struggling. I have about a dozen pieces that are half written or in seed form but the blog-muse quite simply isn’t coming up with a finished product.

So, I’m off to bed and it looks like this is what I’ll be posting in the morning.

Not my most exciting, entertaining or informative post to date but hey, that’s just how it is.

The main thing is that I’m upholding my commitment to publishing a piece each Monday and with a virtually unbroken  run of three and a half years, I guess it was inevitable that I’d hit a wall at some point. I can only trust that a great post next week will make up for this one.

And, if you desperately need a fix of something better than this today, then have dip into the archives, there are almost 170 posts there to choose from.

Have a great week!


Way back in 1994, I had the good fortune to visit Australia. I was there for five weeks and absolutely loved it.

One of the most interesting places I passed through was Nimbin, a small, dusty ramshackle town in New South Wales populated by all manner of “alternative” types. Walking down the main street in the sunshine, I had to navigate my way around a woman who had seated herself bang in the middle of the sidewalk. She had a babe in arms and was breastfeeding. As I walked past I noticed she was casting a glance around her from time to time, as if to see whether anyone was watching.

A few years later, I was told by a couple of people on a course about how a certain ageing rock star is often seen driving along their High Street in Epping in his Lamborghini, with his own music blasting out of the car’s speakers. As he does so, he casts furtive glances to watch for the reaction of people around him.

I found myself making an immediate connection between these two, very different individuals.

They seemed keen, even desperate, to be noticed – both of them, what might be called “posers”.

The essence of what they were each doing was much the same, but the form of it was quite different.

“Look at me – I’m so hip as I breastfeed in the middle of the path / as I drive my supercar with my music blaring.”

And, why do I notice such things? Because I know that a part of me also likes to be noticed, even to pose. Granted,  I have neither the equipment to breastfeed nor the wherewithal to drive an Italian supercar but, nonetheless I’m sure I find ways, at times to be noticed. The only tragedy is that, given I have no peripheral vision, I can’t see whether anyone is actually watching.

It’s just as well I actually do look cool.

And, if anyone did happen to laugh , I probably wouldn’t notice that either.


Do you happen to know one of these people who seems to have the luck of the devil when it comes to parking spaces? Perhaps you’re one of those people? The one who always manages to secure a slot, virtually with no effort? I’ve come across quite a number of folk with this knack and heard numerous reports from people who’s friends and family members seem to have the same capacity.

The logical side of my bonce certainly feels like passing it off as lucky coincidence and no more. However, the other part of me finds the coincidence too much to ignore. I first encountered the notion that ”we create our reality” (and not only parking spaces) over two decades ago via an old cassette tape called The Strangest Secret. At the time, it felt like a revelation to me. I came to realize this was nothing new as even such figures as Marcus Aurelius and Will Shakespeare had spoken in such terms centuries before. I’m not sure parking spaces were what they were going for, but the principle held some credence for me and certainly stirred my curiosity.

I have, in past blog posts, spoken about how what you put out, will result in similar vibes in return. However, these pieces have been confined to influencing other humans, rather than the physical world around us, such as parking spaces.

I’m not a driver any more and so finding a spot for my motor isn’t my bag. Nevertheless, there have been many, many times when I’ve chosen to ignore doom laden tannoy messages on rail and tube platforms about severe delays, only to “manifest” a train home within minutes. My reaction when I hear such announcements is to pass it off as not true (for me, in my experience)  and expect a train to come.

It appears to be about that expectation. Proponents of reality creation talk about this power of expectation – the equivalent to anticipating, with 100% certainty that a light will come on when you flick the switch (as long as it’s the light switch). Thus, those who on courses and elsewhere have told me about creating parking spaces have, almost without exception said they simply expected one to be there.

How many of us take the pessimistic, less expectant approach? “Parking’s bound to be a nightmare” and other similar affirmations trip off their tongues. And, hey presto – parking ends up being a pain in the proverbials!

Vast amounts are written about this in hundreds of personal development tomes. Suffice to say that, if we can make spaces happen or trains turn up, we can deduce that yes, we can make all sorts occur all around us. Stories exist of all manner of fantastical things that people have apparently drawn to themselves. My own partner matched, almost to the letter, a description I’d written of her several years before our meeting. If this sounds ridiculous, then you can ask her, and how she recalls sitting on our bed, reading what I’d written about her some years before our meeting. The geese certainly had pimples that day!

A very similar thing is related in Henri Charriere’s autobiography, Banco (second volume after Papillon) where he spent great tracts of time, whilst in prison,  imagining his future wife in every detail. He then met her some years later.

You may now be shouting at this blog post “So, how come people don’t win the lottery in this way?”

Well, Hunter Davies writes in some detail,  in his book Living on the Lottery, about a man who, apparently manifested a lottery jackpot win through such power of expectation.

A few years back, the papers covered a story of a man who sold his house and put the entire proceeds on the roulette wheel in Vegas – and won, apparently having “known all along” that he definitely would.

It’s quite something to develop such levels of expectation!

Why then, don’t we all manage to achieve such things? I’d suggest it’s about the antithesis to expectation: doubt. Even the tiniest hint of doubt can scupper things. I’d suggest eliminating those doubts is the biggest challenge for us all, and perhaps relatively few of us always manage to do so.

If this is a new notion to you, have a play with it. Remember though, it’s about expectation, rather than mere hope or wishful thinking, and look out for those pesky doubts lurking there in the sidelines!.

Parking spaces can be a great start point. And, beyond that?  Who knows………..




He’s there almost every day by the Oasis. Almost always smiling. Almost always engaging with anyone who passes by. Almost always talking some kind of good natured nonsense. And, his voice carries, so you can usually hear him from a fair distance as you approach.

