About 17 years ago just after new year I was invited to the Long Eaton home of a Midlands academic colleague to chat about a new journal opportunity. It started an annual meet which has continued to this day as, earlier this week, I made the journey to his wonderful penthouse flat set in the centre of Nottingham for our annual rendezvous. These annual meetings soon became less business and more mutual mentoring (or less pretentiously a ‘reight good natter’). As a footnote, the Journal, the essence of which was thrashed out at that first meeting, did start three years later and has now had 14 successful years in which we both retained key editorial roles.

I often met D in work related conferences or other formal events but we rarely had the chance to sit back and reflect without the pressure of a deadline. This was the true value of our gatherings. It gave us both a chance to reflect on the previous year, the highs and the lows and to just unload on our gripes, our puzzles and our aspirations. We challenged each other, we supported each other, we developed ideas, we reviewed our personal and professional directions as we have moved year on year from busy professionals towards semi-retirement and beyond. D published a lot more than me and tried to get me to write more though I was too busy trying to influence the policy world and I know I have never written enough. But we worked through that too. It was a recurring debate and even this time we chatted about a chapter I had written reflecting on my career, it gave us new ideas to play with. But the beauty of it all was it was impromptu and subjects under discussion changed constantly in a free flowing discussion and we also got to focus as much on personal issues as professional concerns. We made the space what we wanted it to be and it has just worked, at least it has for me and I hope for D. It is a highlight of the year.

For me travelling down to his wonderful flat is also part of the experience. The journey through the A614 past Clumber Park, Rufford Abbey and Center Parcs encourages a nostalgic car journey as these places were frequent calls with my lovely young children in the 1980s and 1990s. A walk by the water at Clumber was a simple pleasure. I also played cricket at Clumber which was a very traditional village ground with a very old and tiny pavilion. My son also played there as a junior. I took visitors there and also first camped with my then new trailer tent in a lovely campsite within the Park, though sadly it no longer exists. So the journey encourages those episodic memories which infuse any car journey when on your own as, randomly, you recall events, in no order and probably with a glaze of imagination and invention given the time lapse.

We have nearly always met in Nottingham principally because I love the penthouse flat D occupies. I love the shape and feel of the flat and sink into the settee as if it is an old friend. I love the lounge surrounded by book boxes which need a ladder to access. The view over central Nottingham from the balcony, even on a grimy wintery day, is great and sets the tone of the day. There is a selection of photos below which I took on this recent visit, including a wonderful dentist chair care of D’s partner.

Old fashioned dentist chair
The home of JM Barrie when in `Nottingham

We drink copious amounts of tea, usually have a sandwich though we have eaten locally too and talk. When we need to, we can talk frankly offline in the secure knowledge that concerns will not be shared with others. This enables and promotes an honesty which is refreshing. The thoughts will not leave the flat unless we want it to do so. During the time back in 2012 when I had such an awful time at work, D listened, reflected back ideas and helped me with perspective. It’s just a gem of an opportunity, so thanks D for putting up with my ramblings, it remains such a pleasure.
Do we spend enough time in our busy lives just standing back and taking stock? I am not sure I have always done enough, often pushed by deadlines and the next task. It is hard when so many plates are spinning in the air that we rarely shout ‘stop’ and not worry that the plates won’t come tumbling down. I think I have kept sane over the years through having a number of distinct plates which have co-existed with each other notably my family plate, my work plate, my sport plate and I did become a good multi-tasker to do this. I like the variety of my life but it has rarely been anything less than hectic. But I am not sure I stepped back enough just to reflect outside of these competing pressures. I spent time with a friend in Chester last year and thought why have I not done more of this? I remember my Nottingham visits partly because I rarely did this at any other time whilst at work. Work for me has always been a reflective environment at its best and I love that but sometimes keeping those plates going reduces time to stand back. As someone who has taught the importance of critical thinking and reflection we must always find ways to fulfil this aspiration. Thanks D. 

This week’s pics

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