The absence of leadership can leave a dangerous void

The absence of leadership can leave a dangerous void

There’s a theme of disillusionment with politicians and leaders today.  A movement to eject current leaders with the concept that there may be someone better, a greener grass, beyond.  However, as I look around the world I am not convinced by the alternatives we have on offer at the moment and worry that it is easy to get rid of a mediocre Prime Minister or a deranged President but not so easy to be sure that their replacement will be any better.

Ukraine is about to authorise a comedian to be their Prime Minister.  The 5 Star movement in Italy was founded by Beppe Grillo, another comedian.  The danger here is naivete and inexperience, which can lead to that person being manipulated by forces they don’t understand.  With key countries such as Ukraine this presents a real danger as President Putin is a world-class strategist who still has his eye on Ukraine.

When we look at the Arab Spring, Egypt, Syria and beyond, there was a successful movement to replace the old brigade but far too little thought put into who would replace them.  And this can lead to anarchy, as we have seen in Libya, which often can be worse than what came before, the rule of law breaks down, infrastructure disintegrates and economic depression is an almost inevitable consequence.  One needs to be clear about a vision of the future.

Division provides an impetus towards potential revolution – the gilet jaunes protesting against the elite, is an example.  In fact the movement against the elite is often a signal that a revolution is in the air – lawyers, writers, academics begin to be pilloried and eventually interned. Erdogan has been doing this with surprisingly little kick-back from our press or the EU.  Even in the UK there is a sense of anti-elitism in the air and also a limiting of free speech, as is evidenced by the no-platforming of lectures and events which somehow do not fit into the politically correct zeitgeist.

The criticism of the middle classes is another signal of revolution.  The centre ground gets lost, the extremes come to power.  But to the detriment of stability and balance.  The middle classes are almost always the backbone of a country quietly getting on with life.  On the whole they have more to lose.  They tend to value education, aspiration, economic stability, peace, low crime rates in the areas in which they live.  You tend to find them as councillors, volunteers and on parent school boards.  You find them running small businesses and right now that squeezed middle is not only under some financial constraint but also under attack from the press who tend to ridicule those aspirations, or from those who envy that lifestyle, however justly gained.  People tend only to see the economy in terms of the big powerful organisations at whom they love to throw stones.  They too easily forget that some 99% of businesses in the UK are SMEs – small entrepreneurial enterprises employing only a small number of people.

Revolutions are bloody.  Surely to be avoided if evolutional change can be achieved.  And the problem with the way our own political landscape appears at the moment is that we have factions and no-one is in the centre ground.  People promote the Lib Dems as the party holding the centre but by naming their stand as “Bollocks to Brexit” they have as effectively put two fingers up to the Leavers as the dreadful Farage has done to the Remainers with his Brexit party.  Both are divisive.  Neither give any hint, as far as I can see, of what they will do to bring the country back together again or to take care of the concerns of those who stand for opposing views.  Both the Labour and Conservative parties are too divided within themselves to lead a united country.  So what next… there lies the void.  There lies the danger.  It is into this absence that oddball narcissists such as Farage or Johnson can slide.

I have been amazed by how little in-depth debate there has been about the future of the EU or the future of the UK after whatever deal is or isn’t done.  We have heard endlessly from Laura Kuenssberg and Katya Adler on the BBC commenting narrowly on the Brexit negotiations.  We need new viewpoints, new perspectives. 

