A letter to my younger self

I was inspired this week by reading a blog with the same title by the writer Patrick Gale who reflecting on his earlier life wrote to his younger self. I cannot do justice to his eloquence or the issues he faced but this is my take on this……….

You were always a committed person and certainly a real sense of purpose drove you forward but maybe on occasions it made you a little hot-headed and sometimes a more reflective response might have worked better. Sometimes that inner anger/frustration with others got in the way and left you with mountains to climb to get people back working with you. This happened more on the sports field than at work but you never suffered fools gladly and got that wrong from time to time. I think mistaking commitment for rightness meant you could leave people in your wake and it took you time to get them back. Having said that I think you often did get people back working with you and it was that characteristic which acted as a helpful counterpoint. You quietly forgave people and easily re-established good relations. For all your argumentative spirit you liked accord and disliked simmering conflict. But I guess you could have been a less tough-minded person to know at times. 

The softer side of you was not always evident to work colleagues. The single-minded intention to get things done, to work at solutions and deliver quality practices meant there was little time for play. After your days in Doncaster you rarely took time out for lunch and revealed little of your wider self to colleagues. I do not think you were necessarily a private person as when someone wanted to know more of you, you gave openly of yourself. But the drive to succeed meant unless asked you did not take time out. You would have been rewarded better if you had spent more social time with colleagues as you could be a great social companion when someone pressed the right buttons.

You were unlucky in love, notwithstanding the break up of your marriage which just happens. But the focus on work and on your children meant that new opportunities for love were missed. You could, maybe should, have taken more time out for yourself and also pursued a love interest more single-mindedly. You were rightly putting your children first and they got most of your love, and work got most of the rest. But you spent a lot of time with the cricket club which was close to your heart but that scuppered chances for you find space for another person close to your heart. You would have been an attentive, caring and committed lover and anyone caught up with you would have enjoyed the ride. You would have been good in a partnership but it has not really happened apart from your dalliances in Hong Kong.

You might have tried harder to resist the ravages of time on your health. You made spirited attempts to lose weight on more than one occasion and at the time each seemed successful. Sustaining such changes was much harder and you drifted back into weight gain. The lure of bacon sandwiches, fish and chips and real ale jointly share the responsibility with butter! This did not seem to impact on you whilst still playing cricket but post-50 you could have done with a fat clear-out. Would it have made a difference to your health problems now, you will never really know but logic suggests it might have done. 

You always wrote well but too infrequently. Your academic outcomes are chronically less than they should be. You wrote some good pieces but your influence was more in your verbal utterances through speeches, workshops and teaching. You are a great communicator but when the dust settles will you regret not completing some of the many projects which died on the cutting room floor. You choose instead to influence through social media and blogging, no bad thing and very immediate in its impact. Was this though a little lazy and should you have pushed for a more sustained academic contribution – probation: policy and practice over 40 years – deserved your literary mark on it.

Would life had gone differently if your younger self had exercised more financial acumen. You lived on the cusp of bankruptcy for too long in your life and this could be conceived as careless. You were paid enough to be careless and of course you never lacked generosity. Your children benefitted greatly from this but at a financial cost to you. In the early days of freelancing, a financially risky undertaking itself, your energy and enthusiasm saw you achieve good money which you ploughed back into your kid’s education and well-being. Little was kept back for a rainy day and that day came when undiagnosed illness, eventually identified as sleep apnoea, made working at a pace difficult. Then you lost money, ultimately sold your house and had to re-build. Refreshingly I don’t think lack of money ever worried you for long and it is remarkable that in retirement you have found solvency for now. Please manage it well.

You have rushed through life a bit and only in these latter days have you enjoyed new interests like photography and bird spotting. Maybe more time outs would have enabled you to pursue things you like – such as novels, cooking and travelling – which you have done but around the business of your life. You have often forgotten there are only 24 hours in the day but others have gained from that zest for life, an attitude of positivity and glass half full approach to everything you have done. Maybe it would not have been you to slow down, it’s my observation only. Whatever speed you have led your life no one can doubt your commitment to people, to your work and to cricket, indeed whatever you have turned your hand to and you have responded to your latest bout of cancer with similar determination. Keep at it.