William  is a customer of the Oasis – a café in our local shopping precinct in Barnet. He’s a small, stocky middle aged man and the kind of person a lot of establishments would rather not have hanging around, in case it “puts other customers off”.

However, the people who run the Oasis are kind. Even if some folk may not wish to be in earshot of William’s good natured rantings, the café owners clearly allow him the dignity of enjoying a magnificently long lasting cup of tea at their table outside the entrance.

I’m glad William’s there so much of the time. He adds some colour to the environment. I even enjoy a bit of mutual nonsensical banter with him – he often mistakes me for Trevor McDonald’s dad.  He reminds me that the world is made up of a rich array of people – many “normal” and others less so. I’m pleased the café owners choose not to shoo him away, as can often be the case. After all, he clearly has “mental health issues”.

Perhaps, most of all, I admire his childlike nature and capacity for being himself, rather than “appropriately”  falling in line with convention.

William brings to mind a ditty  I read recently:

“We never grow up, we just learn how to behave in public”.

I’m not sure William ever grew up, but equally I’m not certain most of us ever really did either.


Chatting the other day to an employee at Heathrow Airport, the conversation turned to the incident a couple of years back in Boston when the pilot of a passenger plane averted disaster with his superior piloting skills. All the plane’s automated systems had failed and he had to bring the plane down manually. His quick thinking, calm approach and experience saved many lives that day.

I was told during that chat, that pilots nowadays go through some 1500 hours of training in order to fly those big babies. That sounds like a lot on the face of it. However, formerly it apparently took some 5000 hours to qualify as an airline pilot.

The difference? Reliance on computers.

Was that pilot exceptional or would any other pilot have had the capacity to bring the aircraft down safely when the automated systems failed? Sobering question.

There is hardly any area of our lives that isn’t governed by the microchip nowadays. This seems to be eating away at our ability to think for ourselves and apply what has been dubbed “practical wisdom”.

We all get frustrated with the call centre operative who can only ask and answer questions and queries based on information that’s in front of them on the screen. However, applying that to an airliner presents a scary – albeit perversely humorous – image of a pilot declaring to passengers whilst vainly trying to land a doomed jet:

“This is Captain Walliams speaking, I’m sorry to announce ladies and gentlemen, that the computer says no”.




“We’ll have Fatty Braun, you can have Markiewicz”

These are words that have rung in my ears for over 45 years since my secondary school days. They take me back to the young me standing on freezing cold football/hockey/rugby pitches, nose running and knees clacking, as teams were picked for matches by surly, cocky “captains”. And yes, matey here was usually last to be picked.

It was some years before I discovered a big part of the reason. In fact, it wasn’t until the age of 25, when I was diagnosed with my eye condition. The main issue being restricted peripheral vision.  Yet the signs were there much sooner, especially in the form of my sporting prowess – or, should I say lack of it.

Thus, invariably I’d be last to be picked. Invariably Fatty Braun would be favoured over me. Invariably, I’d be screamed at by frustrated team mates as I confusedly ran around the pitch wondering what on earth I should be doing and where on earth the ball was.

I had school eye checks, but peripheral vision was never looked at. I didn’t know that I couldn’t see well – I just assumed I wasn’t looking properly. I lost count of the number of times my mother chastised me, when out and about, for not looking where I was going!

So, my love of sport didn’t even make it through the birth canal – stifled before it had the chance to take it’s first breath. Sport equalled pain. Mainly emotional pain but, occasionally physical as well, as I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. My right hand wrist still bears a faint scar from the one and only rugby tackle I attempted, aged 15 or so – the opposing player’s boot stud penetrating the delicate, unsporty skin as I tried to bring him down.

Sport and anything to do with it has been pretty much a turn off for me ever since – or at least until recently…….

Whilst on an assignment in Prague I was invited to an evening out with the team I was training. We were to go bowling. I haven’t bowled in donkeys’ years but thought what the heck, although I was very wary, as I didn’t want to make a tit of myself in front of clients.

I came second!

A man in his mid 50’s finally doing well at a sport! It was a new, luscious feeling for me and I had a small taste of what being good at sport must feel like. Bowling has no requirement for peripheral vision!

I may come first next time I play, or second again, or I may not rank highly but that’s OK as I know I can be good at sport – at least that particular one.

Mind you, it could be a laugh having a go at squash – anyone brave enough to offer up a match?

I guess not.


Theres a lovely, simple story – possibly apocryphal –  that goes back to the 60’s about a janitor working at the US space agency (NASA). He was asked by a visiting diginitary what his job was. The janitor replied:

“I’m helping put a man on the moon”.

This blog is published on a Monday morning, a day that many don’t look forward to, as they find themselves starting another week at work. Yet many roles, even those that may appear modest and insignificant  are almost always a vital component  in achieving a bigger purpose.

As I hear of peoples’ youngsters aspiring to become doctors, lawyers and other “professionals”, I wonder if we need to shift our perceptions a little of the more “menial” jobs and recognize just how important they also are.

How could the doctors, lawyers and, indeed astronauts get on if those masses of other support workers didn’t exist around them?

I’m not suggesting that aspirations for our offspring should go no further than being janitors, receptionists, shelf stackers or the like, but that we nonetheless afford those who carry out such roles a respect that reflects their contribution. They will feel prouder, more motivated if they are aware of the value of what they do , just as with the NASA janitor.

Much of this will be down to how they are managed.  Years ago , when I had a secretary as part of my corporate role, I always tried to explain the significance of what I was asking her to type up for me, rather than simply shoving it in her in-tray. I like to think that she did such tasks with more heart as she could see how it was contributing to bigger things.