We haven’t heard enough, in my view, about the build up to the European elections within other EU countries, the challenges, policies and strategies that are being discussed in other capital cities.  The mood of the people in these countries.  What is happening in Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Croatia?  We hear endlessly about Macron and Merkel but not enough information about the other 25 countries.  Yet this information is key to how we think about ourselves in the UK in terms of our future relationship with the EU.  We haven’t heard enough about how any government will address the perfectly legitimate concerns of the losing party here, whether this is the Remainers or the Leavers.  We haven’t heard enough about how any government will mend the bridges that have been broken here or what they will do to maintain relationships with our close or distant allies.  The conversation and comment has been far too narrow.  I feel I still have far more questions than answers.  I am happy for anyone to provide me with more information …

And this leaves a leadership gap because we aren’t being given an accurate or desirable picture of a future that we can agree on.  I look at the options we have for leaders in the UK and am not convinced by any of them, unfortunately.  We don’t want a ‘strong man’ as they can tend to turn into egotistical dictators but we do want someone who listens to the concerns of the whole country and has a practical vision of how to take us forward in a united way.  I just don’t see this person evident at the moment… do any of you?

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The Blame Game: Did the Baby Boomers really “steal” the next generation’s future?

I have to admit to being fed up with being accused of “stealing” the younger generation’s future.  The word stealing implies intention to cause harm to another person, to deliberately deprive them of something that is theirs.  I don’t buy into the concept that my generation of Baby Boomers, who seem to be the target of any blame game that is going at the moment, intentionally stole anyone’s future.  Nor do I think we are necessarily any more selfish than any other generation – lucky, yes, that we have not had a war on our territory during our lifetime but we have had our own struggles nonetheless.

We are living in an era where it’s the norm to look for others to blame for anything that is causing pain or discomfort.  I don’t find this useful.  Identifying yourself as a victim is disempowering and ultimately unhelpful.  It makes others into persecutors – often a subjective labelling that also removes responsibility from those who consider themselves victims by ignoring the part they may themselves have played within a situation.

At the present time we Baby Boomers are being blamed for, in The Guardian’s words of 27.7.11, creating an “environmental mess”.  The Extinction Revolution protests accused us of “stealing their future” by treating the planet the way we have.  I really wonder how they can declare that they would have treated it better given the knowledge and circumstances we were born into?  It is easy to look back through the lens of today’s world and say people did things wrong.  They cannot honestly say they would have done any differently because they just don’t know how they would have acted had they been born, like I was, in 1950. 

We are a species who learns through invention, experimentation and review.  There was a time when if you fell into the River Thames you would have died from pollution.  Today fish swim in it because we learnt not to treat it as a sewer.  In 1974 F Sherwood Rowland discovered that CFS aerosol spray was causing the ozone layer to diminish. Action was taken to restrict the use of these aerosol cans.  Predictions are that the ozone layer should have healed by the 2030s due to this change.  We moved from petrol to unleaded and then to diesel because we were informed that it was better for the environment.  That was erroneous and so now we move back to unleaded or renewable/electric fuel for our vehicles.  We continually learn from science and change our behaviour.  We don’t yet know whether the changes we have been making on behalf of the planet will overturn the damage done but habits are changing.

As so much criticism is being thrown our way I want to remind Baby Boomer readers and perhaps enlighten younger readers that not everything we did in our lifetime caused things to get worse.  We were a generation whose teenage years were overshadowed by the fear of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis and we certainly protested and went on CND marches to protect the planet from nuclear holocaust.  We marched against Apartheid and refused to visit or buy produce from South Africa, as well as standing up against many other iniquities.

We didn’t, as the younger generation do, have stag parties in some far flung part of the world.  We went down to the local pub.  Hen parties didn’t exist.  We had no concept (and still don’t!) of single-wear clothing due to not being able to be seen in the same clothes twice on social media.  We frequently made our own clothes and often wore them until they fell apart.  The idea of buying an item of clothing only to wear once (other than perhaps a wedding dress) seems criminal to me and an appalling waste. 

In the main we didn’t fly as young people.  We went by ferry, train or car as aeroplane travel was hideously expensive, unreliable and with few routes.  It was only when Clarksons, Freddie Laker then Easyjet and Ryan Air came on the scene that it opened the skies to the masses.  And there has been some benefit from that in that more people have integrated with other cultures and broadened their minds through travel.  Did we have fun?  Yes of course we did and took advantage of new inventions and opportunities.  Any generation would.  We did not, at that time, understand the impact on the climate of air travel but today’s engines are far less polluting than the original jet engines were and so, again, we are learning.  There was no intentional “Let’s go ruin the planet for our children!”  We happen to love our children, grandchildren, great nieces and nephews and beyond.  Why would we have done this deliberately?

