Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Over the rainbow

At the moment I play ‘Somewhere over the rainbow’ daily during my piano practice. For years I really did not like this song. I thought it was too emotional, too over the top, too much of a gay icon.

But playing this on the piano has changed how I feel about it. For a start I am focusing on the music and not the lyrics. And the music is moving me; it affects me. And I find that I am bringing different feelings in into playing the music.

There’s a poignancy that comes out of me in response tot eh music around the lyrics ‘way up high’. Sometimes I play most of the song with a passionate anger especially around ‘why can’t I?’ Sometimes the music invokes a real gentleness in me that infuses how I play the whole piece.

It’s a song then for many seasons. Of course it sin to just me. Listen to how Eva Cassidy does it: or how Rufus Wainwright does it:

Saturday, 23 November 2013


My friend Catherine recently told me how she wanted to be a saint. I was horrified at first and was flooded with memories of my own failure to be like Jesus. Having Jesus as a model is all very well but setting the bar that high for human behaviour is disabling - well it is for me at the very least! I am just a poor imperfect human being doing my best, trying to rein to the excesses of my ego and trying to face and embrace my shadow side and recognise how I am not that good and worthy as I might like to think I am. So becoming like Jesus - no that's inhuman - I still sin, mostly omissions, despite my best efforts and need forgivness. But sainthood? Well many of the saints had rich sinful early lives. I can relate to that! Sometimes their sainthood only comes out in their final moments - I can aspire to that! Meanwhile I'll do my best to love and be loved.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Music again

Music again

Regular readers of this blog will know of my somewhat torturous relationship with music - stemming from my music teacher at primary school telling me to mime rather than sing; finding myself at grammar school being second from bottom in music although I loved music; singing with my daughter in the monthly family choir at her primary school; being taught to read music in 5 minutes flat by my daughter who also introduced me to playing piano; finally taking piano lessons and then some singing lessons and joining the Manchester Community Choir. Lots of tears on the way, some of pain some of release and joy.

This week at piano lesson we were re-visiting one of my favourites ‘Over the rainbow’ and I expressed a desire to sing it and of course my teacher encouraged me but I also expressed a desire to play and sing and the same time. I am maybe not technically ready for this just yet but the thought of bringing my piano laying and signing together and with this song is pretty overwhelming and exciting too! Watch this space!

Sunday, 20 October 2013

At Quaker Meeting and weeping

At Quaker Meeting and weeping

Went to Quaker Meeting this morning for the first time in ages and found myself weeping. This was not that unusual and the great thing about it was no-one especially noticed so I didn’t have to deal with people’s reactions to my tears. Sometimes I want people to react sometimes not. Today this was between me and my Creator. I was thinking about my forthcoming retirement (in two years time but I am a Capricorn so I plan ahead!) and realising that I don’t want to vegetate; that I will want something to put my heart and soul into. This is what I do (at least some of the time!) at the University of Manchester. Sometimes my work their matters too much to me but better that than the other way round.

In 1999 I was in a support group for my friend Alex Wyldwood who was giving an important Quaker lecture called the Swarthmore Lecture. I met with his team of supporters some of whom were quite frail. One of them was sitting supporting herself with a walking stick and speaking a lot of sense. I asked myself about this in the Quaker silence and heard the reply, ‘She is frail because she is using herself up’.

So I want to use myself up until I am ready to die, hopefully not for many years yet! I do need to retire’ from the University of Manchester in Autumn 2015 – that will be 20 years there! But my work will go on. I am currently Visiting Professor at UCLan (University of Central Lancs) and who knows - my work there might well grow and develop and continue past my Manchester retirement. If not other things will present themselves, God willing. And of course I can and do put my heart and soul into other things beside my paid academic work. (Family, friends, piano, choir, creative writing etc) I am looking forward to having more time for this too.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Automatic Child Protection Co-ordination

Automatic Child Protection Co-ordination

In 1971/2 I worked in-house as a computer programmer for the Royal London Hospital and one of the programmes I wrote sorted clinical lab tests overnight. These results were then made easily available to the medics the following day. It was cutting edge stuff back then and the programmes were used elsewhere including in Yorkshire.