Love from the old man. 

My week in photos 


 A week at Scarborough feasting on cricket in the wonderful surroundings of the North Marine Road venue is only bettered by enjoying it with friends. Once a year our old touring team, Yorkhull CC meet up to enjoy a few day’s cricket watching and renew friendships. Seven of us met up this time enjoying Yorkshire v Somerset and the excellent overnight venue of Raven Hall Hotel in Ravenscar, nestled on that iconic East Yorkshire coast just across from Robin Hood’s Bay. The perfect settings for old friendships to be renewed coupled with lovely food and for those imbibing, real ale and good wine. 

I think I belong to a generation where friends are spread out rather than clustered where I live. Having had six years at university, a bit greedy really, I then moved back to Yorkshire and all school and university friends remained scattered everywhere. Indeed as time went on some found their way throughout the world. Sustaining such friendships can be difficult particularly if you enter a busy work life, get married and have children, all of which I did. Inevitably, if sadly, you will lose touch with some of those friends, sometimes for ever, sometimes years later through chance or social media or something like the site Friends Re-united, relationships can be rekindled but they only work if there is enough to share to make it sustainable. Sometimes the past is not enough to keep a friendship going, the contexts have changed too much for there to be a continuing conversation. For others, you can re-start a friendship having not seen someone for years and it all falls into place. It is not a science but you can sense it when you get into conversation. The years roll away and what brought you together all those years ago is once again evident.

I see something of that in this annual gathering of cricketing buddies. To be fair some of them I see much more often and we also have had a winter gathering until this year at our favourite hotel in the Lake District sadly now closed down and which I wrote about in an earlier blog. But we quickly get back into a communicative mode, based partly on historic memories, the old worn out jokes and memories do come flooding back, but often in pairs we simply catch up on what is happening to each of us and re-affirm our friendships. As we have got older the subjects have changed, no longer dominated about what are children are doing or our own careers but more likely to feature retirement talk, ill-health and the exploits of grand children. But this is part of the natural evolution of friendships which, unless interrupted by early terminal illness or another tragedy, rolls forward and becomes renewed as much by the changes as the continuity. Symbolically we always have one designated day at the cricket where we wear our red t-shirts dedicated to one of our group, George, who died in 2012 but is never forgotten.

I like this group of people and for obvious reasons we are drawn together for one purpose, our love of cricket, but it is much more than that its a mutual respect and shared interest around politics and other topics. By no means is there agreement and the nuances of different views get put through the wringer of intense conversation. None though more forensically interrogated than cricket itself. This is where an outsider looking in might get bored but for us it is what it’s about and much debate, some argument and many reflections take place. The past always figures as Kate Atkinson has remarked:

The past is a cupboard full of light and all you have to do is find the key that opens the door.” from Behind The Scenes At The Museum by Kate Atkinson

So I never tire of those reminiscences which bring back good memories of cricketing exploits now more grander and better than ever they were on the day but we can enjoy the tweaking of memory as the context and the events certainly did take place. 

One thing for me I like about Scarborough is that I get to bump into other friends and acquaintances as they arrive to enjoy the cricket. Most know where I tend to sit so pop down to say hello which will be great in a few weeks when I return without this group to enjoy the Festival week game. But I met up with a friend I had not seen for at least a couple of years and that was a good catch up. All in all a great few days with one exception as Yorkshire lost but I shall rush over that thought. 

This is one group of friends but they serve to illustrate the importance of friends in our lives. I would find my life much diminished if it were not for friends, some I see often, some I see occasionally, some I rarely see but through social media try and stay in touch. Every time you see such friends, that warmth and mutual regard returns and it can be as if it was just yesterday. I have held a BBQ for those friends and this year will be the sixth. It has become a lovely engagement for me but also brings people together who would otherwise not meet at all or very often. This is an added benefit and is now just two weeks away. It is so worth making effort to keep in touch particularly as life is always uncertain and leaving it too long might just be a delay too much. Get out and renew those friendships, ring one up tonight you have not seen for a while and set a lunch date. You know it makes sense.

My week in pictures.