And, its not just about the employers and managers –  we can each do something about this. For my part, if I’m ever in a public toilet or getting off my train at the end of the line, I try to engage with the loo attendants and train cleaners by saying a cheery “hi” and thanking  them. I genuinely appreciate clean loos and clean trains but can very easily forget how horrible those facilities would be to use were it not for such workers. A simple acknowledgment of the work they do costs nothing and usually offers up a beaming smile in return.  My hope is that they continue doing their job that day with that bit more care and enthusiasm as a result.

Such workers will  never earn anywhere near as much as the “professionals” nor necessarily ever enjoy a high social standing in conventional terms, but I’d suggest they are no less important .

I’ll end with another story, reflecting the harsh realities of being a toilet attendant. It concerns a man who was retiring after many years of working in the gents’ loos at Piccadilly Circus Station in London. He was heard to say to a friend:

“It’s not been a nice job in recent years – you have all sorts coming in here nowadays: vagrants, druggies, rent boys, drunks, petty criminals…… In fact, when someone comes in for a good old fashioned s**t, it’s like a breath of fresh air!”

Up the workers!




I’ve always considered myself to be a peace loving, non-violent kind of person. Admittedly, I fall short of being all hippy about it, but I’m certainly not the type to throw my weight around or get into fights. In fact, I don’t recall ever actually having been in a physical fight – even in my schooldays. I don’t even have any idea how it feels to punch someone in the face.

I think though, that I have that potential in me. I think we all do.

I came close the other evening when I lost my temper. The root of it involved another person not listening to me. I blew big time. Whilst my outburst didn’t involve any kind of physical contact or violence, it had a huge impact on the people around me. It also shook me up, given it was so “out of character”.

It’s as if the being ignored and dismissed somehow pushed me into that particular reaction.

The incident  reminded me how much of the violence in the world may have its roots in people not feeling heard. How often might it be that individuals or groups turn to violence through the sheer frustration of being ignored?  I’m certain this is what has lain behind so many of the uprisings across the globe in recent years.

Violence is by no means OK. However, it may be that bit more understandable if we each recognize that part of us that may be capable of it.

If, on the one hand I make a greater effort to listen to and understand others, then the potential for loss of temper or violence on their part  is greatly diminished if not wiped out. It needn’t involve caving in and agreeing with the other party, but trying to understand their view and working towards a solution.

The alternative? A punch in the face, or its non physical equivalent. Not so good.

Peace, brothers and sisters.




Summer memories usually consist of sunshiney holidays, relaxing on the beach or having barbies in the garden. However, the summer of ’92 holds quite different memories for me…….

It was July, and my bookings for training work were looking very lean. Financially the pot was dry. I’d just separated from my wife and we were in the process of selling our home – all the equity had disappeared and I was about to move into digs. On top of all this, I’d split with my business partner and was ploughing a more lonely “sole trader” furrow.  In a nutshell, things were looking bleak.

One morning I was chatting on the phone to Dick, an old school friend of mine and telling him how tough I was finding things. He suggested I call a contact of his who was a sales manager at Dell Computers in Bracknell as he heard he might be looking to sourse some training for his team.

I called Ian, the guy at Dell and we arranged to meet, as indeed he was urgently looking for some training to be conducted during August. The answer to my prayers, or so I thought…..

A few days later at his office he took me through the spec for the job. As he was doing so, I started to experience the most awful sinking feeling. It became apparent that  I didn’t actually have the skills or experience to be able to help him with his specific need. All I could see was  the enticing potential of some decent August income disappearing before my very eyes.

The question ran through my mind:  “Do I  say I can do it and somehow blag my way through the project or do I tell him the truth?”. In fact I found myself blurting out the truth and had to tell him that I personally was not up to it. Thankfully, he was very gracious and seemed pleased that I’d been honest with him. Sadly, he had no other requirements at that time that would match my skill set.

I left feeling bitterly disappointed, useless and even more downhearted than ever. What was I going to do? How would I get through the next few months? Should I have said yes?

I drove to the end of the road and thought to myself:  “Who else can I talk to, who can I go and see while I’m in the area?” On a whim, I found myself turning left instead of right and started heading west. I decided to pop in for a chat with an ex-client of mine from my days as an advertising salesperson. Keith ran a recruitment and outplacement agency just outside Reading and I’d not seen him for a while.

During our chat over a coffee in his office,  I started telling him how tough things were for me workwise. (a real case of swallowing my pride). He responded by offering me the opportunity to do some telephone sales work for him a couple of days a week. It would involve making “cold calls” to companies and arranging appointments for his sales manager to sell redundancy counselling services.

This wasn’t at all the kind of work I wanted or relished but he offered to pay me £50 for each appointment made. Additionally he’d stump up a commission of 5% on any business ultimately secured. On reflection I figured it would at least make me a few hundred quid over the lean summer period and I’d still have three days a week to pursue/do other work. And, who knows I may even make a couple of thousand in commission if things went particularly well.

So, the following week I started going to Reading twice a week. It was real back to basics stuff for me, sitting in a small windowless room on my own pumping out the calls. Yet, after a while I actually started to enjoy it (what, you cry? Enjoy cold calling?) and I was booking a respectable number of visits for Tony, the sales manager.

After four weeks the project was nearing completion.  I’d arranged 22 appointments, earning me a modest four figure sum. On the final afternoon I was about to wrap up. I felt I’d had enough by now. However I decided on doing just one final blast of two or three calls.

The next call I made was to a major snack food company based in Reading. The HR Director I spoke to seemed unusually keen to speak with me. The long and the short of it was that, that very day a decision had been made to lay off a large number of people and they suddenly had an urgent requirement for the very services I was selling. “Can your man come and see us first thing on Monday?” she pleaded. “Of course, he’ll be there” was my enthusiastic reply.