There has been two more high profile child abuse deaths in the news in Britain in the last month and in both cases the lack of contact between the various agencies involved has been highlighted as one of the reason why effective action was never taken along with the ussual ‘over worked over stretched professionals’.

Now we could spend more money and employ more professionals though I suspect that would not necessarily totally deal with the problem. Although it would help and our children are worth it surely.

I have another thought. It goes like this. Write some software that searches the electronic records of the various services involved. Think how quick and far reaching software engines now are. So any police, teaching, social work, CAMHS, GP and A & E etc records relating to all our children are regular scanned looking for flagged evidence of concerns expressed. Each local authority would a have a designated child protection officer whose job would be to receive and act on emails alerts electronically generated by this software. The most urgent ones would be flashed up on their computer screen when they switched it on and they would be expected to act immediately. The slightly less urgent ones would be monitored more closely and more actively visited than they are currently getting.

There are some problems with this idea. Confidentiality issues - but we are talking child protection here and presumably some of this is already happening?. Also there may be differing forms of records/procedures for recording the information in the differing agencies. So we might need some form of record standardisation. But think about it - once in place it does not rely on busy people having to contact each other, the software does it.

It needs a working group representing the agencies with an experienced team of software designers to do the work. This work would not put out to tender but hand picked people would be appointed.

The Guardian newspaper did not choose to print a brief letter based on this idea last week. I emailed the NSPCC last week but no reply as yet. Friends and colleagues I have spoken to about this idea like it. My problem is that I am no longer a software expert and I am not a child protection expert. Just a parent and grand parent who wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about these things.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

My thought/prayer for the day

People use the word love or spirituality or Christianity or Islam or Judaism or add your own phrase, and all these words speak of our best human possibilites and then we do unspeakable things to one another which gives these words a bad name. But these words are NOT the problem it's the horrid things we do do to one another - that's the problem. So unless we face our individual and collective shadow sides the horrors will continue. Stoping hiting and killing people would be a good start.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Meeting Q again

- Hi Q.
- Hi Boss, seems a long time since we last spoke.
- Yes Q (the Boss clears his throat rather uncomfortably.
- But good to see you here again…. What’s happening?
- Hm, I have this friend Sarah who has this weird illness and overnight she has become bed ridden and pumped full of steroids. It’s shocking to see here like this – I called in on her last week…
- Oh, that sounds horrible.
- Yes, it seems so wrong. She is a good woman, and has done a lot for other people. It’s not fair.
Q sighs.
- We’ve been here before.
- I know but it does not make it any easier and it does not make it any better. (The Boss was speaking slowly and deliberately.)
- Can you change things for her by act of will?
- No of course not!
- So the hard facts of your friend Sarah’s illness remain.
- Yes unless there is some medical breakthrough.
- So how can you live in a world in which people like Sarah suffers?
- Yes, that’s it…. How!
- Well it is how it is. (Q spoke with a soft voice.)
- And?
- And?
- Yes and… Stop sounding like a damn Buddhist monk and give me some solace!
- So it’s solace you want?
- Yes… er… No… I…er… want Sarah to be well.
- I know… I do understand but somehow you have to make your peace with how things are.
The Boss was weeping angry tears by now,
- I’m not strong enough for this suffering world!
- You’re stronger than you think…. And you don’t have to do it alone.
The Boss nods his head and buried his face in his hands.

There was no obvious way out of his dilemmas but its grip on him was easing. Suffering was not going to end in our world. Sarah was putting on a brave and courageous face and even with her illness she was still a force for good in a world that was too often indifferent.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013


Passing through the West Midlands on the train, feeling a real poignancy hearing familiar Brummie accents and seeing the rather bleak Black Country landscape. It was instant nostalgia. Here is where I belong – or not. I am in voluntary exile from these God forsaken parts. Living in Manchester is fine but my first 18 years in Kidderminster in Worcestershire have marked and shaped me. I know how to do it, how to be among these strange but familiar people. It started on my mother’s knee. She had that Black Country friendliness which isalso in me but a bit buried. It comes out sometimes when I drink or play pool.