My new kitchen pine dresser
Toad in the hole, home cooked
My front garden
A chair without a job
Friends at dinner overlooking Robin Hood’s Bay
The inevitable rain
Scarborough ground


Trying to move forward (literally)

It’s been an interesting, if challenging, week for me. Early signs, just five weeks in, with a new drug are that it is working which will give me another respite if this continues. Always a temporary respite but might last a few months or even a year or more. It’s a lottery on which I won’t ever draw a winning ticket but have had a few good small wins over the past 5.6 years so I am not complaining. It comes with more fatigue which just means I have to take things easy and I am getting better at doing that. I get it wrong some days and I have to stand back and just quietly withdraw. Bigger side effects have not yet materialised so hopefully I can tolerate it. It’s one of the expensive drugs so if it stops working they will take me off it but that is for tomorrow, I hope. Life remains a little uncertain under the NHS but I for one am eternally grateful for it, while we still have it.

I’ve also been out looking at cars and mobility scooters. I have been struggling to walk any distance for a couple of years now so I decided to apply for a Personal Independence Payment. Given the horror stories associated with PIP in recent years I was not hopeful. As 64 was the final age you could apply I was encouraged by friends to try. I know my life has become distinctly circumscribed in recent years. Although I can drive to places – Dales, nature reserves, Clumber Park, Peak District etc etc I cannot roam around them as walking is increasingly a trial. The freedom a scooter would bring would transform my life in the short term. Simple goal. 

I was recently assessed and waited for the outcome. To my pleasant surprise I was awarded an enhanced mobility payment enabling me to get a leased car, buy a scooter with the savings and put the two together to get out into the countryside. Then the fun started. Car companies are able to help you with some wonderful cars which can be leased on Motability and happy to tell you of the admittedly many benefits. But they rarely have a clue about which scooters might go into which cars. So having spend a week with Skoda going backwards and forwards with different scooter models it was concluded that for the scooter I needed they do not have a car which, with a hoist, will fit it in.

So I tried the reverse approach and talked to the scooter sellers who again did not routinely know which scooters fitted in which cars but ‘helped’ me change my mind, again and again, about the best scooter for me. So I found a lovely scooter which ticked all the boxes and would enable me to go ‘off-roading’, I love the sound of that, but still not a car to fit it in. Another couple of car companies bit the dust.

So my third approach was to go to the hoist company and to ask them what scooters will fit into which cars. I had a Scooter in mind but it was not stocked there so once again a new scooter was found, actually on offer and ticking all the boxes at a more competitive price. It had the virtue of being there so I could trial it and the engineer was able to measure it. He suggested yet another car/van. The choice of the car is getting bigger all the time. With PIPT a premium is levied on the car as an advanced payment so the bigger the car the higher the payment. Was I being priced out of what had started as a simple project and my dream of off-roading reduced to rambling round the village? 

Once again my long suffering son came with me as we went back to a garage from where, over 40 years ago I had bought my first ever car – a Ford Escort Popular. I had a tour around a car called the Grand Tourneo, (see pics below) I was exhausted once I had walked round it once, it seems so big. But the boot, with seats down, appears to be long enough, wide enough and having a large rear aperture to take a hoist and my preferred scooter. This was the car recommended by the firm from whom I am buying the scooter so I hope we have a fit. I have a nervous few days awaiting the phone call which will give me the green light. If this fails it will be a ford transit or small lorry neither of which are in the scheme! This may be my last chance so i’ll keep you posted.

Ford Grand Tourneo
Ford Grand Tourneo

It has been a tiring week. I am not a car lover and have always had a pragmatic approach to car buying. I get frustrated about discussing all the options. Car companies will regal me about its technical specification when I just need to know: if it’s an automatic, whether I can get into and out of the seat ok, which must be comfortable and whether it has rear parking sensors, as the bigger the car got the more frightened I become about ever parking it.  