The property prices are another accusation thrown at us and again I would like to remind people that many of us lived in thoroughly damp, grotty flats (in my case with condensation that fell from the ceiling and snails that crawled up the walls) which we shared with 4-6 strangers, sometimes happily sometimes not.  But that was what we could afford.  We then bought wrecks that we did up.  Houses that needed rewiring, central heating and a complete overhaul and did much of this ourselves, living in a building site for one to two years with the long-term vision of having a decent house to live in.  Which we created.  As more people wanted to visit London and as more women worked, property prices went up and I am sorry that this has made it so difficult for the young to buy or live in central areas.  But let’s not forget that it impacted our ability to buy ‘up’ as our families grew and that interest rates were 17% at times, with no credit cards to fall back on.  So it wasn’t all plain sailing.

We came into a country that desperately needed rebuilding after the war.  My memories are of bomb sites, very basic housing and economic challenge.  Through the 60s, as we became teenage and young adults, we railed against the Establishment on behalf of those who wanted a more class-less and equal society.  The music industry opened up wealth to a large number of people who would never have had it, as did sport.  In business, people from all spheres came into white collar jobs. Many of our generation built businesses from scratch and employed thousands of people.  Some of this built on Victorian industrialisation but much of it was new innovation, resulting in many of the technical and medical advances that current generations enjoy today.  People worked hard.  They didn’t expect that wealth or success would come unless they made it for themselves.  Doctors worked around 120 hours a week.  Many professionals worked well over 60.  We jut got on with it.

As many statistics have proven, global poverty has reduced over these decades as office jobs have provided incomes for many people worldwide.  People trying to overthrow capitalism do so at the peril of many people whose livelihoods depend on it and whose living standards have improved because of it.  Of course there are excesses that need to be tempered, as there have been in any generation and in any area of the world (look at the wealth and selfishness of dictators of poor countries through the ages).  Strong, greedy and selfish leaders have existed throughout history and well before industrialisation or capitalism. 

Our generation have fought for gay rights, women’s rights, racial equality, flexible working, equal pay, disabled access.  We haven’t got it all right – of course not – but many people have tried to create a fairer world.  The hippies of the 60s and 70s were for love not war, for the organic ‘Good Life’ of growing your own vegetables and setting up organic farms.  Friends of the Earth was established in 1969.  The Clean Air Act was first passed in 1956.   The first “Earth Day” was 1970. Amnesty was founded in 1961, Greenpeace in 1971.  We haven’t been deaf or blind to environmental or humanitarian issues.

Much of what has gone wrong in terms of pollution is through individual thoughtless behaviour such as chucking litter along a road or into the sea or river.  The world’s oceans and beaches have been littered with plastic bottles and cans for decades.  Some of it from individual action and some of it dumped by business or governments.  There needs to be far more focus on teaching children individual responsibility at school so that they don’t drop litter and they do become active participants in the global community.  Then when they do get into responsible positions they will hopefully make decisions that maintain a healthy world.

There has certainly been a failure of global leadership on the environment during the past decades.  I don’t understand why it hasn’t been obligatory for all new homes to have solar panels.  Nor do I understand why supposedly ecologically-friendly products are still offered in plastic bottles.  We have a long way to go and hopefully all generations can work together to take care of our planet.

But I don’t appreciate having one generation telling ours that we have stolen a future that is also my children’s and grandchildren’s future. Those school strikers who speak in this way haven’t entered the adult world yet and they will find it’s a more complex business than they might imagine, where many well-intentioned supposedly environmentally-friendly policies actually prove to have negative unintended consequences.  So it’s easier to point fingers than it is to get it right.   We didn’t get it all right but I would be surprised if any of us went out there with the deliberate intention of “Let’s ruin the planet” for future generations! 