The meeting took place. Within days a deal was signed to provide counselling over the coming weeks/months. It was worth no less than £360,000 to Keith’s company.  Not only did I earn £50 from the call but also qualified for the 5% (£18,000), which I received in the weeks following.

Questions arise: What if I’d been too proud to tell my old school chum and Keith that times were hard? What if I’d said yes to Dell? What if I’d turned right instead of left? What if I’d thought cold calling was beneath me? Who knows.

That whole experience has stuck with me to this day and, indeed similar things have happened since. For example, there was the major training project I secured as a result of an extraordinary chain of events after spontaneously saying hello to a woman outside a wine bar……

But, I think that one’s for another time.




I’ve been preparing my accounts over the past few days in order to submit my tax return by the end of the month. The figures I need to put through pertain to work I carried out as long ago as two years back.

You may think me odd when I say that doing these figures has, at times, created a bit of a lump in my throat.

It reminds me of my second home.

As I look back over invoices that were raised at the time, I think of some of the courses they represented along with the people on them. A training course is like a temporary community that comes together, hopefully thrives for a day or few and then disbands, often for good. During those few hours together, I can develop a genuine affection for the group or for individuals within it. Depending on the course and whether it is part of a series, I may meet the group on a future occasion or subsequently coach individuals. However, just as often, I’m unlikely to rub shoulders with the people ever again.

So it is that, at times when I’ve felt a strong bond with my temporary community, I’ll sit in the empty training room at the end of the course in silence and mildly – very mildly – grieve the passing of that particular community. It’s a bittersweet feeling – a mix of the satisfaction of a job well done, tinged with a slight sadness. I’ll then gather up my kit to leave and get ready to move on to the next assignment.

I like to think that much of what went on in those training rooms over the years has lived on in the lives of the people who were there. That, of the many thousands of people I’ve worked with, the vast majority will have taken away lasting benefits. One such person recently tracked me down twenty or so years after having been on a course I’d run. Amazingly, I did remember her.

The training room is my second home. A temporary home, but nonetheless one that through the community formed there provides me with joy, succour and immense fulfilment. As in any home, it’s where I feel comfortable.

Anyway, less of this sentimental stuff Mr M, you’ve got tax return figures to massage…. oops,  prepare.




You may be reading this today, on the first working Monday of the new year, having set some resolutions for 2014. Such resolutions usually involve either stopping something we’re doing or starting something new. For instance you may have resolved to stop eating three big pies a day and to start going to the gym three times a day instead.

Setting such resolutions can at this time of year can indeed spur us into action. However, they can also  suggest that we are not satisfied with our lives as they are. They tend to have their basis in things not being as they “should be” and can  imply “having to improve” in some way.

There is nothing inherently wrong in seeking to grow or improve. What is critical though, is the foundation upon which we do that.

As well as making new resolutions,  I’d say it’s equally important to acknowledge that many things about us are fine as they are. The simple, straightforward recognition of that at the start of a new year can be  just as powerful and important as setting new goals.

I can think of a number of ways that my own life could be improved and I can set some resolutions accordingly. Equally, when I put my mind to it, I can think of many ways in which I’m doing OK and where things are working perfectly fine already. I find taking a step back and noticing that can be incredibly affirming and provides a stronger, more positive foundation for changes or further growth. A foundation that’s more about already feeling good about myself rather than coming from a feeling of lack or guilt.

This brings in the third element that completes the resolution trinity –  Stop, Start, Continue.

So, on your way to the gym later today (taking a detour away from the pie shop) allow yourself a few moments to think about what is working already. That way, all three elements are covered:

Stop eating so many pies

 Start going to the gym

Continue doing all those wonderful things that work for you already

(Mind you, I wonder if there’s any way I can continue on the pie front……)





A fish is  swimming around in the sea. The sea is its whole world, its entire experience. Until, one day, for a split second it finds itself leaping out of the water and it catches a glimpse of San Francisco Harbour in all its splendour. And then quick as a flash, it’s back to the world it knows.

It’s just over twelve years since my daughter, Clara, left hospital following several months’ treatment for leukaemia. It goes without saying, that for a four year old to go through the trauma of intensive chemo to deal with a rare and particularly vicious form of the disease was massively difficult for us all.

Clara survived, where many in her position did not. She experienced the death of several of her co-patients over those months. Happily she is now a vivacious 16 year old – albeit with a related health condition –  who carries the ambition to become a childrens’ nurse.

The biggest question that fell off peoples’ lips at the time was: “How could it be that such a young, innocent person should have to go through such an ordeal?” And, of course this thought was never far from our own minds.

As a family, we still feel the impact at times to this day.

For me, it prompted the phrase “bigger picture”.  Just as with the fish in the harbour, I came to recognize that there must be a bigger picture, a greater scheme – we just don’t see it at the time, if ever.

Part of the answer may lie in what’s unfolded since Clara was ill. I wonder what kind of person she will have become had she not gone through that ordeal? Has it made her a better person than she will have been otherwise? Has it made her more in love with life?

In the run up to this Christmas we seem to be surrounded by people who are facing difficulties and challenges at the present time. In fact, we have one or two of our own. Too many people in the world appear to be going through turmoil of one kind or another.

I’m hoping that these challenges are indeed part of a greater scheme and that, for all of us who are struggling in some way we’ll see the “fruits” of it further down the line and, if not, know that for whatever weird and greater reason, it was somehow meant to be.

Equally, you may be approaching the festive period in brilliant fettle!

Either way, I wish you the best possible Christmas / Holiday break, along with a happy and prosperous 2014.

Note: there will be no Monday blog next week – I’ll be back on 6 January.