I never thought this opportunity would come along and I do hope I can pull it off. I have felt a little trapped in the last year when I cannot get to places which interest me. I also think that getting out with friends becomes possible again as they walk and I can move alongside them, not worked out a term for this yet – mobility walking, aided walking, scootering? It opens up possibilities whereas closing down opportunities has felt to be the theme of the past couple of years. It will help with the tiredness I discussed at the beginning as walking is so tiring whenever I attempt it, even over short distances. My desires are simple but I will once again get out into the country rather than just viewed through my car but ‘walking’. I am cautiously optimistic I am nearing this goal and if the new drug continues to work, I may get some time to fulfil this dream and take some more expansive photos. Watch this space for an update.

My week in photos.

June challenge Days 16-30
June challenge collage Days 1-15
Magnets awaiting reassembly
Self portrait in front of a pic of self portraits
Day-night first class cricket at Headingley
Cricket books
Looking up at my pigs
Pomegranates and pineapples

Using my time

Something a little strange happened recently. I was emailed about speaking at a conference on a topic I was very familiar with. I said no. Less than a week later I was sent a message about doing a short book chapter on another topic I had also got a good background in. I said no again. I have always been excited by such invitations, whenever they had come, throughout my career, but somehow felt that just a year on from retirement this was the right decision. Around the same time I withdrew from a European email group on community sanctions feeling the time was right to do so. What motivated these decisions? 

I think this is a mixture of three things – loosening connections, energy and changing priorities. Retirement has taken me away from a routine associated with my career. Whatever specific tasks I was involved in I would be looking at what was new, horizon scanning the latest journals, discussing with colleagues, attending conferences, speaking at events, learning and developing. That routine is broken now though through my role with Probation Institute I have maintained more specific connections around that work. But that wider engagement does not now happen. It’s surprises me how quickly these routines have gone from my life. I have stopped subscriptions to journals I no longer read and though I retain access to the university library do not access it as I once did. So in just a year or so my connections are definitely loosening and in some cases simply no longer open or attractive to me. But I don’t think that is the full story.

Captured under the notion of ‘energy’ I think my health has meant my energy levels are simply not what they were. I find a full day at an event quite challenging and some days attempts to read and research are limited by what my doctor’s call ‘muzzy headiness’. I simply cannot find the mental energy to pursue everything I would want to. So I select out what is important and focus my energies on researches connected to probation. On good days that stimulation remains strong and important to me and I still manage to work effectively for about two days a week and still enjoy the challenge of a world which I have inhabited for over forty years. The ‘muzzy headiness’ can result in losing the odd word or phrase which is partly age I guess, but is largely down to the treatments over 5 plus years which have come with limited cognitive impairments. I have always had very good recall so it can be frustrating to fail to grasp a simple word or phrase and I guess as a result I feel less confident about public speaking now than I ever have done. 

The third change is though one of changing priorities. I want to do different things with my time and my big task, my only real bucket list item, is to write a novel. So I need space when not muzzy to move forward on this project. Paradoxically some of the problems I have encountered above also apply to writing a novel. I started well enough back in 2012 and wrote around 60000 words. I thought I was working on a restricted timeline and when I realised I had more time my focus changed and it went on the back burner. What I did not fully realise is that as time moved on the very qualities I needed for this task were affecting my work as described above. It became not just a matter of time but one of being in the right frame of mind, clear-headed, energised and not muzzy. So how might I go forward and can I go forward?

After five years I began to assemble the novel into an identifiable structure. This knitting together of discrete sections/chapters was the real test of whether a novel was possible. It is autobiographical but intended to be a novel not an autobiography and this remains one of the biggest tussles in my head. I approached two close friends whose views I respect to give me some comments on my progress on the first 40000 words of the book. I knew they would be honest and I was prepared for the feedback or so I thought.

It was a ‘tough love’ approach which started with questioning of the title and I received very detailed and thorough feedback. It was all very helpful and constructive and I could not hide behind a view that they had got it wrong. But it brought to the fore how much time it will take to complete this project in any way that might make it publishable. Given my narrative so far this is where the rub is. Can I find enough good time when energy levels are high and my muzzy headiness is low to give it the attention it needs. I wish I knew the answer to this question. I have let so much go this year to enable my life to have enough time and direction for the remaining tasks and enjoy myself. This is a real conundrum which has so far not produced a satisfying answer though I have a strategy.