Inter-generational division is counter-productive.  Let’s stop this blame game and work together to support action that will protect our natural world.

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The strange and random steps that shape one’s life – remembering Tony Buzan

It would be fair to say that Mind Mapping (a technique to capture thoughts, ideas and facts into key words on one page) changed my life.  It gave me a method that helped me to remember information, develop ideas, and record presentations.  It boosted my confidence in my brain – reminding me, aged 42, that I had a brain that could work well when given the right tools!  It also gave me a training programme to offer to schools and organisations when I set up my business, Positiveworks.

The person responsible for developing the skills I learnt and shared with others was Tony Buzan, author of Use Your Head and many other books on how to use your brain to best effect.  He died suddenly and too young on 19 April this year, aged 76, after a fall.  He believed 100% in the skills he taught and travelled the world in his effort to enable others to build what he termed ‘mental literacy’.  He was an impressive individual, not always an easy man, perhaps a little over-blown, but he changed my perception of my abilities and did the same for many thousands of others.

I first came across Mind Maps when I was studying for a History degree at King’s College London, as a mature student.  I was thoroughly daunted by all the facts I had to learn and hadn’t written an essay since A levels, twenty years earlier.  Then one of my younger student friends, Christian Rogers, suggested I try Mind Mapping.  He told me how it had helped him catch up with his A level study after a prolonged illness.  He was a firm believer in the technique and, indeed, the mapping technique enabled me to condense huge quantities of history notes down to one page, in a visual format that was easier to remember.  Basically, Mind Mapping helped me clear my brain and focus down to the key points I wanted to make. Here is my essay plan on Hegel, condensed from some 30 pages of notes. 

After my degree I went on to do a Postgraduate course to gain my Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development qualification at Thames Valley University.  The tutor teaching us Communication skills was Lex McKee, who happened to be a devotee of Tony Buzan’s work not only in Mind Mapping but in Memory skills too.  So this was another step on my ladder towards training with Tony myself, which I eventually did in Bournemouth, where Richard Israel (later my co-author on Your Mind at Work and who sadly died young too) and Vanda North (very much alive and kicking!) were running the Buzan training course.

Few of my friends or family understood why I wanted to spend a considerable amount of money on doing this Buzan course.  “What’s it for?”  “Where will it lead you?” “How will it make you any money?”  But something in my gut drew me towards it and I put their well-intentioned concerns behind me and did the training.  It turned my life around and brought in a good income for the twenty five years of running Positiveworks, as I travelled the world teaching others the way to read more effectively, mind map and memorise information, among other things. 

I shall never forget the moment Tony Buzan persuaded me to go in for the World Memory Championship, only a month or two after my one week’s training with him.  When he first suggested it, I refused, saying  “The people who go in for this have practised for years.  I have only done one week!”.  “But you’re one of my trainers now” he retorted stubbornly “You should give it a go.”  And so I did.

Going in for the Memory competition was such a huge lesson in the benefit of feeling the fear and doing it anyway because I actually won the Names and Faces competition (to remember as many as possible from 100 in 15 minutes) and also another competition to remember which images had been shown from a set of slides.  This boosted my confidence enormously and convinced me that the techniques worked.  It motivated me to share these systems with as many other people as I could in order that they could benefit from understanding how to make the most of their minds.

And so all this moved me towards setting up Positiveworks, with the strap line Positive People=Positive Results, determined to enable others to adopt new ways of thinking and learning that would release them from the clutter of thoughts and facts that could get in the way of good analysis.  My additional training in cognitive-behavioural coaching and NLP supported this aim, integrating theories that enabled people to think effectively and helpfully about life and/or the subjects they needed to consider.

Aged 15 my son Rupert created this rather good image for my business!