Whilst participating in an online  discussion recently, I found myself needing to tell someone that I was not happy about a personal comment he’d sent my way. He responded by saying that I shouldn’t have such a thin skin. I thought he may well have been right, given that I do at times fall a bit short on the resilience scale.

Later that day, I related this to Ingrid, my partner and her response was quite straightforward, yet a little surprising:   “ And, What’s so bad about having a thin skin?”

I pondered this and found myself getting her point.

I then reminded myself of an insight that was  shared on a course that  I was co-facilitating  for a further education college in the West Country. The group was made up of senior managers, including  the college Principal. He related how, one of the greatest lessons he’d learned on his way to the top was that some people are more sensitive than others. In other words that not everyone was as tough as him at deflecting the slings and arrows of life. He discovered  by this, that he could be a more effective leader, rather than one who expected everyone to be like him and needed to “get a grip and toughen up”. He also concluded that there was a place for people with a more sensitive inclination in an establishment such as his.

I think that my “thin skin” has served me extremely well at times in my own professional life. By having that element of sensitivity, it allows me to better empathise with course participants  – to work with them in a more supportive way and  to be more inclusive. I’m less likely to be judgmental, intolerant or dismissive than someone with a thicker skin. I’m more likely to take into account such feelings as nervousness, resistance and fear and handle them in a respectful and constructive way.

Indeed, when chatting with fellow practitioners over the years, its often come up that us trainers can be a sensitive bunch! Perhaps the greatest trainers, teachers and further education  lecturers (!) are those very people  with such a tender spot. And, what of doctors, nurses, social workers, counsellors and even police officers, along with a myriad of other professions?

In the field of emotionsal intelligence much importance is put on awareness of our own and others’ feelings. Sensitivity.

Does all this make resilience an undesirable trait? Not by any means. It simply needs to be tempered by sensitivity and empathy when required.

The offence I took to that forum comment, along with Ingrid’s remark,  actually left me feeling grateful for being that bit thin skinned – it’s not altogether such a bad thing after all.




“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


I have to start this post  by making a striking admission.  I have felt somewhat detached from all the reaction to Nelson Mandela’s passing.

All through the years of the South African struggle against apartheid , my mind was elsewhere. Mandela was a name in the news, a name in a song that urged for his release. I was politically ignorant and disinterested. I was impervious to news from South Africa , given its near ubiquitous presence in the media (ditto, Northern Ireland). Being thus disinterested and in my youth, I was more into simply having a good time.

Therefore, whilst doing him the disservice of not honouring  his memory in the conventional way, perhaps  he would appreciate the following:

There are probably  Mandelas  by the truckload out there.  Huge numbers of people  across the world are standing up to injustice in all sorts of ways. Some on major issues that affect whole nations and many  others on  a much more  local level  – whether to save a hospital or library, to blow the whistle on dubious practices in their workplace or step in when an individual or group is being treated unfairly.

These are courageous people. They may not always go as far as to put their physical  life on the line as Mandela did, but may still put themselves squarely in the firing line in other ways.

I feel to acknowledge and celebrate those people as well as the main man himself and know that, despite my relative ignorance of the political significance of  Mandela, many of the traits he displayed are being played out all around us – we just need to look for them, recognize them, and honour them.

There is no doubting that Mandela was a great man, a uhique man – but a great  man among an abundance of other great people.

I think he might have liked it put that way.


A couple of years ago I was on a tube platform in Central London. I spotted a tall, elegant man with white hair standing with a Transport for London (TFL) employee next to him. They were chatting – I guess making small talk whilst awaiting the next train.

The tall man was holding a white cane and wearing dark glasses.

He looked incredibly dignified and well turned out – the kind of person that you would imagine to be independent, accomplished and able to make his own way in life. Yet, here he was, visually impaired and calling on the help of a TFL employee in order to board a train.

For some reason, he left a strong impression on me. In seeing this man, I recognised that, being visually impaired doesn’t mean that we can’t retain our stature and dignity, yet we may need help at times. It highlighted for me this balance between independence and dependence, dictated by the situation we’re in.

As I write this here and now, I have a strong realisation –  he didn’t seem “disabled”.

The fact that he stood strong and erect prompted me to think that perhaps there are two types of visually impaired people. The “shoulders back” people and “rounded shoulders “ people ie: the independents and the victims. And, of course this doesn’t apply just to those with visual impairments or other “disabilities”!

I try as hard as I can to be the “shoulders back”. Ironically, throughout my childhood and youth, my mother would constantly chastise me for not holding my shoulders back. Now, in my 50’s I’m finally acceding to her frustrated demands.

My white cane acts as a kind of psychological prompt – every time I carry it, it reminds me to walk with dignity and with head held high – although, sometimes as a result, I don’t see stuff in my path. Nevertheless, should I have a mishap, I quickly work to retrieve my dignity by brushing myself down and pressing on (almost) regardless.

I actually christened my cane “Dignity” in order to reflect this.

And, do I crack at times? Absolutely! We all do – if tired, under the weather or just plain grumpy.

Nevertleless, had I not seen that unknown  man that day on the platform, I wonder whether I will have been so inspired and prompted to walk tall with “shoulders back” – most of the time!




The young sixth form student took to the stage to give a speech at the school open evening for prospective new joiners and their parents. She was to speak about her experience of being at the school. She was eloquent, articulate and well spoken. Her talk received hearty applause – clearly “hitting the spot” with most of the people there.

 Yet, as a member of that  audience, I recalled virtually zero of what she had said.


 Upward inflection.

 Right from the off, I noticed that just about every sentence the girl uttered ended in an upward inflection. This being that the end of the sentence made it sound like it was a question? Many young people seem to do it? I think it originated from imported Australian soap operas, such as Neighbours back in the 80’s and 90’s?