I want to have a go at the section critiqued to see if I can answer a few of the major queries and deal with many of the minor queries such as my overuse of the exclamation mark!!! At heart both my readers though there was a novel there and they were encouraging. But I am beginning to change my priorities and if I remain well this coming autumn and winter will be the time to make a decision and either go for it or quietly close it down. On good days I want to keep going, on bad days I don’t care and most days I am happy to try but find other things to do too. I have loved blogging this past half year as it’s a couple of hours of concentration and I hope I am saying challenging things for my readers. Is that enough?
My week in photos.

Flamborough Head
A cool G&T
Flamborough Head
Flamborough Head
Flamborough Head
Lighthouse at Flamborough
On the cliffs
A pair
A nice hat
43 degrees and relaxing
Letting spectators on the pitch

Being a father

I read a piece of psychology research on multi-tasking claiming people who multi-tasked were unlikely to perform as well as someone focused on a single piece of work. Other commentary has often said there is a genetic predisposition to multi-tasking contending that women are much better at it. I am unsure of both contentions and as it’s Father’s Day though I would discuss this in relation to being a father. 

Just to be clear I am not saying being a father per se makes you a good multi-tasker. This would be incompatible with my accompanying contention that multi-tasking is primarily a learnt rather than a genetic phenomenon. Rather the experience of my particular fatherhood, coupled with the roles I played at work and elsewhere developed my multi-tasking skill set. I was not, as few are, a natural multi-tasker though I have always from a young age enjoyed the variety that life throws at you. So maybe I had an inclination but the circumstances of my life enabled, if not forced me, to hone these skills.

I was holding a joint appointment at the beginning of the 1980s needing me to work within organisational structures of two very different agencies – the local probation service and the local polytechnic. I could literally walk between my two offices and shift my mindset from one to the other. But I never had to hold them together at the same time so the two tasks were managed separately. This all changed in 1985. I became a father in 1981 and again in 1983. Life was full and hectic but became demanding when just before Christmas I became a single parent. Suddenly responsibility for two young children cut across everything else.

My son and me
My daughter and me
I still remember taking my daughter upstairs to her bedroom and emptying the drawers of all her clothes to find out what she had, what she liked, what she needed. For the first time I had to know the details of every need of my children. It was all encompassing although fun too as my daughter H told me what she liked and what she wanted, a mind of her own at just 4. I still remember my mind spinning with the responsibility and after Christmas to return to my jobs, the national work I did for the union and everything else I was engaged in. These are the circumstances in which you sink or swim and over time I think I began to swim. A work colleague told me when I was contemplating going part-time to cope with all this, to continue and see how far I could adapt. I took his advice and gradually, with some adjustment, managed to keep all these balls in the air. Wherever I was the children were on my mind, but I could compartmentalise when dealing with a particular issue such as giving a lecture. In fact my energy came from the concentration of adrenalin when I was involved in performance tasks at work such as lectures, seminars etc. Routinely I undertook a number of very different tasks and gradually dealt with this variety with strategies which worked.

Please go to bed!

A typical day would illustrate this: I would be awake (or woken by one of my children) around 6.30 am. Wash, dressed and breakfasted them I collected my work stuff and when my child minder arrived off I went to work. As they got older I would drop them at school and my child minder would pick them up. I would then do a full day balancing student demands, colleague meetings, lectures, moving from one to another, travelling to London, thinking about what to have for tea, remembering the dental appointment in two days time, admin, lunch, coffee etc etc as the day rolled forward without a pause. I would aim to be home around 6 pm, switch into children mode, have tea, deal with their ups and downs, and then begin the long haul to bedtime. Both were reluctant sleepers though H worse then my son, J. It would often take till turned 9 or even 10 on a bad night though reading stories, bath time and playing was also good bonding time. At 10 I would start work on tasks I had not got around to during the day. Cleaning, tidying round and then work-related stuff, marking essays, preparing lectures, checking emails as computerisation emerged, and so on. I could work until 2 am. The downside of having so much in my head was that I could not go straight to bed. 