Years later he used Mind Maps for his Chartered Financial Analysis qualification and his 8 year old daughter Emmeline, my granddaughter, uses Mind Maps to help her remember and recite poetry for school.

So I shall always be grateful to Tony Buzan and to all those who happened to be there to guide me towards that path.  Again, when I think of those people, I am driven to reflect on whether there was some kind of destiny involved.  Looking back on it now it does almost feel as if there were hands drawing me along from one step to the next.  I wonder if any of you have had similar experiences in your own lives?

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Love in later life

Finding love in later life is both a great gift and at the same time an interesting challenge.  As you may know, David and I moved in together on my 60th birthday.   Inevitably, when this happens, each of you has built up a life over some 40-50 adult years.  You have found ways of doing things inside the home and outside that suit you and yet these can be different, so the need to compromise is greater than when one gets together in early life when one’s habits are as yet unformed and you work things out together (for better or worse!) without really thinking about it.L

I suspect many of you reading this may also have come together later, perhaps after a first marriage, perhaps where both of you have children separately, together, and maybe grandchildren as well.  And so each of you will be bringing to the party not only families – sisters, brothers, parents, children, grandchildren, cousins, aunts, uncles, great-nieces and nephews – but also friends, as each of you will have created friendships separately over your lifetime.  And that’s not to mention work colleagues and clients too!

The number of people you have to juggle is far greater, therefore, than for those who have married young and stayed together.  In this case your friends are more likely to have been built up together and you only have one set of children and grandchildren, all of whom are your biological relations, to keep happy.  It tends to be a simpler equation!

As I have been rather a busy bee throughout my life I have often felt that I was squeezing time with those I loved in between trying to run my business, Positiveworks.  I never felt I really succeeded in giving enough attention to family and friends when I was working.  Yet as soon as I retired and sold the business, I got together with David and the number of people to love and support more than doubled as David has 4 sons and 7 grandchildren and I have 2 sons and 4 grandchildren.  Yes, that makes 6 sons and 11 grandchildren between us.  That’s apart from brothers, sisters and more … Help!

Then of course one is also trying to adapt and adjust to life after work.  Where do we find meaning?  What do we want to do with our time?  What volunteering might we wish to get involved in?  Do we do these separately or together?  How do we take care of our health as the joints begin to creak?!

And then there’s the fact that we are now together 24/7 with no daily routine of going out to work.  So we’re together far more than couples are at other stages of life, and yes, even for lunch!  It can be fun and yet it can be tricky to carve out enough time alone in individual pursuits plus time together doing things we enjoy.

In the end we have worked out that we will each do our own individual pursuits Monday-Thursday, spend Friday together doing something special that we enjoy (at the moment we are exploring London’s village walks which is fun), and weekends are for family and friends.  It isn’t a rigid routine but it does free us both up to pursue interests and yet make sure we share experiences we both enjoy.

But I still end up feeling overwhelmed, somewhat exhausted and guilty that there aren’t enough days in the calendar to spend time with friends or family who are further away.   So sometimes we just have to go our separate ways to our separate families as otherwise we find ourselves spending more time with our non-biological family and not enough time with those closest to us. 

There’s another reality one has to take into account and that is that one has less energy as one grows older and so we have to conserve that energy for the special times and retain enough balance to be able to truly relax and do nothing.  Having spent 20 odd years living mainly alone I got used to sitting in the garden doing nothing or sitting on my balcony in Nice looking at the stars.  With so many people around us – and even more delightful folk now we have moved to Kew – those times of sitting doing nothing are hard to come by.  And yet necessary.

My feeling is that each of our now-grown-up children enjoy seeing us on our own from time to time.  It’s relaxing and the conversation can roam over mutual memories and more personal issues.  David’s grandchildren love to see their Grandpa.  I don’t think they mind very much whether they see me: biology seems to make them deeply aware of their family bond.  Perhaps it is in the pheromones or in the way that our sons talk about each of us.  Somehow they know who their actual relation is.