 And it drives me crackers! So much so, that just about all my focus was on this rather than on the apparently valid, even inspirational things the student was imparting to the gathering. I became obsessed with it, almost to the point of counting how many times she did it. Clearly, this involved my judgmental self and that part of me brutally shoved the content of her talk off to one side.

 Whilst my partner and children enthused about the speech and how great she’d been, all I could contribute was my criticism of that one aspect of her presentation.

 This has struck me in two ways:

The first is how easily I can become judgmental out of hand over something that isn’t exactly  crime of the century. It’s astonishing and scary just how easily such judgments can dominate my focus, blocking out so much of real value. To be fair, studies show that more of the impact in communication lies in the tone, rather than the words themselves, so this is understandable to an extent in this particular case.

 Secondly,  perhaps upward inflection  is considered by some, to be close to  crime of the century. Could it be that when that girl goes for interview to university or for her first job, she be dismissed out of hand owng to this harmless vocal quirk, which was  possibly further amplified by underlying nerves? And, would that be altogether fair? There are many of my generation, perhaps most famously Stephen Fry,  who positively spit feathers around this phenomenon.

 Yet, just a couple of weeks ago I heard a young female academic taking part in a Radio 4 science discussion where her contribution was peppered with such upward inflections. Perhaps they are here to stay – the way we speak does , after all, evolve and this may be the unnoticed norm in a decade or so’s time.  I’ll just be the grumpy fuddy duddy in my bathchair chucking metaphorical rotten tomatoes  at the TV or radio every time I hear it.

Could this eventually even permeate its way right to the upper echelons of society? During the Queen’s jubilee celebrations, a piece on the radio featured sixty clips of her speaking – one from each year of her reign. It was fascinating to hear how her speaking voice had changed over the decades. The difference in her 2012 tone and accent, as compared to sixty years previous  was astonishing!  Had anyone from 1952 heard how she sounds now, doubtless they will have reached for those rotting veggies! She’s not adopted the upward inflection, although there may be time yet……

 Back to the school hall last week, and my own daughter also got up to say a few words to the visitors. Did she speak with those dreaded upward inflections?  I don’t recall her doing so – after all, she was my daughter, and such a transgression may well have gone over my head!  Surely, It’s  forgiveable in certain cases?




When I was in my early twenties, I set about looking for a job. I’d had a couple of years at South Bank Poly doing a business studies HND and now needed to get myself into the world of work. I wasn’t particularly ambitious and had no specific direction in mind – I  mainly wanted employment in order to fund running a car and going out  with my mates and on dates with  imaginary girlfriends.

Getting a job was quite a bit more straightforward in those days – you’d get the London Evening News or Standard, look in the “sits vac”  pages in the back and apply. There were all manner of positions advertised. One afternoon, I saw an ad for someone to work in the aviation claims department of a major insurance company in the city. I rang in response and gained  an interview – the Markiewicz charm had worked its magic so far.  Following my interview, I was one of two on the shortest of shortlists to secure the post.

However, I wasn’t successful. I didn’t mind too much, as there were plenty of other jobs out there.

I got the next job I went for, and thus started my first “career” in advertising sales.

However, it often crosses my mind, what I may have ended up doing had I been the one who got the insurance job? What trajectory would my life have taken, what forks in the road would I have chosen or found myself going down? What would I be doing now?

I’m ceetain this applies to all of us, as we look back on decisions taken or significant, yet sometimes tiny. shifts in circumstance that are part of the journey to where we are now.

I’m not convinced insurance will have been my bag to be honest. Its possible I won’t have lasted long at the Phoenix Insurance Co.  I do wonder though, how the person who did get the job fared. Perhaps they’re writing a weekly blog as well –  very possibly about aviation insurance.




So there I was, leaving Waterloo station on a train to the small town of Liphook in Hampshire. It happened to be where a prospective client was based and I was on my way to meet with them. As it was summer, I’d donned a smart navy blazer and nicely pressed light tan trousers. A white shirt and silk tie completed the ensemble.

Trundling through the South London suburbs, I happened to look down and saw, to my horror, a stain about the size of a small omelette on my right  trouser leg  up at the top of my thigh. The stain was thus placed as to suggest the worst kind of leakage.

I hoped it was water, however , as the minutes passed, it became clear that it wasn’t. And, before you wonder, it was definitely not leakage either! I came to the conclusion that it was some kind of grease stain, although to this day I  have absolutely no idea how it came to be there.

My main concern was, of course, that a stain like that was hardly compatible with my being able to wow a client into doing business with me. My first thought was to defer the meeting to another date, but I’d already had to do that on a previous occasion.

Then, a single, powerful word popped into my head:


So, heeding the words of most spiritual and personal development ‘gurus’  out there, I decided to “let go and trust”. I went from “oh shit & panic” to “it’ll be OK, somehow”.

On arriving at Liphook, I was still calm and squarely in trust mode. However, I left the station with my briefcase awkwardly positioned forward of my right leg so as to hide the offending patch. On reflection, my gait probably attracted more attention than the stain ever would have. Nevertheless, I continued walking and then came across a small parade of shops. Among them was…….. a charity shop. Bingo!

Five minutes later, I strolled confidently out into the sunshine having parted with £3 worth of hard earned  sterling in return for a natty pair of grey strides – perfect match, perfect fit, perfect solution (albeit with an uncomfortably high acrylic content). The “old” pair  folded neatly and inconspicuously tucked away in my briefcase ready for sending to the lab for analysis upon my return home!

The meeting went well. The client was none the wiser.


Oh, and another  thing –  I’ve only ever worn dark trousers for work meetings and assignments ever since.


Missionaries working with Aboriginals in 19th century Australia decided one day to teach some of the local  youngsters to play soccer. They set about marking out a pitch, setting up makeshift goalposts and recruiting two  teams of eager players.