I remembered when I had been a student doing three day exams where you had to decide when, or if, you slept at all. I would try to finish one essay and go to bed. But my head was full of that essay and the next one and so a friend across the way suggested we play chess. So even though I was tired i was able to clear my mind and then settle for just a few hours sleep. I remembered this and although I was already a soap watcher I made sure i recorded the soaps early evening whilst sorting out the children. Once I had finished my work I always watched the soaps and relaxed and then went to bed, for it all to start again.

I had to multi-task to cope, I had to change from one situation to another quickly whilst holding other stuff in my mind. I became used to doing that and did not find that my effectiveness was reduced. I coped with the tensions in my head and tried to give full attention to whoever was in front of me. Being a single parent Dad was and is a great privilege and a wonderful experience. I love my children dearly and loved being their primary carer. Our relationship remains very close and so I can celebrate Father’s Day and feel it was a job well done.

My postscript would be that these multi-tasking skills honed in my role in fatherhood later on made me an approachable manager. I think one of the undersold parts of management is being a good multi-tasker. Whatever project you were working on you would have to stop if a worker needed advice. Teams have little crises all the time and I always kept my door open. My team wandered in and expected me to give them undivided attention, know what they were talking about instantly, and give them the time they needed. Interestingly this was not always reciprocated. One of my best workers hated being interrupted. Her work role had always been on single projects and she was good, very good. But if she was focused on a project ask her a question on something else and you got a withering look. Multi-tasking had not been part of her work or life and she did not like to change tack. We learnt to work together very well over time.

So it’s Father’s Day today, and, of the many things that my children have brought me, the ability to multi-task and remain effective and able to cope is one of them. They won’t know this as for them my attention had to be total. But it was a constant challenge. When we went on holiday we went for 3/4 weeks which gave me time to relax, get out of work mode and just be myself as a father but that is for another blog. 

My week in photos

Sue and Gill
The Peacock Inn, Rowsley
Running a conference

A sense of togetherness

This blog was written about last week finishing on Sunday evening, 11th June. Delayed publication as too tired to complete!

It’s was a tough week in many ways but also a brilliant restorative one. The contrasts in this week have been stretching emotionally but at the end of the week the rewards outweigh the pains, though they often work together, as two bedfellows.

The week started with the London Bridge atrocity, following too fast from Manchester. The random horror of this was contrasted yet again with the togetherness of the community as had been shown in Manchester. The power to define our public spaces, to take control of them, to act together in defiance of the terrorist was as important an image to emerge as any other. The political aftermath from the right was sour and out of keeping with this image. It’s messages about the internet and human rights running counter to the spirit of togetherness. We are all at our best when we can come together, regardless of religion, faith, politics, age, gender or class and share the very best of times even in the midst of the very worst of times.

This led me on Wednesday to the celebration, funeral and wake of my dear friend Kevin. We gathered in his garden where so much fun had been over the years and, led by his children, we celebrated his life. It was a poignant morning but full of good memories, his ears would definitely have been burning. I think this collective memory sharing is so positive, creates togetherness, helps people make sense of the sadness, helps strangers link to share common experiences. There are always tears but they are shed together and felt together, the power of his community drawing everyone in, producing a communal hug. At the Crematorium people can find some closure, can say their good byes and this is so important.

The day continued back at the house and in the garden with food, chat, beer and then music, so much part of Kevin’s life. Everyone relaxed, sang in impromptu groups and with a casual but definable musicality simply became a hub of remembrance for a great man. I will miss him but I will always, always, remember him.

RIP Kevin
The day of the election dawned and I spoke in my previous blog about my interpretation of the election. Interestingly this theme of community and its converse individualism was written large in both the stance and the way in which the main parties have operated. Leaving aside the politics, the immense sense of community in the ever growing rallies which attended every Corbyn speech was testimony to the sense of mission and being in this together as the slogan said – for the many, not the few. Young people being galvanised into action, cheaply dismissed as self-interest around tuition fees, but actually it was something much deeper than that. There was a real sense of belonging of standing up for a better society. The result was beyond expectations but I think the tone of the campaign and that willingness to stand together – old and young, male and female, gay and straight, black and white – with the honesty and integrity of the campaign led by the unassuming Corbyn is the real legacy. I believe that sense of community will continue when the next election arrives as it surely will very shortly. The nasty individualism of May and her cronies has been decisively challenged.