The trouble is that everything on offer is wonderful, really.  We are so lucky to have supportive families, interesting friends, amazing things to do in London and beyond.  But it’s like a child with a bowl of sweeties; one has to choose, not over-indulge oneself, and ensure that there is enough solitude and downtime to refresh the body and soul.  One has to make the time for yourselves as a couple and ensure that each of you make time for your own children, grandchildren, siblings, friends and family, with all their ups and their downs, so that no-one feels short-changed.  It’s a tricky balance but it’s certainly churlish to complain when many others are lonely.  How lucky are we to have such a challenge.

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Opening our eyes to the things we can be grateful for

It’s easy to take people and things for granted when we see them every day.  They become part of the wallpaper, like the colours in our sitting room.  We no longer really notice them: the eye and brain no longer pay attention.  And yet that doesn’t mean we don’t appreciate them – after all, we chose them and on both conscious and unconscious levels they probably still give us pleasure.

But the quality of our lives is greatly enhanced when we do stop to open our eyes to those things that we can be grateful for.  As a mental focus it brings great benefit and more happiness.  But little happens in the mind unless we train it to seek out what supports us and gives us pleasure.  Perhaps take a moment now to turn away from this screen and look around you at the items or people who surround you.  What brings a smile to your lips?  What warms your heart?  What can you be pleased with yourself for having created, bought or brought into your life?

It strikes me that if children in schools could be taught this practice of gratitude-awareness they might become less anxious and depressed.  With endless reports of rising numbers of young people suffering from mental illness I can’t believe it wouldn’t help them stay stable and become more resilient if they had their eyes opened to what they can be grateful for.

Perhaps every morning in assembly or in their class they could be encouraged to stop and reflect on how fortunate they are in one way or another.  They might start with three things each day and raise that up to as many as ten or more as they become more aware of what they have that brings them support or enjoyment – whether it be loving parents, friends, good health, a home, the skills or talents they personally possess. Read more →

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Everything has changed …

The miners’ strikes of 1972 caused power cuts around the country. With no coal for the power stations blackouts lasting nine hours were imposed plunging Britain into darkness.

The phrase “Everything has changed …” was a prompt for a 10-minute writing exercise in the creative writing course I am enjoying at The Avenue Centre, Kew, where they offer an amazing array of interesting courses.

Inevitably, in 68 years so much has changed but what came immediately to mind (and with only 10 minutes one has to go with what comes forward!) was how the Algarve area in Portugal has changed, and with it many other areas in Spain, Italy, Greece and beyond.

When I first went back to Portugal, having left Lisbon when I was 4 ½, it was 1968.  I was 18 and visited Lagos, which in those days was a peaceful fishing port.  I remember seeing women washing their laundry in the river and drying it by the river bank.  There were donkeys carrying produce from the market, women carrying water in ceramic pots on their heads, fishermen grilling fresh sardines on small barbecues on the pavement.  Life was poor and basic.

Today areas of the Algarve are full of tall hotels, tower block apartment buildings, bars offering cocktails and large screens to entice football enthusiasts, plus smart golf clubs.  It still  has marvellous beaches and warm welcoming people but the life has changed greatly.

This led me to imagine two different women who had lived through this change.  One who enjoyed the freedom that technology – a washing machine – had brought her, the other who mourned the camaraderie of the river bank and felt isolated and alone in her flat with her washing machine.  I imagined the latter missing the chatter of female friends, the gossip about husbands, children, grandmothers, and it made me think about how with every step of progress there is often something that we leave behind.

On sharing the pieces we had written with the rest of the creative writing class, we talked about what had changed in our lifetimes.  We particularly acknowledged the greater comfort in which most people were living now, that poverty as we describe it today is relative, when so many houses in our childhood did not have central heating, no washing machines, televisions, telephones, dishwashers, nor indoor toilets.  We remembered getting dressed in bed, or in front of a Dimplex heater, because the bedrooms were so cold.  We remembered how the glass of water beside our bed could sometimes have a thin sheet of ice on its surface.  We remembered how cars would frequently break down when you were trying to get somewhere.