I don’t feel that I make choices so much as discoveries. I do make mostly small choices that have all kinds of implications that I never knew of, never signed up to. Like the seemingly small matter of leaving my home town and moving North to Manchester aged 18. Never to return. Inside me I have some pieces of rural Worcestershire engraved on my heart and soul. Snap shots of the Clent Hills, the Clee Hills, Rhyd Covert and the River Severn at Stourport and Bewdley. I have a burning desire to cycle the canal path out of the heart of Birmingham South Westwards toward Worcestershire.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Alexandra Park again

Alexandra Park is not quite local to me. I used to live nearby in my student days and had a profound mystical experience in the Park one fine Spring day in 1971 but that is another story! I cycle through Alexandra Park on my way to and from work and just recently they have begun demolishing both the long empty house by the park gates and the building that housed the Bee Hive playgroup. There is a third building about to be demolished also. This is all part of the plan to return the park to its ‘former glory days’ as a Victorian park. As part of the plan they earlier axed hundreds of trees a few months ago despite protests.

Now hopefully they will build some news buildings in due course but I can’t help thinking that the play group building could have had a change of use if it was no longer needed - perhaps as a park cafĂ©? Will better and more useful buildings be put up. I kind fo doubt it. And unlike the people who demolish buildings at the University there is no promise on their hoardings of re-cycling the materials from demolition.

I wish I could believe that something better was going to result from all of this destruction but I don’t.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Pets live again!

I'm waiting for this evening when I will be going to see the Pet Shop Boys live for the 4th time! I have been thinking about my enjoyment of their music which is rooted in a love of their lyrics and their runes and theri elecotrnic sound. It's these two aspects together. And their live performances are a sheer theatrical delight. I could wax lyrically about this and have done in previous blog entries. But today I want to acknowledge that when I first met my partner in 1990 I had a new copy of Discography - Pets Greatest hits. She moved up to Sheffield and I used to work 2 days a week in Sheffield. So travelling from Leeds on the train to work and to see her I played Discography on my Walkamn (remember those?) So my developing relationship with her was linked to the Pet Shop Boys! More recently replaying the video for 'What have I done to deserve this?' featuring Dusty Springfield I am reminded that Dusty one of my late sister's favourite singers. So it begins to hang together or weave together. And I love the Englishness of Neil Tennant and the English humour of Chris Lowe and how they don't belong, but they do. This is so me. I don't belong and I do. I am a successful academic and a lost mixed up small town kid inside. Both is true, both is me. I can lecture audiences of 400 in London, Nairobi, Bangalore without batting an eyelid but sometimes I feel so guache(?) in one to one encounters outside of the counselling room!

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Poem: Margaret Thatcher

In the week of Maragret Thatcher's funeral
I went to two other funerals
The first was Quaker Joesph's
And in the silence I heard
His friends and family praise and mourn him.
The second was for my childhood Auntie Gert
And I experienced real community warm humour and loss.
These were both quiet and dignified and private affairs
That celebrated the lives of two ordinary and remarkable people
Embedded in their own communities
Loved and missed
And given a truly royal send off.

Friday, 5 April 2013


OK so here's my dilemma. I have a good friend who is an award winning playwright and author who offered to read my Mystic Detective novel. She found it enjoyable and quirky but was not impressed by my plotting (neither am I!) and lack of real detective/police proceedures. She offered to help me work it up into something she felt would be publishable and possibly even a TV series.

The thing is with my experience of re-writing for academic publishing I hate re-writes and re-writes of re-writes and can you add this, reduce that etc. My passion shrivels up. Am I being too precious?

And the thing is I never meant Paul to be realistic. It was a bit of fun and I don't want him to be real. I love Raymond Chandler's detective Sam Spade but I don't think he is real and that detectives in LA in 1930 and 1940 were like that!