Then the culmination of hard work and determination of over 400 riders hailing from football clubs up and down the country but coming together in a magnificent effort to raise money for Prostate Cancer UK. Football is notoriously a tribal sport with both ritualised and at times real violence towards each other. But at heart the communal spirit is always there and was shown so brilliantly over the two day, 145 mile ride to Amsterdam. Riders working in small teams and helping each other across the line. Teams riding at the pace of the slowest rider, and taking real pride in this effort. So much camaderie as I followed them closely on Day One. To see my son and son-in-law take part and ride so well over the two days was something very special indeed. I know how hard it had been for my son to get himself in a state to do this. He was not a cyclist and really started from scratch. At times in the lonely miles around home I wondered if he could do it. I should not have doubted him as he came good, helped by the more experienced, rider, M. But to see them cross the line at the finish next to the Ajax FC stadium in Amsterdam was such a wonderful enervating sight which will stick in the memory for some time. Ordinary people going the extra mile to raise nearly 500K so far for Prostate Cancer UK. To see more about Joe and Mark’s journey click here: Joe and Mike’s bike ride 

So I have seen togetherness, community and collective remembrance throughout this week. It has contrasted to the hateful, individualist, fragmentation created by terrorists and by the political right. But when the sense of community shows itself so well it triumphs. It expresses a basic human need for connection and engagement. This has to be the right message emerging from different events in a hectic week for me, it is the only way that humanity can ruse above all the difficulties people face in their lives. Stay positive, work with others to find comfort, to keep a sense of belonging and community. 

My week in photos

The political is personal

This is a blog about choices, decisions, futures. I expect Thursday to be the last general election I will experience if it goes full term to 2022. I am not intending to be melodramatic here. I did not expect to be here now so another five years would be greedy though nice! I have become excited by the prospect of real change having spent by working life living through Thatcher, Blair, Cameron and the one they call May. I shall as always settle down to watch the results unfold and tell myself I must get to bed, then stay a little longer, maybe just maybe with a glimmer of light from the incoming results. I have always been a glass half full person.

I apologise that this blog focuses on politics if it’s not for you please pass by. I do not apologise for sharing news about the election through social media even if one or two have suggested I have bombarded you. Leaving aside the fact that you can walk on the other side and not read a single post if you so choose, I have been active because it’s only through such media that a more unfiltered voice can be presented about the election. Images abound in people’s minds about Corbyn in particular. Distorted, fanciful and downright unfair which bring shame to a serious debate but these attacks ultimately have failed. Now some four weeks on many big figures and many ordinary voters have changed their minds including labour stalwarts like John Prescott and Alan Johnson, even Polly Toynbee has admitted she was wrong about Corbyn. Why is this happening? The election process and the relentless and excellent campaigning of Corbyn and his team has created a more nuanced version of this man and a persuasive case that the U.K. needs his brand of politics within the UK and certainly negotiating Brexit, needs an experienced team and Keir Starmer, a top lawyer, will lead that team. And that is in part the success of social media, offering a different voice, enabling authentic voices to be heard.

It’s emerged because you have someone who maintains his calm in spite of rude and crude questioning; who answers honestly and calmly every question put to him; who patiently bats back the many smears which have no substance other than a resonance created by repetition and who oozes integrity in his speeches and interaction with the public. I have become angry about his treatment and I am sorry about that but fairness and integrity is at the heart of my own beliefs. Disagreement is fine that’s the lifeblood of political debate but that is not what has happened over the last few weeks. I have just tried to present the changing fortunes of the labour party and watched with admiration as he refuses to abuse others, sticks to political debate, shares the detail of the many policy commitments, travels the country talking to people, delivers a costed manifesto and now i am seeing it working. 