So, the match was on. The teams played with great gusto, throwing themselves into it 100%. – they were loving it! So much so, that as the final whistle blew, they insisted on continuing to play. The referee decided to allow them some more time, given the enjoyment they were obviously getting from it.  Even after 30 more minutes and with the light fading, they still didn’t want to stop. In fact, the thought of ending the game was actively distressing them.

It was only on enquiring as to why, that the reason came to light. It wasn’t simply because they were having  such a good time. In fact, they didn’t want to stop playing until both sides had achieved the same score.

This little story, which I heard some years back illustrates the notion that perhaps, at our core, as a species, we are more collaborative than competitive. Might it be that we have learned to be competitive, rather than it be our true nature?

Perhaps it also demonstrates that achieving outcomes that satisfy all parties’ needs takes more time and effort than does a simple, crude win/lose outcome?

Most sports would become ludicrous   shadows of themselves were it not for the competitive element – most people would say  that competitiveness is what provides the edge, the excitement.

However, how destructive might such a competitive approach be in relationship, in business , in world affairs and other environments?  Can the Aboriginals , through this tale,  teach us something about the all-win outcomes that can be ultimately achieved with such a “shift back” to a more collaborative mindset that seeks all parties’ needs being met?

Having said that, I wonder whether all parties’ needs will have indeed been met had the match continued into the evening and ended up as a win-win? The poor ref may have lost out and missed his dinner!




I heard this weekend that Marek had died.

I’d known him, on and off since childhood, although had spent most time with him in my late teens and early 20’s when he was part of a group of Polish mates I knocked around with. He also played keyboards in the band I sang in for a while. He was an attractive man physically and very talented musician, having studied at the Royal College of Music.

I feel very sad about Marek’s death.

However, this isn’t for the usual reasons. It’s not that I’ll particularly miss him and that he’s left a hole in my life.  In fact, I have to be brutally honest and say that I never really warmed to him. I found Marek quite a challenging character.

I think Marek was a lonely person, especially in more recent years. He had no wife or partner, no children, no siblings. He died alone.

He was found in his penthouse flat in Clapham, after his aged mother hadn’t heard from him in a fortnight. Worried, she went round to see if he was OK. The warden in his block  gained entry to the apartment to find Marek dead. He urged Marek’s mother not to enter the apartment – suggesting that, whatever it was he encountered was not a pretty sight. Awful.

I chose not to keep in touch with him. I don’t feel guilty about that – we all feel drawn to people whom we feel good around, rather than those who irritate or drain us. He could be arrogant and boastful, making  up stories about exotic travels and sexual conquests and so on. I personally found those traits particularly  challenging.  In more recent years, I came to realize that his behaviours were more than likely  a front behind which lay the pain of loneliness and massive insecurity.

It’s the thought of that pain, along with the circumstances of his death that so sadden me.

The jury, or should I say the coroner in this case, is still out as regards how he died. I shan’t pre-empt what it may be, but for a talented, attractive, intelligent man to die alone and lay undiscovered at the mere age of 57 is a heartbreaking tragedy.

I admit that I genuinely struggle to pay any compliments here, beyond those about his talent and physical attractiveness and it’s therefore not a conventional tribute.  It’s an honest one though, that seeks to understand why the man was as he was.

Marek Stopa RIP


Listening to discussions on the radio following the most recent budget, I heard a commentator declare that young people would be worse off overall as a result of changes being implemented. For a split second, I thought: “Drat, I’m likely to be worse off”. I then caught myself and realised that I’m actually not one of the young bucks whose circumstances will change and rather am, in fact moving towards the other end of the lifespan scale!

On another occasion I almost signed up to join a business network for visually impaired young people – I may qualify on the basis of crap eyesight, but I’m in my 50’s for goodness sake!

And yet, all this is nothing compared to Eddy, my spritely octogenarian next door neighbour.  A couple of years back, he was heard to utter the following during a conversation: “I don’t know how old people manage”.  I thought this was hilarious, but could fully understand the error! It appears that he genuinely forgets at times just how old he is.

Perhaps, within ourselves we are all “Forever Young”, to quote Bob Dylan. Having said that, certain aches and pains do, at times, bring me back down to earth with a grey haired and wrinkled bump!

A recent post I saw on Facebook, encapsulates this nicely for me:

“We don’t grow up, we just learn how to behave in public”.

See ya!




This week’s post offers up a challenge for you. It’s an incredibly simple challenge, yet I wonder how easy you would actually find it to take on.

Doubtless, there will be people in your life whom you like. They may, of course be relatives or friends, colleagues, neighbours or even acquaintances. There may be all sorts of reasons why you like them, but like them you do. They may well know, or at least have an inkling that you like them.

So, here’s the challenge. Tell them you like them.

You would do this in a specific, and probably the most simple of ways  –  by initiating contact and uttering three short words:

“I like you”

How easy or difficult would that be for you to do?

What reaction is it likely to elicit?

I won’t  hold you to the challenge, and rather issue it as a vehicle to point out how rarely, if ever, we simply directly tell someone that we like them. We provide other indications, of course. We’ll pay compliments, respond positively to things they do or say, do favours for them, even buy them gifts, but why do we so rarely (if ever) say those three simple words that tell it like it is?

I offer up no answers here. It’s more an observation that poses the question. I suggest that the challenge will be most difficult in a male to male dynamic as, doing so is likely to result in sideward glances and awkward shuffling of feet, both of which are  associated with a misperceived sexual connotation and/or suspicion (“why on earth is he telling me he likes me – what does he want”?) Worse still, the other person may even think you’ve lost the plot!