But I have dreamed of being a novelist and a poet all my life and instead I am forever being courted by academic publishers! But my pile of unpublished poems and novels gets higher and higher!

So dear friend what say you?

Friday, 1 March 2013

Researching talking therapies and homeopathy (2)

Researching talking therapies and homeopathy (2)

Some further thoughts. A few years ago Professor John McLeod (probably the leading British counselling academic) told me how he had been thinking of putting together a Randomised Controlled Trial around comparing person-centred counselling with CBT. He had decided not to for these reasons:
1) If his research found that CBT was better his name wold be mud in the person centred world
2) If his research found that person centred was better then CBT people would accuse him of doing a biased study
3) He expected anyway that the likely outcome would be that they were both equally good so why bother.
The issue of both who does the research and who funds it is crucial. It would be so much better if the drug companies who fund most medical research handed their money over to say the Medical Research Council or some other independent body that then oversaw the work and made the results public in open access journals. Likewise any research funded by talking therapy bodies such as BACP needs a similar arms length approach. I believe talking therapies need to be researched by sociologists and anthropologists.
With regard to homeopathy it gets harder but the same independence is important and ideally a research team with a broad background would be established to agree protocols etc. Just because someone claims to be objective it does not mean their research is not biased. Just as the whole medical research agenda is distorted by funding largely coming from drug companies and their agenda. If we really want to do basic research into homeopathy we might well need to think outside of the box to shape the research.

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Researching talking therapies and homeopathy

Researching talking therapies and homeopathy

Research involving people is challenging and even more so when it is not just focussed on their physical bodies. The NHS and NICE pretend to like ‘evidence based practice’ but it not as simple as that. And even if it was we don’t have the time or money to do Randomised Controlled Trails about all that we would like to. And when money is available for trials the money source often controls whether the results are published or even made available to other researchers. For example drug companies still repress findings they don’t like; the Home Office ignores research it has funded in prisons when it does not get the results it wants. And don’t get me started on Gove and education!

Back to topic. What works for whom sounds like a good idea – choose a problem and test out possible treatments. What we find with psychological research is that what happens in the lab is not always what happens in the clinic. For example to test out a psychotherapy or CBT on a problem then participants are carefully selected to only have that problem. This is atypical. Many people present with multiple problems. You might select 20 out of several hundred possibles for your actual study. And practitioners behave differently in research than outside. For example they are more likely to follow the manual in the research lab. But it is worse than that there is a lot of variation between individual practitioners using the same approach more so than between the averages of competing approaches. And we know that it the quality of the therapeutic alliance that is the biggest factor in successful outcome not the school of psychotherapy/CBT used. Arguably all work with whom up to a ppoint.

So probably (as Arbuckle suggested back in 1967) it would be better to research the individual practitioner rather than their modality and for me that means Who works with what? In other words focus on the practitioners getting the best outcomes with particular client problems and study them. (This has been done it is apparently how NLP got started) And it is how I do and maybe good practice managers do referral.

Onto homeopathy which does not appeal to me and doesn’t seem to work for me but it does sometimes very strikingly for my wife and did so for my daughter when she was a young toddler. The problem is that homeopathy will offer differing pills for the same client problem on the basis of their curious approach to diagnoses. So the pills offered will vary according to the individual client. (The same would be true for some kinds of psychotherapy in terms of how they work also). It is really a question of whether the treatment is intended to remove the symptom or regard the symptom as part of a bigger picture that might well need addressing. Thinking giving up smoking or drinking. Who knows what problems this might be masking, how this behaviour fits a particular individual’s patterns.

Interesting homeopathy and talking therapy give people plenty of time to share their problems, both listening very carefully. Your GP does not have the time and yet millions of us are presenting them with psychological/mental health issues. In this crazy modern world we all need a good listening to, sense of belonging of family and community, until that happens the mental health epidemic will continue.