Perhaps some of you watched the wonderful Andrew Marr programmes A History of Modern Britainhttps://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b007n1dx/andrew-marrs-history-of-modern-britain-3-paradise-lost The most recent repeat episode was set in the 1960s and 70s, a time when I was a teenager and young adult, and I was struck by how impoverished people appeared.  It showed film of the 3-day week, of factories closing, no electricity so we had to light our homes with candles, rationing of food as manufacturing was down.  Marr spoke of millions of days lost to strikes and of civil unrest.  It seems extraordinary, looking back at it.

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Shaping a positive future

Firstly, a happy new year to all of you kind folk who read my ‘Thinking Aloud’ blogs.  The turning of the year always makes me reflect on what has been and what might be in store in the year ahead.  I recently discovered some mind maps and collages David and I had made as we visioned our future and was struck by how much we could tick off as achieved.  It was a good feeling and reminded me of the power of setting positive outcomes.

However, when I went into our local bookshop in December to buy Christmas books for my teenage great-nieces, I was directed to an area of the shop for ‘teen books’, almost all of which were dystopian.  There were stories of aliens, viruses, robots, environmental catastrophes destroying life and the world.  How miserable, I thought, and not surprising that so many of our young are suffering from anxiety.

I managed to find two books that were more optimistic in tone but it made me think how difficult it must be for young people to have a vision of a better future when all around them is 24/7 news of disaster and uncertainty, digital games of violence … and Brexit!  We have always had dystopian books, of course, and I probably read quite a few of them as a teenager – Dostoevsky wasn’t exactly a song and dance, nor was Camus’ The Plague, nor Kafka’s Metamorphosis.  We had the Cold War, the potential of nuclear warfare, economic instability, and most of Europe dominated by one authoritarian regime or another, and yet our concerns were, I think, tempered by post-war optimism, the rose-tinted view of life portrayed by Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn movies, and not having endless news reports of misery or disaster brought into our sitting rooms from one part of the world or another.  We didn’t have the technology for such things.

What concerns me today is that no one is giving us a vision of a better future.  All we get is the negative and the divisive.  In my experience, both as a development coach and in my own life, I have found that when people have a vision and set goals they frequently achieve them.  If we, as a country, have no aspirational vision, no tangible goals in this muddle and mess of Brexit negotiations, how are we to achieve them?  How are people to know what they need to do to create prosperity and happiness in this country?

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Que sera sera

2019… Que sera sera …

A new birth, my new granddaughter, is a poignant and happy way to end the year.  New life.  It seems like a miracle really.  One minute she doesn’t exist, the next minute she does.  Birth and death and the cycles of life are both ordinary and everyday and yet ultimately extraordinary.

We grandparents can get a hard time from those who don’t have family or as yet don’t have grandchildren.  But there is a kind of secret smile that passes from one grandparent to another, even when you don’t know one another.  You see a grandfather walking with a toddler in Kew Gardens, catch his eye and you both smile, knowing how precious these moments are.

I think because one is older a new young life, bewildered, vulnerable, in wonder and far from understanding (any more than we do!) the complexities of the world they have entered, is potent.  The innocence, the wide-eyed approach to the rituals of the year, whether it is Hallowe’en, Guy Fawkes or Father Christmas is magical.

And as one ages one tends to recognise that family, friends and community are so important when the world outside is in such chaos.  Moving to Kew has brought us into a delightful and inspiring community where almost everyone we meet is volunteering in one way or another, as David and I intend to do now that the house is finished (hurrah!).  We couldn’t be happier in our choice of move and in the people who surround us, and the numerous interesting activities on our doorstep with theatre, film, galleries, talks, the river and, of course, the wonderful Botanical Gardens where we walk almost every day.