We find it so difficult at times to communicate directly and straightforwardly with others,  for example around asking for what we want or saying no. I’ve touched on these situations in previous posts.  I continually wonder how much simpler and far less complicated life would be if we could spontaneously blurt things out just as they are, rather than have to offer oblique clues as to how we feel about others or what we’d like from them.

So, if you feel brave enough, give the challenge a go – you never know how it might enhance the relationship. It may be that someone sitting near you right now could do with your telling them that you like them. It’s probably best though, that it be someone you know, rather than the person currently sitting next to you on the train as you read this on your phone. Mind you, on the other hand,  it could just result in your making a nice new friend.

As for me, I’m alone at present as I post this, so will have to simply look in the mirror and say it to myself – not quite the same thing, but just as valid and powerful.

I like me.




“Autumn is a season immediately followed by looking forward to spring” Anonymous

I awoke this morning at six o’clock. It was still dark. It was the first real sign for me that autumn is well and truly here and part of me loves it. I’d say that it is my favourite season, with spring coming a very close second. The crisp air, the turning leaves, the wind in the trees – love it!

However, each autumn I also get to feel that little more wary than the previous one. It’s the precursor to the coming winter and ultimately what I call “letterbox” days. Daylight hours being like a narrow slit in an otherwise predominantly dark 24 hours.

As a person with poor night vision I’m reminded of the irony of the old English (and still American) word for autumn, which is “fall” – as, of course each winter my risk of falls, bumps and other mishaps is never far away.

So, on the one hand I adore the feel of autumn, yet I’m split because of the dark hours to come.  I brace myself for the months ahead and look forward to my other favourite season early in 2014.

There’ll be no hibernation though, just a need to remain upbeat and get out there and get on with it.




I guess older readers of this blog may recall a song by Tennessee Ernie Ford called Sixteen Tons. I remember that I really liked that song when I was a young lad. Only recently did I discover that it was actually number one in the UK charts on the very day that I was born.

Had I, at some level been aware of this when I popped out early that January morning in 1956? Probably not, it was much more likely coincidence.

Nevertheless it provides a great start point for a project I’m about to embark upon.  I’m creating a playlist. This playlist represents a kind of soundtrack of my entire life so far. All through the years, music has never been that far away. Whether listening to Childrens’ Favourites as a boy, or to Luxembourg under the covers in my teens or pumping up the volume on my hi-fi whilst revising for my A Levels and so on , it has, like for many of us,  been my almost constant companion.

So, through the platform of Spotify, along with  I’m putting together a list of all the songs and pieces of music (of all manner of genres) that have accompanied me through my life so far. This will represent just about the full range of experiences I have gone through:  

Which 60’s hit did my older sisters use to try and teach me to dance? What was the first single I bought?   What were those near-ubiquitous slow numbers  I’d dance to at parties whilst having / trying to have  a snog? What played as I drove around country lanes in my sports car? What song featured as a first dance at my wedding? What piece of music was playing as my daughter was being born? What is my partner’s  favourite song? What would we sing along to as a family on our regular trips to the west country? Which classical piece was on the radio just as I got news of my father’s death?  Which 50’s song would my son and I goof around to in front of the PC? And so on and so on, right up to this day.

I can anticipate going through the entire gamut of emotions as I see, or more to the point,  hear the playlist as it comes together.

I wonder whether some of you readers fancy taking up the same challenge in creating such an auditory CV of your life, a kind of mega-mixtape of this incarnation?  I imagine mine would end up filling scores of those metaphorical  C90’s!

I can’t help thinking what a great bequest it would be to leave, as and when we eventually shuffle off into the next realm.

I’m confident I’ll have it sorted in time for my next birthday in January – I may even publish the list here. Then again, maybe not – there are quite a few numbers I think I’d rather not go public on. After all, music is such a personal thing……….




A man arrived late for a course I was running. He explained that he’d been stuck on an underground train on the Central Line for 40 minutes. He said the experience was great.

Sideward glances around the room, along with your’s truly at the front feeling baffled as to how to take this – did I have some kind of joker on my hands? After all, I’M the one who does the jokes on MY courses.

What could I do, but ask him to explain. And explain he did.

Within seconds of the train grinding to a halt, the driver offered up an explanation over the public address system as to the reason for the delay. According to my tardy delegate, he had a particularly warm, reassuring, friendly tone. As time passed and the train remained stuck, he regularly checked in over the PA to reassure passengers that all was well, despite the delay. Through his manner, passengers apparently started to find themselves talking to each other. Within 15 minutes or so, there were conversations going on all round.  In fact, bar the wine and nibbles it was turning into a bit of a party.

By the time the train finally got moving again, some people were getting lumps in their throat, shedding a tear as they realised the impromptu party was coming to an end. There was even talk of organising a reunion at a later date on the Piccadilly Line…….that was a joke, but I do the jokes on MY blog.

Yes, I admit to some over-egging of this little story. Yet, there is a serious point. What if the driver had said nothing for that 40 minutes? What if he had, like so many others can, remained schtum?

I would bet a pound to a penny, that every passenger on that train will have found it a “nightmare”. I can only imagine the level of fear and panic that will have ensued.

And what tools did the driver use? Couldn’t be simpler. He had the PA, and he had a voice – added to that was  a bit of soul to realise what a difference keeping people posted would make on HIS train. Clearly he saw his role as much more than making a train go and stop and opening and closing carriage doors.

Bad things happen. Things go wrong at times. That’s life. But keeping people informed, in the loop, makes all the difference, whether with customers, colleagues, family or in our social life.

Interestingly, my latecomer arrived just as we were discussing the topic of managing customers’ expectations.

Nevertheless, I still made him stand in the corner for 30 minutes – nobody turns up late for MY courses.