The May campaign in stark contrast, even if you follow the Tory dogma, has been evasive and ultimately disastrous. Even this week May started campaigning when speaking on the London Bridge tragedy trying to use terrorism to boost her flagging campaign. It was wrong in principle to take such an openly campaigning stance in what should have been a simple condemnation as the other leaders did. Shameful. But the cat is out of the bag. May can not hide from the simple fact that her criticism of UK’s response to terrorism is, ironically but undoubtedly, a criticism of herself. She has held this brief for the past 7 years, six of them as Home Secretary. But how ironic when she tries to persuade us that Corbyn could not be trusted on counter terrorism when her own influence has been abject, weak and flawed. We will make June the end of May.

I feel that this election has been something which has been bubbling in me for too many years now. I have seen my chosen career area, the probation service, become one of the many victims of a neo-liberal consensus from Thatcher to May. In brief, what I have seen is the dismantling of a good performing public service by privatisation, cuts and deprofessionalisation. And for probation you could substitute teachers, nurses, doctors, social care providers to name just a few in a relentless and merciless attack on public welfare services decimated by the politics of austerity. This means that at the end of my forty year career I look back and am angry that this has happened under my watch. I sometimes reflect on whether my work over 40 years has been a complete waste of time. 
I see a generation without hope, where populist nationalist policies engineered the Brexit outcome, where a so-called first world country has food banks, takes benefits away from those with disabilities, creates a dementia tax, forgets promises on taxes made just 2 years ago, underfunds the police and security services which stretches their capacity to perform their duties whilst defending the rich from modest tax rises suggested by Labour. And u-turns at will as if this is acceptable behaviour, even Maggie did not do this. This is all presented with an arrogance which does not bother with explanation or with costing a manifesto but relies on the myth that the Tories manage the economy better so we just should trust that. Well we know that is not the case, 130 economists told us this week, even if it ever was so. 

But, it’s not just about the policies of the Tories which I disagree but it’s the tone of their campaign which demeans politics, demeans working people, demeans all these struggling to find their way in society. They continue to perform as if still in the playgrounds of their public schools using kindergarten language to avoid real debate – coalition of chaos, magic money tree, strong and stable and the ideology of mythology – IRA connections, anti-nuclear sentiments, and the gleeful bullying when a minor mistake is noted e.g. Abbott’s gaffe. In debate, although as we have seen May has not taken part in any debates at all, their default style is to criticise the opposition by ridicule, by implication and sometimes just by distortion and lies. This lack of honesty and unwillingness to engage has been depressing. You have not seen this from Corbyn and this is why his stature has grown.

This is a defining election of our time. For the first time in three decades we are presented with a real choice. We can continue with the latest variant of a neo-liberal austerity-driven and low tax haven for the rich which will make the poor poorer and bring our infrastructure into meltdown or try and re-assert and find a social democratic society, which is present in many European countries, and which the labour manifesto actively promotes with many well-shaped policies. That choice means it is worth casting your vote. As Chomsky has said neo-liberalism is ‘undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy…..It’s so-called “freedom,” is “freedom” which means a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s what it means. The institutions of governance—or other kinds of association that could allow people to participate in decision making—those are systematically weakened’

So for me this election allows me a choice to go down a different economic direction, gives me hope that the socialism I have always believed in can begin to happen in the UK. It’s still a social democratic manifesto this is not a hard left agenda, another myth. There are things which I would disagree with but I think Corbyn will work with a team which will build some great new politicians in government. It’s a Bennite agenda, and it’s a start of finding ways of enabling more people to survive, then to take part, and eventually to prosper. It’s about hope and it’s about the many. I make no apologies about wanting a fairer society imbued with social justice, human rights, equality of opportunity, educational possibilities and worker’s rights. I have supported all these values throughout my life. I know if we can hold our nerve and give this hopeful agenda a chance we can approach terrorism, poverty, Brexit with the sort of togetherness we have seen in Manchester and London. Young people must mobilise to vote and the grey vote will not let labour down. I am 65 but will vote for labour and if they get in I might just rejoin the party having had to leave after the dishonesty of Blair and Iraq became clear.

Please vote. Please vote for labour but if that is a bridge too far vote against the Tories. Vote Green but do not forget the utter contempt for democracy demonstrated by May and her elitist crowd. She said ‘enough is enough’ and it surely is, let’s make June the end of May.

Thanks for getting to the end and here are my photos of the week.

Cudworth Hall