Small things make a difference when we can’t seem to influence what our politicians are doing.  But who can predict the long view of history?  I have been listening to Roller-coaster, Europe 1950-2017 by Ian Kershaw and am reminded of the huge changes that have occurred in my lifetime both in how we live and also in political regimes.  The horrors of Hitler and Stalin exposed the dangers of ideologies, and religion continues to divide rather than bring peace to the world.  Living in Communist Poland one might not have been able to predict the freedom they have now.  So how can we possibly predict the future?

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At Mrs May’s Brexit Nursery

… with apologies to Joyce Grenfell    

Children … now come along

I’m the head teacher and so let’s hold hands and pull together.  No, Boris, not that way … this way!

Michael, come along now.  Pull your socks up and hold hands.

David, don’t argue dear … you know I know best.  Come along, all you have to do is put a tick in this little box here – the one that says “Yea”.  No, not the one that says “Nay”. 

Now children stop mimicking a pony’s neigh, that isn’t funny. 

Yes, Amber, Yea does mean yes. 

“Yes to what?” … Jacob, you don’t need to ask what you are ticking.  Just do what I say.  I know best.  It’s for Queen and country.  No-one else seems to have a clue.

Now hold your heads up and play your parts.  No, Dominic, you can’t be a superjet so just sit down and keep quiet.

Boris, do stop fiddling.  Don’t do that.

Oh dear, Dominic, is that a penknife in your hand?  It looks rather sharp!  Why were you coming up behind my back just then?  You had better give that to me.  I shall confiscate it and give it to your Mummy.  You go and stand in the corner straight away, you naughty boy.

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Befriending the black dog

Reading about the high statistics of mental illness, anxiety and depression that we seem to be experiencing in the UK, I am wondering how these conditions are measured today.  I am also wondering, in particular, how well young people are being introduced to the fact that emotions are signals, not something to be afraid of necessarily.

We were with a friend last night who was talking about how she has learnt that when she goes down into a dark mood it is actually signalling a transformation that is often creative. I can relate to this personally as I have spent much of my life trying to avoid feeling glum and doing all I can to stay ‘up’.  But as I have become older and – who knows! – perhaps a little wiser, I am far less afraid of those down feelings and have come to recognise them as helpful messages, possibly to go more gently, to take more time out, not to push against life and be willing to accept some disappointments.  Sometimes the words of a poem will arise from these low moments.

I guess in an era of celebrity lifestyles, Facebook and Instagram, young people get the impression that life should always be perfect.  Rejection, disappointment, failures, mistakes can all take on a stronger impact than they would if one was living in different times when one wasn’t surrounded by images of perfect models and smiley happy people.  But disturbing emotions and experiences are part of human life and we can’t and should not try to protect ourselves from the reality that any human life includes suffering, often as much as it includes joy.

So I was horrified to read that students will be allowed to skip exam topics that they find ‘upsetting’.  Apparently staff at leading universities have been told not to include disturbing subjects in the compulsory part of academic assessments.  The list of sensitive topics in the Sheffield University guidelines includes faith, religion, sexuality, rape, abortion, torture, death and bereavement, as well as LGBTQ topics.

What are we doing in trying to shelter students from these areas of life that are a fundamental part of our human history?  Death and bereavement are as much a part of life as birth: how does it help young people to try to paint them out in case they get upset by the idea?  It seems those who claim to be upset can then resit the exam later… which, I am sorry, call me a cynic, seems like a great excuse for a bit more revision time!

Yes, much of human life, history and behaviour is profoundly upsetting but it is part of the whole picture.  We just reinforce the concept of ‘everything must be easy and perfect’ if we don’t explain the darker side of things.  And how can the next generations work towards improving human behaviour if they don’t understand that throughout history there has been murder, violence, robbery, torture and death?  How can they know the horror of the two world wars if we do not continue to remind them that their grandfathers lost their lives in the mud and therefore wars should be avoided whenever possible?

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