But there is a horses for courses issue here. If I have a chronic infection I want antibiotics, a broken leg I want it setting, cancer I probably want surgery. But when it is not (just) physical, say when my life feels grey or I have fallen out badly with those I love, I need to talk, I need help not drugs or pills.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

New mystic

Paul met Maurice at Croma, just off Albert Square in the centre of Manchester. Croma was a convenient for the courts, the banks and other money men – still mostly men – who worked for a (dis)honest hundred grand or two nearby. Croma was nothing special to look at but it did serve decent Italianish food, at a fair price, with an efficient, friendly but non intrusive staff. Paul had a soft spot for Croma as it was one of his daughter’s favourites. They both always eat the same food there - Americano pizza for Paul, Lasagne for Catherine, which also included shared garlic bread and a rocker leaf salad with balsamic vinegar and parmesan cheese and tiramisu to follow.

But today Paul was meeting Maurice – Rachel’s lawyer – in order to share their understandings on developments in her case. Maurice was seating in a quiet alcove waiting for Paul when he arrived on time. He didn’t look quite like a lawyer – whatever that was. He was wearing the right kind of non descript grey suit – not too expensive but certainly not cheap. He also wore a suitable tie, not quite recognisably old public school but it could be. The thing is Maurice had a rakish moustache and a grin go with it that kind of undermined his thoughtful lawyer look. He was just too alive, too dangerous if you like.

They shook hands, ordered pre lunch drinks – corona for Maurice, cappuccino for Paul.
- So why are they keeping Rachel in prison?
- It partially protective, for her own good.
- Whaaaat?
- Well since her canal boat was blown up…
- They think her life is at risk?
Maurice nodded and they paused as the waiter came to take their lunch order. Paul continued,
- But don’t they know how prison is affecting her…She’s lost weight….become withdrawn, maybe even depressed. She is at risk staying inside.
- I know but they don’t care. I need some new line to make a case for her release on bail.
- Hmm… What about her being granted bail on very restrictive conditions, where she lives, reporting regularly to a police station, even tagged?
- I’ve tried all of that.
- How about a report form a shrink or a clinical psychologist?
- On it’s way, it might just swing things.
- I can’t believe they feel she is a public risk. She is a gentle soul in my view.
- I agree, but it’s not me you need to convince.
Paul nodded and grew silent as their waiter delivered their food and offered the obligatory over sized pepper pot.
- How do you want my investigation to proceed?
- Follow up any leads with Dave Ashton. I am sure he is involved somehow but the police don’t seem at all interested in him.
- Will do.
- The police are getting nowhere in figuring out who blew up Rachel’s canal boat. You could speak to her again about it.
- Sure, I was intending to see her again soon in any case.
- I’ve got to be back in court soon.
- OK stay in touch.
Maurice nodded, shook hands with Paul and left.

Paul nursed the remains of a cup of cappuccino and let his mind go blank and his breathing slow down and deepen. In his mind’s eye he saw Rachel’s boat, bobbing on the canal. It was dark. Then he noticed a shadowy figure fixing something – was it semtex – to the stern of the boat. Paul took another slow deep breath, hoping to see more, but the image faded. Was it Ashton he saw or someone else? Paul couldn’t be sure.

Thursday, 7 February 2013


As some of you will already now I have recently been appointed Visiting Professor in Counselling and Spirituality at the University of Central Lancs with my inaugural lecture set for March 7th. I am obviously made up about this and there are a few things opening up around me that I am getting excited about and a little bit scared about (more of that later) that suggests something bigger is going on.

I feel that I have earned this appointment and it was so nice to be asked out of the blue. I don’t feet that I deserve it but that’s me and my stuff. However, I wont let such feelings get in the way of the work that now becomes possible. Being a professor opens doors and I want to make the most of it in terms of promoting the kind of research and teaching that has always appealed to me.

Back to the scariness: I seem to have to scare myself at regular intervals rather than plough the same old furrow. And the something bigger, well a few times in my life with COPE, Manchester Reich Group, Energy Stream, PsychoSpiritual Initiative, my PhD group at Manchester, I have found myself part of groups of people that have come together to do something really interesting. It feels like it might well be about to happen again!